Egypt: A taste of Italy

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

TATUN, EGYPT – Ahmed Mostafa loves to dine at the local Italian-style pizzeria after a long day in the steaming heat of his antique Peugeot. It would be normal in most places, but in Tatun – a small village near Egypt’s Fayoum oasis some 45 minutes from Cairo – it used to be a dream, until thousands of Egyptian workers risked death to journey to Italy for jobs.

Tatun is a small town, with a market full of the usual Egyptian foodstuffs and trinkets. Red-bricked apartment buildings line the dusty, often dirt, roads that twist throughout this small village of a few thousand people. But development is brewing, and the town’s pizzeria is part of this trend.

“We feel a connection with Italy and all that that country has given us,” Mr. Mostafa reveals. He risked it all for a chance at a better life, making his way in a small wooden boat with dozens of others across the Mediterranean and into Italy, ultimately finding work in Milan as a handyman.

There, he says, he made enough money to come back to his native land, buy a new flat for his family, and live comfortably. “Italy has given us a lot of opportunities for a new means to survive,” he says, “but some have not been so lucky.”

Tatun has become a haven for those returning from Italy, the pizzeria an example of their love for European culture and cuisine.

Mostafa sits back, enjoying the thin crust of his pizza slice as he looks around at his surroundings.

“It’s good that we were able to make it, but there is still a long way to go before we can truly say we are Little Italy,” he laughs, commenting on the town’s nickname. Looking across the street, he points to a local coffeehouse. “Almost all of those people sitting there have been to Italy,” he says frankly.

Any signs of progressive change here, including the pizzeria, are the results of trips outside the Nile Valley – whether to the Red Sea resorts; the Gulf countries; or, as in the case of many of Tatun’s residents and Mostafa, a journey to Italy.

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