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Notes on the Geography of Egypt: Tanda

Tanda is a two-hour train ride upriver from Cairo to El Minya. Then you find rubber wheels and head for Mallawi. Tanda's nearby. You could make the whole trip in the same time by driving, but you probably don't want to. The highway is wide and fast, it has no lane markers, and drivers pass as they like, their survival in God's hands.

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Egypt: Tanda picture 1

This is the Nile at El Minya. The cliffs mark the eastern edge of the Nile Valley. Beyond lies the Arabian Desert, empty all the way to the Red Sea. The river here once rose and fell with the summer flood, but its level is controlled now by releases at the High Aswan Dam and hardly changes.

Egypt: Tanda picture 2

Since 1952, Egypt's irrigated cropland has increased by about a third to almost 8 million acres--about 1,200 square miles. The "New Lands," as they are known, flank the margins of the 5 million acres of "Old Lands," about half of which were actually reclaimed during the 19th century. In other words, the irrigated area of Egypt is about triple what it was in 1800. Then, irrigation was a matter of the summer flood, whose waters were directed into settling basins for a month of so before being passed to a lower basin. During the 19th century, the flood regime was replaced by perennial irrigation with water brought by canals. The canals were deliberately laid out slightly below ground level, which forced farmers to raise the water. It imposed a huge workload, but also gave farmers plenty of reason not to waste water or take more than they needed.

Here, near Tanda, a farmer cranks an Archimedean screw, a cylinder with a screw inside it. It's an ancient device, described by Diodorus Siculus in the 1st century B.C. In those days, it was made of wood.

All the photos in this group were taken about 1986, and the captions describe conditions at that time.

Egypt: Tanda picture 3

The cotton harvest, with date palms in the background. Picking is still done by hand, for there is no shortage of labor. Where do the youngsters go when they grow up? Some go to high school and even college, but after that the choices are poor. The government is no longer guaranteeing graduates jobs; instead. Instead, under what was called the Mubarak National Program for Graduates, the government set aside about a third of newly reclaimed lands for occupation by unemployed graduates, each of whom, if selected for the program, got five acres free of charge. Given the gap between expectations and what can be earned from five acres, it was a recipe for social unrest.

Egypt: Tanda picture 4

Tanda itself was in 1986 a study in monochrome: brick, mud, and fodder spread on rooftops to keep it from hungry animals.

Egypt: Tanda picture 5

The houses were all of brick--some baked but most sun-dried.

Egypt: Tanda picture 6

Despite the presence of kiln-dried bricks and even electricity, many of the construction methods were traditional.

Egypt: Tanda picture 7

The streets were unpaved and fly-ridden.

Egypt: Tanda picture 8

Motor vehicles were scarce.

Egypt: Tanda picture 9

Water came from pumps, not taps.

Egypt: Tanda picture 10

The town was full of images easily labeled "biblical."

Egypt: Tanda picture 11

Every now and then, there was an extraordinary flash of color.

Egypt: Tanda picture 12

And of curiosity.

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