Text by Marilyn and Lionel Smith. Members of Sussex Egyptology Society and passengers on the Cruise
The Long Cruise in September 2015 was an amazing experience; incredible sites, many of which were deserted apart from our group, wonderful like-minded companions and superb guides. All this was experienced in an Egyptian heat wave!
One visit we made, which was in addition to the published itinerary, was to the library and resource centre set up by Dr Kent Weeks in Luxor. It is on the West Bank and down a narrow lane. So narrow in fact, that our coach had to drop us off on the main road. The centre is in a former house and is very small. However, it attracts large numbers of the local community, thereby ably demonstrating that it is meeting an important need, especially for the children of the area.
Having visited the Valley of the Kings, the Ramesseum, Medinet Habu and the Colossi of Memnon beforehand, to sit in the shade in the courtyard of the library was most welcome and appreciated by everyone. Kent showed us the small facility, containing a number of books mainly in English and Arabic. There are a variety of technical journals, as well as various maps, some historical and some geographical. Whilst many of the books are on Egyptology and conservation, they are not limited to these subjects. Books on nutrition and health, the Arabic language, Egyptian history and art, as well as novels are also available.
The resource centre is accessible all year round to everyone, from young people in the local community, to tour guides, Inspectors, Egyptologists and tourists. It is the only free resource south of Cairo. Anyone who has a desire to read a book or do some research is welcome. Kent revealed that Inspectors even come in on a Friday, their day off, to do some research! In addition, there is also a computer that can be used and books can be obtained electronically from the American University in Cairo and other affiliated organisations.
Kent explained that they also put on films, which are so popular that on Thursdays they have to run three shows, even though they use the courtyard, where we were sitting. Between 160 and 180 people usually attend. We were amazed that such a small place could have such a huge impact.
The following afternoon, now back on the boat, Kent gave us a short talk about the library and provided us with more information about the aims of the project. Kent explained how important it was to preserve the ancient monuments in the area for future generations; after all, no monuments meant no tourists, with the resulting detrimental economic effect that would bring to the local community.
With this in mind, the library acts as a community centre, where weekly lectures in Arabic are held. These are to keep Tour Guides and Inspectors better informed of what is going on, not just in Thebes, but throughout Egypt, and to make them aware of the latest developments and new techniques.
It also serves to educate the young people in the area and a full time teacher has been hired. They go on field trips to the monuments to understand the importance of preserving the ancient sites that they are so close to. Projects and competitions are arranged. A recent one was about butterflies, which the children had seen represented on tombs of nobles. Following a speaker coming in to talk about butterflies, the children were asked to either draw butterflies or make their own with play dough.
One aspect that really amused us, was when Kent told us about the model cars that have been provided for the young people to play with, or rather, not just to play, but also to learn the rules of the road. Bearing in mind our experiences of Egyptian traffic, not just the speed they travel at, but also the various donkeys, camels and livestock you have to negotiate, we can only hope Kent is successful with this educational aim!
The responsibility for preserving monuments will fall on today’s younger generation. By educating them about the importance of the monuments, the children can become ambassadors, spreading the word to others. The library and resource centre is playing a major part in helping this to happen. We wish Kent well with this exciting project.
Marilyn and Lionel Smith Sussex Egyptology Society
We visited Kent’s Library this February during our Luxor Conference. Several passengers took out pens, pencils and toys and soon joined in the fun. Jigsaws and ‘farm animal impressions’ cross all language barriers.
Kent gave an update on the growing success of the project and rapid increase in the numbers of children now attending.