SHUBRA: off the beaten path

Emblem is from Khedivate Egypt 1867-1881

Emblem  from Khedivate Egypt 1867-1881

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Organized by he walk is organized by: Amr Abo Tawila, Shaimaa Ashour & “Shurfa”‬

 

A morning tour of Shubra, a district in Cairo, is an unusual way to spend a Friday morning. But for a group of young Egyptian professionals, it does raise the question, ‘why’?  Taking advantage of a new event organized by Megawra, young Egyptian’s want to know their city and the organizers at Megawra have responded with a tour to Daher, Shubra and after the summer to Dokki.

What is there to see in Shubra? Plenty!  We wandered for 5 hours. Of course, the organizers had done their research with plenty of information to impart at every stop: streets are lined with 19th and 20th century architectural gems, old churches, the Mamluk Khandazar mosque, schools and hospital, and remnants of the past such as photograph studio, knife-maker, and even a WWII bunker.

Below is a mosaic of a day in Shubra. (Pass the cursor over the photo for the caption.)

Follow City Walks on  Facebook or Twitter at #ShubraCityWalk

 

Cairo Colors

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Elevator Baskets

Elevator Basket Seller on his way to older building to sell brightly-woven baskets that are used as an elevator for goods, much like a ‘dumbwaiter'; however, these baskets are hoisted out of a window or over a balcony. The lady of the house calls out for supplies, lowers her basket and the grocer puts the goods inside, the price is known and payment lowered or put on account.

The brightly woven baskets are something new to the elevator basket market, usually the baskets are simple reed baskets as seen below. Whatever the choice, using them saves energy (climbing up and down a lightless stairwell), convenient, and environmentally friendly!

Enduring Exile

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Undreams*

An unfinished tapestry, pushed deep into the unlocked drawer, brought unshed tears to her eyes. After her grandmother’s death, the unowned tapestry was now hers to keep or, perhaps, upkeep.

The granddaughter unjammed the drawer, unwrinkled the unvalued tapestry and tugged at it, slowly, to unravel an unloved memory.

Her grandmother had worn the hijab when she unfortuitously was forced to flee. She was unbearably young, unable to unidentify herself from the only life she had ever known.

She had untangled, untamed dreams. But in her flight, unwontedly flushed with misery, those ungratified desires were undreamt.

It was someone, unremembered, who pushed the cloth and needle into her hands. “Here, stitch and stitch and don’t look up. Unthink what you thought, unclench strings of yesterday.”

Her un-shining needle pricked the un-colorful cloth.

Each day when an unfed child cried, she undecorated the embroidered cake she would never eat.

When the rain unrestrainedly covered the ground, she unstitched the coat she would never wear.

When a mother moaned, she unwrote the poem she would never read and unmeasured the music she would never sing.

When unutterable screams surged through the un-dawned day, she unclimbed the mountain she would never see.

The granddaughter cradled the unfinished tapestry in her arms. Her fingers unexpectedly pulled a thread, undoing one stitch and then another.

Unwinding undreams; for her grandmother’s true tapestry was sewn with love.

*Undreams ,won an international poetry contest sponsored by Persimmon Tree and will be published in the summer edition 2015.


On the night of April 14, 2014, over 200 girls were kidnapped from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, Nigeria, by terrorists.

Boko Haram has abducted 2,000 girls, women since 2014 –Amnesty

“Undreams” is for all those imprisoned in exile, forced from their homes, separated from friends and family, their way of life banished—the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Chibok girls and millions more…

Read Malala Yousafzai’s “My Open Letter to the Abducted Chibok Schoolgirls.”

Follow: https://twitter.com/csrchildren

Sign Petition to commission monument to remember abduction of women and children in Nigeria. This monument is a constant reminder of human failure to protect the innocent. Not a popular concept for a government or nation but a reminder that might stir actions in the hearts of those able to protect.

*Copyright 2015 by Lesley Lababidi. All rights reserved. To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required.

Red Walls of Bida – Introduction

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In 1949, the year that I was born, Nigeria Magazine published an article,

“The Red Walls of Bida”.

Sixty-five years later, I find myself on the road to Bida.

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Nigeria Mag #30 1949

Bida is located halfway between Lagos and Kano. The city is the capital of the kingdom of the Nupe, a Muslim people with a great past.

Since December 2014, I was in the process of arranging a trip to the central, northwest region of Nigeria with our Public Relations Officer, Alhaji Essa, who is a native of Bida.  Our plans ended abruptly when Alhaji Essa suddenly died of a stroke on January 27, 2015. With great sadness but with more determination, I decided a trip to Bida was more of a necessity than one of curiosity.

Alhaji Essa had been with the company for nearly 25 years (read memorial). My request to visit his hometown pleased him and he had arranged a detailed program for my stay in Bida. But now, I would be delivering the Lababidi’s condolences to the family of Alhaji Essa.

From Lagos, I called the elder, Alhaji Galadima, who indeed confirmed that the family was waiting for my visit. Too, I had done my research. With a copy of the Nigeria Magazine article in my bag, I was keen to see if I might recognize changes from 65 years ago.

After a short flight to Abuja, I set out on a four-hour drive to Bida over roads with unrelenting pothole damage. The scenery is that of the Sahel, a semi-arid climate in the middle of the dry season. But one thing is clearly different from the article of 1949, no longer under colonial rule, Nigeria soon would hold its 5th quadrennial general election since the end of military rule in 1999.

Along the roadside and at regular intervals, candidates advertise for people’s attention. From Minna to Bida, the use of scarecrow-fashioned models surprise me. My first reaction is that these forms are derogatory toward the candidate, but soon I realize the message was quite the opposite.

In 1949, our author of ‘Red Walls of Bida’ (his name unrecorded except for the initials W. H. L.) drove from Lagos in what he called an ‘American Two-Toned Touring Sedan’.  My car is not nearly so memorable—a 2010 Toyota. However, we (W.H.L., me and my driver, Yacubu) arrive into Bida over the same road,

“an avenue of mango trees which lined the road. Almost every branch bore large clusters of golden fruit, made more golden by the evening sun. No prettier sight could be imagined, and no triumphal arch more glorious than this long canopy of trees.” (Nigeria Magazine,#30, 1949)

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Mango trees line the main road into Bida.

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1949

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Bida was once surrounded by a wall as were many cities in antiquity. (One city in Nigeria that the fortress walls and gate still stands is Kano). These walls were designed to withstand lengthy sieges.  Open spaces within the walls were reserved for the production of crops. However, mud walls are not built to withstand the march of time and neglect. Today, only two short examples of the red walls of Bida remain. The open spaces are fill with a sea of cement houses and corrugated metal roofs that intermingle with mud-brick dwellings.

main street 2015

main street 2015

Continue Reading about Red Walls of Bida, here.

 

 

Read about Bida Glass – Bangles and Beads DSC_2233 Read about Bida Brasswork, hereDSC_2131Read about Bida Blacksmith hereDSC_2506 (1) For history of Nupe Kingdom, click here 

***Nigeria is often in the news — often the news is not good, however this article centers the spotlight on Nigerians, the culture and their good work to keep traditional crafts alive. Throughout the developing world, heritage crafts need support, if not, the ancient techniques will vanish only to be read about in a dusty old book. Please support heritage crafts wherever and whenever possible. By doing so you help preserve ancient techniques, encourage skills and apprenticeships, and support the local economy.***

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All rights reserved by Lesley Lababidi. To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required. Excerpts and photography from Nigeria Magazine, ed. E.H. Duckworth, Government of Nigeria #30, 1949.

Marmalade and Mamalukes

IMG_0906What does marmalade and Mamalukes have in common? Consider the possibility of connecting the two by a fruit tree, the bitter orange, and a day of wandering in Cairo.

DSC_1283Between the 8th and 9th century, the Moors, Muslims of North Africa, introduced oranges to Spain. Bitter orange or “bigaradier” in French is the indigenous variety in Mediterranean countries. In Arabic, bitter orange is called naranj (from Persian narang and Sanskrit naranga meaning fragrant). In the Italian and Spanish language, the fruit is called naranja. DSC_1271And even English takes the word and color ‘orange’ from naranj = aranj.

 

In literature, we read of gardens and orchards in Mamaluke palaces full of citrus—sweet orange grafted from the bitter orange trees, lemons, grapefruits, kumquats. IMG_0860The practice of making marmalade and preserves of quince appear in the Book of Ceremonies of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII. The Moors in Islamic Spain praised the orange tree and its blossom through poetry and bitter orange trees still grace the streets of Seville today.

February in the Fayoum is bitter orange season. In Egypt, the finest bitter oranges come from the soil of the Fayoum. The pungent fragrant blossoms fill the month of May and after nine month the fruit is ready for harvest.

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DSC_1238But before I get carried away, my connection between marmalade and Mamalukes will not be found in the annuals of history; it is a simply story of a day shared with a deep sense of connectedness that evokes joyfulness of experiencing.

The February day begins with bitter, sweet chunky, semi-liquid orange marmalade; a delicacy extracted from the finest Fayoum narang from the farm of Bayt Hewison. A breakfast of warm croissants dripping with homemade bitter orange marmalade guaranteed to wake up the taste buds. And there were those thoughts… of Arab tradesmen and orange groves that spread across the Mediterranean.

At dusk I find myself in the City of the Dead at the IMG_1963Mausoleum of Sultan Faraj Ibn Barquq (1382-1399 AD). The magrib call floats through the streets and I sit in the splendor of the mosque where the ceiling is supported by columns and lanterns float in the dimming light, my palms open to receive the beauty that lies in this very moment.

IMG_0384Marmalade Days – a photo journey, click here

 

 

 

 

Obelisque Magazine – 2015

unnamed Articles featured in Obelisque Magazine 2015

Osun Osogbo Grove – Osogbo, Nigeria

City of the Past – Fayoum, Egypt

Encode Studio – Alexandria, Egypt

Street Art: Borg el Zamalek – Zamalek, Egypt

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Read Article here

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Read Article Here

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Read Article Here

Street art 20-3-14-2-001Read Here 

Obelisque Magazine 2015, all rights reserved. Photographs and text cannot be reproduced without the permission of Obelisque Magazine and Lesley Lababidi.