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!

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