Robin Yassin-Kassab

Posts Tagged ‘Nubia


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P1191239Crossing the Nile from Aswan to Elephantine Island feels like travelling to a different country. Squashed – for now – between the ruins of Abu and a gated luxury hotel are the Nubian villages of Siwa and Koti and their shared agricultural land. This was where I spent most of my four days in Aswan, returning from museums and cemeteries to the living, to banana and palm groves, rice paddies and cane fields, and the narrow alleys and painted houses of the Nubians.

I smoked with them, played dominoes, laughed and talked at great length. I returned late each night to my toothbrush in the hotel in Aswan, but they invited me to sleep in their house. They fed me a spicy cheese which tastes similar to Syrian shingleesh, but in liquid form, and fool bean paste, tomatoes and carrots full of flavour, spicy fried liver. It was the best food I ate in Egypt, a country without a decent restaurant culture, even in Cairo, so a country where the best food is simple, rural.

P1181223In the downstairs room, three three-month-old crocodiles captured from Lake Nasser stretched their necks, destined for early execution and then stuffing, or mummification – it’s the same word in Arabic. A few days later I visited the temple at Kom Ombo where sacred crocodiles once splashed in a riverside pool, and where a mummified-crocodile graveyard was excavated. So the Nubians have been stuffing animals for a very long time. My hosts told me the Nubians were the originators of ancient Egyptian civilisation. This is a simplification, to say the least, and one which reminds me of other nationalist narratives in the Middle East. In Syria you hear how Arab-Semitic culture gave the world language. Iran, so some Iranians say, was the factor that civilised a previously barbaric Arab Islam. Most absurdly, Kemalist nationalism in Turkey, with its ‘sun-language theory’ and other idiocies, claims that the Sumerians were actually ‘Turanian’ Turks, that the Turks colonised India when the Indians lived in trees, and so on. But the Nubians, being a small, divided people – and pushing the rice pudding bowl towards me as they talked – won my sympathy.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 4, 2008 at 1:14 pm

Posted in Egypt

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