nubian blogger

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Exodus From Nubia

The World
Exodus From Nubia

Dec. 20, 1963
"We went to the graves of our ancestors for the last time," said Sheik Ahmed Mardani. "The women and children cried and we tried to console them, but we" knew our homes were lost and our lives changed forever." Sheik Mardani's lament was for himself and 100,000 other Nubians in Egypt who last week were being evacuated from their ancestral homeland on the Nile banks. The exodus was necessary because the Aswan High Dam, being built by Egypt with Russian help, next spring will back up the Nile, creating a huge 1,800-sq.-mi. reservoir that eventually will give Egypt vast new irrigated acres and electric power. But it will also flood the gaily painted houses of the Nubians, their cemeteries, mosques and groves of date palm.
Wild Valley. In their wild, inaccessible valley, the Nubians prospered tranquilly for centuries until the first As wan low dam was built in 1902. The rising Nile water drove the villagers farther up the cliffs, and the process was repeated in 1912 and 1933 as the dam was successively raised to a height of 182 ft. Half of Nubia's 30,000 arable acres were lost and the remaining 15,000 could only be hastily cultivated when the Nile was low.
As the land vanished, Nubian men sought work in the cities, where their proverbial honesty and fanatical cleanliness won them jobs. Now, at the rate of 300 a day, the remaining Nubians are being moved downstream from their villages to the Kom Ombo area, some 40 miles north of Aswan.
The government of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, determined to make a showpiece of Kom Ombo, is at work on 25,000 houses, 138 stores, 33 mosques and 36 schools. The houses have been built largely to the Nubians' own specifications, with high-walled patios, animal pens, 12-ft. ceilings and up to four bedrooms per house. They will soon be adorned with tradition al Nubian frescoes — stylized scorpions, lions, fish, snakes, suns, moons and stars. "After all," says Sheik Mardani, "there's no law against beauty."
Thundering Express. Yet most Nubians were appalled by the first sight of their new home. Groaned one old man: "I used to be awakened each morning by the murmuring river waters. Now it is the dawn Cairo express from Aswan thundering in my ears." In Nubia, polygamous husbands had separate houses for each wife; at Kom Ombo, a man's wives must share his house, and many husbands, dismayed by the prospect, have divorced all wives save one. But a man who risked keeping both his wives concedes that the arrangement has advantages. "Here I do not have to move from house to house. I go one night to one room, the next night to the other room. It spares the strength of my wives and is good for me, too. Since I have a third bedroom, I'm thinking of getting a third wife."
Nubian women seem happy about the move. Stone walls and concrete floors are a welcome change after a dusty lifetime of adobe and mud. Besides, there are movies, television, schools and clinics. As the Nubians file aboard the paddle steamer headed for Kom Ombo —loaded down with palm fiber beds, carved wooden chests, magical amulets, goats and sheep—they try to exorcise their grief of leave-taking by singing. One song runs: "The Nile is drowning Nubia and we must forget the past. The river brings life and the river brings. death."