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walkers

Photo by Raymond Khalife

Not too long ago the region was rocked by The Arab Spring, people became active and experts in politics, everyone knew what was best and everyone wanted to be captain to steer the country forward into a new age democracy. Tensions rose between family, friends and acquaintances due to difference of opinion and being unable to agree, to disagree. Facebook news feeds were full of political articles, satire and propaganda. In this historical abyss, I began to lose myself and no longer recognized my people or my country. In the midst of the confusion a person whom I had come to know via twitter, introduced me to the world of Instagram.

Instagram for those who are not part of the social media platform arena, here is Wikipedia’s description of it: “an online mobile photo-sharing, video-sharing and social networking service that enables its users to take pictures and videos, and share them on a variety of social networking platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr.”

I had always been fascinated with taking pictures and had been given simple cameras, with Kodak film to take pictures with. As my interest grew using my mobile phone camera to take pictures to post on Instagram, so did my desire to improve. I would experiment with the filters available on the phone to try and make the pictures look artistic, but in all honesty, I was never satisfied. I felt that it took away from the natural and simplistic beauty of what I was trying to capture. My family saw that I had developed a new hobby or passion and bought me a semiprofessional Nikon as a birthday present. I learned to use it through trial and error and like my shadow, it went everywhere I went. My friends and family members dubbed me Papparzi, because I would be taking pictures for every occasion, outing and at event, I or we took part in.

Two and a half years ago, the same person who had introduced me to Instagram and awakened my dormant interest in photography, is now one of Egypt’s most recognized and followed Instragramers, as well as interior designers, Karim El Hayawan. He invited me to join him on a Saturday morning walk in Downtown Cairo. I was humbled to have the opportunity to watch and observe how he chose his subjects and what angels he would take to capture the image he wanted. The first walk, I remember walking in silence and only talking if I had to. I was shy as well as intimidated by this person and his endless well of creativity. I felt like roles had been reversed, I had become the student, learning from a teacher.

I must have made a good impression, because I was invited to join again for future Saturday morning walks. It has been two years of walking and what a privilege it has been. Not only have learned from Karim H, but endless of others too. With each walk, more people joined and that is how, he initiated a group and named it, “CairoSaturdayWalkers”. Over the past two years, we have grown from just a handful, into a small network of patriots, who want to share the beauty of our country and her people with those online. We may not be able to abolish the negative image that the media has painted of our part of the world, but with every picture we post and every like we receive, it is an effort well made. Every person that joins brings something new to the group and I became more inspired an in awe of their perspective and creative approach to things. The people that joined are from various career backgrounds and a large range in ages. Some of our merry band of walkers are amateur photographers like myself, while others have clearly taken courses and have become professional. Walking with so many talented individuals has further enriched me. It has opened my eyes to see the beauty that surrounds me every day, but often miss due to our fast paced life style. The walks force me to slow down and look at what is in front of me and to appreciate the beauty in it’s simplicity, complexity as well as some of the historical and modern architectural wonders that are hidden in our large and mystical capital city, Cairo.

Before I started walking, I must confess that I had reached a level of frustration and saturation, where the thought of continuing to live in Egypt was unbearable. The post-traumatic stress of the revolution and the difficulty of being female trying to find her place in a male dominated society had gotten to me. My Saturday morning excursions have helped to calm me down and show me things that I miss when I am driving by in the comfort of my car. When I walk in old and lower income neighborhoods I see the Egypt that my father and my grandparents spoke of. I see the warm, friendly and hospitable people that Naguib Mahfouz and other well-known authors described in their novels. Through watching my mentors, I have overcome my shyness of speaking in Arabic and  make more of an effort to communicate. On my walks I have seen first-hand how the ancient knowledge of craftsmanship or trade has been handed down through generations, from carpenters, jewelers, welders, brick makers, bakers, upholsters, engravers, shepherds and manufacturers just to name a few.

Roaming the streets with the group on a Saturday, is when I fall back in love with my culture, heritage and people. I can’t begin to express how much I look forward to my walks. My mind becomes clearer, ideas become fluid, stories  and characters are created in my subconscious.

The walks and the walkers have been my silent saviors, they have ignited a passion and an interest in me that I didn’t even know I had. When I miss a walk, I am utterly disappointed, but I take my camera with me, where ever I happen to be, just in case.

I am still not as savvy with a camera as many of the people I have come to know, I prefer to aim my lens at my subject and try and capture the image. I don’t understand or know any of the technical approaches that many of them converse about, which is fine. I don’t feel judged or pressured to learn. When I am ready, I will learn, but for now, I’ll just continue to do what I enjoy and that is, aim and shoot 🙂

To my fellow #cairosaturdaywalkers thank you for making Saturdays, my favorite day of the week! XOXO

If you would like to see  my photos you can visit my instagram page @IrishAlexandrian, if you would like to see of the walkers photographs, check out the following hash-tags on Instagram and on twitter #cairosaturdaywalks #roamegypt #ThisIsEgypt and #cairosaturdaywalkers

Oh and one more thing, be the change you want to be…

What are you waiting for, put on your shoes, and go for a walk. You just might find your passion along the way.