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Several of my articles on Garden City were plagiarized word for word by novelist MEKKAWI SAID (winner of the Egyptian State price for literature!!!!) and re-published under his own name in a three-part series in El-Masry El-Youm daily in September 2015.

Cheers to our "talented" literature prize awardee. Your pain his gain !!!


by Samir Raafat
Cairo Times, 21 January 1999

Don't hold your breath as you enter Souk el Goma'a. Dull your vital senses instead. Situated beneath and around the perimeter of the autostrada's Tonsi bridge, the Friday (hence its name Souk el Goma'a) Souk stretches from the nearby tombs of al-Wazir and Sayeda Aicha to the approaches of the Citadel. Part of it sits atop what used to be Cairo's first suburban railway line, hence the nearby decrepit kiosk where a large fallen plaster sign says "Mowaslet Helwan" or Helwan junction. Hard to believe this was once a desert stretch where steam trains chugged by laden with passengers, soldiers and cargo on their way to the Citadel, Ramses Station, Suez, Sayeda Zeinab, Tora, Bassatine or Helwan. What remains of the legendary line today is a pair of bowed rails glued to termite-eaten sleepers on which a noisy old diesel train miraculously clickety-clanks once a day blowing its siren maniacally each time it passes the suburb of Maadi.

It is with one of that suburb's khawaga residents that I arrived at the people-packed souk several Fridays ago. From the manner in which he was greeted by souk oldsters it was evident he had been there before. In any case his apartment bears witness to some excellent finds from his weekly forays.

As we approached the souk from its so-called southern entrance, where sewage water was in the process of drying up, I could tell this was no ordinary market. Except for its abnormal size there was nothing magical about it. No Mamlouke arch etched against a clear blue sky, no frankincense, spices, raisins or sultanas lying around, a legacy of ancient traders. No forbidding winding paths to awe you. Absent also were exotic smells and postcard type old sheiks sucking on hookah pipes --true it was Ramadan but no one seemed to care by the looks of it.

As it turns out this souk is the collective transmogrification of three older souks forcibly displaced from the congested areas nearby. Yet despite its young age, no attempts were made at organizing it into a cohesive open air bazzar. Quite the contrary. As far as I was concerned, all that was missing was Ali Baba and his forty haramis (thieves). At any moment I expected to recognize my aunt Kadria's missing crystal chandelier or spot the satellite dish which mysteriously disappeared from a neighbor's roof. And there they were, an entire shelf of rare old books and Atlases sporting my alma mater's faded stamp poised haphazardly next to a collection of sepia photos with "Faculty of Law Class of 1921" scribbled at the bottom. It was interesting to note how many of these distinguished graduates had made it to elder statesmen before ending up in this grubby Cairo neighborhood. The noise antes and the crowd thickens.

Further down the winding, dusty, narrow trajectory one carves out as you jostle along, was a bellowing pockmarked, black-clad, toothless, ageless woman selling beds, tables and mattresses amidst an assortment of massive Louis-Farouk sofas and chairs. Shriek as she would her efforts were drowned by the digitized static coming out of fossilized black and white television sets sold next to her makeshift enclosure. As I inched closer, I discovered the cacophony had less to do with old squawk boxes and more with the frantic cries of caged parrots and cockatoos, for this is also a souk where hundreds of unlucky animals:--birds, foxes, eagles, monkeys, fish, etc., are illegally traded and sold. Bestials and fauna which haven't quite made it through consecutive Fridays are apt to return in stuffed form.

Further on, beyond the array of old tubs, bidets and used toilet seats (some of them very recently!!) was the CD and electronic gadget quarter. Radio Shack, eat your heart out. It's all there at giveaway prices provided you have the rest of the day to haggle and gaggle. Urchins straight out of Dickens play with joysticks as they would in any London video arcade. Could it be one of them will some day turn into a Top Gun Mig pilot?! Everywhere you look there is something different staring back. Excercisers side by side with icemakers and plastic plants, medical equipment next to coffins, giant belljars stuck to mashrabeyas and granfather clocks. Can one really call this a souk? One can hardly describe it as a giant garage sale either for this entails a minimum form of organized chaos. A giant free-for-all junkyard is more like it.

For sure, the most amazing thing about my visit was that I was there at all. I could've been lying in bed reading a Cairo Times eidtorial or sharing a Stella with friends aboard a Nile feluka. Yet this feeling of wonder at what I saw made every sight and sound more horrendously entertaining than I had ever imagined. True there is enough at Souk el Goma'a for several days of exploring and gawking, but certainly one day is enough for a lasting impression.

articles posted on were published in the following books by Samir W Raafat: THE EGYPTIAN BOURSE, Zeitouna, Cairo -- CAIRO THE GLORY YEARS, Harpocrates, Alexandria -- HISTORY & SOCIETY IN A CAIRO SUBURB; MAADI 1904-1962, Palm Press, Cairo -- PRIVILEGED FOR THREE CENTURIES, printed digitally and bound by Elias Printing, Egypt

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