Going into Elrazaz:
This summer, I lived in Cairo for seven weeks. During this time, I met the NGO, Life Makers, which took me to a community called Elrazaz.
This neighborhood is surrounded by trash filled mountains and dirt roads that seem to never end. Brown-brick houses stack next to each other, creating an ongoing community which lacks water and electricity.
Kamal Sayed Abdu Allah was our host as we walked down the streets. Children ran around us and curiously smiled at our cameras. As he showed us around, we learned that Elrazaz is an area not recognized by the government. People do not have legal access to water nor electricity.
Since they do not receive aid from the government, the citizens in Elrazaz know that they depend on each other. Christians and Muslims live and work together in order for their community to prosper and to be able to offer a better future to their children.
Kamal explained how they collected money from everyone to buy their own water valve and power source. But since it is an illegal community, the government could close the water tanks without any notice.
Jannat Sayed, Mr. Sayed´s sister, and her husband were among the first settlers in the area. With the help of a translator, Jannat told me that when she first moved to Elrazaz, it was all a mountain in the desert. It all started from one family building its home and inviting its friends to move where they were. Then one family brought another family, and the community began to expand.
“The land is free, so we just started building our houses,” she said.
Jannat, who had 20 children, said her dream had been accomplished after all of her children had married. And so her dream created more families for the community.
The start of “A Family´s Collection”
From a mountain in the desert, to a populated residential area with children running around the unpaved streets and curious women peeking out from their windows and doors, Elrazaz gave me the opportunity to associate with other Egyptians.
I clearly remember Mr. Sayed´s home. Light blue walls which protected a small corridor with hanging clotheslines and shoes on the floor outside the door. A table surrounded by brick couches was the first thing to see. A blue-walled kitchen and what seemed to be a bedroom were on the left. And to the right of the living room, I could see a small room with handmade wooden chairs and desks.
Mr. Sayed led me to the room which also had chalkboards with Arab handwriting and a lonely computer on a single desk. It turns out that the Mr. Sayed donated the room to his community, and every day he teaches 40 children how to read and write.
I still don´t know how 40 children could fit in that room.
We went back to the living room, and as we waited for his wife to serve us juice and tea, children began to enter the house. At the end, there were about 20 children, of all ages, waiting for me to interview them.
Some smiled, others stayed serious with their arms crossed, while others fidgeted around as they asked the translator about me.
The Nasser siblings, Ahmad Farog, Osama Ashra, Michael Youseff were some of the children I talked to. Future teachers, police men, doctors and even a barber. They have dreams and goals, and they shared a glance of them with me.
As soon as I finished interviewing them, they all began to ask me about my country and especially, why was I there.
Mr. Sayed, his sister and his neighbors also shared their dreams towards Elrazaz and their children.
“These are all real answers and they are according to their lives and culture,” said Mr. Sayed. “I will help them, but there are many economic and social restrictions.”
He dreams for a better educational system in his community.
“By developing this, we can get better generations that can work to improve our country.”
In the gallery:
This September, I participated in a gallery exhibit at the Bakehouse Art Complex in Miami, Fla. The theme was “Oneiric,” meaning pertaining to dreams. I decided to do a collage with photos I took from Elrazaz and Cairo´s streets.
The day I made the interviews and went into Mr. Sayed´s home, I noticed that people did not have photos on their walls. I noticed this instantly. For years I have had my walls covered with photos, and I am obsessed with old photo albums. So, for the collage, I found several frames with different colors and sizes. This was to give the idea that I had taken the photos from their homes and created my own family collection of stares, smiles and dreams.
Between the photos, I placed a few quotes and a poem to Egypt from 13 year old Taref Nasser Taref. This is my first gallery exhibit where I was able to share a few moments and dreams of the people I met this summer.
I´ve learned that part of my passion and love for photography is the fact that I am able to share a human connection between people that don´t even know each other. Documenting people through my lens is definitely one of the things that makes me happy. I hope I can do this for the rest of my life.
To look at the photos which were on exhibit, you can click here.
Thank you Ibrahim El-Harony and Mahmoud Abd Elmageed, without your help I would not have made this possible.
Mari Anidé interviews me about photography and passion. Click on the link to watch the video and like her page here.