I have not blogged regularly for the last two weeks as I have been moving house. As my friends know, I have moved house many times, being a renter not a home owner, but this has been a move with a difference. I now know that all my possessions in Siwa (we won’t talk about all the stuff still in storage in Australia) amount to four donkey carts piled high, because this time I moved by donkey.
There had been problems with previous house, especially the flooding described in earlier posts, and ongoing plumbing problems. I had started to look at other houses, and T. had a friend who had a house about the same size, and on seeing A’s house and meeting his family. I decided the move would definitely take away the worry of future flooding and another week wasted cleaning mud/salt/water out of the house, and offered other improvements.
It has a solid timber roof that won’t leak, windows which all have glass and close properly, keeping out more sand dust and cold in winter, a larger bathroom, other rooms same size as first house, ceiling fans (will be good when summer hits, there are none first house).
The house is near centre of town, no further away than the first house but on the other side of town. This makes it 10 minutes walk further to swim, a stroll through town and then down the road between palm gardens for 40 minutes to the cool waters of Cleopatra Spring and for an hour to the hot spring, so it is just a little extra exercise.
The house is not an irrigation canal as first house was, so there is no stagnant-water-in-the-canal smell, and maybe a few less mosquitos, though these are ever present in Siwa after dusk. The sink and basin both work, again the shower does not – showers seem to be for decoration only here, unless you get a pump, which I may do eventually. For now I continue to warm shower by pouring a container of mixed boiled and cold tap water over me. The basin is a better height for washing my hair, and positioned outside bathroom and kitchen so everyone can use it to wash hands and face after meals. There is an additional tap in bathroom for washing hands after toilet, or filling buckets to wash clothes and clean.
The landlord’s house is directly next door, he and his wife have three daughters aged 15, 8 and 1 ½. Hopefully being near them will improve my Arabic and teach me some Siwan also.
Drawbacks of new place – it has cement floor not ceramic tiles (which first house had), except for ceramic tiles in bathroom and around sink between kitchen and bathroom. That is fine by me as I have some mats and can get more, and it means I can just sweep and shake mats, instead of also washing the floor every second day
Toilet is eastern style (you squat over it instead of sit on the “chair”, but with ceramic toilet bowl, not a mud hole, so no mess) which I am used to from everyone else’s place here. If I stay longer term I can replace it with a “chair” style as they say here of our toilets. Here you can make changes to a rented house and you pay for the change, but then you don’t pay rent for whatever amount you have spent – a great idea, as you can make changes really at no long term cost to you, you get immediate benefit and landlord benefits long term from the changes.
There is no backyard, not that I used the previous house yard much, only for Habibi and as she had learnt to jump the fence I couldn’t leave her there alone anyway. There is a small space for her outside between front door and the palm fence, where there is a washing line and room to use my small bbq.
Interior walls alternate between a pale peppermint green and pale turquoise – a bit vibrant. for me, but green and blue interiors are usual in Siwa. There is no fridge, but I wasn’t expecting one at the first house and lived here without one before, and I will buy one eventually.
The owner, A, seems kind and fair and we spent two hours with the police registering my occupancy, so hopefully there will be no problems. I was going to rent a truck to move, but he offered to move me with his donkey, which we did over two days, as I packed more books and began cleaning the first house between trips. It did attract a bit of attention, a donkey cart piled high with stuff, and me perched up on the driver’s seat with A. I discovered another reason Siwan women’s loose all-over covering is a good idea, and why they ride in the donkey cart instead of up front – even with a good bra on, it is impossible to control the jiggling that results when you are sitting just behind a trotting donkey. That is the last time sit in that spot without a very loose shirt to disguise this – definitely not a good look in a conservative society.
There are some social obligations with the new landlord / neighbours. It is essential I spend some time with the wife and daughters, which should be enjoyable as the eldest daughter is an enthusiastic delight and the wife warm and welcoming, and already providing fresh baked bread and honey cake. But we also need to gradually establish ground rules as they are not used to women working, and if I don’t an understanding of this, I could be expected to spend a lot of time with the women. Being a Western woman and also wanting some male friends to visit me, A the husband is required to join us when they do; this means I sit through the men socializing with each other in Arabic as well as talking with them in my mix of English and basic Arabic.
More on the new situation soon…