Saturday, October 29, 2005

adventures in an egyptian home

Today I went to my new friend Gigi's house. Gigi is the sister of Rania, the woman who works for Better Life (in Minya) and who organized the movie-dubbing-debut I had last month. Gigi has a husband and two daughters--Sandy, age 7, and "Zosa" or "Zazo" (nickname), age 3. Gigi is extremely nice and definitely shows typical Egyptian hospitality. On Tuesday night last week she picked me up from RCG and took me to a mall with her girls. She insisted that she would buy me anything I wanted, and I finally succumbed and allowed her to buy me a zip-up cardigan. She then took me to pizza hut (the girls' fave) and told me to get whatever I wanted--which turned out to be the salad bar and my own medium pizza (I did manage to get thin crust as my only decision in the matter). Then she told me to call her when I was free on Saturday and she would send a driver to pick me up and bring me to her house. Okay...

This afternoon I called around three (after taking a nap) and the driver was at RCG in less than 15 minutes. I was whisked away to Shubra, the largest/most populated area of Cairo--where more than 1 million people live. It is a heavily Coptic neighborhood, which means there are lots of Christians and lots of people who consider themselves native Egyptian (Coptic) rather than Arab. Anyway.... the flat this family has is HUGE by Egyptian standards--it's a corner flat with a large dining room and a living room, two large bedrooms, a huge bathroom, a balcony that runs the entire outer circumference--two whole sides of the flat--and a kitchen. The kitchen was a little cramped, but it was three times the size of my kitchen so whatever! Anyway, I got there and we hung out a little while. It had probably been half an hour (or less) before she said "would you like to eat now?" Before I had a chance to answer, she went away to the kitchen, as Sandy (older daughter). Zazo and I stayed in the living room playing with a ball and watching Egyptian Arabic Sesame Street. Yes, really. Then out came a plate of food that I couldn't possibly eat, as well as a "salad" (cucumber and tomato--yum!) and a plate of olives and a pepsi. A table was set just for me and the three women gathered round as I sat down to eat. Only I was eating--they wouldn't eat with me. I ate about half of what I was given, plus the salad and a few olives and the pepsi. Then I was so full that I thought I might explode, so I tried to beg off the rest. Gigi said "oh, it's not good. I'm sorry. I only usually cook meat so I know this wasn't good." I was all "no, it's amazing, I love it really, it's very good, but I just can't eat another bite!" I think I convinced her, or at least I hope I did. It really was good--macarona bechamel with cheese/tomato/olive. Yum. Plus homemade french fries! Anyway, she whisked that away and brought me a homemade fruit cocktail--also amazing. Then we hung out a little more, I read with Sandy, watched Zazo color, etc. Then she brought me mint tea. Husband came out and drank tea and played with the girls as well--including listening to Sandy read and even being nice to her about her reading rather than what I expected (harsh "can't you do better" etc...). Sandy is very bright and has amazing English and reads very well. Anyway...husband left for work and Zazo went to sleep. Sandy showed me her art supplies and the things she likes to do. Gigi said "you want to eat something? maybe small fruit. I will bring you." I'm thinking "oh my god no more food please!" She brings me a plate with not 1, not 2, not 3, but FOUR medium mangoes, peeled. I try to give one to Sandy. Another one appears on my plate. I eat them. All four. Good thing mango is good for you! Sandy took out her play makeup and put some on. I french braided her hair. Mom pulled out a video of Sandy and her hairdresser that was aired on tv--a show about how to make children pretty or something. It was cute. After that it was a show called "Art Attack"--a Dutch-language show where a guy makes fun art projects on different scales. It was neat, and Sandy really loves it. Then it was nearly 9pm! I had already consumed yet another cup of tea, and thwarted probably three attempts at more food and drink. Gigi asks if I would like to see her husband's supermarket. I say sure. She calls and someone comes over. In that time, Gigi offers me a banana she's already peeled. I manage to take only half and make her eat the other half--the first thing I've seen her eat all afternoon/evening. Zazo wakes up just as Sandy and I are leaving for the supermarket.
The supermarket--owned by the husband and his brother, I think (husband--Adl, works from 8pm to 5am and brother works during the day)--is only a 2 minute walk from the flat. It's a nearly-Metro-sized supermarket. It has literally everything--kitchen appliances, a full complement of imported shampoo/lotion/etc, tons of food, lots of imported cheese, etc etc etc etc etc. I was amazed at how many people were in the store at 9pm, and congratulated Adl on running such a successful business. He said the store was famous in Shubra. Then he asked me if I wanted anything, it was "no problem." I tried to say no, but he wouldn't take no. I came home with two boxes of sugar free 100% Apple juice, a box of tea, a package of dates and a package of apricot paste that is used to make the ramadan drink, and about 25 chocolate bars. Then I didn't see these things again for a while--I wandered the store, met people (including Adl's mother and brother), took some photos, and hung out drinking tea. When the driver came to take me home, the bags appeared in the taxi. I got home and dumped out the candy on the floor in the lounge and asked people to dig in with me! I was so full there was no way I could even think about eating more. It was exactly like halloween, only these were all full size candy bars! Amazing.

It was quite the afternoon, I must say. I spend over 6 hours with this woman/family today, ate more than I even knew I could, and got a ton of free candy and juice. Crazy. No wonder we don't stay with host families here--people will go bankrupt to host someone. Hospitality is so important, so central to the understanding of life, that having friends is a very expensive and very time consuming venture. It's amazing. One of the reasons I wanted to come here was to experience hospitality and hope that some of that would rub off on me because I think it's crucial to the future of the church. This, though, is so far beyond anything I ever expected that first I have to work on graciously accepting hospitality. Then maybe I can think about offering it one day. Wow.

(update: This morning I woke up thinking about this, and realized that it really is Biblical Hospitality (with capital letters). Think Abraham and Sarah going out of their way for three men. Think Zaccheus having Jesus in for dinner at the last minute. It's amazing what endures in this place.)

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