HANDS ON Traditional Crafts at The City of the Dead in Cairo

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Sayed Bayyoumi (`Am Sayed)

 

“Uncle” Sayed who has been working as a carpenter for more than 50 years, is a well-known figure in the neighbourhood. As a child, he worked in the Sakakini area of Cairo in his uncle’s big workshop that employed 50 people and made a good profit out from the business. He still speaks fondly of the time he spent with his uncle. When he grew up, he worked briefly for someone else, and then established his first workshop in Sayida ‘Aisha district. Finally he settled in the Qaitbey area where his family is now established; ‘Am Sayed and his brother own apartments here, like their father before them. He lives with his only son now after his wife of many years passed away in 2011. He reflects that the amount of effort and direct involvement necessary in traditional crafts learned from personal practice make them very different from professions acquired through formal education. Until recently, ‘Am Sayed had very little free time due to the amount of work at his shop and the number of clients. Often he would have to tell a customer “come back later when I am free” due to his heavy work load. He recalls the mosque, at times when the entry ticket cost 50 piasters, as a magnet for tourists who also frequented the area’s shops and markets. Now, the business is slow, and he is disappointed that the government is not able to restore the area to how it was a few years ago.

 

For small-scale jobs he has sufficient equipment in his workshop, while for larger tasks, he uses machinery from his other workshop nearby, which is now idle because of lack of commissions. Recent price hikes could seriously jeopardise his work; for instance plywood boards went up from 95 piasters to 45 pounds apiece, a rise that cannot be compensated by the prices he can ask for the finished products.