Friday, April 28, 2006

Site Coordinator Woes

I recently wrote an entry entitled “Rant,” which at the time I kept private and only allowed those who requested it to read it. Well, after some recent events I feel that it is okay to speak about this publicly.

Here’s the general gist. Our amazing site coordinator, Carole retired at the tail end of December and a new site coordinator named Lynn came on in her place. Lynn came on as a part-time employee as opposed to Carole’s full-time position, so we all expected a diminished presence in that department, but not to the extent Lynn has taken it.

Basically since she started Lynn hasn’t been doing her job. There hasn’t been any bible study, no structured time to talk about our negative experiences, no sounding board to keep us positive. In fact Lynn is a very negative influence on our experience here. When she is around I very rarely hear positive things come out of her mouth. We all agree that sometimes she says supremely negative comments and we all think, “Why are you even here?”

On top of that, Lynn barely speaks Arabic. I have been here eight months and I speak more than she has learned in five years. She is not involved in the local community at all and doesn’t seem interested in continuing years-long relationships that have been built through this program.

In February I was absent from my placement for three weeks because of the death of my grandmother and a very serious sinus infection. The next time I saw Lynn I asked her to contact my placement to let them know what was going on to keep a good relationship from deteriorating. She asked me for the contact information. It was then that I learned she hadn’t bothered to contact any of our eight placements during the two months she had been the site coordinator. I told her diplomatically then and there that she needed to contact them and allow them the opportunity to talk about their experiences with us. Were they having a positive or negative experience?

There have been several occasions when pastoral care was needed this year and that falls under the site coordinator’s responsibility. When my grandfather had bypass surgery earlier this year, Lynn spoke to me at length about her own parents’ failing health. I can understand how a pastor might need to relate to a person in stress, but this went far beyond that. Lynn spoke for a full twenty minutes about her own pain, seemingly blotting out any opportunity for me to speak about my own anxiety. When Teri’s mother passed away, she experienced the same level of pastoral care. It lead me to ask myself, “Who is doing the pastoral care here?” Then, when my grandmother passed away, Lynn called in the middle of the day, when I couldn’t possibly be home, and then emailed me twice. That was the extent of her pastoral care. She seems completely incapable of dealing with other peoples’ pain. I don’t know if I have ever mentioned this even in my “rant,” but Lynn is an ordained church pastor. How can this possibly be?

This year the harassment of the female YAV’s at the hands of Egyptian males has drastically intensified. When we went through the interview process last year we were all told explicitly how bad the harassment could be, but even long-term missionaries have commented on how much worse the harassment is this year. Lynn had lost the trust of the female volunteers to the extent that none of them wanted to speak to Lynn about it. These ladies were experiencing incredibly traumatic harassment and there was no outlet for it, no counseling, no prayer, and nobody they could trust to speak about it. We were doing our best to be a good support for one another, but we were all sharing the same negative experiences, so of course there was only so much we could do for one another. Sherri, the accountant for the program found out about what was going on and compassionately stepped in and acted even though it wasn’t her job. She arranged for a counselor to come and speak to us. It seems to have helped the female volunteers already, but it had nothing to do with Lynn’s actions.

I could go on and on about the negative experiences that we have experienced with Lynn, from nearly being stranded in Jerusalem, to her general lack of communication, which causes a continual level of anxiety in the group. There simply isn’t time to recount all of the astounding gaffes.

There are several reasons I feel comfortable sharing this publicly now. One is that I personally confronted Lynn about her lack of involvement in the program. The other is that is seems the Presbyterian Church in the USA has taken notice of the problems that are brewing here and are working to rectify them. Another is that I hope I can finally put these negative experiences behind me. From here on out, regardless of what Lynn does or doesn’t do, I am going to try and focus on the positive.

I ask for your prayers for continued safety, for positive experiences, and most importantly for my work to continue for God’s purposes. Thank you all for your support.


Dreams of Home

I know I haven’t written for some time. I promise I haven’t fallen off the face of the Earth. I’ve just been touring Egypt literally from the southern end of the country to the northern end with my mother and brother and Teri’s father and brother. We went from Abu Simbel to Alexandria. Quite a trip! I’ll write about it in the coming days, but first I want to share a dream I had on April 9th. I immediately got up and wrote about it so this is a fresh account of it.


This afternoon Sarah had a group of her students over to watch a movie. I was in my bedroom taking a nap, but I could hear their muffled voices and the movie that they were watching on the other side of the wall. In no time their voices became intertwined with my dream.

I dreamed that I left my room and began speaking to one of Sarah’s students. He was male, teenage and Caucasian like me, not Egyptian like I imagined he would be. We began talking and he told me that he had to leave before the movie was over. I left Dawson Hall with him and we took the elevator down to the bottom floor. The elevator ride was longer than I remembered and when we left the building I found out why. Someone had decided to add floors to Dawson Hall, but instead of building them on top of the existing structure, they had jacked up the building and were building underneath it. There were already ten new floors that were distinguishable from the old floors because they were brick and mortar. The old floors at the top of the building were finished and painted.

The student and I got in his car, which was a black sports car. Instead of driving through the busy streets of Cairo, we were driving at night on an isolated country road that seemed more like Florida. The landscape was flat, but filled with the silhouettes of palm trees that were lit by our headlights. Occasionally we would pass strip malls that were brightly lit beacons in the midst of the inky darkness.

For some reason the student’s car kept running out of gas. He would crank the car, drive a few feet, and then it would stall out. He did this several times before I hopped into the driver seat and told him I would get us to a gas station. I cranked up the car and began to drive around. I didn’t have the same problem he had with the car continually running out of gas.

We stopped at a shopping center and entered a grocery store that looked very much like a sparkling, clean Kroger. We didn’t walk in the front door, but came in through a side door that led through the deli. A woman dressed in a black burka passed in front of me and I unintentionally rolled my shopping cart over the trailing end of her robes. The wheels left greasy gray tracks on the fabric. I remember cringing and thinking, “Oops.”

I walked to the front of the store where there were people dressed in costumes of different Star Wars characters. I asked two teenage girls wearing Boba Fett costumes, sans helmets, where I could find copies of Star Wars on DVD. They said they didn’t know. I turned away to look for the movie.

I walked to the far end of the store and then circled around to the back where I saw a TV playing a video of a girl driving a go-cart or some sort of buggy through a muddy lawn on an overcast day. The quality of the video was that of a home movie. The person taking the video asked the girl in a hillbilly drawl, “What’s that on your shirt?” She looked down and saw a housefly crawling on her sleeve, except the housefly was about six inches long. It moved erratically, in such a way that it was disturbing to me. The girl recoiled and tried to brush the fly off of her.

When I woke from my dream and left my apartment, I discovered that Sarah’s students were all teenage girls from Sudan. Not a single male, Caucasian or Egyptian.

I think there is a lot going on in this dream. I’ve tried to interpret it as best I can. I think most of it deals with aspects of home that I miss, even in some silly ways. I start off in Egypt, here at Dawson Hall and descend a long elevator. The ride is longer than I thought, perhaps a metaphor for my year in Egypt. I quickly switched to the American equivalent of the Egyptian countryside… Florida. Even the person that I go to Florida with looks like me. There aren’t many Caucasian, teenage males on the streets of Cairo. Usually I stick out like a sore thumb here in Egypt, which can be unnerving at times, but with a Caucasian I could have some sort of anonymity I don’t normally have here. I think my dream was providing some sort of comfort in that respect. I experienced something I haven’t done in several months. I got to drive. The car didn’t function properly while the teenage was driving, but once I was behind the wheel everything was fine. You could go as far to say that this might be a control issue. Every day I ride in taxis over which I have no real control.

I think the next aspect of my dream is obvious. I miss going to a clean market where the produce is free of swarming flies. Kroger supplied that for me. Sadly, deep down I miss buying things. I think consumerism is a big part of our lives as Americans and I miss that. I’m not proud to admit that. I am reminded of a satirical Bare Naked Ladies song entitled Shopping that says, “Everything will always be alright when we go shopping.”

Then something really interesting happened. The first person I encountered in Kroger was a woman covered from head to toe in a black burka. This mimicked a real-life occurrence while I was home for my grandmother’s funeral in February. I visited a WalMart to pick up some items before the return trip to Cairo and I walked by a family that was obviously Muslim because the woman was veiled in a black veil with only her face showing. I was incredibly surprised to see them in my suburban Atlanta neighborhood. I remember that I almost said good evening to them in Arabic, but I hesitated and then my chance was gone.

In my dream I rolled over the woman’s robes with my shopping cart, and while it was accidental, I can see some symbolism in it. While the action is totally disrespectful and I would never do it intentionally in real-life, I think my subconscious mind was experiencing an “enough of this” moment. The woman in the burka was but a symbol of my experience here in Egypt, which has been very difficult as of late. I symbolically steamrolled Egypt.

The people in Star Wars costumes were a funny surprise. Several years ago I attended a sci-fi convention in Atlanta and was thinking of attending it again this year just after I return to Atlanta. The last time I attended the convention I was amazed at the creativity of the people who made costumes. I suppose my recent thought about attending the convention made its way randomly into my dream.

The last part where I watched a girl riding a go-cart and the appearance of a gigantic fly on television is really strange. I can only guess that it came from our recent viewing of the movie “The Ring,” which recently played on Egyptian television. The overcast day, the little girl and the housefly is all imagery from that movie. The housefly gave me the same creepy feeling that the movie did.

Dreams are weird.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Desert Rain

Last week I was working on the website at the seminary when, from outside, came a rumbling noise. It was a sound familiar to me, but I hadn’t heard it in a while. It was thunder. Brice, my fellow American cohort and I stood at the window with our jaws hanging wide open, staring at the massive amount of rain that was falling from the sky. Brice and I both commented that it was just like a tropical thunderstorm from the southeastern U.S. I heard another muffled sound and opened the window so I could hear it better. I heard hundreds of children from the school down the street screaming and squealing in delight at the sudden wash of water. An Egyptian student came scurrying into the building with his shirt completely soaked. He asked out loud, “Is this my country?”

The same thing happened the next day. A huge amount of rain fell from the sky in a short amount of time and flooded the streets since there is no drainage system in the city. There’s never really been a need for one. It rarely rains. What’s even stranger is we are well out of the rainy season. January and February are usually the cooler, wetter months while April is when the air warms up and dries out. More evidence of global warming? Who knows?

I am looking forward to next week very much. My mother and brother will be arriving in Egypt on Monday evening, accompanied by Teri’s father and brother. They will be here for about a week and a half and we have lots planned for their stay. We’ll mix a good bit of tourism with some interpretation, showing what we are doing here.

My friend Andy in Atlanta informed me by email a little over a month ago that he had sent a package to me. I didn’t know exactly what he sent me, but I figured it was going to be a care package. I received it this week and boy, did he outdo himself. He had taken pictures from my web site, put them together with very appropriate music (including Steve Martin’s “King Tut”) to make an incredible DVD. Our group is planning to get together for a back to back to back showing of the Indiana Jones movies on Saturday night and I plan to show the DVD to everyone then. I can’t wait.

My recent difficulties and frustrations have calmed down a bit. I’m feeling much better about them and I hope that continues for the coming days, weeks, and months. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. Please continue to pray for all of us over here in Egypt, and for all the other YAV’s, wherever they are in the world. Take care.



Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Recent days have brought many issues in Cairo to a head and I feel like I need to rant about them. However I don't want to pubish my rant publicly for various reasons. If are a frequent visitor to and you would like to read what I have to say, I will be happy to email you my journal entry. I think what I have to say is important in regards to my experience in Egypt and for future generations of vounteers in Egypt. If you are interested, please send me an email and I will send it to you. Thank you as always for your support. I ask for your prayers during this frustrating time.