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Caring for humans and non-humans in Egypt

Session I-15, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Thursday, December 1 at 3:00 pm

Panel Description
Affective human sentiments are fragile and pervasive, and yet they have the possibility to assist scholars in developing tools for histories and social analysis of caregiving, revealing some of the most basic ways that human societies sort out life and relationships of humans and other creatures. We know about long-term daily charitable giving, rescue, protection, shelter and plain gestures of kindness that are essential aspects of daily life in Egypt. We want to think more deeply about human involvement with other humans, and between humans, animals, plants, and others in Egypt, and we wish to build on human agency as a basis for people’s quest for lives together. In this panel we examine not only men and women’s chain of involvements with each other, we also address daily care with non-humans and the production of such encounters. Each paper will give a fuller picture of the ways caregiving has contributed throughout history to the wellbeing and survival of people and other creatures in Egypt. The ambition is to contribute to a renewed theory of human involvement with other humans, and between humans and non-humans in Egypt that builds on actualities of loss and recuperation, and on human agency as a basis for people’s quest for lives together. The human potential is vital in understanding the histories of what humans are to other humans, and what humans are to non-humans in Egypt, and how care operates on multiple levels
Disciplines
History
Anthropology
Archaeology
Architecture & Urban Planning
Art/Art History
Business & Public Administration
Communications
Economics
Education
Geography
Other
Participants
Presentations
  • When looking at the historic record, the landscaping of palaces, urban areas, and institutions was connected to the benevolence of those in power and became a means of demonstrating their care for the land, people, and an attachment to what was useful and aesthetically pleasureful. In nineteenth century cities, large-scale—and small—public urban parks and were integrated into the built environment. Going to nature was no longer only for the bourgeois who could escape the city for the county. Landscape architects like the American Frederick Law Olmsted designed suburbs, urban neighborhoods, cemeteries and parks as spaces where nature could enter the city. This meant that caring for urban green spaces became an important part of the governance of the city. In Egypt parks were built and began to be trafficked by different classes of Egyptians, but primarily the elite. As Adam Mestyan described it became a place to be go out and be seen, especially for the elite and the royal family in Egypt. Additionally, private residences, and in particular, hospitals and schools across Egypt started to include a disciplined and design garden landscape in spaces both large and small. What this paper will examine is the rise of landscape architecture in 19th century Egypt, which has been tragically understudied, and how these gardens were maintained and cared for by individuals and institutions. Using case studies of parks in Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said and Ismailia this paper will compare the ways in which landscapes were designed and built depending on the urban environment and the institution in which they were placed. Thus, how were hospitals designed in the 19th century and how did the garden become an essential part of the institutional design of these medical/healing spaces. Using photographs, newspaper journals, and plans this paper begins the process of understanding the ways in which gardens were designed and how they were cared for, and by whom.
  • Photographs of graduating classes of dayas from maternity training schools in 1920s Egypt provide a rare glimpse into the world of birth work and the new racialized and gendered hierarchies established in maternal health care under British colonial rule. Dayas have received little attention in the literature on the history of reproduction in Egypt. Instead, scholars have focused on hakimas (female medical officers) and pointed to their undermining along with the training of Egyptian male doctors in the fields of obstetrics and gynecology to argue for the masculinization and medicalization of childbirth under the British. But was this indeed what happened? Drawing on works by Egyptian doctors Naguib Mahfouz and Aly Alaily, Department of Public Health reports, and the private papers of imperial women doctors Bonté Elgood and Grace de Courcy and the nurse-midwife Mabel Wolff, this paper examines the interactions of various actors involved in childbirth. Moving between the imperial medical doctors and matrons who designed critical parts of the colonial medical infrastructure, the unnamed dayas who attended the new maternity training schools, and pregnant and parturient women, this paper will show that it was dayas, and not hakimas and male doctors, who delivered the bulk of Egyptian babies under colonial and semi-colonial rule, with most babies being delivered at home, not in hospitals. The colonial state, and the imperial women who worked for it, sought to reshape birth workers and birthing practices, determining who could and could not deliver babies and how they ought to do it, instituting new statistical regimes, supine postures, and sterilization practices. Rather than masculinize and medicalize childbirth, imperial women doctors strove to modernize a system of women-centered care for delivery of babies within the home, creating a maternal health model that they believed could be reproduced. Yet dayas often rebuffed the reforms, choosing only the practices that suited them and the laboring women they assisted. The regime that imperial doctors introduced might have been part of the undoing of this women-centered model, for the articulation of a binary of “normal” and “abnormal” births that arose would eventually lead to a shift from conceptualizing childbirth as a natural process, best carried out in the intimacy of the home, to one that was considered dangerous, and thus needed pre-emptive hospital care. But this was a shift that would be decades in the making.
  • How do we understand eating when caring and killing are its fundamental components? In this essay, I explore home-rearing practices of women farmers in rural Egypt, in which women rear animals to feed their families and in which caring for animals ends with a conscious act of killing. I rely on six stories from fieldwork to situate caring and killing practices in broader economic and nutritional dilemmas, juxtaposing these stories with the capitalist meat industry in Egypt which relies on frozen cheap meat with unknown sources. I further rely on an intriguing question that anthropologist Naisargi Davé posed during a roundtable discussion on multispecies ethnography: “Does that which is inevitable cease to matter?.” My answer is no: Animal killing is inevitable in home-rearing practices in rural Egypt, but it never ceases to matter. I argue that for many families in rural Egypt, eating well is partly about caring for an animal before and during killing it. Far from a moral resolution, however, it is a particular mode of killing and caring for animals that my interlocutors offer as their attempt to live, kill, and eat well. This mode of killing is preceded by caring for animals, premised on caring for family members, and practiced according to religious laws. On the other hand, their mode of caring involves caring for animals [everyday feeding, cleaning, etc.] and caring about animals [abstracting animals as meat through gastronomic descriptors of taste]. In rural Egypt, eating “well” is a relational matter fraught with everyday acts of killing and caring. In the dearth of trusted affordable proteins, caring for animals as food must entail killing, and the promise of a wholesome meal draws caring and killing as everyday bedfellows. In home-rearing practices, inevitable animal killing matters because the reason for, mode of, and relations preceding and following animal killing partly define eating well.
  • In this paper I turn to the most basic aspect of human healing – feeding others. It begins with my first meeting with Hind in 1996. One evening I lost my way following a visit to a faith-based food bank project in a poor neighborhood in Cairo. After spending some time crisscrossing thorough the same rough and narrow unpaved alleys trying to find the right turn for downtown Cairo, I stopped to ask directions of a young woman I recognized from the project. “Pardon me. Where am I?” I asked. “You are in Egypt, yah hanem,” Hind replied. She offered to show me the way out if I gave her a lift home. Since then we have continued our conversation about care and food justice. This paper tells the story of Hind and the other volunteers who run a food distribution outlet in Cairo. The presentation is based on many years spent following their efforts and is an account about young women (some now much older) who incorporate food justice into ways of repairing and rebuilding lives. The women distributing food describe themselves as pious safety-nets who care for and feed the unfortunates. The presentation will explore how and why Hind and her coworkers began questioning why people struggle for food and what they did about it. The why was the absence of food in some people’s everyday life. The what was faith-based caregiving: the ideas and actions expressed individually and collectively about personal and societal life, about being a Muslim, about being a woman – about Islam, food and compassion.