Sevcik's Blog

A year in Cairo Egypt

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Dinca Tribe and experiencing Iftar at Egyptian home

A great cultural day today! First, I went to a worship service at St. Andrews led by the Dinca tribe of Sudan. I didn’t understand a word of the Dinca language, but I gathered the service is quite similar to a traditional evangelical service—with song, prayer, gospel lesson, message, etc. Lynn (Dick’s wife) gave the sermon and it was translated into Dinca. Apparently it was a really small congregation today, mostly due to the fact that many of the refugees are currently demonstrating in front of the UNHCR as they have been for the past 11 days. There are so many refugees camping out that the UNHCR officially closed its doors for now (to protect the refugees??) and who knows when it’s going to open. We at St. Andrew’s do not support this demonstration—unfortunately it’s not going to get the refugees anywhere but in jail. We’re not in America here. I saw the protesting, actually, last week when I went to the UNHCR office. Hundreds of refugees smashed on a fenced patch of grass with homemade painted cloth signs on every inch of fence around the area. Most of the ‘posters’ are in Arabic, but the few in English stated something along the lines of “No to repatriation, no to staying in Egypt, yes to resettlement!” Tensions are rising for the refugee population and it’s not looking good.
This evening Jay, Jason, Teri, and I experienced a real Iftar with Dick and Lynn’s taxi driver’s (Saabri) family. We traveled to a community in Cairo completely void of foreigners (just like where I’m living) and ducked into a side alley full of Ramadan decorations and fireworks to steps leading to 4 floors of flats owned by the same extended family. This is very common—families owning flats together and many generations and extended family members under one roof. The floor was stayed on was occupied by Saabri, his wife and baby son Omer, and Saabri’s mother and father. The floor above us was Saabri’s uncle and their family, and above that, well, I’m not sure, but it was family. The bathroom was on the fourth floor and shared by the entire family. (That would be a bummer for me, as I use one in the middle of the night!) No toilet paper, no flushing system. You have to pour water into the toilet to wash the urine/feces down. Also, the bathroom floor was sopping wet due to everyone cleaning off their hands, feet, and face before praying to Allah.
When we first walked into Saabri’s house and took off our shoes we immediately noticed the lack of material things in the flat, other than a few dressers, beds, kitchenware, a TV and a few paintings on the wall. The flat was very small—a small living room, two bedrooms, and a kitchen. We were ushered into one of the bedrooms with a floor table set to the brim with heaving amounts of food ready to be eaten as soon as the cannon went off marking the setting of the sun. The hospitality was amazing. We, the guests, were given great fluffy pillows to sit on during the meal while the family sat directly on the ground. Even though they had been fasting from food and water all day, they wouldn’t start eating until we took our first bite. The food was incredible—and there was A LOT of it! As I said before, about 80% of the meat eaten in Egypt is during the Ramadan month and I don’t doubt it now. We had fried chicken, breaded chicken, lamb, and macaroni with beef. In addition to that was a green bean/tomato dish, hummus, cucumber/tomato salad, spinach dressing dip, potato chips, and ish balidi (the Egyptian bread). We used the ish balidi as our plate at first and then you stuff the bread with whatever you choose—meats, veggies, hummus, etc. We sat with Saabri and his father while the women prepared the food and sat outside. I’m not sure if it was the lack of space in the room or if they just weren’t “allowed” in the room, but they didn’t join us until after we finished eating and started drinking tea.
It was such a blessing to be respected by this Muslim family who knew our Christian faith and still showed us such love and hospitality (as the world should be, but rarely fully expected). The men, especially Saabri, where the only two who knew English, but it’s incredible how much communication comes from gestures and facial expressions. We bonded over Omer, who is the cutest baby boy with huge dark eyes and curly eyelashes. I loved watching the family dynamics. Even though the men are the head of the household it became clear that the grandma was very much “the neck that moves the head.” The love and respect shown between the two couples was inspiring to say the least—it was clear that ‘arranged’ marriages work. I asked Saabri where and when he met his wife, and he said, “In the family--we have a very big family. I saw her and asked her father if I could marry her and that was it.” Another Egyptian thing—it’s very common for people to marry within the family—2nd cousins, even first cousins often get married.
The grandma really seemed to take to me—she kept calling my name, looking at me, and speaking in Arabic to the men about me. The men constantly said to me, “Yes, you look Egyptian, and Sarah is an Egyptian name! Look at your skin—it’s dark too.” Aisha, Saabri’s niece (12 years old), was totally smitten by us and hung around the whole night smiling and giggling. She wore a veil for most of the evening and when she finally took it off I reached out for her hair and braided it. Although most Muslim women are veiled in public, the veil comes off in the home. That’s when I really notice their beauty! Saadri’s wife is gorgeous! Initially I had not realized she wasn’t wearing a veil until it was time for her to leave for her father’s home and she put the veil on before heading outside.
One more thing--I complimented Aisha on her huge plastic heart ring (a very girly junior high-style ring) and she soon offered it to me. Oops! Another Egyptian cultural thing—if you say you like something people will normally give it to you and you should accept it. Thankfully this time I managed to explain to her I just wanted to get a closer look at it and see that there was a little turtle in it—cuteJ


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