Mohamed Osam

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The Papyrus

AL-QARAMOUS, Egypt - Thousands of years ago, on the banks of the Nile river in Egypt, a great civilization arose. The pharaohs documented first-hand descriptions of battles, natural disasters, tales of shipwrecks, financial records, official documents and even religious spells on paper made from papyrus sedges. Today in al-Qaramos, a village north of Cairo in the governorate of Sharqia in the Nile Delta, men go to harvest the papyrus sedge like the ancient Egyptians did centuries ago. Women collect the harvested stems in small workshops based in their homes and they begin the process of transforming them into the final paper product.

According to locals, the story of the village goes back 40 years to 1977, when Egyptian fine arts professor Dr Anas Mustafa decided to grow papyrus in the village. He taught around 200 residents the art of growing papyrus and transforming it from plant to paper.

According to Mohamed El Sayed, one of the papyrus farmers, it took only a few years for the town to become famous for its thriving papyrus economy. He says about 90 percent of residents from the surrounding villages are working in papyrus production.

El Sayed, who inherited the craft from his father and grandfather, explains that after harvesting the papyrus stems, they flake the outside green layer by peeling if off with their teeth and cut the white core into slices. Then they are soaked in barrels with caustic soda.

In order for the slices to soften, they must be left to soak for eight hours. After this step, the slices are placed next to one another to form a sheet. These sheets are then placed in rags and squeezed in an iron press. Finally, they are placed on cardboard and left to dry out in the sun.

When the final product is ready after it has been painted in a print shop, it is sold to bazaars in Cairo, Luxor and Sharm EL Sheikh. The cost of the final product of papyrus paper ranges between 20 EGP to 500 EGP ($1-$28). But the plunge in the number of tourists has reduced the demand for papyrus products.

In 2016, the number of tourists plummeted from 9.3 million to 5.4 million, according to official statistics. According to locals, the cultivation of papyrus has dropped from 500 acres to 30 acres or less.

Published by Middle East Eye

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