Sunday, July 16, 2006

Leaving, on a Jet Plane

cross-posted from Adventures in Egypt, so you all can see it without clicking another link. Also, there are a lot of things I want to say about Israel and Gaza and Lebanon, but I'm using our dial-up so I don't really have time. Maybe when I get home. Until I get there, tomorrow afternoon American Time!, enjoy this and pray for safe travels. Love to you all! peace...Teri

Leaving, on a Jet Plane
My last letter from Cairo
July 16 2006

At this moment, I sit in my living room surrounded by two full, 23-kilogram suitcases, a backpack, and a laptop case. I have four candles burning—trying to make things smell homey though they don’t look homey anymore. Most of my food is gone—just a few things left to eat today. Everything is off the walls. My dresser, closet, desk, and bookshelves are empty. Trash bags abound—some filled with actual garbage which will be carefully sorted and recycled by the Christians in Garbage City, some filled with clothes and shoes and toiletries to be donated to the African refugees who come to St. Andrew’s church for help. Our internet is down so you may not get this until I get home…but, this being Cairo, it may come back anytime so we’ll just hope for the best.

Yesterday Naadia, one of our cleaning women, came to my room and looked at my suitcases and said something along the lines of, “oh, all your things are ready, your room is empty, I’ll miss you!” Even after a year of hanging out with Naadia and Marsa, who speak no English, I still often only get the basic gist of what they’re saying. A lot of the time I nod my head as though I understand when actually I caught only a few words. But yesterday needed no translation—Naadia is my friend, and she considers me like one of her children (grandchildren?). She has been here to help me figure things out in Dawson Hall, to wash my dishes if she felt I wasn’t getting to that quickly enough, to buy my groceries because it’s inappropriate for me to be the only young single woman in the market, to celebrate and to be sad at various times. Naadia has been working here for something like 15 years—long before the Young Adult Volunteers started staying here, and now she will continue after us as well, since there will be no volunteers here next year. When she said goodbye to us yesterday (she doesn’t work on Sundays—she goes to church to pray for us, she said!), she nearly had tears in her eyes as she said she wanted us to come back to Egypt soon, that she loves us and will miss us. And I will miss her too—she’s so friendly and helpful, loving and kind. I have learned a lot of things from Naadia and Marsa this year—about cooking, cleaning, fixing stopped-up drains and broken stoves, lighting the big oven in the common kitchen, hanging clothes to dry outside without getting them dirty, about Arabic, about their families, about how we do things in Egypt, about how to be a true servant and a joyful Christian. These women are really incredible. They can’t read, but they have great memories. They can’t speak my language and I can’t really speak theirs, but we have communicated with love.

As I prepare to leave Egypt in just a few hours, I am reflecting on some of the things I have learned this year. And so I am going to share them with you—serious and silly, in no particular order.

· There are definitely things I have struggled with this year, as many of you know. I went through a phase several months ago in which I really disliked this place, the way men treat women, the way people treat each other, the trash everywhere, the pollution, the lack of what my grandparents would call “common sense,” etc. But as I looked through photos the other day, I found myself really missing some of these places and people already. I actually discovered that, in my heart, I like Egypt quite a bit.

· I found out that I don’t use as many toiletries as I expected. In fact, I have leftovers of everything—probably enough toothpaste for another year, enough deodorant for four more months, and enough skin care products for another month or two at least. The only thing I guessed pretty accurately about was conditioner—my Dad brought me another bottle of conditioner because I was definitely running out…and I did have to use it, for about a week. So let that be a lesson—I don’t use as much of that stuff as I think I do!

· I have by no means acquired enough Arabic to be considered fluent or even mildly proficient. Jason and I were discussing yesterday that somewhere in the realm of verbs and not-as-simple adjectives, we are completely clueless. I tried to say last night “please give this photo to Mehir” and realized that I don’t know the words for give, take, receive, gift, etc, or how to say “to” someone. So I was left with the broken sentence “I won’t see him again…please (insert hand gestures miming giving something away) Mehir.” Crazy. I came here this year really hoping to leave proficient in this language. Then I tried to learn it. And then I went to work in a school where I was forbidden from speaking Arabic to students. So I never really practiced and I missed out on a lot of things—like verbs. oops. Maybe one day I will try again.

· On the other hand, I feel I have learned a surprising amount of Arabic. I can get along in a simple conversation, I can shop, I can get a taxi, I can talk to Naadia and Marsa and our gate guards about goings-on in our house, and I can talk about food like nobody’s business! I love food, so of course that’s the one thing I am fairly proficient in talking about. Bring on the food talk!

· It’s not so bad to have to wash your feet at the end of the day. In fact, it feels nice. But if you start needing to wash your feet (or your face) multiple times every day, I think we’ve crossed a line of grossness that just shouldn’t be crossed. Sadly, I crossed this line a couple of weeks ago, when it started to get really really hot and people started watering the road (why, we don’t know) with more frequency, leading to hidden puddles of nastiness and humidity rising off the sidewalk or street. Plus there’s been electrical work/construction going on in Dawson Hall for the past two weeks, so our house is covered in plaster dust and who-knows-what-else. Eew.

· Working in the seminary library I finally feel like I did something tangible. It was very task-oriented, which was nice because so much in Egypt feels disorganized so making something more orderly was a real bonus for me every day! Plus there are really great people working in the seminary library! I have definitely found myself swinging between two poles lately: the “I am in no way qualified to be a pastor, I should just do some kind of task-oriented job” pole and the “oh my goodness please get me out of this task-oriented fiasco and let me deal with people and worship and preaching and youth again!” This year I have really missed many things about being a pastor—especially leading worship. And I found that when I started teaching the teen class at the Coptic Cathedral, I had really missed youth ministry too. I loved those girls—we had so much fun playing games, reading stories, learning together, and generally being cool. I am sad to leave them after only 6 weeks together, but I know they will remember me, and I will remember them. Plus they really helped me to clarify my call to be involved in youth ministry in some way.

· Mango juice is back—I’m so glad I didn’t leave before mangos came in season again! Fresh mango juice in Egypt (which is widely reported to have the best mangos in the world) is one of the most wonderful things you can put in your mouth. ooh, it’s so good. Right now the juice stands have bags and bags of mangos hanging outside, and on Ramses Street (where we live) it’s quite a sight to behold, since there’s a juice shop every 50 yards or so. Incredible.

· After a whole year, I can safely say that my favorite place in Cairo is the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral. It’s about a five minute walk from our house, and it is full of interesting people and things. Only Christians are allowed inside the gates (they check for cross tattoos, IDs, etc at the gate)—supposedly for “safety” because the pope lives in the humongous complex. Inside there’s the church, a seminary, a library (with books mainly in Coptic and Arabic), an icon workshop, a couple of canteens/cafeterias, some shops, a sport club, the pope’s house, lots of offices, green courtyards with chairs, and lots of friendly people. Only once have I been stared at by men in the Cathedral complex. Never have I heard a rude comment or been touched or anything. Instead I have found friends wandering all over the place, just hanging out, or waiting for a class to start. I have made friends over snacks, taught classes, sat in the grassy cross-shaped courtyard, bought an icon (and made friends with the artist) and looked at cheesy stuff in the shops. The Cathedral is the best thing about living in this neighborhood, and one of the things I will most miss.

· I am really looking forward to going somewhere with normal water. The water here smells very strange—I can’t even describe the smell, but it’s quite gross. In the summer there is no sign whatsoever of cold water after about 10 am—in fact, the other day I found that the water coming from the cold tap was hot enough to make me pull my hand out…I could probably have cooked a cup-a-soup with that water. Oh, for cold water during the hot part of the day!

These are just a few of the things I have been noticing and thinking about this week as I have prepared to leave. In just 12 hours Jason and I will leave Dawson Hall for the airport. If all goes well we will arrive in Atlanta 19 hours after that. So 31 hours from right now, we’ll be home—insha’allah. It’s quite an impressive thing, and also a strange thing, to think that we can leave a whole way of life behind in a few hours. I feel like I’ve been preparing to leave for a few weeks now, but also it kind of snuck up on me—the realization that I won’t be back at the library on Monday, that I took my last taxi ride yesterday, that I went to church here for the last time, that I ate my last fuul sandwich, that I won’t be having any more ice cream from the Christian-run sweet shop, that I won’t see the Cathedral again, etc. The last few days I have been focusing on things that need to be done when I get home—making doctor’s appointments and hair appointments, preparing for interviews with churches and my presbytery committee, buying shoes online, getting a cell phone service set up, etc. It feels weird to do those things, to move back into the American Way of Life. But they must be done. The tricky bit will be trying to adapt the American Way of Life to my broadened understanding of life in all its fullness.

I think that’s more than enough for one day—plus, it’s lunch time. I need to go eat up the last of my food! I hope our phone line and internet connection comes back on in time for me to send this to you before I leave. If not, know that I’m thinking of you and hope to hear from you soon…since you’ll be reading this when I’m already home!

Thank you for your support of me and this program during this year. It’s been really wonderful—a growing and learning experience, a great privilege, and an incredible opportunity to live with people in a different part of the world. I look forward to sharing more of the experience with you. In the meantime, check out my website at and my photos at

rabbina mayku

maa salaama


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