Over more than two weeks, the Western Desert governorate of al-Wadi al-Gedid (literally, the New Valley) has been celebrating its national day. The national day comes on 3 October, the date in 1959 when the first caravan from Cairo arrived at the desert oasis to start development work there. The governorate includes three of Egypt’s biggest oases: al-Farafra, al-Kharga, and al-Dakhla, as well as vast desert territories that extend from Egypt’s Nile valley governorates in the east and Matrouh governorate in the north till the Libyan border in the west and the Sudanese in the south. The Wadi al-Gedid is sparsely populated with some 250,000; its population is mainly concentrated in the oases.
Watani’s camera captured photographs of Wadi al-Gedid people: farmers; traders, manufacturers, and workers of local handmade items as they celebrated.
It is date season in Wadi al-Gedid, a season termed “Demeira”; the word carries huge significance for the people, since growing dates and manufacturing date products is the main livelihood in the governorate. Apart from packaging and marketing the dates, value is added to them through drying and processing them and selling them on world markets. Whereas a kilogram of natural dates sells at EGP12, a kilogram of processed dates sells at EGP40.
Growers have introduced Saudi palms to the oases, and are happy with their yields and quality of dates.
Among the most interesting photographs shot by Watani was a 5km-long line of date boxes ready for shipment to the processing plant; others show the date products displayed by the Productive Families Association which is managed by Aida Tuhami, herself a daughter of Wadi al-Gedid.
There were also women baking shamsi bread, a type of bread common in hot-weather areas in Egypt where the dough is left to rise in the heat of the sun; shamsi is literal for ‘sunny’. Shamsi bread-making goes back to the times of ancient Egyptians.
An exhibition of typical oases embroidered gowns was held. These gowns are high in demand by visitors to the oases and by tourists. There was also one that displayed the handmade rugs the oases are famous for, palm frond weaving products, and pottery and ceramic ware.
Artists of Wadi-al-Gedid held a show of coloured-sand paintings and crafts, a rare art that makes use of the sands abundant in the desert. The artists include Ahmed Wahba and female artists from al-Dakhla oasis: Sara Ermiya Zaki, Fatah Saad, and Israa’ Abdullah Muhammad.
Minister of Local Development Hisham al-Sherif, who visited Wadi al-Gedid to participate in the celebrations with Governor Muhammad al-Zamlout, was impressed with a group of gifted children a number of whom were young inventors. One invention displayed was an electronic security network connected to a cellphone. Mina Ahsraf, another talented boy, drew attention with his musical performance; he insisted he would hone his talent and that, one day, he would perform at the Cairo Opera House.
9 October 2017