HARVEST TIME IN THE NILE DELTA
When you feel the first hint of summer coming, what plans do you make? What pops into your mind? What do you start writing on your list of things to do?
- start going to the gym?
- buy a new swim-suit?
- start booking for a week away in a nice hotel with a pool/beach?
Here in the beautiful Nile Delta area, the farmers have another all-consuming focus: it is harvest time!
The Fella-heen (farmers) as they are called here are some of the most wonderful people in Egypt: they work hard, all year round, have faces aged by the sun, feet and hands calloused and hardened through years of hard toil, they wake up before the dawn, and at sunset can be seen wearily making their way back home to a small and simple meal.
Their farms are generally small pockets of land, a fedhan (roughly an acre) belonging to their family for many long years, and passed on to their children. Land is viewed as precious and life-giving, and the thought of selling your family’s land is unthinkable.
THE CITY DWELLERS
The people from the towns and cities tend to be very harsh in their opinions and judgement of the fella-heen, many even say the word in a scornful or mocking manner: many city people view the fella-heen as uneducated (as some are) and not very intelligent (which they are not), and almost backward in their thinking and lives. However, taking a trip to the Nile Delta, you will be invited for tea, food, a seat in the shade of the tree on a hot day, and you will discover the hospitable heart of these people who live so close to the land.
But at harvest time, families in the Delta come together and work. A man with a tractor and harvester will be hired to work for a week, or a few days, on a plot of land. At the same time all the able bodied men of the family to whom the land belongs, will come out and gather and sort the wheat into sacks and bags. If there are not enough men in the family, men from the villages will be hired to come and help harvest the fields. It is back-breaking manual labour under the harsh Egyptian summer sun. But there is a feeling of thankfulness, joy and happiness at this time…. although the financial benefits are not very much these days, and the farmers have to live very simple and hard lives.
The fellaheen are always grateful to God at this harvest time: their lands have produced food for their families for the coming year, and as they harvest, they begin to prepare the fields for the next plantings (rice and cotton): the promise of food and income. Each farmer must also tithe a portion of his harvest to the poor: if he used mechanical means to irrigate his farm, he must tithe more than the farmer who only used rain or buckets to irrigate his farm. So the poor are happy at this time: they know that they will be given food for their hungry families.
AND THE WOMEN?
They stay at home and make food… good food (as one farmer told us!). The ladies cook up wholesome nutritional meals for the men: breakfast around 9am and then lunch at around 1.30pm, to sustain and enable them to continue the hard work of harvesting. Many of the hired workers look forward to this time as they are always well fed, and the shared meals with fellow-workers builds a sense of team-work and community.
THEN TO THE MILL…
Once all the wheat has been bagged, they are stacked on a truck and then head to the mills, where the wheat will be milled, weighed and if there is more than the family needs, it is sold: the work is done, food is stored with perhaps a little money received.
SO, when you are worrying about your new clothes for the summer, buying bug-spray and factor 50 sun lotion…. remember the fella-heen, who are working their fields, together, and sharing well-earned meals under the shade of a tree on their farms.