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While giant ship was stuck in Suez Canal, nearby village thrust into limelight

Farming hamlet of Amer — usually a tranquil, unseen place — became a focal point of the world media’s attention

The Panama-flagged MV Ever Given container ship, lodged sideways impeding traffic across Egypt's Suez Canal waterway, on March 29, 2021, before being freed later that day. (Ahmed HASAN / AFP)
The Panama-flagged MV Ever Given container ship, lodged sideways impeding traffic across Egypt's Suez Canal waterway, on March 29, 2021, before being freed later that day. (Ahmed HASAN / AFP)

The sleepy farming village of Amer overlooks the Suez Canal, one of the world’s most important waterways. Last week, the village was suddenly thrust into the limelight after a massive container ship, the Ever Given, got stuck nearby for nearly a week.

The contrast between tranquil village life and the busy artery of global shipping is stark.

Farmers in Amer eke out a living tending to small fields and livestock, while before them pass behemoths of world trade — vessels carrying millions of dollars’ worth of cargo.

But the canal is also a source of intense pride for residents of the area, including the nearby town of Suez. They call it “our canal” and the older ones still remember then-president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s decision in 1956 to nationalize the canal despite fierce pressure from Western powers.

Farmers load a donkey-drawn cart with produce (foreground) as Egyptian army soldiers stand on guard (background) near the grounded Panama-flagged container ship MV ‘Ever Given,’ the 400-meter-long and 59-meter-wide vessel lodged sideways impeding traffic across Egypt’s Suez Canal waterway, on March 29, 2021. The ship was unstuck later that day. (Ahmed HASAN / AFP)

“I was 5 or 6 years old, celebrations were everywhere,” said Abdel-Wahab, 71, who works as a waiter in Suez. “It was like you freed your son who was taken against your will.”

The village, along with other areas along the western bank of the canal, was abandoned during the 1967 Six Day War and its residents were only allowed to return in the 1970s.

It was a windy morning when the Ever Given — one of the world’s largest container ships — got wedged sideways in a single-lane stretch of the canal last Tuesday.

Amer resident Fatima was feeding poultry on the roof of her three-story home when she saw the massive ship sitting motionless in the canal. At first, she did not think it was unusual.

“Sometimes, one vessel stops for a reason or another,” the elderly woman said Sunday,

Dressed in a dark blue jalabiya, or traditional loose-fitting garment, she was sitting at the gate of her house with a neighbor. The women were chatting and drinking tea.

Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship, in the Suez Canal on March 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Mohamed Elshahed)

Like other villagers, they did not want to give their full names for fear of getting in trouble with the authorities who have restricted media access to the area.

On Monday, after causing massive delays in shipping goods that cost the global economy billions of dollars, the ship was freed and traffic along the canal began to resume.

Over the past week, the salvage efforts had been the main topic of conversation in Amer, home to several thousand people who grow clover and cabbage and tend to water buffaloes, cows, goats, and sheep.

“We have not seen anything like that before,” Abdel-Wahab, the waiter, said of the Ever Given’s misfortune.

Journalists have been visiting the village, in part to get a better view of the vessel.

The cargo ship MV Ever Given sits stuck in the Suez Canal near Suez, Egypt. The sleepy farming village of Amer overlooks the Suez Canal, one of the world’s most important waterways, March 28, 2021. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)

“For sure, you’re coming for the ship,” whispered a farmer to a reporter. His donkey cart was sitting in the middle of a narrow road just a few dozen meters (yards) from the vessel, which was still stuck at the time.

“It’s there, standing like the mountain,” said another man when asked how to get closer to the ship.

Villager Mohammed Said, 72, who works in Suez as a garbage collector, said the grounding of the Ever Given is unique in the canal’s history, and that he hoped the vessel could be dislodged quickly.

“It’s a tragedy impacting not only Egypt, but the whole world,” he said.

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