When people hear about Sinai in Egypt they often ask, ‘Isn’t it dangerous to live there?’ It can be, especially for people living and farming in North Sinai along the Mediterranean coast, close to Gaza and Israel, where certain groups are fighting Egyptian military forces.
However, I live in the Janub Sina, South Sinai, where it is peaceful and the economy over the past 30 years has been based around foreign tourism, in places like Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba, and Taba. These are beautiful areas famous for the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba.
I am Bedouin Mohamed Tarek, 28, from the Gararsha tribe, and I grew up between living in Dahab with my grandparents and my parents in Suez—a mixture of village and city life. One of my favourite things is to be in the open desert wadis and mountains with camels on safari.
However, because of political changes in Egypt in recent years, life in South Sinai has become difficult, and no tourists means no work for dive centres, hotels, or other activities.
An older Bedouin friend wanted to re-establish his farm in Wadi Saal close to the mountains of St Katherine’s Monastery and I agreed to be his partner in January 2016.
The garden had been growing many things up until four years ago but had to be abandoned during the military takeover. The land just needs water and it is again capable of producing various crops. There are a few trees remaining but wandering camels have stripped the lower branches.
One beautiful olive tree and almond tree, growing over four metres, have blooms covering the upper branches. These blooms represent my hope, flowering in the desert.
The name of my farm is Mazra’a Saida—Happy Farm. I chose that name because that is what I choose to be and how I want to live: a normal life with family and friends around me in a happy environment.
A friend gave me a copy of ‘The Secret’ and I am trying to only think positive thoughts and let the world I want develop around me. I have faith Allah and life will provide.
I have little personal money so my best offer is to work hard every day to make sure that everything goes forward even in tiny steps. I am very grateful for some foreign friends have believed in my vision and lent me small amounts up to EUR 1,500 in total. That money goes a long way in Egypt.
- The first thing we needed to repair was the generator and the water pump in the bottom of the existing 145m well. To hear the generator running and see water flowing into the 120 m2 holding tank was one of the happiest events in my life. Water truly brings life.
- Now I am connecting all the irrigation pipes for the area to be planted. I have employed local workers to help prepare the area for planting. First, I plan to plant cash crops like tomato, cucumber, peppers and water melon. With short term crops I will establish a cash flow to invest more into Mazra’a Saida.
- Initially, I may have to sell most of it in bulk but if I sell directly to market there will be more profit. There are markets in El Tur, Sharm el Sheikh, Ras Sudr through to Suez that will require organising and paying for transport. I will discuss this with other farms in the area and perhaps we can form a cooperative to reduce costs.
- On a national scale, Egypt has 90 million people who need to eat and currently there are not enough foreign funds to import everything. Growing fruit and vegetables in Wadi Saal contributes to the national as well as local economy.
In the near future more funds will mean…
- That I am able to immediately purchase plant other crops for long term permaculture like olives, mangoes, dates, almonds and nabq. A friend in Bahareya Oasis in the Western Desert currently has young palm trees of the best quality costing 100 Le each that would need to be planted before the end of March.
- A metal frame is already erected but I need to cover it by October so that I can grow tomatoes over the winter when they are of higher value. Yes, the desert does get cold in winter, possibly even a few frosts.
- Other Bedouin living close in the small community of Marra are asking if they can come and grow crops. If I am able to purchase another electric pump I can extend the irrigation pipes far enough then be able to lease some of the land to them.
- I will purchase some sheep and goats to utilize their manure for fertilizer and meat for special occasions. Ramadan is midsummer this year so animals purchased now, would ready for Eid Adhar. I love animals and will bring our cats to help with the rodent control to discourage snakes foraging. I will also get a watch dog to keep out wandering destructive camels.
Further into the future…
- Mazra’a Saida will accommodate visitors in an eco camp/lodge at the garden life where people can learn and share Bedouin hospitality. I love to play samsameya and am learning to play the oud.
- Mazra’a Saida will be a base for safari. People have been travelling through Sinai for thousands of years and I want the world to know and honour this ancient place.
- There are older people who have much knowledge of medicinal plants and life in the desert and I would like to make sure this knowledge is not lost. I will find a way to incorporate this into the garden.
I am grateful to my friends who believe enough to lend me some of their hard earned money, to my girlfriend who had helped me write this as English is not my first language—speaking I am fine, writing I need more practice. Thanks to God.
Blogpost and picture submitted by Mohamed Tarek (Egypt): estlak.to[at]gmail.com
The content, structure and grammar are at the discretion of the author only.
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