Egyptian village offers real Nubian life experience

Friday 04/12/2015
The interior of West Suhail homes.

Aswan - The view from the Nile of the small homes along the top of the hill a few metres away never fails to captivate both heart and mind.
The small blue-and-white homes with their nicely cut yellow, wood­en windows and green-and-brown doors fill the skyline. Above them beams of red and orange light ra­diate from the moon, filling the hearts of everybody present with excitement.
West Suhail, a Nubian village on the west bank of the Nile, only a few kilometres from the Aswan Dam — about 900 kilometres west of Cairo — has been offering visi­tors a unique and exceptional hos­pitality for years.
The village, typically Nubian and containing more than 50 homes, seeks to provide tourists with a real Nubian life experience. It never fails to do this and so mas­terfully at that.
“Tourists come here to be part of the Nubian life experience,” Salah Abdel Rehem, one of the residents and hosts of the village, said. “Here they feel at home away from the artificial nature of hotel life.”
West Suhail was built almost 100 years ago. It was revived about a decade ago after a museum con­taining pieces representing the Nubian culture, which has been part of southern Egypt for thou­sands of years, was built.
Nubians lived for hundreds of years in southern Egypt and north­ern Sudan but in Egypt they were displaced when the Arab state start­ed construct­ing the High Dam in the 1960s to control Nile flooding and generate electricity.
Having been scattered across Egypt, especially in Cairo and the northern coastal city of Alexan­dria, Nubians started to lose their cultural identity, including their distinct Nubian language.
After the museum was complet­ed, its Nubian builders thought of offering tourists more than just a view of Nubian culture. They wanted tourists to lead the Nubian life, which gave rise to the village in its original place of a century ago.
Inside the one-storey homes of the village, tourists spend totally Nubian times. Those who choose to spend a few days in the village, sleep in the homes of the Nubian residents, eat their food and drink local drinks.
Most village homes are divided into two parts, including one for the manufacture of Nubian prod­ucts, such as handmade hats and dresses and the Nubian drink hi­biscus and locally made ground­nuts.
The other part of the homes is specified for the hospitality of the tourists. Here, modern life fea­tures, such as air conditioners, tel­evisions and refrigerators cannot be found.
Visitors living in the Nubian homes use mud-made bottles for drinking just as the Nubians do, drink Nubian drinks, such as hibis­cus tea, and eat Nubian food, in­cluding okra stew or mashed fava beans.
Outside the homes, women and children make products to sell to the hundreds of tourists who fre­quent the village every day.
When the village residents eye a cruise ship or a boat carrying tour­ists coming from a distance in the Nile River, they gather at the vil­lage port and display their mer­chandise.
Hajj Naser, a Nubian resident of the village in his early 50s, has been working in the service of tourists for years. He says apart from bringing residents money, the hospitality industry helps the Nubian culture stay alive for the people who come to the village and experience its life and culture.
“When they come here, the tour­ists get a good impression about Nubian life and the Nubian cul­ture,” Naser said. “They then relay what they see here to other people when they go back home and this helps our culture live longer.”
West Suhail is an intrinsic part of the itinerary of many tourists vis­iting southern Egypt. According to Abdel Rehem, hundreds of tourists visit the village every day and scores of them opt to spend a few days there to take in the full Nubian experience.
When they arrive on cruise ships at the local port, tourists have to climb several stairs to reach the village, which is on a hill almost 100 metres above the river level.
Those arriving by land have a more strenuous journey, cruising through narrow alleyways and bumpy roads surrounded by one-level, white homes on both sides.
But this is not a car or bus ride but rather one that must be made on a camel’s back.
As they move slowly through the alleyways leading up to the village, visitors can see Nubian engravings, symbols and words on the walls of the homes. The faces of the people at the homes greet­ing tourists with a gentle smile or their hands bespeak simplicity and happiness, even as most of them are poor.
When tourists arrive at the vil­lage, they are received very warm­ly by residents, some of them ea­ger to sell handmade products and others to share the Nubian culture and make it live through the visi­tors.
“Nubians like their visitors very much,” Naser said. “This is why most of the time when the tourists leave, their departure is met with tears from some of their Nubian hosts.”