The Story of Nazlet-el-Samaan Tales from the Mena House
By Jimmy Dunn
Notation: Today Nazlet-el-Samaan is much modernized, and is not exactly the village of Nina Nelson's image from her book, The Mena House Oberoi. However, it is an interesting visit, for many legends have grown up around this village situated on the doorsteps of the Great Pyramids in Giza.
The story of how Nazlet-el-Samaan came into being is a fascinating one. In the old days when the Egyptian princes took guests to the pyramids they sometimes arranged a horse riding display as part of the days entertainment. Some eighty years ago a Turkish prince gave a desert party at Giza. A large tent had been erected for luncheon. The flaps on the front were thrown upward so that the guests might watch a riding display.
The horsemen gave an outstanding performance. The desert riders exercise much of their control with their legs and knees along the lines of European Haute Ecole. They stop dead from a full gallop, turn and are off again. Going swiftly as the wind they jump their horses over imaginary hurdles. One rider was an old man with a long white beard. He was slender and a superb horseman. The Turkish prince was entranced. He beckoned the old man forward and invited him to join his guests.
"No I cannot", the old man said seriously, jumping off his horse.
"Why not?" asked the prince.
"Because you belong to a spoilt government!"
The prince laughed uproariously. "Why is the government spoilt?"
"Because", declared the old man, "my family wants this land made over to us and nothing is done about it.
" The prince was in good humor and had lunched well. "It shall be done! You shall have the land!" The old man bowed deeply, mounted his horse like a boy and was off with his companions. The affair was forgotten and nothing was done about the land.
One day when the Turkish prince was in his carriage having the way made clear for him by his running syces with their long staves, the old man appeared around a corner on his magnificent horse and ignoring the syces, who quickly got out of his way. He rode swiftly up to the prince and held up his carriage. He looked down at the open mouthed Prince.
"You have not kept your word", he shouted sternly.
The prince remembered his promise. Then and there he called for paper. When it was brought he asked, "What is your name?"
"I am of the Gabry family," was the proud reply.
The prince said, "I have signed the paper and it makes over all the land near the pyramids that you can ride around in a perfect circle. In the future it will belong to the Gabry family!"
So the Gabry family and their Bedouin relations divided the land and built their homes. Even today the main name in the village is Gabry, a close second is Kataab. They are cousins.
Notation: The Gabrys and Kataabs became some of the first dragoman (tour guides) in Egypt, as well as long standing staff at the Mena House Hotel.
A Short Tell of a Dragoman
One of the village dragomen was taking an American tourist around who was saying how slow the Egyptians were at building. "It seems crazy to me", he said, "that pharaohs had to take hundreds of years to build a temple like Karnak in Luxor. Why not start in a truly big way and then finish the whole thing quickly!" However, when he was shown Cheops' Pyramid he was deeply impressed.
"Now! That is something!" he gasped.
"What is?" asked the dragoman.
"Why the Great Pyramid, of course."
The dragoman looked in surprise up and down the vast monument.
"Extraordinary!" he uttered suddenly, "that thing was not here yesterday!
" Today, many wonder why there are so many unfinished buildings in Egypt. There are really two reasons. First, Islamic law forbids borrowing, so many building projects are financed out of pocket, and building continues as money is available. Secondly, buildings are not taxed until finished, so many building owners are in no hurry to finish.