Egypt Day 1

posted: Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The rest of yesterday went by in a blur of sitting in a cold, very air-conditioned departures lounge before a short flight to Aswan.

At Aswan I met up with two of my students coming from London, Charlotte and Zelda. Both are jewellery students at Central St Martins who are just about to graduate and who only knew for certain they were coming on Saturday.

From there it was a quick car ride to the Anakato 3 hotel where we sat outside in the dark, by the Nile eating delicious bread and tried to get our heads around the fact that we were in Egypt.

The night was then spent battling with mosquitoes as I had forgotten to spray the room- a mistake I do not make again all week.

I am here in Egypt for a beading workshop/ cultural exchange/ knowledge sharing exercise organised by the famous Egyptian jewellery designer, Azza Fahmy and sponsored by the European Union. I’m not entirely sure what to expect with regards to the week, the students or the facility but am excited to see what happens.

When I wake up this morning I’m tired, but excited to see where I am staying in the daylight. I am not disappointed. Though seeing as a mosquito managed to bite me right under my eye my view of the world is slightly distorted.

Our hotel is perched right on the Nile. Although it is only 7.30am when I head down to breakfast, the sun is already up and the day is warm- bliss.

Gradually everyone else appears and I get to meet most of the rest of the students. There are to be 12 of them and between us we seem to cover a huge spectrum of ages, cultures and backgrounds and there is even one man- a talented designer named Mohammed. I am the only English person, Zelda and Charlotte are French and Danish respectively, and most of the othesr are Egyptian though with varying backgrounds including German and American.

As we feast on an amazing array of food (just the start of the week of feasts we have, it includes the most delicious bread I have ever eaten, cheeses, amazing yoghurt, falafel, fuul, tahini, the reddest tomatoes I have ever seen and much, much more) we all get to know each other and I further ponder just what I am going to teach all these people.

Soon it’s time to head to class and of course in true style we head there down the Nile on a boat. Sure beats sitting in traffic or taking the tube!

As we head down I am taken right back to when I was last here, about fifteen years ago, and sailed down the Nile on a felucca to this very City. The trip too 4-5 days and whilst it was a shock to all of our systems to be stuck on a little boat, sleeping squashed together on deck and stopping off at islands to take care of bodily functions, it was a few days I will never forgot. Looking at feluccas as we sail today I can barely imagine how we all of us had fit onto one, never mind made it our home for so long.

Our classes this week will take place at the Palace of Culture and on our arrival we meet two more students, some Nubian women who already do beadwork to sell to locals and tourists.

I knew before I came that I would have to tailor the class to work with the beads these women would have available and so the lesson begins with a talk about beads, the different types, makes, sizes, finishes etc and the reassurance that everything can be done in different beads, it will just look and feel different.

I have brought some Japanese seed beads with me, I made sure not to bring delightfully even Miyukis though, and the rest of the beads we will be using are apparently from China- though I suspect they may be Czech.

We start with basic, flat even-count peyote stitch and pretty soon everyone is beading away and we move onto beading flat triangles.

Soon it’s time for lunch and once again a new mode of transport- this time horse and carriage to Panorama restaurant where there is a display of Egyptian art and artefacts and more wonderful food. The meal ends with 4 different types of baklava and coffee which has been roasted on coals, had spices added and then poured into cups which are presented to us upside down so we can smell the cardamon and other spices. You can read more about the coffee making here.

Back to work in the afternoon we move onto tubular peyote and then spiralled. Everyone seems to have fallen in love with Cellini spiral, and it looks wonderful in the colourful array of beads we have to use, and the afternoon is spent with everyone spiralling and triangling away.

After class it’s an excursion to the Nubian Museum before heading back to the hotel and another spread of amazing food before we all collapse into bed dreaming of spirals.