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  • Writer's picture Ahmed Elkhouly

The Maze of Damietta..

At first glance it would seem like a typical Egyptian city, the usual recipe of medium sized streets, relatively short buildings and the Nile passing through. So I did what I always do when I reach a new city, I went for an unguided long walk. With every step I took, the streets kept on getting smaller and tighter as if the buildings were squeezing against each other creating those streets.

Everything looked so similar all the building had shops, first floor balconies that protruded above the street, and there was no obvious grid. Non of the streets were parallel they seemed to intersect randomly at odd angles, the constant change of light and shade because of the small streets and average height buildings made for a beautiful mood.

I walked and walked nothing seemed familiar. I wasn’t going in circles that for sure as the sun’s direction was a solid guide. At this point I decided to get some help, so I turned to Google Maps...and what do you know the signal was faint and GPS wasn’t getting through. “I’m Lost” this fact made me the happiest I’ve not been in a long time. Men usually brag about and rely on their sense of direction and I consider myself to be such specimen, but right there I realized that I had no clue.

Damietta is a true maze, it reminds me of the cities created during the Islamic era where streets were small and intersected randomly. The logic was simple the small streets made for building creating more shade on the ground for cooler weather. The random streets served two purposes it helped air flow with speed specially at bends aiding again with cooling and thirdly a security reason as outsider would be able to leave a city if they had committed a crime or were on the run.

People of Damietta are known for their beautiful craftsmanship, they are famous for designing and fabrication all types of furniture. This trade has been their main profession for generations and their signature woodwork was famous among countries like Libya, Tunis, Algeria, Sudan, and parts of the Gulf. Their customers fly in to create and purchase custom made one of a kind pieces f furniture. Some even serve as showrooms in their countries using Damietta as a factory.

Other professions have been also part of the Damiettian culture for example they make certain types of Egyptian sweets, they are farmers, and fishermen but for me the main one that stands out is that they are merchants and true masters of trade. They work hard and have a strong sense of creating value, whatever they buy or create they can make profit from. The times weren’t always kind to Damietta and like most cities the post revolution years hindered their progress, but their hard work and dedication is a sign of their resilience.

I felt a warm sense of hospitality in Damietta, and during my relatively short stay I enjoyed being there. One of the main things I enjoyed was its scenery, the Nile creates a reassuring mood wherever it flows. The simple fact that people are always a few steps away form this beautiful sunset transforms the living experience in this city.


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