‘Weekend Trips’ a branch of the Holiday Tours travel company, came up with another interesting day trip. The trip was to spend a few hours trekking across an island located in the middle of the Nile in the heart of Cairo. Gazeerat El Dahab, (Island of Gold) is approximately 9Km in length. It is inhabited by people who farm the land. There are no bridges, roads or cars that take you to the island. The only way to get to and from the island is by boat. Many of the inhabitants work in the city so they take the 1Le Faluka (Egyptian sail boat) to the shore every day. The available forms of transportation on the small island are on horse/donkey back or by foot.
On the morning of the trip my colleague and friend, Nora accompanied me and other eager explorers at Sky Lounge in downtown Cairo, for coffee and mingling before making our way to the deck to board our private boat. The weather was clear, the sun shining as bright as always and there was a cool gentle breeze to dull the heat.
Aboard the boat we were greeted and briefed by the Weekend Trip team. We were told that the residents of the island are wary of strangers. They are constantly being visited by people who are trying to coax and even force them off the land. Rumor has it that the government may want it as a base; there are also other rumors of wanting to turn the island into a resort or a night club scene. We were asked not to ask them any questions pertaining to the ownership of the land and other related questions that might make them feel uneasy. We were highly encouraged to be courteous towards them; after all we would be their guests on their island.
The boat ride was beautiful. The view on the Nile looking towards to shore lines was fascinating. It gave you the opportunity to look at Cairo from a different perspective and angle. It is a wondrous city, and I can understand why many are captivated by it. Having said that, I don’t think Cairo can hold a torch to Alexandria. Perhaps my opinion is a biased because I lived in Alexandria for well over a decade and I am and always will be Alexandrian.
When we docked at the island, our eyes were greeted by a vision of a girl not older than fifteen years old with 2 younger girls by her side washing their clothes next to the Nile bank. They looked upon us like we were intruding on their privacy. I have to admit that I did feel like I was imposing upon their privacy at the beginning of the trek, but as time passed the residents became more relaxed and were friendlier towards us.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day spent walking the length of the island. I found it hard to get my head around the fact that I was on an island walking through fields of plantations in the middle of the city’s capital. Never the less, the scene on the island was a pleasant change from the concrete pillars of buildings and endless streams of vehicles crowding the main land. It was just relaxing to see open space. I was dumbfounded by the locals and their ability to live the way they do. It reminded me of the film ‘The Village’. Where the inhabitants were cut off from the modern-day world and lived a similar life style to the Amish. I felt as though I had stepped back in to a different era, where houses had no electricity or running water. Water had to be pumped and fetched for cleaning, washing and cooking. Their freshly grown produce is part of their nutritional diet. No fast food delivery or microwave meals. Animals were around every corner in every field. The animals that I saw on the island were better looked after than the donkeys and horses you see on the main land. All though the people of Gizeerat El Dahab lead a much simpler life style, they have a better understanding and appreciation for nature and God creatures that the educated individuals on the mainland. The sound of congested traffic was a distant memory. Instead your ears were filled with sounds that are usually downed out by the cars, the breeze rustling through the trees, birds twittering away to one another, sound of your footsteps on the dirt path and the sound of water irrigating the fields.
I am a nature girl at heart. I really appreciated being able to walk in the fields and see the patch work of the fields and not worrying about being hit by a car. It reminded me a little of the summers I sued to spend in England and the pleasant walks I used to take.
 On the island I was surprised to see a gigantic church. I think my surprise is due to the number of mosques I see everyday. So, I automatically presumed that it was Muslim dominated. Seeing the church there actually comforted me. It meant that on the island both faiths co-exist with one another. It also gave me a little hope too. If these people can do it, then so can everyone else.
         The sounds of the call for prayer rang out from the mosque and could be heard throughout the island, calling its followers to come and pray. I can’t remember the last time I went to pray in a mosque. So, since the majority of the group was going to, I thought why not! I washed for prayer (‘wudoo’ is a certain way of washing, before you pray) and went up to the ladies section of the mosque and waited for the prayer to begin.
When the Emaam started the prayer, everyone came together as one and were united in their faith and all quarrels and differences were laid aside. I found it fascinating how things can change in a matter of seconds. Just moments before my friend and I were being looked upon as strangers by curious individuals and then we were no longer strangers, we were sisters of the same faith. If only people of the world could recognize that we are all made the same way. There would be less hatred and more understanding.
      After successfully walking the entire length of the island it was time to retrace our steps and head back to the meeting point under the ring road bridge that runs through the island. When we got there we sat on the ridge, under the shade of the bridge with our feet inches above the Nile. Some of the group wanted to experience the Feluka ride the locals take every day to and from the main land first hand. From there we went to the local bakery or ‘Fino’ as they call it on the island, to have a taste of the traditional ‘Fiteer Mesheltit’. It’s many layers of filo pastry baked in a circle and cooked in an oven. It can be a sweet or savory dish. The locals laid down mats for us to sit on and served us the freshly baked fiteer with ‘aasal iswid’ (molasses) and ‘mish’ (aged and spicy cheese) on the side. From the way everyone dug in, it was obvious they had all worked up an appetite. Once we had satisfied our pangs of hunger, we walked back to the dock to board our boat and headed back to the main land.
       I really enjoyed the hours spent on the island. To me, that was seeing ‘the real Egypt’ in its natural form. I really do hope that the residence of the island will not be tempted by money and give up their land and way of life.

To see some of the photo’s I took, click on the link.

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