We had been staying at a lovely apartment called Home Sweet Home located in the idyllic countryside on the West Bank of Luxor. It was set in the middle of farmer’s fields where they were growing bananas, alfalfa, and several other varieties of crops.
In contrast to the city of Luxor this area was peaceful and far away from hustling caleche (horse-drawn carriage) drivers, felucca (sailboat) captains, and taxi drivers. Instead, we were surrounded by locals, many of whom were, not surprisingly, farmers.
We were surprised to learn that most of the work was done by hand, the exception being the ploughing of the land. For this task a tractor was often hired to do the work in one day that would take several if done by the more traditional team of oxen. Transport of goods by donkey cart seemed quite popular though.
They had an extensive irrigation system that was fed by the Nile river. Gasoline-powered pumps would bring water up to several sluiceways that had been dug beside the fields and the farmers would divert the water to this field or that field by opening a cut from the sluiceway. Once the field was well watered the farmer effectively closed the cut with a pile of mud.
As you can imagine, the grass by the sluiceways grew quickly and to keep the growth down they would chop the tall grass, leave it to dry and then burn it right there where it lay. This made for a few interesting days where we thought the apartment was on fire but was just the neighbouring fields.
We were returning from Luxor Temple one evening, having politely declined offers from several aforementioned caleche drivers and felucca captains, and were walking back to Home Sweet Home. As we passed a farmer I nodded to him with a smile and a “Malhabam”, which means “Hi”. His expression seemed a bit taken-aback as we were obviously foreigners yet greeted him in Arabic. He asked where we were from, introduced himself as Haggai and then invited us to see his home. I was hesitant because I had become a little wary and jaded that everyone we encountered seemed to have their hand out for a tip, no matter how small the service or innocuous-seeming the question:
“Excuse me, is this the correct way to the ferry?”
“Yes, keep going in the direction you are going. Where are you from?”
“Canada, near Toronto.”
“Ah, Canada Dry – never cry.” (everyone we met who asked where we were from had some variation of this response)
“Ha, ha – yes, well, thank you”, as I turn to leave for the ferry.
“Wait! Wait! You give me money!”
Haggai must have sensed my hesitation and said, “There is no business here. This is from my family to your family. No business – that is not my way.”
So, with a little trepidation we entered a small, walled area where Haggai showed us his mango trees, his lime trees and a host of other plants they used for food and spices. He then invited us into his house which was a very rustic structure made of mud bricks. There were two small rooms, one that served as the sleeping area for the family and the other where we were that served as an eating area. Haggai offered us a bench to sit on while he and his wife sat on a mat on the dirt floor. Out back was an open-air cooking area where Haggai’s wife began to prepare tea. We tried to decline, not wishing to impose on her with our unexpected arrival but Haggai said it was their custom to offer tea to guests in their home. We chatted over tea and discovered that Haggai had five children. The oldest, Mohammed, was 18 and studying to become an engineer. The next two were in high school and the two that we met were in elementary school.
It was great to meet some locals and hear about their lives and this, again, was a revealing moment for the boys to experience. As we were leaving Haggai wished us well and said he hoped to see us again sometime. Somewhat surprisingly, there was not the customary request for money and that act alone helped restore some of my faith in the good will of people. We saw a lot of history and grandeur while in Luxor, including the Valley of the Kings and the Luxor and Karnak Temples, but this, for me, was a highlight of Egyptian culture.