Photographic Stories of the Nile – Files – Al-Ahram Weekly

For five weeks, from June 15 to July 20, the Goethe Institute in Cairo hosted the shots of nine photographers from countries overlooking the Nile. The work of most newcomers to the photographic scene offered diverse perspectives on what the Nile means to people living in the countries it passes through.

“The Nile is a very complex and multi-layered story. It is not just a river that crosses 11 countries from upstream to downstream. It is the essence of life for many people, the source of a livelihood, the setting for many stories and the guardian of many dreams,” said photographer Roger Anis, curator of the #Everyday exhibition. Nile.

During the inauguration of the exhibition, Anis was busy taking pictures of the barges withdrawn from the Nile at Agouza in Cairo. His photographs, documenting the end of the houseboat era, are just a small segment of the very big story of the Nile that he and eight other photographers from the countries of the Nile Basin have attempted to tell in the exhibition.

Their photographs were taken as part of a project funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands and InfoNile, a cross-border group of journalists who work on Nile issues.

“I believe we need to learn more about the Nile and have a better understanding of the breadth of stories and issues it carries with it across the 11 riparian countries,” Anis said.

Born and raised in the Middle Egyptian city of Minya, Anis has always had a close association with the Nile. Like other residents of Minya, and for that matter other towns in the Delta and Upper Egypt, Anis often strolled along the Nile when leaving for school or returning home from a run or simply when he was walking with friends or family.

“The Nile has always been there since the early years of my childhood in Minya and when I moved to Cairo for work after graduating from the Faculty of Fine Arts at Minya University in 2008,” said Anise.

Having traveled across Egypt to take pictures for journalism or other purposes, Anis “unknowingly went to the Nile to take pictures”. He added: “I was really surprised by the number of photos I had taken with the Nile in the center of Cairo and elsewhere”.

He took pictures of couples walking over one of Cairo’s oldest bridges, or people spending a quiet evening by the Nile in Minya, or farmers working on irrigation problems in Delta. He always took pictures of the Nile “so unintentionally”, he said. “I was just taking pictures of people’s lives, but very often those were associated with the Nile.”

A few years ago, while traveling to Sudan and Ethiopia for photography assignments, Anis had “a very different view of the Nile”. Following devastating floods in Sudan that shattered homes and lives and during time spent in Ethiopia at the source of the Blue Nile which provides Egypt with most of its Nile water, Anis saw a river that looked different and told other stories to those it was. familiar in Egypt.

However, there was always a certain similarity, which was the attachment of people’s lives to the Nile. “It’s not always the same way, but it’s always there. All along the banks of the Nile, there are so many different stories about people’s relationship with this fascinating river,” Anis said.

With this idea in mind, Anis chose to pursue a photo-dialogue with the other neighboring countries. He believed that the Nile should be perceived in all his countries for what it is: a source of life and endless stories, some happy and some less so.

After securing support and funding, Anis began contacting photographers in all 11 countries. He was lucky in some but not all. For more than six months and with a lot of coaching that he shared with his collaborator Laura Al-Tantawi, Anis managed to obtain photographs from Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia for his project. .

PHOTOGRAPHING THE NILE: From Egypt, Asmaa Al-Gaafari offered a personal view of the Nile, sharing a family story from her mother’s hometown in Upper Egypt.

The latter told him as a child that “the sea”, the word used by people in Upper Egypt to designate the Nile, was at the origin of the marriages of the girls of the village. Al-Gaafari overheard his mother saying that “as the water did not reach the houses, the girls used to go to the sea every day to fetch water. We used to have shells in our hair to make sounds for men to hear us and choose us as wives.

From Sudan, Anis himself shared devastating images of partially or completely demolished homes following the 2020 floods that swept through 16 Sudanese states, killing more than 100 people and destroying thousands of homes. On the outskirts of Khartoum, flanked by the Blue Nile and the White Nile, Anis also photographed water shortages.

Stories of flooding have also been captured in Uganda by Watsemba Miriam, who shows in her photographs the growing distress of people living at the Ripon landing site off Lake Victoria as water levels rise and devour the lands on which they live.

Diing Magot from South Sudan shows a country that has water in his photographs but still cannot provide a safe supply of clean water to residents living near Juba, the capital of a country that saw independence in 2011 .

Magot’s photos show women on trucks heading for the water. The story he attached to his photos, published in a magazine produced for the exhibition, recalled the struggles of the poorest people during the Covid-19 pandemic hoping to access clean water. or not.

The curious duality between the wealth of natural water resources and the scarcity of drinking water was also captured by Guerchom Ndebo from the Democratic Republic of Congo. This country is estimated to have about 11% of Africa’s water resources, but it failed to provide drinking water to the people of Goma in North Kivu province when Mt. Nyiragongo.

Burundi’s inability to benefit from its bountiful water resources, despite the country being at the very source of the Nile, and its provision of hydroelectricity to a meager 11% of its population was shared by the photographs of Selecous Ndihokubawaya and Helena Kreiensiek, who followed the Nile from her birthplace in the country.

In Ethiopia, which contains the origin of the Blue Nile, Mekonnen Teshome Tollera traveled to the Jama River region 200 km north of Addis Ababa to photograph land degradation which looks set to worsen with the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). This will further compromise the sedimentation of the soil of a river that locals call “blue gold”.

Also from Ethiopia, Martha Tadesse showed the bravery of the men and women of the Gambella region who are driven out of the area they call home each year by floods but then return after their descent.

Tony Wild and Anthony Ochieng in Kenya understood the story of the Nile in a different way when they saw the climate-smart initiative of fishermen replacing their kerosene lamps with solar-powered lamps and taking them with them on evening fishing trips.

In the images and stories included in the exhibit, there were many showing the impacts of development and climate change, Anis said, as well as people trying to adapt to the river and now having to adapt as well. climatic changes. #Everyday Nile, he said, draws “a visual map” of the stories of the Nile and its people from its sources to its discharge into the Mediterranean.

The exhibition opened on the eve of Ethiopia’s rainy season and the planned third filling of the GERD, the operation of which has been the subject of disagreements between Ethiopia, the country upstream, and Sudan and the Egypt, those downstream. It also came as Cairo was counting down the weeks and days to host the UN’s COP27 meeting on climate change in Sharm el-Sheikh in November.

But Anis said the purpose of the exhibit was not to comment on politics and conferences. Instead, he said, he aimed to take the story of the Nile beyond that framework to the human-interest stories of the peoples whose lives are associated with the river.

“We have only told a few of so many stories. I hope we can have another exhibition, hopefully next year, to tell more stories of the same countries and other bordering countries that we failed to get photographers from this year,” said said Anis.

“We want to share different perspectives and create a space for the people of the Nile to connect with each other through the stories and photographs we put together,” he added, concluding that he hopes to take people on a journey. exhibition, perhaps as early as next year.

*A version of this article appeared in the July 28, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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Michael E. Marquez