Tour of Siwa, walking edition

 

Traditional pigeon houses in Siwa Oasis
Traditional pigeon houses with their own distinctive Siwan design.

Today, our third full day in Siwa Oasis, we decided to take it easy and walk a short loop through date groves to the temple of the oracle, located in Aghurmi village, then on to Cleopatra’s Pool and back to town. It is indeed a short loop – just 7 kilometers – but with all the stopping to look at ruins and springs, to take photos and enjoy a cup of tea along the way, we were out walking and looking around for almost five hours.

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Catching up in Cairo

After our abrupt departure from Sudan, we were glad to land in Cairo, a city we’ve enjoyed since our first visit in 2013. We’ve been walking around some of our favorite places, remarking on what’s changed and what hasn’t. A big highlight of this visit was the chance to see our friends Tom and Linda, who spend three months of every year here in Cairo.

Tom's photo of Linda, me and Alan
Lemon-mint, Nescafe, Arabic coffee and good conversation. Photo by Tom: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tjsawyer/39680154655

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“There is no thanks between brothers.”

It’s an indoor sort of day today in Omdurman. The sky, or what I can see of it now, is yellow. The view from our rooftop – normally encompassing a wide swath of the Nile from Ingaz Bridge to Shambat Bridge, plus Tutti Island and downtown Khartoum – reveals only faint outlines of buildings that are within easy walking distance.

It’s a dust storm, the first we’ve experienced since arriving in Khartoum a month ago. Not a dramatic Hollywood whip-dust-into-your-face-till-you-bleed sandstorm, but a dust storm nonetheless.

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Daily devotions and a moment of grace

Everywhere we stay, we take daily walks through the neighborhood, wanting to get to know the layout of the streets around us. Our neighborhood in Omdurman, called Morada, is compact, the streets tracing an irregular grid with occasional curves and diagonals thrown in. Mosque towers dot the neighborhood; no one has to walk more than five or six minutes to get to a mosque for prayers.

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A trip to Tutti Island

Viewed from the bank of the Nile in Morada (the district of Omdurman where we live), or from the bridge we cross into downtown Khartoum, Tutti Island is a beautiful spot of green agricultural fields right in the convergence of the Blue Nile and the White Nile. It looks peaceful and serene, an irresistible draw if you’re growing weary of the dusty, busy city.

Tutti Island viewed from Omdurman
Looking over to Tutti Island from the banks of the Nile in Omdurman, where we live. The foreground is actually Omdurman, but it’s very much how Tutti itself looks when you’re standing on the bridge just south of Tutti Island.

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The mogran: confluence of the Blue and White Niles

View of downtown Khartoum from Tutti Island, taken from near the mogran
View of downtown Khartoum from Tutti Island, taken from near the mogran.

We arrived in Khartoum very early the morning of Tuesday 16 January. I am surprised how busy we’ve been since then. Between getting to know our immediate neighborhood, setting up internet service on our phones and laptops, and figuring out where to buy food, we’ve also been trying out our Arabic (Alan’s is pretty good; I have about 12 words of Arabic right now.)

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Next chapter: Sudan

Map of Sudan from Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASudan_regions_map.png
From Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASudan_regions_map.png

Tomorrow we fly from London to Khartoum, Sudan. This is the piece of our three-year sojourn we planned the most intensively. We will be part of the Sudan Volunteer Programme, a 21-year-old nonprofit that places native (or fully fluent) English speakers around Sudan to teach English conversation to Sudanese university students.

A lot of people have asked us, “Why Sudan?” Now is a good time to answer that question, before we jump in and get so involved that the answer changes, and becomes something else.

 

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Urban hiking, London edition

After a lovely Christmas in Malmesbury with the family of our daughter’s partner, we have been back in London for two weeks. That’s given us lots of time to walk in many parts of the city, and from one neighborhood to another.

One of my favourite statues in London: the boy and the dolphin in Hyde Park. This piece makes an appearance in Mary Poppins (the first book).
One of my favourite statues in London: the boy and the dolphin in Hyde Park. This piece makes an appearance in Mary Poppins (the first book).

Among its other advantages – fascinating history, varied historical and modern architecture, human-scale streets – London has wonderful parks that beckon to the urban hiker. On this visit, we’ve walked through Hyde Park and adjoining Kensington Gardens; Southwark Park; West Ham Park; and a multitude of smaller parks and squares throughout the city.

All these parks are filled with huge old trees, beds of varied plants (and some that are flowering now: hellebores, daphne, snowdrops and cyclamens, to name just a few), and wildlife. Yes, wildlife! This morning, we saw a fox in Southwark Park. It was climbing across the top of a vine-filled arbor, trying to get away from the humans staring at it. I wish I had thought to get a photo, but I was too excited to think about grabbing my phone.

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22 generations of terracotta artistry

Terracotta horses, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Terracotta_horses,_Sanskriti_Museum.JPGYesterday our friends Satheesh and Bade sent us to visit V.K. Munusamy, an artist who makes traditional terracotta statues and sculpture, including traditional Tamil village horses and guardians. These statues are a familiar sight to those who have visited rural Tamil villages, and the making of them is a very old tradition. In Munusamy’s family, it’s a tradition that goes back 22 generations.

Munusamy lives in Villianur, about 7 kilometers from Pondicherry. It’s a pleasant village that is also home to a large and interesting Shiva temple, where we stopped for a quick visit along the way.

 

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