It is difficult to pinpoint where the journey began to write this book. Perhaps
it was sitting in the lecture theater as an undergraduate student at Oxford,
listening to Lutfi Radwan talk about his work on irrigation in Egypt. Or the
conversation with my sister, on a hill outside the oasis town of Siwa, about
my dreams of living in the Middle East. Or the year studying Arabic in Da-
mascus, when I decided that I would like to do a PhD. Or the series of events
that led me to shift my fieldwork from Syria to Egypt. Whatever its begin-
nings, one thing is clear—the fact that I would not have reached this end
point without the guidance and support of many, many people.
My thanks go first to the people of the village that I call Warda. I thank
them for letting me into their homes and fields with such kindness and gen-
erosity of spirit. I thank, in particular, the extended families of those who
I refer to as Abu Khaled and my neighbor, Assam. I will always remember
winter evenings sitting with Om Ahmed, Nagat, Hana, Mona, and Intisar
around a metal bowl of hot coals under blankets, eating roasted corn and
talking as children of different sizes fell asleep on and around us.
I owe great gratitude to Habib Ayeb and Reem Saad who helped me first
identify Fayoum as a field site and establish a life in Warda. I thank, also,
Bianca Longhi, Xavier Puigimarti, Ahmed Abu Zeid, Ikram Abu Zeid, Zohra
Merabet, Jon Bjornsson, Marina Fischer, Herrie Heckman, and Donald Ben-
son, for their warm hospitality. In Cairo, James Baldwin, Helena Wright,
Ginny Philps, Rania Kassab, Jennifer Derr, and Alan Mikhail provided much
appreciated support and friendship. Lamia el- Fattal, Maurice Saade, Rick
Tutwiler, Stephen Brichieri- Colombi, and Liz Wickett shared their valuable
advice and candid insights.
This project would not have been possible without the affiliation that I
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