Qena – by Khalid Taqi
Naguib Fahmi Gad is the last craftsman to use the foot iron in Deshna. In Upper Egypt’s Qena province. He insists he will not give up the iron which has been his companion throughout the span of his professional career which extended over nearly a quarter of a century.
Naguib digs into his memory and recalls: “I was born in 1953 and started working in a shop to press clothes owned by Usta (master craftsman) Zarif in 1965 at the age of twelve. Electrical irons had not yet appeared. The only iron available was the metal iron which is heated on the stove. There was one that was used by hands and another one which needed to be pressed by feet. Both were made of cast steel.”
He goes on: “I continued to work in Usta Zarif’s shop until the war broke out in 1973. I was called for military service with the Air Defense division. I was among those who crossed (the Suez Canal into Sinai Peninsula) on 6 October and chanted Allahu Akbar. I left the army in 1977 and opened my first shop next to the Khazandar mosque in Deshna. I became well known among people in the city and nearby villages. At the time most of my customers were mayors and sheikhs who preferred to have their clothes pressed using the foot iron especially galabias and heavy wool abayas.”
Naguib laughs when he remembers the fees for ironing at the time as it did not exceed 5 piasters (0.05 of the Egyptian pound), “but work was better then,” he says, “the price of a pound of meat was no more than 35 piasters.”
One of the situations Naguib does not forget occurred during President Hosny Mubarak’s time when he accidentally burnt a suit that belonged to a member of the judiciary in Deshna. The member of the judiciary put him in prison for two days as a punishment. Naguib says: “I felt terrible injustice because I did not commit a crime that deserved imprisonment.”
Neither can Naguib forget the injuries he sustained through working the foot iron. To illustrate, he revealed a deep furrow in his leg caused by a hot iron which slipped over it. e“I came out of the war with no injuries but was not spared the injuries of the iron,” he chuckles.
For good or bad, the foot iron is all but extinct, Naguib points out, as most laundries now use an electric steam iron, noting that he finally decided to keep up with the modern times and use the steam iron himself. Nevertheless, he still uses the foot iron for new woolen clothes, which he insists require a heavy iron to remove the creases. He says that he had received many offers to sell his own foot iron as an antique but he continues to hold on to it as an old, even if occasionally capricious friend.