At the premises of Jesuit and Brothers Association in Alexandria, Father Francis Joseph recently launched his book titled: He Went to the Moulid and Got No Candy Chickpeas, The Spiritual Realism of Egyptian Proverbs. (Jesuit publishing house 2020)
The title of the book is itself a proverb meaning that in the Moulid (Saint's Day) large numbers of people congregate and many offer food to visitors in honour of the saint.
Father Francis picked this proverb to denote that he has learnt a lot in his research and that he did not leave the Moulid without getting his traditional candy chickpeas treat - meaning: he did not leave empty handed.
Based on an anthropological study in Egyptian folk heritage, the book beholds 838 well-known proverbs, which have been in use for the past 25 years in Alexandria, Menya, and Luxor.
“My criteria of collecting proverbs was how well known they are among people. In the book, I published 830 proverbs that are well known and used among people today, but on my computer there are over 6000 proverbs that have not been in practice,” explained Father Francis Joseph to Al-Ahram Online.
Ever since he first came to Egypt from the Netherlands in 1965, Father Francis Joseph fell in love with Egyptian proverbs and how integrated they are in everyday life.
“I remember first hearing a proverb from Attia, my bawab (building guard): "Man 3alamani 7arfan sert laho 3abda" (I am forever indebted to anyone who taught me).
Father Joseph has been living in Egypt and working with youth for almost 55 years on various human development projects at the Jesuit and Brother Association.
The concept of Joseph’s book was to highlight the proverbs that are updated and reflect the social changes in the Egyptian society. An example of such proverbs is "Basalet Al Moheb Kharouf" (An onion shared with my lover is as satisfying as a cooked lamb).
He cleverly refrains from proverbs that are not widely known or those that are limited to a specific geographical areas. This is what makes his book a unique experience that gives one a fresh scope.
It is interesting to note that since the late nineteenth century, there have been successful attempts to compile Egyptian proverbs. Mahmoud Taymour's (1949) and Ibrahim Shaalan's (2003) works are perhaps the most popular. Those books, however, documented proverbs regardless of their common use.
Another interesting point is that this book puts the proverbs in order according to themes and not alphabetically as most other similar books do.
Despite his fascination with proverbs, Joseph disagrees with the idea of trying to analyse the Egyptian identity using proverbs.
“It is simply not enough to build an analysis on such proverbs that maybe outdated," he noted, adding that some proverbs negate one another depending on the context, hence they do not fully represent the Egyptian Identity."
“When I use proverbs, the whole idea of the book, I want to encourage younger generations to use proverbs on Twitter, and Facebook alongside how they play with words."
"There are new proverbs born every day, like this morning I learnt a new proverb from Damietta: "Saba7 el khair ya warsha, masa el kheir ya farsha" (Good morning workshop, good evening bed).