Photographed  by Rana Kandil Photographed by Rana Kandil

Bawabat: Time Traveling Through Gateways

Sun, Apr. 14, 2019
9 am. The sun is rising with the crisp, chilly air of winter, signaling the first shoots of the day. Madiha opens the tall gate of her Zamalek home, overlooking the glistening Nile River, and greets me with a warm smile in her hazel almond eyes. Her hair pitch black, tousled and unsettled, her physique petite and her spirit full of life like a delightful child, Madiha is not your average 45 year-old. She has just finished her morning run and offers me Columbian coffee as we sit down. I hold my cup close, feeling its warmth against my fingers and inhale the mesmerizing aroma.

With all my senses alert, we begin. I look intently at our surroundings as Madiha reclines in her chair, a pot of wilted pink roses on the coffee table and a painting behind her. The art features a naked young woman who bares her soul and there is sense of melancholy in the painting. The woman sitting before me is about to do the same as she begins to tell me her life story and that of her brainchild agri-tourism and wellness lodge on the Cairo-Alex Desert Road, named Bawabat.

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“I broke down the barriers associated with being an Egyptian female, gave up my four walls, and went ahead and bought the land. . . .That’s when I knew I had to call it ‘Bawabat.’” Madiha starts. “I was thinking of a suitable name and the universe kept aligning for me to pick it, Arabic for ‘Gateways.’ I believe that each of us is on their own journey to self-discovery with their own gateway to cherishing their higher state of being, doing what they love, a teaching inspired by the Book of the Dead on Ancient Egyptian philosophy and the ethics of the Ancient Egyptian Goddess Ma’at. And that’s what Bawabat meant for me.”

As I contemplate what a gateway would mean for me, Madiha continues, “I was working in the corporate world for 22 years in mining fields. I’ve always loved the outdoors. I hesitated a lot before leaving behind a secure lifestyle with a stable income supporting my two kids, but I soon realized that I wasn’t nurturing my spiritual side and my need to be in nature. That’s where I really feel at peace. Despite the criticism I received from friends and family members, I went ahead and bought the land to cultivate right after the revolution with money I had saved up. I saw that as my very own gateway. Picking that path, with all its non-guarantees, was set with the goal of living well in the future for a better, simpler and more sincere life for me and my children. A journey from being cowardly to being courageous.”

IMG_7349 Photographed by Rana Kandil


Through Madiha’s words, the scene changes from the living room and I find myself at Bawabat. I walk through every gateway, connecting differently with them all, some nostalgically reminding me of the past while others take me to the future. And then, there are the ones that anchor me to this very present moment. Each gateway is marked with its own number, the knobs resembling unity, openness and abundance. These are all preserved in their original state, and Madiha continues to collect them as heritage from different parts of north and Upper Egypt, and throughout her travels to India and Colombia. Built with her own hands, Madiha started her vision with one worker, Abdel Fadeel, an Arabic name meaning someone with high values and ethics, aligning with her vision for Bawabat.

“Abdel Fadeel and I made mud bricks ourselves, which we used to build the place. We worked alone for many months and he taught me how to be creative, combining glass with mud bricks and hay, following the teachings of Hassan Fathy. He was a man that took pride in his Egyptian identity and roots, always wearing a traditional Galabeya garment native to the Nile Valley, no matter where we went.”

Exploring my surroundings through the story, I walk further and find myself standing before what looked like a room in the middle of the olive fields. “The Salarium Room,” Madiha interjects, ‘is Latin for wealth, with the root ‘sal’ standing for salt; a highly sought-after, expensive yet essential commodity back in the day.” A gift from her husband, the room is built entirely from salt bricks transported all the way from Siwa Oasis, an idea that came to the couple during a conversation with a taxi driver they had met in Siwa. I push the antique door as I enter and take in the scent of peace and nature combined. The room has the power to quiet an occupied mind.

I walk away eager to explore more as I stumble upon a small building shaped like a dome with doors at its every corner. “This is the Seventh Soul Dome, built by architect Hassan El Dahan,” Madiha explains. “I asked Hassan to create a place that had a piece of Egypt in it, using the old and the new, built in the same manner an Ancient Egyptian would. I wanted people to visit this space years from now and understand it withstood the test of time.”

IMG_7462 Photographed by Rana Kandil

I look around at all the doors and I see the labels on each; Life, Love, Giving, Beauty, Imagination, Wisdom, and Meditation. Without much thinking, I enter through the gate of Imagination, Al Khayal. I stand right in the middle of the space, with the dome centered above me, and I hear the sound of my breathing and heartbeat in sync and amplified. For the first time, I savor what solitude feels like. Up in the ceiling are endless lines of poetic scriptures quoting the likes of Khalil Gibran and Rumi, circling like a spiral descending from the dome. What looks like a small humble building from the outside is grand and inspirational on the inside.

Shortly after I step out, I stumble upon two angels engraved on a gate standing on its own at the very far end of the fields. “The door of Amina,” Madiha voices. “During my search for doors in Cairo, I made the acquaintance of one of the merchants who used to refer to me as ‘Ya Ghalya’ [Precious]. When I saw this door, I was intrigued. He said to me, ‘This is Amina’s door.’ It hit a chord as it was the name of one of my unborn children. It was a magical moment where Amina and I found each other again through the intangibles of our world. I took the door home and realized how Bawabat connects people; I love meeting people there. Everybody becomes the best version of themselves.”

IMG_7521 Photographed by Rana Kandil

As Madiha goes on, a donkey brays in the background at Bawabat and I stumble upon the door marked with the number 8, for infinity, which leads to an endless path to another gate overlooking rolling fields. Stepping through, I feel that I have fallen into a black hole where time has just completely come to a stop.

9:30 am. I’m back in the living room with Madiha who is smiling at me with wisdom in her eyes, asking me to be patient, to lead with love instead of just flowing and to not judge people by their appearance but by how close they are to their better self.

Bawabat wellness retreat, agri-tourism lodge and restaurant is located on Km 58 of the Cairo-Alex Desert Road. For more information visit bawabat.org or follow them on instragram @bawabat_gateways

Bringing life to untold stories and thoughts, Rana Kandil is a travel writer and founder of thatwanderwoman travel blog. Follow her on Instagram:

@thatwanderwoman



 
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