Journey to Egypt: The Crate Maker of Fares Island

December 31, 2018

Our dahabeya Aida docked this morning at the island of Fares. We were going to see a local craftsman, the last crate maker in Upper (southern) Egypt. Transportation to the crate maker’s home was via “tuk-tuk,” two passengers per vehicle!
SONY DSC
We bumped and jostled along the dusty roads of Fares village, observing our surroundings through fringed open sides.
20181231_102907
We could peek at our driver through a heart-shaped cut in the material in front of us.
20181231_103204
DSC_0419

Our little caravan of tuk-tuks finally arrived at the crate maker’s home and were taken around to the back of the house.DSC_0416
We saw piles of date palm reeds, the raw material of the hand-made crates, which were stacked up behind the craftsman’s work space.
20181231_092108
20181231_092120

20181231_094515
The crate maker’s work space

Mohammed (the crate maker – not to be confused with our guide of the same name!) has his reeds shipped to him from elsewhere, from mature date palms (at least a year old). The reeds have to be dried but no longer than 20 days. The dried reeds are strong, yet pliable for splitting and cutting holes in them.

DSC_0425
One of the crate maker’s assistants

 

Mohammed could not stop his work as he talked to us – he was working on an order for 20,000 crates to hold mangoes, which are grown in this area. These will be shipped to Cairo, and some of them exported. The crates can be different sizes and last 7-10 years.

Mohammed himself is 58 and has been doing this work for over 40 years.  We asked if his children are learning this craft. He told us his children are in school – he doesn’t want them to learn the craft, which taxes the body and presumably doesn’t pay very well.

20181231_092253
First, he cuts the reeds into the lengths needed.

 

20181231_092332.jpg
Mohammed uses pieces that have already been cut at the correct length to measure other pieces.

 

20181231_092445
He then cuts the section of reed lengthwise with a scythe, which requires exacting precision.

Mohammed uses both his hands and his feet to make the crates. Machines cannot do this job with the same precision. People who practice this craft don’t stay in it long, due to the position of their body, sitting on the ground for long periods, which is why it is a dying craft.

20181231_092706.jpg
Mohammed steadies the section of read while he uses a large nail and makeshift hammer to cut holes along the length of the reed.

20181231_092732

20181231_093208d
As  he works, he answers our questions which are translated by our guide Mohamed.

However, he does have assistants, so between them they can produce 5 million crates a year. He himself makes 150 crates a week.

20181231_094147
An assistant awaits instructions against a backdrop of date palms.

 

Mohammed could not stop his work as he talked to us – he was working on an order for 20,000 crates to hold mangoes, which are grown in this area. These will be shipped to Cairo, and some of them exported. The crates can be different sizes and last 7-10 years.

20181231_092644
Sample of one of Mohammed’s more elaborate creations, which was passed around among us.

 

Mohammed uses both his hands and his feet to make the crates. Machines cannot do this job with the same precision. People who practice this craft don’t stay in it long, due to the position of their body, sitting on the ground for long periods, which is why it is a dying craft.
20181231_092732

20181231_093208d
As  he works, he answers our questions which are translated by our guide Mohamed.

Mohammed himself is 58 and has been doing this work for over 40 years. We asked if his children are learning this craft. He told us his children are in school – he doesn’t want them to learn the craft, which taxes the body and presumably doesn’t pay very well.

20181231_094515
These piles of reed sections are ready for assembling the crate – the pieces with holes drilled in them will anchor the side pieces (the narrower pieces in the other pile) that fit through the holes.
20181231_094147
An assistant awaits instructions against a backdrop of date palms.

SONY DSCHowever, he does have assistants, so between them they can produce 5 million crates a year. He himself makes 150 crates a week. Because he was kind enough to invite us to see him at work, three women from our group became his temporary assistants!

20181231_094618
Mohammed hands Lizz some materials… 
20181231_094634
…and shows her what to do.

Through demonstration and imitation,…
20181231_094641

20181231_094642
Assembling the base of the crate

…Lizz, Kathy and Michelle were able to be efficient crate producers, and with their help, Mohammed was able to finish twice as many crates in the time we were there!

20181231_094646
The vertical pieces are fit through the holes on the horizontal pieces.

20181231_094658d
12 horizontal pieces and 4 vertical pieces form the frame.
20181231_094805
They’re almost finished as Mohammed fits in the bottom cross pieces.
20181231_095158
Michelle takes over to help make the next crate.

20181231_095557
Michelle slides a horizontal piece through two verticals to construct the frame.
20181231_100332
Photo opp! Mohammed will not actually have Michelle make the lengthwise cut!
SONY DSC
Michelle helps finish a frame.

A small crate with a handle was given to Lizz as a gift for being a great assistant! Everyone was given an ankh made of date palm reeds.
20181231_101543
Kathy was the last volunteer.

20181231_102057
Kathy hammers a length of vertical piece into a hole.

Two of the finished crates!
DSC_0424

We thanked the craftsman and his assistants and family and said good-bye, then we headed back to our tuk-tuks for the ride back to where Aida was moored.  As we approached the pier on the river, I saw a snake handler with several cobras! (Fortunately, we were some distance away; I took this photo with my telephoto lens!)
SONY DSC

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s