Week 5: 4-10 February 2018
Sunday was our first full day in Aswan, and it started out well, since we could sleep in for a bit! We took a boat to Elephantine, and got a tour around the museum and archaeological site from Johanna Sigl who leads the German excavations. I finally got to drop off the 3 kilo bag of cat food I had been carrying along since Cairo, which we brought since Johanna takes care of the cats on Elephantine, and cat food is three times as expensive in Aswan as it is in Cairo. She was very pleased with it, and so were the cats (we got a lot of cuddles)! The Germans have a beautiful dig house with a view on the Nile, where we spent the hottest part of the day (Aswan was really warm; 30-34 degrees, and it took us poor Northern Europeans some time to get used to this). After Elephantine we took another boat to Philae, were I had my site presentation. In the evening we could relax for a bit, and had a nice dinner on a boat with a view of Qubbet el-Hawa.
On Monday we went to visit the Spanish mission at Qubbet el-Hawa, and once again we learned that ‘flexibility’ is the keyword in Egypt. A committee had shown up to check the site, which meant we could not visit the excavation. Luckily, there was enough to see anyway, including some famous tombs like the one of Harkhuf (whom everybody who has taken Middle Egyptian knows, of course)! For lunch, we undertook a climb through the sand and in the heat to the top of the mountain, and were rewarded with an amazing view on the Nile and Aswan. David treated us, and a very interested camel (seriously, it was dancing) to some bagpipe playing when we reached the top. After lunch, we went to Sehel island, where the rocks are covered with inscriptions from predynastic times to the Graeco-Roman period. We visited the famous famine stela, and had a lot of fun exploring the island, climbing rocks, and looking for the sanctuary of Anuket (which Evgenia and I apparently found after 10 minutes, but we didn’t recognise it. Oh well). When we got back to the hotel we packed all our stuff, because we would leave for Cairo again the next day. But not without first visiting the Nubian museum (where I got lost in the garden; it was seriously big), going to the granite quarry where an unfinished obelisk is still in situ (and where we got to smash up some granite ourselves, which really makes me appreciate the effort the ancient Egyptians put into this even more), and visiting Kalabsha. The island of Kalabsha was really peaceful, not a sound was heard (at least, not until a family with small children showed up). We spent the afternoon here, before making our way to Aswan station and the night train to Cairo.
We arrived back in Cairo around 9.30am on Wednesday after a decent night on the sleeper train. We then headed straight to the Mugamma with Marleen and Shahdan, to renew our visas. This was quite an experience, and we lost 3 of our group to the Mugamma! You certainly need stubbornness and/or patience to cope with the system of Egyptian bureaucracy, and a lady who doesn’t take any nonsense like Shahdan. After the Mugamma we had a lecture by one of our professors from Leiden, Dr. Robert Demarée, on one particular family from Deir el-Medina at the British Council, and he (along with Marleen) convinced us to take the Deir el-Medina course this coming semester!
It was an early morning at the Mugamma on Thursday to hand over our passports. We then went to the Egyptian Museum nearby to consult the database about our paper topics, and to look around the museum at our own objects. We came back to the Mugamma to pick up our passports at 12.45pm and it became quite busy after we arrived. Luckily everyone worked together, shouting names and nationalities throughout the crowd, in spite of the chaotic system and lack of space, to help each other get their own passports back. We definitely deserve a ‘We survived the Mugamma!’ shirt after this! Later, we had a lecture by Tom Hardwick at the NVIC about Mrs Goodison and her Egyptian collection, now part of an exhibition at the Atkinson. He sure draws a crowd.
Friday was our day off, and some went to the Cairo Book Fair in the afternoon. It is great that we have the free day to do what we want. On Saturday everyone wanted to go to the German Institute to use the library to work on our papers, but we had forgotten that it was still the weekend. More luck next time!
Sophie Foot & Nicole Jansen