Conflict & Justice

In desert town, it's any ball, any pocket


Young entrepreneur Bishoy Rouchdy in Farajallah, Egypt, October 2011.


Matt Negrin

FARAJALLAH, Egypt — I never thought that in Upper Egypt, we’d find a pool table. Outside.
But whaddya know, standing in the middle of Nazlet Ebeid and in neighboring Farajallah, are makeshift desert billiard clubs. Kids crowd around the pockets (some of which have fallen off) and shoot around the tables (some of which need cinder blocks to balance the broken legs), not really following any sort of rules other than to sink the balls until the table is empty.
That’s where the young and entrepreneurial Bishoy Rouchdy is in his element. Rouchdy, with slicked hair and an attitude to match, says he finagled his way into acquiring one of the pool tables in nearby Meniya, and brought it back to Farajallah. If anyone wants to play, he charges them one Egyptian pound.
Rouchdy claims that on a good day, he can make 40 to 50 pounds — about $8, which, in this poor neighborhood three hours south of Cairo, is a small fortune.
Sometimes Rouchdy runs the table for one on one play, sometimes two on two (to double his money, presumably). The kids in Farajallah say they play pool every day for at least an hour.
If he’s sharp, Rouchdy is also coy — although most Egyptian children love to have their pictures taken by Americans, when he realized that I was taking notes while talking to him, he shunned the camera and thrust his friends forward.
Or, rather, his clients.