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Sand baths of Siwa

The hot sand of the desert probably seems the last place someone wants to be, especially in the searing heat of high summer. But for…

The hot sand of the desert probably seems the last place someone wants to be, especially in the searing heat of high summer. But for some, being buried neck-deep in the sand of the Siwa oasis near Dakrour Mountain in western Egypt is their last hope for a cure.When I heard a few years ago about these mid-summer “sand baths”, I thought it was a new fashion. But I came to realise it was a traditional treatment. Locals say that bathing in the dry sand can cure medical conditions such as rheumatism, joint pain, infertility or impotence.
The air temperature reached about 46 degrees Celsius when I was there, during a heat wave back in Cairo too. Perhaps it was even hotter in the sand, but fortunately I can’t say as I didn’t let myself be buried up to the neck.
Patients take off their clothes at about 1pm or 2pm before a worker helps bury them in sand, where they stay for 10 to 15 minutes.
Next they go into tents that have been uncovered and exposed to the heat of the sun so they act like saunas, where they drink a warm herbal tea-like drink with seeds. Patients can stay in the tents as long as they like.
“I always feel better here, it’s good for my blood circulation, my breathing, and my immunity in general,” said Raafat El-Fiqi, a maths teacher and researcher from Alexandria, who has been taking the sand baths of Siwa for a few years.
El-Fiqi, who suffers from back pain, said his doctor encouraged him to take the sand baths.
After a day’s treatment, patients are taken to a house to cool down and change into fresh clothes before dinner. They are not allowed to shower three days after treatment or allow cold air onto their skin. Patients with high blood pressure or heart disease are not allowed to undergo the treatment.
“Between three and nine days of sand baths are recommended to feel any benefit,” said Isaid Al-SayyedHaroun, the owner and manager of the business. The treatment costs about 300 to 400 Egyptian pounds ($38 to $51) per day, which includes accommodation and food. Haroun said about 20 percent of the patients are women, although none was there when I visited.
Haroun, who runs the sand bath operation with a team of about a dozen people, follows on from his father and grandfather. Most of the patients find the first bath difficult but they then get used to it, he said. It’s very rare that patients ask to stop the treatment because of the heat.
Before the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, patients included foreign tourists, but political turmoil and attacks by Islamist militants since have kept many tourists away from Egypt.
El-Fiqi comes to the sand baths for reasons other than his back.
“It’s the pure air, the quietness that you can’t enjoy in crowded cities.”
“Even the food tastes better because of the more natural environment.”
Back in Cairo after the assignment, I remember the heat and the serenity most vividly. How I savoured the peace and quiet.
http://widerimage.reuters.com/story/sand-baths-of-siwa
 

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