Good morning. I am Rashad Sayed, also known as Um Hashem. I am 46 and live in the Haqura quarter of Fayum with my husband Sayed, who is 52, and our four children We have two boys, Hamada, 23, and Ahmed, 8, and two girls, Samah, 20, and Basma, 16. My husband has been unemployed since he was injured when he was in the army. I have to take care of the whole family.
Early in the morning, I dress Ahmed, prepare his breakfast and send him off to school. Then, I run to the roof to check on my vegetable garden. It's money I've made from the garden that has paid for my son's schooling.
A good start
A year ago, FAO's TeleFood programme helped me to start this rooftop garden by supplying the trays, seeds and tools. I started with six trays, planting lettuce, marrow, spinach, radish, garlic, onion, parsley, aromatic herbs and tomatoes.
I want to enlarge my roof garden by adding four units. But I need more boxes and seeds. Now, I buy seeds from the market or get them from my own plants.
Look at my tomatoes. Aren't they great? They grow very well here due to the climate. We eat them in salad or I sell them to make extra money when needed.
The important thing is that they are free from pesticides. In recent years, Egyptian health experts warned about the risk of cancer from consuming food contaminated with pesticide. Previously, poor farmers were not aware of health hazards due to heavy pesticide use. Now a lot of people here in my town wish to develop organic agriculture.
The happy gardener
My roof garden keeps me busy. I visit it several times a day, alone and occasionally with some neighbours or FAO experts. Here some local extension agents are helping me. I water my plants regularly. I check that everything is in order. Sometimes, I just stare at my plants and feel happy. It is like watching a baby grow. In the summer, the whole family gathers on the roof, in the evening, to breathe fresh air in a nice garden atmosphere. To prevent the birds from stealing my seeds and eating my fresh vegetables, I fix old magnetic tape on sticks in the boxes. The noise produced by the wind blowing on the tape keeps the birds away!
Basma helps with the cooking when she is not at school. We produce our own bread. She is very good at preparing the dough. She wants to become a good housewife. Soon she will get married. Her fiancé lives and works in Milan, Italy. But he is Egyptian, like us. And when he comes back, we will invite a lot of people to the religious wedding ceremony followed by the traditional feast. My joy will be greater when the enlarged family meets around our rooftop garden.
Never enough time
I cook our bread in our old wood-burning stove. I told my husband we need to buy a modern oven, but he doesn't seem to listen to me. It is true that bread is much tastier when cooked on a wood fire. But it is time consuming and prevents me from taking care of my vegetables. Plant residues from our rooftop garden are used as fuel for the stove. Fortunately, when I am ill, my daughters take care of everything including the roof garden and the wood stove.
Did you know that Egyptian food is delicious? I like to prepare fatta, kofta and mulukhijeh. I don't need to run to the market every morning. Since last year, I only need to harvest from my roof garden and walk two floors down to my kitchen to prepare delicious meals.
My children love the salads that I prepare from the garden. At least, we know what we are eating: fresh and pesticide-free food that keeps the doctor away from our house.
In our modest home, we eat lunch in our living room. Thank God, we have enough food and our diet has become richer now that we have the opportunity to plant a wide variety of vegetables. I am so happy I succeeded in my endeavour.
To some neighbours who envy us, I explain that they can also transform their roofs into nice vegetable gardens instead of storing all kinds of junk there. They just need to follow a training course provided at Fayum by the agriculture ministry with the help of FAO and local NGOs.
At the market
By selling or bartering the produce of my roof garden, I get an extra income which will help me buy the oven I have been dreaming of. I will tell you a secret: my vegetables, especially my tomatoes, sell fast when people learn they are pesticide free. I want to produce and sell more next year. I am so tired spending long hours cooking bread in our wood-burning stove. Besides, the space occupied by the stove could be used to raise rabbits, ducks or chickens. I need to enlarge my activity and pave the way for a better future for my children.
The next generation
Here I am spraying water on the plants, which they seem to like. My son Ahmed helps me to take care of our vegetables. He's very curious and eager to learn the art of planting. Already, he knows a lot about irrigation and the best period to plant certain varieties.
Ahmed represents the new generation which, I hope, will be more careful than the previous ones with regard to environmental issues. But without TeleFood we wouldn't even have been introduced to this alternative way of growing things.