The night my life changed: a Nubian Village in Aswan, Egypt

I still get the shivers when I think of this night, a few days into our trip through Egypt, when the shock that I was actually in Egypt had semi-worn off, and I realised where I was. Not geographically, but where I was in my life. When I realised what I was meant to do with my life. That’s a pretty huge epiphany to have half way across the world. But it truly, honest to goodness was the most magical few hours of my life to date; it surpassed even my wedding day, which I know is “meant to be” the “most important” day in any girl’s life.


Photograph © Jess Carey 2014


This was the image I chose to lead my blog. The visualisation of what this blog is all about. The ordinary girl with her extraordinary, completely insane, totally ridiculous dreams. This image captures my dream finally, finally being made real. Everything about this is perfect – the brick wall, the dumped car, the bright lights and colourful clothing of the market, the big, green trees, the houses on the hills in the background. It was all perfect. That was the end of this magical night. Let’s back track a little to where it started…


On this particular afternoon, the small group we toured through Egypt with (six of us in all – four Aussies and a Colombian, and our incredibly intelligent and utterly irreplaceable guide Medo) hopped aboard a Felucca to sail along the Nile to a little Nubian Village, where we would be invited into the home of a family, shown where they live, go to school, what they eat, and all that jazz that us travellers eat up.


Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

On our way, however, our boat pulled up, and Medo asked us if we wanted to take a dip in the Nile. Before he could get the rest of the sentence out, the five us us had jumped up and were already half undressed and ready to go. We could not believe we were going to get to SWIM in the Nile!! That’s crazy! My husband and I looked at each other as we pulled up on the sand – we had the silent understanding that this was truly extraordinary. I mean, this stuff doesn’t happen to people like us! We both have sensible jobs, a house in the suburbs complete with the mortgage, a dog (in lieu of children)… people like us don’t just go swimming in the Nile! You couldn’t have wiped the smiles off our faces if you tried, you really couldn’t..


After jumping into the water, being half frozen (the sun may have been hot, but the water sure as hell wasn’t!!!), the five of us walked up to a ridge in the sand, to dry off in the sun, and all just looked at each other. It was the silent, unspoken communication between five travellers, not tourists, that we were experiencing something truly special. We all closed our eyes, tilted our head back so that the sun shone on our faces, and we were so happy. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.


Eventually, we jumped back onto the boat, dried off and dressed, and sailed on to the village.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

It was another world, in every way imaginable. They dressed differently, talked differently, lived differently. It was all completely foreign, in every sense of the word.


We walked straight into the village’s school, and were taught to write our names in Arabic by a teacher.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

My husband, who actually is a teacher, was dumbfounded by the school yard..

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

The rooftop “playground” had me fumbling for my camera and completely awe-struck…

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

But it was the view from the roof of the school that was the most breath-taking thing of all…

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

We made our way, eventually, to the home we were invited into. Our guide Medo introduced us to one of the many family members who lived there (and by many, I mean there was somewhere in the vicinity of 15 – 20, maybe more people, who shared the house), and he, in turn, introduced us to the family crocodiles.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

See what I mean? Completely, utterly and absurdly, other-worldly.

We entered the home, which was the most magnificent compound I’ve ever seen…

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014


We sat on a bench in the communal area at the centre of the house, and listened to Medo explain traditional living arrangements, courting and marriage ceremonies, and food. At this point, one of the home’s inhabitants appeared with hibiscus tea and food for us to try – some of it just didn’t agree with my Western palate, like the stuff on the bottom right corner which had a Vegemite like taste to it (I hate the stuff!), but the white cubed stuff above it, which was a mixture of coconut and palm sugar and something else, was completely devoured within a few minutes, mostly by me! The flatbread was still warm and so good, and the syrupy molasses was soooo good after a long day! One of the best plates of food I ate in Egypt!

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

After all of that, we were left to roam the small market alone for an hour, while Medo caught up with some friends. I found this on the way out of the house and it completely stopped me in my tracks. Unfortunately there was no one around to ask what on earth it was, but I guess it was like a mobile or something? I don’t know, I just stopped and stared at it for a few minutes and took this photo…

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014


Anyway, out into the “streets” we went, exploring the small market, climbing to roof tops and taking it all in… here’s some of what I captured..

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014


Photograph © Jess Carey 2014


Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

So, why was this night so important? Why was it so pivotal? How did it change the trajectory of my life? Actually, it’s pretty simple. It showed me there was another world to the one I lived in, and that I desperately wanted to see it.

Until then, all I could see was that I lived a comfortable life. I had a lovely home, a great marriage, good friends and family, a steady job, blah blah blah. It was always a dream to travel a bit, but that was it. A dream. I never thought it possible to make it my reality. I figured I’d travel a little, rarely, and then go back to my world. It never occurred to me that I could, in fact, make travel my world.

I’ve always been a very cautious person, always choosing the safe and standard path. I graduated high school, graduated university, got a job, fell in love, bought a house, got married. I regret none of it because it’s all brought me to where I am now, but I also now recognise that none of it was my true destiny in life, it wasn’t my calling. I’ve always wanted to be a person who throws caution to the wind, but I’ve also always been too scared to mess up, especially financially. I also felt overwhelmingly guilty that I wanted more from life. Shouldn’t I just be content to have a nice home and job and husband and friends and family? Shouldn’t that be enough? I’m not a special person, I’m incredibly average in every sense of the word, so shouldn’t I just be content to live an average, ordinary life? Isn’t it so selfish to want more? Do I really deserve an exciting life? Won’t I be letting people down if I follow my dreams instead of what I feel I should do, what’s expected of me??

As I’ve said in a previous post, going to Egypt was a life dream for me. The fact that husband and I saved every spare cent for three years to make that dream a reality was pretty impressive to us. We wanted it, we worked hard to get there debt free, and we made it happen. We always asked ourselves how we could get to the point that we could afford a “dream” trip. And when we finally got there, I was content for a minute. Just a minute. Until it suddenly dawned on me – why did I have to stop at one trip? If my dream was to take many trips, to be a traveller, to explore the world, why wasn’t I asking myself how to make that happen? It hit me like a ton of bricks.

With these two epiphanies (Shouldn’t I be content already? and Why am I dreaming so small?), the deservingly popular quote from Marianne Williamson’s “A Return To Love” came to mind:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.” 

I’ve never felt as though something related so completely to my situation before. I have to say here, that I am very fortunate in that my husband feels the same way as I do. Despite having been together for almost 10 years now, we’re not interested in settling down and having kids; truth be told, I don’t think that life will ever be for me. We both want to travel. We’ve both contemplated, seriously, selling our house, packing our bags, and travelling for an undetermined length of time. And if we didn’t have our little dog who we both adore with all our hearts, we probably would have. But this trip opened that possibility up to us. We hadn’t even considered it as a possibility before.


Which brings me to why this precise moment in this little Nubian village changed everything for me. It was while we were walking through the markets that I realised this was the life I wanted. Until then, I’d spent my whole life in my comfort zone. I had also spent the last 12 or so years with depression as a constant companion. In the last few hours I’d visited an ancient and sacred temple, sailed on a felucca, swam in the Nile, been to a little Nubian village, strange men asked my husband if he’d sell me for livestock while we were walking through this little market, saw some guy’s pet crocodile, ate some weird stuff that I actually really loved… I was finally out of my comfort zone, and I was FINALLY HAPPY!!! The blackness of my depression had lifted, nothing else mattered, because I had finally worked out my calling, my purpose in life. It wasn’t to be a mum, it wasn’t to have a stellar career, it was to leave my comfort zone and travel. The other big realisation I had was that I was 27 years old, and I was spending a big chunk of my life worrying about making enough money to pay off the mortgage. Like it or not, I wasn’t 18 any more. I might not have felt like I was 27, but I was. You can always make more money, somehow, but you can never get back lost time. If the other stuff hit me like a ton of bricks, this hit me like an earthquake, tsunami and landslide all rolled into one.

So, with that realisation having come to light, to both of us, we propelled through the rest of our trip through Egypt, Italy, London, Barcelona and Paris, with a renewed bond and purpose; screw what everyone else wanted and expected of us. We knew what we wanted now, we were united in our desire to travel and experience as much as we could, and everyone else be damned, we were going to do it. And so our grand plans truly began….


Photograph © Jess Carey 2014


10 thoughts on “The night my life changed: a Nubian Village in Aswan, Egypt

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