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Eng. Roshdi Atteya: I Still Live with High Dam Experience

Sun 12 Jan 2020 | 03:18 PM
Gehan Aboella

For nations, there are some unforgettable memories, especially whenever linked to fateful incidents.. An example of that is the construction of the High Dam. A memory is substantially linked to the Egyptian then late leader Gamal Abdel Nasser whose birthday is being celebrated today.

It remain as a dear memory when Egyptians' will subjugated the river route and convert it to meet their dream

Eng. Roshdi Atteya

(Eng: Roshdi Atteya ..One of the builders of the High Dam)

The flood of the Nile was always spreading fear for the destruction and drowning of houses and plants, but the High Dam changed course and spread good instead.

The Dam not only protected Egypt from the danger of flooding, but also from drought, which Egypt often suffered from. The first time was when the Nile water decreased in 1972 and Egypt had to withdraw from the reservoir of Lake Nasser or the High Dam reservoir. Also in the 1980's, when the drought happened at the tropical lakes, and Egypt had to withdraw again from the reservoir until the 1989 flood.

Nasser's dream  

The High Dam was the national project of Egypt and a matter of life or death to President Nasser. In order to achieve this dream, he faced a lot of challenges on many fronts; political, economic and military, from Europe and US, but he did not retreat or surrendered to different forces that wanted to kill the dream.

He was assisted by the Soviets in the Dam’s construction, which began in 1960 and ended in 1964; the dam was actually operational in 1970. It was officially opened in 1971, one year after President Nasser passed away.

Eng. Roshdi Atteya with Abdel Hakeem Abd El Nasser

Later on, the date of January 15 was to be celebrated each year as an anniversary of the laying the foundation stone for the project which revived Egypt and which, at the same time, marked the birth of the leader himself.

Eng. Roshdi Atteya spent 6 years supervising the Dam

The leader’s centenary and 59 years on the high dam.. Are celebrated today.The dam has greatly helped control the flow of water and reduce the effects of the Nile flood. It is used to generate electricity as well. The length of the dam is 3600 meters, the width of the base is 980 meters, the peak is 40 meters, the height is 111 meters, the dam is 43 million cubic meters, of cement, steel and other materials.

“SEE” met with Atteya and had this to say.

In this day, when the iconic project is remembered, we are reminded of the people who carried it out, contributed to this dream, around 34,000 engineers and workers, some died and others are still alive along with this alive dream, carrying special memories to share with the current generation.

I met with one of them.. Engineer Roshdi Atteya..

He shared with us memories dated back to 59 years, since he graduated from Faculty of Engineering, Ain Shams University at the age of 22. He spent 6 years in continuous work at the project construction.

Working group calculates the time to finish the dam

And here is the full interview:

Was joining the work in the High Dam the dream of graduates at that time?This was actually the dream of any young graduate, or, particularity, an engineer to work in this national project because it was for our generation a big dream. I joined it while I was only 22 years old and had no experience whatsoever in any field other then my study. It was a turning point in my life.. and I gained experiences that I could not have in any other field .. I am enough to say at this age that I lived my whole life with the ‘experience of the High Dam’.

What do you mean by “the experience of the High Dam’?The truth is that my generation, whether one worked at the Dam project or not, studied and lived the dream. For myself, when I joined the project, I felt as if I entered the ‘school of life’.. Studies, and learned and graduated as a new person.. That is, having initiatives, thinking innovatively, do not react but always act. Though being young then, I was always thinking outside the box. I was innovating in my job. I was not just performing tasks. I was always encouraged by my mentors. The atmosphere was too relaxing and comfortable, full of love and faithfulness. I believed in the ‘teamwork’ concept which was a real motive for us.

Eng. Roshdi Atteya.. Work day and night

What was your role in the Dam construction?I was working in the injection of the main curtain inside the body of the dam. This means that the body of the dam was cumulus body and there was fear of leakage of water under it. So it was necessary to make opening below the body of the dam and then injected with chemicals and then build a curtain of iron mixed with other material.We were working through tunnels inside the body of the dam itself and inside each tunnel there were huge machines work making those holes, where open pipes were installed to pump the chemical substance which eventually isolate the traffic from entering the body of the dam. We were measuring the water leakage and the isolation was succeeding with 96%.What I find so interesting and pleasing is that whenever I visit the place and ask about the isolation percentage, I’m told that it stayed the same, at 96%, something featured the strength of achievement which was not affected by time or external factors.

(We were racing against time )

Did you feel the time when you were working at the dam?We never felt or even calculated time there. We were working almost 24 hours a day. Actually, we were competing time because the persion of the Nile route had to be implemented at a certain date before the flooding. The Nile, which was pouring in a certain direction for thousands of years, could be controlled by the Egyptians’ will and turned into a source of happiness and stability for them. The Dam rescued them from drowning and drought but also produced electricity.

There was a sign which defined the duration of the project’s implementing, time of completion, and left days.. We understood then why a timetable is important for any project, because there were some that get lost and forgotten after years without achievement. This is much appreciated in the policy of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi who is keen to set timetable for every project.

What was the scope of contribution of the Russian experts who participated in the project?No doubt that we benefited from the Russian expert.. They are good people who love working in silence.. We could quickly gain many experiences from them, from which we have been able to implement Wadi Al Rayyan project in Fayoum, by pulling water from Lake Qaroun to Wadi Al Rayyan Lake, which was threatening the farm lands full of salinity, and we pushed the land down, thanks to the experience of the high dam.

Was there any link between the war fronts at the High Dam and the 6 October?The expertise we got in this work can never be measured. The idea of building tunnels, and sand dredging and transferring them through pipes.. Is the same idea developed by late Engineer Baky Youssef Zaki and implemented at the war, when Egyptian soldiers destroyed Barlev line by water and led to the victory of Egypt.

(High Dam Memorial)

How did you spend time at Aswan far from your family?We were like a family.. We did not feel strange, especially as most of us were young, haven’t married yet. We were living in small apartments and we did not have offices.. Nothing in our lives but work.. Everyday our happiness was increasing as we approach the completion of the dream. The result of our efforts was always direct in front of us. The national songs of the project, such as “hekayet shaab” (story of a people) by late singer Abdel Halim was enough to fuel our enthusiasm.

The flood was drowning all Egypt

Tell me one memory that you remember about the work?At one time I felt stress and exhaustion from continuous work .. I complained to my direct head and asked to be transferred to another site. He agreed and assigned me to a store far away.. On the next morning I returned to him and asked for my return to my site because I did not bear void.

Where did you go after the High Dam?I traveled to Kuwait for 17 years.. I worked there and the experience of the High Dam was my ‘mentor’. I frequently told the story to my colleagues in Kuwait until they loved the project just like me.. They were often asking me to tell it during our talks.

(We were 34,000 workers and engineer on site)

Did you meet with President Gamal Abdel Nasser at that time?It was a dream for many to meet him.. He was frequently visiting us at the project location to motivate us.. That was an era full of emotions and patriotism and love to the inspirational leader.When I approached him, and shaked hands I felt as if my body was electrified. He is a person when you meet, you instantly feel motivated and enthusiastic to do anything.



Is there any kind of association gathering you as builders of the high dam?Yes, we have the Association of Builders of the High Dam, to retain the memories of the project. We meet twice a year to commemorate the laying of the foundation stone for the construction of the dam on 15 January and 14 May anniversary of Nile persion.. 250 alive engineers and workers are members of the association. It also has a branch in Aswan which celebrate those anniversaries, but with much more activities.

(We were on the front of the dam like the October war front)

What do you feel when you visit the High Dam after all these years and what do you say to your children and grandchildren?Although life has taken us in many experiences, but the experience of the High Dam is a source and story of pride that I always tell my children and my grandchildren.The same is done by heroes of the October war so that the story live inside them.

(We benefited greatly from the experience of Russian engineers)Contributed by , Yasmine ElSayedRelated:https://www.britannica.com/topic/Aswan-High-Damvideo:https://youtu.be/GdBem_zzQwY