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A home near the Pyramids

By John Baynard / May 1, 1985



THE sun has not yet risen over the Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx when the mullah's wail sounds from mosque minarets throughout the village of Cofri Cable. It is the Islamic call to prayer reminding Muslims that ``prayer is better than sleep.'' The Bedouin father of the Tartour family has begun his prayers to Allah. Except for the clucking of chickens the house is quiet.

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The rest of the family rises with the sun: first his wife, who lights the kerosene stove to boil the tea, then his six children, daughter-in-law, and grandson.

They all live together with their chickens, three camels, one horse, goats, geese, rabbits, two cats, and one dog in a two-floor mud house in a village just a few hundred yards away from one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

The wife and teen-age daughter prepare a breakfast of stir-fried camel liver, bread, and sweet tea, while the four younger children feed the menagerie of animals in adjoining rooms. After breakfast the father helps his two older sons, Samir and Sabri, saddle the camels and horse, a daily ritual since his days as a nomad roaming the deserts of Egypt.

Now, however, instead of moving on to the next desert destination, they are heading for that oasis of money -- the Giza Pyramids.

Located 51/2 miles west of Cairo, Giza is very popular with tourists. Every morning Samir and Sabri take their camels to the pyramids where busloads of tourists come in search of ancient Egypt. The brothers provide the necessary camels and local color.

For 5 Egyptian pounds ($6.40) tourists can hear thousands of years of history condensed into a minute and have their pictures taken atop a ``ship of the desert.'' Ten pounds buys a guided camel tour around the pyramids. Through their work the brothers have learned to speak English and also to operate a camera. It is sometimes left to them to take a picture of the tourist and camel in front of the ``wonder.''

Much of the brothers' earnings is being used to build a new house -- one big enough for the family, animals, and paying guests. Samir and Sabri hope the people who pay to sit on their camels will also pay to experience life in a village, not in a Cairo hotel.

Samir, the oldest son, in his early 20s, is married and has a son. He oversees the construction of the new house. At midday he takes a break from his tourist work to check on the building's progress. He eats a lunch of couscous and camel meat that his mother, wife, and sister have cooked for the construction crew. Samir's entrepreneurial aspirations, however, go beyond running a hostel in his home. He wants to set up tours in which tourists will travel by camel on overnight trips into the desert.

While Samir dreams of expanding the family business, his teen-age brother, Sabri, dreams of leaving Egypt and coming to the United States. Sabri's plan is to live in California and work with horses. With this in mind, he meets the tour buses with the hope of finding someone to sponsor him in America.

The sun has set, leaving the pyramids and Sphinx silhouetted against the red sky. The Tartour's evening meal is over. The women clean the dishes in the courtyard. Upstairs, Samir and Sabri talk over their plans with new-found tourist friends. The four younger children sit in the family bedroom mesmerized by an Egyptian soap opera, while the father kneeling in the far corner of the room prays to Allah.