Tunisian Coppersmiths Bring Fresh Shine to Ramadan

A customer arrives to collect freshly-polished cookware from a coppersmith's workshop in the medina (old city) of Tunis on March 18, 2023, ahead of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. (AFP)
A customer arrives to collect freshly-polished cookware from a coppersmith's workshop in the medina (old city) of Tunis on March 18, 2023, ahead of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. (AFP)
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Tunisian Coppersmiths Bring Fresh Shine to Ramadan

A customer arrives to collect freshly-polished cookware from a coppersmith's workshop in the medina (old city) of Tunis on March 18, 2023, ahead of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. (AFP)
A customer arrives to collect freshly-polished cookware from a coppersmith's workshop in the medina (old city) of Tunis on March 18, 2023, ahead of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. (AFP)

The eve of Ramadan is a frantic time for Tunisian coppersmith Chedli Maghraoui, who skillfully puts a new shine on families' favorite kitchenware before the Muslim holy month starts.

From couscous pots to beloved tea sets, the metalware gets a professional polish from the 69-year-old craftsman who labors away solo at his workshop in the old city of Tunis.

So great is the pre-Ramadan rush that he has to politely tell customers he is just unable to work any faster: "I can't do it -- I still have other orders and, as you can see, I'm working alone."

Maghraoui scrubs items and uses a method known as hot-dip tinning where he coats the copper with a thin layer of tin to stop metal oxidation -- a process that makes pots gleam like new.

As he reconditions one well-loved pewter piece, he fans an oven fire that heats a pot with the object inside, before brushing it and plunging it into a large bucket of water.

Maghraoui says he is proud to be among the few still practicing the time-honored craft in the ancient North African city: "It's a tradition that has existed for centuries and it's still alive."

Tunisian women often receive copper or white copper gifts when they get married, or inherit the items from their mothers. Many bring their beloved heirlooms to Maghraoui to protect them a little longer.

"I get a special feeling when I use my shiny pot during Ramadan", said Sana Boukhris, 49, an accountant. "The tradition reminds me of good times as a child, when my mother would prepare for the holy month.

"There is blessing in these things I inherited from my mother."

Cracked skin

Dalila Boubaker, a housewife, said she could only afford to get two pots polished up for Ramadan this year as households across Tunisia struggle with inflation and high unemployment.

"Everything has become so expensive," sighed Boubaker, with the cost for a polish job now ranging from 20 to 200 dinars ($6-$65) per item, depending on the item's size and shape.

Abdejlil Ayari, who has worked as a coppersmith in the medina for 48 of his 60 years, said the run-up to Ramadan was intense every year.

"People prepare to have their kitchenware treated before Ramadan so it looks impeccable for the whole month, so the kitchen looks good and women enjoy their pots," he said.

Trade is also brisk for beautiful old pieces in the Souk En-Nahhas (copper market) where around 50 shops sell reconditioned coffee makers, teapots, incense burners and small cups.

Demand is so high that "we're not taking orders anymore," said Mabrouk Romdhane, who at the age of 82 owns three such stores in the market in the heart of the medina.

Ayari said he learnt the trade from his father and started before he was even a teenager, but he now worries that few young people want to follow in his footsteps.

Maghraoui, who bought his workshop 20 years ago from someone who had inherited it but didn't want it, agreed.

"Each death among my colleagues is a loss for this profession and a step towards its disappearance," he said.

Maghraoui held out the palms of his hands, the skin cracked and blackened from his trade, and said: "This generation wants an easy job and doesn't like having this."



India’s Monsoon Rains a Fifth Below Normal So Far

Indian commuters use umbrellas during a hot afternoon in Kolkata, India, 14 June 2024. (EPA)
Indian commuters use umbrellas during a hot afternoon in Kolkata, India, 14 June 2024. (EPA)
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India’s Monsoon Rains a Fifth Below Normal So Far

Indian commuters use umbrellas during a hot afternoon in Kolkata, India, 14 June 2024. (EPA)
Indian commuters use umbrellas during a hot afternoon in Kolkata, India, 14 June 2024. (EPA)

India's monsoon has delivered a fifth less rain than normal so far this season, the weather department said on Monday, in a worrying sign for the vital agricultural sector.

Summer rains, critical to economic growth in Asia's third-largest economy, usually begin in the south around June 1 before spreading nationwide by July 8, allowing farmers to plant crops such as rice, cotton, soybeans, and sugarcane.

India has received 20% less rainfall than normal since June 1, according to data compiled by the state-run India Meteorological Department (IMD), with almost all regions except for a few southern states seeing shortfalls and some northwestern states experiencing heat waves.

The rain shortfall in soybean, cotton, sugarcane, and pulses-growing central India has risen to 29%, while the paddy-growing southern region received 17% more rainfall than normal due to the early onset of the monsoon, according to the data.

The northeast has received 20% less rainfall than normal so far, and the northwest some 68% less.

The lifeblood of the nearly $3.5-trillion economy, the monsoon brings nearly 70% of the rain India needs to water farms and refill reservoirs and aquifers.

In the absence of irrigation, nearly half the farmland in the world's second-biggest producer of rice, wheat and sugar depends on the annual rains that usually run until September.

"The monsoon's progress is stalled. It has weakened. But when it revives and becomes active, it can erase the rain deficit in a short burst," an IMD official told Reuters.

The official sought anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Heat wave conditions are likely to prevail in northern states for a few more days, but temperatures could start coming down from the weekend, the official added.

The maximum temperature in India's northern states is ranging between 42 and 47.6 degrees Celsius (107.6 to 117.7 degrees Fahrenheit), about 4-9 C above normal, the IMD data showed.