Egypt Travel

Visiting a Nubian Village in Egypt: what an experience!

Since we hired a ferlucca to Soheil Island, 2 miles south of Aswan, to see the hieroglyphics, we also visited the Nubian village on the island. Our ferlucca captain asked us, so we said yes, going with the flow. It turned into one of the best experiences I had on the trip and I would recommend it to anyone interested into learning about another culture and seeing Egypt from a different perspective.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by Zian, a local from the Nubian village who would show us around the island and talk to us about Egypt from a Nubian perspective. It seems that the guides wait by the jetty area until some tourists show up. However, Elephantine, where a larger proportion of the population lives, is much more on the map and much closer to Aswan. I am not sure how many tourists actually visit Soheil, but they were very happy that we made the journey there.

Firstly, we climbed a hill to look out over the island. It was hot and we didn’t bring much water with us.

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When we walked down, Zian took us to a lady’s house who invited us for mint tea which was very much appreciated. She brought out the glass beaded jewellery she made herself. He spoke of how the community agrees on which houses they will invite tourists to – the women of the village who are most vulnerable – the elderly, widowers, etc.

While we drank the refreshing mint tea, I picked out a few necklaces I liked the look of and asked Zian for a price. I was thinking it would be a lot, but when he said 35LE (£1.40 each) I was shocked. I bought about 4 for 200LE. I asked him to tell her that her jewellery was beautiful and she seemed very happy with the sincere compliment.

There are some women in the village who as you walk past, try to hassle you, which can be a little off-putting. Some of the women pulled at my clothes and tried to block the path. Zian repeated several times that this makes him angry – how he has raised this matter with the chief and the ladies many times. They would be better sitting in a place in the village where they can do their crafting, and he would bring the tourists to them, who would happily look at and support their work by buying from them. We agreed that we would prefer that method but in fairness to them, they are desperate with the few tourists visiting the village at the moment. It seems they are in the foundation stage in welcoming visitors to the village and I am interested to see how this develops in the years to come.

After tea, we walked around the village where we received some high-fives from the village kids (so cute, but one little girl really whacked J.’s hand which was hilarious! It was then on to the hieroglyphics area. There was a guard/ticket guy who we tipped 100LE for the visit and Zian explained the story behind the stones. It is crazy their significance and yet it is all just in a pile of rocks, half-forgotten on this island! They really could advertise it more but all the government has done is gated the area.

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We walked back to the ferlucca and it was time to say goodbye to Zian. He was an incredible guide, so friendly and open to discussion on everything we asked: from the Nubian language, the political situation in Egypt and how it is affecting the community, to ways in which they can benefit from tourism in the village. He had learned English from the tourists who come to the island. He cannot read or write English but he speaks it so well. He complimented our accents – British much easier than French – I had to laugh. We gave him a tip and said just how much we enjoyed our visit. They do not have any internet in the village, so getting the message out to the world that they are open and welcome to visitors is a challenge, but something they want everyone to know.

I explained that I had a blog and that I would write about our lovely time with him. He explained that he was happy for two reasons – 1. that we supported the village by visiting it and buying some of their crafts and 2. because we would share our experience with others who he hope will come as well, and that that meant a lot to him. And I can believe that.

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With Zian, our guide onn Soheil Island

It was a real insight into a different side to Egypt. The Nubians are still battling to reclaim their ancestral land with the Egyptian government, especially since many were displaced after the building of the High Dam in the 1960s.When we visited the High Dam, we were only recounted one side of the story – of the great turmoil of painfully relocating hundreds of Ancient Egyptian temples to save them from the flooding – but another direct impact was an entire community of thousands of people who were displaced.

The Nubians are such a welcoming people, warm, smiley and happy to share their culture with travelers. It felt truly humbling. It was an eye-opening experience and I would 100% recommend anyone to go.

The low-down:

How to get there: We visited Soheil Island which is easily accessible by motorboat/ferlucca from Aswan. Choose the ferlucca option if you would like a scenic, no-rush journey.

Cost: Negotiate the cost of your ferlucca/motorboat before you set off. Access to the Nubian village is free, but it is customary to give a tip to your guide for their time. They appreciate it if you would like to buy their crafts, but we were not pressured to do so.

Don’t forget: your camera and an open mind!

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