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Egyptians resort to rooftops to escape the heat and expensive utility bills

Egyptians resort to rooftops to escape the heat and expensive utility bills

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Monday 10 October 202206:43 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

للهروب من الحر وفاتورة الكهرباء... الحل "فوق السطوح"

The "al-'asari" hour

The heat of the sun increases during the day, especially at noon, and then gradually begins to break. I kept thinking of a solution to escape the heat until I found it on the rooftop of our high house, where I could sit especially during the "al-'asari" hour (late afternoon, also known as the golden hour), the timing of which falls between afternoon and sunset.

The view from the rooftops is amazing, as if I was rediscovering it anew, as Cairo has deprived me of our home in Upper Egypt, which I now only visit on occasions or on holidays.

Escape to the rooftops

Fluctuations in the weather, accompanied by high humidity and extreme heat, push people to flee to rooftops that have changed with time.

In the eighties, the rooftops were a refuge from the heat and a place to hang up laundry and even raise birds. My grandmother would say that she used to sew her clothes on top of it under the moonlight, and in the daytime would take care of her birds there.

"I kept thinking of a solution to escape the heat until I found it on the rooftop of our high house."

In the nineties, I used to go up to the roof before "al-maghribieh" (sunset) to study, and at night the family would gather there to enjoy the peace and quiet out in the fresh air, which helps save on the electricity bill, especially since the fans keep working throughout the day without stopping. It was also a suitable place for enjoying the food that my grandmother would make before the night came, and after eating we would play for an hour and then study and do our homework, and it went on like this every night.

I owe the rooftops that made me be closer to the moon and see myself inside it.

In the mid-nineties, urbanization hit the roofs, and women began hanging up their laundry over "balcony clotheslines". Most of them were no longer interested in raising birds like grandmothers used to do, and the roofs were turned by the younger generations into a place for flying kites, raising pigeons, studying, or smoking cigarettes far from the eyes of their parents, and even sometimes a place for meeting lovers.

During the same period, the land-based television antenna receiver had been a common sight on rooftops, each of us climbing to adjust it so that we could get a clear picture and watch our channels. With the entry of the new millennium, the antenna did not withstand the invasion of the tv dishes that came with a flood of satellite channels, becoming the official sponsor of rooftops, a large part of which turned into a place where all the old things and worn garments were kept.

In the following decades, during periods when Egyptian cities were plunged into darkness for many hours due to power outages, the rooftops became a refuge from heat and suffocation, and everyone would go out looking for a breath of fresh air in order to cool off. In order for the rooftops to be clean and a suitable place for gatherings, some got rid of the old junk that was kept there and replaced them with plants. With time the roofs evolved even further, as you can now see gyms to exercise up there, or even cafés, while the younger generation now use it to shoot TikTok videos.

In the 90s, I used to go up to the roof before sunset to study, and at night the family would gather to enjoy the peace and quiet out in the fresh air, which helps save on the electricity bill, especially since the fans keep working throughout the day without stopping

Rooftop relationships

Wafaa begins to recall memories of her younger self and tells Raseef22, "The rooftops were a witness to the first silent love story during my years of adolescence with the neighbor's son. His fear prevented him from talking to me, making the songs that used to be played out loud from old cassette tapes the language that speaks on our behalf. For example, the voice of Angham singing the song "Baatly Nazra" ('Send Me a Glance') would carry over from his side, so I would put a tape inside my old cassette player, leaving Mohamed Fouad to respond in my stead with the song "Shahdein 'Aleih" ('Do You See Him'). After that, we left our house and went to another house, and nearly twenty years later, there is still a love in my heart that I have evenly divided between him and the rooftops that made me know love."

For her part, Sherry Attiyah recounts to Raseef22 her memories with the rooftops, "During my childhood I lived in my father's house in the Minya governorate, and I used to spend most of the time on the rooftop with the other girls of the family. It used to contain a lot of old things that were useless and occupied a large part of the roof, but that did not stand between us and playing. And with time, we grew up and the shape of the houses around us changed, The neighbors built high houses in front of my grandfather's house, and their height blocked the view and prevented any air from reaching us, making hanging out on the rooftop silly and boring."

She continues, "My grandfather's house in the village of Atsa in the southern governorate of Minya, was our escape, especially in the summer. It was old, having been built with mud bricks, and its walls are wide and huge. From above the rooftop, I would watch the view of the greenery and the branches of high trees as they brought us fresh air to relieve us from the heat and the humidity of the summer. And there was a nest on the rooftop where we kept some birds like chickens and ducks, while the ladies would gather to make "kashk", a popular dish in Upper Egypt that must be dried under the sun. With time my grandfather's house was demolished and rebuilt in a modern way, and so the shape of the rooftop of the new house changed, leaving only a small place for us to gather at night, either to grill chickens or enjoy the night air, and in order to save on the electricity bill, most of which comes from using the air conditioning, and the place still retains its quiet calm and the smell of plants."

The shape of the rooftop of the new house changed, leaving only a small place for us to gather at night

In the new cities, the rooftops differ from those in Upper Egypt, according to Sherry, "I currently live with my husband in an apartment in the 5th Settlement region of New Cairo. We only go up to the roofs to adjust the tv dish, and I make up for this deprivation when I go to Minya, where I sit with my family on the rooftop and spend the best times. I also make sure to go to my village to visit my aunt, who still lives in my grandfather's house, so we get together on the rooftop and relive the memories."

Speaking in the same context, Mahmoud says, "During the day, we are forced to turn on the air conditioning in the main room, while in the rest of the rooms the fans do not stop spinning, which makes the electricity bill at the end of the month higher than the temperature, and we found the solution in the rooftops that we decided to clean and plant with roses, in order to hang out on them at night, and make due with little light from to the moonlight, which creates a state of calm that helps in meditation, and reduces the electricity bill."

O' rooftops of fear and alienation

Asala Salah tells Raseef22, "My father and mother left Egypt and traveled to Saudi Arabia to work, I have two sisters who are older than me, and we were all born in Saudi Arabia. We were living in an apartment inside a building where none of its inhabitants used the rooftops. I would go up to it alone most of the time even though the place was scary at night, and sometimes with my sister in the summer to escape the heat and look for fresh air away from the air conditioning, to watch fireworks in the sky, or grill chickens, or for solitude when something had upset me."

Rooftops were a comfort to my loneliness. I'd find myself sitting there, away from all the noise. Since I'm from the countryside, it had its own fun, where the clear sky, calm, and quiet carries you away. You take a breath then close your eyes and listen to the music

She adds, "I loved sitting on the rooftop, even though most of it was empty and scary, even after my two sisters went back to Egypt to study at university. I later also went back to study music. I currently live in an apartment in the al-Haram area in Giza, and I had left all my memories back on the rooftop of our house in the exile I had lived in for 17 years."

Finding oneself on the rooftops

"My memories with rooftops are many, the most important of which are those of my childhood and my family, which I miss because of exile and some issues. The rooftop was my refuge, and I used to sit down and let my breath out of me to climb up to the same sky that some see far away. I felt that it was part of me, I would get lost with it, carried away by my thoughts and the problems in my life until I'd close my eyes and fall asleep," Iman, a thirty-something Palestinian young woman, tells Raseef22.

She goes on to say, "For me, the rooftops were a comfort to my loneliness, I used to find myself sitting there, away from the noise and light pollution, and because I am a resident of the countryside, it had its own type of fun, where the clear sky, the quiet, and calmness carries you away. You take a breath and then close your eyes, and listen to Andalusian music or hymns and melodies."

Iman currently lives in Paris, and life there, as she put it, steals her age and steals herself and takes them away without her even noticing, and to this day, the secret word of comfort the remains for her is the "rooftop".

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