Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Red Sea and Mount Sinai

Oh, what a wonderful two days we have had! Friday morning we woke early and arrived at our language school on Zamalek by 8:00am. We met with all of the other students that attend the school for our journey to Mount Sinai. Including teachers, we numbered right around one hundred. We all packed in on two very nice coach busses and departed. Four hours later we drove unceremoniously through a tunnel, under the Suez Canal and turned south along the Red Sea. Shortly we arrived at a resort where we had seven hours of fun and relaxation. The resort was on the beach of the Red Sea where the waters were amazingly blue, the weather was very pleasant and the air smelled faintly of salt. We changed into our bathing suits in the restroom and headed for the water. We played for hours by throwing the Frisbee around over the water, and playing various games our Arabic instructor concocted on the spot such as, “Hide the Frisbee under the sand and see who can find it,” “Swim between the legs of five men standing in a line,” and the ever-popular, “Sit on someone else’s shoulders and wrestle the other two guys.” My Arabic teacher was amused with my large, pasty-white, American tummy. I told him variously that it was a solar panel soaking up lots of energy from the sun, something to keep me afloat, and used it as an excuse when he successfully attempted to hoist two men on his shoulders, one on top of the other. We ate, we played, we laughed, and we rested in the cool breeze. And six hours later it seemed like the trip organizers let us enjoy all of this relaxation as a cruel joke.

We wrapped up our time at the beach, and left just as the sun was setting. We boarded the bus and I experienced what night in the desert is truly like. There was nothing around us in any direction for miles. The inky blackness all around us sent a shiver up my spine. For some reason drivers in the desert do not use their headlights at night, which made the trip just that much more nerve-wracking. You know how there are two settings on your headlamps… all the way on, and the one that’s halfway, that just turns on the amber lights to the side of the headlamps? They use just the amber lights, right up until they are close to an oncoming vehicle. Only then do they turn on the headlamps. Also, for some reason our bus driver thought it was a good idea to straddle the middle line for long stretches of road. All of this, and we still survived. That’s how I know your prayers are working.

The best way to get through the trip was to completely ignore what was happening. One of the organizers provided a great distraction by playing a movie called “Kingdom Come,” which starred Liam Neeson, Orlando Bloom and several other fine actors. It was about the crusades. It was a bootleg copy, so the quality was not great, and was missing sections of the movie, but turned out to be a pretty good film. I would highly recommend it. Some day I would like to watch it again in its entirety.

The film ended and I was back to looking outside the bus. The peripheral light of the headlamps (which were actually on at this point) cast an eerie glow on the landscape around us. The view reminded me of numerous photos of the Apollo moon landings. The view outside looked so foreign we might as well have been on the moon.

Five or six hours after leaving the resort we arrived at Saint Catherine’s monastery, which sits at the foot of Mount Sinai. After a short walk we came to a rest area where we waited for about half an hour to make our last preparations. I stretched and made sure I had plenty of water. At two o’clock in the morning we began our ascent.

As we began to climb, the half-moon rose from behind the mountain range casting a muted gray light over the terrain. Large boulders rested in the valleys on either side of the inclined, gravel-laden path. We trudged along the path with our flashlights searching out hazards ahead of us. Occasionally we could see the green glow of camel eyes ahead of us. We would pass the camels hearing the camel drivers’ repeated attempts at our business. “Camel? Camel? He’s very nice. It is a long way. He will take you up. He’s very nice. Camel? Camel?” The camels just sat there silently with the rare exception of a belch sound. The stars shone brilliantly above us. Constellations I hadn’t seen since my college astronomy courses hung brilliantly in the clear sky. I pointed out constellations and remembered star names for Jennifer along the way. She is a Gemini and I managed to point out the constellation for her. Every twenty minutes or so we would come across a small shack lighted by a propane lamp. The kind you use on camping trips. The Egyptian men inside the shacks sold refreshments, colas, and candy.

At one point I had to stop in the middle of a hill for about fifteen minutes of rest. I told Teri and Jennifer to go ahead, that I would catch up to them in a few minutes. I sat on a rock overlooking the moonlit valley below, pulled out my water and sat there in complete silence. Shortly I heard a voice from the valley, coming from a window of a house that must have been a mile away. I heard a voice respond, and it was so clear that if I understood Arabic, I could have understood the entire conversation… from a mile away. That’s how quiet it was. I sat there for another few minutes, took another swallow of water, then slung on my backpack which pressed my chilly, sweat cooled T-shirt into my back. I caught up with Jennifer and Teri who were waiting for me at the next snack shack. They too had taken a break and were ready to press ahead. For the next two hours we trudged up the switchbacks, took a water break every now and then, declined repeated offers for camel rides (one of which my Arabic instructor took up, the same one that was so interested in my large American tummy) until we got to the last snack shack.

The last snack shack was where all camel rides ended. The remaining third of the hike was too steep for camels. Most of the remaining path was made out of roughly placed steps that had no handrails, and at times dropped twenty or thirty feet on both sides. I had become so tired that I was having dizzy spells and had to stop often. We ascended the steps for nearly an hour before coming to a group of Egyptians lending out blankets.

As we climbed the last third of the mountain, the air had become increasingly cool. I was even wearing a long-sleeve shirt by this point. But the blankets were being lent out for a few Egyptian Pounds because we had reached the top and we still had two hours till sunrise. Teri and Jen got a blanket and our Arabic instructor, whom we had met up with again, sought out a place for us to settle. He chose a place he claimed was the best place to see the sunrise. He said he had seen the sunrise from that very spot every time he had climbed the mountain. It was next to the rock-walled chapel, and was just on the eastern edge of a precipice that looked far down to the path we had just taken to the top. The only thing that protected us from falling over the edge was a twelve-inch high row of stones that lined the edge. The four of us sat down in the small area, which could only hold four people, leaned back against a large rock, covered ourselves with the blanket, and tried to sleep for the next two hours. I had put on my fleece jacket, but after sweating so much, the cool breeze made me so cold I was shivering uncontrollably. The warm beach of the Red Sea was a distant memory. I slept periodically, each time waking to more and more people crowding in to our left, between the chapel and us. I heard the repeated calls of the blanket lenders offering their dusty covers to the people that were just arriving. The stars sparkled over our heads. I had never seen that many stars at one time. It was a dreamy, surreal sight.

An hour passed and I opened my eyes and saw a faint, silvery glow appear on the eastern horizon in front of us, the first indication of sunlight. Slowly it divided into faint colors that grew more and more intense as the minutes passed by. The inky black of the night sky gave way to a deep, penetrating blue, and an orange bulge appeared on the horizon indicating the imminent location of the sun. Then the top edge of the sun appeared, just below the brilliant colors on the horizon. It began as a dim brown-orange sliver. I must have been the first to see it because I shouted out, “There it is!” and then people murmured and shuffled to get a better view. As the sun rose little by little, I could see a tiny mountain in silhouette against the steadily brightening orb. Steadily the sun rose, bit by bit, producing the most beautiful morning I have ever seen. A soft orange light cast all about. On the faces of the people around me, on the rocks and hills around us, making craggy slopes stand out in high relief. The sun eventually crested the bright band of colors, becoming too bright to look at directly. We all stood up and began our day, greeting one another. We tracked down members of our group we had been separated from during our climb, commiserated about the climb and rejoiced at the beauty of the sunrise. I took pictures of some folks in the distance who were sitting and standing on ledges that dropped to oblivion, of the shadow of Mount Sinai that was cast on nearby mountains, and the chapel that sat impossibly on the edge of the mountain. Seeing the mountaintop in the sunlight for the first time, my mind began to wander about how Moses had heard the voice of God at this very site, had seen the burning bush and received the ten commandments, right there. I then said a prayer for my grandfather who just two days before had gone through triple bypass heart surgery. I know God is always with us, always willing to listen to us, but if there’s a place you can FEEL close to God, it is the top of Mount Sinai.

Shortly the temperature climbed to normal Middle-Eastern temperatures. The layers came off and we began our trek down the mountain. We met the same camel drivers on the way down that we saw on the way up. Jen and Teri took up the Egyptian men on their offer, but Jennifer and I opted to walk down. A nearby camel made the characteristic camel-gargling noise. I commented how the camel spoke perfect Arabic. I got a good laugh from Jennifer, but my Arabic instructor, who was just with in earshot gave me a glare. I guess I can kiss that passing grade on my upcoming Arabic test goodbye. It took less time to descend the mountain and within two hours we arrived back at Saint Catherine’s monastery. It was much larger than I thought now that I could see it in the daylight. It was a giant walled structure that contained a Coptic chapel and the bush traditionally believed to be THE burning bush. It wasn’t burning when we saw it, but it was truly of biblical proportions! I took a few turns in the monastery before I was completely worn out. Teri and I found a quiet spot in the shade outside and waited for the rest of our group to finish up. We boarded the bus and I fell asleep within five minutes. I slept the entire 9 hours back to Cairo. It was a difficult journey, but worth every minute of hardship.


Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Golden Visage of a Pharaoh

Well, I have pretty much hit a wall concerning Arabic. I went into class yesterday and for nearly four hours I had no clue what was going on. I will leave in half an hour to go to my next lesson and sit for nearly four hours with the same problem. We have been very busy during the morning hours over the past few days, which has left me with little or no time to study.

Friday evening we went to the graduation of The Ramses College for girls. Our apartments are in a building located on the RCG campus, and some of our volunteers will be teaching at the school this coming year. Since we have such a close relationship to the school, we were invited to the graduation.

I made what I think is my first faux pas of the year. We were directed towards the front right of the auditorium. I sat down next to a woman and instantly Eric, my fellow volunteer, made a cautionary sound and I bounced right back up out of the seat. He said, “Don’t ever sit next to a woman unless you have to.” I knew that, but I just slipped out of my own mind for a second. Nobody seemed offended and I didn’t receive any angry looks. Perhaps I recovered before anyone noticed what had happened. Then something embarrassing happened. The ushers made the entire row of people that were sitting there get up and move so we could sit down. As Americans we are treated as honored guests. Sometimes this is done at the expense of Egyptians. I felt awful because that could have been some graduate’s family.

The ceremony went as any western ceremony would. The mayor of Cairo delivered a speech. He was a dignified man who walked proudly across the stage to the podium. He spoke in Arabic so I couldn’t understand a word but he made some jokes, as any good politician would, because the audience snickered and laughed at times. The principal of the school gave a brief history of RCG and then she delivered a moving speech in English about how special it was to watch the girls grow from kindergarteners to graduates. Then the students received their diplomas and shook hands with the presenters. We read a sign on the way into the auditorium which read “Absolutely no cameras or cell phones permitted.” Sarah even had to check her camera at the front desk. Apparently the parents didn’t see the sign though because people all throughout the room pulled out cameras and cell phones with built in cameras. Flashes were going off every few seconds and parents were filling the aisles towards the front of the auditorium until the ushers finally began corralling them.

Recently we were invited by a family of American missionaries to a cookout at their house in Maadi. Maadi is a neighborhood here in Cairo that is known for its large number of western residents. Usually if you are an American living in Cairo, you are living in Maadi. The homes are more like western homes and the neighborhood is packed with western restaurants like T.G.I Friday’s. We enjoyed great fellowship and great food. (Mmmm, Hamburgers.) When we left the house to walk to the nearest Metro station, we noticed something that took us by surprise… silence. Maadi is a very quiet neighborhood with little pedestrian or vehicle traffic… an attractive quality to western folks.

On Monday after Arabic lessons, four of us went to the Scottish country dancing class at St. Andrews. It was corny fun. It reminded me a lot about that oh-so-dreaded middle school square dancing that was inflicted upon us in 8th grade. Unfortunately the class is held in a non-air conditioned room. It didn’t take me much time to sweat out the entire two-liters of water I drank during Arabic class. Speaking of heat… I may have spoken a little too early about the temperature not bothering me. The air during the last week was ever so slightly humid, which made me feel like I was a rotisserie human for several days.

On Tuesday we went to the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS). This is a partner organization of the Presbyterian Church and I may work there at some point during this year. We heard a presentation about what they do and saw some videos of previous work. I can’t remember all of the things that CEOSS does, but the one example that I remember was from a videotape featuring Hillary Clinton. She had come to Egypt in support of the CEOSS program because she had been made aware of great advances CEOSS had made in women’s rights in certain communities, usually rural. In this case, young women had been given video cameras to film presentations about how they are important in their communities and the hard work they do. The videos were shown to the elders of the community who then opened up dialog about the importance of women and how they could contribute to the community. Any previous ideas or suggestions women had were largely ignored. CEOSS didn’t make the change happen. The women of the community made the change happen. CEOSS just provided the means for change, provided the bridge to close the communication gap. Something the presenter stressed was all this happened after many years of trust building. To this day CEOSS only becomes involved with a community at the community’s request. They never impose change on citizens, they provide the tools to communities that want to change.

On Wednesday we went to the Cairo Museum. This was a treat that I had been looking forward to for some time! I am sad to say that I do not have any photos of this wonderful experience because security would not let cameras in. The entire bottom floor seemed like a big warehouse, a dumping ground for many ancient Egyptian treasures. Not much was marked and barely any of it was protected. Sadly, a lot of the statuary is showing wear from millions of groping hands. Thousands of statues, busts, pieces of jewelry, and entire walls taken from temples lined the inside of the museum. The slabs of stone that bore hieroglyphics were amazing. Some stood as high as ten feet and were as wide as a car is long. The real treat, the icing on the cake, sits on the second floor. What seemed like the entire contents of King Tutankhamun’s (King Tut’s) tomb took up the entire second floor. We saw a jewel encrusted throne, Coptic urns, hundreds of gilded items from chariots to entire coffin chambers, and jewelry beyond any comparison. Then we saw it… THE IT. The coffin of Tutankhamun himself. Tut had a coffin made of gold encrusted with thousands of jewels. When you think of ancient Egypt, this is the image that comes to mind. Also on display was the headpiece that covered Tut’s head before he was inserted into the coffin. It too was made of gold and was covered with gems. This is the image that comes to mind when you think of King Tut.

Today I began my day by visiting he head offices of the Synod of the Nile, a partner of the Presbyterian Church. I will begin working there on October 3rd, just after I finish my Arabic lessons. I met the General Secretary who will be overseeing my work. The Synod is celebrating its 150th anniversary in November and I had been told that I would be helping to pull the celebration together. The General Secretary said Egypt’s parliamentary elections had just been announced and they will be held on the day of the celebration. So, my first duty is to correspond with everyone who has been invited, from all over the world, and inform them that the date is being changed. Ouch!

Carole and I left the Synod offices and went next door to a hospital where a 92-year-old missionary lives. Her name is Martha, and she was born to American missionaries in Tanta, Egypt. She has lived most of her life in Egypt and she’s still sharp as a tack and goes to church every week. She even plays the organ sometimes!

Tomorrow all of the students from our Arabic classes will gather to travel eight hours by bus to Mount Sinai. We will spend part of the day at “the beach,” (I’m not quite sure what this means yet) and will start climbing the mountain during the night so we can reach the top by sunrise. I am very excited about this trip. I look forward to telling you all about it. I hope you will all keep me in your prayers.


P.S. I just learned that my grandfather, Jack, had bypass surgery on Wednesday. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers during this time of healing. Thank you!

Ah, A Little Saliva Never Hurt Anyone

I just had something so shocking and incredible happen that I just HAD to share it with you right away. This morning I got up and pulled out my last clean shirt when I found that it had not fared very well during the trip to Cairo. The shirt had so many wrinkles it, it resembled a crumpled up ball of aluminum foil. I knew we had an iron in the laundry room here at Dawson Hall so I made my way in that direction.

On the way, I passed the common kitchen where Nadia and Marsa, (Her name is Martha, but in Egypt the TH sound has devolved into the S sound. We spent an hour studying this in Arabic class one day.) our two cleaning ladies, were working in the kitchen. They are always ready to help with Arabic but until today most of what they said completely passed over my head. They both greeted me enthusiastically with “Sabal Il Here!” [Good Morning!] And I responded in kind. Marsa handed me a fruit to eat, which I tried and found to be very sweet. Later I found out it was a date. I then got a lesson in how to say the names of various fruits. I learned the words for pear and banana. Most of the words they spoke finally had some sort of meaning and the words I spoke, they apparently understood. This is a marked improvement since two days ago, when I stood there baffled with my arms in the international “I don’t know,” position. I understood when they told me I was doing well. I tried to tell them they are good teachers, but that didn’t translate well because they started talking about the school where we live. I thanked them for my lesson and the “bela” [date] and then made my way into the laundry room.

I found the gigantic iron sitting in its cradle, on top of the ironing board and plugged it in. When I ran the iron across my shirt, despite the fact that the iron was piping hot, none of the wrinkles came out. Oh, the iron must be out of water I thought. I looked in the reservoir and sure enough, no water. Now, normally I wouldn’t have thought twice about filling an iron up, but since I’m the backwards person in a new country I figured I’d get help from Nadia and Marsa to make sure I did it right. I retrieved Marsa and she showed me the little cup with a spout that you use to pour water into the tiny hole on the iron. She filled the iron for me and said a whole lot of words in Arabic that I didn’t understand. I leaned forward onto the ironing board with my hand planted on my shirt, and squinted my eyes in the hopes that Marsa would realize I didn’t understand. Just then, she took a swig from the small water cup and in one swift motion spewed water from her mouth all over my shirt and hand. I burst out into laughter as she picked up the iron and began diligently ironing my shirt. She ironed the whole thing for me and didn’t even seem put out. I said “shokran” [thank you] with what must have been an enormous grin on my face and then ran to recount my tale to my fellow flat mates. We all had a nice laugh.

It’s always nice to start a day with a little laughter. Well, I’m off to Arabic lessons now.


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

I Heard Nothing but Prayer and Car Horns

A few days ago our volunteer group was given an unexpected treat amid the craziness of Arabic lessons: a trip to Al Azhar Park! Al Azhar Park is a new feature to Cairo, which is evident in the gleaming white, perfectly laid marble walkways (in complete contrast to the grungy, patchwork of sidewalks we walk on daily). The park is a peaceful oasis in the middle of the dusty city, with green grass that stretches as far as the eye can see, trees, fountains, and even a small lake! One edge of the park sits upon a cliff, which we looked over to see a sprawling section of Cairo. We happened to arrive at this view just as the sun was setting. If you’ve lived in Cairo for nearly two weeks, you are certainly aware that when the sun sets, the calls to prayer at all the mosques begin. So there we stood looking over Cairo, watching this giant orange orb slowly descend behind the city, finally letting it sink in where we were, listening to the faint car horns, when all of a sudden a cacophony of voices washed over us. The lilting tunes of what could have been a hundred prayers from a hundred different mosques rose up from Cairo. For a moment we all stood there speechless. I closed my eyes and just let the sound engulf me. It was then that my muscles relaxed. Tension that I didn’t know I had been carrying just seeped away. To our left an elderly couple had laid out their prayer mats, were facing East and had begun the ritual of repeatedly bowing towards Mecca. A cool breeze rustled through the trees, and just as quickly as they had begun, the prayers were over.

We stood around and chatted for another half hour before we met up with a contingent of folks from the main offices of the Presbyterian Church. Most of them were international mission coordinators that worked out of Louisville, Kentucky. They had stopped in on business, and to tour around and meet the folks that are missionaries in the region. We were also joined by some of the long-term mission workers that have been in Cairo for years. We walked across the park to the opulent lakeside restaurant and had a tasty Egyptian style dinner, complete with shish kebabs. Just as we were wrapping up dinner, our new site coordinator was announced. Carole, our current site coordinator, will be retiring in December and will be replaced by a lovely woman named Lynn. Lynn will come onboard in October, and for a time we will have two coordinators at the same time. This will give Lynn a chance to learn the ropes before Carole leaves. In the short time we have been here, we have come to adore Carole. She is sweet, caring and has the laidback attitude you HAVE to have to oversee a horde of young volunteers living in Cairo. She will be greatly missed.

We had a reprieve from Arabic lessons for two days. Instead we went to the Coptic Cathedral to learn how to teach English as a second language. I learned that each orthodox branch of the Christian faith has its own pope. The Russian Orthodox Church has its own pope and so does the Coptic Orthodox Church (The word “coptic” is synonymous with Egypt). The pope of the Coptic Church lives at the Coptic Cathedral, making it the “Vatican” of Egypt. It is a sprawling complex with many, many buildings. The sanctuary looks like a special effect in an Indiana Jones movie because it is so improbably large. I took a picture of the sanctuary exterior as viewed from our classroom. You can see it on my photographs page.

Yesterday was the birthday of Stephen, one of my fellow YAV’s. He turned 23 so we had a little celebration. One of Stephen’s favorite foods is macaroni and cheese, so Carole found the Egyptian equivalent. It was a combination of meat and macaroni covered in cream sauce. Something that has surprised me about Egyptian food is that most of it is served at room temperature, even if it contains meat! We poked fun at Stephen for a while, sang to him, and then scarfed down Carole’s delicious chocolate cake.

After dinner we walked down to the gate of Ramses College, where we live, and visited the friendly guard that has taken great pleasure in teaching us Arabic words and phrases. I think he loves having an American audience. His excitement is evident from the moment he sees us. The guard chats with us and sings us popular Egyptian/Arab songs. In exchange we struggle our way through a popular American song. Last night we “sang” Bye-Bye Miss American Pie. The Ramses College just brought on a new French teacher, Anna, who lives with us at Dawson Hall. She joined us and sang some French songs making the evening thoroughly international. Just then a group of teenagers walked by us, about to walk out of the gate. Jay noticed one of them had a guitar and asked him to play. The teenage mob surrounded us as the young man pulled out his guitar and played “MalagueƱa,” a beautiful Spanish guitar piece, on the spot. We were blown away! You just never know what is going to happen in Cairo. Everyday is an adventure.


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Whirling Dervishes, Arabic, and Subways. Oh my!

We have nearly completed our first full week of Arabic lessons, and let me tell you, this is no easy language. We have three wonderful teachers. The older gentleman (I am not using their names for their protection) is very demanding. He expects you to learn very quickly. While some of us dread his class, including myself, he is an exceptional teacher. The woman is a lighthearted teacher who encourages us and affirms us. She laughs with us when we misspeak and calmly walks us through Arabic conversations when we are frustrated. I think she is my favorite! The last teacher is a 30-something man who knows all about the inner-workings of the mouth and tongue. He seems to know the exact the problems we will have with pronunciation before we even say a word. There are two or three sounds in the Arabic language that are not even made in English. He tells us that since we do not regularly make these sounds, our mouths and tongues do not have the proper muscles built up enough to make them properly. I can’t tell you how many times I have made the sound “heh” and he corrects me with what sounds like “heh!” In a week we have learned the alphabet, begun to sound out words and even conjugate sentences.

Recently we went to the Citadel, a fortress from the times of the crusades, to see the Sufi dancers, also known as whirling dervishes. Teri told me that the dancing is a form of prayer, but it is put on as a performance in this case. Much of the music sounds exactly as you would expect Middle Eastern music to sound. Some of the Sufi play reed instruments that sound like oboes, two-stringed Asian violins, and many of them play drums. The pounding beat gets your blood ‘a pumping. There is also a person singing the actual words to the prayer and his lilting voice sounded sad and mournful. The whirling dervishes begin their dance by spinning in place, which causes the hem of their skirt (for lack of a better word) to billow out around them. Each dervish actually wears several brightly colored skirts, stacked one upon the other. A dervish will unfasten one skirt and lift it above his head, spinning it rhythmically to the beat of the music. He will discard it and then unfasten a different one and do the same, showing off the beautiful patterns of the newly revealed skirt. The performance was finished off by three dervishes spinning on stage at the same time!

On Friday we went to St. Andrew’s for worship. We began the day by taking the Metro, the train/subway system, for the first time. We did it during a time when not many people were riding so as not to be overwhelmed by the experience. The stations were much like any subway system in any major U.S. city, except a good bit grungier. We arrived at St. Andrew’s and found a beautiful gothic style church that was built by the Church of Scotland in the mid-19th century. It was the first Sunday for their new pastor who had just moved with his wife and son from Florida. The pastor and his wife had Caribbean accents, and I rejoiced when I heard such friendly phrases as “Honey child, I’m from the Bahamas.” The wife had a brightly colored head wrap and was very pleasant to speak with. Despite the fact that there was an organ, we had no organist, but we still managed to sing some hymns a capella. There were about 30 people in attendance with a strong African following. After worship I met a married couple that had been doing missionary work in Cairo for about six years. They had brought their two young children with them, something I cannot imagine doing! I also met another couple that had retired from missionary work but continued to live in Cairo. The wife teaches Scottish country dancing on Mondays at St. Andrew’s and several of us have decided to go. I will let you know how that turns out.

On Saturday we went to an Egyptian restaurant to see what the local food was like. We had to take the Metro again, but this time we went at peak travel time (women only in the front two cars). We had to push our way onto the train… Eric barely made it. Once on board, we were crammed in like sardines, a very unnerving feeling. A small boy that barely stood as tall as my chest was smothered from all sides by tall men. At the next stop we pushed our way out of the car. It’s the Egyptian way. The experience left me so disturbed that when we got to the restaurant I could barely eat anything. I will get over this fear soon enough though, because I will be taking the Metro to work every day when we finish our language classes.

Yesterday we went to Fayoum, a city about an hour and a half away… through the desert. The Synod of the Nile Schools program is building a new building there, and we arrived just in time to see the unveiling of the cornerstone. We listened to a speech, all in Arabic except for small bit of English when we were asked to stand and be recognized. I felt like a token American, ha! I have a feeling we will experience this quite a bit. The children were very curious about us. While on a tour of the old school building, which was 104 years old, I could see a group of girls timidly grinning at us down the hall. Being an introvert, it’s strange being noticed and examined closely wherever I go.

Our tour guide was a teacher at the school who had studied there as a child. She was extremely nice, spoke incredible English, and happily taught us Arabic words along the way. After seeing the school, our guide took us to the famous water wheels of Fayoum. The wheels move water from a tributary up to a trough. Then gravity takes effect and the water is fed out to the nearby fields. She said this is the only place in the world where this technique of moving water up and out is used.

Today we did not have Arabic class because today was election day! It was the first supposed democratic election in Egypt. I was a little concerned that there would be some unrest, but I haven’t heard of anything happening all day long. We went to a nearby market where I bought a kilogram of eggplant for about 23 American cents. Check out the photo of me buying them on the photos page. We all combined our veggies to make stir fry tonight.

Well, I didn’t keep this entry short, but there is SO MUCH TO SHARE and I want to share it all. Thank you for your interest.

Yours in Christ,