During the period between World War I and II, the houseboats of Cairo became a tourist attraction, but nowadays you will not find many tourists around. Admittedly, the boats are not easy to see, because they are hidden behind fences and gardens, which of course also gives their appeal to those living in them. But apart from the peaceful atmosphere in this neighbourhood, the houseboats, or dahabiyyas, have a long history. German spies were hiding on the boats, Cleopatra lived on the Nile, they were used for artist gatherings including Nobel Prize laureate Naguib Mahfouz, but also by Napoleons officers, and as casinos.
As I approached the houseboats, walking along borders of the river Nile, I realized that they were not readily accessible. Between the boats and the street lay an area of small gardens, with fences and doors guarding them from the outside world. It immediately gave the impression of a closed community. Great for whoever lives in them, but unfortunately, hard to reach for outsiders. In fact, as I approached a fence to see if I could take pictures, a guard came out to indicate that I was not supposed to take pictures. I walked on, until I reached the end of the long row of houseboats.
Fortunately, there were places which offered a better view of the boats. In some cases, doors were open and I walked in. In one case, an old man who was cutting the hedge of one of the gardens, waved is hand at me, and with a gesture of his hand, invited me in. He turned out to be a proud gardener, and indeed, his small garden on the border of the river Nile was something to see. Although we unfortunately did not speak any language in common, he still let me smell the flowers, taking them off and handing them over to me. After a while, he proceeded to the back of the garden where i could see a completely closed shack. Only when we stepped through the opening, I understood the function: it was hot and humid inside, and he had tropical plants. A greenhouse without the glass.
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