CAWU goes to Siwa; intern visit to a beautiful oasis

Sent On: 
Sun, 2017-07-30
Newsletter Number: 

Siwan Shazly enjoying sunset at one of the salt lakes. Photo: Zainab Mehdi 


On July 2-5 and on July 18-20 CAWU interns visited Siwa oasis. On July 26 Cornelis Hulsman visited the Investment Office of Marsa Matrouh since Siwa oasis belongs to the governorate of Marsa Matrouh. Siwa is special because of its own unique character and because we are exploring setting up a farm with a conference center for intercultural dialogue. We are still far from realizing such plans but it explains why these visits have been made. For student interns these are fantastic learning experiences. In the text below Zainab Mehdy describes her experiences.




Siwa is an oasis in Egypt, between the Qattara Depression and the Egyptian Sand Sea in theWestern Desert. The oasis is populated by Berber-speaking Sudanic peoples and it lies approximately 50km east of the Libyan border, and 560km west from Cairo. Despite Siwa being one of Egypt’s most remote establishments, the oasis is bursting with culture, history and heritage. The Ancient Egyptian name of the oasis was Sekht-am which translates to palm land. Early Arabgeographers termed it Santariyyah but by the 15th century, the oasis came to be known as Siwa. Although the oasis is known to have been settled since at least the 10th millennium BC, it appears that the earliest sign of connection with ancient Egypt is the 26th Dynasty, when a necropolis was recognized. Contact between the oasis and Greek settlers at Cyrene began at around the same time (7th century BC), and the oracle temple of Amun (Greek: Zeus Ammon), who, Herodotus was told, took the image here of a ram. In February 332 BC, Alexander the Great visited the oasis, where he successfully accessed the oracle of Amun. Indeed, several ancient historians have stated that towards the end of his life, Alexander the Great claimed that he was the son of Ammon/Zeus and not of Philip II of Macedon.


The Temple of the Oracle of Amun. Photo: Zainab Mehdi




From the 2nd of July until the 5thof July 2017, Drs. Cornelis Hulsman, Matthew Sparks, Christopher Francis, Jantine Stulp and myself travelled all the way to Siwa from Cairo via theWest and Mid Delta bus. As a British citizen who has lived in a huge city like London for almost all her life and never travelled to an oasis before, I was slightly confused and anxious about whether if I should proceed with the trip or not. Regardless of my worries and concerns, I decided to put all my fears to one side and jump on the bus to Marsa Matruh and then to Siwa. Upon arrival, a few interns including myself stayed at the Albabenshal Hotel. With walls of sand bricks and stone steps leading up to the rooftop, I was fascinated by the hotel’s magical atmosphere and breath-taking rooftop scenery. Present also was the friendly Siwan working force and especially Mr. Khalid who greeted us with warm and gentle smiles each morning. 


AlBabenShal’s rooftop overlooking the ruins of Old Shali. Photo: Zainab Mehdi


Soon after we started the first day with a breakfast of omelets, falafel, foul, fresh tomatoes, feta cheese and fresh coffee, myself and the other interns took a tuk-tuk car to the Cleopatra Spring where the Egyptian queen supposedly swam during her visit to Siwa. The day after, Jantine, her friend and myself were given the opportunity to visit a typical Siwan family, speak with sister Zam-zam and purchase handmade Siwan clothes and accessories.


From left to right: interns Zainab Mehdi and Jantine Stulp. Left Kelly, a friend visiting Jantine Stulp.

Photo: Cornelis Hulsman


If I had the opportunity to visit Siwa again, I would take on the offer and stay for much longer so that I can part in even more exciting activities. Such activities would include sand-bathing, climbing the Dakrour mountain and mountain of the dead, desert safari, visiting the Greco-Roman tombs and so on.   


Natural discoveries


Siwa is famous for the production of dates and olives. Here, you can find all different types of products such as dates, dates jam, olives, olive oil, olive oil soap and olive jam in the local market. Siwa is also known for its numerous freshwater springs and salt lakes which can be very refreshing especially in the intense heat of high summer. The salt extracted from the huge sand lake at the edge of the Siwa Oasis can be used to make salt lamps which give off a beautiful and vibrant color when turned on. Given that I am a very big fan of agriculture and discovering natural resources, I was very pleased with my meeting with Camilla; a Naturopath living on a garden farm. Camilla’s farm has many interesting attractions to see including goats and chickens, a wide selection of fresh herbs and plants, and beautiful date palm trees. Amazed by how well-maintained the farm was, myself and Camilla then proceeded with a health and nutrition session which lasted for almost two hours. After our time was up, I was presented with a set of notes providing me with personalized health and nutritionist advice. Overall, I would say that the visit to Camilla’s farm was worthwhile, beneficial and life changing. 




                                                                One of the many salt lakes in Siwa.


Cultural differences


The one thing that I remember the most during my stay in Siwa was driving past a microbus filled with approximately 15 Siwan women covered from head to toe. As a Muslim girl who does not wear the hijab and dresses quite liberally, it is worth noting that I felt very comfortable as a woman in Siwa. I took into consideration that one of the ways one could feel warmly welcomed by the Siwan people is by being aware of the cultural differences prevailing in Siwa and respecting their norms which in this context meant dressing conservatively. Another thing that I found quite fascinating is how safe Siwa is. In the past, Siwa has received a lot of negative reviews concerning terrorism but after staying here for a short period, I do not think that Siwa is a place that promotes terrorism nor do I think that it is a place worth avoiding. In the long run, I would encourage both current and new interns at CAWU to visit Siwa and experience something new, captivating and adventurous.


Cairo, July 30, 2017

Zainab Mehdi