Each Saturday marks the newest iteration of Cairo’s weekly treasure hunt. In a group that started off as a collection of mere strangers, the Cairo Saturday walkers have become a band of adventurous urbanites.
The Cairo Saturday Walkers—brought together over social media—met for the first time two years ago when a professional architect led them on a photography course.
Karim El-Hayawan is a photographer who takes to the streets to photograph elements of Egyptian life. For him, street photography is a chance to bond with the people as well as the city. El-Hayawan might have started alone but the numbers that join him each Saturday have swollen.
“Saturday was the only day when I could go out, explore new areas and practice photography. Some of my close friends asked to join me as they also couldn’t find any other time to simply wander around the city. The crowd kept growing each Saturday. After a while, my walks had expanded to include 15 of my close friends and also friends of friends,” El-Hayawan said.
The artist’s main objective was to reconnect with the streets after many unfortunate political events, a goal many of his friends shared. However, the main allure of El-Hayawan’s walks rest in the unique course that El-Hayawan plots.
“Our routes are usually different from any regular touristic programme; that’s why tourists chose to contact us via social media”, El-Hayawan said. “The circle kept growing. Tourists and foreigners started telling each other about the walks; friends would advise friends to join our walks because they are safe, fun and we take people on the path less travelled.”
The group has traipsed the streets of El-Darb El-Ahmar, Downtown, Gomhoreya Street, Sayeda Aisha, and Sayeda Nafesa , among other areas.
According to El-Hayawan, 70 people regularly join the walks and explore the city together, including photographers and people seeking a fresh outlook on the old capital.
“I met Karim four months ago and I have been joining the walks ever since. It is a great experience and I truly wish that everyone take part in at least one walk,” said amateur photographer Amina El-Hadidy.
El-Hayawan and Nour Kamel have decided to curate a retrospective of the past two years showcasing two photography exhibitions at Markaz and Photopia. Each selection will exhibit 68 photos, with each walker being able to submit two photographs.
“Photopia is a photography hub; they have been extremely active in giving back to the photography community. I personally appreciate what they are doing through their charity initiatives, events and talks. Markaz is located in Zamalek; I really like the concept of this location. It is cultural, purposeful, and it preserves a great deal of local crafts; all that could be linked to our main concept”, El-Hayawan said.
“I have been joining the walks for a little over 18 months now. Every weekend I would try to escape the capital but, sometimes I had to stay. Karim introduced me to a new side of Cairo that I have never experienced before. This gave me a new perspective for my work on Roam Egypt and This is Egypt. Today, I am exhibiting photographs here at Markaz, and also at Photopia”, said Taimour Othman, photographer and creator of the This is Egypt campaign.
Amateur photographer Amina El-Hadidy also submitted photos for the exhibition. “I hoped to choose photos that best represent the streets. The two portraits that are exhibited today in Markaz are of two men. They did not mind being photographed up close; I felt truly touched when I met and got to know them. I wanted to prove that we should not fear approaching one another. Meanwhile, the two other photos that are exhibited in Photopia are of people’s hands” she said.
The exhibitions aim to give back to the communities that embraced the walkers every Saturday not only by bringing attention to Cairo’s neglected sites but also by organising charitable funding to improve the residents’ standard of living. “Many of the places that we visit need help; therefore, we organized the two exhibitions in order to raise money for charity for these areas,” Othman said.
After the exhibitions’ notable success, the walkers as well as the organisers are aiming to recreate the experience and the exhibitions, twice a year. Meanwhile, their future plans include an official social media account to share the walkers submissions on a daily basis.
“We are also heading to Alexandria soon for a photography workshop and exhibition; we will be visiting the city for two consecutive weekends and then we will organise an exhibition on the third, which will serve a local cause in Alexandria”, El-Hayawan added.
The organisation has received international acclaim, coming to the attention of the cultural office of the Egyptian embassy in London.
“It is becoming a movement. We are supporting amateur as well as professional photographers; we are promoting Egypt and supporting those less fortunate as we aim to further our charitable initiatives by collaborating with NGOs already established in the areas that we visit,” El-Hayawan concluded.