Food and Folk Cures – II of III (The Nile Valley)

The second blog on the topic of Food and Folk Cures looks at prevention, causes, and cures for the common cold in the Nile Valley (Egypt).  In the first blog, which discussed the Beja pastoralists of Eastern Egypt and Sudan,  we saw that bodily weakness was, at the time the work was conducted (about 20 years ago) considered a serious health problem and that liquids played a key role both in prevention and cure.  Also, that environmental conditions – extreme aridity and spartan life style – are directly linked to the problem.

In the Nile Valley of Egypt common colds are extremely ‘common’, especially during the months of the khamsiin (dust storms) that can rage for days through the valley.

The two winter months of      are both cold and prone to debilitating dust storms raging in from the Sahara

The months of April and May and prone to debilitating dust storms moving in from the Sahara. Source: Colby College

The fine sand enters every crack of a house, lodges in food and clothing, and can be so heavy as to make driving dangerous

The fine sand enters every crack of a house, lodges in food and clothing, and can be so heavy as to make driving dangerous. Source: TourEgypt

Breathing can become very difficult, especially for those who are weak, the very young and the elderly.  Colds and bronchitis become common features of the population – I generally suffered first from a cold, and that would often progress to bronchitis.

This satellite image shows progression of a massive dust storm travelling across the nile valley, with the northern part moving towards the Levant.  Source:  Wikipedia

This satellite image shows progression of a massive dust storm traveling across the Nile Valley, with the northern part moving towards the Levant. Source: Wikipedia

The cool months, from November through March, is also a time for catching colds – in Lower (Northern) Egypt, although the temperatures are not terribly low, there is no indoor heating and one can feel continually cold for weeks on end.

And finally, the increasing pollution in Cairo can make for difficult breathing:

Freeway traffic in Cairo.  Source: Flikr - ecreves

Freeway traffic in Cairo. Source: Flikr - ecreves

In the little exercise on folk medicines and food related to colds and flu, here are the results :

Causes & cures of the common cold in rural, northern Egypt and in Cairo

Causes & cures of the common cold in rural, northern Egypt and in Cairo

Preventative measures primarily include avoiding the causes.  These results reflect the views of villagers and lower (working) class Cairenes in the early 1980’s.  Although the link between the dust storms and air pollution to cold or flu symptoms were not noted, according to the doctors whom I knew, these were definitely considered contributing or causal factors.

In the rural areas where I worked and lived, leaving windows opened at night was a definite no-no.   On the other hand, wrapping a newspaper around one’s chest under clothing was considered particularly efficacious by some Cairenes – but not by villagers.  When asked if any newspaper was better than the others (i.e., brands), several persons said that the al-Ahram was considered the best:

al-Ahram newspaper is the most popular in Egypt.  This article is on Japanese-Egyptian business ventures.

al-Ahram newspaper is the most popular in Egypt. This article is on Japanese-Egyptian business ventures.

A favorite drink during the winter in the Nile Valley is  حلبه (hilba), which is made with fenugreek seeds, spices and milk, and is also said to help stave off colds.  It is very delicious – perhaps someone will contribute a recipe! (Anissa?… Cliff?…)

An interesting feature of these causal linkages, to me, is the lack of attention to environmental factors in aggravating either the occurrence or severity of colds and flus.   But these results are over 20 years old and so it would be useful to rework the exercises today.

Not meaning to suggest that the climate of Egypt is ‘all bad’, I leave with a lovely picture of the Nile and Cairo – my favorite city:

Gazeer Island, in Cairo.  Source:  Flikr - StartAgain

al-Jazeera Island, in Cairo. Source: Flikr - StartAgain

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About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
This entry was posted in Cuisine, Egypt-Recent, Environment, Middle East, Research & Development, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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