Photo Essay: Market Day in a Small Egyptian Town

On market day the little Nileside town of Daraw comes alive in a chaos of stalls and traffic. Nubian men in pristine robes squeeze their way between tuk-tuks and stalls selling mint and molokheya, Egypt’s answer to spinach.

Men in Arab robes walk between stalls and a tuk-tuk.

School girls in uniform headscarves pick their way through a morass of tuk-tuks, pickups, donkeys and donkey carts, chattering as they go.

School girls make their way through a mass of tuk-tuks on market day in Daraw.

A guy on a donkey, perhaps in from the countryside, catches up with a friend on his way into town.

Young man on a donkey chats to a friend in a tuk-tuk: market day in small town Egypt.

The stallholders have been setting up since long before dawn, and the heat, the dust, the sheer exhaustion is starting to tell.

Tired stallholder behind his fruit stand in a small Egyptian town, Daraw.

But there’s no bargaining in the market, not for fruit and veg, at least. Guys – and most of the shoppers are, indeed, men — know the price and hand their money over.

Man hands cash to a fruit stall holder.

The butcher is a man of considerable dignity. Not for him the bloodstained white robes of his assistants, but a pristine tan gellabiya, as he carves leisurely slices of camel, beef, even goat, from the carcasses his juniors have butchered.

A butcher at work on carcasses.

In fact, even the kid whose job it is to sprinkle the water that settles at least some of the dust does so with an air of dignity, even grace.

Sprinkling water to settle the dust at market day in Daraw.

There are more women in town than there would be on any other day, poring over plastic sandals, or checking their texts as they stand in line to pay.

Middle-aged lady in headscarf, shawl and abaya checking her texts.

I even see a woman on her own. What’s she buying? Not carpets, by the look of her.

A lady in black walks past a carpet shop on market day in Daraw.

Perhaps perfume? From the grimy apothecary store that sells spices by the bucketload and rose oil by the plastic bottle. He’ll mix it up, you know.

A local spice and perfume store in Daraw, Egypt.

As ever, most of the men are at the coffee shop, shooting the breeze outside by the election posters like so many Parisian flaneurs.

Men lounging outside an ahwa (coffee shop) in Daraw, Egypt.

Or bantering with the barista, after a hard morning drinking coffee and watching Rambo 4 in Arabic on the knockoff big screen TV.

Laughing with the barista in a coffee shop in Daraw, Egypt.

Or perhaps sitting meditatively with a sheesha pipe, some water and a sweet mint tea, and watching Rambo with the timeless dignity of age.

Older man enjoying a sheesha and watching a movie in an ahwa in Daraw, Egypt.

Daraw is most famous for its camel market and we stopped there while sailing a felucca down the Nile. It’s a sweet, low-pressure little place. We liked it.

12 Responses

  1. Katja says:

    That picture of the guy bantering with the barista is fabulous. I love the grins on their faces and the way they seem to have just shared the best joke ever.

  2. Barbara says:

    That looks like an absolutely amazing place!

  3. this is amazing – thank you for sharing it! i like the water guy.

    • Theodora says:

      Thanks, Jessie. He had such serenity about him. If only I hadn’t known he was watching Rambo 4…

  4. Nikki says:

    Looks so colorful and alive. Amazing!

  5. rebecca says:

    great post love your writing style

  6. Keith says:

    I really enjoyed this post and the photos. I was just wondering if you have noticed any fruit that is unique to Northern Africa?

    • Theodora says:

      Gosh, that’s a good question. To which my answer is, honestly, no I haven’t. Most of the fruit in Egypt is grown in the Delta region, some in the oases — out here in Siwa they have primarily dates and olives, but you do get oranges, guavas, pineapples, bananas, mangoes. They have some unusual looking guavas (very pale), and some very sweet, small, yellow limes, but there’s nothing I’ve found that’s unique to North Africa. It’s not like Asia or southern Africa, where you’re finding new things all the time. There are interesting leafy things that I don’t recognise, but the fruit situation is pretty flat.