In a narrow alleyway in the heart of Egypt’s coastal city of Alexandria, Ebtesam Mohamed is busy working on a decades-old Egyptian tradition of ironing clothes using her feet.
Unlike in regular ironing, she smoothes out creases by sliding a large hot metal slab weighing nearly 40 kilograms (88 pounds) back and forth with her foot. There is a piece of wood between the iron and her foot to protect it from the heat.
Mohamed, a 45-year-old single mother, has been doing the job for the past 35 years, inheriting the trade from her mother and grandfather.
“I was 10 years old when I first started ironing, and I couldn’t even lift the iron from the oven to the table,” she said.
“We call this little oven the ‘house of fire’. It hasn’t changed since we started, but (new) heating methods have been developed from kerosene to gas-filled canisters to what we use now, which is natural gas. This is probably the only thing that has changed in the shop.”
Hand-held, electric and steam irons may pose stiff competition now but Mohamed says her technique is more effective than regular irons because of the increased pressure and weight applied to the clothes.
It usually takes her up to 20 minutes to iron a single piece of clothing, moving her leg back and forth several times to ensure the garment is crease-free.
“I heat the iron depending on the amount of work I have. If I have to iron three or four pieces of clothing, that would require the iron to be at a certain temperature, and if I have to iron one piece, it would require a different temperature. So it all depends on the workload,” she said.
Mohamed’s loyal customers say they prefer her method to the standard one. And some are surprised to see a woman taking up a trade that is usually the preserve of ironing men, or “makwagi”.
She charges between two and five Egyptian pounds ($0.11-$0.28) per piece.
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