The Nile is the source of life in Egypt, where water flows, life grows and thrives on its banks.
How could we also use this medium to give people access to knowledge, opportunities to connect and learn?
It is knowledge that gives us power to adapt ourselves and environment to meet our needs. Each of us has something to give and something we can receive in this context. It is an abundant gift that we can all offer without detriment to ourselves.
It doesn’t matter what your background, you have something you know that you can share and teach. Regardless of how educated and knowledgable you are, you can never know it all, you are always in a position to learn something.
In the words of Nile Felucca Captain I spoke to yesterday – who doesn’t love to learn? I didn’t have the heart to tell him of how western education methods were extracting the joy of learning from our youth.
Instead we talked of a trip, where everyone could learn from one another. A trip that excites me both with it’s joyful method and its message of equality through practice. Of empowerment through experience.
He taught me about the Felucca, its manufacture, of his relationship with it (like a friend), of its uses, the challenges a captain faces from nature, and from his customers (building trust). He also got me really excited about the idea below.
We all have something of value to offer one another, and we can do it at no extra cost to ourselves. In fact we can benefit from sharing our knowledge and working together between cultures.
I call this concept Mutual Development.
Mutual Development is a direct response to my experiences so far with the Development Industry (and yes it is an Industry). Note: these comments are not directed against my Employer, but the industry as a whole (arse covered I shall now proceed ;)).
Despite many criticisms, there still remain entrenched and destructive behaviors that come from the binary positions of Wealthy/Poor, Educated/Uneducated which lead to damaging dependencies and projects which are doomed to fail as soon as the funding is withdrawn. Don’t even get me started on our technological superiority complex. I’ll address this in another post.
Psychologically, the negative impacts of development methodologies are felt by the recipients of such “Aid”. The Industry in its actions perpetuates perceptions of racial/social inferiority and of the superior knowledge of the western expert. I often consider how my role of what I jokingly call “the white boy in the room” affects the process (deferring to locals, not occupying the stage, acting the fool are some strategies I use, but my own presence has caused often caused me angst). Regardless of our intent, this is the result of ill considered actions. Darsh, a Nubian man told this to me last night. He phrased it differently, but these were the implications. That Egyptians judge knowledge offered by other Egyptians as inferior to that of the Western Experts.
This is a man I might add who is setting up wireless internet in his village, and possesses technical knowledge that I am not geeky enough to understand. This is the man, who is providing the feluccas and is contributing his dream into the collaborative idea that will be outlined below.
Mutual Development seeks to address these binary positions, by approaching problems and challenges from a position of equality. That there is an exchange of value between all participants, and that all contributions are valued and welcomed. When a white male sits and pays attention to an Egyptian woman, when he shows gratitude, and seeks to learn, her perceived status and self respect increase. When a child teaches other children, or even adults, their sense of worth and value are raised. To redress the balance of the inequalities we have created, we must practice this behaviour, to learn from and respect everyone we encounter. Conversely to redress the balance where someone has too much power, status and ego, we must treat them as equal to everyone else. To question them and not defer any more respect than we receive. We must not perpetuate the imbalance, we must judge the content and not the person.
For the first prototype of Mutual Development, the opportunity has already arisen from the community I’m working with in Aswan.
I proposed at this workshop (itself a provocation), that we do a festival of sharing in Aswan. Darsh wanted to do a Felucca Festival. Local and International Vision combined over conversations and meetings. Now 2 days later the idea is gaining traction.
The Fikra Felucca Fleet (working title) will begin in Aswan, at it’s first stop on Elephantine Island a diverse group from Aswan, Egypt, Africa, and the World will exchange knowledge through workshops – experiences that will help to cross the linguistic divides. There are no “experts” only equals with knowledge to be swapped.
From there we will carry this knowledge to other locations on the Nile, training each other in our skills and developing new or adapting old appropriate technologies, whilst travelling up river to our next location.
At each stop we will create a new event together with the locals. Even with minimum exchange we can share recipes, food, and music and celebrate, but from my experiences so far I think there is much more to be exchanged. Everything from future technologies to old crafts, how to build boats from bottles, to the small Nile boats the Nubian kids make. We share, we innovate and we connect villages, communities and ideas through a love of learning. At each destination we will invite locals to travel with us upriver, and maybe some of us will remain behind to Mutually develop projects where they have the urge.
We will document the event and challenge the pervading stereotypes. We will shine a spotlight on this beautiful part of the world, and its people, and provide a positive counterpoint to the media cloud which hangs over all of Egypt, but is focused on specific locations.
Aswan is a safe place, it is a beautiful place, but the absence of Tourism is damaging it’s economy. At the same time there is a need for tourism to move beyond a shallow consumerist spectacle and cheap pyramids and “local craft” manufactured in China, towards meaningful engagement. Maybe Mutual Development could provide an alternative model.
I don’t know whether this will work, but I find when I’m on the right path everything happens quickly – even in Egypt ;), and there’s only ever one way to find out.
We have access to a fleet of Feluccas, the experiment is in collaboration with the locals who are excited and will drive it, I offer my skills to assist, as I am as excited as them – the method should reflect the message. This is a Mutual Development already and we will all learn a lot.
If you would like to contribute to this experiment, please get in touch. Consider what you would like to learn, and what you would like to share.
This is a bit rambling I know, I still need to clarify the idea of Mutual Development further, this is a first foray, I would like to use this project to Mutually Define it ;).