Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Shisha pipes smoke out Egypt’s charcoal makers

To fuel Egyptians’ love for shisha pipes and barbecue, Said Mahrous and his men toil in an open-air furnace, inhaling thick plumes of smoke day in and day out.

Covered in soot and sweat, their faces blackened, they labour in a village near Cairo over burning mounds of charcoal, without gloves, facemasks or health insurance.

Health and environmental concerns fall by the wayside when lumps of charcoal must be bagged at the end of the day and transported across the country.

“The smoke doesn’t really affect me — I’ve got used to it working here for over 35 years,” says Mahrous.

“I’m an old fahham from way back,” adds the 48-year-old, using the local term for a charcoal worker. “My father plucked me out of school, and I have continued the tradition because he was one too.”

Dozens of men working at the site in Inshas earn about $125 a month. They take tree trunks from nearby towns, clear them of branches and stack them according to their girth. They then throw them on 40m2 patches of field that become smouldering furnaces. The trunks must be dried out first, a task that takes about a year.

“Then we build the furnace, add rice straw and start the fire, which burns for about 10 to 15 days,” says Mahrous.

Dirt and rice stalks trap the heat and stop the fire from spreading.

Different trees produce specific types of charcoal.

Wood from mango and orange trees is charred for smoking shisha, while the charcoal from casuarina, camphor and olive trees is used for barbecues.

The mounds are then hosed down with water to cool them, but the tinders still smoulder underneath as smoke rises up into the air. Using shovels, the workers dig down and break up the charcoal, sifting and then bagging it.

About two tonnes of wood produces one tonne of charcoal.

Mahrous says “the heavy lifting of tree trunks sometimes hurts my back”.

“For my kids, I hope they can get well paid jobs. But if they can’t find any, then they will work with me.” — AFP

Vote for an informed choice

We’re dropping the paywall this week so that everyone can access all our stories for free, and get the information they need in the run up to the local government elections. For the latest updates and political analysis, sign up to our daily elections newsletter.

If our coverage helps inform your decision, cast your vote for an informed public and join our subscriber community. Right now, a full year’s access is just R510, half the usual cost. Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.

External source

Related stories


Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Latest stories

Paddy Harper: Will the Covid-19 cigarette ban come back to...

Flashbacks of nicotine deprivation and not poor service delivery may see a run on the polls on Monday

Eskom resorts to stage four load-shedding

Stage-four outages will continue until Friday after the loss of two units during the night, and three in total at Medupi, Kusile and Matla power plants tripping

DA-run metro favoured in citizen satisfaction survey

Cape Town emerged as the leader on overall citizen satisfaction for the fifth consecutive year, followed by Ekurhuleni

Cities will feel the heat from climate change

South Africa’s urban areas are urban heat islands and heat waves will intensify the distress

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…