Saturday, April 29, 2006


this puzzle has been amusing me these past few days. I just finished. :-)

...or not...

At 9 this morning my dad called to tell me they are in the Cairo. a sandstorm/rainstorm last night cancelled the flights out of cairo. so they'll go to Milan this afternoon and instead of a five-hour layover they'll be taken to another alitalia-funded hotel room for a 16 hour layover...and then on to the rest of their original itinerary, 24 hours late. good times.'s always something.

Friday, April 28, 2006

fly, fly away

i just left my dad and brother at the Cairo airport...three hours ahead of the scheduled flight (which I checked before we left and was listed as 10 minutes delayed). I just checked again and now it is 2 hours delayed...yuck! Five hours in the Cairo airport is cruel and unusual punishment.

I hope they get home okay...

...and I hope I don't wish tomorrow that I had gone with them.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


the fam and i are off to aswan/abu simbel/cruising to Luxor...back Tuesday.


Monday, April 17, 2006

they're here!

All the fam has arrived...they are experiencing Cairo traffic and Cairo air even as we speak!


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter from the land of Egypt....

Some developments:

...We've been given a counselor and appointments with her in an attempt to process and maybe re-frame some of the things that have been happening here...
...the site coordinator is no longer attending the discernment events, which means that there will be no volunteers here next year...
...we had green bean casserole tonight because it is EASTER!!...
...the service this morning was nice, but the service last night at St. John the Baptist was incredible. The pastor talked about Mary Magdalene being right that Jesus was the gardener because God is the original and constant gardener (he referenced the book/movie "The Constant Gardener"). It was incredible...and the music was awesome... brother and dad, and jason's mom and brother, are at the Atlanta airport right now waiting for their flight to come here! they will arrive tomorrow afternoon! so exciting!

"Easter" in Arabic is "eid el-zaaf"--literally feast of the resurrection. We have been feasting, indeed...with pizza, brownies and ice cream, frapuccinos, green bean casserole, and vegetable soup. yum! We have been feasting on this resurrection day....and tomorrow we will feast again! i love food. :-)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Revenge of the Pisces, Cairo Cab, and other short stories

--Jason, a pisces, finally exploded this week. Between our experiences on the streets last week, his frustration about our site coordinator, and the growing irritation that things happen that he can't do anything about--most of which have been building for months, I think--well, he just blew up. To Lynn. She asked to talk to him...and he talked. And talked. Rather loudly. Told her what he thought. Then left without giving her a chance to answer. Now she's apologizing to each of us for doing a bad job and trying to get other feedback to offset the criticism. I told her that she needs to learn to listen instead of talking when she's trying to offer someone pastoral care. no offsetting from me, apparently....

--Yellow Cab has come to Egypt. Here in Egypt every city has it's own taxi system...using the term "system" loosely. Taxis are painted a specific set of colors in each city (black and white in Cairo, black and yellow in Alexandria, white and blue in Aswan, etc). You get in a taxi and when it drops you off, you pay him. Sometimes you agree the price beforehand, sometimes you just give him whatever you think is fair when you get there. Yellow Cab uses--gasp!--a meter! I noticed the Yellow Cab for the first time the other day, and on the side it said "Cairo Cab." Okay. Then I noticed the Arabic script, which guessed it, "Cairo Cab." (Spelled, in Arabic, K-A-Y-R-O/W K-A-B.) Too bad in Arabic the name of Cairo is "al-Qahira", not Cairo.

--All of my classes can no sing "Rise and Shine" really successfully, and all have learned "Come All You People" though one class needs to work on it. Two classes have successfully learned "Jesus Loves Me." They are so cute when they sing it, all their little-girl voices.

--The YAVs are all in Cairo for Easter...yay! I am going to an Easter service on Saturday afternoon because that's when the church I go to worships. Then I am singing in the choir at the Anglican Cathedral on Sunday morning...and then, insha'allah, planning to eat the best pizza in Cairo (at Maison Thomas) AND go to a Western-style coffee shop to relax for the afternoon. ilhamdulillah!

--It was pizza day at school yesterday AND my pre-break class was having pizza, not koshary, which mean free pizza for me! I love Pizza Plus, it's really good. Not Maison Thomas good, but good. And it's free for the teacher if you have a class eating pizza! yay! two pieces of free pizza for me.

--I have written an essay trying to process the whole violent-response-to-nasty-Egyptian-men thing in relation to my commitment to nonviolence. It is also about what is good and what is not good about living in Egypt as a woman. I'm debating about whether to send it to Coracle, the magazine of the Iona Community, or not.

--today I needed chocolate but didn't have any, so I sacrificed some brought-from-home chocolate chips to my needs. yum.

Monday, April 10, 2006

a lot going on

not in the traditional oh-crap-it's-already-holy-week-where-did-lent-go kind of way, but actually in the living-in-Egypt kind of way.

In fact, this is probably the first and last Lent/Holy Week/Easter I have had as a Christian/will have in my life in which I am not insanely busy and wondering where the time went and if we can pull it all off and if the vacation that starts on Easter Monday will ever arrive.

Instead, there is just a lot going on. Lots of nasty men. Lots of stress involved in going outside the school walls. Lots of noise. Lots of traffic. A holiday today (the Prophet's birthday) which means no school but also nothing open. A lot of wondering what to do as the year progresses, what my job will be when school lets out, whether maybe i want to leave egypt early because the stress of being a woman and being harassed/abused every day on the street is maybe not worth it. a lot of struggling with my knowledge and feeling and commitment that non-violence is right but that a violent reaction is not only the first thing that now comes to me in the street but also seems to be the only thing that shames a man into not doing it again (at least for a little while). a lot of watching as my boyfriend gets more and more angry inside because all these things are happening and he's powerless to do anything...and the people with the ability/power to help choose not to do anything. a lot of wondering whether i'll have good things to say about Egypt when I leave. a lot of wondering whether maybe I'm becoming one of those "exclusive truth" Christians. a lot of wondering where the support network is here.

There's a lot going on.

(And, of course, there is a lot of church stuff too....tenebrae on wednesday, dinner on thursday, good friday morning, lunch with other missionaries, workshop in the evening, church on saturday, singing in the choir at a church on sunday, maybe having a dinner out on sunday, family arriving monday...i would like to think that all the internal stuff will be finished soon so i can focus on cleaning my flat before my dad gets here!!)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

things that have happened in the past few days....

--I had dinner with a young woman (a year or two older than me) from Yakima, WA. That's right, a woman from my own hometown, here in Egypt. We met at a mutual friends' house near downtown. She was charming and nice and we had a wonderful time.

--I got a postcard from a wonderful friend.

--I taught two classes "Come All You People", complete with the british-sign-language motions. I also reviewed with them "Rise and Shine", a song they love because it's so energetic and the motions are fun...also, it's really easy.

--I had a wonderful lunch and tea-time with some seminary students and some friends who acted as "bodyguards" on the walk to the seminary. Good times1

--I found out that the Bachelor's students at the seminary want to exchange their chaplain (a married man) for me (a "single" woman who would make a great pastor's wife, apparently). They are only partly joking.

--I punched a guy (on the arm) because he saw me on the sidewalk and unzipped his pants and whipped it out and started masturbating while walking toward me. I sidestepped him just in time and hit him, but not hard enough.

--I said precisely what I think about this site continuing to function as-is for YAVs--that is to say, I told the Area Coordinator and the Site Coordinator that it shouldn't be a site unless they do some serious work with partners and with setting up a support network and system for future YAVs, and that I suspect that work cannot be done in time for a group next year.

--I read a book called "A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian" which was surprisingly good...surprising because it started out with a recounting of one woman's experience of losing her mother to an illness. ugh. don't any books not have women dying of cancer in them any more? But the book made a turn for the better, plot-wise.

--I sat in a taxi on the 26th of July bridge for the better part of an hour on the way to choir. Our taxi driver even turned off the engine. We still don't know what the hold up was. The traffic was still at a standstill when I crossed the bridge the other direction (which was fine) nearly three hours later.

--I refused to allow one class into the library because they refused to stand in the line and be quiet. If they can't be quiet, they can't go into the library.

--I realized just how angry and aggressive I've become here, and I've started praying for the anger and hatred to leave me because it's just not healthy. But I've also realized that in order to walk on the streets here, I need those things. That makes me even more angry. So there's a cycle here that I don't know how to get out of yet.

--I had a caramel frappuccino at the new "hot cafe" that opened across the street a couple of months ago (it used to be called "oro cafe" but it's already changed management and names. how funny....). It was pretty good and I'm kind of craving another. I miss Starbucks and ChocoLatte.

--I ate pizza from Pizza Hut. And mozzarella sticks from Chili's. And I've been kind of craving Little Caesar's, which is funny because at home the only place you can really get that is KMart, which I'm not sure is in business anymore, actually.

--I offered to show our site coordinator around the neighborhood, because on the off-chance that there ARE volunteers here next year she'll need to be able to show them around and I know she won't ever get around to it unless I take her. Next Monday is a holiday (the Prophet's birthday) so there's no school--a perfect time.

--I've been reading my classes a "counting" book that has a page about Egypt. The girls love it.

--I've given/received about a hundred kisses-on-the-cheek from 7 year olds.

And it's only Wednesday....

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Total Solar Eclipse

Tuesday evening, Jason and I headed to one of Cairo's bus stations for an 11.30pm bus to Sallum (pronounced "saloom"), a town on the Mediterranean coast and the Egyptian/Libyan border. The bus ride was about 9 hours, and it was neither the most comfortable nor the most uncomfortable mode of transportation.

We arrived in Sallum and were greeted with the news that we would be required to pay 100 Egyptian pounds to go through the gates of the city to watch the eclipse. Well, of course we were not about to do that--since we could watch the exact same eclipse outside the gates of the city for free! However, we had to go into the city to get bus tickets out. Were we going to have to pay 100 pounds just to leave the city? An Egyptian woman whirled around on us to say "this is our country and you have to pay for it!!!!!!!!!!" I really really wish I had been quick enough to say "actually, my tax dollars fund your country, including the road you came here on" but I wasn't. Instead what happened is that the woman found out that Egyptians too were being required to pay 100 pounds to get in the city gates. At that point they were all really angry and eventually we all got in for free. ilhamdulillah!!!!

We went into the town and found the bus station (and also found out that we can only buy bus tickets half an hour before the bus leaves....ah, Egypt). Then we headed out to the beach and set up camp, as it were. Me, Jason, a British guy, an Irish guy, two German girls, and hundreds of Egyptian men. No Egyptian women, just men. Soon we had quite a crowd of men, in fact. Some had the ubiquitous camera phone. ugh. most were staring. some were making comments. All were getting closer and closer and closer. So, I did a little freaking out. I shouted at them, I demanded a phone from one of them and ordered them to stop taking pictures, I pushed and shoved. They went away. About half an hour later, we had another crowd, with the same problem. This time Jason took away the camera phone. He said something to the men. One of the men called him "wehesh" (bad). I definitely lost it--I screamed and I pushed them and punched them in the chest and arms and they left. After a while, a new crowd. Repeat.

In between all of this, we were keeping tabs on the moon's progress. We were near someone who had set up a telescope to project on a piece of paper, so we could easily watch. We also made little spaces with our fingers so we could look at the shape on the sand. And, of course, Jason had is sun-watching tube.

Another crowd had gathered around us but it was getting very dim...we could see the shadow of the moon progressing across the sky and the land....I started to hum the Cat Stevens song "Moon Shadow" (lol) began to get chilly....the horizon looked like sunset with orange and pink and blue....soon we saw Venus, and then some stars...and then, all of a sudden, it was dark. And I mean DARK. It was cold, it was full on night, and we could look straight at the sun. It looked like a black hole had appeared in the middle of it! There was just a white ring around the blackest black disk I have ever seen. The men on the beach started shouting "allah akbar, allah akbar!!!" over and over. (God is the greatest/biggest.) We were all completely in awe--frantically taking pictures, trying to take it in, and generally revelling in the experience of midnight at midday. It was the most amazing thing I have ever seen.

In four minutes and a few seconds, it was over. The moon moved a bit, a sliver of light came through and then it was like sunrise, only faster. The men were shouting "allah akbar!" again. we couldn't look anymore, because the brilliant light (and its UV rays) would severely damage our eyes, what with our pupils being dilated from the dark and all. And then it was light, and off we went.

We had been planning to go on to Siwa Oasis afterward...until we found out that the hotels were full and that they were expecting up to 10,000 people in the Oasis after the eclipse. I was not feeling up to another crowds-of-egyptians (or really, crowds in general) experience after spending several hours fending off Egyptian men on the beach in Sallum, so instead we grabbed the bus to Alexandria (about 8 hours) and went to visit the YAVs who live there. We spent a wonderful two days walking on the Mediterranean, sleeping in, hanging out with the Jennifers, and eating at the Chinese restauarants of two major hotels. And then, Friday night, we were on a train back to Cairo....and that was that.

more photos are on the yahoo photos page. enjoy.

Habitat for Humanity

Last weekend (ten days ago now), our YAV group was all together again...this time for our "March Retreat"--which happened in the form of a trip to El-Minya, a city in middle-upper Egypt. We went to the train station in Cairo really really early in the morning. We rode the train for about 3-1/2 hours. We arrived in Minya where it was nice and warm and sunny, and were met by our two fellow YAVs who are placed up there....and a nice complement of military and police, and then we were off!

We were whisked out to a village with a very long name, where we were ushered into a large room and introduced to the mayor of the village. We drank tea, hung out, talked about (and amongst) ourselves, and were well received by said mayor AND the local Habitat committee. It was a nice way to begin! Then we headed to the Evangelical church where we had lunch in a place that looked like a fellowship hall but was apparently often used for "meetings" (ie worship). It was a meatified boxed lunch with chunks, pieces, and balls of meat, along with some bread and tahina (hummus). Eric saved the day by giving me his bread and tahina, and I scrounged up some more bread from Jason and Jennifer too, making for a nice bready lunch for me. And then we were really off and running!

Our assignments were to roof or paint. Naturally I asked for painting--no one wants me putting a roof on their house. Aside from the insurance liability (not an issue in Egypt!), it probably wouldn't last long if I did it. Ask my grandparents sometime about me and hammering nails, and you'll understand. SO: Jen and I headed out to a house (Jason was not feeling well and was going to join us after a little while). There we discovered that they weren't ready for paint. We were going to spackle instead. Now, I don't know what I thought spackling was, but it wasn't this. I had this impression of filling holes or something. Instead we were asked to basically cement over the mud brick walls of the room.

When I say "mud brick" I mean mud brick. Like made-by-the-Hebrews-of-the-Old-Testament mud brick. I could see the straw. Touching one basically made it crumble under my fingers.

And we were supposed to take a cement mixture and somehow throw it onto these walls (without them falling down) and then smooth it out.


Jen and I attempted this, but found that the cement ended up on the dirt floor instead. And not just a few drops here and there. I mean the entire blob of cement that was on the pallet ended up on the floor. There was a huge crowd of Egyptian men standing around, including the guy who had done the other wall, and they were laughing and smirking and saying things we didn't understand. Thankfully, after a few minutes of us wondering how on earth we were going to do this, some Habitat personnel (who speak arabic) arrived. We told them this was basically hopeless and that maybe it would be better, go quicker, and last longer if the master spackler did that part and we just mixed the cement and scooped it up for him. They agreed, especially after watching us for about a nano second.

So, Jen and I learned how to mix cement. We learned to put two scoops on the pallette and hand it to the guy who did the "real" work. We made a little system--one of us would scoop and the other would hand the man the full pallet while taking the empty one and handing it to the scooper. When one got tired of the job, we switched. This was a wonderful arrangement and the wall was coming on very nicely! But we were hot and sticky and our hair was flying a very lovely woman came in with two head scarves, which she tied up for us so that cement wouldn't get in our hair and so it wouldn't fly all around. We were stunning in these, let me tell you!

At this point Jason arrived and our assembly line became three people long, which made it a little more difficult. We ran out of cement and had to take a long, long, long tea break while more powder was brought and while some "strong men" mixed it with the water and gypsum for us. The women and children came up, and we took photos, talked in broken Arabic...and I also found out that the whole neighborhood was outside! I looked out the window and everyone was in the street looking up!

We had nearly finished our whole wall, but not quite, when the Habitat people (and the other spackling-not-painting crew) arrived to retrieve us at 4. We boarded the bus and headed back into Minya. On the way we saw--da da da daaaa!--water buffalo! I have been wanting a photo of a water buffalo since we got here. So cool. I got this photo from the moving bus! Awesome.

We got back to the Cleopatra Hotel, where we showered and rested up before dinner. Jen and I decided to go out for a little walk before dinner, just down the street, for five minutes. When we got to the front door, we were told we needed an escort. "no, really...we'll stay on this street, you'll be able to see us the whole time" we said. we went! About halfway down the street we realize there is a man from the hotel following us. nice. So we walked to the end of the street and back, with a man following us. Good times.

After dinner we had a worship service around the dinner table in the restaurant of the hotel. hmm. Then some of us decided we needed a walk on Minya's famous corniche (the walk along the Nile). It was a gorgeous evening, but first we had to wait for the police/army guys to appear. Great. It took a while, but eventually a pickup truck full of police officers arrived, plus an army guy, and we were allowed to walk away. We headed out to the corniche as a group (most of the YAVs plus the Habitat staff). We sauntered a ways....then another police car arrived and now we were allowed to walk faster--finally! And then, in a fit of rebellion, we left the sidewalk and walked down to the riverwalk. Some plainclothes police and some uniformed guys too hopped out and followed us down there. We walked a long way--all the way to the CEOSS river boat. We stopped occasionally, we chatted, we walked, and it was so nice. the only blight on the evening was a man with a camera phone taking pictures of me. More on those in another post.

Anyway, we headed back and went to bed. I started not feeling well over night, and by morning I was definitely ill. I tried to eat breakfast, failed, and decided that a bumpy bus ride on dirt roads through a village was not a good idea. I stayed in my room at the hotel, in bed (and the bathroom) for the day, and the group came to retrieve me for lunch. I was feeling better by then, thankfully! I had some rice and some potatoes. We hung out a little while in the sun by the Nile, and then we were back on the train to Cairo. And that was our Habitat for Humanity weekend. Good times!

There are lots more photos of this in the "Minya in March" photo album in my yahoo photos...including photos of YAVs goofing off in our free time!