Sunday, October 30, 2005

Falling Down the Elevator Shaft of Technology

Tomorrow is the big day. Happy Halloween everyone.

This has been a very busy week work-wise. The big 150th Anniversary Celebration of the Synod of the Nile looms ahead of us on November 8th. Evangelicals (Presbyterians) from all over the world are coming to celebrate this momentous occasion. In order to commemorate this time, I was charged with helping to put together a book that told the History of the Synod of the Nile. The printer needs ten days to print it and bind it so Saturday was the big deadline for me.

Long before I got to The Synod, a very nice lady named Venes had been compiling information and typing up the book in Arabic in Microsoft Word. Microsoft Word is not the friendliest program when trying to print a book on an offset printer, but I thought it was no problem. I would just convert the Word document to a PDF, and then import it into my graphics application. Then I could spruce up the book, give it an appealing look with snazzy graphics and layouts, and then it would even be in a format that the offset printer could easily use.

Thursday, at the end of the day, I got the approval of the “final” version of the text. Now was the big moment. I would convert the Word document into a PDF, place high-resolution images into the layout and give it a nice design. I sat down in my apartment at Dawson Hall on Thursday night to do this, and ran into a problem. The Word document would not convert to a PDF. The only message I received from the program was “ERROR.” That certainly helps a lot! I tried the conversion over and over, each time removing something from the document to see if I could isolate the problem. No dice. I did this over and over for nearly four hours before I gave up. The key to setting this document up for print was not working and I was more than a little stressed.
I went to bed and had a very strange dream. I was falling down a large elevator shaft with three of my fellow volunteers. The dimly lit shaft was about 20 feet square, and had grungy pipes running down the length of the grungy walls. At regular intervals there were television screens rapidly flashing still images. If I stared in a single place as I fell, the effect was like film running through a movie projector. The images ran in sequence to create a movie. I can’t remember what the movie was now, but I think this dream deals directly with what I was stressed out about. First, I was falling down an elevator shaft, a sign of loss of control. It dealt with being in Egypt because my volunteer friends were with me, and the dirty elevator shaft was like a lot of places I’ve seen here. And the televisions represented technology; say the technology that I needed to finish this book.
Usually on Fridays I don’t work at the Synod because I teach English at the Coptic Cathedral, but my class had been cancelled, opening up the necessary time for me to wrap up the book. Early Friday morning I walked into work, dreading the moment that I would have to tell Emil and Venes that I had not been able to set up the document for print. When I told them, they saw how distraught I was over the matter and immediately told me that it looked great as it was. I looked down at the printout of the book, at the blurry, low-resolution images and the bland layout and thought this is awful. What are they thinking?!?

Later that afternoon we went to The Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS), a Non-Government Organization that happens to have a rather impressive print shop in the basement. They also have a top-of-the-line design department. Venes and I showed one of the designers, Mary, our Word document and she echoed exactly what I had been telling Emil and Venes all morning, that the quality of the images were not good enough to print with. Fortunately they said they could print from the Word document (how I don’t know, but I’m not holding my breath) and all I needed to do was replace the low-res images with high-res images. I spent the rest of the afternoon, and the rest of the night doing just that. I hadn’t counted on how difficult it would be. Arabic is read from right to left which brought about new challenges I hadn’t thought about before. I finally finished around 11:00PM, ending a 13-hour workday. The next day I passed off the Word document and a printout of the book to the design department at CEOSS. I expect the book won’t be pretty, but we’ll see how it comes out.

Something we were told at our orientation was that we might encounter people who had lower expectations of work than that of the average American. That’s not a bad thing necessarily. I learned that I definitely had higher expectations of how this project would turn out than Emil and Venes did, and I was unnecessarily beating myself up over it. Oh well. The project is out of my hands now.

Friday, October 21st was Teri’s birthday. To celebrate, Teri and I went to Garden City, which is a neighborhood next to the Nile, to walk around and enjoy the color green. There are many more trees and plants there than anywhere else in Cairo that I have seen. Then we walked along the Nile on the Corniche, the place where young Egyptian couples go to spend time together. We copped out again and finished the night with dinner at an American restaurant: Chili’s.

Ramadan will be ending this coming week. Since Ramadan is based on the lunar calendar, they don’t decide exactly when it will end until practically the day of. As Ramadan winds down, the partying in the neighborhood has been getting louder and louder each night. Last night I heard the thump, thump, thump of dance music through my bedroom window for hours. Again, I’m ready for Ramadan to end.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

Bloody Nose, Bruised Ego

Wow! Several of you wrote me today and asked why I hadn’t done an update lately and if was I was okay. I have just been busy at work and been doing things in the evening with my fellow volunteers. It’s good to know though that there are folks out there who are really following along and are interested in what I am doing! I had already started an entry but hadn’t posted it until now. So be sure to read the entry from the 19th “Iftar”. Read it before you read this entry.

So now it’s Saturday morning. Yesterday was my second English class with the kids. I came up with a game that we all found to be very fun. First we started off by singing the alphabet song. Then I went down the row of students and had them say the letters one at a time in succession. The first student said “A,” the second one “B” and so on. Then I had them do the same thing but I pointed randomly at students instead of just going down the row. We did this several times and got faster and faster as we went. I also read a book called “The Magic Smell” which was cute, but again, some of the girls had read it. Then something very scary and unexpected happened. The smallest, most quiet girl in the class walked up to me with her hand cupped around her nose. She pointed towards the door as if to ask to go to the restroom. I nodded yes assuming that she had a runny nose. As she turned to leave I saw a red streak just below her hand. She had a bloody nose! I followed her out of the class to make sure she got to the restroom okay, but she breezed right by it. She was trying to find her mother. She got to the end of the hall and panicked when she couldn’t find her. She turned around, dropped her hand from her face, which was now completely covered in blood, and completely freaked out. She opened her mouth and let out a scream that rattled me to the core, and I had no idea what to do. I saw a Copic nun walk by. She smiled at me, oblivious to what was going on. I gave her a panicked face and motioned towards the girl but she apparently didn’t know what to do either. Long about that time the mothers of the children showed up, snatched her up and urgently rushed her into the restroom. They told me to go back to the class and they would take care of the situation. I went back and I was so stunned I just stood there for a few seconds before I snapped back to reality and picked up where I left off. About ten minutes later the girl came back to the class as if nothing had happened. I talked to the girl’s mother after the class. She had a big reassuring smile on her face and told me that the girl just had random nosebleeds from time to time. She said “No problems.” I still apologized profusely. I don’t know what for… I didn’t cause the nosebleed, but I felt awful for the little girl.

Yesterday was Teri’s birthday and we had a little celebration for her. Originally she wanted to cook a Mexican meal for everyone. But Carole found out there is a Mexican restaurant in Maadi and we convinced Teri to go instead of cooking for everyone else on her birthday. The restaurant was in a Western style hotel and was decorated like a pueblo. There were kitschy decorations like “money bags” with big dollar signs. I ordered a Stella beer and the “Jackson Ville Salad.” Hmmm. Teri ordered the vegetable fajitas. It wasn’t quite the Mexican meal I expected. The beer was a local Egyptian beer and was quite good. But my salad had that weird crinkly green lettuce, cubed bits of processed chicken, and was ringed by slices of tomato. It was a bit of a letdown. There was a weird look on Teri’s face. I couldn’t tell what it meant but I took it as one of two things. Either “this isn’t Mexican,” or “this is why I wanted to cook Mexican at home.” Teri is a little bit picky about her food. She will even admit it. Good food is very important to her. You can tell this just by reading her blog at Anyway, I hope she wasn’t terribly disappointed. On the upside, we got to take pictures of her with her birthday sombrero on. Apparently that is a tradition even at Mexican restaurants in Egypt!

On the way back from the restaurant we rode the Metro and I finally got very angry about the way Egyptian men treat Western women. I was well informed before we even got here about how men just completely ogle Western women, say inappropriate things, and will touch and grab them in really inappropriate places. I was even prepared to become very angry about it. It finally happened last night.

Teri and Sarah have been telling me accounts of what men say and do to them over the past two weeks, so I was hyper-aware of anything going on last night. The tricky part is most of the time Egyptian men don’t touch Western women in the presence of Western men. Even if they are brave enough to do it, they touch the women in such a way that it goes unnoticed, even if you are watching them closely. They are very sneaky and seem to have practiced doing it a lot, which in itself is creepy. But they certainly will stare at Western Women intently, even in the presence of Western men.

The ride back from Maadi is a long one, about half an hour to forty minutes. The train arrived just as we got to the station, so the women in our group didn’t have a chance to get to the women’s car. We got on the train, which was packed. We settled into a tight circle so we could talk to one another, and as we did so, men positioned themselves so they could look at Teri, Sarah, Jen, and Jennifer (Jen and Jennifer came to Cairo to celebrate Teri’s birthday and get away from Alexandria for the weekend). I was facing Sarah and Teri, and as we talked I felt the presence of a man just over my left shoulder. I looked over at him and he was staring directly at Teri, VERY intently, looking her up and down. After a few minutes I became very irritated about this. At the next stop I turned to face him, all the while looking outside the train as if to see what station we where at. It barely fazed him. I continued to face him and did various things like scratching my head, which placed my elbow right in his face… still no response, except he leaned a little to his left to get a better view. Then little by little I got closer and closer to him, thinking if I could make him uncomfortable enough, maybe he would look away. It worked for a few seconds, but then I was so close to him he could look directly over my right shoulder at her. So he did. I turned to face him dead on and looked directly over his head. He was shorter than me, so short I could have put my chin on his head. Since he was looking at Teri I hoped the impression he would get was that I was looking him directly in the eye. He would only know I was looking over his head if he looked me directly in the eye. I did this to be just short of confrontational. Out of my peripheral vision I saw his eyes dart around a little, wondering what I was doing, but he never looked at me. Then he just went back to staring at Teri. Our station finally came and we got off the train. Sarah and Jen then told us about the men palmed their behinds and the men that were grinding against them as we squeezed out of the train. This type of harassment has intensified over the past few weeks. It wasn’t always like this. All I can figure is that the men are deprived because of Ramadan. They can’t have any physical contact with their wives, so they take out their frustrations on Western women. All I can say is I will gladly welcome the end of Ramadan. I can’t wait. Ramadan has become very tiresome for many reasons, this just being the worst. As we walked down the sidewalk towards Dawson Hall I noticed that my right fist was clenched and Teri commented that I had my “angry face on.” She said, “It looks like this…” I looked at her, and she tightened her lips, squinted her eys, and furrowed her eyebrows mockingly. It made me laugh, and cut the tension, which is what I’m sure she meant to do. I don’t know how the women here put up with this harassment on a daily basis. I can walk home from work without incident, but when Sarah does the same thing she is hounded, grabbed and even followed sometimes. They won’t ever do anything to harm the women physically, but they do everything they can to assault them emotionally. It’s horrible. Well, that’s my rant for today.


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Teaching English, The Iftar, Graphic Design at the Synod

Last Friday was the first time I taught English at the Coptic Cathedral. I teach children ages seven to eight for an hour and a half. The kids really blew me away during this first class. I had no idea what their level of English was, so I went in and started with the basics. I began with the alphabet, which they all knew very well. I then read them a story called “The Napping House.” The story of The Napping House starts off with a Granny in a bed. A child snuggles up on top of her. Then a dog lies down on the child, a cat lies on the dog, and a mouse lies on the cat. A flea bites the mouse, who scares the cat, who claws the dog, who startles the child, who wakes the granny, who breaks the bed. They all go outside and nobody is sleeping anymore. That’s the entire story. The pages are beautifully illustrated though. Each page after the flea bites the mouse, as there is more and more chaos, you can see each animal… even the flea, though you have to search for it. I thought that was really neat, so I had the kids search for each animal on each page. Unfortunately one of the kids had read the book before and quickly pointed out the location of the flea on each page. Suddenly I realized what I thought was going to take quite some time didn’t take very much time at all, and there was still a lot of time left. I had them draw pictures, which were heavily influenced by “The Napping House.” A sun here, a cloud there… oh, and a house here! I had them each describe what they had drawn; in English of course… that’s the point. I drew a bunch of animals on the board and asked them to name them. Then I asked them what noises each one makes. This prepped them for the final lesson of the day: a rousing chorus of old MacDonald… which they all knew, and didn’t take anytime at all to sing. I ended up finishing the class 15 minutes early. When I opened the door, one of the fathers was already standing there. I barely got “Hello” out of my mouth before he asked me how his daughter’s English was and whether she had much of an accent. Whoa Nelly! Eager much?!? Anyway, this coming Friday will have to be a bit more challenging for the kids.

Each night, Muslims all across the Middle East await the setting of the sun so they can break the daylong fast at the Iftar. This is done all through the month of Ramadan. Mohammad started the discipline after receiving the Koran from Allah, but when he broke the fast and had his Iftar, he ate a simple meal. Nowadays, Iftars are extravagant meals that are held nightly, making the month of Ramadan one big festival, block party, and cookout all rolled into one. We Christians joke thinking that the point has totally been missed. Mohammad meant the fast to be about discipline but breaking the fast has practically become a college kegger (without the keg since Muslims can’t drink alcoholic beverages). But who are we to poke fun? Don’t we have Christmas… the most obnoxiously overdone religious holiday ever?

Lynn, our oncoming site coordinator, recently got us invited to an Iftar. During the four years she has been here, she befriended a Muslim family that gladly welcomed us and showed us what it is like to experience an Iftar. We went to the Iftar by taxi, and as we drove along we saw smoke billowing out of buildings, one every block. It turned out the smoke was coming from gigantic grills just outside the buildings. The grills were big enough to feed everyone in the neighborhood at the time of the Iftar.

Our experience was intimate as Iftars go. There were ten or eleven of us crowded around a small table that sat a few feet off the ground. The table was JAM-PACKED with food. I took a picture of the table just as we arrived (you can see it on my photos page) but even more food was added after the photo was taken. Plates were stacked upon plates. Traditionally the breaking of the fast was announced with a canon blast so everyone could start eating at the same time. Nowadays people just watch the clock and begin eating at the appropriate time. The patriarch of the family we were eating with, named Yaya (my best approximation of the spelling) began our Iftar by saying, “Okay, eat, eat!!!” For the next ten minutes we did nothing but eat. Fried chicken, roast beef, pita bread with hummus dip, chips, lettuce and tomatoes were all devoured. When we all became too full to eat, it looked like we had barely made a dent in the food. Lynn assured me that none of it would go to waste. Yaya’s wife brought out tea and for the next several hours we sat and talked with the family as best we could. I listened to Jay, one of my fellow YAV’s, chat away in Arabic to Yaya. Jay works with a group of women who speak nothing but Arabic, so by necessity he has learned a lot very quickly. I was able to follow along with the conversations very well because I could recognize a good many words, but there’s no way I could join in on the conversation. Yaya also tried to teach a few words to us less gifted Arabic-speakers.

Yaya’s son and daughter-in-law were also there with their baby son. The little boy was a beautiful child with large bright eyes. His mother gladly passed him around the table so we could all get a good look. The mother had no head wrap or veil on, which felt very strange since every Muslim woman I have seen here has had her hair neatly tucked away where nobody can see it. The difference was we were in the woman’s home. The rules are different in the home. Women can literally let their hair down.

My job at the Synod of the Nile has fallen into a routine of sorts. The 150th Anniversary Celebration is rapidly approaching and I have been diligently scanning photo after photo for a pamphlet I am designing for the celebration. I feel crunch-time coming, as there is still a lot to do before then. The secretary in the office next to me continues to find amusement in teaching me Arabic. I hope she continues to be amused by it for some time. She has taught me a list of nouns such as sunglasses, belt, shirt, ear, nose, mouth, filing cabinet, key, key ring, key chain, and many of the colors. We learned the colors in Arabic lessons but they never sank in. Verbs still confound me, which makes communication very difficult. For instance, when I ask someone if I can take his or her picture the question comes out literally as “I… picture?” As my old Arabic professor would say, zis iz not zee way.

On Sunday we took a cab to church and I was finally able to connect points A, B, and C on the surface streets. I realized the geographical relationship between Dawson Hall, where I live, and my office and the church. I also noticed that they really aren’t that far apart. Since it is becoming much cooler with each passing day, I have decided I will walk home from work in the evenings. Since I am moving a little slower on the streets this gives me a better opportunity to take photographs and look at shops and people. It’s a bit of a hike, but I need the exercise. Oddly, it takes only a few minutes more to walk the route than to take the Metro, which has been a source of high anxiety for me.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Great Pyramids and Alexandria

So, after my first two days on the job with the Synod of the Nile, I took a little detour. Emil, the Secretary General of the Synod and my supervisor of sorts, proclaimed that we would be going to Alexandria to attend a prayer conference. As it turned out, seven Americans had just arrived from The States to do a little tourism, and two of them were to speak at the prayer conference. Harry, Thelma, Emily, Anne, Najy (sp? Sorry if I misspelled your name!) little Jonathan, and even littler Sebastian all became my new friends and were great companions over the course of the trip.

I met Anne first. She is originally from Egypt, but immigrated to Michigan where she lives with her husband Najy, and their two boys Jonathan and Sebastian. She picked me up from Ramses College at 8am on Wednesday morning in a van (driven by a Muslim. More on that later). We then scooted over to the hotel where Harry, Thelma and Emily joined us. They are all very educated in theology and at times spoke waaaaaay over my head, but were very nice people and were very curious about Egyptian customs. We became acquainted on the drive to Giza for the first tourist stop… THE GREAT PYRAMIDS!!!

This was a totally unexpected treat for me. I didn’t think I would be going to them until later with the rest of the Young Adult Volunteers. I got to have a sneak preview of sorts.

If you have been keeping up with the photos on my web site, you already know that the Great Pyramids are just on the edge of town in Giza, NOT in the middle of the desert as most people (including myself until recently) think. We could see them in the distance, getting larger as we got closer. Then, we turned left off of the main road into the parking lot… just like that. Our driver parked near the largest one, Khafre, and we got out. This was almost a religious experience for me… aside from the fact the pyramids have nothing to do with Christianity, and for that matter were built almost 3000 years before Jesus was born. Anyway, the pyramids are HUGE!!! I thought the base of Khafre was just over the rise. I crested the hill and saw the teeny-tiny people at the base, and suddenly the sheer size of the pyramid was thrown into perspective. Anne took my picture in front of the pyramid, then I wandered away from the group to have a little “me time” at the pyramids… a little time to reflect on what I was seeing.

That’s when the Tourist Policemen, trinket salesmen and random Egyptians converged on me, trying to sell their stuff, letting me take pictures of them (for a price, which I got suckered into), and offering to take pictures of me with my camera (also for a price, which I also got suckered into). They wouldn’t stop hounding me. Ugh! I got away from them, we all piled into the van and were on our way. I would like to go back and spend more time there at some point, preferably somewhere away from the tourist hounds.

We drove a short distance to the panoramic view, a hilltop where you can see all three Great Pyramids at once. We got out, started snapping pictures, and AGAIN I was suckered by some guy wanting a buck. He was dressed in a long robe that fell to his ankles and a loose turban. With a big grin on his face, he asked me where I was from and then he asked me to take a picture of him. Then he said he would take a picture of me. I had a sense of déjà vu. I handed him my camera, he put his loose fitting turban on my head, he turned, said follow me, and struck off toward a herd of camels.

The whole way I was saying things like “Sir. Sir? I need to stay close to my group. Sir? SIR!” The loose turban was awkwardly flopping around my ears. Just a little further he said. Fifty yards later we arrived at his camel. He insisted I get on the camel. I knew this trick. He would get me on the camel and then wouldn’t let me down until I paid what he wanted. I REFUSED to get on the camel. He INSISTED. Again I REFUSED!!!! Finally he snapped a few pictures with me standing next to the camel. He gave me my camera back and then asked for a contribution. I practically threw 20 Pounds at him and skeedadled out of there as fast as I could. I met back with the group and again we piled in the van. We were off to the Sphinx.

The Sphinx was much more enjoyable. There were barely any money-leaches and we were all hip to their techniques by that time anyway. We got some great photos, and enjoyed a few moments admiring the Sphinx with the splendor of the pyramids behind it.

We hit the road to Alexandria and arrived after a four-hour drive. We promptly went to the prayer conference where Emily delivered a speech just moments later. I wish I could tell you what the speech was about. I am not a good aural learner. All I could focus on was how Anne was translating Emily’s speech into Arabic. I listened intently for Arabic words that I knew. The conference closed for the evening, and our group parted ways for the day.

I was lucky enough to stay the night at the Fairhaven Residential Commons where my fellow YAV’s, Jen and Jennifer, had just moved in two days prior to my arrival. Also, Teri, Sarah, and Jay managed to get some time off from work in Cairo and rode a train up to Alexandria. They also stayed at Fairhaven making this one big YAV reunion (after two whole days of separation) on the Mediterranean Sea.

The next morning I woke up and attended the second day of the prayer conference. It was Harry’s turn to speak. Again, I didn’t understand what the presentation was about, but I recognized some Arabic words in Anne’s translation.

After the conference ended for the day, we toured Qaitbay Citadel which sits on the Mediterranean Sea, guarding the harbor of Alexandria. It was a castle that was built on the ruins of the Alexandria Lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. I even saw remnants of the lighthouse. That made two of the Seven Wonders in two days (the Great Pyramids are also one of the Seven Wonders).

We looked across the bay and could see the Library of Alexandria, which we later visited. Unfortunately it was closed due to Ramadan. Its futuristic appearance reminded me of a spaceship from Star Trek.
We drove an hour to a Presbyterian retreat called Bate el-Salam (lit. House of Peace) to eat dinner, tour the facilities, and watch the sunset on the Mediterranean Sea.

Now for some details on Ramadan. During Ramadan, Muslims fast during the daylight hours. No food, drink, or cigarettes are to pass their lips. They are not even allowed to swallow their own saliva. Also, no sex or impure thoughts AT ALL, even after sunset for the whole month. As I mentioned previously, our driver was a Muslim. So, our driver did not eat or drink anything all day long. Everyday at sunset we had to be at our destination because he wanted to eat the moment the sun was out of view. He was also a smoker, so the cigarettes were not far behind. Both Thelma and I thought the same thing… how well was this guy driving if he hadn’t had anything to eat or drink all day?

On this particular day the driver was able to eat before we left the retreat center. But once we left I noticed something strange. The streets were deserted. Everyone was indoors eating their hearts out; they had broken their fast all at the same time. The trip to the retreat took an hour, but the return trip took only thirty minutes! Similarly the streets of Cairo, a very large city with an enormous population, are deserted from 5:30pm to 8:00pm. There will be more about Ramadan in future journal entries.

The next morning I woke up at Fairhaven. Teri and I made breakfast for the other YAV’s before we parted ways. We made pancakes, scrambled eggs, and hash browns. Yum!

I attended the last morning of the prayer conference, and then my traveling compatriots and I piled once more into the van with our fasting driver, and made our way back to Cairo. I’ve had the weekend to rest, but I will start back bright and early at the Synod tomorrow. I’ll also begin teaching English at the Coptic Cathedral on Friday!

Yours in Christ,

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Coptic Cairo and the Cathedral

Whoo boy! It’s been some time since I posted a journal entry and plenty has happened in the mean time. In fact so much has happened that I am going to write two different journal entries. One posting today, one tomorrow.

Reaching waaaaaaaaay back in my memory I am going to recall the last few days of my Arabic classes. I was still lost with every passing hour and I was sure that I would fail the upcoming final exam. As it turned out, the exam was more about simple conversation. Introducing yourself, telling where you are from, what you are doing in Egypt and how long you will be here… that sort of thing. I had a little trouble, but for the most part I did well.

After the exam, we decided to go to the Chili’s restaurant on the edge of the Nile. Yes, that’s the same Chili’s restaurant any of you can find within five miles of your homes. We all decided after our intensive Arabic course we needed a treat… something that we could find comfort in, something from home. We were not disappointed. We walked through the door and found ourselves transported 5,000 miles away to the United States. On the walls hung the same doodads and photographs of chili cook offs from Anywhere, U.S.A. that you would find at any Chili’s. The subtle differences were the large amount of women wearing veils, the Egyptian accent our waiter had, and the surprisingly upscale atmosphere. The food was expensive, but good. Well worth it!

The next day we returned to Dar Camboni, our Arabic school, for a few more lessons and then had a celebration. Egyptians love sweets, so our instructors had provided many, many deserts including a large chocolate, chocolate, chocolate cake. The feeling I had was a little bittersweet because I enjoyed getting to know our instructors and was sad that we would not be seeing them on a regular basis. And at the same time I was very glad to have Arabic lessons behind me.

One day (they all blend together now) we took a tour of Coptic Cairo, which is the home to many early Christian churches. We met up with Dr. David Grafton, a professor at Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo who kindly took time to show us around the area. I believe the earliest Coptic church we visited was built in the fifth century. It was so old the pillars that lined the sides of the sanctuary were columns from Greek ruins. Icons wallpapered the… well, the walls. A large pulpit carved from marble towered over the sanctuary. Thirteen columns held up the pulpit, one for each of the disciples and Jesus. Dr. Grafton pointed out that two of the columns are made from black marble. These pillars signify Judas and Thomas. I remember seeing a shrine on the periphery of the sanctuary. People had stuffed scraps of papers with prayers written on them into nooks and crannies of the shrine and donated some of their money in a glass chest.

There is also a Greek Orthodox church in Coptic Cairo called St. George’s. It is lavishly decorated with lots of hammered silver and gold. Towering archways loom overhead. Gold leaf covered most of the paintings including the painting of Jesus high overhead in the dome. Downstairs we found the implements used to torture one of the saints and the pillar he was tied to. I don’t get the fascination with saints. Dr. Grafton told us that people look to the saints because they were so devoted to Jesus they died for him. I can understand that, but the morbidity that goes along with that… the fascination with the devices of torture that were used and so on, just creeps me out. Ugh! Anyway, I digress. We left the sanctuary and walked through the cemetery. There were mausoleums that looked like miniature churches or ancient Greek temples.

We also toured a synagogue, if you can believe that! The building once housed a Christian church but had changed hands to a synagogue… Ben Ezra Synagogue. The building was built near the traditional site where the Pharaoh’s daughter drew Moses out of the water. The inside of the synagogue is decorated like most of the Coptic churches, like a mosque. When these churches were built, Muslim architects and craftsmen designed them so there is a very obvious Islamic influence.

We parted ways with Dr. Grafton and returned home via Metro to our apartments. Later that evening we attended one of the weekly services held at the Coptic Cathedral by the Coptic Pope, Pope Shenouda. We arrived late so when we had to walk all the way down the main aisle to our reserved seats all eyes were on us. The place was packed! I got the slight feeling we were being paraded around again. “And if you will look at the center aisle you will see our American visitors arriving.” Nobody actually said it, but that’s what I felt was going on. We found our seats just as the music stopped and moments later the Pope began to speak. First he answered questions from the congregation. People had written questions on slips of paper and turned them in. The Pope selected a few that had to do with marriage, concerns about moving to the U.S. to go to school, and lack of employment. Later he delivered a sermon. All of this was translated into English for us via headphones. The sound quality wasn’t that great so I didn’t keep up with the sermon very well. Just like the old Coptic churches from Coptic Cairo, the cathedral had many icons. I really liked the last supper painting that hung just above the Pope as he spoke. As the Pope left, something happened that I never would have expected. He stepped down from the stage and walked just in front of the first few pews out the side door. As he did so, people in the front rows surged forward and began to scream and wave. I felt like I was in the Ed Sullivan Theater with the Beatles walking by. It was very strange.

I suppose everything I have done, with the exception of Arabic school, has looked like one big vacation. Rest assured, the work has begun. I started working on Monday at the Synod of the Nile. My job description said I would be doing some graphic design, but I wasn’t holding my breath. I have been told numerous times that missionary job descriptions always change and I shouldn’t be too attached to mine. As it turns out, there is a real need for a graphic designer. I started right away on a pamphlet that will give details about all of the Evangelical (Presbyterian) churches in Egypt. There are twenty-four in the country. The twist is the pamphlets will be in English AND Arabic. I don’t know how that’s going to work out yet.

The Metro subway continues to be a source of fear for me. Often times the cars are packed full of people with little room to move about. I went by myself for the first time this week and everything worked out okay, but I could noticeably feel my muscles relax and my blood pressure drop when I got off the train. I am just hoping that with time I will become used to it all.

Tomorrow I will write more on my trip to Giza and Alexandria, and what Ramadan is like in Cairo. I hope you will come back and read it. I will also be posting pictures! Thanks for your continued interest.