Mohamed Saeed holds a hose in his hand early in the morning and sprays the asphalt street in front of his barber shop in Mounira, a tradition he learnt from his father who opened the shop around 40 years ago.
Sana'a, a woman who sells herbs on a street in Hadayek al-Kobba, starts her day by spraying water on the sidewalk before spreading out her merchandise and sitting down to get ready to start her day.
Ramadan is a doorman of a three-story villa in the upper-class Fifth Settlement area, which is mostly desert and still being developed. He wakes up at 6 am and with a hose sprays the dirt road in front of the villa.
Each is keeping a tradition very common to early mornings in Egypt. Each has a different intention behind this routine, but it is one that is not met with enthusiasm by everyone.
Saeed’s shop is on a busy street. His neighbors all disapprove of his morning routine. Mohamed Abdul Wahed, a lawyer who works in his father’s carpentry shop, says he spoke to Saeed a lot about this issue.
“Especially during the beginning of the Nile Basin crisis, I would tell him he is wasting water and our children will not find water in the future and his habit is not helping," Wahed said.
Saeed’s response is that the water he uses is not a measurable amount. He says he needs to do it for two reasons.
The first is that he does not have air conditioning in his shop and he believes by spraying water in front of it he cools the air.
Motaz Abdelfattah is an environmental education specialist whose his mother lives on that street.
“What Saeed unknowingly does is create more humidity in the air, thus causing everyone to feel the heat even more," Abdelfattah said.
Lobna Mohamed, who lives in Alexandria, corroborates this theory, saying when she goes to Souq al-Khait in the early morning she feels suffocated because of all the water in the street.
The second reason Saeed sprays water is to keep dust from getting into the shop.
Abdelfattah says Saeed should realize the dust is bound to get in no matter what, and that through watering he makes the streets muddy so people coming in trek mud into the shop.
Meanwhile, tenants of the building Ramadan works in try to talk him into not wasting water. His response is that he does it to keep the dust from dirtying the house. But he also makes the entrance muddy.
Sana’a has a different motive. Her belief, as is the belief of other vendors in the small narrow streets of Hadayek, is that water is a blessing. When you give a blessing you are graced with more blessings.
El Tahera Salama says the people of the area use water as a form of optimism for a successful and fruitful day. Salama also believes that by spraying water, they are cleaning the area.
“When I go buy something, I choose the cleaner area to stand in so when Sana’a sprays her area she’s making it clean and more buyer-friendly," Salama says.
The tradition, while being kept by many for good luck or for practical reasons, is also being fought against by many educated people for being a waste of a valuable resource as well as a source of discomfort.