Sevcik's Blog

A year in Cairo Egypt

Monday, February 27, 2006

Coptic fasting

Today marks the beginning of the Orthodox Lenten fast--55 days of Vegan living! The Coptic Orthodox Christians are abstaining from all animal products for the next 55 days. No meat, no fish, no cheese, no milk, no eggs (or anything cooked with eggs!). [With the bird flu scare there's no problem avoiding chicken right now--no one is eating it!] I brought bakery biscuits to English conversation class at the Coptic Cathedral tonight and no one could even eat those. When I asked them what they do eat, Gabriel said, "Vegetables."

As Teri put it, this kind of puts the average american's "i gave up jelly beans, which i don't even like, for Lent" into perspective.

The students were fascinated about our fasting in America, however. One woman really liked the idea that we choose something for fasting because it can really be a sacrifice. For these Copts, becoming vegan is just what they've come to expect--they've adapted. When I gave them the example of my Mom giving up chocolate for Lent or my dad giving up the TV (okay, this one was a lie) they were impressed. I didn't have the heart to tell them that most people really don't give up something that would be a big sacrifice to them. It's making me think this year I should really do that.

The students were also really interested to hear about Ash Wednesday, as they did not know about this "marking-with-the-ashes-to-remember-our-mortality-and-baptism" concept. Again, it helps me appreciate all these things I have just grown up to expect and not clearly understand...and motives me to research more into them. Thanks God!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bird Flu

So the Bird Flu is in Egypt.

Not a surprise.

What is also not a surprise is to hear that rumors are spreading about the bird flu.

Yesterday news spread around work that NO ONE should drink the tap water. Why? Because thousands of birds were apparently killed and thrown into the Nile, contaminating the water. By evening last night almost every store was completely out of bottled water, and prices were doubled. Today we heard it was a big lie. No birds in thrown into the Nile, and the water has just as much chlorine-shocked treatment as ever.

We (Egypt) are in a financial crisis due to this bird issue. The poultry industry provides work for approximately 2.5-3 million people in Egypt. Here people by their meat by going to the souk, picking out a live bird, and having the butcher kill it and sent it off with the buyer. Now, these butchers are without business. Everyone is afraid of birds.

I have noticed the lack of birds lately, in fact. Normally they roam the streets and the souks. Not now. Now they are all dead, or soon to be dead I suppose.

In the meantime people are eating a lot of swarma and minced meat. Even at work today no one wanted the shish tawook (chicken). Is this the new SARS?

Luxor Marathon

Just returned from a vacation to Luxor and Aswan in Upper Egypt with Stephen, Jennifer, Sarah Fuller, and Brice Rogers. SUCH a great trip!
The main reason for the vacation was the Egyptian Marathon--the only recognized marathon in all of Egypt, and Stephen and I signed up for it. Actually, Stephen for the full and I signed up for the 1/2.

For the past couple months I've been training for this race, using it as a good excuse to try to stay in shape. Well, a couple weeks ago I was nasty ill, losing a lot of energy and nutrients with it, and just as I recovered I was kicked in the shin and ankle playing football with the kids and again couldn't run for a few days. Still, the race went so well! I finished in under two hours for the sixth place for women in the 1/2 marathon (out of 26 women) from around the world. Stephen finished in 3 hours 8 minutes and qualified for the Boston Marathon. The race started at Queen Hatshipsuts' Temple and looped around the Valley of the Nobles, Memnon, and the Valley of the Kings. How cool is that?! It was sweet to be running a race only to look up and see huge "Never Ending Story"-looking stone statues from antiquity staring down at you. Wonder if people ever had races back then? hehe...probably not.

It was an odd race, however. Although pretty well organized, the only food and drink at the service stations was water and bananas; and nothing to eat at the end. Thankfully I had friends handing out Stephen's powerbars and GU to replenish the body. Apparently two years ago they ran out of water and people had to stop racing! I think they took care of it this year.
Our spectators were the village children. The race was on Friday, the Muslim holiday, so the kids had no school. (I' m not even sure many go to school in the first place).

With only 400 or so racers, we really needed those kids to cheer us on, and they certainly did more than that! These kids ran with us! I'd say about 1/4 to 1/3 of the race I had children running along side of me in their floppy sandles keeping up as long as they could. When they got tired they would stop and rest only to hook up with more racers later. They also loved to give high-fives. In the first 10 miles I thought this was really cute, but in the last three miles it took too much energy to be slapping all those young hands. Still, they were great for pushing me along, because they loved to run just a bit ahead of me to show they could do it too, so I sped up a bit when I had them with me. I noticed some children had their own racing numbers, and they were legitimate! I realized they must have received them last year from some runners and kept them all year to wear them for this race. How adorable!

Going to Luxor for the race was the first priority, but so long as we were there, why not make a vacation out of it, right? :-) We spent three days in Luxor and Jennifer and I spent one day in Aswan visiting the Nubian village and bussing to Abu Simbel--the HUGE Ramses II temple just north of Sudan. The most exciting thing in Luxor was certainly all the tombs and temples. I just love seeing how people lived over 4000 years ago by looking at the pharonic art. You see people resting under trees, using mirrors to look at one's beauty, putting incense in one's hair as perfume, hunting animals with bows and arrows on a horse chariot, carrying water, fishing, funeral processions, constructing homes, making shoes, using money through a balance of weights system, women playing music with harp-looking instruments, giving and receiving gifts [specifically ivory, monkeys, and leopards from the foreigners], offering sacrifices and gifts to the Gods, punishing people with sticks, harvesting wheat, etc. It's incredible how constant human nature, the day-to-day lifestyles and customs, and the blessings and sorrows of our lives as humans are! Oh, and the jewelry of 4000 years ago would be fashionable today—that’s really cool.

I especially thought a lot about the Old Testament when as I was looking at the hieroglyphics and art. There was such an emphasis on pleasing the lords with offerings and sacrifices of gold and grains and animals. In Karnak temple there were areas designated only for the pharaoh and high priests, and some places only for the high priests, who were the only people who could reach the Gods. I’ve just finished reading Leviticus and Numbers and I’m finding many parallels between these books of the bible and the ancient Egyptian religious practices.

The one frustrating thing about Luxor is that it is such a tourist trap. Everything was expensive (relatively speaking) and we were hassled a lot. Jennifer, who was born in South Korea, really gets irritated with this because people always yell out to her saying “Chinese!” or “Japanese!” No one believes she is from America, and no one thinks Korea either. We decided she should start making up places that she’s from, since no one seems to know or believe her anyway. So, we started saying both of us were from “Pluto” (yes, the planet). Oh was this funny. “You are from Pluto? I hear Pluto is nice! Very nice!” or “Ah, yes, Pluto! Very good! Very good!” A couple times people asked, “Where is Pluto” but for the most part we got away with it. One time a man asked me where we were from and I said, “Guess.” I ‘guess’ he didn’t know the word because he said, “Oh, Guess, that is a nice place!” :-)

Other things we saw:
· We got caught in a funeral procession at one point. The men walk down the streets of the village carrying the casket while the woman, dressed from head to toe in black and some wailing, follow behind leaving a good 100m space between the sexes.
· We got caught in a protest in Luxor. Men and young boys were swarming the streets with posters protesting Denmark. Everyone was shouting and chanting and hitting the ground with sticks. Not too pleasant, but we didn’t get involved so that’s good.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006 this heaven? :-)

Dad, this one's for you! :-)

At conversation class last night I decided to begin by explaining the game of baseball to the class. During the previous class I had mentioned the game and they didn’t know what it was all about but wanted to learn. So, I started by drawing the diamond and explaining the field positions, making little dots of blue for all the field players and dots of black for the batting team. I explained the positions of pitcher, catcher, short-stop, basemen, and outfielders. As I began to explain how the game works I realized they knew nothing about baseball at all. "A pitcher throws the ball to the catcher? Why? Why does he stand in the middle? Can you run from base 1 to 3? How can you have more people on one team playing than another?" Etc. Etc. I slowly explained how the batting works--describing how you get strikes and balls and why you can walk to a base and what other players do if you walk vs. if you run and what your own team does if you walk to a base and the ways you can get out and yada yada. "So, you get an out if the ball is caught in the air, but not if it bounces? Is the strike zone the same for everyone? Why three strikes and you’re out but four balls and you can walk?" I asked students to stand up to help demonstrate the actions/movement of the pitcher, catcher, and batter. When I asked the pitcher to pretend to throw a ball, he threw underhand. At this, I demonstrated how to throw the way I've watched my dad throw since I was a little girl, and this got the class laughing! Also, at first they also didn't understand why a catcher would be crouching down, but I think we settled that more or less when we talked about the strike zone. Still, I'm not sure how well it worked.

Then I made a game scenario using examples of all the rules I had just described. I pretended one person walked, one person had a foul, another made it to second base, one person tagged out, another person out by a fly ball, etc. I described what happened as each player was up to bat; whether or not they got a strike or ball depending on what they and the pitcher and batter did. Throughout all of this I had to describe how the other players ran around the bases as well, and why they would or would not want to continue to the next base. Finally one player made it to home plate and as I said, "This is one point for the batting team" and the whole class laughed and exclaimed with a sigh of relief, "Finally! You really have to do all that work for just one point?!"

After three outs I said the teams switched roles and did the same thing again. This is one inning, and a game is either 7 or 9 innings. So, the game time is based on how well the players perform, not on a time schedule like football (soccer) or basketball. So, a game can take 2 hours, or it can take four. This was another interesting concept to them.

About a half an hour later we were finished talking about baseball. Wow. I had no idea how hard it would be to explain the game and its rules to people who had no concept of the sport. At the end of our discussion on baseball one person stated, "So, this is a violent game." Huh? I never made any allusion to that! Another piped in, "Yes, people hit each other all the time. This is how we see it in the movies." I thought, "Oh, no, they are seeing baseball movies where the players fight over the calls or whatever. Shoot, not the best way to see the game." And then BINGO it hit me. I realized they were thinking of American Football! The entire time at least some of the students thought I was describing how to play football, not baseball! Ha! Where had the confusion began? Well, last week I had described baseball as the "Egyptian football of America" meaning football (soccer) is to Egypt what baseball is to America. (Although football is MUCH greater to Egypt than any sport is to America.) Oops...I'll try to not make that mistake again. Still, next week the students want to learn about American Football at the beginning of class...whew...

an evening with the Fira sisters

Sunday afternoon I invited three sisters who are in the teen program at St. Andrews over to my Dawson Hall flat. Over the past couple months I have been getting to know one of them, Mariam Fira, very well. Mariam stops by my office nearly every day, gives me hugs, kisses my cheek, and tells me she misses me. I adore her. She and her two sisters, Faiza and Gitu, are from Ethiopia. They live with two brothers, their mom, and another woman and her son. The three girls and the older brother share a room--the boy sleeps in the bed and the three girls sleep on the floor. They are a very happy family, certainly full of sorrow (their father is 'lost' in Ethiopia) but full of so much joy as well.

After meeting the girls at St. Andrews I brought them over to Ghamra to have dinner in my flat. They were amazed about how big it was, and kept oohing and aahing over this and that. Within no time they were making themselves at home; taking it upon themselves to look through my photo albums, play some pingpong, and eat any candy that was lying around. When we started to cook, the three grabbed the vegetables, washed them, and started chopping away...even went so far as going to another room to boil water and cook for me. I was impressed to see how comfortable they were to be so proactive. I decided to make brown rice with my "egyptian" sause (i.e., what I make while living in's really not an Egyptian dish) of cooked/fried eggplant, zucchini, onions, broccoli in a pasta sause/tomato paste/fresh tomato sause. We also had cooked green beans with Balsamic Vinegarette. I knew Mariam loved white chocolate, so I had Stephen buy some of it for us. The girls have never eaten broccoli before! (They also didn't recognize the eggplant, but I bet they've had it in salads.) I'm not certain they enjoyed the food even though they said it was wonderful, but I'm glad they tried something new. :-)

After eating we decided to watch a movie, which was another joy for them. Mariam said she liked "high school" moives and they decided on "She's All That." The girls were either silent or laughing throughout the movie--they were really excited to see the film, and they understood it pretty well...though I'm not sure in this case that's a good thing.

After dinner we went to Mariam Ephram's home, a good hour away from where I live. Mariam is another student at St. Andrews from Eritrea and a good friend to the Fira girls. She was 'traveling' (resettling) that night to NYC. Wow! Mariam really wanted me to see her one more time and asked that all four of us come to her home. What an honor to be there on the last night! When we arrived at her flat, the place was packed full of family, neighbors, and friends saying their goodbyes. In one room people were watching the home video from the going-away party held the day before at a church, in another room people were making sure all the suitcases and packages were put together and accounted for, another room was full of adult women discussing who knows what, and in the kitchen all the teens were hanging out and laughing. In less than an hour of being there it was time for the Ephrams to go, and we gathered outside to load up the van and see them off to the airport. Since I had a camera I was taking as many pictures as possible to send to Mariam later. Mariam kept saying that she was so scared, so uncertain. Although very exciting, I can only imagine how frightening it must be for them to move to America and leave behind everything and everyone. Thankfully Mariam has an uncle in NYC who hooked them up with a flat and get help them get situation. She is excited to join the 10th grade when she arrives, although I'm not sure her English is going to be good enough for that grade. We'll see...

I didn't get the Fira girls home until 11:30pm that night. It was a late night for me, but for them it was an incredibly unique evening. Their mom never lets them go out, but because they were with me she was okay with it. Before Sunday I had only met the mom once and yet she was putting all of her trust in me. In fact, the Fira girls had never been to Mariam's home before, even though she lives quite close and they are good friends. I realized the only reason they were able to go that night was because I was with them. I felt my responsibility as a caretaker and protector shoot way up, but I was pleased to have earned their trust.

Egypt wins!

Egypt is victorious!

Mabrook for Egypt!

Yes, Egypt won the African Cup on Friday night in a shoot-out after a game of no scoring. What an intense night for Egypt! I was in Maadi, a good hour south of where I live in Cairo, watching the game at Lynn and Dick's home with the other volunteers. I won't say who (must protect our identities!) but two of us rooted for Ivory Coast and the rest of us wanted Egypt to win. I forgot how much I can really enjoy a competitive game. Can't wait for Basketball in America!

During the game the streets were relatively quiet as everyone had their eyes glued to the TV screen. A number of movie theatres even opened doors to show the game on the big screen. After the Egyptian win the streets were absolutely nuts. We took a taxi home from Maadi and ended up getting caught in a number of mobs on the street. I bought an Egyptian flag earlier in the day and waved it out the window through the streets, screaming "Yeah Egypt!" In fact, most cars of people had flags out the windows, people had their face painted red, white, and black, and everyone was honking and shouting. People were running through the streets with aerosol containers making sparks of fire, lighting off fireworks, doing cartwheels, banging on drums, and dancing around. Even some of the highways were swarmed so many people it stopped traffic. It was the most festive moment I’ve ever witnessed. The entire country banded together that night in exuberant joy. No one could use his cell phone for a good hour because the signals were so busy. I found that people smiled at me in a new way as well—it was a comradely I never experienced until that night when I was shouting joys of victory alongside the Egyptians. Great fun!

Aside: Earlier in the day I went to Islamic Cairo and toured Al Azhar Mosque---with the oldest university in world! I absolutely love Islamic art, and the mosque was gorgeous! Across the street is Al-Hussein Mosque, one of the most holy places in the Islamic world with the head of Hussein (the Prophet's grandson) inside.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

African Cup and mild sand storm

Last night was a victory for Egyptians. It's African Cup time here, so for the past couple of weeks the energy has been building as football (soccer) teams from around Africa have been competing for the African Cup title here in Cairo. Oh is it a big deal! Think of the hype for Superbowl and multiply it by 10. Or, if you are from Nebraska, think of game day for a Husker football game and times it by 5. Truly, things stop for these games. Even RCG had a half day yesterday due to the game. People are either at the game or glued to their TVs at home or in the sheesha shops yelling, laughing, and throwing their fists left and right. The traffic has been even more ridiculous than normal, if you can imagine that! Last night around 10pm the streets going into Cairo were at a stand-still and it looked like a tailgating party. Young adult men were waving Egyptian flags out of their car windows, running and screaming through the streets, and honking horns. If I didn't know it was due to a game victory I would have thought a riot was going on. Around 11pm my Egyptian friend Essam, who I haven't talked with for about a month, called. He was exuberant. Really, I had never heard him so happy. He called because he wanted to share the joy of the victory. "This is so good for Egypt, Sarah, you have no idea. We are all so very happy!" Friday marks championship game day.

Today has also been 'special' due to the weather. The wind is blowing hard and it's one of the coldest days we've had here. The 'special' part is the sky--it's full of sand. Although we're not in a full-out sand storm by any means, we are getting a taste of it today. There is a golden haze everywhere you look, and everyone's eyes are watering and people are coughing. Thankfully I have my handy-dandy good-luck sunglasses with me so I was able to avoid most of the sand-in-the-eye issues. Still, there is sand everywhere, and it seeps through doors and windows. Today at work I had to borrow printing paper from a printer near the window in my office (Matthew's desk) and the top page was filthy with dirt and sand. Not even twenty minutes later I asked Matthew for more paper and already the top paper was covered with a fine layer of sand again. The window in the bathroom was open for most of the day and the toilet beneath it was covered with black and brown sand/dirt. I'm interested (mumkin) to see a real sand storm...maybe. Actually, for an hour or two, it's quite fun!

update 8 feb: one more thing--I spent some time in The Arc yesterday and heard people saying "Madam" and trying a few French words. At that, I spent the next hour teaching a couple of them to speak greetings in both French and Spanish. Today when I saw Adam I noticed he had a couple papers with him in which he was practicing writing out "Gracias", "?et tu?", "Parle-vous francais?" etc. He said he spent the rest of the day yesterday practicing his Spanish, and next he will work on French. :-)

Monday, February 06, 2006

A new conversation class!

I just returned from teaching Week 2 of the new semester at the Coptic Cathedral. I am now teaching level 6/7 class, a step up from the last class. And, as always, I LOVE IT! (Really, I think I need to be a teacher...just don't know who and what to teach.)

Tonight we had conversation on "Cultural Perspectives: Family Life in Egypt and America." (Yeah, catchy title, I'm creative ;-) Really, it was enlightening for all of us!

During the first half of class we talked a lot about childhood and teenage years. When I asked the class what children do for household chores (a new phrase for them) or responsibilities they all said "homework." That's it. What about making the bed? Brushing teeth? Doing dishes? Not fighting with your brother or sister? Taking the dog out for a walk? (Okay, that last chore not the least bit likely, but it's the point that counts.) Nope. The only responsibility(s) they could come up with is doing homework and having fun. With that, I decided to show them "The Chart." You know the one; where Mom writes all the kids names on the Y axis, the list of chores on the X axis, and puts stickers or stars in the boxes when a chore is completed. At the end of the week, you count the number of stars/stickers and you are rewarded with ice cream or a movie or money or whatever. The class was pretty intrigued by this, and an hour later at the end of class one woman came up to me and thanked me for the idea. She said she's going to try this chart concept with her children. I'm excited to hear how it goes!~

Then we discussed teenage years and the 'rights of passage' (another new phrase) into adulthood. I told them about driving at 16, smoking, voting, and gambling at 18, and drinking alcohol at 21. They were totally floored with these age markers. "So you mean you cannot buy a cigarette if you are 17?" [In Egypt, anyone can buy a cigarette.] "That's correct." "But, what if you are caught smoking and you are only 16?" "Well, unless the parents are upset, nothing really." "Well, then why do you have this law if it is not enforced?" A decent question. "And if you are under 21 and caught with alcohol, what happens?" "You are in trouble; maybe you go to jail." "And the parents are in trouble as well, right? Who is punished for this?" Difference in culture again. In America's individualistic society, only the person doing the crime is punished, but in Egypt it's a family ordeal.

Speaking of family ordeals, we soon started talking about marriage. In Egypt, you must have money, your own flat, and a stable job (if you are man) in order to get married. If you are woman, you must be patient and wait for a man (who is often 'chosen' by the family members) to have money, a flat, and a good job. Certainly an issue in a country where over 35% of the population is unemployed, and much more cannot afford his own flat.

I told them in America, you don't really need anything to get married. If you are in love, you can easy get married. We hit the jackpot with this topic, let me tell you! Suddenly questions were being asked left and right about issues of marriage and religion. While there are similarities in our views of love and marriage, there are great differences as well. When I asked the students what they desire in a companion, they said such things as, "someone close to your age, someone your family likes, someone with the same religion, someone with a stable job, someone with responsibility, someone you love."

For these Coptic Christians, divorce is not an option. It simply does not happen for them. In fact, they could not understand how someone can be following the bible (be a Christian) and get a divorce. I tried to explain issues of falling out of love, dealing with domestic abuse, etc. but found that I really hard a hard time expressing the issue. Even with abuse, one student said, "Then the father must leave for a while, control himself, and come back to the family." When I explained that sometimes the father (or mother) just doesn't come back for a variety of reasons, a student asked, "But, he is still the father, isn't he?" "Yes, he is." Look of confusion.

One student said, "Why is it okay for a man and woman to live together and have a child but not be married?" Another said, "So, you have strick rules about smoking and drugs but not about parenting and marriage? I don't understand." As the conversation continued, I found myself having a harder time understanding and/or expressing my culture as well. I mean, in a sense, it's interesting that we believe 20 year olds are not responsible enough to handle alcohol, yet there is no restriction on the same person for being a child into this world.

An interesting tid-bit: According to the students, the Coptic Church says a woman can marry a man up to 15 years older than her (but no more) and a man can marry a woman up to 3 years older than him (but no more). [However, this does not seem to be enforced.]

Henna and a shared meal

Whenever I need a break at work, I spend time in The Arc with the women and men creating artwork. I sit around the sewing table talking in broken English with the woman who drink tea and we make great attempts at communication. A couple weeks ago, one woman, Miriam, decided she would like to dress me up for a Sudanese wedding, minus an actual wedding. So, near the end of the day on Thursday I made my way down to The Arc where Miriam and a few other women where waiting for me. The commotion began.

First, the women shielded me from the men by putting up a large sheet at the back of The Arc. This way I was able to properly undress down to a tank top with modesty. The women told me where to walk, where to sit, how to sit, and how to move. Miriam’s henna artist friend (her cousin) started her drawings, beginning with my upper arms. With the henna paint she drew flower designs around my arms, down my arms, and all over my hands. While the henna was drying, Miriam pulled out her bag of ‘goodies’—huge golden jewelry and headdresses to complete my wedding day outfit. After the henna dried, the woman pulled me out of the chair and led me outside to the hose, where they washed the henna off my skin to see the brown dye underneath. They then lathered me with a particular cream used to darken the henna into black markings. As the cream dried, the woman joked around about this “wedding day” for me…for a woman with henna is a married woman. Unfortunately, there was no man in my life to share it with. :-)

More ‘goodies’ came out of the bag full of Sudanese wedding materials. There were huge, heavy necklaces, gold bracelets, dangling 5-inch earrings that also clasped onto my nose, headdresses with black hair and jewels, purple and green scarves, etc. As the women put layer over layer of beads and fabrics over my head, around my arms and wrists, and around my shoulders, I felt completely at their whim, completely humbled. I was pampered. Miriam’s daughter and son, both students at the school, used my camera to take pictures. It was like taking senior pictures. They oohed and ahhed over me, telling me to put my hands here or head there and put the shall this way or that way. After each shot the children would giggle and show me the photo, then fight over who could take the next one.

Really, I felt like it was my wedding day, with all that attention and pampering. It is uncomfortable for me to have people serve me in such a way, so I had to keep reminding myself, “Be humble, be humble, this is their gift to you, just let yourself enjoy it and not worry about how much they are serving you.”

Still, I wanted to do something to show my appreciation, and after some thought I decided I should use my camera to photograph the family. I mean, the kids were going nuts over that thing, so photos could be a cool gift! Before I knew it, I basically invited myself over to Miriam’s home to take photos of her family. I suppose there’s no better way to meet the whole family, but I immediately realized that once again I’d be the guest, the one being served, in their home.

Yesterday was the day. Miriam’s oldest son Mohamed met me at St. Andrews at noon to bring me to the home. Mohamed is probably in his late 20s and spoke English pretty well. In fact, he’s the only one in the family who can really speak much English. Together we hopped on a microbus and it sped through the Cairo streets past the pyramids out to a suburb of Cairo. I didn’t realize we’d be out so far (it took an hour or so) but what a treat! The air was so fresh out there and I spent quite a bit of time on their porch soaking in the sun and breathing deep—a major blessing living in Egypt!

We took a quick stop for bread at Hyper One, the grocery store. As we walked into the mall we saw huge signs at every entrance and exit stating, “To Protect Our Islamic Identity Hyper One is Boycotting all Products from Denmark." Now, I've heard a lot about this issue of the Danish cartoons depicting Mohamed with a bomb-shaped turban, and know a few NON-practicing Muslims who are extrememly offended by it, but this really hit home. Teri just told me she saw a street full of cars with a sign stating something along the lines of, "Down with Haters of Islam, Destroy Demark today" in the back window.

When we arrived at the home, Miriam and the kids—Lubaba, Asga, Hadeel, and Sadam—were busy cooking. I took time to wander around the modest home, taking pictures of people in action. Like many modest Egyptian homes, the rooms are quite bare with very few material possessions with the exception of a huge satellite TV as the heart of the room. The kids took turns cooking and channel surfing the 200+ channels. Often they watched the Sudan channel with a music contest show and random talk-shows about the Danish cartoons and what it really means to be a Muslim. During the music contest the kids would shyly dance in their couch until I noticed and then giggle and stop. Miriam came into the room and danced a little for us, to which the kids giggled again and felt more confident to dance themselves. Eventually everyone was dancing in his seat.

As Mohamed made fruit salad, I helped the kitchen folk make the meal. It literally took FOUR hours before we were finished. We would cook one dish and I would think we were finished, but suddenly more food would come out and we’d start cooking again. A couple times Miriam said [in Arabic], “Today, I cook, you watch. Tomorrow, you cook, I watch!” and we laughed. I assured her I would come back and cook for the family one day, but for now I wanted to continue slicing potatoes. By four o’clock we were finished cooking and ended up with tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant stuffed with meat and rice, home-made french fries, chicken nuggets, spaghetti with mushroom tomato sauce, a potato-meat dish, and babaganouh with bread. We had fresh orange juice and strawberry ice cream as well. Everything was cooked with a load of oil, and I was a bit nervous about my stomach (being that I’m still quite ill), but it was a wonderful meal.

It’s incredible what can be communicated without words. A lack of a common language is frustrating, no doubt, but the majority of our communication comes through body language, facial expressions, and a lot of gesturing. I spent most of the time observing, however. I was so impressed with the hospitality and servanthood of this family (and the Sudanese and Egyptian culture). I, as the guest, was consistently served first and given the best of everything. Then, all the kids made sure Mom was all set with food, drinks, and when she needed it, rest. Everyone was quick to help with the food preparation and the dish washing--no questions asked.

By 7:00pm I was thinking it was time to get going, so I started taking the family photos. Miriam's younger cousin, the woman who painted henna on my body, arrived with her husband and joined in. As I was getting ready to leave, she asked me to first come to her home and take photos with her daughters, as she only lived a 10 minute walk away. Sure! On the way I started teaching her English, explaining the difference between "in" and "on" with such sentences as "the car is ON the road" and "the mobile is IN my purse." The family plans to resettle in Australia someday and wants to learn English.

Boy was I glad to visit her home; her three children were absolutely adorable. Within the first minute of being in the home I sat down and the youngest, a one or two-year old, came over and sat on my lap. She never left that spot and occasionally buried her head in my chest. At first she was a quiet one, but once she started talking you couldn't stop her. She told the family I was her "aunt"--not a guest, but a family member. She played with my hair, twisting and turning it. She told Asga to braid my hair, since he's the one with special braiding skills. When I finally needed to leave, she wouldn't go back to her mom and insisted that I stay. Oh, it was so fun! I love children!

Just before I left, Sadam ran up to me and held out his hand. In it was a picture of famous Moroccan woman singer in a heart-shaped plastic keychain with a light. Assuming that these children have very few positions, I couldn't believe it. I insisted that he keep it for himself, but he wouldn't have it. Wow, so humbling. I can't wait for the next visit when I cook for them!

(Addition: As I was looking around the house, I noticed a few familiar things---a plastic blue bowl with yellow flowers on it, some Panteen Pro-V shampoo and conditioner, and various articles of clothing--all from donations at St. Andrews.)

A parasite

I went to the doctor this morning to get another opinion on my nasty condition.

We'll get Final Results tonight, but as of now he said I have a parasite and an intestional infection. A parasite: an organism that grows, feeds, and is sheltered on or in a different organism while contributing nothing to the survival of its host. Oh does that ever explain so much. Now, I'm not at all happy at the idea that I have little worms in me eating me away (that explains the weight loss, the low energy, and other things you don't want to read), but there IS some good that came from all this.

What are the good things about being ill?

A. You get to use your imagination while using chicken broth.
B. You are on the brink of knowing the best brand of toilet paper around.
C. You learned the true meaning of Christian charity. I have been hosting a parasite for almost two weeks. [But, there is a time when you must say "bug off" and the time is now.]
D. You start reading the bible, because you have so much time on your hands lounging around.
E. A quick and easy weight-loss plan.

Truth-- During this illness I picked up the bible and decided I'd read it all in 90 days following the "Bible in 90 Days" series. It's great! I'm already on day 7 and really enjoying it! There is a silver lining to everything, isn't there?
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