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A PASTICHE OF THE STREET by Roy M. Gunnels
I spent much of my two years in Cairo wandering and photographing Muizz Street. The renovated north side that welcomes tourists has been washed clean of much of the sights and sounds that make the south side so rich. The smells of the meat market mix with tobacco and dust and age and the reception from its people is ever so slightly different, offering a chance to interact, perhaps have tea, to experience the street as you would a river as it lazily meanders along.
There’s the shopkeeper who, each morning, opens his door, painted sky blue, to nothing more than a closet, with a single grinding stone to sharpen knives. As I took his photo, he reached into the closet, taking down from the wall a small, framed, black and white photo. It was him as a child, standing in front of the same door, the same grinding stone, perhaps 50 years earlier.
Or the caretaker of a small, dark mosque, surrounded by several children with Downs Syndrome, brought to visit him by the lady who cared for them. He was thin and gaunt, one of his eyes opaque from untreated cataracts. He had a stubbly, grey beard and a wide smile. His mosque became a regular stop on my walks down Muizz. We greeted one another, I with an American hug, and he with an Egyptian kiss on each cheek. We sipped hot mint tea and watched his world move slowly by the front of the mosque.
Down a street with a forgotten name, one of many that radiate off of Muizz, sits a man at an ancient sewing machine making inexpensive sandals. His work can be seen through the window of the small shop, where the light streams in. Entering the shop, it seems darker, a cool respite from Cairo’s heat. As he worked, his head would turn ever so slightly toward the window to catch someone walking by, as he had for decades past. He made us tea later, heated on a small stove he kept in a corner.
I found the rehabilitated, north side of Muizz to be more affluent and pristine, something like an outdoor museum, and yet the shopkeepers and shoppers more distant, less approachable. The south side was a tableau that changed moment to moment, always moving, colors and patterns and emotions all tinged with the heat and dust.
I came away from my two years roaming Muizz changed, redefining much of what I thought of Cairo, and of the world itself. Time passes differently for some, their struggles are great but their goals perhaps more modest. Their world is as nuanced as our own, but smaller, and filled with all the grit and grime and magic of a small street in Cairo.
Roy M Gunnels is a documentary photographer and photojournalist who has worked in the Middle East, East Africa and Western Europe. He attended Texas Christian University and is a member of the National Press Photographers Association. He has been published in the Guardian, Midan Misr, The Atlantic Council’s ‘EgyptSource’, The Next Web, and others.
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