Luxor’s Kebbash Road will be re-opened

 

Kebbash Road – Luxor

Ancient Egyptology tells us that an avenue of Sphinxes existed connecting the magnificent Karnak Temple with the picturesque Luxor Temple. For many years people visiting the area were told of that, but could not quite comprehend it due to houses and shops in the area.

The Ministry of Tourism recently announced that this avenue, known as the Kebbash Road, would be open to public by March 2013. Restoration and construction is nearly completed so soon visitors will be able to take a comfortable stroll as the Pharaohs did so many years ago.

The ministry also announced that restorations are planned for the Great Pyramids area in Giza.

Hospital 57357 – one of our worthy contributions

In celebration of Mother’s Day in Egypt, the Elite Tour Club team together with our partner company, Egypt Uncovered’s team visited the 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital in Cairo.

It was the first time for most of us to visit this remarkable hospital and we were all pleasantly surprised at the modern building, its colorful garden and green grass. It didn’t look like a hospital at all. The entrance is decorated with stained glass murals and colored ceramics. The children didn’t seem at all anxious to be there.

We were met by the orientation staff who walked us through the hospital. It soon became clear that children weren’t afraid to be there. They were cheerful and greeted us with smiles straight from their hearts.

The eight storey building is equipped with all facilities of a modern, cancer hospital and we were quite amazed at how it was maintained at such a high level by donations only. Indeed the name of the hospital is their bank account number, which has really helped to keep it in the public awareness and promote donations. A vitally important feature the donations allow is for all children to be treated free of charge.

Most of the hospital provides access to outpatients or “walk in” patients. The entire first and second floors accommodate the daily patients and there are a number of activity rooms where the children can play video games, watch television or read books.

When we arrived at the second floor, we were asked to cover our faces with hygienic masks. That was when a sense of urgency surrounded us. As we walked through the doors our first impressions were replaced with sincere emotions. The mothers and fathers were sitting on comfortable seats, similar to lazy boys, holding their sick children while they were receiving their daily doses of medicine. We were looking at infants, babies and toddlers in their parents’ arms.

Most children who come for treatment suffer from leukemia. There are a number of brain cancer patients currently being treated too. The good news is that due to early diagnoses, the hospital records an 85% recovery rate. This is due to their strict controlling of the patient’s follow up treatments. Doctors also strictly advise parents to start and finish any treatment at this hospital and not to move the child to another town or city for other treatment.

A few studies have suggested that some childhood leukemia may be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. For example, certain genes normally control how our bodies break down and get rid of harmful chemicals. Some people have different versions of these genes that make them less effective. Children who inherit these genes may not be as able to break down harmful chemicals if they are exposed to them. The combination of genetics and exposure might increase their risk for leukemia.

The founders and management have thought of all minor details related to cancer treatment. They have a separate ward where young teenagers, who are self aware from the hair loss, have private rooms. Experience has shown that if they were under less stress from being shy, their recovery rates increased.

The 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital in Cairo is the largest and busiest pediatric cancer hospital in the world.  It has 185 beds available and if it happens that the facilities are overbooked, they transfer patients to a nearby hospital that is run by the same management team and has the same medicine available for treatment. There is also a fully functional bone marrow transplant ward, but God willing, not many of these procedures are performed. The radiation wards are fully functional for all patients who require the treatment.

In 2011, the 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital in Cairo treated 7000 children ranging from infants to 18 years old. The majority of the staff is Egyptian and they have excellent knowledge and skills in cancer treatment and dealing with the young ones.

What can we do to help? As mentioned before, they solely rely on donations. These come in the form of cash donations or sponsorship. One can sponsor a room for as many years as one is able to or sponsor a bed for as many years as possible. There are also people who sponsor equipment for a number of years. For those who don’t have the ability to sponsor or donate money, they can donate blood which is valued even more than money.

 

If you wish to make a donation from your home country, you can do so directly through the hospital’s website – http://beta.57357.com/

 

For more on our contribution projects in our other destinations, please click here.

 

Falafel

The origin of falafel is unknown and controversial. A common theory is that the dish originated in Egypt, possibly eaten by Copts as a replacement for meat during Lent.

The dish later migrated northwards to the Levant, where chickpeas replaced the fava. It has also been theorized to a lesser extent that falafel originated during Egypt’s Pharaonic Period or in the Indian subcontinent.

Falafel Sandwich with salad and tahina

Falafel grew to become a common form of street food or fast food in the Middle East. During Ramadan, falafel balls are sometimes eaten as part of the iftar, the meal that breaks the daily fast after sunset. Falafel became so popular that McDonald’s now serves a “McFalafel” in some countries.

In modern times, falafel has been considered a national dish of Egypt, Palestine, and of Israel.  While falafel is not a specifically Jewish dish, it was eaten by Mizrahi Jews in their countries of origin. Later, it was adopted by early Jewish immigrants to Palestine. Due to its being entirely plant based, it is considered parve under Jewish dietary laws and gained acceptance with Jews because it could be eaten with meat or dairy meals.
If you haven’t had privilege of eating them, falafels are a fried ball or patty of spiced chickpeas combined with spices and some form of wheat. In some areas, some or all of the chickpeas are replaced with fava beans. Lebanese falafel often uses a combination of fava beans and chickpeas, while in Egypt, it is traditional to use just fava beans. Shape also varies by region.

Classic Felafel balls

Falafel is commonly served in pocket or roll of flat bread with some sort of fresh vegetable or salad and a yogurt, tahini (sesame seed), or hot sauce. In Israel, they often include french fries in the sandwich as well. They can also be served plain with some combination of sauces, hummus or babaghanoush for dipping, either as a snack or as part of a meza plate. Occasionally falafel is served with tomato sauce, similar to meatballs.

Making Falafel

Since the chickpeas are not precooked, falafel can be made with as little as 5 minutes of actual cooking (frying) time.

Falafel is sometimes called the “Hot Dog of the Middle East”, but the comparison has more to do with their shared roll as ubiquitous street food than taste or quality. Unlike hot dogs, falafel is very nutritious and includes high-quality protein and vegetables.

Hummus is a Middle Eastern food dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas, blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic.

Hummus serving suggestion

The recipe is of medieval Egyptian origin: ‘Hummus Kasa’, the earliest documented recipe for something similar to modern hummus dates to 13th Century  Egypt.

Hummus is high in iron and vitamin C and also has significant amounts of foliate and vitamin B6

How to cook the perfect hummus?

Take time to cook the chickpeas properly, and season ever-so-gradually, until the heat of the garlic, and the zing of the lemon suits your meticulous idea of excellence, and you’ll remember just why this humble Middle Eastern staple stole our hearts in the first place.

200g dried chickpeas
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
6 tbsp tahini
Juice of 1 lemon, or more to taste
3 cloves garlic, crushed, or according to taste
Pinch of cumin
Salt, to taste
Olive oil, to top
Paprika or za’tar, to top (optional)

1. Put the chickpeas in a bowl and cover with twice the volume of cold water. Stir in 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda and leave to soak for 24 hours.

2. Drain the chickpeas, rinse well and put in a large pan. Cover with cold water and add the rest of the bicarb. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer gently until they’re tender – they need to be easy to mush, and almost falling apart, which will take between 1 and 4 hours depending on your chickpeas. Add more hot water if they seem to be boiling dry.

3. Leave them to cool in the water, and then drain well, reserving the cooking liquid, and setting aside a spoonful of chickpeas as a garnish. Mix the tahini with half the lemon juice and half the crushed garlic – it should tighten up – then stir in enough cooled cooking liquid to make a loose paste. Add this, and the chickpeas, to a food processor and whizz to make a purée.

4. Add the cumin and a generous pinch of salt, then gradually tip in enough cooking water to give a soft paste – it should just hold its shape, but not be claggy. Taste, and add more lemon juice, garlic or salt according to taste.

5. Tip into a bowl, and when ready to serve, drizzle with olive oil, garnish with the reserved chickpeas and sprinkle with paprika or za’tar if using.

 

Delicious Turkish Desserts

Turkish Desserts

 

Interestingly enough however, they also fulfill an important social and ritual function. Halvah (Helva), a confection made from semolina, is offered on the occasion of major changes in people’s lives: a birth, a death, induction into the army, return from pilgrimage, upon settling in a new home, enrolling and graduating school; and also on special occasions such as praying for rain, etc.

One of the most important holidays in the traditional Islamic calendar is the one that marks the end of the 30-day period of daytime fasting during the month of Ramadan. A popular Turkish name for the Ramadan festival is “Seker Bayrami” (literally “Sugar Holiday’), which is a sort of capstone to the lavish desserts prepared for the sundown meals during the holy month. These desserts are elaborate not only in their ingredients but also in their visual impact and presentation.

The desserts and confections of Turkey bear witness to the rich history of its people’s cuisine and geography. The dessert known as “Tavuk gögsü”, made with the milk-white meat of chicken breast was introduced into ancient Rome from the Mediterranean and reintroduced into Anatolia by the Romans. The blanc mange made in Turkey and known as “Kazan dibi” must certainly be one of the loveliest parts of the mosaic that Turks have inherited from the ancient civilizations of Anatolia.

Then there’s “Asure”, a festive pudding of cereal grains, sugar, and raisins. According to a legend, it was originally concocted in the galley of Noah’s ark from whatever was left in the pantry. The pudding is served traditionally on the tenth day of the month of Muharrem according to Islamic calendar, when preparing a batch of “Asure” and distributing it to neighbors and acquaintances is still a common custom in many areas. The Ottoman palace kitchens produced a refined version of “Asure” that was blended and strained; more common folk had to chew through the grains. They still do, to great enjoyment. Many different parts of the Ottoman Empire contributed their own local specialties to the palace kitchens where they were refined and transformed into a distinctively Ottoman- Turkish cuisine.

Turkish desserts usually fall into one of three categories:

Desserts made with fruits and vegetables
Many fresh and dried fruits are stewed into compotes in which the fluid is as important an element as is the fruit itself. Desserts made from apricots or figs are given a topping of fresh clotted cream and sometimes crushed walnuts. The same topping is used on “Kabak tatlisi”, an unusual dessert made by cooking pieces of pumpkin in syrup.

Fruit Desserts

Milk-based desserts
These include a wide variety of puddings, some of which are baked. “Keskul” is a milk pudding made with coconut. “Gullac” is a lovely confection of thin sheets of pastry in a milk sauce to which rosewater is added. Mention has already been made of “Tavuk gogsu” and “Kazan dibi” in the above.

Pastry-based desserts
These include world-famous “Baklava”, as well as “Kadayif” (made from shredded pastry baked in syrup, often filled with pistachio nuts, walnuts or clotted cream), “Revani” (a sweet made from semolina), “Hanim göbegi” and “Sekerpare” (two kinds of small sweet cake), “Yogurt tatlisi” (made with yogurt), “Badem tatlisi” (made with almonds), and “Lokma” (deep-fried lumps of butter served in syrup).

Altogether there are about 25-30 basic recipes for desserts known but with the addition of local variations the number becomes enormous (around 200). In 1539 Suleyman I gave a huge feast to celebrate the circumcision of his two sons Cihangir and Beyazid. Archival records tell us that fifty-three different desserts were offered to guests including different- flavored and colored puddings, a variety of helvahs, pastries and cakes, and a large assortment of jams and compotes.

Pastry desserts

There is an interesting anecdote that brings together the elements of Turkish desserts and the Ottoman court. During a Ramadan in the early 19th century, Sultan Mahmud II decided to pay a surprise visit to the mansion of Durrizade Esseyid Abdullah Efendi in Istanbul just before the cannon-shot signaling the end of the fasting went off. By custom, he would have to be entertained there and Abdullah, a cultured intellectual as well as an accommodating and experienced host managed to take care of his unexpected imperial guest brilliantly, marshalling the kitchen of the women’s half (harem) of the mansion to the support of the men’s side. The individual courses were done to perfection and the service came off flawlessly all until it was time for dessert, fruit compote that arrived in a clumsy, ill-formed bowl. Appalled by the sight, the sultan asked those near him “So far everything has been served in crystal and porcelain and eaten with gold cutlery; what is that ugly-looking bowl doing here?”. The host overheard this of course and immediately explained “Your majesty, my butler goes up to Camlica mountain every day to fetch drinking water from a particular spring. Rather than throw ice into the compote and risk spoiling its flavor, he fashioned a bowl of ice out of Camlica spring water.”

View our amazing Turkey Tours to experience some of these mouth watering desserts

 

Wondrous Wadi Rum

A journey to Wadi Rum is a journey to another world, a vast, silent place, timeless and starkly beautiful. Wadi Rum is one of Jordan’s main tourist attractions being the most stunning deserts cape in the World, lying 320 km southwest of Amman, 120 km south of Petra, and only 68 km north of Aqaba.
Uniquely shaped massive mountains rise vertically out of the pink desert sand, which separate one dark mass from another in a magnificent desert scenery of strange breathtaking beauty, with towering cliffs of weathered stone. The faces of the sheer rock cliffs have been eroded by the wind into faces of men, animals and monsters.
Wadi Rum is probably best known because of its connection with the enigmatic British officer T.E. Lawrence, who was based here during the Great Arab Revolt of 1917-18, and as the setting for the film that carried his name “Lawrence of Arabia”.

Everywhere in this moonscape place are indications of man’s presence since the earliest known times. Scattered around are flint hand axes, while on the rocks at the feet of the mountains the names of ancient travelers are scratched. All around, there is emptiness and silence. In this immense space, man is dwarfed to insignificance.

Wadi Rum Landscape

The valley floors are some 900-1000 meters above sea level, and the great sandstone crags rise sheer, a further 500-550 meters. Jabal Rum is the highest peak in the area and the 2nd highest in Jordan. Others are some 27 km north of the Rum village like Jabal Kharaz and Jabal Burdah with its Rock Bridge which is one of Wadi Rum’s most popular attractions.

There are many ways to explore this fragile, unspoiled desert retreat. Serious trekkers will be drawn to Wadi Rum, with challenging climbs some 1750 m high, while casual hikers can enjoy an easy course through the colorful hills and canyons. Naturalists will be drawn to the desert in springtime, when rains bring the greening of the hills and an explosion of 2000 species of wildflowers. Red anemones, poppies and the striking black iris, Jordan’s national flower, all grow at will by the roadside and in more quiet reaches.

Stunning in its natural beauty, Wadi Rum epitomizes the romance of the desert. Now the home of several Bedouin tribes, Wadi Rum has been inhabited for generations. These hospitable and friendly desert people are settled in Wadi Rum in scattered nomadic camps throughout the area. Visitors who are invited to share mint tea or cardamom coffee in their black tents, perhaps sitting by the fire under a starry desert sky, will have an experience not to be forgotten.

The desert tribes, Huweitat and Mzanah, inhabiting Wadi Rum maintain the warm hospitality which characterizes genuine Arab culture. It would be difficult to resist their friendly invitation to share mint tea or cardamom-flavored coffee in their black tents. Enjoy the hospitality whilst sitting by the fire under a starry desert sky – an unforgettable experience.

Before reaching Wadi Rum, visitors will encounter the fort of the Wadi Rum Desert Patrol. The patrolmen are friendly, hospitable and will answer questions willingly over a cup of coffee.

Wadi Rum Desert Camp

Perfect ambassadors for their country, the men of the famous Desert Patrol wear perhaps the most beautiful uniforms in the Middle East: a long khaki dish-dash held by a bright red bandoleer, a holster with a dagger around the waist, and rifle slung over the back. The headdress is the traditional red-and-white checkered Kouffieh worn by the Bedouins of Jordan, but wrapped under the chin. The Desert Patrol operates out of an old beau guest-style police fort built in the 1930s.

Accommodation in the Wadi Rum are based on desert camps. All our Jordan Tours visiting the Wadi Rum make use of deluxe camps. These have excellent toilet and shower facilities as well as deluxe tents with comfortable beds. Meals are prepared by the Bedouins and the menu consists of traditional Jordanian food.

Turkey – Sufi (whirling) dance

Elite Tour Club offers luxury tours to Turkey.

 

The tradition of dervishes is not just a very famous dance but it is also a very important element of Turkish culture.

Since 13th century mystic, poet and philosopher Mevlana C. Rumi established a new way of art and thought, Dervishes of Turkey have enriched the music, literature, dance and belief of Ottoman geography without the discrimination of race, religion or nation. That is why to see dervishes is not just to experience a performance or concert; it is also an introduction to discover the peaceful and rich philosophy of Rumi and his followers which has also been marked on the list of Intangible World Heritage of UNESCO.

Dervish Dancer

Sufi whirling is a form of physically active meditation which originated among Sufis, and which is still practiced by the Sufi Dervishes of the Mevlevi order. It is a customary dance performed within the Sema, or worship ceremony, through which dervishes aim to reach the source of all perfection or “kemal”. This is sought through abandoning one’s nafs, egos or personal desires, by listening to the music, focusing on God, and spinning one’s body in repetitive circles, which has been seen as a symbolic imitation of planets in the Solar System orbiting the sun as explained by Sufis.

Sufi whirling is one of the most ancient techniques. It is so deep that even a single experience can make you totally different. Whirl with open eyes, just like small children go on twirling, as if your inner being has become a center and your whole body has become a wheel, moving, a potter’s wheel, moving. You are in the center, but the whole body is moving.” It is good not to eat or drink for a few hours before whirling. It is best to have bare feet and loose clothing.

Group of Dervish Dancers

The Dervish dancing is very deep: in it, the dancer’s body spins so fast and with such totality that every cell and fiber of his body vibrates. This breaks the relationship between the body and the consciousness, and suddenly the dancer realizes that he is separate from his body.

 

Bedouins music

The life of the Bedouins

The Bedouins do not limit themselves with any geographical borders as they travel where water and food are available. Sometimes, the Bedouins walk for very long distances to search for natural resources and they usually have a very strict traveling schedule as they start their journey in the early morning and they spend the night in primitive camps in the desert. In winter, Bedouins travel to regions that are rich with trees to protect them and their animals from the wind and the cold weather.

Bedouin Man

Bedouins Music

The life of the Bedouins is like a non-stop journey in search of a better life. In spite of the limited resources they have, the Bedouins know exactly how to entertain themselves. Having no or limited use of electricity, no television sets, radios, or mobile phones, does not prevent the Bedouins from having fun. They even in many occasions have more fun than the people who live in the city.

In the afternoon, when every member of the community has finished his or her work, they gather to participate in group activities, dances, reading and improvising poetry, singing, and playing their own style of music.

 

The origins of Bedouin music

The origin of Bedouin music goes back to the tribes who lived in the Arabian Peninsula in the Pre-Islamic era.  During this period, music flourished in three main locations in the Arab world; in Syria, Iraq, and the Western part of the Arab Peninsula which is the type of music that had the greater impact on the music of the Bedouins of Sinai and the Eastern Desert in Egypt due to the fact that there were many trading caravans going from Egypt to Palestine and Syria.

The music during this period consisted mainly of simple intones that the singer or the music performer plays out of his own emotions and feelings.

A singer used to stand in the middle of a circle that was full of men with only one music performer who plays one single instrument.

The Bedouins at that time didn’t know about music composition. The music performer used to produce monotone notes using one instrument which was usually the drums and the tambourine.

Afterwards some more instruments were added to the music performance like cymbals and simple forms of oboes consisting only of a piece of wood with holes in different parts of it.

The chants that the Bedouins sang at that time depended mainly on various poems created by the most talented poets of the whole Arabic Language history. Pre-Islamic poems are still part of many education modules in Egypt and the Arab world until today.

Music of the Bedouins nowadays

The Bedouins, who travel for long distances every now and then, spend their free time improvising poems and singing during their long journeys. The music of Bedouins have special rules to suit their harsh life conditions because they live in the desert.

Bedouins and their camels

The Bedouin’s music is sometimes very slow to suit the movement of the camels in caravans’ journeys and sometimes the music rhythm is very fast during happy occasions like marriage ceremonies and tribal festivals.

The music usually rise from the feelings and emotions they have and it expresses their problems and hardships.

Music is mainly divided into two types; a type for men and a type for women. The type of music involving men is often accompanied by the tunes produced by the Rababa, one of the most famous Bedouin string musical instruments and it is performed in many occasions like marriage ceremonies and harvest festivals.

The type of Bedouin music involving women is mainly performed during marriage ceremonies with all the women chanting together wishing the newly married couple an everlasting happy life.

The Types of the music the Bedouins perform

After the rise of Islam, each country or region started having its own style of music and singing. The Bedouins of Egypt specialized in Al Samer, Al Hadaa’, Al Hageeny, Al Farda, and Al Tarweeda.

All these different types of music were composed of a small number of tones and rhythms which were repeated many times in the performance of one song.  One singer used to function as a solo performer of these types of music with chanters repeating the same words and tunes after him.

The Samer

The word “Samer”, is derived from the Arabic word “Samar” which means the entertainment during the day. This is because this sort of music is usually played by Bedouins to entertain themselves during the afternoon period after they finish work or during happy celebrations.

The Bedouins of Egypt started performing the Samer type of music which is close to the Egyptian “Mawal”, the slow Arabic music that depends on the voice of the singer. However, the Samer used to have much quicker rhythms.

The Hageeny

The Hageeny, or the camels’ songs, is one of the old common types of music and singing.  Travelers since the Pre-Islamic times used to sing while they are sitting on the back of their camels and horses travelling for very long distances.

These songs and chanting used to relief the fatigue of the travellers and encourage the camels to walk faster according to the rhythms of the songs.

The word “Hageeny” is derived from the word “Hagen” which means the slim fast camel that walks for long distances with travelers on its back.

One or two singers can participate in the Hageeny song. One man starts singing and the other repeats after him.

The Hageeny is one of the most spread styles of singing between the Bedouins of Egypt and it can be found in many desert regions around the land of the Nile.

Musical Instruments

 

The Tarweeda

The Tarweeda is an old style of Bedouin music and singing that is mainly performed during happy occasions and events.

This style of singing is spread within the Bedouins living Sinai more than the Bedouins who live in the Western and Eastern Deserts.

People gather in a group and start repeating two or three lines of poetry for a long time while other members of the group sing and dance around them.

The musical instruments of the Bedouins

There are several musical instruments that the Bedouins use to produce their music and most of these instruments are simple and primitive. However, the Bedouins have created some instruments that express their feelings and make their music unique having a special taste, different than any other type of music.

 The Shababa

The Shababa is one of the wind instruments and it consists of a hollow tube made out of iron or wood.

The length of the Shababa is usually fifty centimeters and it contains six holes. The performer blows air inside one end of the Shababa and the tunes come out of the other end and he moves his fingers covering the holes of the Shababa to change the tunes.

The Shababa is a simple primitive instrument and maybe it was the first musical instrument known to mankind. The Shababa is the best friend of grazer as he holds it in his hand or put it under his belt and he gets it out when he feels bored to play with it for hours and hours while taking care of his sheep.

The Shababa is not used by grazers only. It is usually used as well to produce music in celebrations like marriage ceremonies. The Shababa player stands out and a group of his friends stand around him in half a circle and they start singing all together.

This means the Shababa can produce different types of tunes that are sometimes happy and sometime sad according to the mood of the player and the event at which it is played.

Musical Instrument

The Shababa was usually made out of wood and then they started manufacturing using aluminum, iron, and copper. Afterwards, the Shababa was produced using strong hollow plastic

The Maqroun

The Maqroun looks like a flute with two hollow tubes which are parallel and attached to each other using strong strings.

The Maqroun is a wind instrument that has six holes, the same as the Shababa. Playing the Maqroun needs a person who enjoys very good health because it requires the player to breath while playing with it.

The Maqroun is not commonly used as the Shababa, maybe because it is usually associated with sad tunes and songs. The Maqroun therefore is never used in marriage ceremonies or any other celebrations. It is used mainly by Bedouin men when they travel alone for a long period or when they spend a long time on their own. They use the Maqroun to express their feelings of loneliness and how they miss their families.

The Rababa

The Rababa is an old string musical instrument that has only one string.  The Bedouins have known the Rababa since ancient times and it was spread very largely that in recent days there isn’t a single Bedouin house that has no Rababa which became the most famous Bedouin musical instruments and travelers can find Rababa being sold in all touristic markets all over Egypt.

The Rababa consists of a tube made of wood and one string attached to it. The player uses a wooden arc to move it on the strings to produce the music.

The Bedouins used to play with the Rababa to express their feelings of sadness and loneliness. Living in the desert most of the time means being lonely. This is why usually the Bedouin man is usually closer to himself than anything or anybody else in the world.

The Bedouins have used the Rababa to produce different tunes and music including the Hageeny and the Samer.

The Semsemya

The Semsemya is a string musical instrument with five thin metal strings attached to it. The player uses a small piece of plastic to move the strings and produce music. The Semsemya, in contradiction to the Rababa, is always associated with happy and cheerful celebrations.

The Semsemya is spread in Sinai mostly and also in cities located on the Suez Canal like Ismailia that is famous for its Semsemya bands.

Formal Bedouin Musical procession

 

Furthermore, some Egyptian singers started using the Semsemya in composing their songs like Tamer Hosny as it became very popular in Egypt recently to the extent that you can find vendors in the streets of Cairo and on the shores of the River Nile selling Semsemya. Many Egyptians started buying this fabulous instrument and try to learn playing with it on their own.

The White and Black Desert

Egypt is a country that hosts a lot of attractions and wonders. Because of its long diverse history, significant geographical location, and moderate climate, the Land of the Nile offers travelers many activities to do, a lot of places to view and explore, and numerous regions to visit.

The Western Desert of Egypt

The Western Desert of Egypt, located between the Nile Valley and the edge of the Great African desert, is among the areas in Egypt that are still less visited and explored in comparison with other regions like Cairo, Sinai, the North Coast, and Upper Egypt.

Fifteen years ago, in the beginning of the 3rd millennium in particular, the Western Desert of Egypt started attracting the attention of Egyptian and international travelers, especially after the Egyptian government developed the road going from Cairo to the oasis located in the Western Desert.

White Desert

The section that attracts tourists the most in the Western Desert is that particular area located between the Bahariya Oasis in the South and the Farafra Oasis in the North. This is because this area hosts three major wonders: The White Desert, the Crystal Mountains, and the Black Desert.

The White Desert

When you leave the Nile Valley moving into the Western Desert the yellow color of the sand and the baby blue color of the sky are the dominant colors, or maybe the only two colors in this fantastic bilateral colored portrait.

Suddenly the ice white color starts entering this natural painting in the form of strange looking white rocks. Now you know you have entered the protected area of the white desert. Located 500 kilometers to the South West of Cairo and 30 kilometers to the North of the Farafra Oasis, the White Desert became one of the most popular touristic spots in Egypt welcoming more than 10% of the total number of travelers visiting Egypt every year.

Occupying a surface area of around 3000 kilometers, the White Desert is the most popular attraction in the Western Desert and maybe in Egypt as a whole.  The White Desert even started attracting advertisings directors and it appeared in many television ads for international brands like Chevrolet.

How was the White Desert formed?

One of the theories asserts that in ancient times the White Desert and all this area around it was covered by an ocean or a huge sea. This was why all these white rocks were formed in that spot due to the white chalk of the sea.

Clear evidence that this theory might be true is that travelers can still see some seashells inside the rocks of the mountains in the White Desert.

Another theory claimed that the rocks of the white desert are some sort of upper cretaceous rocks which belong to the Pliocene age millions of years ago. Because of erosion of these limestone rocks over the years, all these rocks gained their startling formations.

White Desert Sand Formations

The White Desert is famous for its bizarre white rock formations with some rocks looking like stars, mushrooms, animals, objects and human beings.

Inside the White Desert, there are some specific spots in particular that attract visitors. One of these spots is the “Mushroom Area” as people prefer to call it.  This area is famous for a huge limestone rock that looks exactly like a mushroom.

Another point of attraction is the “finger of god” “, which is a 20 meters high rock formation in the shape of a chisel. This rock can be seen from far away and the Egyptian call it the finger of god because it looks exactly like a finger rising from the sand pointing to the sky.

The White Desert has become the most popular safari tours destination in Egypt in the last few years. This is because it presents a different experience other than the safaris organized in the Red Sea or in Sinai. The atmosphere overall is totally different with the marvelous white rocks and some old tools and ruins belonging to ancient times.

There are three natural water springs in the protected area of the White desert. They are Ain Hadara, Ain Al Sero, and Ain Al Makfy. These wells are surrounded by palm trees and they provide the animals living in the White Desert with the water they need to survive. Moreover, the spots where these springs are located are the major rest and transit points for travelers visiting the white desert.

There are also many animals to be observed in the protected area of the White Desert including deer, foxes, and some rare breeds of birds.

The governmental project of developing the White Desert

Recognizing the importance of the White Desert, the Egyptian Government has announced the project of “developing the White Desert protected area”. The Italian government, participating in the project, has granted Egypt with six million pounds to enhance and develop the infrastructure, provide transportation means and equipment to manage the affairs of the protected area, and provides capacity building programs for the employees working in the administration of the protected area of the White Desert.

This governmental project will also assist the local community by establishing a special hall for the locals to present their products to the visitors. They are planning to construct a museum as well to exhibit the items found in the White Desert.

The White Desert is very near to the destination where scientists discovered the remnant of the most ancient dinosaur in the world 30 kilometers to the south of Al Farafra Oasis.

The crystal mountain

After viewing the wonders of the White Desert the traveler will have a chance to explore the Crystal Mountain.

The Crystal Mountain is this shinning hill with the sunlight directed towards it resulting in making the mountain sparkle like crystals.

There are two theories concerning the formation of the Crystal Mountain. The first theory stated that this bizarre mountain was a cave in the very beginning made out of limestone, stalactites, and stalagmites. Afterwards, during one or maybe many of the earth quakes the top of this cave was destroyed and the erosions resulted in the figure we view today.

Another theory, the volcanic theory stating that all the formations in the Western Desert resulted from the fact that this destination was full of volcanoes in ancient times, confirmed that the rocks of the crystal mountain are volcanic dating from the Oligocene age.

The crystal mountain is the most favorites spot for travelers to take photographs because of its fabulous natural formation.

 

The Black Desert

Located at the end of the road leading from the Farafra Oasis to the Bahariya Oasis to the North of the White Desert, the Black Desert is another fascinating point of attraction for tourists in the Western Desert of Egypt.

The black volcanic hill which exploded in ancient times producing a substance called Jasper which formulated the rocks of the Black Desert.

Black Desert

The black rock formations of volcanic rocks dating to different ancient eras resulted in transforming the yellow whitish sands and mountains in this area into a black painting with numerous black rocks spread all over the area.

The mountains of the Black Desert vary in color from one to the other. Some of them are dark gloomy black because of the iron “Doloret” formations, others tend to be reddish due to the iron sandstones formations, while others look similar to the mountains of the White Desert with the white limestone rock formations. This gives the Black Desert an overall dramatic sense making travelers feel they are visiting an area that is located outside the planet Earth.

The Black Desert is a favorite spot for photographers because of the contrast of the black rocks, with the baby blue colored sky, and the yellow and orange colors of the surface of the Black Desert.

Another interesting sight is Gebel El Engliz, or the mountain of the British people. This mountain was used by the British army during World War II as a major monitoring point because this mountain is among the highest in the Western Desert where can view the entire oasis from there.

A traveler can view the Black Desert while going from the Bahariya Oasis in the north to the Farafra Oasis in the south. However, if  tourists wants to enter the Black Desert for an exotic adventure, it is highly recommended to have a guide escorting them. The travelers can discover the Black Desert in their own style and then climb the English Mountain for matchless views of the Egyptian Western Desert.

Black Desert

The Black Desert becoming a protected area 

In 2010, Ahmed Nazif, the Egyptian prime minster, has issued a decree transforming the area hosting the Black Desert, the English Mountain, and the Dest, where the oldest dinosaur was discovered, into a protected area.

The first reason behind this decision is the geographical location of this area being between two other protected areas; the White Desert to the south and the Siwa protected areas to the north.

The other reason is that this area proved to have a significant scientific value after many ancient fossils being discovered there including Dinosaur fossils. Therefore, the Egyptian Government, intending to protect the natural resources of the country, has declared many locations in Egypt as protected areas.

 

Elite Tour Club offers tailor made holidays to experience the contrast of the white and black deserts.

 

The Siwans, their lives, habits and beliefs

In the middle of the desert and hundreds of kilometers away from urban areas, the Siwa Oasis rises like a flower in the midst of nowhere. When a traveler visits Siwa, he feels that time stopped passing by and that he has gone back ages and ages in history. Siwa is an oasis that is full of stories, myths, legends, habits, and customs.

When anybody speaks about Siwa it is hard for him to convince the listener that he is speaking about the present time and not about the past ancient times. It is even more difficult to identify a beginning point to start the story.

The language of Siwans

The people living in Siwa speak the Siwan Language and it is a language of Berber origin that is spread in the Northern Africa region. The Siwan Language is spoken and written as well and it has been influenced by the formal and informal Arabic language.

The people of Siwa

The original inhabitants of Siwa are a branch of the Zanata tribe that mingled with time passing by with other Bedouin tribes that live around the oasis in the Egyptian territories or the Libyan borders.

Some facial characteristics of the Siwans were affected by Negro influences. Historians interpret this aspect due to the fact that Siwa was a major transit point in the slave trading route between Africa and the Mediterranean Sea.

The old people in Siwa usually mention that in a previous period, Bedouins used to move around the desert surrounding the oasis looking for water and food for their sheep and they were directed to Siwa by coincidence. However, they never stayed in Siwa for a long time because of flies and mosquitoes that negatively affected their sheep and camels.

At that point in time, the secure place for those tribes and their animals was the area of Aghrumi so they stayed there and they cultivated the land as well.

Most of the Siwan people right now are Moslems belonging to the Senussi way of worshiping, a concept that is spread all over North Africa, in Libya and Algeria.

Siwa Oasis house life

The people living in Siwa are as simple as the houses they live in. The Siwans are lucky to stick to their habits and customs and they feel ashamed of other people who deserted their old habits for the facilities of the modern life.

The Siwans are conservative people as they don’t like to have intimate relations with strangers. Maybe this is the main reason that made Siwa as independent a world throughout history although it belongs to Egypt since prehistoric times.

Furthermore, some of the inhabitants belong to the Toucouleur, agricultural tribes who live mainly in West Africa which had a powerful impact on the culture of Siwa since ancient times.

The costumes of the Siwan Woman

The first thing that attracts the eyes of the traveler when visiting Siwa is the costumes and silver jewelry of the Siwan women as they usually wear long multicolored robes with long wide sleeves and put beautiful necklaces around their necks.

Some of the girls in Siwa still comb their hair in the braids style and sometimes they spend hours and hours fixing their hair.

When the Siwan woman goes out to visit a relative or a friend, she wears three or four dresses above each others and in all cases; she has to wear a black robe on top that is ornamented with colored silk. Inside the house of the relative, the Siwan woman can take off the black robe and keep the colored wide sleeved robe on.

 The ornaments of the Siwan women

The Siwan ornaments consist of wide silver bracelets, different kinds and types of rings, and necklaces.

There is one special necklace for Siwan ladies which are called “Al Salehat” or the necklace of the good women and it consists of six pieces in the shape of a crescent with a lot of silver and different valuable materials.

The Siwan women wear earrings that are sometimes light and hang at the same level as the head, and in other cases the earrings can be very heavy and it can weigh up to 10 pounds each.

A Siwan Man

The main other two ornaments the rich Siwan women prefer to wear are the Agrou, which is made out of silver, and the “ta’leeq”, which hang from the two sides of the head consisting of a number of chains made of silver.

The nature of the Siwans

The people of Siwa are simple and kind as they have grown up on their instincts. The fact that they were isolated from the outer world for a very long time had a great impact on their principals and morals.

In Siwa, there are many magicians and primitive astrologers and they are specialists in creating amulets from different types and kinds. The Siwans claim that these amulets have amazing effects and confirmed results. Every single person living in Siwa owns one of these.

The Siwans on the other hand are religious and they pray in the exact time of prayer and the religious leaders have a valuable role in the society.

In ancient time, Siwa was the center of the worship of Amun, a version of Amman, the god of water springs. Afterwards, the oasis became a stronghold of Islam and an important center for the Senussi worship group.

Beliefs and superstitions

The Siwans believe so much in magic, astrology, and superstitions. These aspects truly affect their lives. They are always afraid of other people envying them and they also fear ghosts as you can see on almost every house there are amulets made of animal bones, deer horns, broken pottery and bones of the dead to protect them from evils and from envy.

They even hang these amulets around the necks of the animals, on palm trees, and near their water springs. The Siwans believe that evil and ghosts can arise from anywhere as they can come from under the ground or from the water springs.

Siwans also believe that these evil sprits live in isolated places where no humans enter. They think that these evil spirits incarnates in the form of animals like sheep, cows and donkeys and if they meet a human being they start growing up until they reach the sky.

As the Siwans believe in the evil spirits, they also believe in good sprits and angels. They believe that they live under the ground and in the sky. All the Siwans believe in this and no man ever walks alone as they have to walk in groups. Each member of the Siwan community would tell stories of the evil spirits he met and the ghosts he saw. There are certain places they never enter at night under any circumstances.

Giving birth

After a week from giving birth, they make Henna and put one drop of it between the eyebrows of the newly born baby and they say with their own language “may god accept you and protect you for the sake of your mother and father”.

The young girls take a container of water and drop the water on the roof of the house as they believe this would increase the life of the newly born baby.

 Death of the husband and the ogress

When the husband dies, the wife walks in the funerary to the graveyard. When the body of the husband is buried, the wife has to hide from all the people as they believe that if the widow stares at any person, he will be harmed in some way. The Siwans call the widow Al Ghoola , or the ogress. Nobody walks in the lanes where the ogress walks.

The widow has to remain home for forty days wearing white robes and even her relatives who live with her are not allowed to see her.

At the last night of the forty days, the relatives of the widow come to her house and spend the night with her. At dawn, they accompany her to the water spring and anybody that she stares at, except her relatives who spent the night with her, will be exposed to some harm. When the widow finishes all the rituals at the water spring, she is not called an ogress anymore and she can go on with her life.

There is a famous story about the preacher of the oasis who was an educated man who studied at the Azhar University. He kept advising the people to give up these practices using the words mentioned in the Quran. He even agreed to meet the widow or the ogress to prove that all these habits are not true. However, on the next day, he received a telegraph saying that one of his close relatives has died. However, any intellectual would believe that this was only a coincidence.

Traveling

If a Siwan man wants to travel, he has to depart in the afternoon. Almost all his relatives gather at his house and his mother, or the closet person to him, drop milk on his head. Moreover, any woman who shakes hands with him has to put an egg in his hands.

The men from his relatives go with him outside the oasis. They stand in a row and they start praying for him and then they leave.

 

Siwa Home

Coming back home

When the man is coming back home, he has to stay outside the town and send a messenger to his family and relatives who will welcome him and accompany him back home.

These habits concerning travelling have nearly declined because they were practiced in the past when the Siwans used to travel using camels and they used to spend 30 days or more on their way to Cairo and 8 days on their way to Matruh. However, there days, the Siwans travel using cars and the period they spend on their way to any destination is much less in time.

Music and dancing

The Siwans are fond of dancing and music. One can hear their singing and chanting in the farms from miles away.  Most of their songs contain words with a lot of meanings. Many of the songs of the Siwans are love songs as they are affected with the beauty of the surrounding environment and the wonderful natural sceneries. The Siwans have a great ability to transform words or poems into songs. The Siwans use the oboe and the drums with amazing abilities to create amazing tunes and songs.

Dancing and singing

When the Siwans dance and sing in different occasions, they stand in circles and start moving in rounds just like a car wheel without stopping. Sometimes they stand in rows and start singing along with the sounds and tunes of oboes and drums.

The Siwans mix singing with dancing using their hands together in an amazing harmony and they shake their whole bodies to the music.

Sometimes theses movements are very quick and sometimes they are slow. All the songs of the Siwans contain loving words to the woman they are fond of and it contains a lot of metaphors. They call their beloved woman as sweet as the sweetest dates and they refer to women as tall palm tree.

Usually a first group starts the song, afterwards another group repeats after the first group and they all start singing together. The Siwans often gather in an empty area and start singing, playing primitive music and dance.

One hears different songs coming from various locations in the Siwa Oasis, with the surrounding magical atmosphere, he feels entertained and relieved from all the loud noises of the modern life. He swims in a natural lake of imagination. He feels that the nomadic instinct and the natural instinct are still alive in this oasis as they used to thousands of years in the past.