Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas Celebration

Last night we had our Young Adult Volunteer Christmas celebration. Teri, Jennifer and Sarah put together a gingerbread house from gingerbread they baked the night before. Stephen, Jay and I sang Christmas carols. Later we exchanged our “secret Santa” gifts. I got some art supplies from Sarah. She gave me colored pencils, oil pastels, and a drawing pad. She has definitely been paying attention as I recently made a watercolor for Carole, our site coordinator who is retiring.

Jen corresponded with Young Adult Volunteers from years passed, got them to write letters and send photographs, and then compiled them along with our own letters and photos in a scrapbook. The watercolor was my contribution. Carole gave us each a personalized key chain with cartouche that spelled out our names.

As things wound down, Eric, Stephen, Anne Catherine and I started up a doubles table tennis game. We played until 2AM.

Tonight we will leave by bus to travel overnight to the border of Israel and then on to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. We will be there for about a week, including Christmas Day. We will worship at The Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve. It is the church that is built upon the traditional site of Jesus’ birth. I can’t even imagine all of the people and sites that I will encounter while I am there. What an opportunity this is! I am sure it will be an amazing trip. I do ask that you all say a prayer for us. I can’t help but think about all of the news reports I have seen over the years about this region of the world. I recently spoke to an American named Brice who works at the Evangelical Theological Seminary. He has a history of visiting the Palestinian territories and told me that we would be far from any harm. That was reassuring, but I still ask for your prayers for a safe and fulfilling trip.

I obviously will not be updating my web site until I return, so I hope you all have a Merry Christmas. May the love of our Lord Jesus Christ fill your life with happiness during this Christmas season.

Yours in Christ,

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Covert Ops at The Egyptian Museum

Thursday I arrived at the Synod of the Nile to find that Jackline (she pronounces it Zhack-LEEN), one of our secretaries had returned from her two-week stint in the hospital. She pantomimed having something removed from her throat and that’s about all I know. I have missed her ever so much because she basically gives me Arabic lessons and is incredibly nice.

That afternoon Jay, one of my fellow volunteers called me up to help him out with a web site. Since I didn’t have much going on at the Synod of the Nile, and there wasn’t anybody there that could give me work, I went ahead and helped him out. Care with Love is an NGO that trains men and women to be in home healthcare providers. They take care of the elderly and children with cancer. Jay’s supervisor wanted to get a website together and he knew I could help with the graphics. I came up with a quick design that he seemed to like. Now Jay is fleshing out the text and hopefully we can have it up and running sometime next week. I will post the address once we complete the site.

Friday morning I had my last day of English class. I passed out a test based on the vocabulary words I had been teaching them. The first half was matching, the second half was fill in the blank. Several of them did really well. One girl was distraught because she didn’t know any of the answers. I assured her that it was okay, that the test was just an evaluation so I would know how to be a better teacher for my next class. This did not seem to comfort her at all. After the test I had THEM read ME a story. They did pretty well. Finally I broke out the tray of sweet goodies I bought on the way to class. The organizer of the program told me that kids are used to having a party on the last day of class so I supplied the sweets. I broke out the Pooh/Tigger ball and we threw it around for some time (it’s a BIG classroom). And that was it. I hope they learned something out of our time together. The organizer asked me to teach a class again next term and I said I would.

Anne Catherine, the French teacher at RCG who lives with us at Dawson Hall, had a birthday party on Friday night. She invited all kinds of French people and French-speaking people that live in Cairo. There were Egyptians and citizens of France sitting around singing popular French love songs. Then the Egyptians sang popular Egyptian love songs in Arabic. We Americans didn’t do a very good job representing our language. Jay and I sang a song that we could barely remember the words to. It was still a great night of international singing.

Saturday I decided I would use my day off to go to The Egyptian Museum (AKA The Cairo Museum) again and go at my own pace this time. I took my camera again even though they didn’t allow me to take it in last time. I figured I might act like an Egyptian give some baksheesh to the security guard and see if I could get my camera in. Baksheeh is the Arabic word for tip.

I took the Metro because there is a stop just next to the museum. For once the volume of people was low and I actually got to sit down. As I’m flipping through my guidebook, checking out the details of the artifacts I’m about to see, I hear this little Arabian tune playing over the speakers inside the car. I find myself humming along with it and am shocked when I realize I know the tune. It took me only a few seconds to figure out how I knew it… it was used in the old Game Boy video game Tetris.

If you look on the web site for the Egyptian Museum you will discover that for a low, low fee of 10 Egyptian Pounds (about $1.75) you can carry your camera in with you. When you get to the security gate of the museum you will discover this is not true. They don’t let cameras in at all. This of course is designed to force you to buy the expensive souvenir books, which are a lot more than 10 Pounds I can assure you. They are probably in the neighborhood of 250-300 Pounds ($44-$53). I mean come on, the Art Institute of Chicago let me in with my camera. I could even use it as long as I didn’t use my flash. What’s the big fuss here? Money of course. Egyptian tourist sites are AWFUL about fleecing tourists, so I hope you will understand my complete lack of respect over the next few paragraphs.

I got to the metal detector where I was turned back with my camera on the last visit. The guard patted me down and seemed interested in the medication bottle in my other pocket. I said “Medication.” He made the international “Oh” nod and waved me through. He didn’t even check out my camera. And here I was, prepared to give him 20 Egyptian Pounds (about $3.50). I scooted on through the area and headed to the first room.

I discovered between visits that my Lonely Planet guidebook to Egypt had a section on the Egyptian Museum, which is great because barely anything in the museum is labeled. The guidebook tour didn’t have information on all the rooms, and it only covered a few items in the rooms that it did have information for, and it still took me two hours to go through the tour.

Once I had seen everything I wanted to see, I went back through the museum and discreetly took pictures of some fascinating items. I want to make it absolutely clear that I didn’t use my flash, so I wasn’t harming anything. I got some really great pictures of statues and items that belonged to kings and queens of ancient Egypt. I did this for an hour before I got really brave and decided to take a picture of one of King Tut’s caskets. I pretty much knew I was going to get busted, but I gave it a shot. Sure enough, I had just barely clicked my shutter when a guard came up and emphatically told me that no cameras were allowed in the museum. He escorted me out of the room where Tut’s caskets were and told me I would have to take my camera out of the museum. He summoned a security grunt and all the while I was playing dumb. “I didn’t know cameras weren’t allowed,” I said. “I’m sorry,” I said and shook the man’s hand. As the grunt approached, I asked him some rapid-fire questions like, “What do I do with my camera?” “Who do I give it to?” “Where do I find this person?” I think he was a little perplexed by my questions and finally he just said, “Keep your camera. Put it in your pocket and don’t take it out again.” Having gotten all the pictures I wanted, I casually walked back out of the museum and made my way home. Check out the photos on the photos page. I think they are quite good considering that I took them all without a flash.

That night Teri and I went to the Ramses College for Girls Christmas/New Years celebration. We hung around long enough to see the guest of honor arrive and pass out Christmas gifts. That guest of honor was Santa Claus!!! Santa handed out all kinds of presents to all the little boys and girls, Christians and Muslims alike. It really baffles me how Muslims have taken on Santa as a part of their own culture since he is so closely related to Christmas. It was so fun to see the children’s eyes light up as Santa passed out the gifts. They extended their hands, eager to receive their colorful gift bags.

Tonight Laura Mendenhall and her family visited Dawson Hall at the invitation of Teri. Laura is the president of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA, the seminary that Teri graduated from in May. Laura and her family arrived a few days ago and were here to visit her daughter for the Christmas holidays. Her daughter works with UNICEF in Sudan and was unable to go all the way to the States to be with her family, so her family came to her… well, to Cairo to meet up with her. They all visited us to see what we are doing, to learn what jobs we are doing, and to listen to our impressions of Egypt. We chatted for about 45 minutes before they had to go to the Ramses train station to catch a train to Luxor for a few days’ relaxation on a Nile cruise.

We helped them get to the Ramses train station by taking the Metro. We made our way to the station but once we got to the platform the Teri took the three ladies to the far end, the front end of the platform so they could get on the women’s car, while I hung back with the three guys. We hoped that the ladies would get by without any harassment by splitting up.

As I stood with the gentlemen on the platform, I thought back to my first few days in Cairo. Our site coordinator did a great job of easing us into the chaos of Cairo. One day she walked with us down a swarming stretch of road to get us accustomed to our neighborhood. A few days later she took us on the cramped, claustrophobic Metro for the first time. She got us used to the experience in stages. And now Teri and I had just taken this family and did the same thing all in one night. I couldn’t imagine what must have been going through their heads. In the end they did all right. Laura was as cool as a cucumber, seemingly unshaken by the entire experience. We said our goodbyes, parted ways and Teri and I headed back to Dawson Hall. I hope they have a good, relaxing time on the cruise.

Yours in Christ,

Monday, December 12, 2005

Mosquito Mania

Lately at the Synod I have been helping Venis by formatting her dissertation according to the instructions she was given. She is submitting it to San Francisco Theological Seminary, hopefully by the end of the year. The work is going slowly but surely.

I came up with a really fun game to play with the kids in my English lesson. Several weeks ago I bought a 12” diameter bouncy ball decorated with the face of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger. We used it to play a game that helped the kids recall English words they know. I started off by saying a word in English and then I bounced the ball to one of my students. The student had to come up with another English word that began with the last letter of my word. For instance, I said “elephant” and then bounced the ball to my student who had to come up with a word that started with a “T”. Then that student would pass the ball to another student who would do the same. Not only did this make them recall English words, they also had to think about how English words are spelled. They ended up being pretty good at the game, and helped each other if they got stuck on a word or spelling. It seemed like they enjoyed the game a great deal.

Saturday I went to Zamalek, a neighborhood on Gezira Island which in the middle of the Nile. It’s the same neighborhood where we had our Arabic lessons back in September. It turns out there is an art college there, and therefore some art supply stores. Ever since I arrived here in Cairo I wanted to tap into my creative side and paint some pictures. To do that I need some art supplies, so I struck off for Zamalek.

This was my second adventure getting around Cairo all by myself (aside from my commute to work). The first was a few weeks ago when I met up with some folks to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in a theater (which was really good by the way, even if it did have subtitles in Arabic). I was quite proud of myself that I could speak Arabic well enough to get around using taxis.

Zamalek is a great neighborhood in which to go walking. The neighborhood is less crowded than most others and the people stare a lot less. Once the taxi driver got me to the Gezira Island I decided to walk the rest of the way. The streets are lined with green trees that are quite refreshing, and are quite a contrast to the gray, dust-covered sidewalks of Ghamra, the neighborhood where I live.

I wandered the streets near the art college looking for an art store. I passed young Muslim men and women, probably in their early twenties, with art supplies tucked under their arms, so I knew I wasn’t far away from what I sought. I saw an alleyway that extended back to some hidden stores and impulsively turned a sharp ninety degrees to do some exploring. I don’t know what drew me down the alleyway exactly, but I was surprised when I found not one, but two art supply stores tucked away in the shadows. I found some great watercolor paper and some good brushes. I am excited about the prospect of tapping some of my traditional art talents, talents that I haven’t really used since I graduated from art school over five years ago.

Sunday I met with a woman after church who was interested in having a web site designed to help her efforts in getting prisoners released from Egyptian prisons. She said in some cases the prisoners don’t even know why they were imprisoned and she tries to get them released. She took me to her home where we had lunch (a vegetarian dish because she is Coptic Orthodox and is participating in the Advent Fast in which they cannot eat meat) I looked around her living room and saw icons of various saints. She told me the stories of some of them. Then she talked to me about her husband who lives in Switzerland. After having listened to her for some time, I had this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach that this woman had been taken advantage of. I have a feeling the Swiss man married her so that he could have his way with her, and then he moved back to his home where she cannot go without a tremendous amount of effort. The Coptic Orthodox denomination prohibits divorce, so she cannot end the marriage and begin anew. She told me she hoped she could raise enough money from her tourism business to give him a gift of land to attract him back. She said she needed a foreigner to come and run her business, someone who could speak proper English and produce good marketing materials. She said she would be willing to give this person 30% of her profits and a piece of land to do with what he wanted, perhaps run a restaurant or a bazaar. I had this image of some corporate guy in a suit with a briefcase, an investor type that would come in and help the lady set up her business. I told her I thought that was a great idea.

Our conversation wandered through several topics including the Israel/Palestine conflict. I was surprised to find out that she supported Israel. I had just assumed that Egyptians would be sympathetic to Palestine, but this lady is devout Coptic Orthodox, and because of the bible she believes the Israelis are the rightful “owners” of the land. In a few weeks I will be traveling to Israel and Palestine to celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem, so I am acutely interested in this issue and I welcome all viewpoints. I was startled to hear what inflammatory things she had to say though. I even found myself arguing (albeit in a polite way) with her over the issue because her opinions were so black and white and allowed little room for communication between the two sides. At one point I even asked her if she thought this was a Christian way of solving problems. I didn’t think they were in line with the lessons of Jesus who taught us to love our neighbors, to love our enemies and pray for them. She simply wouldn’t budge on her viewpoint.

Over the course of our four-hour conversation she mentioned the 30% cut of her profits and the piece of land several times before I realized she was not-so-subtly referring to me as the foreigner she wanted to run her business! Also, the website I was to help her with wasn’t really about helping prisoners, but more about promoting the lady’s tourist destinations. It didn’t seem right for me to participate in this because I KNOW the PC(USA) would not be keen on me working for anything other than a nonprofit organization, not to mention I’m not going to be here past July of next year… oh, and also the fact that I have no desire to be a part of a business venture in Egypt. Eventually I told her I would have to leave in twenty minutes to make it home for dinner with my fellow volunteers. Then she came right out and said she wanted me to think about the opportunity of joining her in business, and gave me an extensive list of websites she wanted me to look at as reference for her web site. I told her I would look over them, but that I needed time to think over her offer. I intend to write her an email in the next several days to decline not only the business “opportunity” but also helping her with the website since it is for profit. I talked to my site coordinator Carole about this and it dawned on her that she had seen this lady at church before and had gotten some strange vibes off of her then. It seems she goes trolling at churches to see if she can find foreigners to help her out. After all she is Coptic Orthodox, and a devout one at that. What was she doing in a reformed church?

I was disappointed that she was looking more to boost her business instead of trying to help prisoners. At least I was able to converse with someone with a Coptic Orthodox background and hear some different viewpoints, even if they conflicted with my own. After all I think that’s the only way to truly discover what is going on in complex political situations, to listen to all kinds of viewpoints.

A month and a half ago we started experiencing a large number of mosquitoes at Dawson Hall. Even with my air conditioner and ceiling fan in my apartment on full I was getting mosquito bites on my arms, legs, hands, feet, and even my face during the night. At any given time I had 15-20 mosquito bites. We were all assured that this was quite normal for the time of year, and that in a few weeks the mosquitoes would die down, and in time they did.

Recently we had an unusual resurgence of the mosquitoes though. We have attributed it to the large amount of “fertilizer” that was dumped on the grounds of Ramses College for Girls (RCG). We have been somewhat astonished by the way the fertilizer was used. It was just dumped in heaping piles all over the greenery, and then never spread out (It produces a lovely smell. Yeech!). It has basically killed everything green that it was put on instead of nourishing it. What’s worse is the groundskeepers keep watering the fertilized areas creating large pools of water for the mosquitoes to breed in. Naadia and I agreed this is more out of ignorance than anything. The groundskeepers simply don’t know they are creating a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. We continually clap mosquitoes out of the air all through the day and night. Teri has been sick recently and I can’t help but wonder if all the mosquito bites have contributed to her illness. Hopefully the weather will have a nice cold snap soon and take care of them. We are almost at our wit’s end with them.

Tonight Teri had some of the graduate students from Evangelical Theological Seminary over for dinner. We had a great time eating and laughing. Egyptians have such a wonderful sense of humor. I showed one of them a great card trick I learned years ago. He is a pastor at a church in the Nile Delta and said it would go over really well with the kids, so I taught it to him.

Later we sat around the table and joked and laughed as we ate. We also had a serious conversation about smoking, how it affects your body, and how Evangelical pastors in Egypt are not permitted to smoke. One of the graduate students recited a passage from First Corinthians. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”

Teri asked the student if a guest preacher from the United States would undermine his own message simply by being a smoker. He replied, “Yes.” The she asked if the student whether he would tell the preacher to refrain from smoking or not, and he said he would not. He said it was out of respect to another culture. At the same time he detests smoking, he is tolerant of another culture in which it is permissible. We Americans looked at each other in a sort of shock because everywhere we go we see people smoking all the time, much more than in the U.S. Something I had to remind myself of was that we were speaking with Evangelical Presbyterians, not the Muslims we normally encounter on the streets and in taxicabs. It was interesting to see such a stark contrast in beliefs between the two religions.

However, another student argued against the smoking policy because he used to be a smoker and is now frustrated since he is a pastor and can’t smoke at all. It was a very interesting conversation.

It’s so wonderful to be around people that can find humor in nearly anything and yet are willing to have serious conversations and be “real.” The people I work with at the Synod are the same way. They are always easygoing and always ready for a good laugh, yet are wonderful to talk with about real questions of faith.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

English Lessons and Getting to Work

Work has stalled a good bit at the Synod of the Nile. I have been writing one or two letters in English per day to people who are making arrangements to come to Cairo, or are interested in what the Synod does. That’s been the extent of my work there. Supposedly over the next few days I will be helping Venis, a lady I work with at the Synod, with her dissertation. She is set to send it to San Francisco Theological Seminary by the end of the year.

On Friday, November 25th I had a really tough time with the kids in my English class that I teach at the Coptic Cathedral on Fridays. I was reading them a story about Joan of Arc, but several of the kids were fidgeting a lot and having conversations while I was reading to them. Two of the students were deliberately standing up over and over after I had expressly asked them to stay seated several times. I finally had to be “mister tough guy” and be stern with them. This is not something that I like doing, especially with kids. To be honest I’m not even good at it. Even still, I managed to upset two kids enough that they were crying. It was a rather unpleasant lesson for everyone involved. So, for the recent lesson on December 2nd, I changed things up a bit and didn’t even read them a story. I think since reading to them isn’t interactive, it was boring them. So this time I taught them songs that had motions like “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and then had them color in a drawing of a man. The man had blanks for the different parts of the body, which they had just learned through the song. I helped them fill in the blanks as I walked around the class. I also asked them what Santa Claus brought them in years past and what their favorite toy was. The organizers of the program also wanted me to teach them the Lord’s Prayer in English, so we went through that. At the end of the class several of the kids were writing the prayer in English on the whiteboard. Overall the kids seemed much more attentive and enjoyed the class much more because they were the ones doing the talking, which is the way it should be anyway if they are trying to learn English.

Teri and I recently went to a Toys ‘R’ Us store we found near a grocery store where we buy food. We saw several things of great interest. We saw “Fulla” dolls, which are the Middle Eastern answer to Barbie. Fulla had many, many different styles of colorful clothing, and many, many different hairstyles. All of these boxes were labeled “Indoor Fashion.” They were a stark contrast to the “Outdoor Fashion” dolls, which were dressed only in a black robe with a black veil covering the doll’s hair. What was interesting was the bland, boring “Outdoor Fashion” dolls were much more expensive than the colorful, fun-looking “Indoor Fashion” dolls. I managed to get some photos of these. Be sure to check them out on my photos page. On the way out I saw a Christmas Tree in the window display. It looked great, except it had a shiny, plastic, red crescent moon on the top in place of a star or angel. That was quite unexpected. Interestingly, we have discovered that Santa Claus visits all boys and girls, not just the Christian ones. It seems Santa has become a secular figure in the Middle East too. Well, in Egypt at least.

I remember an alumnus of the Young Adult Volunteer program telling us at orientation that we could write a book in the first day at our placements, a paper after a month, and a paragraph after six months. By the end of the year we wouldn’t be able to write anything at all. What she meant was that when we first arrive at our placements, everything is new and there is a wealth of experiences to write about. After a year all of the amazing things from the beginning of the year are commonplace and seemingly not worth writing about. I find myself slipping into this already. What I intend to do is try to take a fresh look at something I do often, and try to describe it in great detail so as not to lose that fresh perspective. From this entry forward these detailed descriptions will be titled with a bold title like this:

Getting to Work
Getting to the Synod of the Nile is quite an experience from the moment I step out my front door. Our YAV apartments are located on the third floor of Dawson Hall, the Secretarial School is on the second floor, and the Synod of the Nile Schools office is on the first floor (note that this is the Synod of the Nile SCHOOLS office, which is different from the Synod of the Nile office where I work). In order to get downstairs I have to descend steps that take me by the classrooms for the Secretarial School where Christian and Muslim women ages 18-20 learn to be… you guessed it, secretaries. Once I leave Dawson Hall it is a short walk through the courtyard to the gates out of Ramses College for Girls (RCG). In the mornings the entire second floor, the steps down to the first floor, and the courtyard are filled with young women, many of whom are veiled, waiting to enter the Secretarial School. The males of our group were told to be very wary of these ladies as they are at the age when they are looking for husbands, and American men are quite a catch. We were told to avoid eye contact with these women as much as possible because it just encourages them to talk to us. I have to say it’s quite a long walk from the second floor to the gate. Many eyes follow me as I walk this path.

One morning I was strolling down the steps when suddenly I could tell this young woman was staring intently at me from the staircase below. I could see a big grin on her face in my peripheral vision. She actually began ascending the stairs until she met me, and finally she was so close I couldn’t do anything but look her in the eye. She flashed her broad grin and her eyes lit up. “Do you speak English?” she asked me. We had a short conversation about where I was from and what I was doing in Cairo. I found out her name was Dina. It all seemed very casual and innocent enough. I finally told her I had to go to work and she asked, “Will I see you again?” I said yes, she probably would as I took this route to work every morning.

It was week before I saw her again. This time I had actually left the gate to RCG when I heard, “Jason, Jason!” I turned and there was Dina with a friend running to catch up with me. We had another conversation in broken English. She asked me if I had a cell phone and I truthfully said no. She told me her friend’s name was Christine, making it a safe bet I was dealing with Christians, especially since they weren’t wearing veils. I politely told them that I had to get to work. Again Dina asked, ”Will I see you again?” I replied yes and went on my way. It wasn’t but a few days later that I heard Dina and Christine call out my name again, this time in the courtyard. After a little bit of conversation Dina asked me again if I had a cell phone. Again I told her I didn’t. “Mefeesh mobile” I said in Arabic. [There is no mobile.] Dina offered to buy me one. I was surprised that she would want to talk to me that much and finally became a little suspicious of what was going on. I said no thank you. “Lay?” she asked. [Why?] I pantomimed a cell phone ringing a lot and acted frustrated with it. Dina and Christine laughed. I told them that I had to go to work and we parted ways, but not before Dina pushed her cell phone number on me. I was growing increasingly anxious about leaving the building in the morning. Would they call my name today?

One morning I told Teri what was going on and asked her to walk me to the gate. I thought if Teri was me, surely Dina and Christine wouldn’t try to talk to me… would they? Teri and I were halfway to the gate before I heard my name called out. Wow, they ARE persistent. We kept walking, pretending to be engrossed in conversation. We reached the gate where I paused to tell Teri that I would see her that evening. The pause gave Dina and Christine the time they needed to catch up to me and start talking to me. They were very curious about Teri. They asked her questions about where she lives and what she does for work. I could tell things were somewhat awkward. In a way that’s what I had hoped for. That evening Teri asked, “Why don’t you just ride the elevator down to the first floor, and then walk through the Synod of the Nile Schools office and out the back of the building?” It turns out that plan works very well. The elevator bypasses all of the women on the steps and lets me off right at the office door. I walk through the lobby and out the back door where there’s not a single Secretarial School student to be seen. It’s a longer walk to the back gate of RCG, but I get a lot less attention that way. I just feel bad that I have to avoid people when I am actually here to meet them and understand what it is like to live here. But when you think about the intentions of these ladies, it’s just not a good situation to be in. I can begin to understand how the female YAV’s feel. They are hounded by men who are much more aggressive than these ladies ever will be.

Once I leave the RCG campus I turn left and walk down a sidewalk between the RCG campus wall and a busy street and make my way to the Metro station. As the cars rush past me they create a wind that kicks up all kinds of dust and crud into my face and eyes. It’s really quite a disgusting experience. I have been wearing my sunglasses, even on foggy days, just to keep the grit out of my eyes. The cars expel an unholy amount of exhaust, enough to make anyone cough. A few times the fumes have even made me nauseas. I walk about a quarter mile before the street passes under a bridge. This is where I cross the street to get to the Metro station. As the cars bottleneck into less lanes they are forced to slow down, which gives me my opportunity to weave through the cars. Sometimes it is a harrowing experience with cars, trucks, busses, and motorcycles rushing at me, sometimes narrowly missing me. In order to cross the road safely I have to move at a consistent speed so the cars can judge how much to swerve to miss me. The drivers only seem to stop if the car in front of them is stopped. Traffic is a gigantic fluid beast where vehicles weave around each other, and pedestrians are just thrown into the mix. Upon reaching the other side of the street I find the spot in the metal fence where a few bars have been removed. I duck through the hole and find myself under a staircase that rises to the bridge over my head. I squeeze my way out from under the staircase on one side or the other. At the foot of the steps I cross over the litter-strewn tram tracks to the Metro station.

At the station I purchase yellow Metro tickets for 75 piastres each (about 12 cents, as opposed to the slower tram ride which costs 25 piastres, or 4 cents) from the ticket window. In the States you would expect a line of people waiting to purchase tickets. Here it’s just a mob of people that you have to push your way through. The only understanding in this entire situation is women get to go directly to the front of the mob. I guess that’s at least one good thing for women in Egypt. I usually buy my tickets twenty at a time to avoid this craziness on a daily basis. With my ticket in hand, I turn around and feed it into a turnstile making sure to snatch up the ticket as it is spat out the other side. I need it to get through the exit turnstiles at the destination station. I descend a staircase to the aboveground platform of the Ghamra station where I wait for a train to arrive.

This is a prime place for people watching. People of conservative and modern lifestyles, Christians and Muslims, the rich and the poor all stand there expectantly. Veiled mothers herd their children and businessmen inspect their suits. Some men wear turbans and robes while they lean against their staffs. Some women balance large loads on the tops of their heads while they wait for the train to arrive. All the while there is a cacophony of Arabic all around me. I can understand a word or two, but never what conversations are about. The Metro platform is truly a cross section of the population of Cairo.

The train pulls into the station and people crowd around the doors. When the doors open, people getting off the train have to push through the surge of people trying to get on the train. Nobody waits for anyone. After cramming myself aboard the train along with everyone else, the doors close and we are off. Sometimes we are packed in so tightly that even if the car surges forward, we can all stay upright without holding onto anything. I had a tough time riding the Metro at first, but I think I have finally become used to the press of people around me. I still have some anxiety from time to time, but I am doing much better. Three or four minutes later the train arrives at the underground Mubarak station (named after the current president, Hosni Mubarak) and we all surge off the train as others are trying to get on. I transfer to another platform where I cram myself onto another train bound for the Attaba station. I exit that train, climb some steps, slip my yellow ticket into the exit turnstile, and climb more steps to the light of day. I cross a small street, dodge a few cars, and walk about fifty yards to the entrance of the Synod of the Nile thus ending my daily trip to work.