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Fisher-Children of the Nile

Tomorrow they will ride the first felucca out for school in Old Cairo. Later they will again help with the fishing.

text and photos by Lucinda Kidd

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Under a clear blue winter sky, colorful wooden fishing boats speckle the muddy Nile. Most are rowed by robust village wives in loose-fitting, black cotton galabiyas while their husbands stand at the bows stretching nets. Still, it is not unusual to see a rough-hewn skiff filled with fisher-children. In an economy where inflation is always a concern and growth slow, all ages must work for an Egyptian village family to make ends meet.

The children have been out since the chilly dawn. Already they have sent several cartloads of catfish and eels to the Giza and Old Cairo open-air markets. Grimy from mud and sweat dried into their pajamas, exhausted from pulling in the day’s dwindling catches, they throw their net for one last haul. As they pull up a few tiny fish, they cheer, “It’s finished!”

Lithe, sun-blackened Ahmed, barely in his teens, rows toward shore while his sister Salwa straightens up the gear. A similar boat, paint-cracked by years of wear and tear, pulls up beside them. A thin, weathered man, flashing a snaggle-toothed grin, lashes the boats together under the bridge. A robust woman emerges from the crawl space below deck.

Soon her five children cram on deck with their parents to giggle contentedly over warm bottles of orange Schweppes. Mother snuggles her youngest tightly, pressing her face to his cheek and playfully biting two-and-a-half-year-old Nassar. She whispers in his ear, “You are honey, my love.”

In their demonstrative culture, Egyptian children are smothered with hugs, kisses, and affectionate squeezes throughout the day. An Egyptian couple’s love for their children seems to increase with their number. The more offspring, the more one is blessed by God.

Parents might hope their firstborn will be a boy, who will protect his sisters to maintain the family’s honor. Girls are equally appreciated. They lighten their mother’s workload and learn a devotion to the family unmatched by carefree brothers.

As disciplined as the fisher-children were while engaged in the family’s livelihood, after a day’s work they are overtaken by a need to frolic. Ahmed pulls off his clothes and dives over the side. His younger brother Gamal springs through the air after him. Sana and Nassar build a fort of discarded tires and fruit cages on the bank. When a cotton-candy salesman passes by, the children clamor for a riyal from their father. For the twenty piaster coin they receive four fist-sized puffs. In addition to enjoying the sticky sweetness, they collect the accompanying cards printed with pictures of famous Egyptian soccer players and movie stars.

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Tags: Egypt Children Village life Farming/Agriculture Economic hardships