(This is the first in a sequence of reviews of this book series)
When it comes to Egyptian heritage, books are near infinite. However, we are lucky to discover this series that passionately sails amid the multicultural layers of Egypt, while highlighting the pearls of Egyptian heritage in one book narrated by a guava fruit!
“My name is Azizza ... I grew on Nile water, fed on the treasures and riches of the Delta and the warm sun beats of Horus and Atun ... My Damietta soil told me the tales of the Pharaohs, Greeks and Romans, about the religious enlightenment in the dawn of Christianity and Islam ... it showed me the palm leaf in the hands of a smiling boy on Palm Sunday morning, as well as a candle-lit lantern in the hand of a laughing boy during a Ramadan night. “
These are the opening lines of the series of Dr Ibrahim Shalaby, a renowned Egyptian physician who started his writing career in 2013. Aziza: From the Memory of Land and River is the first of a series that he started writing in reaction to Muslim Brotherhood rule after the 25 January revolution in 2011. The aim was to reveal Egyptian and world heritage to the young generation.
“I was inspired by fruits, how they carried the memory of the land and the river that watered them, and the journey through geography, history and time that they have cherished in their hearts for centuries,” Shalaby explained to Ahram Online.
Stitching intangible heritage with the tangible, reminiscent of Egypt’s tally stitches in which each stitch beholds a unique motif made of silver thread, Shalaby unfolds the gems of the Nile in the finest embroidery.
Following the history of the Guava plantation in Damietta, Shalaby takes us on a sailing boat cruising the Nile from the headwaters to the Delta. We hear African drumbeats and the songs of all the main towns that the Nile flows through. We know where Moses' basket was first found by the Pharaoh’s wife, in Coptic Cairo.
We trace the footsteps of Eratosthenes, the great scientist who proved that the earth is a sphere in the third century BC, who was also the head of the board of trustees of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. And then in Esna, Upper Egypt, we wander at the marvel of Esna Temple and relive the annual lantern festival affiliated with it.
In Esna, we also learn about Saint Bakhomios, the Roman commander who became a Christian after being inspired by the pious people of the town. Saint Bakhomios is said to be the man behind the idea of monasticism that encourages monks to work in handicrafts so they give back to the communities they live in. Saint Bakhomios is also the first man to use a rosary. He made it from 33 wool knots, each representing the life of Christ on earth.
The book's layout is also part of the story. Depicting authentic folk tattoo motifs and reflecting on this enchanting art that commemorated folk heros like, Al-Zaher Baibars Ali El Zeibaa and Zat al Hema, his book is the first of a series of 25 tales of rivers and the cultures affiliated with them throughout the world, published by Dar Al-Balsam.
Having published the first five books, Shalaby shared with Ahram Online their main themes.
“The second is about the dates of Iraq and its rich history, the third depicts Indian heritage, the fourth follows Al-Assi river in Antaqia, and the fifth sails away on the Amazon,” he said.
During the world’s coronavirus quarantine, and inspired by his travels around the world, currently Shalaby shares with his readers “Soup and stories around the world” on social media platforms. This daily series depicts a folk story and an authentic soup recipe from all over the world.