Two Months In Al Widay

A year ago, I was living in Al Widay, a small village near the fourth cataract of the Nile. I was there as part of a team carrying out salvage archaeology in an area threatened by flooding. A new dam was being built at the cataract, and nobody was sure at the time just how widespread the resulting flooding would be. Today, the village of Al Widay is under water.

Al Widay was already partially abandoned when we arrived. Many of the houses were empty, and some were already in ruins. Our team rented two houses that were adjoined by a common wall, which was torn down to create a single large house. We had a cook and two drivers on our team, and they occasionally made trips into the nearby town of Karima to buy supplies. One of the men who lived in the house across from ours cooked fresh bread and brought it to us every morning. Every day we got up early and had a breakfast of strong tea, English tea biscuits, bread, and cheese spread (La Vache Qui Rit, specifically). After that, we would gather our tools and head out into the field to work. Several men and boys from Al Widay and the surrounding villages came to work with us, and I soon had a small team that worked with me on a regular basis.

Although the work was fascinating, the most rewarding part of the experience for me was getting to know the people of the village and, in particular, learning to bridge the language gap. My Arabic was minimal at the beginning of the season, and most of the men spoke virtually no English. By the end of the season, I could hold fully functional conversations in Arabic (with a healthy dose of pantomime and a lot of patience and understanding from my team).

One of the people who made the greatest impression on me was a little girl who lived in the house across from us. She was a tiny, pretty ten-year-old, and she ruled the other children of the village with an iron fist. She attempted (with a certain amount of success) to extend her jurisdiction to include the archaeological team, as well. At one point she ran into me in the dig house wearing shorts (I had actually zipped off the bottoms of a pair of cargo pants), and she very disapprovingly demanded to know where the rest of my pants had gone.

In the evenings, people would gather outside the house to smoke shisha, play music, and chat. The night sky was the clearest I have ever seen. The Milky Way was a giant smear across the sky. The nights were cool and breezy, and we slept on cots in the open-air house, protected by small mosquito tents. Sometimes at night we'd hear mysterious noises in the desert - stray camels, cats, or wild dogs howling in the distance.

Night was when I'd miss home the most. But right now I wouldn't mind going back for a night, and sleeping out in the endless desert under a million glittering stars, knowing that I would wake up early in the morning to hot tea and a day of dry and dusty work. Most of all, I would love to see the people of Al Widay again.

Akhayati Akhayati
22-25, F
3 Responses Feb 18, 2009

My roots go back to near the 4th cataract in Marawi. I first visited Marawi in 2010. After you did. It is just as you described.. Shukran Jazelan! Inshalla tajina tani
Thank you and visit us again.

Hi happyy Yes, I spent a couple weeks in Khartoum and had a great time there! I miss it, and would love to go back.

hey there,im glad that u had agreat time there but apart from alwadi have u gone to other cities,,may b da capital? did u notice how wellcoming da ppl r??