|From Island of Gold|
Rachel’s been doing research on some political issues on this island in the Nile in the south end of Cairo. Today she took me along to see it. It was one of the best afternoons I’ve had in Egypt, sipping tea with villagers. I almost felt like I was back in Peace Corps!
The Island of Gold is a strange little anomaly in the middle of Umm ad-Dunya (the Mother of the World, aka Cairo). These low-lying islands used to disappear under the yearly floods, but since the construction of the Aswan Dam, they stay above water all year, and several generations have now lived there. But the government refuses to provide them water, electricity or sewage treatment. For the most part, it seems they may be okay with that. As one woman told us today, “We grow everything we eat. Some of our neighbors don’t farm, so we give them what we grow. Kul-oh waHad! [We’re all one.]”
On Their Own Protest Movement
The Ring Road (Cairo’s Beltway) passes over the island, but there are neither on- nor off-ramps. It’s just a place to stand. At one time, there was a stairway down, but it was too often used to steal goods and livestock from the island. For that reason, and because of their lack of resources, a number of years ago the islanders finally had enough. The entire island – men, women, children – climbed up that staircase and filled the bridge. They stopped traffic in both directions on one of the most important roads in Cairo. State Security forces were sent in to disburse the crowd, but according to the woman who told us the story, they were afraid to shoot at women and small children, and refused. (After what happened at the end of January, we were a little surprised at that.)
The government removed the staircase leading down to the island. There’s still no public services on the island, but there haven’t been more protests on that scale.
On the January 25 Revolution
People from the island did go down to Tahrir Square for the January 25 Revolution this spring. At the time, I imagine, they were as inspired as anyone. Now, however, they’re not so happy. Every time the topic came up, there was nothing but disgust for the chaos that still reigns in many parts of Egypt: crime, lawlessness, and instability.
On the other hand, as Rachel noted, they’ve been building like crazy across the island, since a long-standing building ban on the island isn’t being enforced any more.
Flora and Fauna of the Island
The logic for the building ban is that the islands have been named as nature preserves. Rachel asked, “But where’s the nature?” I was inclined to agree, since nearly every possible inch of the island is being used for agriculture. But the longer we were there, the more I began to notice the wildlife, mostly birds. I saw Hoopoes, at least two kinds of egret, Pied Kingfishers, crows, fish, and a rust-red dragonfly.
And, miraculously, I made it 6+ hours in Egyptian villages with only one person asking “Why aren’t you married yet?”