Tuesday, May 30, 2006

efficiency and safetey are....Western values

Once again this week we have encountered the fact that other cultures just don't place the same value on efficiency or on word-keeping that we do.

For the past two years, the library of the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Cairo was housed in boxes and piles in the assembly hall while the library was renovated. The entire library--two floors--was supposed to be finished in time for a move back last September. Well, when I began working there at the beginning of October, they were just moving books in, but only to the first floor. The second floor was not finished, the shelves were not installed, etc.

This past week a bunch of guys came and started working there. They sawed. They varnished. They moved things. All with windows and doors closed and a full staff working. Several people who worked over the weekend are sick now--not just with respiratory issues but even with skin issues. Standing at the door of the library without going in even results in an incredible feeling of ickiness to accompany nearly being knocked out by fumes.

The library has been open during all of this...which is happening during the last week of exams. Karla, the foreign languages librarian, has forbidden Jennifer or I (and preferably everyone else) from going in the library, and ordered the windows and doors opened, etc. Which means that this week we had to learn about the library computer program on a different computer...which meant that the computer program needed to be loaded onto the other computer in the other building, etc. Now, the seminary has a network, and the library program is on the network, and every staff person is supposed to have a login that allows them to access their own computer and all its programs from any computer on campus...but in reality, no. It took 24 hours to get the program loaded onto the other office computer and hooked up with the library computer. and that's with a couple hours of nagging the computer man. crazy.

Graduation for the seminary is this weekend. There are a bunch of guests coming from around the world, a few dozen students graduating, and a whole weekend worth of events. That means that the third floor of the main building (what will ultimately be a research center for Middle East Christianity) needs to be cleared and prepared. No work has been done on it all year, so it's covered in sand and work materials and who knows what else. Naturally, today workers came and began hauling out sand in bags. This is the method they chose: one person at the top fills a bag with sand (probably with about 15-20 pounds worth), then carries it to a person on the landing, who carries it to the next landing down, who carries it to the next landing down, who carries it to a guy standing about five steps from the bottom--where they switch on the steps and that guy takes it outside. This sounds like it should work beautifully...except that they stand around a long time between bags because there's just one guy at the top scooping-and-hauling sand.

I know both from fairly wide travel and from my education (thanks Dr. Clarke) that efficiency is really a Western value, and more specifically a North American value, and that it hasn't always been the goal even in the US. I know that it's a relatively recent development, along with the value that "choice is good." And I am willing to be inefficient in some things--I do believe that building relationships is what's important, that cultural values are important, that sometimes stretching out the work makes it more bearable and leads to more job security. But when you're talking about something that was supposed to be finished a year ago, and it's not done--and it is probably a 5 person job and there are 10 people doing it--then I think we have a problem. Especially when you decide to do that job during the most inopportune time available, and put other people at risk in the process. Or when a job that could have been done 3 months ago is put off to four days before the time everything needs to be perfect. It seems that perhaps there's a better, less stressful way.

If you are going to do things at the last minute, at least do them efficiently so they're done on time without you having to work around the clock--divide the work efficiently, know the limits of safety and attention span and strength/fatigue, and get the job done. As an experienced procrastinator, I have to say: Egyptians get a failing grade on the procrastination front. It seems to happen all the time, but not well. If you're going to procrastinate, that means you have to actually work hard and work well when it's crunch time.

I want to be understanding, but everyone is so stressed out, I'm just annoyed. So much stress could be avoided by doing the work the week or month before rather than the day before. So much illness could be avoided by doing the lacquering at your shop rather than IN the library. So much frustration could be avoided by doing things when you say you will, rather than one year later. No wonder this is a western value--it's an industrialization mindset. And Egypt not being a fully industrialized society, let alone post-industrial like most Western countries, lacks that mindset. And what I have to say about that is this: oy.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

so many things or too few things?

Things here are either very slow or too full, because I feel like I don't have anything to write about. Let's see...

--my students at RCG are taking exams and I am finished with them. I said goodbye to many of them and got photos of quite a few. I found out the day before my last day that it was going to be the last day. Good times.

--my seminary students are busy writing and studying away, and this week was the last week of cafeteria meals for them so I'm basically done with them too.

--This week I had my end-of-term dinner party for the seminary master's students and the faculty that teach them. Indian food for 15-20 people! It was my first attempt at large-scale Indian food. I was kind of tired of big dinner parties with mashed potatoes and lentils and salad/soup. I made dal and vegetable curry successfully. I made saffron rice less successfully (the organic Egyptian rice is too sticky). I made chana masala even less successfully because I didn't properly anticipate the change in cooking time when I quadrupled the recipe...so it wasn't ready in time. But now it tastes good, though a little dry. We left it cooking all through the meal and it ended up boiling all the liquid off. I'm still figuring out how to salvage that.
Strangely, this dinner party turned into a lunch party because the seminary president's mother-in-law died. Now, at home that wouldn't have much impact on students, and the impact on faculty would be minimal. But here it's not like that, and everyone had to go to the wake, which was scheduled for...you guessed it...the same time as the dinner. So we changed the time to Tuesday lunch. Which, of course, works out okay because normally the bigger meal here is a late lunch. Granted, we had an early lunch (for Egypt) because people had to do things like go to class and stuff. ha! No more of that for me, suckers! (just kidding.) So anyway, Monday dinner became Tuesday lunch, which meant that I had to do all the cooking and prep by myself because everyone else was at work! So...I was chopping and sauteing and boiling and stirring and whatnot, by myself, working in three kitchens with three stoves of two burners each, for about 4 hours before people arrived and about half an hour after. And I still forgot to make the dessert--Sarah did it at the last minute for me. In spite of all that, it was a big success. Thank goodness!

--Today I began my new summer job...working in the seminary library. I'll be doing all kinds of different things (excellent, because doing just one thing makes me crazy...that's one of the major reasons I didn't like being a musician and also why I don't want to be a one-ministry-in-a-huge-church pastor, because pigeon holing me leads to boredom and general unhappiness). I may undertake an inventory of the library, some classifying and processing of new books, and maybe even organizing the periodicals if the upstairs gets finished. (Currently the periodicals are in piles in a room upstairs.)

--I finished Erskine Clarke's book Dwelling Place and it was good. It was intriguing to read about plantation families and their slaves at the same time, almost as one family (which is, in a sense, how many of the more benevolent planters thought of their slaves). Though there was at first a little excessive use of the Dan Brown idiom--you know, "she had no idea how important this relationship would become" and "he would later be haunted by those words" etc--ultimately the writing style was really accessible. History was actually a story I could get into--and boy did I get into it!. By the time the Northern troops came through plundering plantations, I was really mad that they would do something like that! Granted, it was more of the indignation that they would steal EVERYTHING along with the livelihood of the people, but still. It was a new feeling for me to feel protective of the Southerners. Very strange. Now, I know about the causes and the reasons for the Civil War. And this book didn't contain any new info on that front. But what I did learn is: that white planters didn't always treat slaves harshly (like beating and overworking and whatnot)--in fact, some plantations probably had slaves that had better working and living conditions than many people working for minimum wage today, the problem is simply the huge one that they were property, not wage-earning working people; that the northern troops came through and didn't "liberate" slaves as much as ultimately further enslave them because not only did the troops plunder plantation houses, but they plundered slave settlements too, stealing food, animals, possessions, and even burning down the simple houses. Which, of course, is only further evidence that the war wasn't about liberating slaves (which we all know alreayd) but really about politics and economics. We can't have rogue states seceding so we have to force them back, and in doing so we have to make sure they won't have the resources to do that again. And, of course, I was struck by similarities to the sitation we're in in Iraq. We "liberated" but in doing so we destroyed so many lives and livelihoods that the people are now, in our opinion, dependent on us. Is that what we wanted...again? Yes, both catalysts were good causes. But really.
(Please don't read here that I support slavery or genocide or anything like that, because I don't. And I will be the first to say that "institutions" like that need to be overturned. But perhaps the way it was done was not in the best interest of solving the supposed problem, but rather in another more economic/political interest?)

--I've begun hearing from a couple of churches that have seen my CSC on the Columbia website. I am allowed to talk to churches but not to negotiate (because my real Final Assessment is on August 7, after I get back from Egypt). This is very exciting to me! So...if you know any Presbyterian churches looking for an Associate Pastor (preferably more general than specific, though I'm fairly open), let them know they can find my CSC here as a PDF file.

That's all for now because it's time for Bible study. ttfn...

Saturday, May 20, 2006

friday five on saturday

I love words, and reading, and have (it seems, anyway) ALWAYS been a big reader with a big vocabulary. So this friday five is right up my alley!

Five words I learned through reading but had/have no idea how to pronounce:

1. inevitable. I can't even tell you how long I thought this was pronounced with a long I and stress on the "vit"--as in in-eh-VITE-uh-ble. as far as phonetic rules go, that would so be right....but then again, this is English so never mind. I still remember the day my friend Rachel corrected this for me (as we were walking across the softball fields from class at YVC to her car for lunch.) I thought I had won the argument on this until I looked it up in a dictionary later. dang.

2. slough. As in Pilgrim's Progress and the "Slough of Despond." I know it's not the same as "to slough off" but is it "slew" (like the past tense of slay?) or is it something else entirely? (okay, I totally just looked this up and it IS in fact pronounced "sloo"--so there.)

3. azure. You know, like blue? where does the stress even go on this word? and is it a pure z or a zh? weird foreign words. ;-) (so kidding...about the mocking of foreign words, I mean, not about not knowing where the accent is...)

4. gaol. like prison. good thing we don't really talk like that anymore...

5. hmm, I actually can't think of a fifth one. My memory must be fading...or my use of the dictionary.com's pronunciation guide has removed this problem? (I guess I could go look up some of those other words there....or not.) :-)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Cairo Choral Society

Tonight we had the second of our choir performances. This week has been very full, with dress rehearsals on Monday and Tuesday, and performances on Wednesday and Thursday! I think tonight was the better night. Though it's a harder venue for listeners, it's better for us as singers. That sounds strange, I know. But in the auditorium (last night) we couldn't hear each other AT ALL. Tonight in the Cathedral we could hear very well...but there was quite a bit of reverb apparently, making it harder for people to hear, apparently. But we sang so much better! yay!

You may be wondering what we sang. Well, we sang three Haydn songs (in German) that were fairly amusing--one about harmony in marriage, how the man likes to do all these things and conveniently the woman likes the same things; one about all life's work being behind and death knocking at the door(Haydn himself being old when he wrote it); and one about how drinking water makes you mute like fishes so it's much better to drink wine. We sang a french hymn about the night. We sang Schubert's "Miriam's Victory Song", a setting of the song of Miriam in Exodus...in German. We sang Mozart's Regina Coeli (the words are something like "queen of heaven, rejoice, he is risen as he said! alleluia!")--in Latin. We sang Purcell's setting of the psalm that says "O Sing to the Lord a new song"...thankfully in English! And, last but not least, we sang Bach Cantata 34, about God's love being an everlasting fire or something like that...in German again. So, we sang a LOT in German. More than I anticipated. More than I like. German is hard. ;-) But it was fun and it was nice to have something to work on and learn. It was an amazing experience to sing to an audience in Egypt that was pretty mixed with expats and locals. There are Egyptians in the choir who are NICE! The orchestra (all Egyptian) was pretty good. The conductor was wonderful. All around, it was really great.

It was exciting to get all dressed up in concert clothes, to wear pretty shoes, to make sure to wear enough makeup for the lights, etc. It was also exciting to think "so there! I AM using my music degree somehow!!!!" Take that, mom and grandparents! :-) It's not a career, but it is fulfuilling and meaningful and good for me. I'm sad it's over, actually. I have really loved singing in this choir, getting out of the house every week to a nice place for a fun thing.

The after-party was fun too...good food, fun people, etc. And now it's 1.30 am and I am TIRED! Good thing tomorrow's Friday! :-)

I have to find a new fun thing to do now. We'll see how that goes. In the meantime...bedtime!

Monday, May 15, 2006

tell me what you wa...think.

i figured it was time to hear the less-good things about myself before i get into the whole call process....so....here you go. Tell me what you think:
my nohari (negative) window

And if you haven't done the positive one yet, here's another chance:
my johari (positive) window


Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mother's Day

Dear Mom,

Happy Mother’s Day! I know that sounds cliché, but it’s a real hope: I hope you’re happier this Mother’s Day than last year. A year ago you were suffering and fighting AND getting ready to come to the seminary graduation of your incredible daughter! Now you’re resting in love and peace, I hope, with the ocean and the earth and all the saints.

This year on Mother’s Day I am sad not to be sending you a card (or, rather, an e-card), talking to you, hearing about the tomatoes and peppers you’ll plant this week. I’m sad that I’m not with Dad and Scott while they plant your tomatoes and peppers today! I’m sad that I don’t have you around anymore. I’m jealous of all my friends whose moms are alive, but they don’t appreciate what they have, some don’t plan to talk to their moms today, they don’t think highly of them or tell them how great they are. I hope I wasn’t like that, but I bet I was. I bet I never told you (or didn’t tell you enough) how wonderful you are, how thankful I am you’re my mom, how much I love you.

So…thanks. Thanks for being so supportive of whatever I wanted to do. Thanks for sacrificing your own career to be home with me and Scott. Thanks for feeding us first in the days when money was tight. Thanks for teaching me how to read, cook, drive, amuse myself, work hard, be a good person. Thanks for not letting me watch TV and encouraging me to read and do other things instead—and teaching me to never be bored. Thanks for teaching me about time management. Thanks for teaching me how to think for myself, to use my brain, to not be ashamed of being smart. Thanks for being there whenever I had a question…and for finding things out or telling me how to find out for myself. Thanks for asking me the right questions. Most of all, thank you for teaching me how to love people—no matter who or where they are or what they look like. You didn’t say it like this, but you taught me that every person is a beloved child of God. So thanks—that is important and you did a good job. You’re an incredible woman and a wonderful mother, and I love you so so so so so so much (as my students say!)

I may not have figured out everything about how to love, or how to let go when people I love move on, but you can rest easy, mom, knowing that you raised a daughter well and that she learned your lessons.

I love you a lot! Happy Mother’s Day.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

the book is ready...yay!

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Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

Monday, May 08, 2006

new photos

the photos from the visit of my family are up. On my yahoo page--the second link on the left, currently bright pink!--you'll find them in two albums, one called "family visit 2006--lower egypt" which has cairo and alexandria photos, and one called "family visit 2006--upper egypt" which has the aswan/abu simbel/kom ombo/edfu/luxor/cruise photos.


Sunday, May 07, 2006

talent coming out the ears

Yesterday was the Ramses College for Girls First Grade Talent Show.

Here at RCG we believe that every girl is talented.

That's right, all 240 of my students were showing off a talent in some way....some individually, some in pairs, some in small groups, and some in the whole class. Every class had an act--a skit, a set of songs, or something. Plus there were poems, songs, dances, etc performed by small groups or individuals.

The talent show--first grade only, remember--lasted from 9.45am until almost 1pm.

And the WHOLE TIME, the parents in the audience were talking. Not just the occasional "look at that!" whisper, but like full-scale, full-voice socializing. It was incredibly obnoxious. The principals--both the primary school principal AND the head honcho principal for the whole school--stood up once each and asked the parents to be quiet because they, from the front row, couldn't hear the girls on stage--who had microphones. I think I now understand why the girls can't be quiet in class, why they don't listen to the person up front, and why they don't know how to listen at all. Because, obviously, their role models don't know how to stop talking long enough to listen! (sidenote: I suspect this may actually be the main problem in this country and culture in general.)

Having said all that, the show was great. The kids were adorable and they did a wonderful job. There were some foibles--like the class that couldn't recite the alphabet (and the corresponding words describing their school community) in order, or the MC girl who forgot the beginning of one of her speeches and ran off stage to get a prompt. There were some things I think are odd in a talent show--they use recorded music and the kids kind of sing/kind of shout along (not unusual if you consider that there's not really a music class here, though), for instance. There were some things I noticed where I culturally dropped the ball this year--one class teacher asked me to write down the words for the songs on a tape she was using for the show, which I did. One of the songs was the Hokey Pokey, and it never occurred to me that they maybe didn't know what the Hokey Pokey dance actually was. Well, they didn't. They did some funny kind of made up dance on stage, but it was NOT the hokey pokey. The whole time I was like "oh, I guess I should have taught you the hokey pokey!" LOL. There were some really wonderful signs of improvement--three girls from the slowest class recited poems (two as a pair recited a poem (with actions) about friends, and one girl recited a poem about promising to always do her best). These were girls that 8 months ago could hardly answer basic questions in English, and now they are reciting poems flawlessly. There was a parent who came to speak to me to tell me what a blessing I've been to the religion classes this year, and to thank me for teaching the kids songs in religion class.

It was a good show. Long, but good. And the best part? The "miss teri, two kisses!" from the girls I got afterwards...and the beaming faces when I told them what a good job they'd done. School is beginning to end here--only two weeks until exams. I'm proud of those girls, and I will miss them.

RCG: every girl is talented. and indeed they are....

Thursday, May 04, 2006

like myself

this afternoon and evening have been really really good...something I needed. I need to feel like I'm not trapped in the school complex, like it's okay to go outside and do things and be a normal person.

Well, I decided on Tuesday to just prove to myself that I could...I walked home from the seminary instead of taking a taxi, and didn't have any incidents. Granted, that evening on the way to choir i had a man say to me "i want sex you" on the sidewalk. I so wish i had been quick enough to say "i want punch you, but it looks like neither of us will get what we want." I wasn't, but it made me feel better to think about saying that! LOL.

Well, today has been excellent. No school for me because of the final rehearsal for the talent show (which is on saturday). So I slept in, did laundry, read. I went out and did some grocery shopping--for about 15 minutes. And then this afternoon I did something so incredibly normal, it's bizarre in this place:

I went to a stimulating lecture by someone I really respect, at a place I've never been before. Then I went out to dinner with friends. After dinner we did a little shopping. Then Jason and I grabbed a taxi home. I've been outside the school complex for nearly 8 hours today, and it was very very good.

I know you have a ton of questions, like:
"what are you reading"? (see the sidebar)
and "what do you think of it?" (so far, so good...more complete review to follow later)
and "which friends were you with and where did you have dinner?" (Sarah and her boyfriend Khalil, and Jason...and we had the best pizza in Cairo at Maison Thomas in Zamalek)
and "what did you buy?" (a silver bracelet with my first and middle names carved in)
and, of course "who is this stimulating lecturer?" This one deserves more than a parenthetical answer. This weekend are the Cairo Lectures, and the lecturer is Elias Chacour, a Palestinian-Arab-Christian-Israeli, Archbishop of the Melkite Catholic Church in Galilee. He is the author of two books, We Belong to the Land and Blood Brothers. He is lecturing this weekend particularly on "Living the Haunting Words of the Man From Galilee: 'Blessed are the Peacemakers.'" Today's lecture was about "the way forward" in the Israeli/Palestinian situation. In a nutshell, what he said was this: the only way forward is to recognize that each person, regardless of race/ethnicity/religion/family/social class/political party/etc, is made in the image of God. No more, and definitely no less. As soon as we claim that someone "is" one of those other things (especially if it is something opposed to what we want) then we think of them as less in the image and likeness of God than we are. In order to move forward, every person needs to recognize that every other person is made in the image and likeness of God.

One is not born a Christian, Muslim, or Jew, but is born a baby bearing the image and likeness of God.

He said many other things, which I will probably write about at some point, but that is what's standing out. That and his assertion that we need to bring hope because that is the only way to stop violence and suicide bombing and whatnot--people need to have hope, to see a purpose to living, because otherwise these other options appear as good options rather than as the curses they really are.

One more really memorable thing he talked about, and that really resonated with conversations I have had with Palestians (both inside and outside Palestine/Israel) was about wanting to go back to his village. Every Palestinian I have talked to just wants to go back to their homeland, to live in their homes (or, in many cases, to build new ones because Israel destroyed villages), to live their lives in the land of their ancestors and their memories. When the Chacour family and their neighbors and friends were told they could go back, they walked there and just as they arrived, "planes came from nowhere and the Israeli army destroyed every building, even the church." It's a heartbreaking story. Elias was only 8 or 9 then. (in fact, he said "I didn't immigrate into Israel. I am older than Israel! Israel immigrated into my country." hmm, i never really thought of it that way.)
Well, Elias Chacour and Shimon Peres know each other quite well because of the work Chacour has been doing. One day he said "I want to go back to my village, Biram. When will we be allowed to go back?" And Peres said to him "it's been 58 years. You have made a life here, you have work and friends, you live here now (only a few miles from his village, actually, which is still off-limits to him). when are you going to forget Biram?" Completely aghast, Chacour told him, "you left this land nearly 2,000 years ago! And now you are back and want it. when are you going to forget your homeland? You are here because you remember. and that is what we do too." wow.

As I said, it was a stimulating lecture. He's lecturing again tomorrow evening, and I plan to go. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

visiting the delta again

So on Sunday Jason and I went to visit Nassif, in Minya-el-qamh (you may remember me writing about a previous visit, in which Sarah and I co-preached at the university-age worship service). This visit was different...we went in the morning and stayed all day. We left to catch an 8.45 train, which didn't even arrive in Cairo for us to get on until 9.30! We were very late getting in--around 10.45 when it should have been just before 10. Nassif was there waiting for us, though!

We boarded a micro bus (a 15 passenger van, really) and headed out to another village nearby. When we got out, we picked up a taxi and went to Tel Basta, the site of an ancient Egyptian temple to Bastet, the god shaped like a cat. This temple has not yet been restored, but rather is an archaeological work in progress. In fact, a German team just left a week ago, so we just missed them. But we still got to wander around the site, look at the pieces and the statues, and imagine what it might have been like. I think it's totally cool to poke around archaeological digs...archaeology is cool. Not cool enough for me to do it as a profession or even a hobby (I don't have the patience for all that minute dusting and whatnot) but cool anyway. So we wandered, we poked, we listened to a woman giving us a tour. Ramses II had his fingerprints (and his statues and his cartouche) all over the place, of course, and there is also one of only two statues of one of his daughters here at Tel Basta. It's pretty cool.

Also cool: Jason and Nassif and I were the only people there. No tourists, no foreigners, nothing! It was wonderful to visit something like this without the crowds of Luxor or Aswan or the Cairo Museum.

After all that archaeology, we headed back (this time only by taxi) to Nassif's flat in Minya-el-qamh. The tourist police of course had to follow us, because we're dangerous (or else Egyptians are dangerous). They went away after a while, but not long after we arrived at Nassif's they were ringing his doorbell! They stayed sitting outside his flat the entire time we were there--all afternoon. So, in case anyone didn't know that there were foreigners in town, there was a wonderful marker in the form of uniformed, armed guards at the front door for all the village to see.

Nassif cooked us a wonderful lunch, and then we were all exhausted and so we each took a nap. We slept a couple of hours, and then it was time to go to church! Once again we walked through the streets, with the tourist police, to the church...which already had a uniformed, heavily armed police officer sitting outside. He'd probably been sitting there all afternoon guarding an empty building. I can just imagine his thoughts when he saw us walk up. "oh, man, you mean they haven't even been here? I could have been drinking tea and smoking sheeshah all this time!" or even better... "oh, crap, I've been at the wrong building for three hours!"

Well, we got into the church and sat a few minutes. one of the congregation members was sent to buy us bottled water. when i got my bottle, it wasn't sealed, which means it was probably tap water in a re-used bottle. I was so thirsty that I decided it didn't matter, and I drank it anyway. (the same thing had happened at Nassif's house....the water was clearly from the tap or the filter, not actually mineral water.) We have been told not to drink tap water outside Cairo, but in this case we didn't have any options so we just went with it! Luckily, there don't seem to have been any side effects, so that's good.

The service started at 6.30 with about half an hour of singing. As before, the songs were all in Arabic and therefore completely beyond me, but people in this church really sing, and they really mean it. I could tell just by being in the room that they were really into the singing, they really know the songs and they were really moved by it all. And that's enough "really"s for a long time. Anyway, after the singing, there was a guest preacher (one of the seminary students). He spoke about Ezekiel 37 (that was all I understood...the rest of this I got from Nassif later) and related the resurrection of the dry bones to the resurrection of Jesus. Apparently it was very good. I am in no way qualified to offer any perspective on that because the only words I understood were "ezekia sabah wi teleteen" (Ezekiel 37). After the service Nassif, Jason, the guest preacher, and I headed immediately to the train station where we just barely made the 8.30 train back to Cairo. And that was the end of our adventure.

I have been thinking about a lot of things, including poverty, the difficulties facing the american protestant church compared to those facing the egyptian protestant church, what it means to be christian in the US and what it means to be christian in Egypt and whether what it means to be Christian is really the same everywhere, David Lamotte, and my mom. I've also been busy naming pictures to get them ready to upload. So there aren't any new photos up yet, but soon! I'll let you know. And sometime soon-ish I'll get around to writing about all those other things too.....

Monday, May 01, 2006

brain full

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!