Salam Canal, Egypt
3Research team member Laila retells the settlement experience of Muminah with an unexpected twist of Bollywood romance.
On my first visit to her house, Muminah was watching an Indian television series. When I asked her about this Bollywood soap opera, she sighed and said that she likes them so much, because they are very romantic, totally unlike the real stories that they live here in this area.
Muminah is the wife of Adil, who works as a sharecropper on the land of investor Hag Omar. Their house is also located on Hag Omar’s land. She is responsible for the household and does not work on the land, so she spends a lot of time at home. Muminah has two kids, one in primary school and another in kindergarten. Her father was the neighbor of Mahmoud, who is the manager at Hag Omar’s land. He arranged for them to work on a part of Hag Omar’s land as sharecroppers. Her husband has been working as a sharecropper on Omar’s land since three years now. They like to work with Omar as he is a respectful, nice and understanding person. She lived with her family, in her father’s house before, three kilometers away from where she lives now. She has two sisters and two brothers, all of them are married, except for the younger brother, who still lives in their parents’ house.
Originally, Muminah is from the ‘old lands’, south of the reclamation area in the governorate of Sharqia. Her family moved to the Salam canal area eighteen years ago, when they were able to buy land. Her husband’s family lives in Sinai. Family visits are always on their agenda, but they more frequently visit her family because they live nearby. Her husband’s family sold their land in their original area and settled in Sinai, six to seven years ago. Before she and her husband moved to Hag Omar’s land, they went to her husband’s family in Sinai and stayed there for four years, but it was hard for them to settle there. They used to plant in his family’s land, but it was not that profitable. From her perspective, it is hard to survive there depending only on agriculture, but you need to have a craft on the side, to support your living. She added that they used to plant fruits, such as mango, but the revenue only covered the expenses and there is no additional profit. She and her husband decided to move to Hag Omar’s land, because it is quiet there, the neighbors are nice and everyone minds their own business.
When asking, if Muminah works on the land, she became very shy and replied: no, she is only doing the household work and nothing else, but she added proudly that she used to help her mother in selling vegetables in the market before she got married. But, when it comes to help her husband in the field, she said he does not really want her to do that. “They rent workers, when needed”, she explained. She also giggled about this, saying she likes the fact that her husband does not want her to work in the field, because she is already busy with a lot of house tasks to be conducted all day.
Muminah has been the hard working child among her siblings. Being the eldest among her siblings, she always had to be the role model in the family, especially for her younger sister. She compares herself to her sister and how they are different from each other in what roles they play in the house. Muminah’s mother always compared the two girls by saying Muminah is the active one, while her sister is not, according to Muminah. Muminah always used to be the one helping her mother in everything when it comes to house chores and cooking.
Adil used to work in the agricultural fields near her father’s house. By time, he got to know her elder brothers and he got introduced to the family. Eventually, he became a family friend who would constantly visit them, almost every day. One day, a family came and requested from her father Muminah’s hand for their son. Muminah’s father asked them to wait until he could ask Muminah and her mother for approval. When Adil found out about this proposal from Muminah’s brother, he disappeared for a week and he did not visit the family at all. When he finally came to visit, Muminah’s mother asked him what was the reason he had not been visiting. Adil, then timidly told her that he was sick and he could not come. Mother then insisted to know what was really wrong with him. Under pressure, he finally told her that he heard about Muminah’s potential husband and he was really upset to hear that. Muminah’s mother understood what was going on and she started laughing telling him “why didn’t you say something?” She then asked her daughter to choose between the potential husband and Adil. Knowing how Adil reacted to the story of her potential husband, Muminah was inclined to accept Adil’s offer. She added also that she already knew who Adil was, but she still needed to know the other potential husband. She said this shyly.
After talking about her life and touching upon the story of how she met her husband, I reminded her of the Bollywood series and told her that she had also lived a true Indian romantic love story. She laughed out loud and when Adil came home from work, this was the first thing she told him elatedly. He smiled, amused by this new light on their story and the joy of his wife. Although their ‘romantic story’ seemed so unlike the real life of settlers and beneficiaries in the Salam project area, it actually became the origin of their family and current livelihood as crop sharers along the Salam canal.