Sharing Stories of Egypt

a book with the title 'to egypt with love'

Viviane lived in central Cairo until 1956, when her parents were forced to ‘donate’ all their property to the Egyptian state and to leave the country. They arrived in England as refugees.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Viviane had time to write her memoirs. This book is primarily a legacy to her family. She wanted to preserve her stories and provide an insight into the Egyptian Jewish community.

Listen to Viviane’s story:

Read the transcript from Viviane’s story:

[00:00:00] [Newsreel: “The Royal Navy patrols Egypt’s coastline while it’s carrier based venoms…”]

Viviane: My name is Viviane Bowell. I was born in Egypt. I left when I was nearly 14 with my family, cuz we were expelled as a result of the Suez Crisis.

[Newsreel: “…And did this operation watched so closely by the nations of the world. Everything depends on rapid success…”]

Viviane: I came back from school one day and my father was in a complete panic, and he was going, come on, come on. We’ve got to go. You’ve got to pack. Yeah, it’s quite frightening when you’re young, and…But on the other hand, I do remember funnily enough with a lot of, um, regret as well, because it was the last time we were there as a family.

Uh, there was a film called The Man Who Knew Too Much, I think with James Stewart and Doris Day, and the song was Que Sera Sera. I remember the song being played and whenever I hear this song now, it’s just like, it really, I feel really emotional. So, I remember [00:01:00] good things as well about the war, not just bad things.

We were given two weeks to leave. And there was also the, um, fear that if you didn’t leave in time, they would probably throw my father in prison. But now as I got older, I can’t help thinking what was it like for my parents?

We landed at Heathrow on the 10th of December 1956, which is where our life changed completely. And we realised we were just penniless refugees.
Obviously, our shoes from Egypt were completely inadequate. So, we managed to go on the bus and I think we went to Cheltenham and the first thing we saw was something saying “Boots”, so we thought, oh great. You know, this is it we can get our boots. But of course, this was England and Boots was a chemist! So..

The first thing my father did when we arrived in England was to say, forget about Egypt, you’re in England now, so you’ve got to behave like the British. It took me [00:02:00] years and years to accept where I was born. Be proud of it and also accept the fact that I might be British, but I’m still somehow Egyptian.

[Actuality: women’s centre Easton]

Now, I have actually found my place in Bristol. When I first came, I realised that I wanted to volunteer. A friend of mine, took me to a charity called, uh, Refugee Women of Bristol and it absolutely clicked. And I’ve been volunteering since then.

[Actuality: Viviane greeting woman in Arabic]

The big advantage I have is that I speak Arabic. So, the look on their face when I start talking’s absolute…first surprise, and then sheer delight. So, we obviously have that connection.

During lockdown, I wrote to my memoirs and a recipe book. Initially, it was for my grandson, apparently in his class, he’d been asked to write about an inspirational woman that he knows. So, he wrote about me and they [00:03:00] asked him why and he said, because my grandmother wrote two books and she was a refugee. I thought that’s sum it up quite well.

[Actuality: cooking in Viviane’s kitchen…”So, I’m gonna put them on a plate. And then dust them…”]

Bristol is more about people than about places and I think because of my volunteer work, because of my book and all that, I’ve got to know a lot more people and I feel that I have my place in Bristol now.

[Actuality cooking: “That’s it. That’s what they look like….and they’re called Meninas”]