A positive cycle is set in motion
Cairo, Egypt – a city full of cars. A city, in which you can find mainly men on the streets. A city where tight clothes are considered negative because of its provocative look. And now imagine a young woman cycling through this city. Cycling because of her mission – delivering food to unprivileged neighborhoods. Is that actually possible? Or is it just a crazy idea? Nouran Salah from Cairo breaks the traditions and proves that impossible is nothing.
How did it start?
I had rented a bicycle in Cairo before, and I loved how you can use it for everything, from going to work, to doing exercise, to running errands; but never had I witnessed any girl cycling anywhere I have been to; in addition to that; people would insanely cheer up for you that it makes you feel like you're doing circus stuff on the streets while all I am doing is cycling; so I wanted to encourage other women to cycle in Egypt and normalize the idea by breaking the shackles of unjustified social taboos and freeing women from social limitations.
We started in Ramadan (June 2016) when we fast for an entire month starting from dawn time and break the fast by sunset. In this month, usually everyone is kinder and extremely caring and giving to less fortunate people so usually we go by our cars and spread food or by walking around our houses to give away money or food. The idea was why not doing it with a bicycle and going to underprivileged areas where it is impossible to see women cycling. It was a challenge yes and a risk yes but if a woman can cycle there freely and safely; she would cycle anywhere in this city with no concern.
In April 2016 Nouran met two guys from Hungary. It was in Tunisa during a media camp organized by the European Youth4Media Network e.V. Those guys are the founders of a Bike Mafia from Debrecen. They were talking a lot about their work of delivering food for homeless people – and this all on bikes. The idea impressed many but especially Nouran, who started to think ‘what if…’ Over one year afterwards the group ‘Cairo Cycling Geckos’ has been established.
As the summer faded away, the project turned into an all-encompassing initiative that organizes weekly discovery rides and charity rides. What was the Ramadan initiative? We prepare a vareity of homemade sandwiches and sell them for Sohour at a price of 10LE in areas like Zamalek, Mohandessin, Maadi and Heliopolis (which are fortunate areas in Cairo). The proceed go towards purchasing economical meals prepared by a Syrian refugee family, which are then distributed to people in need for Iftar (breakfast) the following day - all by bicycle. The Suhoor (meal during dawn time) contribution empowers a refugee mother to support her family and provides a clean and healthy iftar meal for some of those who need it most, while at the same time motivates others to take on a fitness-boosting and environmental friendly activity.
Cars aren’t allowed into the narrowest streets of Cairo and we want to reach those who are most neglected. Ramadan 2017 - we are aiming to distribute way way more meals and we need more and more girls participating every single day since we do it on a daily basis in Ramadan.
Woman on a bicycle? In Cairo?
Some of the girls are scared or worried at the beginning, but I always tell them there is no danger. All it takes is courage. I know that there are no bicycle lanes and it may take time to cross the street, but people make way for you. I find it amazing that they consider you the weakest point in the street, so they always leave space for you. A lot of people cheer us up, old women shout ‘Go girls'.
Some people may try to flirt once we reach those areas, but as soon as they see us distributing food they say ‘may God bless you'. I believe that when you do something good, God will always protect you; and when people see you doing something good, they support you and help you.
I was really impressed by how brave women are. I felt they were waiting for this chance; they would come every day for every event, with their empty stomachs and unbeatable energy, to face sexual harassment, scary roads, and everything people would say, but actually nothing ever happened to us. With a little homemade food and a bicycle; A POSITIVE CYCLE IS SET IN MOTION.
interviewee: Nouran Salah
interviewer: Daria Jaranowska