Somewhere tucked away on Egypt’s North Coast (or ‘Sahel’ in Arabic), lies a sleepy beach town so small that you can barely find it on Google Maps. El Balah is there though, just as it always has been: eight rows of identical single-storey chalets that descend to the beach and come alive each summer with the same families that have lived there for decades. Nothing much happens there, which was always much to the chagrin of artist Nadia Gohar, whose summers growing up were spent in the idyllic, yet stifling environment, whether she liked it or not. “When I was little, my sister and I resented it. We just wanted to hang out with our school friends, but we were taken there the day school ended,” she says. Her family wouldn’t return to their hometown of Cairo until school started in September.
Summer days were spent by the beach (“You’d set up and stay there all day, and lunch would come to you.”), evenings were spent in her grandmother’s kitchen, and nights were spent in the cafeteria, where the town kids would play darts and billiards. The next year, it was the same thing all over again, with the occasional interruption of Gohar’s firsts: first love, first time jumping out of a window after curfew, and so on. “It was my first glance of how the world works, because it’s such a microcosmic community,” she says. El Balah had one phone, one produce vendor, and yet, it managed to elect its own community leaders, contrary to the autocracy that she grew up seeing outside of this small community.
“I started to go back around three years ago and realized that nothing had changed,” says Gohar. “The same guy works as a lifeguard on the beach and the old guy who made the pastries is dead, but his son took over.”
Here, Gohar documents the quintessential elements of daily life in the town. “My grandma’s always cooking and complaining about our mess. My grandpa’s always reading the paper. The same guy comes every day to spray the mosquitos,” she says.