Middle East | Egypt – A Moulid in Tanta or 2 million country people gather to celebrate death of sufi ‘saint’
I spent a amazing day and night in the Delta town of Tanta, where the big moulid is starting and will take place on thursday, people are starting to gather…So, I journeyed by myself, with perhaps $5 worth of egyptian money (of which I spent $1), a notebook and pen and my clothes on my back. After the beatiful 1.5 hour ride in the junky old train through beautiful farmland intermingled with incredibly ugly brick apartment buildings i got off in Tanta,, and immediately walked to the center of town where the tomb of Sayyid Ahmad el-Beduwi is, and the huge mosque named after his is siutuated. I walked around the huge complex and explored the souq, not a peep from anyone or harrassment, because if I wear the headscarf, people assume I am egyptian. So then I sat in the tomb area for many hours, observing the people and writing. Later I sat with a sufi group camped out at the foot of the mosque and made good friends with them. I ended up sleeping on their mats, eating their food and learning a lot. Of course this all took place in arabic, and they really accepted me and were very kind, perhaps going overboard. The sheikyh (leader of the group) offered to teach me about sufism. all of these sufi people are probably the poorest people of egypt, yet the most generous and most kind. They accept anyone, on the mats were legless men and boys, men dressed in coffeesacks, women dressed in mens clothes, and normal country people and sufis from each group.I just sat on the mats in my little group, talking with the sheiykh and the other members, I learned quite a bit about the moulids and their way of life, and observed everyone who walked by the mosque or were camping out there. Slept next to the women members on the hard stone with thin mats at the side of the mosque with woold blankets. The sheiykh took me on a tour of the compounds, and also introduced me to other moulid people and I ate some delicious country food and of course drank too much tea. The strangest experience i had was when 3 very foreign looking tourists came along, the man dressed in khaki shorts, a fanny pack and a huge camera around his neck, and the women had big blond hair. The mna just grinned at the people like he was in a zoo, but the strange thing was that I was among the people he observed, here I was this american jew girl from san francisco, and somehow I ended up the other evening sitting under a blanket at the foot of a mosque with my sufi friends, watching a tourist watch us like we were an attraction. They stayed 10 minutes, quickly drank tea and took their necessary pictures and left with amused grins on their faces. Proabbly around 50 egyptians gathered around them said the usual ”ello’ and ‘how are you’ phrase and just stared at them…then I realized that because of the long time of tourism in this country, egyptians sell themselves to tourists, the same people who I speak to in arabic and regard as an equal wil act with great deference and in a way that I would find humiliating and selling out, they are different people among the tourists, and not the nicest. I am glad to see the real side of egyptians and that I receive respect from them and respect them…Now I know why tourists think the egyptians are pushy and annoying, because the generations of tourists have formed egyptians into this touristic exotic role, acting in ways they don’t really act and speaking a language they don’t know just to amsue the foriegners and get money if they have their picture taken…
Anyway, I left the next afternoon after sitting in the tomb some more, taking notes and then eating a good breakfast. made it back no problems, and here I am back in ‘reality’ although I wouldn’t call this university reality’ or anywhwere near the real egypt.
So, 5 days after this trip, I returned once more to Tanta, on a wednedsay as the big night and huge celebrations all take place on thursday night well into the morning..
For 3 days more I roughed it, sleeping on dirty
> mats with dirty blankets on hard stone outside.
> An amazing experience,
> dressed in a gallabaya and headscarf, everyone thought I was egyptian and
> when I spoke to my canadian friend in the
> street people tried to prevent me
> from speaking to him, because they were worried
> about me, thinking I was
> anice egyptian girl speaking to a foreigner on the street…very
> interesting, they wouldn’;t believe |I wasn;t egyptian. the music was
> wonderful, there were perhaps 50 different tents with singers called munshids who sing sufi poems and religious songs.