Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Back to days of rough skin

In response to many requests from those who follow what I’m writing, I go back to narrating part of my memories of childhood, boyhood and early youth, especially that I noticed that some of what took place long time ago – meaning 60 or 65 years ago – came flooding back to my memory and body as well.

As I noticed that the skin on the back of my hand is a bit dry and rough which is mostly the case in winter. I quickly brought some Glycerin and other ointments. However, my mind wandered in those days when having rough dry skin was common among most people in the Egyptian countryside to the extent that some had bleeding skin on the back of their hands and around lips, adding to this what was also common of Impetigo infections which are pale white rough spots spreading over the facial skin. Imagining this, one can tell how not-beautiful-at-all those days were.

As most of the water used at that time was hard in which soap cannot easily dissolve, and if it did, the amount of caustic soda in it was high. During the time of blocking water in winter[1], when the water canals and channels are almost dry and Rosetta Nile branch’s water level goes down that one can see the riverbed, the manually-operated water pumps called “Habashi pumps” were the source of water at that period of time. The most common soap then was Ash-Shams or The Sun soap made for washing clothes. You can imagine how it feels after the foam gets into your eyes and water cannot remedy this, and then we start rubbing our eyes– that start to burn to the degree that makes you cry –with our hands. To stop such complaining by us, they used to pinch our ears, elbow us in the hip or slap us forcefully on the back of the neck… in many times, we used to go out with wet head and hands when the bitter cold air was blowing, the thing that led to having more dry rough skin to the extent of bleeding.

With my mind wandering in memories, I remembered when my cousin Ibrahim – with whom I used to share the same bed at home and same desk at school although he, may he rest in peace, was four years older than me – and I were behind breaking the manual shaving machine of the barber which he used to shave our heads after he adjusted it to level 2 of shaving, as the barber usually starts from the edge of head hair above the back of the neck and ears then goes up gradually towards the centre of the head; a spot of white skin where hair grows out circularly like a swirling eddy.

Suddenly, the machine’s teeth got stuck, crackled and one tooth or two were cut away from it as they hit a solid mass in the centre of our heads; that were the remains of Ash-Shams soap and minerals of pump’s water that kept accumulating, as we had strict orders to have ablution every day using the pump in the outer yard after we wash our heads with the soap and both of us used to operate the pump for the other. Since the handle of the pump was heavy long iron one, weather was cold and the soap was god damn burning our eyes, we used to do such mission in a hurry; meaning to put the soap over the centre of our head so that it does not go into our eyes and move the handle of the pump up and down twice or three times quickly as the handle was heavy and our hands were silver-cold.

I remember now while I’m old how bold we were in the early youth. I remembered my maternal uncle Hamdi who was brave like a lion and never was he afraid or hesitant. He used to wake up early at dawn to have Fajr prayers. Afterwards, he used to make a tour in the biting cold to check the field. There was a small water channel called “al-‘Adaya” which was dry due to blocking the water in that time except for some small patches of water that were almost freezing. He once caught someone who dared to take his donkey and go out to steal some dry mud to layer it under his cattle.

To our folk peasants in the countryside, it’s ok to give a blind eye to some shameful acts under the false claim saying that Egyptians are pious by nature. And so, stealing mud, dry corn stems used as fuel for cooking, stealing corn in the season of roasting corn cobs, and also stealing okra in the summer was ok to some thieves. And in case the thief was caught, he says “What’s wrong?... your land is like ours… we’re one… it’s Ok to take some,” meaning we consider what belongs to you belongs to us as well since we’re like family and you’re generous and we deserve to enjoy your generosity!!

My uncle stopped the mud thief and did not ask him about the mud he was stealing, rather he asked him directly: “Have you had Fajr prayers?” The answer was: “No… coz I’m in a state of ritual impurity,” meaning it’s impossible for him to have prayers until he bathes. As a result, my brave uncle said to him: “Ok… then take off your clothes and bath.” When the thief hesitated, my uncle slapped him on the face saying: “Not only did you go out of your house impure, but also went out stealing.” Faced by my uncle’s air of strength, the thief took off his clothes and started to fill his hands with the ice-cold water to pour it over his shaking naked body while my uncle was ordering him to do the same action again but over his head, as according to Shari’a, water has to reach the grounds of head hair of the one bathing in order to get rid of his impurity.

Translated into English by: Dalia Elnaggar

This article was published in Almasry alyoum newspaper on January 10, 2018.

To see the original article, go to:

#almasry_alyoum #ahmed_elgammal #Egypt #memories

[1] Such thing happens for about 20 days in January when there is plenty of water coming from rains. Water coming from the river is blocked in order to save it for the summer, and so, water channels and canals are almost empty during that time.