copy Excellent Adventures in Egypt

Enter here to share Joni's adventures living and working in Cairo courtesy of the U.S. Fulbright cultural exchange program. Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and test of our civilization. - Mahatma Ghandi

10/07/2004

This is Wadi Foods, an outlet store for organic produce grown in one of the new desert plantations. The Egyptian government has been establishing "new towns" - industrial and agricultural - outside the Nile Valley for about 40 years now. Some have been successful, others are not. These farm outlet stores, located on the main highway between Alexandria and Cairo, seem to be doing very well. Some have outlets in Cairo as well, and there is a very large farm production called Isis Foods that markets a line of organic produce and spices that is available in most supermarkets. Posted by Hello We came back to Cairo on the highway that comes up directly behind the Great Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza. The last desert part part of the highway is now dominated by luxury villas, gated communities with names like "Beverly Hills" to reflect the land use (estate residential with pools). Approaching Cairo, the scenery becomes a mixture of agricultural fileds and mid-rise apratment buildings, many built illegally (without permits) on land that is supposed to remain agricultural. There is very little suburban transition: one minute you're in the desert, next you'r landed in the bustle of Cairo. As we were swallowed up in the mid-day Cairo traffic, I kept gazing at the pyramids rising up across the fileds, dominating the landscape in a scene unchanging for millenia - assuming that one ignores those pesky eletric power transmission lines blocking the view. The Helmys took me back to their flat in Giza for a final lunch before cutting me loose for the day. We stopped at a fish market where the elder Helmys selected fresh Nile fish to be roasted and delivered to their flat in half an hour's time (that's half an hour Egyptian time - it was more like 1 1/2 hours, but well worth the wait - delicious!) While waiting outside the shop, I saw a citrus vendor racing down the street, pushing his wooden cart in front of him while lemons spilled off all around. What a waste, I thought - he is very careless of his wares. He dashed around a corner and disappeared. Two minutes later a large truck with three men standing up in back came roaring down the street and careened around the corner after him. "Are they chasing him?" I asked Eman and Nahla. "'Yes," they said, "he doesn't have a permit to sell and the local authorities will confiscate his goods and break his cart if they catch him." I had read about this but never seen it before: very poor people, with no other means of employment, who scrape together enough capital to buy a tiny bit of goods that they can market by wandering the streets in middle class neighborhoods. The authorities do periodic crackdowns to show who's in charge. The local folks don't like this policy at all - the government should help these folks find jobs or set aside locations for them to sell, not persecute them, and the goods sold are appreciated by folks in the neighborhoods. (It is also an amazingly stupid policy in a country that is supposed to be encouraging entrpeneurship.) When we stopped to pick up sodas at a nearby market, another "illegal" vendor" wandered by and Mr. Helmy warned him to get out of sight because the authorities were patrolling: very Egyptian, that response - there is a strong sense of people banding together to protect one another from the powers that be. So replete with yet another emormous meal, I made my farewells to the Helmys and caught a cab back to my little sanctuary in Zamalek - which was buried in dust, of course, since I hadn't cleaned in 3 days.

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