I had never met a sister who worked the land before and so was understandably excited when Aisha invited me to visit her on her farm outside Cairo to conduct an interview for the magazine.
The unpainted outside walls of Aisha’s home do not hint at the gorgeous interior and the lush green of the land around it. The grounds are a riot of trees, bushes, flowers, rows of vegetables and fruit trees and a huge pond in the middle of the lawn. The interior of the house is like an eclectic English farmhouse with a cosy kitchen, hot pink walls and Laura Ashley-inspired couches, not forgetting the original artwork on the walls and the beautiful picture window that looks out onto the pond. I am enthralled. Over a cold glass of karkaday (hibiscus juice popular in Egypt), Aisha, originally from farming country in Indiana, tells me how she came to be a farmer after being a suburban housewife for many years.
The road to Islam
By the time I was 23, I had been married, had two kids and was divorced. I decided to go to college to study engineering and that was where I was introduced to my future husband who was on a fellowship. He began to tell me about Islam and after three months, we were married. It was when my husband told me that the Prophet Muhammad r was a direct descendant of the Prophet Ibrahim u that proved the turning point for me. I was raised a Catholic and knew all the stories of the prophets, so the significance of this was not lost on me. In my gut, I knew it was right. I had a sickening feeling because, to be honest, Islam looked too hard. Me being an ‘all or nothing’ type of person, I knew I would have to do it properly. So I waited to take my shahada until I was absolutely ready.
That was twenty years ago, alhamdulillah.
The road to the countryside
We moved to Cairo and I began to raise our children there. But, to be honest, coming from a small town, I found Cairo really overwhelming. We were living in Maadi, in a crowded apartment with seven growing children – we needed space, somewhere the kids could be free.
So we began our search for a place out of town somewhere. For three years, we tried to buy a chalet on a quiet beach somewhere near Libya but it never worked out. Then some friends told us that there was some farmland for sale.
We thought to ourselves, ‘That sounds great, we can keep a few chickens, a few fruit trees…’
At first, we were going back and forth between Maadi and the farm, staying at the flat in the week and coming here on weekends and during the summer.
Then the kids said, ‘We want to be here all the time…’ So we just said, ‘Why don’t we just come and live here?’
Everyone was supportive, even my teenage boys, so it was decided there and then.
When we first moved here, it looked nothing like it does now. We built the house in one year, nothing fancy, just something we could afford. It took about three years to get the farm working as it does, and as green and lush as this. We started with the idea of chickens and fruits trees but we soon found that you can do a lot with just one acre and because there are three planting seasons in Egypt, you get even more out of the land. We started adding crops and then thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could have our own milk?’ So that’s when we got the cow!
Now, we keep chickens for eggs and meat, ducks, turkeys, goats, sheep and a cow, as well as growing a huge variety of crops for our own consumption and to sell. This land is amazing, masha Allah, so full of barakah. Through the year, we get herbs like rosemary, parsley and dill, vegetables like onions, garlic, lettuce, foul (beans) and courgettes, as well as fruit like dates, figs, pomegranates, guava, apples, strawberries, peaches, pears and lemons. We also get fish from the pond! All natural, all organic, we recycle everything, masha Allah…
I manage the farm, run the business side, look after the accounts, the buying and selling. Our aim is to make the farm self-sustaining, whereby we eat for free and feed the animals from the profits.
I work the land too, of course, and the kids have chores as well. Ten year-old Ibtisam’s chores include sweeping the kitchen floor, changing the kitty litter and feeding the chickens.
I also have a farmer who comes in and helps with the farm upkeep for two hours a day.
Farming family life
Although it is far away from everything, alhamdulillah, I’m not cut off. I’ve got my mobile, I use the Internet cafe. And I have my halaqa once a week too – I’ve got to see my girls!
Having said that, our life here is very family-oriented: we get to spend more time together, to talk to each other. We’re close to nature and it is calm and peaceful. The children have their friends come and spend time here – so I get to keep an eye on the older ones!
I think moving out here was the best thing we ever did for the children. They are never bored here, there is always something to do. Without the distractions of the city, they have simple pleasures, they play creatively: they’ve got the great outdoors! They swim in the pond and the fish nibble their toes! And they all have jobs and earn money for them so they learn how to be responsible.
My children have learned about life and death and how they are both a part of life and are Allah’s decree.
But most importantly, they have learnt so much about Allah and His Creation. My children have watched chicks hatch out of their shell and the sheep being born. We see the miracle of how Allah creates things out of what we consider to be unclean, such as pulling a fresh delicious carrot out of the manure-laden ground, the animals that are born pure and clean from an area of the body deemed to be in need of cleaning. How the water from the sky is clean without salt whereas we have to watch out when we water from the groundwater because the salty content burns the plants leaves if they are watered when the sun is strong. Allahu akbar.
My children have learned about life and death and how they are both a part of life and are Allah’s decree. They have seen the perfection of His system in the cycles of manure, burseem, milk and meat. How the pond helps to complete Allah’s cycles by attracting bugs that the fish and frogs eat. The birds then eat from the fish and the fish eat from the duck droppings etc. They see how the flowers and blossoms, fruits and vegetables of all varieties come from the same sand, manure and water. SubhanAllah wa Allahu akbar.
While I lived the city life, I was restless, I didn’t know what was wrong, but now I’ve found peace. Some people need to touch the soil, you know? I guess I’m one of them. Alhamdulillah, I am living the life I love.”
After taking a tour of the farm and tasting Aisha’s delicious courgette bread (as sweet and moist as the best carrot cake), I am even more in love with the place. As we drive home, I can just imagine myself and my family giving up the rat race and the city life to live off the land and swim in the pond in summer – can’t you?
Aisha’s Daily Routine
We start our day with the Fajr prayer. I often sleep after Fajr though in the summer because I’m a bit lazy!
At 6:30 I prepare breakfast for the kids. They go to school in a nearby town as we are very far from Cairo.
7:30 All animals need to be fed.
8:00 By this time, all are fed and everyone is getting their fresh water provided.
8:30 Time to cut the burseem (clover) for all of the animals, including the birds and baby chicks.
9:00 I check the incubator for newly hatched chicks that need to go to the nursery.
Various other tasks may include weeding, planting seeds, harvesting, if it is time for that, cleaning out animal pens, starting up the motor to irrigate the farm with the pond water.
10:00 In the summer, it is time to go inside until about 3:00 or 4:00 Its just tooo hot! Housework, kitchen and helping the kids with their studies or Qur’an.
12:00 I pop out long enough to provide an extra helping of burseem and check on everyone and usually put one of the renegade goats back in the coral.
3:00 If I didn’t water in the morning, now is the time. I also give the garden vegetables an extra dose of water at this time.
5:00 Time to get the animals ready for their evening meal. The cow gets her cool evening walk and her grains. Everyone gets more peanut hay.
Sunset. The chickens are chased into their house, the eggs are collected, and the door to their run is closed for the night.
The cow is put to bed and so are the goats. The sheep have the coral to themselves to frolic and sleep off and on all night.
Time for the evening drink of lemonade or karkaday on the front porch. My husband and I talk about our day, the kids play on the swing set and we listen to the frogs serenade each other.