Last october I attended a mapping workshop by Megawra, to map out a street near Masjid Ibn Tulun called Al-khalifah. The street is full with tourist attractions but unfortunately it has been neglected by the government and misused by the residents of the place. The workshop was part of phase three of the Athar lina project which aims to preserve the heritage of Cairo, with a focus on making people aware of how indispensable heritage is, whether “as a source of spirituality, as a connection to their past, as a place of memory, as a source of livelihood, as a place of entertainment, service, or culture.” In phase three, Athar lina is currently working on restoring the dome of Shagaret Al-durr, which is also located in Al-khalifah street. And they are inviting everyone this saturday, 30 November, to Spend a day in Al-khalifah street.
As for my experience there, the most striking thing was sight of the neglected attractions, it was absolutely heart breaking! I can’t reach a clear analysis of the behaviour or reason behind this, and I can’t really say it’s because the residents of Al-khalifah not caring about their neighbourhood either. Because just by walking down the street of Al-khalifah and by taking a closer look, you’ll know that the residents are nothing but proactive people who are very proud of their neighbourhood.
Take these two pictures for example:
Everywhere you walk you’ll find places you can drink from (photo on the left), placed by the residents themselves as a good deed kind of thing. Not just that, but they are completely fenced to protect it from any theft scenarios. But you’ll also find ‘trashed heritage’, places with extreme historical and cultural value completely wrecked (photo on the right). I find it very contradicting to have both of these behaviours in one area.
I partly assume that it’s a matter of value, what the residents find more valuable. By talking to some of the residents on Al-khalifah street, It’s clear that they are aware of all the attractions there; they keep pointing you to places you can visit, so they know that these places are important. But do they see it as a value for them? I’ve also visited residents of an archaeological site; an old house that was built -if memory serves me right- during Ali basha’s period. They curiously called me upstairs inviting me to their house to know what we’ve been doing in the workshop. We had an interesting conversation where they shared that every time ‘government people’ visits the neighbourhood, they take pictures, dimensions and all, tell them how valuable their neighbourhood is and they promise to renovate their house, but for years nothing has happened. I think it obviously stems from the government lack of interest, and lack of development initiatives, but it’s more about prioritising renovating touristic spots over renovating old houses that the residents live in.
It’s clear that the residents are trying to fix and adapt to their environment as best as they can. Not that they are careless and passive, that’s the best they can do. You can clearly notice the haphazardness of the place; there is a mesh of wires covering almost every building, and you’d find the most unusual objects in the most unusual places! But once you ask what is this, or why is this here you get the bigger picture.
For example, I was walking by and saw a basin in the middle of nowhere, where someone used plaster to close the drain, a sight I have never seen walking in other places in Cairo. When I asked them why there is a basin here, their answer came in complete surprise that I am asking such a question, and it turns out it’s for horses to drink water.
Another example is the photo above, whenever we looked around we found tons of lanterns, lamp posts, flash lights, individual bulbs and different lighting units, it’s unbelievable! We even saw lots of lighting units hanged from lamp posts. I had to ask why is that happening, and people said that the lamp posts stopped functioning and they cant change the bulbs, so anyone buys another lighting unit and just fixes it anywhere, and usually when it rains, the water ruins these units and every time they have to install another so that the street wont be dark.
I have been living in the 5th settlement for more than 5 years now, and one of the streets -actually more than one- that leads to where I live is completely dark, I have never seen a similar action from any of the residents, including me and I thought I am a proactive person!
I loved the workshop and how it was organised, but most of all I loved seeing what we call ‘3ashwa2eyat’ from a different perspecive. Join us this saturday and experience the life in Al-khalifah, you’ll get to see the different workshops, listen to stories and take part in different activities there.