Sevcik's Blog

A year in Cairo Egypt

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Red Sea and Mount Sinai adventure

Wow, what a weekend we had! After spending 16 long hours in Arabic class this week, we were rewarded with an amazing trip to Mount Sinai with our language school, Dar Camboni, and 20 some other students and their families. Going on this trip helped us get through the week of class, and planning for it turned out to be a lot of fun. Like usual, I brought the greatest number of bags full of stuff. (Globalities, you know me!) Mount Sinai gets pretty cold at night since it’s at a higher elevation in the windy desert, so I had one big bag of warm clothes—tights, sweatpants, jacket, hat, gloves, etc. In another bag I had beach gear—swimsuit, towel, sunscreen. In another bag I had foodstuff—fresh breadsticks and fig bread rolls, grapes, apples, crackers, nuts, cheese. And of course there was my backpack with my purse, books, 3 bottles of water, study materials (I never looked at), etc. And how amazing is Carole? She made us fresh mango nut bread and chocolate chip cookie bars—YES! J
We were off! Friday morning we loaded into the Dar Camboni bus and traveled for a few hours to the Red Sea where we spent 6 hours lounging on the beach and eating lunch. Despite finding a lot of trash on the beachfront, the Red Sea is beautiful! And SALTY! Of course with salt it’s easier to float, but it was so salty I couldn’t spend more than a half an hour at a time out there. The moment any of water got into my mouth or nose it would burn the back of my throat and became hard to breathe. Between the salty sea and the desert sun and wind, it sucked all the moisture out of our bodies and we came away very dry and very thirsty. Loading back into the bus we downed bottles of water and attempted to watch the movie “Kingdome Come” as we traveled another 4-5 hours to Mount Sinai. (FLBC staff—as I was floating in the sea I kept thinking of the song Pharaoh Pharaoh! and doing the dead man’s float! How surreal to be swimming in the sea I’ve been learning about since I was a child!)
We arrived at the base of Mount Sinai just before midnight. At this point we had our passports checked for the second time, took our last bathroom break, and prepared ourselves mentally and physically for the climb ahead. Although you can climb Mount Sinai any time of the day, our group has a history of climbing in the middle of the night to avoid the heat of the day and be ready to witness an amazing sunrise in the morning. Needless to say, I was pumped. More than pumped. The peak is at ~7500 feet and I believe our climb was going to be a 2500 ft elevation. Although it has only been just over a month since I’ve hiked a mountain, I’ve certainly been craving it. Beyond that, here we are in the Egyptian Sinai getting ready to climb the mountain Moses and the Isrealites had escaped to, the same mountain Moses received the 10 Commandments and listened to God speak through a burning bush. Wowzer! J
We were off again! Just before 1:00am our group of 40+ people started climbing the mountain with our young Egyptian guide. To be honest, I really didn’t want to climb the mountain with the group. It felt so artificial and touristy to have a mob of people small-talking and carrying flashlights up the mountain. Being in such a spiritual place all I wanted to do was be alone in silence and experience the climb. The moon was half full and it gave the perfect amount of light for us to climb without flashlight, although most people wouldn’t know it. After a few hundred meters Heidi (a volunteer with the Mennonite Central Committee [MCC] whose in my Arabic class), Stephen, and I decided to climb faster and get ahead of the group. Within 20 minutes we were far enough ahead of the clan to avoid the annoying flashlights and talk, and I felt so much peace. Throughout the climb Egyptian men with camels were hiking down the mountain yelling out, “Camel! For you!” It reminded me of a staggered cross country ski race—every 5 minutes or so another Egyptian would begin his “race” and approach our group to encourage the easy way up the mountain on camel. There were little shops along the way as well, all selling bottles of water and pop and candy galore for ridiculous prices. Just before reaching the peak, a group of men rented mattresses and blankets for 20 lbs, and this time we definitely stopped.
Heidi, Stephen, and I reached the peak in about 2 hours and spent an hour enjoying the silence, the stars, and the soft glow of the shops along the paths below us. After searching for quite a while I found the “bathroom”; a hole in the floor surrounded on 3 sides with 2 ½ feet of stone bricks. The hole didn’t actually go into the ground, but emptied down the side of the mountain. Hmmm…
We found a great spot to “sleep” and set up camp. Thanks to our teacher Ashraf we brought a bed sheet with us to serve as a layer between ourselves, the mattress, and the blanket. The blanket felt so dirty and soiled I nearly refused to touch it and whenever I did I would immediately use Purell. At this point Andrea (another MCC volunteer) had reached the top so the four of us huddled together in our layers of clothes to chat and sleep. Even though I had been sweating in the desert heat only hours before, now I was cold with a hat and gloves!
We never did sleep, at least not more than ½ hour. Starting around 4am more and more people were arriving at kept shining flashlights in our faces. Around 5am, just as I was falling asleep, a group of German tourists circled our area and received a loud lecture from their guide, who decided to stand only a few feet from our heads and was smoking. Yuck. By 6am the sun was starting to rise and the mountain was packed. A desert sunrise is incredible. Due to the vast amount of sand in the air, the colors spread and blend beautifully as the sun starts to warm the barren rocky massif and red sandy plains. After many photos, we started our descent. On our way down the mountain we could choose the way we had climbed up, or go down the 3000 steps monks have carved centuries ago. I bypassed the stairs…it was hard enough to walk down without them! At the base of the mountain we toured St. Catherine’s Monastery, built in the sixth century. Inside you find the famous burning bush (?) and the well where Moses met his wife.
The ride home was long…we were all exhausted but it was hard to sleep well on a bus. Luckily I was able to curl into a tight ball in my seat and ended up sleeping for most of the trip. Otherwise Jen and I were listening to stand-up comedy from Stephen’s IPOD and munched on whatever food was leftover. As we were coming back into Cairo I felt that sense of “Ah…yes, we are home!” It struck me to recognize I feel comfortable enough here to have the warm feeling when returning to “home” in Cairo. What a wonderful trip and great memories!

Monday, September 19, 2005

how globalites and a different life!

Yesterday I attended church at St. Andrews. This time when I walked in and saw a bunch of blonde-haired young Americans I stopped dead in my tracks and thought, “Oles!” Indeed, the St. Olaf College’s Global Semester program had arrived! It was such a surreal morning for me. As I was sitting in worship I couldn’t help but feel strange-- it was like I was experiencing life on the outside looking in. Here I am in Egypt, sitting behind a group of students who are going through the same experience I did two years ago. I felt like two worlds were colliding together in another world. I mean, as I sat talking with the Oles after church we bonded by talking about Manitou Hill, professors and students we know, and emotions we had shared. Part of me felt like I was so much a part of them, and yet part of me felt like I was miles away. Not only have I graduated, but I also experienced Global with an entirely different group of people, and I had to remind myself that this group is not the same. Even though we could laugh about the tour guide who always asks us to remember our International Student ID Cards or joke about the man outside the Cosmo Hotel who yells “Yankee Doo-Doo!” every time we walk by, it’s now their experience, not mine. Then I thought about how much has changed in just two years. Two years ago when I was in Cairo I would NEVER have thought I’d be here again, living and working as a missionary for a year. I thought about how much I’ve learned, how much I’ve changed, and how much different my life is now compared to how it was then. It was both exciting and scary, and I don’t really know how else to describe it. Ah…funny God. J

Egypt Educational system and Ramses College for Girls' graduation

On Saturday we attended the Ramses College for Girls 93rd Annual Commencement ceremony. Unlike America, commencement occurs at the end of summer, generally on the same day the new school year begins. In order to receive their Secondary School Certificate, students must pass a major qualifying exam which lasts about three weeks. Depending on a student’s national ranking, certain students may proceed to the university level. At Ramses College for Girls nearly every woman (or maybe all?) received a passing grade and will attend a university. One’s national rank also determines what programs he or she may enroll. Highest priority is placed on advancement to medical physician training, and only the highest ranking students in the nation are eligible. Another percentage group of students is eligible for the next category of training, and so on. A student who is eligible to go to medical school does not need to attend, but a person with lower ranking would not be allowed to study medicine. In addition, secondary schools prepare students for education either the sciences or humanities. Once you start down one track, that’s it.
At Ramses’ graduation, students were presented certificates according to rank and whether they were going on to “literary” studies or “science” studies. As I watched these young, joyful woman I kept thinking, “They are only 18! How in the world do they know what they want to do?! What if they change their mind?” I had to keep reminding myself that I’m not in America, I’m in Egypt. What a blessing it is to have the freedom to choose our careers and then change our mind in America.
It was obvious we were attending graduation with some of the wealthiest Egyptians. The commencement ceremony took place at the Cairo International Conference Centre and the governor of Cairo was the commencement speaker. The ceremony was conducted in Arabic, English, and French. All 160 some students first gathered here at Ramses College (where I live) and we traveled together on buses to the Centre. It was great to watch these young, beautiful, excited woman chatter away, switching back and forth from Arabic to English. (I could actually understand some of the Arabic too…though not much.) When we arrived at the centre, the girl’s families were there dressed in the finest Egyptian clothing and wearing diamonds so big I figured they must get caught on things all the time. Everyone had a digital camera, and even though we had to walk through a security screening and my camera was taken away, most people managed to get their cameras into the centre. For two hours people kept walking up to the front to take pictures with cameras and cell phones alike.
A couple strange things about the ceremony; First of all, despite the fact that our group of Volunteers personally has little to do with these students (other than the fact that our organization—the PC(USA)—started the school and continues to fund it) we were honored guests once again in that our seats were assigned to the first two rows. Thankfully this time we didn’t get much attention, but it felt horribly wrong and silly for us sit in front when hundreds of people rightfully should be there. Secondly, cell phones are a nuisance! I heard at least 30 cell phones go off, loudly I may add, during the ceremony. People would even answer them! Two years ago when I was in Cairo and went to a movie theatre I noticed the same thing—nearly 1/5 of the people were talking at a normal conversational tone on their cells during the movie. I’m starting to think it’s just an acceptable part of society, but it’s incredibly distracting and annoying!
As long as I’m discussing graduation, I should explain a bit about the educational system in Egypt. From what I’ve learned, I don’t like it. In Egypt it’s all about “the big test.” As I explained, there is one exam students take at the end of secondary education that determines the rest of their life—what school they can get into, the program they will study, and what kind of pay they will eventually make. Of course, this really affects the average school day. Kids don’t come to school to learn, they come to socialize. Why? Their ‘real’ studies are at home where they have private lessons and study hard for the exam. At school they only pay attention to lessons if the information will be on the exam. A few teachers we met during EFL training explained that at the beginning of each class period students ask, “Is this going to be on the exam?” If students have any reason to believe it won’t be, they won’t pay attention. The cycle only grows. Teachers earn about 200 pounds/month (very little money) but they can earn a lot more in shorter time by working as a tutor outside of class for the wealthier families who can afford to pay for a tutor. Therefore, teachers sometimes reinforce that school doesn’t matter because they don’t/won’t teach for the exam and thus increase the demand for tutors. Here’s a bigger-picture problem—with this system the rich are going to continue to be rich and the poor continue to be poor. Why? Only the wealthier Egyptians can afford a tutor, therefore they tend to do better on the exam and thus get into better universities. A very cyclical problem and I hope it will change soon.

Friday, September 16, 2005

the past few days

For the past few days we have spent most of our time studying Arabic and going to Arabic class. It’s horrible to say, but I cannot wait for the class to be over! I know in the long run I’m learning a lot from this course, and indeed I really enjoy the fact that I can look at Arabic writing and do a decent job of sounding it out (although that doesn’t mean I know what word(s) I’m speaking) but I’ve never felt so stupid in my life. Every day we are told we don’t study enough and “not good.” I definitely want to learn Arabic, but I’ve realized that an intensive course in the Egyptian-style education just doesn’t work too well for me. I think I’ll be easier to learn Arabic after this month as I’ll have the foundation from class without the pressure to be perfect and instead learn the words I’ll be using, such as “orange juice” and “Can I get a taxi to…”
A couple nights ago we had dinner at Brice’s home. Brice is a seminary student and a PC(USA) missionary. He just came back from Palestine, where he had an engagement ceremony with his Palestinian fiancé and her family. In Palestine the engagement is almost like a wedding—you have a huge party and dress up, eat wedding cake, exchange rings, etc. His finance’s mom sent him home with a duffle bag full of home-made Palestinian food and we had the pleasure of enjoying the hummus, feta cheese and olives, and fig cookies. Yum!
A funny story—Yesterday Jason wanted to iron his shirt and was asking one of our servants for an iron and ironing board. Martha doesn’t speak English, and she assumed Jason didn’t know how to iron (or maybe she just thought it was her job to do it?) so she took his shirt and ironed it for him. She put the shirt on the board, took out a spray bottle of water, and turned on the iron; all fine and dandy. Then, she opened the spray bottle, drank some of the water, and proceeded to spit it out in a spray fashion onto Jason’s shirt for ironing! Well, it worked! J

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Scottish dancing and Stephen's 23rd birthday!

On Monday night, Jennifer, Stephen, Carole and I attended the Scottish dancing session at St. Andrew’s church! About 25 people showed and all of us were foreigners—mostly from Europe (especially Scotland and England) and America. It was a blast! Many people really knew how to dance well and even had special Scottish dancing shoes. A few of us had no clue and spent the two hours hopping around and turning our bare feet completely black. (I’m surprised I didn’t have sore calves the next day.) I especially enjoyed spending time with an older generation; most people were in their 40s, 50s, or 60s. Next week we are going ½ hour early so we can get caught up on the steps and be ready to dance with our partners.
It was Stephen’s 23rd birthday yesterday! After sleeping in until 10, Jennifer and I spent the morning preparing for the celebration. In a chest drawer we found random bits of celebration materials for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and birthdays, including a big door sign stating “The party’s here!” While Jennifer chopped and sliced vegetables for dinner and made a birthday cake hat out of construction paper, I decorated Stephen’s room and traveled the Cairo streets in search of a package of balloons. I soon discovered balloons are not a normal part of an Egyptian celebration. Essam, one of our main guards, decided to join me on the excursion so we wandered up the street and eventually found a store Essam calls “the Cinderella store” (because it’s full of girly things) and found some balloons! But, rather than buying a package, the store owner just grabs a handful and you pay for each balloon individually. Okay, no problem, except for one thing; the balloons were filthy! So when we came home I tried washing and drying them. It didn’t work so well. The material was so flimsy and such poor quality that out of 8 balloons we could only blow up 2 and a half. On the positive side, “The Cinderella Store” also carried birthday cake candles and one big candle saying “Happy Birthday!” in English so we were set with that!
In Egypt it’s custom for one to buy gifts for others on his or her own birthday. Over the past few days our Arabic teachers joked that Stephen needed to bring baksheesh (a tip), food, or some type of presents for the teachers on his birthday. We all laughed it off, but when we arrived at class yesterday one of the teachers was seriously wondering where the cake was. After she spoke about it for the first two hours of class, Jay went to a store nearby during our break and bought some coconut pistachio cake for all the students and teachers. We sang “happy birthday” in English and Arabic and especially enjoyed the fact that this celebration was taking us away from being in class. ;-)
After class we came home to a decorated dining room and plates full of Egyptian-style macaroni and cheese, since Stephen’s favorite meal at home is corned beef and mac-n-cheese. Carole made excellent chocolate cake with chocolate-mint frosting and mango ice cream. After dinner most of the group went outside to Ramses’ front gate where Essam was waiting to celebrate the birthday. He bought everyone a flower! It was such a sweet gesture, but I felt pretty bad since I was the one who told him about Stephen’s birthday. Thing is, Egyptians are very hospitable, but I knew Essam did not have the budget to buy flowers for our group. We will certainly ‘repay’ him in the Egyptian way—buy giving him gifts from time to time as well.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

EFL, Al-Azhar Park, and Aida

The past two days we have been taking English as a Foreign Language (EFL) class. Especially compared to Arabic, I am really enjoying it! Beginning next month I will be teaching English to adults at the Coptic Cathedral located down the street from Ramses College for Girls, which is also where class is being held. Walking into the Coptic Cathedral area you feel like you are in a completely different part of Egypt—and I found out why. The Coptic Cathedral is home of the Coptic pope, in essence we are just down the street from the Egyptian ‘Vatican’ if you will. Wherever the pope lives it must be nice!
Friday night we went to Al-Azhar Park in the Darb al-Ahmar district with Victor Makari, the coordinator of Middle East Interfaith Ecumenical Relations, and all the Presbyterian mission personnel. Al-Azhar is a 500-year old land-fill that has been transformed into an incredible leisure and recreation park. It’s been called the ‘green lung’ for Cairo—as Cairo homes 22 million people and one of the lowest ratios of green space to urban population in world—an area the size of a footprint per inhabitant according to one estimate. Spending time at Al-Azhar was the most beautiful moment I’ve experienced in Egypt. The park has an incredible vantage point, viewing the entire city, including the Citadel. We arrived just before sunset and as we looked over the city the call to prayer began. Mosques all over Cairo started shouting out their prayers and the sound was extraordinarily beautiful. I will definitely make my way back there some day. I encourage you to visit the website and to learn more—make sure to click on “gallery” to see photos of the park!
Last night we went to the opera Aida—the same opera I went to two years ago this month in Cairo with the Global Semester group! It’s crazy—only $5 to go to an opera. It was a great performance, but I have to admit, I spent most of the time with my eyes closed just listening to the music. I’m excited to attend orchestra concerts once they start.
The “new” Egyptian president-Mubarak!
Questions for you: How many Americans does it take to start an Egyptian oven? 4
How many Americans does it take to figure out Sarah’s air conditioner? 3
How many Americans does it take to figure out how to use the microwave? 3

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Christian persecution and marriage

Sept. 10
We still do not know who the next president will be, even though elections were three days ago. That’s a good example of how much slower-paced this society is compared to America. In so many ways I’ve warmed up to it well, yet sometimes the American in me gets frustrated with waiting an extra 45 minutes to an hour for a bus, a guest, etc. Overall it’s been a joy to live with people who are much more laid-back than your average American.

I’ve been trying to get a sense of Christian persecution in Egypt, especially since it has been fascinating to be in a culture where my religious beliefs are the minority. After speaking to many Egyptians (mostly Christians) and a few knowledgeable foreigners who have lived in Cairo for at least a decade or so, I’ve discovered that persecution is not a real threat right now. However, that’s not to say it doesn’t happen in some ways. For instance, it is ‘illegal’ to convert from Islam to Christianity. Interestingly, your religion is whatever you are born into, and it is even written on your birth certificate! If your parents are Muslim, you are Muslim; if Christian, you are Christian. Around the age of three, Christian children are marked (tattooed) with an Orthodox Coptic cross on the inside of their forearm just below the wrist. So, when I am walking the streets or standing on the metro I know who the Christians are by their marking. This of course does not mean each person is a practicing Christian or a practicing Muslim, but I have heard quite a few times that if you are a Muslim who openly ‘converts’ to Christianity you might find yourself put in jail for some ridiculous reason when really you are being punished for converting. Basically, conversion just does not happen in Egypt.
Also, it is very difficult for a Christian community to get a building license; there can be many set-backs and a long waiting period. Despite this, the Christian community in Cairo is very active and certainly does not let any set-backs stop them. It has been great to hear about the Christian’s passion and motivation to lead by example and bring about positive change. President Mubarak’s wife, for instance, enjoys working closely with Christian woman because they are strong, powerful, and get things done. Christians have been the first to start non-profit programs in Egypt and continue to develop more programs to help the hungry, sick, and needy. The refugee program at St. Andrews is one example.

Studying for Arabic is always a hoot. A number of us are struggling and we just laugh at ourselves as we attempt to speak, write, and understand Arabic. We have perfecting our mnemonic device skills. For instance, “Walid must have a bate before he can have a bint!” What does this mean? Well, “Walid” is an Egyptian name and also the word for ‘boy,’ the word for ‘house’ sounds like ‘bate’ in English, and the word for ‘girl’ sounds like ‘bint’ in English. Therefore, this is also a cultural lesson. In Egypt, in order to get married, a man must first have enough money to buy/rent a house/apartment and furnish it. Unfortunately, so many Egyptians are poor and there are many adult men living with their parents (because everyone lives with their parents until they marry), desperately wanting to marry, but cannot ‘afford’ a wife. It's important to realize the groom is not 'buying a wife' nor is the woman's family 'selling' their daughter. Giving a dowry is really a statement of good faith and intention; not a transfer of ownership but a transfer of responsibility. Actually, a dowry establishes a girl's independence in some regards because it means she has her own wealth.
Speaking of marriage, I have now seen two wedding caravans driving the streets of Cairo, just like America! After the wedding, a car is covered with flowers and guests follow the bride and groom, honking their horns nonstop. This is quite funny in Cairo, actually, because cars are honking all the time anyway, so the wedding progression REALLY has to honk long and hard. It almost sounds like a riot of angry cars is breaking out!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Care with Love, Fayoum, "farm smell" and prayer request

On Sunday we were invited to participate in the graduation of Care with Love students. Care with Love trains people to become home health care providers (HHCP). This is a relatively new concept in Egypt, as it has only been in the past few years Egypt has experienced the socioeconomic changes that have affected the structure of urban families (leading to family members not readily available nor having the skills to provide care at home). The demand for these services has been overwhelming, and the program is expanding. Jay Reinking, a fellow missionary, will be working with this program here in Cairo as well as the new site in Alexandria. As I learn more about it I will inform you.

Today we traveled to Fayoum, an oasis city in the desert of Egypt, southwest of Cairo. Again, we were honored guests at a very important function laying the cornerstone for a new secondary school (adding to the primary school) sponsored by the church. We were warmly welcomed and soon became the spotlight in the crowd with news cameras following us everywhere. We were the only people asked to stand during the entire ceremony! It took us off-guard, as we were patiently listening to incomprehensible Arabic for 25 or so minutes when suddenly the speaker switches to English and we stand up. I can say without a doubt I would never wish to be famous! Also, as we toured the primary school I noticed that EVERY classroom had a picture of President Mubarak up front and center. Hmmm…it comes to no surprise that there is no separation between church and state here!

On our ride back to Cairo I got a whiff of what I would term “The Farm Smell”—you know it, the cow poop smell you experience driving through Iowa or Nebraska. J I have to admit, when I smelt it I became quite excited—it was home! I can’t explain Cairo’s smell well, but just know it’s a strong mixture of exhaust, trash, more pollution, and sometimes feces (of the human kind). I’d prefer cow smell any day!

Please pray for our group regarding Arabic lessons. I literally cried today after hour 3 of class—it’s very stressful, intense, and demanding. Our teachers are wonderful people and teach well in the Egyptian standard of teaching (very different than America), but the material is so foreign to us (duh) and I for one am not picking it up well at all. Please pray for patience and my ability to learn and retain!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

getting lost and sufi dancers~!

I went on a 1 1/2 hour walk today around my area attempting to make it to Islamic Cairo. Long story short, I didn't make it. Not because it's too far away, but because I got lost. Luckily I've been lost a few times in my life and I know that at the very least I would end up just finding an English-speaking taxi driver and making my way back home. I realized today I can fit pretty well into Egyptian culture. I heard a few "welcome to Egypt" comments, but for the most part I was totally ignored, not even men (or women) giving a second look at me. Believe me, this is a relief! We live in a very non-touristy area so normally this would cause people to gawk at us even more, but not today! The strategy is to walk with confidence and purpose, avoid eye contact, and look like you know where you are going. An added bonus for me is I can easily pass as an Egyptian woman. Unfortunately, the other women (and men) volunteers get a LOT of looks and comments and sometimes touches. Right now it's their biggest struggle. Since I was getting by just fine, I was determined not to pull out my map, even when I really didn't know where I was, because I knew it would be a dead give-away that I was very foreign and had no clue what I was doing. So, after a lot of backtracking I managed to make it to Ramses Street, about 1/2 mile away from where I started. Not bad!

Also, last night we saw the Sufi Dancers/Whirling Dirvishes. The Whirling Dervishes trace their origin to the 13th century Ottoman Empire. The Dervishes, also known as the Mevlevi Order, are Sufis, a spiritual offshoot of Islam. The performer (whether he is a true Sufi or an entertainer) "turns" or whirls endlessly while manipulating his colorful skirts. We timed one man who spun in circles for 31 minutes! The dance has been performed for over 700 years. One website explained, "A story is told of a tradesman in a small village in the East who sat on his knees in his little shop, and with his left hand he pulled a strand of wool from the bale which was above his head. He twirled the wool into a thicker strand and passed it to his right hand as it came before his body. The right hand wound the wool around a large spindle. This was a continuous motion on the part of the old man who, each time his right hand spindled the wool, inaudibly said "la illaha illa'llah" (there is no God but God). There could be no uneven movement or the wool would break and he would have to tie a knot and begin again. The old man had to be present to every movement or he would break the wool. This is awareness. This is life. Sufi means awareness in life, awareness on a higher plan than on which we normally life."

Saturday, September 03, 2005

St. Andrews and running in cairo

Yesterday we went to church at St. Andrew's United Church of Cairo. Friday service tends to be larger than Sunday, and we wanted to meet some of the congregation, including the new pastor, Clifford Lewis. St. Andrew's is an international, interdenominational, English-speaking congregation following liturgical traditions. It also hosts an educational and advocacy ministry for African refugees in Egypt. Most of the refugees fled their homes in the Sudan due to war or famine and came to Egypt to seek safety. It is at this school I will be the Children's Director of Ministries, and I am very excited to learn more and serve in whatever way is needed!

I almost can't believe it; this morning I went for a run (yes, run!) on the streets of Cairo with Jay and Stephen. We left by 6:30am in order to avoid all the people this fine Saturday morning. We avoided the side streets and stayed on the sidewalk next to the major street/highway. The exhaust and pollution (and maybe even the humidity) was awful and my lungs were burning but I was able to run for 1/2 hour without spraining an ankle or running into anyone. We were stared at, no doubt, and of course I was wearing pants and a full t-shirt, but goodness it felt great! YES! Carole said when school starts it'll be a bit more of a problem, since some of the 6,000 students will be arriving by 6:20am. YIKES!

Friday, September 02, 2005

Cultural Tidbits

Interesting Aspects of Egyptian Life

  1. Men wear a right on the right hand if they are engaged and on the left if they are married. Silver means he is Muslim, gold means he is Christian.
  2. Dirt: What is commonly thought of as dirt in Egypt is actually very fine powdered sand and it is EVERYWHERE and seeps through EVERYTHING, even minutes after you wash something. I recall two years ago when I visited Cairo seeing something green catch the corner of my eye. What was it? A budding leaf on one of the few trees in my neigbhorhood. The rest of the tree, and every other thing in sight, was so covered in dirt/sand that you don’t even realize anymore how dirty it is because everything just looks dull together!
  3. If we start to feel sick, the advice is to drink tap water! Why? Cairo water is so chemically treated that the chorine in it will kill the bad bacteria. So, when in doubt, drink away!
  4. It’s very important to carry toilet paper with you, as most public bathrooms do not have TP, or if they do you usually are paying a bak-sheesh (tip) to someone for standing at the door and providing you with three or four little squares of tissue. Another important item: hand sanitizer! Public restrooms lack soap almost more than the TP!

traffic and arabic lessons

Today we went to the supermarket to buy groceries and since our first choice market was suddenly closed (when people want to go on vacation they just do—no warning—and suddenly a market is closed!) we went to a western supermarket in another area of Cairo. I've never spent so much time comparing prices or trying to decipher "is this tuna or is this chicken?" One lesson I’ve quickly learned—NEVER put an arm or anything out of a vehicle window. The street into Cairo is basically a six-lane highway in what America would consider a two-lane highway. And when I say “lane,” well, you can scratch that. The cars swerve all around each other haphazardly and they are extremely aggressive. The rule is, if there is room for your car, take it. If not, you can bluff someone else and go for it. The street is also being shared with motorcycles, bicycles, donkeys, and donkey carts, not to mention the 22 million pedestrians who zig-zag across the roads! I discovered more about the honking. As a rule of thumb, one honk means “I am here and coming” or to signal a ‘thanks’ after passing another vehicle, two honks mean “I am passing you,” and three honks mean “I am coming on fast—watch out!”

This evening was our first four-hour Arabic lesson. I was completely overwhelmed and exhausted by the end, but we still have 84! more hours of training ahead of us and we’ve been warned to not get behind. Needless to say I’m a bit concerned. During class, as I heard a word go in one ear and out the other, I would occasionally remind myself that already I know more Arabic than 90% of Americans and gosh darn that’s a start! By tomorrow we are supposed to know the entire alphabet, the pronunciation, and the use of short vs. long vowels. We also ‘learned’ how to say good morning/afternoon/evening, my name is _______, I am from America, and you?, yes, no, hello, goodbye, welcome, see you tomorrow, etc. That would be a whopper of a day learning a language with the same alphabet, and now we are looking at strange (yet gorgeous) symbols we don’t know how to reproduce yet! There are three classrooms and three teachers; the teachers rotate every hour so we work with each of them. One yelled at me for taking notes, another put me on the spot for nearly 7 minutes because I couldn’t roll my “r,” and a third kept correcting my pronunciation. It was a humbling experience to say the least. Please pray for our patience and perseverance in this next month so we may learn to really communicate.
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