Sevcik's Blog

A year in Cairo Egypt

Sunday, January 08, 2006

A man on the street

A man on the street

From the title of this, you probably think I’m going to write about another bad experience with a man on the street. Well, not exactly. I did meet a man on the street, but this time it was different.
As I was walking home after playing ultimate Frisbee and getting some mango juice with the guys, I passed by a man who was hunched over three bags on the edge of the sidewalk. I noticed that he was digging through the trash that had collected in a pile against the bridge, picking up chosen items, brushing the grime and dirt off of it, and putting it into one of his three bags. Being that I witness something like this almost daily, I continued on past him on my merry way.

Thing is, there are many beggars on the streets of Cairo, and although many of them legitimately need help, for some begging is a profession. As in India, some people send their children out in the streets, especially into the rich, foreign-infested neighborhoods, to beg. I’m not an expert, but I can often sense which kids have been dirtied up and taught how to make the most adorably sad-looking puppy-dog eyes with faces saying, “Can’t you help this poor little boy?” On occasion I’ll even stop and watch these children for a while, witnessing how they go from looking all sad and desperate to running around laughing until they notice another likely giver to follow.

However, there are many people who are so poor that they make their living by going through the trash to collect things to sell for money, such as metal scraps. Because Cairo is so incredibly dirty and polluted, this type of life can actually sustain someone for quite some time, because EVERYONE throws their trash on the ground all over the place. Honestly, I’m walking on, over, and around trash everywhere I go. There’s a joke here that there’s no need for recycling, because everything ends up being recycled thanks to people who go through the trash every day.

Something stopped me today, however. I’m not sure what it was, but after I passed the man, I took another five steps and turned around. I had a few pounds left in my bag, so I approached the man, held out my hand, and said, “Faloose?” (Money?) He looked up at me, smiled, and said, “Shokran!” (Thank you!) When he took the money he put both hands around mine without actually touching my hand and gestured a hand shake. It became clear to me that he was showing me his gratitude through a handshake, but out of respect for me he did not touch my hand since his was so dirty.

I smiled, said “You’re Welcome,” and continued home. But, I wasn’t satisfied. There was something about this man that really struck me. I find that I often can sense someone’s character from the small things—the gestures, facial expressions, and attitudes. This man, I believed, was a good man. He seemed humble, polite, kind-hearted, and caring—all from the look in his eyes and face. By the time I reached my room I had decided to grab more money, turn around, and find him again.

And I did. He was still working through the trash pile, and as he saw me approach he stopped working for a moment. I started to ask him questions in broken Arabic and broken English. He didn’t know English, but we were still able to communicate a bit. I discovered that he lived in another area of Cairo, but he was searching around for plastic so that he could bring it to a certain place and receive money so he could eat. I asked him if I could look into his three bags, and he kindly offered them to me. One bag was already full of trash, mostly consisting of crunched-up plastic water bottles. In other bag he was continuing his collection of plastic, including a destroyed plastic toy car that he had neatly cleaned. The third bag was his “food” bag—other people’s leftovers that became his meal. All I could see in it was pieces of dirty dried-out or moldy bread. I looked back at him and he smiled and gave me a nod saying, “See, I have a lot tonight!” I almost wanted to cry. I told him I wanted to help, and then gave him the le 50 I had brought with me. His eyes lit up and he kept thanking me. This time I held out my hand and nodded for him to feel comfortable shaking it. He took it into his hands and kissed the top of my hand, ever so slightly. After that I turned to leave again.

But, I came back. I just couldn’t walk away. He seemed a bit confused this time, but welcomed me back anyhow. I asked him about his family—does he have one? At this he beamed and said, “Yes, seven children! From 20 years old to 4 years old.” As he said this he used his hands to show a tall height for the 20-year old and a small height for a 4-year old child, just to make sure I understood. He asked me where I was from, but for some reason I couldn’t figure out what he was asking. Finally, he asked, “Amrica?” “Ah! Iowah, min Amrica.” (Ah, yes, I’m from America.) He then said something I didn’t understand, but believed it to mean something about good people come from America. Soon after that I parted from him again, for good this time. Still, I hope I see this man again. Past the pain and dirtiness of his face, I saw so much peace and determination in his eyes. Whoever he is, I know I will be praying for him for quite some time.


  • At 1/09/2006, Anonymous Alif said…

    Can you say where were you walking when you met that man?

  • At 1/09/2006, Blogger Sarah said…

    Yeah, just outside my home.

  • At 1/19/2006, Anonymous Red said…

    Good on ya Sarah, you brought tears to my eyes... there are soooo many like this guy. Your kindness is a testament to a true Christian, your compassion was obviously appreciated in a land where compassion used be in abundance in days gone by
    God Bless You

  • At 1/19/2006, Anonymous Red 2 said…

    Oops I forgot... I hope this street man encounter goes a long way in counteracting you previous bad and sad experience

  • At 1/28/2006, Blogger Socrates said…

    very touching

    At what district in Cairo did you meet the guy?

  • At 1/31/2006, Blogger Sarah said…

    I saw him in Abbasayya/Ghamra area


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