Egypt, Old and New Ideas.

Cooking fire and Oven.
Reading through the comments on the We are all Khaled Said’s facebook page I noticed one woman’s suggestion on how to rebuild Egypt’s tourism industry and try to bring some money back to the local people. Having spent time in Luxor for a few years, and studied some of the works which charities out there do I was struck by the efforts of one charity. They donate gas cookers to very poor families so that they no longer have to cook in the traditional way, i.e. in a pot over a small fire. This makes their lives easier but it made me wonder how they were going to afford to replace the gas bottles/cylinders. Would they have to be dependent now on the charity forever?
It also felt uncomfortable to me because we were imposing our ‘values’ on their culture. People in the ‘West’ spend a fortune on having perfect homes. We replace our ‘old’ kitchens’ for newer models and then throw away all of the appliances which no longer fit the new colour scheme!! I have never understood it! Then, when we see a people who do not have the ‘luxury’ which we have, we dive in to ‘make their lives better’. I think that this ‘better’ also creates its own problems.
I love the way poorer Egyptians can make everything out of the earth. They are masters of invention and this is something which I have had a strong connection to in my own life. When I think back over my life I remember the things which I loved to do. As a child growing up in rural Ireland in the 60’s we ‘kids’ had our own self-built house in the woods, complete with fire and kettle on top, filled with water from a local spring. We made tea, boys and girls together and played in the woods. How we didn’t burn it down is anyone’s guess but we were obviously good at keeping it safe!
Cupboard made of mud.
When I lived in Spain from the age of 11, with my mother, we moved into a villa in Benalmadena Costa. It had a garage full of old furniture. We climbed in the window and created a home in there. Later on, when we moved to Torremolinos and to a new building development, we had huge concrete pipes which then became our ‘home’. We foraged in the surrounding countryside, (There actually were fields full of crops and sugar-cane then!) often on horseback. We came home with bags of grapes, usually stolen!! Pomegranates, avocados, sugar cane and vegetables from the edge of fields. We even stole a chicken once and plucked it, built a fire and cooked it on a spit! It wasn’t entirely successful but we loved it. We were as independent as we could have been. I never liked houses, always preferring to be outdoors.
Then when I was 14, we moved back to Dublin to live with my father and step-mother. Nightmare!!! My independence was taken away and we lived in a house which was so ‘perfect’ that we were not allowed to do anything! The life I loved with my mother, free and able to survive on nothing, was stripped away and I lived a modern life. I hated it. I felt completely trapped. Dependent once again.
Now as an adult I feel the same sense of being trapped by modern conveniences. I hate this life. I want to live a life of connection to the earth again. To make my own furniture, my own clothes, to be self-sufficient.
So when I see ‘progress’ in rural Egypt I see possible disaster! I love their traditional bread making skills, cooking skills, furniture making skills, because this feels ‘normal’ and right to me. I worry about them becoming so dependent on modern luxuries that these old survival ways become lost. Maintaining a modern life means becoming a slave to gas companies, electricity companies. Yes having a gas cooker makes a woman’s life easier. Yes I can see the value of a fridge but the energy has to be paid for!! More money is then needed to maintain that lifestyle and so it goes on!
When a person builds a cupboard from the mud it has cost them nothing. I love this ability to create something with nothing but what nature has provided, and some creative thinking and craft skills. Poor Egyptians are incredibly creative, because they have had to be. But I love this about them and I fear that they will lose this in an effort to be ‘modern’.
Hassan Fathy House in New Gourna, Luxor.
Some of us here in Europe and the US recognise that life needs to change. Our ‘modern’ way of living strips away our ability to survive and thrive in the natural world. We are relearning how to build our own houses, to make clay ovens, to live closer to the earth. To find new, free ways of cooking, living and storing food. There is so much we could learn from the rural Egyptian people. So much we can reconnect to. Before it is all lost in the mad race for ‘modernisation’.
Hassan Fathy, to me, was the Father of earth-based living. He designed everything to suit the environment and I would love a house built by his design. One day I intend to build one.


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