Do you know where Egypt is? Most people I ask know of Egypt; they know about the pyramids and Pharos but if asked to be more specific about it’s location are rather vague. That’s when you need a tea towel. Look at my Egyptian tea towel; it gives you some good pointers. The map in the central shows the River Nile dissecting Egypt vertically with the Red Sea along the eastern border, leading into the Mediterranean Sea, at the north, through the Suez Canal. However tea towels avoid the controversial, so it doesn’t show the Gaza Strip and Israel or Libya to the west and Sudan to the south. From the map you get a sense that Egypt is a large country. It is, in fact, the third most populous country in Africa with a population of 80 million today.
I went to Egypt for my holidays, in 1993; it was the holiday that very nearly didn’t happen. We were booked to go on a two week cruise down the full length of the Nile, from Cairo to the Aswan Dam. Luxury cruise, stopping every day at all the sites you ever wanted to see – the pyramids of Giza, the Great Sphinx, the Valley of the Kings, the Temple at Luxor and much more. Cruising down the Nile is the best way for a tourist to see Egypt because 95 percent of Egypt is desert and virtually uninhabited but the remaining 5 percent is fertile land along the banks of the Nile, hence where history lies. Back to the trip that almost never happened.
Looking back, 1993 was a terrible year for Egypt; 1106 people died, or were seriously injured, in terrorist attacks targeting the police, government and tourists. One week before we were due to fly out, four tourists were killed in a hotel in central Cairo. It was part of an Islamic insurgency, designed to disrupt tourism completely, and in turn overthrow the government. At the time there wasn’t a great deal of publicity about the politics of Egypt and the desire to create an Islamic state; we know that through hindsight. At the time we naively wondered if the tour would go ahead but Thomas Cook assured us that all was well and the tour would go ahead. I don’t think we realised that it was safe because we would be followed by an armed gunboat for the full length of the trip. That’s probably what the tea towel means by ‘the land of sunshine and hospitality’.
Never once did we feel in danger; it just felt quirky, and it was a fabulous holiday. The archeology exceeded all expectations (and it was sunny). As I use the tea towel I am always amazed at how well the colurs have held, not faded. Maybe that it because of the quality of pure Egyptian cotton that holds colour better than linen or mixed fibres. However one of the challenges of travelling abroad in search of tea towels is where to buy a tea towel; it’s not something you read about in guide books. I had no idea, nor did the tour guide, or even the local guide. In 1993, tourists had a choice of two types of shopping, posh upmarket shops in Cairo or the famous small markets that existed everywhere called Souks. Souks seemed a better bet but miming using a tea towel was embarrassing but at least I reassured myself I wasn’t going to meet any of the stall holders again. I couldn’t miss the opportunity. The most embarrassing part was bartering, not a strong point of mine but for the greater good I tried it. I did only find one stall selling tea towels and only one style. I’m not sure that the concept of a tea towel was necessarily a high priority in Egypt; after all pots can dry in the sun.
Not wanting to miss this opportunity, I eventually bought two tea towels: the one above with a map of Egypt and a second one (below) of the Goddess Isis leading Queen Nefertari, wife of Ramesses II. Same style, same background colour, reflecting the colours of the Egyptian flag.
Looking at the tea towels brings great memories; the most alarming camel ride where the owner gave it a whack and off it went with me holding on for dear life or crawling on my hands and knees to get to the centre of one of the smaller pyramids. What I do know is that I will never be able to experience a holiday like that again because in 1995 the Egyptian government stopped cruises down the full length of the Nile because the Central Nile Valley was considered too dangerous. Cruises were restricted to starting in Luxor and going south to Aswan.
So I treasure my tea towel and feel sad that others cannot see Egypt as it should be seen, from the full length of the Nile. A tea towel is better than a photo album on a shelf; you get to use it, feel it and with that remember.
Click below to return to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum