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Big world… small world

The scale of the desert was awesome. Our plane passed over hundreds of miles of sand, without a speck of green. Apart, that is, from the occasional oasis showing up as a small cluster of buildings attached to an improbably straight, fine black line that was its connecting road. These lines looked like boundaries marked on a map. What a way to live: surrounded by relentless desert with nothing to sustain life outside that tiny settlement, miles from anywhere.


As we approached Luxor we caught our first glimpse of the River Nile. We knew it was coming when we started to see the patchwork of cultivated fields cut out of the sand. Closer to the river, the pattern of the fields took on a very striking character – each one a regular, long rectangle.


Leaving the plane, the heat suddenly hit us. From springtime in Cornwall we had travelled in time to the hottest of summer days. Time to discard the jumpers that we’d needed on the journey. We were surprised when a uniformed customs officer, checking our passports, was the first Egyptian to hold out his hand for ‘baksheesh’ (a tip).


A fifteen-minute coach ride from the airport showed us a cross-section of the Egyptian people at work and rest. Farmers in the fields, dressed in traditional costume, harvested with scythes. There were donkey carts, families tending goat herds and, all along the route, others relaxing by the side of the road after a day’s labour.


As if to emphasise what a small world we live in, we discovered that the couple in front of us on the coach were from Tyneside. The husband was a retired postman whose delivery route had included my Mum’s street in Whitley Bay.