Along the streets of El Kantara, Kafr El Sheikh -Egypt. Semi-rural life.


a year ago today

Originally uploaded by © photosbyiman.com 

This pic’s not exactly Kafr El Sheikh but its similar to the kind of street I’m living in at the moment. U-huh, not exactly The Hyatt but there’s nothing short of drama here.

One house number, one building, by one family, with one or two apartments per floor.

Its not unusual to find the grandparents living downstairs and with whoever gets married first (mostly the sons of the family) build their apartments up…each one clonely-designed like the other, with chooks and pigeons nesting on the top bare floor right beside the entire clan’s satellite dish. So its a very tightly-knitted extended family unit. Sometimes almost too claustophobic and suffocating.

If one’s strap for cash or needs some tea or sugar because they have guests and can’t go out and buy some -rest assured, your brother or mum nextdoor might have ample of supplies there or if anyone’s having any domestic disputes, they’ll always be a family member and occasionally the rest of the gang coming to the rescue. Everything is basically consolidated.

OK’s on a typical day here…on this street…

*the athaan being beautifully called 5 times a day. You can hear it resonating on every street like drops of water rippling in the ocean. There’s always a masjid big and small on every street. One’s just one house away from mine. Will really miss this when we go back to Australia. 30 minutes before Fajr there’s always Quraanic reading aired over the neighbourhood system. You rarely see women go even though its not compulsory for them like it is for the men, but I use to love praying at the masjid especially for the Friday Jumaah prayers because its like my weekly reminder of how to keep myself on track and insyc with my Creator and my goals

*every 3-4 days we have this old dude/sheikh?!? who goes around people’s houses (whoever’s muslim because there are a few Coptic Christian even Chinese families living nearby, and reads a part of the Quraan. Occasionally he accepts money but most of the time he just prefers a cup of tea (Brazilian here) as a token of gratitude. It helps that he can read it beautifully when you still get Egyptians here -particularly the older folks, who don’t know how to read the Quraan/Arabic at all like my mother-in-law, so she listens. She still gets the reward for doing so. The first time I came here my in-laws were surprised that even though I couldn’t understand or speak Arabic much, I could read it just as good as a sheikh 😉 (-which is why they call me sheikha here, and also because I can get a little cheeky with them).

*you would hear (at least 4 times a day) a man riding on a carriage pulled by a donkey on your street banging on a gas cylinder shouting if anyone needs to buy any gas for their ovens/stoves. Only LE 15
*once a day -an old guy shouting if you need your knives sharpened, he can do it for you. He charges LE 2 per each blade
*the same, for an old woman who pops up in the afternoon right before Maghrib/sunset selling sweet breads. Kids just swamp her in order to get a glucose fix. You’ll see mothers lowering plastic bags from their balconies just to purchase some. Its mostly like the ones you dip in tea or coffee with sticky dates and nuts inside them
*we have another old dude who goes around carrying and selling organic, hand-feld chicken on his head (always great for soup/bases. You can really taste the difference). Chicken costs around LE15 per kilo. Meat now from LE40 (quite a luxury) for a kilo, whereas the meat in Australia’s only $9/kg. If the food prices keep spiking up and up every week -it’ll eventually make me a vegetarian
*people going around in trucks to see if anyone has any second-hand furniture they want to get rid of
*others in more carriages selling onions, garlic which people here buy in one big 20-30 kg bags because its cheap and they seem to know when its grown best. You’ll always find garlic bulbs littering every balcony
*someone wailing about their difficult condition and begging for money. My husband says most of the time these beggers actually are the richest in the city and live in swanky houses, apartments
*kids playing soccer, annoyingly hitting windows, going over roofs, singing Al-Ahli songs and shrieking “Gooooooooooooooaaaal” every 5 minutes. If they’re not playing, they’re fighting and you could always hear someone crying
*husbands and wives, mothers and daughters, sons and fathers fighting, hitting, even taking it onto the street, if not family someone’s always fighting with their neighbours. Mostly when it comes to neighbours, it starts with the kids
*tubby housewives doing rounds on top of their roof tops to look sofia-loren-like for their husbands
*home-grown chickens, ducks, pigeons being slaughtered
*see laundry, bed sheets, quilts, carpets, mats, pillows dangling from their balconies

*at night when the weather’s cool, family members normally pinic on top of the room again or hang out beside the Nile River (which crosses two parts) at the place I’m living at

*tuk-tuks driven by boys as young as 10-12 and as old as 40 blasting crazy party Egyptian music taxi-ing people in and out of El Kantara for 50-75 piastres per ride. They’re so annyoying because they hog up the street when cars, trucks, vans, trailers need to go by. Even if the street is empty and its at least 2 meters wide, they’ll honk you because you’re in the way. As if you’re as big as a whale!

*at the end of each street, beside posts and bricked walls you’re bound to see the entire neighbourhood’s collection of garbage bags with dozens of strayed, flea-infested cats and dogs feasting on their them. If its not them, its people going through you’re rubbish seeing what they can salvage (which I think is really grotty urghhhhh). I wish the council, mayor, governor -whoever’s in charge here could do something about this. It really reeks the place. Some gets thrown in their precious Nile and when you drive by and take a peep at the Nile canals, its drowned by garbage bags. Occasionally some decide to burn it in the nearby lands but its like having a rubbish tip right in front of your door. You also get some neighbours who are lazy to put their crap by these places they just happily dump their bags right in the middle of the street where people walking, cars and tuk-tuks driving by. You never when you’ll get a missiled-garbage bag thrown at ya. Makes me think -maybe they should have “Clean up Egypt” day like they do in Australia, so that other people don’t get ezcema as well like I do everytime I come back to Egypt
*you’re bound to get wedding celebrations happening every week with dj’s remixing and blasting the latest tunes, people watching the families of the bride or groom boogie-ing, bellydancing, horses going crazy until midnight. My neighbour just had one last week in front of our building with one of their daughter’s leaving for Kuwait after the reception the next day with her new hubby. The groom’s always 10-20 years older, financially-secure (mostly because after working in resort towns like Sharm el Shei,h Hurghada, slaveing to tourists or they go expating to their nearest neighbouring countries). The bride is normally educated but stays home and does nothing with the 4 years she’s slogged her ass for to get that piece of paper (its all for the name) and if its her fate to have someone not that well-off, has to stay with her in-laws whilst her hubby enjoys himself in Europe or Korea with godknows how many other girlfriends or mistresses on the side, raising and caring for the kids herself, making her own money to do so. You really see the effects of what its like having an absent and most of the time cheating father and also what a really bad economy and system does to the family unit

Its so sad…

I had always wanted to be an aid worker, policy-maker and help out and build such developing countries and its people like Egypt but I never thought I’d live just like them and have a taste of what their life is really like.  To these people it (life) might be easy because all they have to worry about is to just make it day by day but for someone like me who’s had quite a comfortable life and then to be thrusted and downgraded to just the basics of life, its very challenging. They really make do with almost nothing here as compared to what I must have back in Australia. The 6 months living here had forcefully made me shead anything materialistic about me and made me know what I can do without. But I do miss such luxuries and easy life, where money is flowing and easy to get. Its not so here.

I wonder for those sitting around sculpturing such policies, infrastructure, planning for such countries like Egypt, Iraq, Sudan, Cambodia etc back in Europe, America, UK -if they really knew what they’re proposing is anything but realistic and effective and beneficial for these countries because most of the stuff I’ve read aren’t as compared to whats really needed on ground zero, the grassroots of such places. What may work in Britain, America, Australia might not work in places like Egypt where things are run very differently and its difficult to change the status quo or mental attitude of such people/places and most of the time anyways its to rob more resources from these less-developed countries for example Sudan. For instance, why is it when all the European/Western countries present to talk about the future of Sudan not one Africa/Sudanese face was invited or rocked up to talk about its own country, something more hush-hushly similar to Iraq. Also in the more developed countries, we might assume and have good intentions to help but most of time it causes more damage to the situation because we don’t understand the mechanisms of each place. That’s why Iraq’s such a mess. The poverty is everywhere here. They like my husband would never admit to this because they’re proud Egyptians but even in the most affluent places like upper-class Zamalek or Maadi in Cairo, thats like lower middle to middle class anywhere else.

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~ by nursheikha on August 19, 2008.

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