As a Canadian-Egyptian, born and raised in Canada, my parents were determined to keep my connection to Egypt alive. Over the course of 14 years I have been blessed with the opportunity to visit Egypt once every other year. Anyone who has been to Egypt knows (fellow Egyptians can testify) that there are specific sounds and aromas associated with this amazing country.
One of my favourite sounds growing up was of the (usually) elderly man, wearing a gellabiya (a long traditional Arab garment), shouting at the top of his lungs at around 7 am, “roooba bikya!” “Bikya!” I remember the first time I heard this sound like it was yesterday. I was 12, half asleep, hot, and fighting the urge to pee. Then suddenly, “Bikya!” broke the silence. I rushed to the balcony thinking someone was being attacked. Looking over the ledge I saw a man sitting on a two-wheeled cart, pulled by a donkey, with a mountain of used items piled up behind him. It was the most bizarre amazing sight my young eyes had ever witnessed. I was fascinated and in that moment my love for “the used” and all things “bikya-worthy” blossomed.
Later that morning I learned that the man calling out to the people was going around town collecting domestic items that people no longer wanted, which he would later fix and resell, or in other words he was collecting bikya. Even though this concept of reselling second-hand items is well known across the world, I have never heard of it being used to encourage people to read.
Tucked away on Zaki Hassan Street off of Nasr Road in Cairo, Egypt, is a lovely little place called, you guessed it, “Bikya.” Founded in 2011 by 5 Egyptian ladies, Bikya has one goal, to help Egyptians fall in love with reading. Or if you ask the founding gals Bikya’s goal is to “…force-feed Egypt the love of reading.” Instead of just collecting used books and reselling them in a small shop, these innovative rock stars decided to use the “bikya” concept to create a cultural hub where “art, literature, music, and knowledge,” can be shared and discussed. Often gems are discovered in their collected library making Bikya a must-go-to place if you ever visit Egypt (which you should) or if you’re already there! But if rare historical page-turners don’t entice you enough, the ladies also host concerts, poetry readings, stand-up comedy, and movie nights. Did I mention Bikya is also a hip and happening café?
Not to put down any other effort to make the world more sustainable, we all love Value Village here in Canada. But like I said Bikya took a new perspective on how to reduce, reuse, and recycle. These ladies added a few more “R’s” to the mix; re-culture, re-innovate, and re-inspire. All with what started out as a stack of old second-hand books. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at a used object the same again, and I encourage you to engage in similar sustainable practices for a sounder environmental and economic future.