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