As the sun began setting, we made our way across the Nile to the west for the last event of the field school – the graduation ceremony. We were joined on Abu Ghalan’s boat, Isis 2, by several members of the team: Hazem, Hassan, Yaser and his family, Owen, and Hilary, as well as the students living on the east, Peter, Nadia, Abd el Ghany, and Shaimaa and her family.
We were met at the ferry landing by our trusty driver Mohamed, this time needing a second car as we were so many. Arriving at Sheikh Ali, we found that a great central table had been set up for all of our guests near the lower terrace of the garden. This was ideal as it meant that we could take over this space as well for the purposes of handing out the certificates. Once everyone had arrived we began the official element of the evening, and alongside the certificates the students received a gift that Will and JJ had made for each of them, as well as the staff. From previous years’ experience we learned to do this portion of the evening first, to finish it before food and general chaos ensued. We invited Yaser to announce the names, with Hassan, Owen, and Hilary joining us to congratulate each individual student and Inspector. Though this may sound straightforward, it took a great deal of time organizing everyone to stand in the correct places and to agree as to what each individual needed to do. But once the first 2 or 3 recipients had passed the podium, so-to-speak, as with our field school it slipped into an effective and efficient process, though including a great deal of hilarity. At the end, JJ and Will presented Owen, Hilary, Hassan, and Yaser with a mug of their own, as a way of thanking them for their teaching, and Hassan was given a gift by the students, as a way of welcoming him back to his Luxor home.
Following one last group photo, the official business was concluded, so JJ shouted “let’s eat” and all and sundry returned to the central table where the food was beginning to appear. We were so many – 11 students, 6 teachers, 2 staff, 2 inspectors, 3 wives, 1 husband, 10 children – that they had to add an extra table for us! The restaurant staff coped with the numbers remarkably well, culminating in a delicious BBQ of superb chicken and spiced kofta with a mezza of salads, aish shams, rice, and potato tagine. The kofta in particular was so good that it was consumed en masse, leading to cries of “kofta tani, kofta tani,” though by the time more arrived the culprits had disappeared to smoke shisha in the lower terrace, away from the women and children. Not wanting her students to go hungry, JJ hand-delivered the plate down to them, where it was instantly devoured. By this point the group was breaking up and re-forming, babies being passed from one person to another, children running and playing, so that the family groups began to dissolve and it became harder to identify which baby belonged to which parent, a sure sign that the evening was a success and the students and families were relaxing and enjoying themselves in true Egyptian fashion, the love of children being the glue that holds Egypt together. Though still quite early, low-and-behold, we looked around and we had pretty much taken over the entire restaurant. The basbousa, Will’s favorite dessert, arrived and while the women enjoyed the dessert at the tables, the men were so preoccupied with shisha and laughter that they didn’t even realize it had appeared. JJ, knowing how disappointed Will would be if he missed out, hand-delivered a plate down into the shisha den. Abu el-Yazid, offering the plate to Will as guest of honor, was quite surprised to watch him began to disappear back up the stairs, thinking all 3 pieces were for him, and followed Will with cries of horror and outrage as he desperately tried to explain that it was the serving plate! In the end, Will only got one mouthful before Abu el-Yazid reclaimed the platter. The remainder of the evening is something of a blur, as people mixed, chatted, and laughed, and the children played at our feet, creating games and general havoc to their hearts content while their parents were otherwise occupied.
Before we knew it, the first of the students was needing to say good-bye, Sayed el-Rekaby, who would be leaving early the next morning to return home to his family in Aswan. Abu el-Yazid, needing to collect a new keyboard in Luxor, decided to accompany him. And that, as is so often the case at parties, set in motion the various departures. But as you will know by now, just as it is a time-consuming affair to say hello to our Egyptian students, it takes even longer to say good-bye. Amongst much hugging and kissing, and a few tears, Abu el Hagag rode away with his children on his motorcycle, and the rest of us loaded into the minibuses, with promises to keep in touch and see each other again next year, as cries of “sana gai, sana gai, sana gai” rang out from bus to bus. One bus went off into the villages of Qurna, while the other headed towards the river, dropping students off along the way, until all that remained was the same group that had come east earlier in the evening. Yaser and his family took one taxi, Shaimaa and her family walked, and Ayman collected the rest of us, and all were dropped off one-by-one, until only JJ, Will, and Hazem were left.
A wonderful end to a successful season.