For centuries, Egyptians have been captivated by the idea of the world of the spirits. Samia Yusuf attends one of the more peculiar forms of exorcism that continues to live on
Zeinab is possessed. But the spirit which torments her is not of the ordinary kind -- hers is a water spirit. "There are all kinds of spirits," explained Sitt Arnaba, a kodia or woman who organises exorcisms, or zar. "And a special zar is held for each type of spirit. The spirits of the water are the second strongest type, and these will not be placated by a zar which is held on land. They find this disrespectful and will be angered," she explained.
And so we head out early in the morning towards the banks of the Nile where a boat is waiting to take the zar party onto the water. The women are accompanied by children and a couple of men arrive carrying food, livestock and stalks of sugar cane. To any unsuspecting passerby it looks to all intents and purposes like a group heading off to spend a pleasant summer day on the Nile.
But these people are on a mission -- to placate the water spirit and relieve Hamida of the anguish she is experiencing.
As soon as the boat is in the middle of the river Umm Yehyia, who works with Sitt Arnaba, quickly grabs a live duck from one of the crates and slits its throat over Zeinab's head. The sacrificial blood is then used to paint her feet and the duck is lowered into the waters of the Nile. Sacrifices differ according to the spirit involved -- in the case of the water spirit it must be an animal that bleeds red blood but swims in water, such as a duck, goose, or even a fish that can be bled.
Once the more gruesome aspect of the ceremony is over the music begins. Sayed, a tall dark man whose waist is wrapped in dried bull's hooves, gets up and starts to dance. All the women join in, and the dance metamorphoses into a frenzy of movement. One by one they start to faint.
The boat then reaches an island hidden within the reeds on which stands what looks like a Zulu warrior. The man starts dancing to the beat of a tambourine.
While people dance the duck is being cooked and a pot of mulukhiya is prepared. The dancers recover from their efforts over dinner and a cup of sweet tea, and we all enjoy the Nile sunset as we make our way home. The water spirit has been placated for now, and the trip has been a resounding success.