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Cairo Update

Date Written:
  10 November 1997
  Egyptian Tactics
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I heard on the BBC World Service that remembrance day this year was quite wet. The weather here is still boring but I'm happy with that. Some Egyptians are starting to wear jumpers and coats but I don't think that I've fully acclimatised, I still go out wearing only a shirt and trousers.

I've been busy for much of this week with work for my company in London and so I have had little time to do other things. Alison went on a three-day ladies' conference from Thursday to Saturday- many of those attending were in the same line of work. It was a chance for her to relax and regenerate her energy whist she left Hannah with me! Her bump is now getting quite prominent and it is getting easy to see that she is pregnant.

Whilst I had Hannah I (and so I couldn't work with my programming) I decided to travel around with her to do other things which I don't normally have time to do. I visited a convent in which I have been helping them with some computer problems and Hannah as immediately seized and passed around! The nuns showered her with presents too, many of them were sweets which I was happy to share with her once we departed. Hannah and I had a really good time together and I'm constantly surprised by how much she is learning by herself. She knows how to say the alphabet (not bad for a 2 and a half year-old, eh?) and is well on the way to completing a 50-piece jigsaw unassisted.

I forgot to mention an embarrassing moment last week at the S School teachers conference where I was speaking. Before I was due to speak there were some announcements in Arabic. I always switch off when the announcements are given (even in English) so I didn't pay much attention to what was said. When the announcements were finished I noticed that all 150 delegates were looking at me, expecting something. Someone walked over and said that it had been announced that I was going to sing in Arabic for the others handed me a microphone. I was a bit dazed, but somehow the person giving the announcements heard that I know an Arabic song so he thought that it would be nice if I could share it with everyone.

I've heard many times before that this is typical for the culture. People can even be called upon to give "talks" with no notice. I think that they also don't like to ask beforehand in case I said "no" so it would be better just to announce it first! I immediately knew that I had three problems, first of all I didn't have my guitar; secondly the pianist couldn't play; thirdly the piano was out of tune. Even as I was going to the stage the pianist stated to play the introduction to the song and I was trying to pitch it to the key that he was playing in but I found it very difficult. I had to turn and ask him to stop playing so that I could start! When I did start he played anyway but at least I pitched it at the right key for me even if it wasn't the same one that he was playing in. I had a round of applause afterwards but somehow I think that it was more to do with courtesy than with appreciation. The video which I sent with Wallace and Ceridwen has the same song on- in fact it is the ONLY song which I know in Arabic. (Let me know when you get this by the way)

Yesterday I performed at another S School. I was invited by an American teacher who works at another school here which Alison helps at (this is also on the video). The American teacher is helping to train these teachers which mainly consist of older teenagers from the youth club. It is easy to see that this kind of work has a lot of potential and I was happy to help out.

I've recently been bombarded with invitations to other venues, many of them I've had to turn down due to constraints on time. The Egytpians often use very under-handed tactics to get you to agree go to a meeting- I have heard that this is also very cultural. For one particular meeting I was told that it had already been announced to the children that I was coming on a particular date, and if I refused then it would look like the lady was lying! Unfortunately it was during the ladies' conference that Alison was attending and so I had to say no anyway. I was MADE to feel bad about refusing to go. A lot of the time the Egyptians will try to use guilt to force you into their way of thinking, the following comments are not out of the ordinary:

"Why don't you want to come, don't you like us?"

"Why can't you just cancel the other meeting and come to us instead?"

"How much are they giving you? We will pay you more . . ."

Whilst you are wrapped up warm just think of us here! Soon we will have to start sleeping under the covers- it definitely doesn't feel like bon-fire night weather here!

More from me next week!

Toodle Pip,

Jason, Alison and Hannah

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It's a Fact!

Facts about Egypt:

  • Egypt's population is 66 Million

  • Egypt is four times the size of the UK

  • Only 3% of the land can be used for arable crops

  • Cairo has 18 million people and is growing by 1 millon each year.

  • Cairo is the Largest city in Africa and the Middle East

  • Official literacy rate is only 45%

  • A total of 11 languages are spoken in Egypt

  • Public Debt per person is $790

  • Average annual income is $630

  • Unemployment is estimated to be 17%

  • Religion: Approx. 85% Muslim and 15% Christian

  • Most Christians are affiliated to the Orthodox Church, less than 1% of the population are Protestant

  • There are an estimated 100,000 street children in Egypt


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