Sunday, 4 November 2012

Cairo/Giza Daily Photo (continued)

You have lived in Egypt now for over twenty years. How do the rural people differ from the rural people in North America: their connection to the land, their values? Is it the land, or is it the people that you value?

Rural north Americans are much better educated than rural Egyptians. Even urban Egyptians find rural Egyptians outside the norm. In reality, rural Egyptians are every bit as thoughtful, even though perhaps less informed about the wider world. However, their priorities are very different. Their concerns are with their crops and families; they don't own a lot of "stuff", nor are they trying to acquire it. Initially, my fellaheen neighbours thought that it was strange that an urban foreign female was living out here, and alone no less! When I built my farm, I put in a chain link fence to keep my dogs on the property, and to allow my neighbours to look in and see what I did on a daily basis. They saw someone who worked in the garden, drank tea with friends, took care of her animals, and even read books. They saw someone much like them. Now, with an animal support charity, I help to run free vet clinics to help my neighbours take care of their farm animals. The lines between us continue to blur.

How do you find the Egypt behind the tourist facade, or are there these two layers, and more?

Tourists in Egypt are shown a country that is an object to be examined, with the people, being objects of mere local colour. One of the first things I did when I moved here was to learn to speak Arabic, so that I could talk to the people around me. Conversely, many Egyptians tend to see tourists as objects that dispense cash, rather than as people. What people see as tourists is something interesting and strange, but it has little to do with the reality Egyptians. What I do here is to run a farm, where we take people out horseback riding in the villages around the Sakkara/Dahshur area to see the day to day lives of rural Egyptians. On horseback, you are not separated from your environment, you are interacting with it, you are moving slowly enough to really see things. There are many layers within Egypt when you consider the vastly different classes in urban and rural settings. You can go to shopping malls and hotels that could be anywhere in the world, or you can go to a village souq that could only be in an Egyptian village. Even Egyptians don't know all the layers here.

You live in a dusty, sandy country. How do you keep it all out of your equipment?

There's no way to keep the dust out of camera equipment here. I do a lot of my photography on the fly, often from the back of a horse. I use small digital cameras, preferably with as few moving parts as possible. I have to replace/repair my equipment regularly.

How does the light differ along the Nile from the light that you grew up with in North America?

I grew up in Southern California. I've lived in various places along the west coast of the USA and Canada, then in Ontario, and finally, in Egypt. I wasn't into photography until I moved to Egypt. When we first moved here, we were living in Alexandria on the north coast. The light there is softer and more luminous, quite different from the desert light of the Cairo area. In Alexandria over twenty years ago, I was entranced by the old wooden doors of the villas, and the wrought iron garden gates, and I spent time taking photos of them. While we were living there, we did some trips to Sharm el Sheikh, that had just come under Egyptian control, and the difference in the light was extraordinary.

Here in the Nile Valley, at the edge of the Sahara, we have many different types of light, depending on the time of day. There are the soft mists of the morning in the farmland, the clear burning fires of sunsets over the desert, and my favourite is when we have thunderstorms blowing down the valley from the sea. Late in the afternoon when there are the dark clouds but the sun is shining in under them and picking out the pyramids and other objects in the desert you get extraordinary, almost theatrical light.

Maryanne's blog is Cairo/Giza Daily Photo. Go and ride a virtual horse with her amongst her felaheen neighbours. Appreciate a quite different way of life.

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani has been a member of the City Daily Photo community since March 2007. Read her very first post.

Julie Storry - Sydney Eye

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