Sevcik's Blog

A year in Cairo Egypt

Thursday, October 20, 2005


I had a GREAT day today experiencing an Iftar and my first day of teaching! First, the Iftar. Essam invited Marion, Anne-Katherine (the two French teachers), Andrea, Jay, Jason, and me to the Iftar held on a side street near RCG. Side note: During Ramadan many wealthy families will block off a part of a street with a mega canopy of blankets and set up tables full of food for anyone who is around and wants to eat. You just show up, sit down, and feast together. Anyhow, we arrived literally 3 minutes before Iftar to 7 long tables full of men waiting to eat the scrumptious meal sitting before them. There must have been around 100 men.
The first thing I noticed was that we were the only women there. Immediately I thought, “Essam, why did you bring us here! We are not wanted here and we are totally disrespecting the culture!” The man who hosted the Iftar came out to greet us and suddenly I noticed a whole row of men standing up from the table to make room for us. “Oh, no!” I thought. “We kicked these men out of their spots! And we are foreigners! And we are Christian! And we are WOMEN! Oh crap!” But, the Head Honcho kept encouraging us to “please sit” so finally we took our spots. I took a slight glance to my left and as far as I could see down the table eyes were on us. Glanced to the right—same thing. I was so embarrassed and decided to just look down. The place was silent. Everyone was eagerly waiting for the call to prayer and the time to eat. Thankfully we were only sitting for about 30 seconds when the call began and it was time to start. I noticed all the other tables of men dug right into the food, but the men sitting across from us waited. They were waiting for us, their guests, to begin. So we did.
The meal was INCREDIBLE. You start by eating a couple figs followed by gulps of water. Then you take your ish balidi (Egyptian bread) and fill it up with the salad mixture (cucumbers, tomatoes and onions) or dipping it into a lentil soup filled with fava beans and beef. You mix rice into the fava bean/lentil soup and take more sips of water. For desert we ate Egyptian-style rice pudding—rice with milk and sugar. It was a feeding frenzy—these men can eat FAST.
By this time I felt at ease. Once people were occupied with their food I felt comfortable enough to look around, and I noticed people did not appear to be upset that we were there. In fact, the boy sitting across from me insisted that I have his bread. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. Egyptians are so incredibly hospitable—time and time again I’m being blessed by their generosity and care. I was trying to eat as fast as I could but in the end our group and three other men were the only people still eating. People literally ate and left—mostly because they needed to open their shops.
The Main Dude came out again and brought us tea. I’m not sure if we were offered tea because we were the only people still there or because we seemed to be the honored people this night. We ended up staying another 20 minutes talking with this man and some of the other male cooks. They let me look into the kitchen area and told us they start cooking every day at 2:00pm to prepare for the meal. This is when I learned women sit inside while the men sit outside. We were invited to come back again—“every day please come!”
The best discovery of the night was finding out that not all the people were Muslim. (Well, duh, we were there.) In fact, most of the men around our table were Christian. As I mentioned earlier, anyone can come, and that really means anyone. This really struck me. How beautiful it is to realize I just experienced a great religious feast with both Muslims and Christians sitting side by side getting along. I’ve decided that I will go back. When I go, I will come with an empty stomach and fast for the day. Until tonight, I didn’t feel the spiritual desire to fast all day every day, but after seeing this community, I want to share the entire experience with them.
Another Ramadan experience: When I was visiting Alexandria a few weeks ago to check out Jen and Jennifer’s new place and get some fresh air by the sea, I had an “encounter” with Ramadan. Jennifer, Jay, and I were on the tram around 5:30—Iftar time. As the tram was cruising by I was suddenly whacked in the head. I had seen it coming just seconds before—a boy outside was throwing bags of food into the tram for us to eat the moment the Iftar began. Within a couple minutes the tram stopped three station stops away from our destination and everyone scrambled off. “Oh, this must be the end of the course for this tram,” I thought. Not exactly. The city literally shut down for Iftar. As we walked off the tram there were groups of people (who had just been riding) sitting in circles eating. Okay, we’ll walk! It was the quietest walk I’ve experienced in Egypt thus far. No one was around and only a few cars/taxis passed us. It was almost eerie how fast it changed!


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