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Wednesday morning - Silver

On Wednesday I loaded myself with the gifts I had brought with me for little Jenny, my friend Mohamed’s daughter from Tentmaker’s Street. I have a delightful granddaughter named after me with the slightly more modern Jenna instead of Jennifer. The only other baby I know was named after me is this one – a little girl born just after I left Egypt so I have only seen her on return visits. She is now almost three so I packed things like a fairy dress with Velcro wings to attach, and lots of pink summer clothes, and a pile of things for her new little brother Yasin. Wings are not easy to carry in a suitcase.

Then I realised that I wanted to see my other good friend – also Mohamed – who makes silver in the Khan El Khalili. His name is Mohamed Khalil and he used to be a designer for Azza Fahmy – a very well known Egyptian designer who makes beautiful but extremely expensive jewellery with old Bedouin style. They parted ways, but he still makes the most gorgeous pieces – clean lines, interesting ideas, lots of talisman pieces and a lot of beautiful Arabic text, and he mixes gold and silver and I have always loved that.

He has a shop in a rather elegant renovated building in the centre of the Khan el Khalili but absolutely no-one goes there. The business that has grown and become one of the great secrets of Cairo is up two flights of stairs in a building that looks like a crack house. The stairs are dark and filthy, and there may not actually be rats but it looks as if there should be. I am always reluctant to put my hand on the stair rails, but the stairs are long and steep so usually by the last half flight I have a hand on a very greasy rail and arrive slightly short of breathe. Cats often sleek and slink their way up with me winding around my feet – there is always a ginger or tabby spotted cat that seems to think you might be carrying food – and they are no cleaner than the stairs.

I did not take photos on this visit – but this is Mohamed and his assistant Heba on a previous trip, and a piece that I bought from him last time.

When you emerge from the stairwell you are looking straight into the main workshop. It is a small space with perhaps 8 men working on wooden tables. I once emerged on the landing to find Mohamed holding a glowing crucible in tongs and carefully pouring molten gold into moulds. You could see nothing of the gold except the incredibly red hot heat of it as it poured from the equally red hot crucible and it trailed red and oranges as it went into the mould. He was wearing thongs.

Just around the corner is where the real action takes place. It is a tiny office space with room for two desks, a filing cabinet and chest of drawers and a few chairs. The definition of happiness for me is to be able to rummage in these – plastic boxes like the ones I use for storing food are stuffed tightly with treasures. Each time I come the selections are different. This time I selected a beautiful chain with discs of silver and amethysts, long and distinctive. He had made another King Farouk piece – I bought one previously. This is a ceremonial piece he copied from an old photograph of King Farouk who wore it pinned and draped across a suit. Mohamed made it easier to wear by putting the three chains and their discs on another chain. I still find it one of my most special pieces.

I added more to my pile. A clenched hand holding a selection of talisman items which can be worn as a pendant, a bracelet with three parallel chains held together with a key, a padlock, and a disc with Arabic, a simple pendant with a deep red carnelian in a Bedouin setting, and another bracelet, gold and silver, with a long graceful pendant drop with gold Arabic on silver, and a small collection of talisman pieces. I realise that I love bracelets as you can see them when you are wearing them. These dangly ones make me feel pretty – but they are not easy to wear when using a sewing machine or computer.

I have to work out again how to share photos from Flickr - they have changed their systems and I find the new one almost incomprehensible. When I work out how to do it I will add images for you.

I had enjoyed the cup of sweet tea with mint with Mohamed in relative peace as several ladies came and went – but then a group of three very noisy ladies arrived and stated picking up pieces I had selected. Mohamed whisked them out of the way, and rather than finish in a hurry I asked him to put them aside for me and I would call back. He is always quiet around 6.30 in the evening.

Then I headed across the Khan El Khalili, over the road, and threaded my way through a very crowded Al Ghouria and into the Tentmakers’ Street.

Reader Comments (10)

always vivid descriptions. thank you for another wonderful post and I eagerly await the photos.

March 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTonya Ricucci

Yess, Jenny, you do describe things wonderfully! The jewellery sounds beautiful. I hope you intend wearing some to Kiama for us to admire. :) Bracelets are also something I tend to collect. I know exactly how you feel! Earrings, too, of course. :)

March 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLindi

I agree Jenny,

His jewellery is fabulous and I wear my necklaces a lot and wish I had bought more as I doubt I could find the shop if I ever got back to Cairo.

March 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKate

You would find it Kate - I woudl give you his phone number. Then you just get to Khan al Khalili and ring him and he sends someone to bring you to him.

March 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenny Bowker

Oh Jenny, what memories you have brought back to me about the fabulous jewellery shop and the interesting journey up the stairs to get there. I love the piece I bought to bits and wear it often. Like Kate I wish I had bought more.

March 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAngel

Jenny, this had me laughing out loud this morning over the difference between Australian English and English English. Over here a thong are the string between the buttocks underpants worn by young girls. I had a mental image defying logic for just a secong or two. Then my Aussie childhood kicked in. Thongs might have been dangeous for his feet but not as much as could have been.

March 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFeather on a Wire

Jenny, you come up as no-reply so couldn't just email back to you. No, I've never heard of Ms Palmer. Taught quilting? Maybe she was over in the Heliopolis crowd? or do you mean taught at the CAC or university? I sent along your request to a friend who's still there, will let you know if there is a positive answer.

March 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTonya Ricucci

We visited Cairo in Nov. thanks to your accounts of (and directions to) the Tentmaker's street. Imet Mohammed and purchased a number of quilts. Is there a way that I could purchase a large Tree of Life from him? This was the first day of a 2+ week trip (then on Luxor, etc and Israel). I've followed your blog for years. Your photos are the best! Sheila Green Nebraska USA

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSheila

Sheila you left me no way to answer you so I hope you look at this from time to time.

I can send you an email address if you wish that means you can work with a tentmaker called Tarek Fattoh. I know he has a spectacular Tree of Life piece - big and expensive by the standards of the street - but full of birds and animals. Click on the link to my website and click on the contact button to email me. My email is on the bottom of the Background Text.

April 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenny Bowker

I have loved your work and your blog travels for so long - one day I dream of visiting Egypt. THANK YOU for sharing your fascinating life in blog, photos, and best of all, your work.

April 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLura Schwarz Smith

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