The Misfortune of Prophet Moses and Al-Khidr
By Mohammed Al-Reefy
Translated by Aisha El-Awady
A word may have various meanings and a name may be used for different people and places but with different connotations.
Long ago the people of Prophet Moses were punished for their defiance by being lost in the desert. But today the people of Prophet Moses are those who have come to live in a small village in Al-Fayoum governorate in the desert area of Youssef Al-Sideeq district, not as a result of their defiance but rather in hope of a decent, if yet simple life.
After several kilometers of narrow, twisted roads I found myself in front of this village lying in the middle of the desert which reminded me of an orphan who had lost his way. The village is divided by a small road into two smaller villages, on one side lies the village they call “Prophet Moses” and on the other lies “Al-Khidr”.
According to one of the urban and regional planners in the city, the two villages, or rather, the village with two names was legitimately erected 15 years ago in an unauthorized district. It is as if this illegitimate district refused to accept one of its own and instead tossed it into the midst of the desert, depriving it of any means of establishing a life for itself or continuing its survival.
On my way to the village I passed by stunning scenery but which raised many questions in my mind. For instance, one can see the lakes and waterfalls of Wadi Al-Rayan, a tourist region visited by sightseers from across the country that come here to picnic and to enjoy the scenery. Also on the way, I passed by Wadi Al-Hitan (Whale valley), a World Heritage Site on which millions of Egyptian pounds are being spent to turn it into a nature reserve. The site was officially opened a few months ago by Egypt’s first lady, unbeknownst to her that just a few kilometers away lives a forgotten community, much less fortunate than these fossilized whales who have found a caretaker even after their death and fossilization.
On reaching the outskirts of the village you get an unmistakable feeling. When I asked my driver what he thought of the place, he said, “It looks like a graveyard,” mirroring my own thoughts. Indeed, at first glance this place that has a population of 5000, including all age groups, and around 2000 homes, looks like a graveyard.
Many sights reinforce this feeling, from the always empty roads, to the short lookalike houses, to the dead trees lining the sides of the roads as a result of lack of water. Not to mention the sad inhabitants themselves who are grief stricken over the situation they now find themselves in. These residents came here after finding themselves with no means of making a living, after being hit with the landlord-tenant law, which forced them to leave the lands they used to farm.
Those affected by this law came here from many different governorates such as Al-Fayoum, Bani Sowaif, Asyout, Kafr Al-Shaikh and more. They left their hometowns and came here for a meager two and a half acres of land, of which only a small part is cultivable and most of which is not. This is due to either the lack of water or the poor quality of soil that would need a lot of effort and cost to reclaim, presenting a major setback for these farmers.
I met Mizar, one of the residents of the white village named “Prophet Moses” where all of the houses are painted white, whereas in the opposing red village known as “Al-Khidr” all of the houses are built of bare red bricks.
When asked about living conditions in the village he said, “It is a lifeless village; the electricity only works five hours a day, from sunset to soon after midnight by way of a diesel generator that is broken down more often than it works.”
“The drinking water which comes from outdoor reservoirs is a source of many diseases,” he continued. When asked about the schooling system he said, “The only school in the red village has no teachers and each time a teacher comes to work here, he is soon to leave, never to return, and the school we have in the white village is closed.”
He took me to the closed school, which looked like an old, abandoned home that had a sign in front saying, “Prophet Moses Primary School” which was written in what appeared to be a child’s handwriting.
We were interrupted by Rashad, another village resident who said, “The only person working at the health care center here doesn’t even know how to give an injection.”
This was confirmed by Ramadan, the Director of the civil municipality, who told us that anyone coming to the village with food or medical assistance is faced with the likelihood that it will be taken away by force, due to the severe deprivation suffered by the village residents, as well as the fact that they depend on charity for almost everything.
On our way back from the village we met one of the residents of the Al-Mansoura region who works in the real-estate market, who said, “Five years back, I bought a piece of land in the village, which I am now trying to get rid of in any way possible, as there is presently no hope for that village.”
Moses and Al-Khidr is a village whose residents are landowners that cannot find enough food to eat, who suffer the dark nights with no electricity, with no water to quench their thirst and no health care for when they get sick. Education is a far off dream for these unfortunate residents.
The irony is that this village that appears at first sight to be nothing more than a graveyard does not have its own graveyard to bury those who have passed away. Meaning that even after death the residents must travel back to where they came from, just as they traveled here in life; strangers in life and in death, who lived in misery and died a lonely death.
If the same officials that are concerned with and spend millions on our antiquities and heritage would just look a few kilometers away, they would find a community in need of even a fraction of this concern.
The true investment should be the people themselves, for they are the actual wealth of the country and it is only by them that civilizations are built and that miracles are achieved.