My brain is so full I can barely blog!
To begin: the fam visit was excellent. Jason's mother and brother and my father and brother arrived safely, only an hour or so late. We had a wonderful visit. We took them to visit--in no particular order: our places of work, Coptic Cairo, Islamic Cairo, the pyramids of Giza (the three famous ones), Saqqara (the step pyramid--the first use of masonry work in architecture), and Dashour (the Bent and Red pyramids, both built for the same king), to the Cairo Museum, to Alexandria where we visited the Qaitbey Citadel and the library and where we had lunch at the fish market overlooking the harbor and the Meidterranean!, to Aswan where we visited our first Temple and the High Dam, to Abu Simbel where we saw Ramses II's egocentrism displayed in the form of self-deification--and where a temple for his beloved wife has four statues of himself and only two of her!, on a cruise from Aswan to Luxor...stopping at temples at Kom Ombo and Edfu on the way, to all the stuff in Luxor including two huge temples, the Valley of the Kings, Queen Hatshepsut's Temple, and the Luxor Museum, and my dad and I even walked around the actual village of Luxor, in the non-tourist areas, and found a lovely place for lunch AND the fair trade shop we'd been wandering around looking for.
That run-on sentence is about what our two weeks felt like. All of that happened in a space of a mere 9 days. At the end of the 9th day, Jason's fam left. On the 10th day, my fam and I slept in a little! Then we went to visit Moqattam--the hills on the edge of Cairo. Commonly referred to as "Garbage City", it's where the garbage from Cairo goes to be sorted and recycled...and lived in/on/among/with. The neighborhood smelled horrendous, was covered in garbage, and every door I looked in had whole families sitting in piles of rubbish, pulling more and more of it out of big bags, sorting and sitting with flies and who knows what else. About 70% of the residents of this area are Christian. I have heard it's the only place in the city where people raise pigs (unclean in Islam). It was incredibly strange...and even stranger to be a white family in a big taxi driving through the neighborhood.
We kept driving, up and up the hill, through the narrow and garbage filled streets, past children running barefoot and eating things off the ground, past whole families sorting garbage, past donkey carts pulling in more garbage. Eventually we came to a big gate. Moustafa had to leave his driver's license at the gate, and then we were in. And compared to outside, this was paradise...Eden, if you will. It was one of the cleanest places I've been in Cairo. There were trees and flowers and well-maintained roads. And, the main attraction: the cave churches. During the past 25 years or so, the Coptic church has been really active in this area. They found caves and people worshipping in them, and turned them into huge sanctuaries for the people of Garbage City. We visited four, I think--from a massive auditorium-style church built under a cave (with carvings rather than paintings), complete with an iconostasis and altar hewn out of the rock at the bottom, to a small cave with just rugs on the floor and some pictures of Jesus propped up on the rocks. All these churches are dedicated to Simon the Tanner, who moved the Moqattam mountain. They were really quite incredible--not just for the coolness of worshipping in a cave, but also for the really amazing carvings in the mountain. Also, to think about living among garbage and then coming here....it is really a sanctuary, a place to see the beauty of the earth and in people, a place to see that the work they do outside makes a difference.
Many people say that the garbage collectors make very good money. I am not sure that's true, having visited the village. It seemed most of them lived in huts, the children were barely clothed, everything was dirty (duh, it's a garbage dump), and people didn't look particularly happy. There are a variety of ministries going on there, both local and foreign. There's even an initiative in which women sell the crafts they make from recycled goods. At the Fair Trade shop in Luxor I bought a small woven picture made from recycled paper and recycled fabric and thread. But there is so much to be done there. These people, maybe 20,000 of them or so, are scratching out a living by collecting the garbage of cairo (at no cost to us, the garbage makers) and then living in it and recycling it. There are about 20 million people in Cairo currently, and the population is growing every day. My brother was totally grossed out by the visit, not understanding how people could live in "such filth" and not leave. I asked him where they would go? There is 35% unemployment in Egypt. Where could they go to get out of Garbage City? The doors of the western countries are closed to all but a select few immigrants every year. The situation is no better in neighboring countries. Where could they go to get out of Egypt? Are there really opportunities for making a better life if you are one of the garbage collecting families? I just don't see them. not right now anyway. And that makes me sad. So pray for the families of Garbage City. Pray for Egypt, actually....a country with a lot of problems and a lot of potential, but seemingly with no drive and no imagination to create solutions and pursue advancement or progress or betterment or development or whatever. all complaining, but also all loitering. At least the people in Garbage City are doing something useful, performing a (free) service, trying to help the environment, and making their money honestly.
so....that's some of what's in my brain. and now it's WAY past my bedtime, so part II to come tomorrow, maybe, or Wednesday. ttfn!