Thursday, June 29, 2006


What do you say to your Iraqi friend that emails you a picture called "The Reality" and THIS is what you see? WARNING to parents of youngsters, the image contains profane language.

UPDATE: I found out today from an article on the web site that the image I linked to was faked. My father was quick to email me and tell me that a commanding officer of an aircraft carrier would never allow this type of thing to happen. While I didn't state it in my original message, I suspected the image was faked for the same reason.

Faked or not, this image still makes our armed forces look bad. Even though members of our armed forces didn't spell out this message, there is still someone out there that intentionally made this. Often the war in Iraq is spoken of as a war of public relations. Well, this small PR battle was lost because the image made its way into the email of an innocent Iraqi.

We celebrate our rights and the responsibilities that come with them. Some American out there flexed his right of free speech and made this image, but was it a responsible action?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Enticing Ads in Arabic

See that harmless looking ad over there on the left? That's not just some random ad. It's a screen capture of an ad I saw on my monitor. I put it there on purpose for you to look at. It is the same type of ad that has popped up on my computer screen all through this year. Apparently internet services can tell from my IP address that I am in Egypt and therefore assume that I am an Egyptian, so they display ads in Arabic.

Normally I wouldn't think twice about it. Companies want to advertise their products and it is only smart to advertise in the language of the people viewing the advertisements.

What is alarming is how many of these ads have to do with immigration to America. While I can't fully read the ad, I can see the stars and stripes and even read the word "America" in Arabic. I can also see two women with long, luxiourious, uncovered hair. At first glance this might not mean anything to you or me, but it could be very important to a woman who feels oppressed by an intolerant culture that holds women back and forces them to cover their hair. Showing hair is a symbol of freedom in this ad.

Understand, I am not alarmed about people from the Middle East moving to America. If they are hard working people, with good heads on their shoulders, if they're yearning to breathe free, I'm all for it. What alarms me is how America is being pitched to these people. America, the land that accepts the tired, poor, huddled masses, is becoming harder and harder to get into. In fact, I believe to immigrate to America you pretty much have to luck out and win the immigration lottery.

I have met so many people in Egypt, especially Christians, who look to America for a better life. They want to move to America, but time and again they tell me that it is difficult to get to America, that they can't win the lottery that permits only a tiny fraction of people to immigrate. These people are desperate to move.

So what exactly is this ad advertising? Is it someone saying they can get people on the fasttrack if they are given a not-so-small fee? Is it someone that is ripping desperate people off by accepting this kind of money and then never following through? I don't know. I can't really read the ad, so my guess is as good as yours. But it does make me skeptical.

So, I clicked on the link and I was taken to a very official looking web site decked out in red, white, and blue. At first glance a person could be tricked into thinking it is a U.S. government website, but what confirmed my suspicions was the domain ending in ".org" as opposed to the U.S. government's ".gov". It even says in fine print at the bottom of the page, " website is a private entity and is not a governmental agency." I am not linking to the site because that would only give the site credibility in the eyes of search engines, and that's not something I want to do.

I will, however link to THIS PAGE. It shows how much the site in question resembles the U.S. State Department's web site and prooves to me what I assumed from the beginning. The site is "an independent for-profit organization." Does that mean they are ripping people off? No. But I continue to be skeptical. It makes me uneasy to think that someone might be using my country as a pitch in a scheme to separate desperate people from their money, desperate people I have gotten to know personally.

Digital Demonstration

Over the last several months I have been working out a method to digitally preserve old minute books from the early meetings of the Synod of the Nile. They date back to the late 1800’s and go up to the early 1960’s. I discovered the fastest way was to take a digital photograph of each two-page spread in a book, and then compile all the images together using a program called Adobe Acrobat. That way one book equals one computer file.

I would have preferred to use a scanner, but it proved to be a very slow method, especially since many of the books are oversized and don’t fit on the scanner bed.

I feel like I have finally perfected the chosen method as far as I can. Fortunately in the process of figuring out the best way, I digitally compiled some twenty books. The project must continue long after I leave in July though, because there are many more books to be digitally preserved.

That means I must teach someone at the Synod offices how to do this, step by step; from the usage of the digital camera, to transferring the images to a computer, to compiling the images together using Adobe Acrobat.

Yesterday I tapped into some of my old graphic design skills in order to make this happen. While I worked as a designer in Atlanta, I designed instruction sheets for the installation of Kimberly Clark products. Kimberly Clark is a company that does business on a global scale, so often times the instructions could not include written language and had to be comprised of nothing but imagery. That way no matter what language the installer spoke, he or she would understand how to put the product together.

All that practice helped me put together an instruction sheet that is full of imagery so hopefully, with some lessons, it will make sense to the people here at the Synod, whether they speak English or not. The instruction sheet begins with imagery of how to set up the camera and tripod, and how to position the book. It goes through various complicated steps, and ends with the completed PDF file.

Today I gave the first tutorial to Amaal, the office secretary who doesn’t speak but a few words of English. Between the printed instructions and a demonstration, she seemed to get the process quite well. I hope Venise, who knows quite a bit more English, will be here tomorrow so that she can translate the finer points and help me answer any questions Amaal has.

During this year I have come to understand that when there is a barrier in communication, whether it’s a language barrier, a cultural barrier, or even a lack of desire to communicate, a little creativity can go a long way.

It probably won’t make much sense to you out of context, but if you would like to view the instructions I came up with, click HERE.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Yet More New Videos

New videos of Queen Hatshepsut's Temple, The Luxor Temple, and The Karnak Temple are available on my videos page. Enjoy!

Monday, June 26, 2006

What was lost now is found

Recently our entire Young Adult Volunteer group went to Hurghada, a beautiful beach town on the Red Sea with clean beaches and azure water, to relax a little and reflect on our year here in Egypt. After that several volunteers left for home. Even though the year isn’t quite over, several of our volunteers have had to leave early, from sheer exhaustion from being in Egypt, to previous commitments to the next phase of medical school. Of our eight original Young Adult Volunteers, there are three of us left. Stephen is still in a village called Minya, while Teri and I are left in Cairo. Everyone else has cleared out. Fortunately we did get to have some good closure in Hurghada.

I also got to patch some things up with my site coordinator whom I have had a rough time with since she came on in December. I think it started by her saying, “I’ve learned a lot from you this year.” I believe she meant it in a sincere way. Over the last few months I felt that she wasn’t doing her job very well… and I let her know exactly how I felt about that. Sadly, my frustrations of living in Egypt caused me to take out my frustrations too hard on her. I was quite harsh several of the times I spoke with her. I could have handled the situation better. While she seemed thankful for my overly harsh criticisms, I told her that I was sorry for the way I went about it. After that, things seem to be much better between us. Ever since then I have felt a lot better about the situation. I am still frustrated with her from time to time, but mostly now I just let it roll off my back.

Not only have most of our fellow volunteers left Egypt, but many of our other ex-pat friends will be leaving for the States to do interpretation work. Also, most of the Egyptians will be taking a substantial amount of time to escape from the Cairo heat to the cooler coastal areas. That would certainly make it harder to get any work done. So, since we are quickly losing our support network and our reason for working here, we have found it is ideal for us to leave Egypt a little early. In fact Teri and I will be leaving on July 17th for Atlanta.

Last week I helped the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo put together their big summer newsletter. Like many of the layout jobs I have done in my short career as a graphic designer, this one came down to the last minute of the deadline. I haven’t seen the final, printed product yet, but here’s hoping that it came out okay. Click HERE to see the digital version.

Here’s an uplifting story: Today Teri and I took a taxi to work together. I dropped her off at the seminary before heading to The Synod of the Nile (I swap jobs every week now, so I am working at the Synod this week). I couldn’t give the driver exact directions in Arabic to the Synod from the direction went, so I told him to drop me by a park. Once I got to that specific park I could easily walk the rest of the way. I paid the driver, stepped out of the car and walked five steps before I realized I left my wallet in the taxi.

I turned around and saw about 15 identical black and white taxis just like the one I had been in. I had no idea which one was mine, and it didn’t really matter because they were all speeding away much faster than I could run. My heart sank and my mind started racing. I did what any American would have done in that situation. I knew I had to cancel all my credit cards, so I told the folks at the Synod that I was going home to place some calls to America.

I used my cell phone to call Teri and told her what had happened. Then once I got home I called my Dad to get some info (sorry for that 5am wake up call Dad). Then I called Capital One and then American Express to at least put my accounts on hold. I was just using the internet to transfer all the money out of my checking account when Teri sent me a text message from the seminary that said, “I’ve got it!”

The taxi driver had driven all the way back to the seminary, the one place he knew he could find someone, and gave my wallet to Teri. All of my cards were there. Even the 21 Egyptian Pounds in cash were there. The driver hadn’t touched a thing. Of course he wanted a little compensation for his honesty and for driving around in order to deliver the wallet. Teri told me he asked for fifty pounds (about $8.50USD) to which I said, “That’s fine.” That man saved me a lot of headaches by doing the honest thing. I suppose the least I could do is compensate him for his lost time, even if he was directly asking for the money. Thank GOD I got my wallet back.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Graduation at ETSC

My work at the seminary took a frenzied turn two weeks ago as we ramped up for graduation 2006. I attended several functions including a cook-out, which gave the graduates one more chance to get together in a social setting before the graduation, a baccalaureate, and the graduation itself. I did a large amount of work on three PowerPoint presentations. They were primarily directed at a group of visitors from Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, GA who visited with us for several days. One was for their arrival, to familiarize them with Evangelical Theological Seminary (ETSC), another was for the graduation itself, and the last was to explain the future goals of ETSC (read: we need your contributions in order to carry out our future goals).

After I completed the presentations I helped out by shuttling the visitors around to Coptic Cairo, facilitating events with ETSC faculty and students, and by touring the Cave Churches of Moquattam. Fortunately, I had never visited the Cave Churches, so there was something new to see even for me.

The Cave Churches are in a section of Cairo called the Moquattam Hills, in a community commonly referred to as “Garbage City.” The Christians of Garbage City have a very unique ministry. They collect the garbage of Cairo, which is pervasive on the streets of the city, and return it to their homes where they sort out recyclable materials. Then they use the materials in many ways, from making trinkets that they sell to tourists, to shipping large amounts of metals to China, which are in turn used in the manufacture of electronics, some of which might wind up in our homes in America.

It is a huge operation that touches every member of the community. As we drove into the area, our guide told us that often times the residents of the communities fill the first floor of their apartments with garbage that they pick through, while they live in the floors above. Our guide assured us that while the homes look dilapidated, many of the citizens of Garbage City are quite well off. After all, they take things nobody wants and turn a profit out of it. It’s a pretty disgusting way to live, fraught with dangers and health risks I probably haven’t even begun to imagine; after all it was pretty much a garbage dump in the middle of a residential area. Later we saw the reason for this way of life.

We passed out of the community and through a gate. We noticed there was no more garbage in the streets or in the buildings. We had entered a compound that contains a Coptic Orthodox monastery and several Orthodox churches, which were built in caves deep within the hills. The sheer walls of the “hills” that stood on our left were covered with enormous carvings of Jesus and the apostles. I even saw the Ten Commandments carved in Arabic near the top of the cliff. Our bus wound around on the road as we looked up at the gigantic reliefs through our windows before we came to a sunken area in which sat a mosaic dome.

We bounded off the bus, and the first thing we noticed was the faint smell of garbage from the nearby Garbage City community, but I think we were all in such awe over what we were seeing that we didn’t really pay it much mind.

Behind and below the mosaic dome was the first cave church we would visit. Now, when I first heard the words “cave church” I was thinking of a bear cave, a room no larger than a McDonalds, what I saw was a space with arena seating. The space under the tons and tons of rock was enormous with thousands of seats. A Christian man in a floor-length robe spoke in Arabic about the origins of the church, but I couldn’t hear the translation. I am sure it was important so I’ll see if I can look it up and get back to you.

We visited another cave church that had even more seats. My friend, Brice told me that on the World Day of Prayer in 2005, this particular cave church held 20,000 people! There were several more smaller cave churches, but we didn’t have time to visit them all.

Now, back to the people of Garbage City. All those people that pick through the garbage to find recyclable materials donate a significant portion of their income to the Cave Churches and the monastery. At the same time they are working to reuse materials to be kinder to our environment, they are using the profits of their work to support these amazing places of worship. That’s faith! That’s a life in service to the church and to God if I have ever heard of one. Amazing.

I have begun to say goodbye to several of my friends even though I am not leaving for some time. Of course, since the graduation at ETSC, students I have gotten to know are dispersing to be pastors at various churches across the country. One of my closest friends is named Tukei and he is from Uganda. He graduated with a masters degree and has since returned to his home. I miss him greatly.

We did manage to have a party for Tukei before he left, and it was an amazing cross section of the cultures that are present in Cairo. The difference in cultures became really apparent when we were all “required” to sing a song. Tukei began with some very African-sounding Christian songs. Some were in English, some were in his native tongue.

Esther, who is from the Philippines, though she is Chinese by birth, followed Tukei. She sang a lilting Chinese song, and I never would have known it had she not told me, but it was a Christian song. It’s amazing how Christianity has been assimilated into so many different cultures in so many wonderful ways.

The Americans all joined together to sing “Father Abraham,” the campfire favorite. We also participated in a few songs led by a man from Sudan. My friend “Ramsis” from Iraq also sang a beautiful, though sad sounding Christian song, all in Arabic. The Egyptians rounded out the evening with some popular Egyptian songs.

At the end of the evening Tukei told us how much he appreciated us all getting together to see him off. The party was a surprise to him as my friend Brice kept him occupied while we gathered in Brice’s apartment, so I think he was genuinely surprised that we were honoring him. Tukei is now in Uganda, and will resume his position as pastor at his church.

I am also saying goodbye to several of my fellow YAV’s. We are having our “year-end” retreat this weekend because five members of our group are laving for America next week. They are all leaving early for several reasons. Some need to prepare to resume college, another has to get back and complete some requirements in order to begin teaching in the fall. I think a few are leaving simply because Cairo is a hard place to live and they have gotten to an unhealthy emotional state. Teri and I will also be leaving a little early, only because we don’t have much of a choice. Most of Cairo shuts down during July and August because it’s just too hot to work. Many Cairenes migrate to cooler temperatures in Alexandria or other coastal areas for several weeks. Also, most of our ex-pat support network is leaving for interpretation work in the U.S. So, we aren’t left with much of a choice. Our plane tickets were recently changed and confirmed for July 17th.

There’s one last thing that has had me really excited over the last several days. Once I got my web site up and running again, an Executive Producer at MSNBC contacted me. She told me she had seen my videos of the pyramids and wanted to use them on her show, “The Most with Alison Stewart.” She said she also wanted to interview me! I gave her my contact information by email and she called me yesterday to interview me. She asked me all kinds of questions and I was really nervous when I answered them. I hope my voice wasn’t too shaky. And then they aired the segment on yesterday’s show. What an amazing year this has been! Someday I hope I can see the segment.

Make sure to check out the new photos I have posted. They go along with this journal entry.

I hope all is well with you. Drop me an email, as I would love to hear from you. Take care.

Yours in Christ,

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Videos are Back

The videos I created of the pyramids are back and you can view them by clicking HERE. I have hosted them at to prevent any bandwidth issues like I had recently when they became so popular. Hopefully this will keep my site from being shut down again. :-D