Sevcik's Blog

A year in Cairo Egypt

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Reflections from the Land of 10,000 Lakes

It has been almost three months since I wrote a blog about my time in Egypt. I came home on June 22nd, 2006, and since then I have been traveling around the states, from Missouri and Iowa to Washington, DC and NYC. I also spent almost three week in Montana volunteering at Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp and visiting my grandparents in York, Nebraska. Now, I am finally back home for least for a while.

There are so many stories about Egypt and my experiences there I have not told. Some stories can only be told in person, as the blog doesn't give it justice. More than that, however, is the fact that some stories I just can't say over the Internet. It would be harmful for the people I love living in Egypt, and certainly could be harmful for the many Christians living in Egypt. One part of my reality as a Young Adult in Global Mission in Egypt was that I would have been kicked out of the country if I tried to convert anyone to Christianity. In truth, Christian persecution happens all over the world, but I never realized the extent of it (and how lucky I am to freely express my faith) until this past year. I only knew one person who converted from Islam to Christianity. At that, she didn't tell me until a week before I left, even though I knew her for almost 8 months. She had a cross in a zipped section of her purse and showed it to me in secrecy. She let me know no one but her husband knew about her conversion, and it must stay that way. Fortunately, she is lucky. Her husband is a Christian, so she is safe with him. This is not the case for everyone, however. I have heard stories of family abandonment, jail, and even death to people who convert to Christianity. I don't know if this is true or not, but I was told by a number of Copts that young Muslim men will seduce Christian women into falling in love with them because if they woman converts he will receive money from the Muslim Brotherhood. "It's no matter to them," they said. "Because when they get married the man treats her poorly and gets another wife." Whether or not this is true, a problem exist in that Copts believe it to be true. How are we to unite as humans when this is supposedly the case?

One of my duties as the administrator at St. Andrews was to meet once a month with representatives from other refugee schools around Cairo (about 9 schools). These meetings served as times to discuss such issues as summer school, curriculum development, and resource swapping. After the demonstration outbreak at the end of December, however, the meetings turned to discussions about the suffering of the Sudanese. The first meeting we had after the horrible incident was spent in our conference room in which Matt (our intern) and I were the only white, "privileged" individuals. Around the room stories were shared about the horror of witnessing the death of their family and friends, the sufferings of the hundreds of people suddenly without any home (many gave up their flats to sit at the park), and the immediate need for food, clothing, medical care, and money. I sat and listened during this conversation, until it turned to me. In desperation, the committee was demanding that I speak to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) on their behalf. They thought, as a white American, certainly I could do something, couldn't I? They had been trying to get the UNHCR to understand their wants and needs, but it wasn't working to their satisfaction, and somehow they thought I could have the solution. Of course, I didn't have a solution. Well, actually, that's not completely true. There is truth in the fact that I, as a white American, had more pull than they did. It's sad, but reality.

The UNHCR really gets a bad rap, but it serves a great purpose. The people I know who work for the UN really want the best for the people they serve and work very hard to make a positive change. One UNHCR program this past year was the Feeding Program. The UNHCR gave one Egyptian pound per child per school day to each of the refugee schools in Cairo. One pound is about 15 cents. This pound buys a fuul sandwich for each child and an additional ‘bonus’ of a banana or an orange one or twice a week. It is amazing what happened. Suddenly, students started showing up to school again. Not only did they come back to school to be fed, they stayed to learn and study. They didn't fall asleep as often and they were able to learn quicker and concentrate better. Also, they were less irritable. St. Andrews already had a feeding program, so we didn't see these effects to the same degree. But boy did I hear about them from others. As a side note, one thing I didn't know until the second semester is that many of our students don't eat their sandwich at school. Why? They take it home to share with their siblings. It's ridiculous that such a reality exists in our world.

Due to all these experiences you have read in my 101 blog entries, (you’ve read them all, haven’t you?? Hehe ☺ I have decided to apply to graduate school in the area of Public Health. Most of my awake hours are spent writing cover letter after cover letter for my job search and researching Public Health schools and programs for the fall of 2007. I often day dream about my time in Cairo, however. I miss it so very much. I miss my friends, my co-workers, my lifestyle. Sure, I never want to live without fresh air, green land, and warm greetings ever again, but there is a magic to Cairo I grew to love. There is an intense spirit and energy there, one I found myself mixed up in all the time. The rhythm of life is different--slower in some ways but quicker in others. As I sit here at my computer, I am forced to think about all the ways I can distinguish myself from others; ways I can rise above and compete with those around me. I think of ways to talk about myself as a product, as a marketing tool, as an asset. All this does is make me feel even more insignificant, more insufficient. I miss Egypt—the way people are valued as family members, and friends, as community leaders and mothers and shop owners and farmers. In America it’s so different. I feel like my lack of a second, higher degree means I am less than I should be. It means I am behind where I should be. I means I better get my act together and get busy if I want to succeed in this world. Buy more, use more, take more, earn more. At the end of the day, I find I feel better about myself as me in Egypt than I do in America.

Yes, I love education. I am excited at the prospect of being a student once again, especially if I'm lucky enough to be enrolled in a program in which I have so much passion. Yet, I can't help but feel overwhelmed by this American lifestyle. It’s hard to get anyone together here. People are always “to busy.” Thing is, I buy into it as well. In order to make up for the loss of connection with people, I took find myself “too busy” getting involved. Rather than wait for and expect to spend quality time with my family and friends, it makes more sense to add a one-line description to my resume. Because certainly I am “more” with it. Or am I?

Below is a prayer we often say at camp. It is one of my favorite prayers because it speaks to the truth of our condition.

God of perfect rest, we have run busily from one activity to another, from one possession to another, and from one love to another. We want to be quiet but we can't. We are distracted by the loud messages of the world calling us to buy and to sell, to build and to boast, and we look for a quiet place of rest. The noise of the traffic drowns out our dissatisfaction and we move from day to day in activities designed to climb the ladder of success. We are tired and must rest. Please be our resting place and let us sleep safely in your arms. Amen.


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