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The energy shifts

You may think nothing much is happening in the Jasmine Garden right now. It’s been quiet on the blogging front.

Not true, in fact. Although I have yet to suss out exactly which seeds should be planted when for optimal results in Egypt, the experimental raised beds aren’t doing badly. Specifically, the broad beans in RB 2 are up and should (hopefully) do well – I believe they were planted at the right time, in line with what Egyptian farmers would do. These are not just a food crop, but also a way of improving the soil, given the nitrogen-fixing properties of legumes.

The October sowing of rocket – the trustiest of all our salad leaves – in RB 1 also seems to be fine, as are the peas and (so far) the green beans. The latter two crops are from heritage seeds, as you may recall, so I will be interested to follow their progress. More on these in future posts.

But what has really struck me is how the energy flow has shifted. I would say that it has been moving for most of the year, and I don’t much like what I sense. It goes without saying that it has to do with international affairs – but these may be a symptom, rather than the cause. I feel, as we approach the end of the year, that the invisible tectonic plates of human affairs have moved, subtly and almost imperceptibly. We are now facing a new order, something both unknown and also, historically, sadly familiar.

So my garden is a great comfort in these difficult times. I totally believe it would be better for us all if more people turned back to nature, rediscovering their link with the natural world and deepening their understanding of our dependence on it, if mankind is to find a way to navigate the uncertain territory ahead.

In Egypt, this would surely be a useful approach. We face a much harder time, who knows for how long.

This month, I should have been making marmalade. We have sufficient kumquats for a new batch, and a few kilos of lemons could usefully be made into preserves. But where to find the sugar?

The reality has been that sugar disappeared from the shops for a few weeks recently. Whether due to manipulation of the market by traders, or a failure of supply, I found myself joining an incongruous queue to obtain vital packs of the stuff in one of Heliopolis’s smartest neighbourhoods. Fortunately, I could join the ladies’ queue, much shorter than the men’s, and enjoy the banter. But the fact is, I haven’t seen queues for basic foodstuffs since the 1970s.

On top of that, we face steeply rising prices for electricity, petrol and food as subsidies on a whole range of items are removed (in return for an IMF loan). The 2 kilos of sugar I could buy at the government outlet cost EGP 7 a kilo; the price is EGP 12.50 in our local supermarket. Meat has reached EGP 105 a kilo at our local butcher; better quality veal is EGP 160. At the topmost end, Aussie beef costs up to EGP 890 in an upscale supermarket where the shelves are increasingly thinly stocked. I wonder if anyone buys it.

Given that a cleaner may hope to earn EGP 120 for a full day’s work, I wonder how on earth people on an average wage can possibly hope to keep their heads above water. I suspect they don’t, but rather live from day to day, scraping by as best they can.

Imported foods are increasingly scarce. For sure, we can all manage without the luxury of biscuits and pasta from overseas – there’s pretty good stuff made locally – but for anyone who needs, say, gluten-free products or a variety of veggie proteins, the carpet has just been swept from under their feet.

In 2016 I have come to regard the Jasmine Garden as less an interesting experiment in urban cultivation – a diversion for an ageing (and increasingly aching!) writer – more as an essential contribution to a world in crisis. This is something we all need to think about deeply. I wonder how many will?

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I just did an exchange rate check and it said that EGP 120 is equal to 7 Euro (is that right?) Here a 1 kg bag of sugar is about 0.70 euro. I do agree about everyone learning more about how their food is produced and if possible growing at least some of their own,

    November 19, 2016
  2. Yes, your estimate is about right given that the exchange rate is almost EGP 17 to the euro. The trouble is, the pound was allowed to float freely earlier this month and subsequently fell off a cliff, so Egyptians have seen the value of their earnings suddenly diminish (rather like sterling after Brexit). According to Daily News Egypt, quoting the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics, the average weekly wage is EGP 879 – this sounds okay, but it masks huge inequalities between the fortunate few and the mass of people, many of whom are day labourers. Sudden increases in the price of electricity (each time by 30% I think – our bills have risen exponentially over the past year or so) don’t help. In addition, some products have simply disappeared off the shelves – e.g. imported unrefined cane sugar – and I am waiting to see if the same stock reappears later at vastly inflated prices. Few people would normally buy such items – they are too dear.

    November 19, 2016

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