A Stroll Through the Oasis of Siwa
The village of Siwa in the western Egyptian desert is not only the site of the medieval city of Shali. It is also situated by a large oasis. For us, the oasis was the place where we went to shelter from the sun during the heat of the day. After getting up early to photograph Shali at dawn and eating breakfast at the hotel, we went to the palm groves. We took wide-angle lenses, tripods, and flashes, because, oddly, it is very dark under the trees. We would walk for miles without a set route or plan. We followed streams and wandered from one garden to another, savoring our time in this earthly paradise.
We went to meet the date cutters who climb barefoot up trees over 24 feet tall to harvest the huge clusters of dates at the top. The height frightened us, but they were in their element, attacking the treetops with ease. Plastic tarps were spread on the ground under the trees to catch the falling fruit.
Collectors were working hard to recover the fruit as it fell. They were so proud of being photographed that they offered us dates. We accepted. The dates were delicious, sweet and succulent. We had little to offer them in return, but we showed them the pictures we had taken and offered them a few Egyptian pounds, saying that it was for their children. We had learned that Egyptians will refuse money for themselves, but accept it with pleasure if it is for their children. They are very proud people and will not accept alms. We had to be respectful in our offers of help.
Dates are not the only thing which grows by the oasis. The many streams that crisscross the gardens allow the cultivation of a plant used to feed donkeys. We do not know its name, and when we asked about it, we could not translate the Arabic name into English. The grass is harvested and sold in the market in Siwa. The buyers use it to feed the donkeys that pull their carts.
During these daily walks, we tried to show the daily life of the Egyptians who depend completely on the oasis which provides water for the date-palm trees and the gardens where zucchini, pumpkins, carrots and tomatoes grow.
Taking pictures by the oasis was not always easy because the of the powerful contrast between the bright sunlight and the deep shadow under the trees. We had to use a flash.
But we were happy there. We felt that nothing had changed for centuries and the time was passing slowly and quietly without stress.
We took the time to enjoy the wonderful moments that were offered to us.