What Comes Around

A testament to the power of community organisation

What Comes Around ‘One big family’ is how Um Ghareeb describes her ‘al Gami’ya’ community in one of Cairo’s poorest districts. Driven by the women who rule the roost, all members regularly contribute a small amount of money into a pot. At weekly meetings, a collective decision is made as to how to share it. Reem Saleh spent six years following this colourful community, revealing their daily struggle for survival and touching solidarity in an inhospitable world.

“Rod el Farag is a nice place with many qualities. It feels like everyone here stands together, hand in hand. It’s like one big family… But it can be awful to strangers.” Umm Ghareeb is a cornerstone figure within the impoverished region of Rod el Farag, one of Cairo’s poorest districts. Day after day she toils endlessly to provide for her husband and children, but she can always find the space for a kind word, greeting or blessing for every person she passes by in the rambling streets that frame her hectic community. “You have to forget your pain, every woman does.”

“We are wretched here, we are living below the poverty line.” In spite of Umm’s bleak words, an astonishing community spirit reigns in Rod el Farag. Its inhabitants find peace and happiness in those around them, and in the little food and resources they have to survive. Though Nagwa divorces her husband and is left to fend for their baby boy alone, she finds all the strength she needs in her son: “He fills me with so much light and beauty”.

In contrast to the capitalist mentality that governs the Western world, the humility and wisdom of Umm and her inspiring people have many lessons to teach the rest of the world: “Poverty isn’t a lack of money, but a lack of soul. As long as I eat and drink, and my loved ones and my family are fine, I’m fine too.”

Rather than each individual or family fighting to survive independently, Rod el Farag is marked by the unions its people have created in order to support one another. “Every Friday, I pay thirty pounds, and I get 500 pounds in return”, explains Umm. “In the slums when you are in need people form a union to help. When I get my union share, 400 or 500 pounds, I buy groceries. And I am so happy to have all that money.”

Young Dunia, a fiery girl who can frequently be found leading a swarm of shouting children through the streets, uses her share of the union’s money to undergo the life-threatening operation of female genital mutilation. In this life where she has next to nothing, the right to make decisions about her own body is the ultimate step towards freedom, purposely disobeying her father’s wishes. Her actions cause him to walk out on her and her mother for good.

As relationships come and go, couples divorce and re-marry and new children are born, Umm and her fellow citizens plod on. Through all the hardship, occasional weddings light up the district, as streets are decked out with spangled silver drapes and bejewelled fringing that glimmers from trestles, while laughter and dancing fills the streets.

But the daily grind must go on. When Umm’s husband Adel suddenly falls ill, he divorces her and casts her out of the house with their children, obliterating 28 years of marriage in a moment. Nagwa makes up with her husband three times, having two more children, before Islamic Law prevents the thrice-divorced couple from reuniting again. Dunia abandons school, deciding instead to help her mother run the shop that provides their small income, forever waiting for her father to return. In spite of everything, What Comes Around presents a unique community who somehow find light in the darkest of corners.

Reviews and More

Saleh presents a raw account of daily hardship in one of the most overpopulated capital in the world.” – Cinevue

A smart, unconventional film... and the cinematography is quietly stunning.” – Awards Watch

LaurelBerlinale - Official Selection
LaurelVancouver IFF - Official Selection
LaurelThessaloniki Documentary Festival - Official Selection

The Producers

Reem Saleh - Director

Born in 1979, Reem graduated from the Lebanese American University in Beirut with a BA in radio, TV, film and psychology. She began her career as a theatre and film actor, went on to direct a short film and a play and has worked on a number of TV documentaries. In 2006 she moved to Qatar to work as a producer and voice artist for the Al Jazeera Children’s Channel. She has since long been immersed in the media industry in the Middle East. She worked with Murr Television (MTV), Rotana Tarab, Rotana Khlaeejia, and the Doha film institute.

Making The Film

The story behind What Comes Around

Reem comes from a mixed background with a Lebanese father and Egyptian mother. She was not particularly close to her Egyptian roots, that is until her mother passed away in 2009 and she went back for the burial. At that point Reem wanted to reconnect with her Egyptian heritage and get to know the neighbourhood that her mother had grown up in. It is then that she discovered ‘The Committee’, an internal banking system in poor neighbourhoods, where members are chosen and each pay a monthly amount over a period of 10 months into a pool. Each month one of the participants collects the whole amount for a particular needs like weddings, medications and education.

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