Sevcik's Blog

A year in Cairo Egypt

Thursday, November 03, 2005

El Minya

Last weekend I went to El Minya, a town in Upper Egypt along the Nile where Stephen and Eric are serving this year. It was the most incredible weekend thus far, and I’ve decided Minya is my favorite Egyptian town. The ‘vacation’ started with me running out of Dawson Hall late—about 7:12am for a 7:40am train, so I was trying to jog with my huge backpack My arms and legs were scratched, and my knee was bleeding. And, of course, we are in Cairo, meaning I was DIRTY. Alas, I had to continue and deal with being covered in dirt and scratches. Being that it was Friday morning (Sabbath day for Muslims) the Metro wasn’t moving to fast and I waited a good 12 minutes for the metro. By the time I made it to the train station I was dirty, bleeding, sweaty, and LATE. I went to the wrong platform and then a bunch of men ushered me in the right direction and they all yelled down the station to have the train wait for me. I just might have been the last one on the train. But, whew, I made it! I was even able to use the nasty bathroom sink water of the train to wash off. I didn’t trust the water too well though, so I put some Purell on my cuts and just let that sting. Well, it was the best thing I had at that point!
The train ride was mostly relaxing. I brought a book—Blood Brothers—and also enjoyed looking out the window at the Nile villages as we passed on by. It’s so interesting to watch these men and woman living just as they would 2000 years ago; women carrying food and water on their head walking around the village, men fishing on small wooden boats, riding donkeys, or doing back-breaking work in the fields. I kept having the feeling that I was in India, not Egypt. Of course, I couldn’t get by with a completely uneventful train ride. The man next to me, an older Egyptian man from Aswan who knew basically no English, kept trying to get me to look at him, holding his hand palm out on our arm rest for me to touch it (I think), and he also slyly kept touching my leg. By the end of the train ride he was asking if I was married and wondering if he could be my “babibi” (his dear) and marry him. Yuck. This wasn’t the first time I’ve been in that situation and it isn’t the last either.
Once I arrived in Minya, Yvette, Eric’s boss, picked me up and walked me to the Corniche (the waterfront of the Nile) where we found my home for the next couple days—a houseboat on the Nile. That’s right—I stayed on a boat on the Nile. One more time—I slept on a boat that was on the Nile. How great is that?! So, I literally looked out my window and there was the Nile...looked out my window and watched patches of grass float by, or men on fishing boats float feet from my bed. Even as I took a shower the window was a foot away, and oh, there's the Nile again!
Only one little problem; the key and the doorknob. The doorknob was broken (it fell off) and within the first 5 minutes I had locked myself into my room. (By the way, I also couldn’t lock the door from the outside or even shut the door without it getting suck and not being able to get in. One man had to crawl through the bathroom window next to my room to get into my bedroom window and open the door from the inside. Long story…). Fortunately there were three kids outside my room just about then and I yelled for them to open the door for me, crossing my fingers that they would understand what I said. They did! I soon met their amazing family and realized I had taken EFL classes with their parents in September. The Smith family (Jennifer and Brad, Nicolas (14), Rebecca (13?), and Emily (10)) is from Georgia and serving for three years through the MCC in Beni Suef. They’ve been here for 2 years already. For the next three hours I sat with the family on the boat to relax and look enjoy the Nile breeze. I had a good laugh at one point—across the river on a far-off bluff was the sign “El Minya” in big white letters—the Egyptian Hollywood! Ha!
That afternoon I enjoyed a large meal with Stephen, Eric, and a bunch of Stephen’s co-workers from the Evangelical Association for Sustainable Development. We ate on the roof of Yvette’s family’s flat building and from there I could see the village from a bird’s eye and watch people buying and selling produce in the streets. Like always, we had a wonderful Egyptian meal and I ate until I was stuffed—it’s no wonder I’m gaining weight here! We played Dominos, pool, Arousti, and played with a remote control car. I so enjoyed this group of people; they were so welcoming and many of them spoke enough English for me to get a good sense of their great sarcastic humor. Egyptians are well-known for their humor; and it’s great when I can get in a group and banter right along with them.
I woke up before sunrise both mornings to sit out on the boat and watch the sunrise over the Nile behind the bluffs and then go for a run. Ah, running; one of the great joys in life J I couldn’t begin the run, however, without having a ‘conversation’ with a man who knew nearly no English but still wanted me to be his bride. (What’s with that?) Thankfully Stephen came to rescue me and then running was great, especially running along the Corniche before the rest of the town was awake...without being hassled and harassed. Such a blessing! And get this--the Sunday morning on my run there was no one outside--its was 6:30am so of course the village is asleep, and Muslims had already prayed and gone back to bed. So, here I am running down the Corniche watching the sun rise above the bluffs and enjoying the changing colors of the sky and the reflection on the Nile when up ahead I see a shepherd with a flock of sheep! He was on the other side of the street, and was carefully herding his lovelies in a group to walk across together. He was wearing the typical turban on his head with plain drapes of clothing and was like I was back in time with Jesus! So cool!
In Minya I also toured the Beni Hassan tombs. It’s one of the only Middle Kingdom sites (2040-1782 BC) that survived the reconstruction of the New Kingdom. The main group of tombs is decorated with painting of prayers written to Osiris and Anubis and they are among the first decorated with only with brush and paint. They also have full front face illustration, differing from older paintings. I just love to see how these Egyptians lived so similarly to Egyptians now, or even people in general! There are depictions of feasts, making wine, herding cattle, sports/wrestling, harvest time, bird trapping, fishing, and enjoying music and dancing. The few depictions of the Syrian guests were so cool--women wearing striped and polka dotted dresses--it's so 'natural' that it's almost like these paintings were done just decades ago. I also noticed that there is an incredible representation of athletics and recreation, from wrestling and acrobatics to dancing and juggling. Really, in over 4000 years we certainly have differences in technology and the like, but really, life hasn't changed much. It was beautiful!
One of the great things about Minya was that people left me alone for the most part. Okay, yes, I had a few proposals, but that was much better than getting grabbed and mocked and yelled at all weekend. I mostly felt free to just be me. Sweet! The most frustrating experience was dealing with the tourist police. They followed the Smith family everywhere which meant they started following me. They came to Beni Hassen, insisted on going to The Crucible with us, and one even strolled 20 feet behind me all the way to Eric and Stephen’s house. When I left on the train for Cairo I was interrogated with questions about where I was from, why I was in Minya, and where I stayed. All of this information was written down and passed along. Not sure what they do with it, though. A couple other activities for the weekend included going to an Egyptian folklore song/dance/performance at the Jesuit school with the guys and Rania (a woman who works with Eric), watching the movie The Crucible at the Jesuit school (watch it!), drinking tea with Pastor Medhat (who has a congregation in a small village) at an upscale café along the Nile, attending worship at Saamia’s church (Saamia is our coordinator in Minya and works with Stephen), and shelling peanuts after the service with a bunch of congregational women.


  • At 2/18/2008, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    hy..i'm alexandra from Romania and tel me tell u that wat u wrote,wat i read about El Minya was so beautiful,so interestaing.My lover lives there.I have nvr seen el minya but i hope that this day will meet my lover and to see my favorite city and country,Egypt,akeed=of course(in arabic).Am so happy that i could read something so beautiful,and in the way u have written....take care of urself...salamm

  • At 8/30/2010, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi Sarah,
    It's great to hear your wondeful time in Minya. That's where I am heading in October first time. As I am going independently, I really really appriciate your advise and wisdom through your travel there. As it is not a popular place where I can just find a package where the travel agents will be organizing it for me. Well the ones I found are all extra expensive and i feel like I would be tied up rather than having my own freedom. I seem to struggling to find out whether I can take trains from Cairo anytime and what time they leave so that I can arrange the time of my flight from U.K
    I read that we tourists are not allowed to travel on day trains!!!
    Is that true? and is it easy for me to buy the tickets on the train station? Do you know how long does it take from |Cairo airport to the train station? Reading your story it sounds like its possible to take tube.
    It would be real real hekp & treasure to hear your advise
    my email address is :
    Love & Golden Blessings


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