Today has been my first full day in Cairo. Our group arrived yesterday after two long plane flights. We stepped off the plane into a non-air conditioned airport and proceeded to the "Passport Control" kiosks and then on to pick up our bags. I found mine immediately because I had put fluorescent yellow duct tape on them (thanks Dad!). What I couldn’t get over was customs. Upon getting our bags we turned around and had to choose a door to walk through. One said "Declare items here," the other said "Nothing to declare." I walked through the one that said nothing to declare. And that was it... nobody checked my bags, no one so much as looked at me.
We found our site coordinator, Carole, outside the customs area with our Egyptian bus driver. We dragged all of our bags outside into the bright Egyptian sun. I was not immediately concerned about the temperature. I suppose I expected it to be much hotter. For over a year in Atlanta, my car did not have air conditioning. Between the heat and humidity of Atlantan summers, I have experienced worse than I did yesterday in Cairo. I like to think now that God was preparing me for Egypt. I think it worked! We arrived during the hottest part of the year, so it will begin to get cooler over the coming weeks.
Driving to the Ramses College for Girls, which is where we live, was a harrowing experience in itself. Lines to denote lanes are barely visible and the drivers drive like they can’t see them at all. Cars drive much slower in Cairo. I imagine it’s because they need to stop at a moment’s notice because someone has just cut them off.
We arrived at the Ramses College and brought our bags into the flat where we are living now. Each of our apartments has a bedroom, bathroom, a living room and a small kitchen, and it’s topped of by (fanfare please) air conditioning. Each apartment opens onto the common area where are plenty of things to entertain us. We have a ping-pong table, a television with a VCR for the library of videos previous volunteers have left behind, a veritable library of books that has, as Carole said, “from trash to classic literature.” I think of this as a palace considering the countries other volunteers are going. There is also a large dining room for all of us to eat in if we want to be together, and an office with an internet-capable computer.
I woke up “this morning” at noon. An hour later we toured the neighborhood. We began by meeting Dr. Rev. Safwat El-Baiady (The Egyptians put Doctor before Reverend as they place more emphasis on the Doctor title) to whom we spoke about the coming election and how Christians fit into the politics of Egypt. He told some rather funny jokes too!
Afterwards we walked a stunning three blocks and back, looking at stores and people. That’s not sarcasm. I was stunned at how dirty Cairo is. I’ve heard people talk about it, but I just didn’t understand until I saw it. Imagine the pollution of a normal modern city, but there’s rarely any rain, so the smoke particles just collect on the ground, trees, plants, walls, just about everything. Now imagine that this has been going on for decades. Teri commented that she could see the air. We walked into a market that had fresh produce. The cost of food is amazingly cheap, especially for vegetables. Most items sell for about one and a half Egyptian Pounds for a kilogram of produce. Keep in mind that a U.S. Dollar is worth about 5.8 Egyptian Pounds, making the cost of a kilo about 26 cents U.S. Mangoes are in season so the juice bars are selling mango juice now. Carole bought us all a glass of juice as we headed back. It was very thick and sweet, and the pulp strung down my chin when I pulled the glass from my lips. The Egyptian people where we live do not seem to see westerners very often. Sometimes they would stop and watch what we were doing.
Later in the evening we took one of the Ramses College busses to the Nile where we took a sailing excursion on a small sail boat. Yes… I couldn’t believe it… THE NILE. We arrived just at sunset so the orange sun shimmered across the surface as we descended the steps to the dock. Soon we were out of earshot of the traffic and honking horns as we drifted off into the river. The breeze was cool and we chatted with some English-speaking folks about life in Cairo. I met a woman from South Africa who works with special needs children, and an American student from American University. The student had lived in Cairo between the ages of eight and sixteen and had returned to Cairo to live her adult life.
We returned to the college and settled in for the evening. But later a few of us climbed to the top of our building for a view of our neighborhood. We found a four-inch layer of sand on the roof. I can only imagine that it got there from the sand storms. I am now settling into bed. I want to be fresh tomorrow as we begin our language training.
I know I wrote a lot today. I am not used to journaling, so hopefully throughout the year I will learn to be concise. I am very excited to be here and I hope you share my enthusiasm. Please keep me in your prayers!