Egypt is my home, my country, my life. I was born there, I was raised there, I have lived there all my life and hope that eventually I shall be buried there.
Why do I love it so much?
It has a group of people that encompass many of its most endearing qualities. They are spontaneous, talented, fun loving, cheerful, can drive you round the bend yet induce your respect by their integrity and dignity. This spontaneity is what makes them so endearing. For with spontaneity you get the true metal of the people. It is the uncalculated behaviour on the spur of the moment that reveals so much of the true character of any being. Who makes up this group? It is the street vendors.
Egyptians love music, love noise, love a good song, a catchy tune and really appreciate it if combined with another love: food.
This vendor is selling liquorice. It is a very popular drink on hot days in Egypt. It is full of vitamins and is sold at a laughably low price, affordable to all. The seller is really quite a showman. Not only does he advertise his presence and his wares by striking the cymbals he is holding, but he also gives a show in the way he pours and presents the drink, so one is entertained while quenching one’s thirst.
Another street vendor is found in winter on many street corners with his cart full of sweet potatoes which he grills on a wooden fire.
It is a very warming and extremely healthy snack. Quite often the way he advertises his wares is through a usually beautifully melodious voice, calling to the people to come sample the sweetness. Quite often the vendors have individual verses which they have made up to go with their catchy tunes.
This third vendor sells a type of bread called “semeet”.
These vendors are usually very agile and one finds them dodging the cars at traffic lights, or even camped on the mid pavement on a highway, selling their wares to those stuck in traffic. They do not need to shout about their wares for the towering display can be seen a long way off. But they do have to be quick for they can never be sure when traffic would start to move again.
Other vendors have more sophisticated outlays and are probably more stationary.
They usually camp at a specific corner where there is a great deal of pedestrian traffic, and ply their wares of food or drink to those passing by. These gain fame through word of mouth and have in some instances become well known landmarks.
One can see row upon row of Baladi bread perched on the heads of the vendors, even some on bicycles dashing down the street ducking between cars with an amazing sense of balance and Lance Armstrong skill.
There was a famous woman who sold vegetables on a street corner who was known for rattling off made up verses on any subject.
A poet selling lettuce and celery on the pavement of a poor street corner in old Cairo.
Besides these there are the special snack vendors on the corniche in Alexandria in summer: the charcoal grilled corn on the cob
and those that sell prickly pears,
as well as those that sell salted peanuts, humus, and pips.
The common denominator among all these other than the food is their beautiful, melodious cries advertising their wares. A cacophony of sound, often clashing but mostly with snatches of rich voices carrying beautiful melodies.
Last but not least, a throwback to olden times, the shoeshine boy.
In this picture he is no longer a boy. His job is becoming extinct with all the available products for shining one’s own shoes at home. Yet still, the production he makes out of shining the shoes is worth much more in its entertainment value than in the shoeshine itself.
What do all these have in common that makes me love Egypt and it’s people? A simplicity, an integrity and a cheerfulness that leaves you in awe. They could very easily give away some of their wares for free if they see someone who could barely afford them, especially children. They can banter with one, word for word and phrase for phrase. They are often very witty and more often than not talented in one or another of the arts. Some may be quite poor, yet have a pride and a dignity that would not allow them to take handouts. Despite all that they are cheerful, laughing and joking a great deal with their customers. They are always ready to give a helping hand wherever needed, and quite often break out into song if they have a strong and beautiful voice and can carry a tune.
I love Egypt and I love it’s people for their generosity of soul, for the beauty of their talent and for the love they have in their heart for life despite its poverty of resources yet richness of feelings. To quote the late Egyptian Pope : “Egypt is not a country in which I live, it is a country which lives in me”.
24 May 2016