The living room you never had can be found at Bikya

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011
Bikya 2
A narrow sunbeam peers through the balcony’s glass window at the end of the room, which has been fermented with the smell of old books, brewed coffee, and fresh bakery. The sounds of murmurs and laughter, soft live music in the background, and comfortable couches and chairs create a unique ambience for the place. Pepsi in beer mugs and drawings all over the walls contribute to this cozy living room, making it a place many people dream about.

Bikya, a book café, is a place for bookworms, coffee addicts, even a getaway that allows one to escape from everyday stress. It is the first book café or a bookshop that overlooks part of Nasr City.

Many youth scatter around small kiosks in Nasr City, simply because there is nowhere else to go. Bikya was scheduled to open earlier than it did but the Egyptian uprising held the café back from opening on time. Therefore, Bikya opened a week after the revolution had begun. During the revolution many venues had closed, whereas Bikya seized the advantage and decided to create a meeting point for youths to discuss the issues of the Egyptian uprising.

Regular customer Shady Ahmed, a successful musician, often refers to it as “our home away from home.”

Other customers like Seif Salama, an AUC student, call it “the living room you always dream of having but you never have.” In Bikya, anyone can take a quick nap, leave his or her own mug to fill it with daily drinks, and park their bicycles freely. Anyone who needs a place to call home could refer to Bikya as his or her own place.

The owners are particularly enthusiastic about helping the youth who are beginning their life in every aspect. Rana Faramawy, one of the owners, explained that she and the other owners provide support for anyone who needs it.


Bikya has a large array of books on display for those looking to while their afternoons away

“We advertise their work without charging them,” Faramawy added. “Every night young musicians use the balcony to rehearse (without charge), what could be better than live music for free.” They also have lectures to raise political, cultural, and social awareness concerning various issues. In addition, they provide their customers with movie nights, book fairs, musical events, display young artists’ art work, and have a bulletin board for anyone to post their advertisements.

Bikya makes attempts to become a socially responsible business. “We get our bakery from the Hope Village, an underprivileged women’s organization, and all the extra food goes to charity every day,” Faramawy said.

The authenticity of the journey of finding a suitable secondhand book is a journey that the owners always cherished and are now facilitating to others. The five female owners are fresh graduate students used to be bookworms in high school, and used to visit Sour El Azbakia weekly in order to buy secondhand books.

“There was always something fun about finding ‘the book’ amongst thousands of others,” Faramawy said. “It is always more pleasurable than grabbing a book from a normal bookshop. You are always surprised with what you find, and I find it fascinating and charming when you open an old book, smell the old paper, and find an old bookmark, note, letter, dedication or a photo and why not get a book for half its price,” explained Faramawy. After the revolution began, people’s attitude

changed, they became very supportive, and the possibilities of what a book café can do had improved. “Following the revolution, we became more culturally and politically aware and we want to contribute to our society, whereas before we wouldn’t have been politically engaged whatsoever,” Faramawy said. In fact, due to the decrease of censorship after the revolution, Rana recalls that in one of the lectures, a man screamed ‘Hosni Mubarak is a thief’ and she automatically felt, “oh my God, state security is going to close my place. Then I thought we are in the new Egypt,” she explained.

The owners did everything on their own, from choosing the name and finding the location, to destroying and rebuilding, and designing the small area they obtained. “Its like our baby and now we are nurturing it,” Faramawy said.

The authentic name came upon hearing a man calling “BIKYA, BIKYA” (this is a call made by a man with a wooden cart asking for old things.) “So we thought why not, we wanted something Arabic to represent Egypt, and it is the same idea we are selling old books and this man is searching for old stuff,” Faramawy said with a laugh.

The small café’s vision is to create more branches in the quiet areas around Cairo that do not have living rooms like Nasr City.

This will encourage more people to visit this book café and become one of the biggest second hand books outlets; more importantly, “be a new platform for any new idea,” Faramawy said.