ABOUT THIS BOOK
"I, without earning a penny, have to be the provider!" Thus Umm Ali sums up the nearly impossible challenge of her daily existence. Living in a poor neighborhood of Cairo, she has raised eight children with almost no help from her husband or the Egyptian government and through hardships from domestic violence to constant quarrels over material possessions.
Umm Ali's story is amazing not only for what it reveals about her resourcefulness but for the light it sheds on the resilience of Cairo's poor in the face of disastrous poverty. Like countless other poor people in Cairo, she has developed a personal buoyancy to cope with relentless economic need. It stems from a belief in the ability of people to shape their own destiny and helps explain why Cairo remains virtually free of the social ills—violent street crime and homelessness—that have eroded the lives of poor people in other major cities.
Unni Wikan first met Umm Ali and her family twenty-five years ago and has returned almost every year. She draws on her firsthand experience of their lives to create an intimate portrait of Cairo's back streets and the people who live there. Wikan's innovative approach to ethnographic writing reads like a novel that presents the experiences of Umm Ali's family and neighbors in their own words.
As Umm Ali recounts triumphs and defeats—from forming a savings club with neighbors to the gradual drifting away and eventual return of her husband—she unveils a deeply reflective attitude and her unwavering belief that she can improve her situation. Showing how Egyptian culture interprets poverty and family, this book attests to the capacity of an individual's self-worth to withstand incredible adversity.