Each of us has a household chore that we absolutely dread. I know that even the idea of ironing anything other than a handkerchief or a small pillow case send chills down my spine. I tend to iron in more creases than get rid of them!
I know many people who find ironing relaxing and fulfilling…. but for people like me, one of the things you will want to do fairly soon after arriving in Egypt is to find the closest:
* ironing man
WHAT IS A MAKWAGI?
The word “makwa” means an iron. A “makwagi” is a person who irons, and here in Egypt, almost on every street you will find an ironing man.
A TRADITIONAL OCCUPATION:
Ironing here is almost an art-form, and indeed it is a skill and an occupation that is sometimes passed on down the generations, from father to son. The little “shops” that you will find in every neighborhood are sometimes so small that you will walk past them without even noticing! The rooms are usually very small, very basic but continuously busy, all year round.
Egyptians take a great pride in their clothes, and to appear in public in un-ironed clothes is frowned upon. So each Makwagi will usually have a set of dedicated customers, usually within a close distance of his shop. However, some people will not change the Makwagi that their parents used, or they used before changing suburbs, and will insist that their best clothes still go to the original man!
A DAILY CHORE:
You can drop you washed clothes at the Makwagi yourself, or have his “assistant’ (runner/delivery person) collect the clothes for you. If it is urgent, you can sit and wait until it is finished. People can spend many pleasant hours waiting for their ironing to be finished, chatting about the neighbourhood, the country and indeed the problems of the world. It is a good place to watch people pass by and share a cup of tea together!
Once the ironing is done, it is either folded carefully or hung on a hanger and then delivered to your home, or you pick it up on the way home.
THE IRONING PROCESS:
Depending on the age of the Makwagi, you will find irons both ancient and modern:
* many still have the old heavy irons that are heated on coals
* some even have electric irons
… but I have never seen a steam iron!
And this is where some of you may balk at the process! To “spritz” water onto the dry garments, many of the older Makwagi’s do not use a neat little spray bottle! They will take a sip of water from a nearby cup and spray it out of their mouth onto the garment and then happily iron away! This is how it has been taught from generation to generation, and these men have perfected the “spray and iron” method!
You might be surprised at how “cheap” the cost is, compared to getting ironing done in your country! Depending on the suburb and the fame of the Makwagi, (and of course how good your arabic is) a local person will pay:
Le1-2 per shirt (depending how complicated it is!!)
GIVE IT A TRY!!
So while you are visiting here, don’t pay the exorbitant costs of the hotels, (many of whom will use the local Makwagi anyway)…. ask around and find out where the best local ironing man is, take your bundle of clothes to him, and then experience the meticulous attention to detail, the pride in their work, which goes on: day in, day out, 6 days a week, around 11 hours a day….. relieving you of an arduous chore and providing income to a Makwagi and his family!