Steven Boone: Artist, Photographer, Traveler
This post is a short compilation of some of Steven Boone’s adventures in Luxor over the course of several years.
Steven is an artist, photographer and writer living in Santa Fe. His travels have taken him around the world numerous times. His adventures are chronicled through his art, photography and writing. I am grateful to be able to share some of them with you.
Steven’s connection to cancer is through his daughter, Naomi, who died of Ewings Sarcoma, a particularly deadly form of childhood cancer. Steven wrote a moving memoir of her battle: A Heart Traced in Sand.
To learn more about Steven and his work, please visit the Steven Boone Gallery.
Luxor is a city of about half a million people located along the east bank of the Nile in southern Egypt. During the 16th-11th centuries B.C. , Thebes, the pharaohs’ capital, resided here. Surviving today are two ancient collections of buildings and temples that draw tourists to the area: the Luxor and Karnak Temples, located on the east bank and the royal tombs of the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens on the West Bank.
Much of the economy of Luxor centers on tourism. In Steven’s travels, he befriended a family in Luxor, Egypt. One of the daughters, Amira, aspires to go to college and study business and accounting. Her annual tuition is $2,000, about the annual earnings of the entire family.
Steven has started a GoFundMe account for her. If you’d like to help, please click here.
Brothers Of The Nile
Steven has adopted, or been adopted by, some Egyptian families in his travels. Here in Luxor, he revisits with his friend, Abu’l Ezz,and his family. Abu’l operates a felucca–a sailboat– that takes visitors up and down and across the Nile.
I am now a “brother” of the Nile. It feels as though this grand, lengthy and luxurious river is a vein in my own body. It will always share its life with mine.
By now, I am quite familiar with Luxor, a major Egyptian city that straddles both sides of the river, and the home of many important historical sites from ancient civilization. I have visited most of the key locations, and especially like Karnak (founded 3200 BC), with its massive ramparts, scores of tremendous columns, inscrutable, exotic hieroglyphics carved in its walls, granite floors, and immense totemic sculptures of human forms and guardian beasts. Over thirty Pharaohs contributed to its formation over scores of generations. It is the second largest ancient religious site in the world, after Angkor Wat Temple in Cambodia.
On my first visit in 2008, I made friends with the captain of a felucca, a traditional sailboat now used primarily to take tourists on Nile River sailing jaunts. Abul Ez and I became friends and I often visited with him and his family in their humble home of earth on the West Bank of the Nile at Luxor. After a week, when I left to continue my world travel, he said, “Do not forget me and my family!”
During the years since then, I often thought of Ez, his family, Egypt and the Nile—so I returned. I did not seek Ez immediately, since I needed some time to unwind from a busy two days in Cairo, and Egypt is very hot and I am easily drained of energy while outdoors during most sunlight hours. So, I avoided the extremes and stayed indoors working on writing, painting and correspondence. Then, as I suspected, it was easy finding Ez, especially with the photo I brought with me to the West Bank.
When we arrived at his home in the early evening, it felt familiar. I brought gifts to his wife and children and once everyone got over the surprise of my visit after six years, we settled into a happy feeling. I took note of how the four children had grown and also, the new addition of one boy, Yusef. As we sat in his tiny front room of earth and he smoked flavored tobacco in his water pipe, he smiled at me and said, “This is your home!”
Since my last visit, Ez has traded his felucca for a motorboat with canopy that seats a dozen people. He has more business, since he can quickly and easily ferry local people across the river and back. He has a motorbike, and now there is a television in his house. Otherwise, he looks much the same and has hardly aged . . . being robust and with vigor. The family still live humbly. Today at lunch, the meal was so delicious, and a flavorful soup was spicy and my nose began to run. I asked for tissue, but there was none in his home, so his wife tore a cotton rag and this is what I used for my nose. I am so comfortable here, and he reminds me that we are brothers, and I feel the same.
A Thousand Candles
Steven returns three years later and quickly picks up on his friendship with Abu’l Ezz the felucca captain and another family headed by Hagag, a farmer.
Amira seemed timid and mysterious during my first visits to her home in Luxor several years ago. After all, I was a stranger from America who did not share her Egyptian life or speak her language. What might I be thinking of her poor, humble earth home and impoverished family? Her father, Hagag, and I were becoming friends. Each day I walked on the dusty dirt road along the Nile River to be with him, his wife Edleah and five children.
Bilal, the youngest, age 3, often ran around with nothing on but a t-shirt. He sparkled like a gem—full of happy exuberance, whether playing with cats, racing about the compound, or being at my side. His mother was amused when he scolded her to go away so that he could have me for himself as playmate.
Mohammed, the oldest son, took me on a sojourn to a nearby village. I sat atop the family donkey while he walked beside. He spoke enough English to allow us to converse. Amira had just reached the age to cover her head with a scarf. She could only glance at me shyly in passing. Nubi, the next oldest boy seemed shy and aloof. Iyah, the youngest girl was bubbly and playful, her reddish-brown curly hair pulled back and tied behind her head. She looked curiously at me while smiling in delight.
I came to know and love the entire family, and the grandmother too.
Three years later, last December, I arrived again in Luxor and stayed for three weeks. Mohammed had gone into the army. He could not avoid it since the family had no money for college. He returned home for a week while I visited. In the army he earns one dollar per day and must pay for his uniform and shoes. The family cannot afford it, but pays for his bus trips home and back to his army post. He only has a few months of his two year service left. After that he said, “I want to work and help my family.”
My time in Luxor was split between my friend Hagag’s family and my other Egyptian friend Abul’ Ezz and his big family. Hagag is poorer than Ezz, but by American standards they both are quite poor. Yet such heart in these people! I feel humble in their presence.
Hagag is a farmer with a tiny plot of greens. He has a bad back that needs surgery but labors on. The children have grown and with this visit opened up to me. Bilal wanted to be sure he was not asleep if I were coming. Iyah made drawings—including my portrait. Nubi gave me rides on the donkey cart if I was going on to Ezz’s home. Amira stopped her studies to look deeply into my eyes and speak a little in English.
I always had my camera and the families accepted my picture taking.
Amira is coming of age, finishing secondary school. She is bright, honest and pure hearted. Her hope is to attend college and study business or accounting. But it is impossible for the family to afford. The tuition, including room and board is about 2000. dollars per year. That is about the entire yearly income for Hagag.
All four children sleep in one small room. Amira’s bed is a straw mat spread upon the hard earth floor. The others sleep togerther on cushions on simple divans. Perhaps Amira sleeps on the earth because of her age—because she is a young woman. There is no complaint in her.
I told Amira I would be sure she can go to college. Her heart soared and it was as if a thousand candles lit within her breast. Such a smile of gratitude. I imagine her at college, ardent in her studies, sharing a room with another student, and with a bed to sleep in.
Please, if you read this and are moved, make a donation now. Any amount helps.
For Amira to go to college would be a tremendous success for the entire family. Impossible without our help.
Here is the link: AMIRA’S COLLEGE FUND
A Three-In-One Day
One of those perfect days, so filled with life and adventure, that times flies by. From markets to sailing the Nile with Abu’l Ezz, a day to be remembered.
There are days that I call three-in-one days. They usually occur while I am traveling. Events are so fantastic and magical that they embed in my psyche indelibly and deeply, filling my being in such a satisfying way that I swear I have lived three days in the span of one. Yesterday was like that.
It began before dawn when I am typically asleep. I woke, made breakfast and coffee, then walked in the dark along the dirt road on the west bank of the Nile River in Luxor. In a few minutes I arrived at my Egyptian brother Hegag’s home. It was quiet and a light shone from within. The doors are never closed so I stepped to the passage. Edleah, Hegag’s wife came forward from the back and motioned me to sit inside. Hegag soon appeared and we sat drinking hibiscus tea. Edleah’s brother, Adil, came with a car. We set out driving in twilight.
I was in the back seat, noticing the earthen homes, sugar cane fields, and morning haze—vapors from the canals by the fields. We reached a rundown paved road and took off as the sun rose behind us. It came up glowing orange behind distant blue mountains.
People appeared along the way, beginning their daily tasks . . . turbaned men in Jellabiya, the loose gown that flows down to the feet, and women in hijab’s and scarves covering their head.
We were going to Isna, where a big Saturday souk for trading animals occurs. The ride would have taken less than an hour, but speed humps to slow down traffic caused Adil to brake often. It took about an hour and half. At Isna we had to ask directions. Hegag said the location changes week to week. We knew we arrived when we could go no further because of the crowd.
Hegag and I set out walking with Adil staying behind. Within a minute we were in a crush of men and animals. I had my camera in hand and was so dazzled by the scene I began snapping photos left and right. Hegag kept close watch over me, keeping me from being trampled by buffalo, camel or cow, and making sure I was free, but tethered to him.
Big masculine energy abounded with carousing, exclamations, excitement, joking, shouting, and fraternity. I knew I was the only “different” one, and thought a couple times this was no place for wimps. But SPIRIT was holding sway and I pointed my camera and shot. Sometimes, a man or boy wanted his picture taken next to a friend or holding a beast. Occasionally I would hear “hello”, or “welcome”. I gave a lot of thumbs up and pressed flesh with the guys.
We took a break for tea and falafel lunch with pita bread, then we dove in one more time. I wondered about the complete absence of women. Hegag said it was not their job to buy and sell animals. “If a woman’s husband dies, and she needs to sell an animal, she gets a neighbor, or relative to help.” He showed me where animals were being butchered and I walked in bloody mud while the butcher posed with his long blades in front of hanging carcasses.
As we began the drive back, I told Hegag, OK, the long drive was worth it.
I joked with Adil about all the humps home.
Late afternoon my other Egyptian brother, Abu’l Ezz met me by the Nile and off we went in his motorboat to cruise at sunset. “This is your boat! Any time!” he said, grinning. “Are you happy?’ I said yes, and he replied, “Then I am very very, very, happy!” Indeed I felt happy—languidly floating on my favorite river in the world, chasing after felluca, the traditional Nile River sailboats. Ezz would align us for just the right pictures. I especially enjoyed seeing the felluca with the sun going down behind them.
When the sun set and Ezz took me back to the river bank outside my flat, he asked me to come to dinner the next day, after another boating at sunset. I look forward to being in his earth home with his children and served a tasty Egyptian supper prepared by Saida, the best cook in Luxor.
When I reached my flat, I made dinner. Walking back to Hegag’s home for tea I thought . . . OK this has been one of those three days in one.
All photos and text: Copyright Steven Boone Reprinted with permission of the artist
Like This Post? Pin It!
If you’re interested in learning more about photography (or cooking or film or any number of topics) check out Masterclass for on-line excellence:
What is #CancerRoadTrip and how did it come to be? Read this post to get the backstory!