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Papyrus growers feeling low demand bite.

Summary: CAIRO - In a small, once-prosperous Egyptian village, people used to wake up early and drive their children to the school, then work in their fields all day.

They would then collect their children at the end of the school day and take them to the fields, in order to help them plant and cultivate papyrus, a plant which is first known to have been used in Ancient Egypt at least as far back as the First Dynasty.

That was their main work in a village where no-one knew the meaning of the word 'unemployment'.

Farmers used to plant papyrus once every decade. Once they grow it, they can continue harvesting it for ten years.

They used this crop to make paper, on which Pharaonic scenes would be printed or painted, for sale to tourists visiting Egypt and people in other countries.

In el-Qaramous, a village in el-Sharqiya Governorate, the farmers grow papyrus. But they've stopped harvesting it, because no-one wants to buy it, as few tourists come to Egypt anymore, on account of the instability.

"The situation in Egypt is very worrying. Tourism is dying here. You can't imagine how many touristic bazrs have closed," Ali Eis, who paints on papyrus, told a local newspaper.

Eis used to go with his friends to el-Qaramous village to buy the papyrus and paint scenes from ancient Egypt or landscapes on it; but they no longer do so.

"As an artist, I have an urgent message for President Morsi. I want him to do something very quickly to save tourism in Egypt," he added.

In order to make paper out of papyrus, farmers in el-Qaramous cut the reeds into thin strips, then weave the strips into cross sections to form mats. These are pounded flat and left to dry in the hot sun.

The resulting material is light enough to be used as a handy writing surface, thin enough to be stored easily and strong enough to last years and years in the dry weather conditions of Egypt.

Ancient Egyptians used this plant as a writing material and also for making boats, mattresses, mats, rope, sandals and baskets.

The dry climate of Egypt has made it possible for papyri to endure, in many cases, for over two millennia.

The papyrus paper ranges in price from PT50 to LE1 (around 14 cents), but, if it is painted on, its prices jumps to LE2 or LE3 in some places, while in others the price may hit as much as LE15, depends on the quality and the size.

Some artists who paint on papyrus used to get in touch with foreign tourists, asking them what kind of scenes from Egyptian history they would like them to paint on it.

"They like the stories about ancient Egyptians like Tutankhamun and Isis, as well as scenes from The Book of the Dead," says another artist, Ali el-Deeb.

Papyrus painting is popular round the globe.

"Some tourists used to order papyri to be exhibited in their countries. This is why we started exporting our works abroad.

"We are not so much interested in money as in reaching out to all people, spreading our culture and letting foreigners learn more about us in an artistic way. For us papyrus is a blessing," he adds.

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Publication:The Egyptian Gazette (Cairo, Egypt)
Geographic Code:7EGYP
Date:Apr 17, 2013
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