Monday, May 12, 2014

Amira Hanafi: Mahdy's Walk

                                                                               from 20 conversations
                                                                               on a walk in Ard el Lewa, Giza, Egypt 

                                                                               performed 20 times in April 2013 

            Who brought you here? 
            Who brought you to this place? 
            Who told you about this route?

I am Mahdy Saad, from Nubia, from a place called Kalabsha.
I live in Ard El Lewa. I came here when I was in first grade.
I went to kindergarten there, and then thankfully I moved to Ard El Lewa. 

It’s a nice neighborhood, really nice.
There are really good people here.
For sure there are Nubians here, a lot of them.

            (How old are you now?) 
I am 18.

                        So, what I really am thinking
                        and also have been a little bit concerned about,
                        there’s an amazing amount of construction going on.
                        And from what I hear the prices are really, really going up
                        so it’s also a neighborhood which is, to a certain extent, 

                        being gentrified or becoming gentrified.
                        I was thinking about that village life that I enjoy,
                        that I was talking about earlier, is endangered.

                                                             ...7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13
                                                             They’re building up to 13 floors! 

                                                  No one cleans or supports anyone else cleaning.
                                                  If I see someone throwing trash, I’ll throw trash too 

                                                  until we get garbage cans in front of every house 
                                                  so no one throws trash in the street. 

           Anwar is a really talented fellow. 
           He has a workshop for upholstery 


And also, actually, that I’ve visited as a journalist,
they want to know what I’m going to say about the place.
People are concerned with what is your opinion,
what are you going to say, what kind of picture are you going to give of the place 


                                      According to the people that live in Ard El Lewa, 
                                      it’s called the Crazy Woman’s Canal.
                                      There was a crazy woman living here
                                      who threw herself in the canal,

                                      so they named the street after her 


           When you find a farmer who has land
           that gives him around 15,000 pounds a year,
           he’s so tired. He’s exhausted!
           He goes to buy chemicals, he goes to buy seeds and stuff,
           he works and toils and in the end,
           he gets 15,000 pounds a year.
           Someone comes to him and says he’ll buy the land for 3 million. 

           He says, “Great. I’ll keep a small piece, and eat from it,
           and build a house for my family, and live off the 3 million.”
           We improve our lives and our children’s. 

                                               They throw trash anywhere in the street, see! 
                                               They killed the tree with trash.
                                               They killed that tree with trash.
                                               They shouldn’t do that. There’s a bin over there, 

                                               they should put the trash over there.
                                               That wasn’t trash, but they made it trash.
                                               There’s supposed to be a truck that comes and takes it. 

                                               But it only comes sometimes, and there’s a lot of trash. 
                                               I don’t like this solution.
                                               People should come and put their trash here.
                                               Not just throw it anywhere in the street.
                                               This is called a trash area.

There was supposed to be a Parliament, but there isn’t one. 
                        (Did you come here to look at me?)
In that election, someone was supposed to win and take care of this area, do anything. 
But no, that didn’t happen. 

                        Now, since Mohamed Morsi has taken over the country, 
                        he hasn’t done anything.
                        Not in Darb al-Ahmar, not in Zarayeb, not in Ard El Lewa. 

                        As you can see here.
                        I’d like to say that on television. 

           (These cats are feasting.) 
Yes! Look at all these cats.
           (There are a lot of them.) 
There are.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,
7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.
Look at that little one right there! 

That was a cute...Oh! It got scared. 
Little puffball. 

                                                            There are some retarded people around here. 

                                   There were gypsies here, living in tents. 
                                   By the canal, on the edge.
                                   They left, when the buildings came. 


I think it’s completely wrong the way in which 
people living in informal neighborhoods
are made to feel that the lack of services
and the problems in their neighborhoods

are something they should be embarrassed about. 
Right? As opposed to...
            (As opposed to those who are responsible.)
Yeah, yeah. Like they need to make excuses or justify or defend 

the fact that the streets are unpaved
or that there’s trash or they don’t have certain basic public services 

whereas that is not a reflection on them.
             (And when in fact, what people don’t ever say, is
             “Congratulations on building an entire city, by yourselves.”) 
Right. Right. It’s obvious that people did what they needed to do.
I don’t know how many millions of people
moved to Cairo in the span of a few decades,
and they provided the housing that wasn’t there,
for themselves. 

                                                   Look at how that balcony looks. It’s really strange. 
                                                   It’s shaped like a cross. 


There are five garbage dumpsters in Ard El Lewa. 
Only five. They’re all on the outer street, by the entrance.
For all of this, five dumpsters.
People are supposed to take the trash, hire a tok-tok, and go to the bin? 

And in the end you find the dumpster is full and you throw it on the ground. 
We pay the government, we pay a garbage collector
to come get the trash from the house.


           This was supposed to be a main street to serve the neighborhood.
           Like most main streets in Egypt you would find a garden.
           but this street didn’t become a street, and the garden didn’t become a garden. 

           Is this a street? It’s just a passage, full of dust and garbage.


                                                The garbage loves the dogs...the dogs love the garbage. 
                                                They cross the street to get to it. That’s the way it is. 

There is a youth club here, for youth in Ard El Lewa. 
There are some kids, some of them are my friends, 
they know how to draw in 3D.
They draw on the ground, graphics in 3D.

They try to solve Ard El Lewa’s problems by drawing. 

                                                                          Here is a high school for girls. 
                                                                          A lot of boys come here and 
                                                                          catcall the girls.

It was all like this, all of it. There wasn’t anything else.


When we first came to the neighborhood,
even in the street I live in now,
it used to be all farms.
There weren’t more than one or two houses. except now everything is buildings. 

This one, and the next, and the next and now here, even here...
But this, for instance, whoever owns it doesn’t want to sell. 
He has animals and this field in order to feed them.
            (That’s all clover, right?) 

                                       We are going to take the next left, here. 

                                                              See that seat? It looks like a nice spot. 

                                           It’s funny how they just kind of leave them. 
                                                       (Wait, leave what?)
                                           Like, that building over there, like,
                                           these are unfinished, but that one people are living in, 

                                           but they don’t cover up the brick or the concrete, they just...
                                           I like that purple window, though.

                                           Look how quiet it is here. Wow.
                                           Quietest place I’ve found in the neighborhood so far. 

I think this place is a bit dangerous.
It’s cut off...You know, the whole street,
from its beginning to its end, is full of buildings, but not one person lives here. 

There’s no one to help you if anything should happen.
There are people walking, passing,
there are finished buildings, but no one lives here.
Maybe in just one apartment. 

                                     There’s no security in Ard El Lewa, at all.
                                     Maybe right now some thugs could pass us here. 

                                     Maybe they would rob us, and then...
                                     There is a school, a regular school
                                     and on Mother’s Day, people went in
                                     and murdered in the school.

                                                 (Murdered who?) 
                                     Murdered children.
                                                 (No way.)
                                     Yes, I swear. - I swear it happened.

                                                 (When was that?) 
                                     On Mother’s Day.
                                                 (But why?) 
                                     For no reason!
                                     They stole from the school, computers and stuff.

I used to be able to go out by myself at six o’clock,
I mean go out late by myself.
Now, my mom says I’m worried about you,
to the point that now, if I go out, I have to go with my mother. 

My mom is scared for me now. 

            I think the narrowness of the streets is just maximization. 
            Just to get the most out of all space.
            And if you have no central authority stepping in and saying 

            there has to be this much non-built space,
            this is the environment that a pure market will build, in a way. 

                                    Do you see all these kids in the tree?
                                    They found the one tree, and they like overloaded it.

                                                (Don’t you wish there were some girls in the tree, too?) 

                                                             Sheep...grazing on garbage?
                                                             I’ve seen goats eating those plastic bags.
                                                             I don’t know what they can do with mineral oil, 

                                                             uh...what good that does to their nutrition. 

Maybe this street could be good.
It could be cleaned, because there’s a lot of garbage,
and asphalt put down. It would be good.
And we have to take care of this garbage
and take it away, to someplace where there’s a garbage bin. 

                                                            (What is that? What is that? 
                                                            Boy! What are you doing?) 

Something happened to me, I was walking in the street.
A regular street, far away from where I live in Ard El Lewa. 

Someone called me “Shikabala,” since I am dark.
So I went and fought with him. And people shamed him.
I wasn’t annoyed, but I want to tell him,
maybe someone else would get annoyed. Maybe his friend. 

                         This place is curious. It’s a garage, for parking your car. 
                         And so far, on these walks, I’ve only seen two cars.
                                      (Maybe it’s new.)
                         That’s what I was thinking. Maybe it’s hope.
                         It’s like, “We hope, that one day, this will be a garage.” 

                                                  Everyone who comes, they get a piece of land,
                                                  they build a building, then a second, a third, a fourth. 

                                                  If someone has two buildings here, he has six or seven. 
                                                  Oh my God!
                                                  People who live here, how do they live? 

Coming just from Paris, you know, it’s very, very, very different. 
I was thinking that it’s like, you know, being...
you know a Fellini movie? You multiply like, a hundred
and this is kind of the feeling.

And you know, also, I’d like to take a lot of pictures.
But I don’t know if it’s appropriate or not, to make pictures. 

                         In Ramadan, the house isn’t important—the street is! 


                                                 But I think we have to entice them more.
                                                 Something more than just law saying you can’t build. 

                                                 So that if you are a farmer, you feel that
                                                 it is profitable for you, and productive,
                                                 and you’re doing something important.
                                                 He has to feel that way.
                                                 The public services he sees in Cairo
                                                 and wants to bring to his village and change it,
                                                 they have to give him that. 

                                                             Because in the law itself, there are little things 
                                                             that allow people to do this.
                                                             You come, you break the ground, you build on it, 

                                                             and then you pay a fine and you are absolved.
                                                             In the end, it becomes law. 

There are a lot of informal areas in Cairo, 
and each one has its own identity.
And I quite like here, actually. 

                                     From start to finish, I don’t like Ard El Lewa. 

                                     (Oh my God! You and her and!)
                         That’s what I'm talking about with security.
                         Yeah! It didn’t used to be like that.
                         People didn’t used to be that way.
                         Now, any guy who sees a nice girl,
                         and wants to catcall her, walk behind her...
                         There’s no security like we used to have.
                         It used to be, on Eid, I would stay in the street until morning. 

                         Now, my curfew is 10 o’clock. Not just me, all of us.
                         Now, I have to go home at 9 or 10.

                                     (You’re joking, they’ve told us 6 o’clock!) 

                                                  Should we get a violent scene on record,
                                                  of a slap? Whoosh!
                                                  “What really happens in the streets of Cairo.” 

                                                  That feeling, where you’re like I’m gonna,
                                                  I’m gonna hit that person.
                                                  I see that guy up there, if he says anything 

                                                  I’m gonna punch him in the face.
                                                              (Yeah, right, and you anticipate...) 
                                                 Yeah, and you’re like, nervous,
                                                 you get this, your heart is beating and you’re like, 
                                                 grrrrr, I’m ready! 

                                                                          And, does anybody know where
                                                                          the name of Ard El Lewa comes from? 

Leave me, I’m walking. I’m walking! 

Thank you to Mahdy Saad for his generosity in sharing his walk in Ard El Lewa.
Thank you to walkers Phillip Schaufelberger, Hanaa Gad, Ahmed Elhawary, Amira Taha, Fatma Bakheet, Hamdy Reda, Mohamed Fatouh, Mahmoud ‘Bakar’ Ahmed, Mahmoud Saad, Amira El Sebaai, Nini Ayach, Mahmoud Bakheet, Jean-Luc Ayach, Ganna Hamada, Rawan Malik, Amira Hassan, Ursula Lindsey, Giulio Morello, Amr Salah and Amani Hanafi.

And thank you to all Ard El Lewa residents for allowing me to use their streets. 


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