As a teen in Cairo, Hela would always mingle with artisans when visiting her favorite silver shop, enthralled as tribal bracelets gathered from across Egypt spilled out of canvas duffle bags. That tiny shop on a side street in El Sagha, the jewelers quarter, is where her love for Cairo began.
Hela and her team will take you to silversmiths, brass makers, and their workshops in Old Cairo where you can see them chiseling calligraphy on decorative ornaments. Not far from the constant clattering sounds is Khayamiya market where tents were made in the past to shelter travelers from the harsh sandstorms. On the way we will see the last traditional tarbouche (hat-maker). There are a variety of markets in this densely populated part of Cairo, punctuated by the cries of the milk man, a glimpse of another man balancing a long tray of bread on his head while swiftly riding his bicycle through the alleys and the muezzin’s soft voice in the background.
In Al-Fustat, a potters’ village was saved in the early 2000’s from urban development, a project that today houses jewelry and metal smiths designers workshops where we meet dynamic craftswomen. Light fixtures created by glassmakers share this space, as do contemporary artists.
With Hela, you may visit a foundation around Saqqarah where women weave colorful scenes from the local villages using homegrown plant extracts. They bring to you hand-made tapestries using their imagination, innate autodidacts flaunting their skill.
If you wish to escape the hustle and bustle in Cairo, head west again to Tunis village in Fayoum, which houses the most elaborate pottery in the country.
Art is also found in melody, Hela’s passion extends to preserve and restore music through documentation, popular traditions and festivities. Small concerts are hosted in cultural centers like Makan to save the transmission of Egyptian oral and lyrical genres dating from antiquity to modern traditional music, by recording and deciphering the archives. Entire instruments have been saved from extinction such as the Egyptian lute which only a handful of musicians can play today.
The interaction between the performers and the audience provides an intimate setting to embrace the music of the moment. Other modern performances are held in various cultural centers across Cairo. Hela is in contact with some of today’s talented musicians to meet.
Take a map of Egypt and we will trace the untold stories of these areas where philosophy, work ethics and art are intertwined. But most importantly you will meet these master crafts artists who will open doors to their realm with a smile.