Egypt: who are the Nubians?

18 11 2009

Deborah D, 27, UK

I came across a Nubian settlement only once in my fifteen days in Egypt. Traveling along the Nile, south to north, meant that i came to Aswan, a prominent tourist spot where the effects of the rising waters of the Nile were obvious. Objects of archeological value like the statues at the Temple of Rameses II had been broken up and re-assembled further inland. As with most cyclical weather phenomena the seasonal flooding of the banks along Aswan meant that the settlers along it (the Nubians) had to learn to adapt to it. That is until the effects of overpopulation began to take hold. With more people and less available fertile land the Egyptian government decided to build a dam to control the rising waters. The dam caused the permanent flooding of lower Nubia and meant Nubians had to find a home elsewhere.
In the market places I was referred to as Nubian (because of my dark skin), my mate Alex took to calling me Nubian princess which i think he did to get a rise out of me, they were after all the most impoverished members of Egyptian society.

While visiting the settlement (which could only be accessed by boat) it became glaring obvious that there was a disparity between the average Egyptian and the average Nubian. Even though in ancient times they were of the ruling houses and Egypt had had black Pharaohs, it appeared to be that they now resided at the lower end of the societal spectrum and made a living farming and making items of touristic value. They are black while the average Egyptian is brown, they have a separate non-Arabic language, they are essentially a community of people much like the Kurds in Iraq. With no real land to call theirs and not being totally accepted by the mainstream populace, i found that they were almost entirely self sufficient. With their own schools, food supplies from farming, it seemed like only the most ambitious of them set foot outside the poverty bullpen that had been created for them by the government (inadvertently) and sought a life in the larger cities like Cairo. At least as a tourist, that’s how it seemed to me. In any country, in any society there is a class or caste system that favours one group of people but is disadvantageous to another. Most times these systems are built on the premise of race or ethnicity. Nubia exists now only in theory, the settlements and sense of community amongst the inhabitants are all that remain of a race that once had a kingdom so large, it spread from Northern Egypt into Sudan.


Israel: poverty in Tel Aviv

11 11 2009

Maria W., 24, Germany

When it comes to Israel and human rights issues there is a lot to talk about. Not long ago the country was blamed for denying Palestinians access to water and that’s only one point of a long list of Human Rights abuses it is accused of. In the last three years the UN Human Rights Council issued 20 resolutions against it most of them concerning the Middle East Conflict.

Walking around in the middle of Tel Aviv all that seems to be pretty far away – although it is in fact only a few kilometres. But on the city’s streets people are busy with other things. Like shopping.  I have never seen so many shops for clothing, shoes and accessory side by side in any other city. Apparently Tel Avivians like shopping quite a lot. Some of them. Probably the minority.

Between all the shopping bags and the latest fashion in the shop windows, right in front of a Burger King branch an old man is lying on the pavement. When I was in Tel Aviv two weeks ago I walked past him a few days in a row always finding him at the same spot. He seemed unconscious with his mouth half open, his eyes half closed.

One day the mans pants slipped a bit and when I slowed down a little while walking past him like I had done the days before, I could see a big wound on his right leg. It looked serious and I was wondering whether he had the possibility to get medical attention somewhere.

You can probably find a scene like this in every big city: homeless people lingering around, lying and sitting on the street, begging for money. And at the same time people going to work in their suits, coming out of shops with a bag full of cloth in every hand, big cars and big sunglasses. But in Tel Aviv that contrast seemed to be even bigger to me since absolutely no one walking past him seemed to care. Did anyone at all actually notice him? Let alone giving him a few Shekel.

Israel is a country with huge social contrasts referring to property, capital, education and income. One third of the children lives below the poverty line which means they have less than 1 720 Shekel a month. That’s about 335 Euro. A report by the Israeli National Insurance Institute shows that 23.7 % of the Israelis population lived in poverty in 2008 while social services  by the state were cut and an immense amount of money was spent on security and as subventions for the settlements.

It seems the countries policy is completely concentrated on the conflict with the Palestinians and that there is not much time left for domestic policy. And for human rights within the country. Walking past this homeless man and knowing all that made me wonder whether the Israeli government really takes care of its people like they always say and like a lot of Israeli believe. Seeing him lying on the pavement makes me doubt it.