Cairo, Egypt

By Asmaa Waguih

On a bridge that overlooks the Nile, a couple stands close to one another, planning for their future. A fisherman passes under the bridge in the boat his sons are rowing and a larger vessel approaches blaring loud music, with young people dancing inside and enjoying a cruise. Elsewhere, school children stand on the bank near some rocks and take a dive into the water to cool off. Everything’s happening on the Nile – this is the lifeblood of Cairo.

I wanted to shoot a story about life on the river because in Cairo it attracts everybody, rich and poor. There are expensive places where you can go and hang out, have dinner and see a belly dancer, but the Nile is also a huge attraction for the majority of the population who are less well off and who can pay two or three Egyptian pounds (around 30 or 40 cents) to take a cheap shared cruise down the river at night.

You could spend your whole life taking pictures of the Nile and there would still be more to see, so I had to try and choose my subjects. Some of my images show the huge contrasts in Egyptian society, from the huge buildings in central Cairo, to life in the shantytowns towards the outskirts, where I photographed a man washing his horse in the water.

There’s a common saying in Egypt, often repeated to tourists and visitors, which goes: “If you drink from the Nile, you will always come back to it.” It’s metaphorical, of course, and perhaps people no longer drink from the Nile itself, at least not without a filter in their taps. Nevertheless, despite heavy industrial waste, pollution from burning trash and the black cloud from the city’s cars, people are still happy to wash up, clean their clothes and dishes, or take a dive in the Nile on a hot summer’s day – especially in the shanties.

Some people even eat what they catch from the river. I photographed the family of a fisherman, who sleeps in their own boat, and make a meagre living from selling their fish at markets. I enjoyed spending time with them and the daughters were sweet, but I was sad that they didn’t go to school. Their father was quite conservative, from elsewhere in Egypt, and was worried that the morality wouldn’t be strict enough.