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Cairo Update

Date Written:
  16 March 1998
  Registering Esther
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Well we've had to get used to having a baby in the house again. It is surprising how we're remembering what to do. Hannah loves having a sister, especially when it means sharing her toys!

Alison and Esther went to the Paediatrician a couple of days ago for a check up. After doing a good examination he declared that Esther was a "perfect baby"- of course we knew that anyway!

Esther is on a cycle of feed and sleep throughout the day and yes, Hannah continues to have a good look at her now and then and strokes her hair gently. Hannah has become a lot more independent since the birth, she is taking herself to the toilet a lot more than before and also insists on dressing herself in her night-clothes She stikes most people as a very clever 2 year-old.

Yesterday the drive for independence went one step too far when she tried to wash her own hair in the bath. I had popped out to do something in the kitchen then she took the shampoo and squeezed it on her own hair, using about one quarter of the bottle in the process. The now liberated shampoo made two distinct escape routes down from her head, one went directly down the back of her head, the other made a course directly over her right eye. The inevitable screams attained my immediate attention and a quick application of a wet flannel remedied the situation. I explained to her afterwards that she was very clever to try to do it by herself, but the next time she show be careful to not let the shampoo goes in her eyes. Somehow I don't think that she will try it again in the near future.

Hannah's memory for names and events continues to amaze us. She remembers Arabic names much better than me and Alison. A while ago we hired a man to clean and dust our windows, Hannah didn't seem too interested in what he was doing at the time. Some months later Hannah and I were in a taxi and she asked me the driver's name. I asked him in Arabic and he replied "Mohammad"- Hannah immediately replied "The window cleaner's name was Mohammad!". At first I didn't know what she was talking about because it was so long ago; then I remembered the man and also remembered that his name was indeed Mohammad (although if you had asked me I won't have remembered it! It was only because Hannah said so that I remembered that it was). Today Hannah reminded me of the name of one of our Egyptian friend's sister. She last saw her in November and we haven't talked about her since then.

On Wednesday I registered Esther's birth to get a birth certificate. As with all bureaucracy it took hours to do. Fortunately I went with my Arabic teacher without whom it would have taken longer. I had real difficulties explaining Esther's full name. In Egypt and presumably across the Arab world there are no surnames; they use the name of their father and grandfather as such- so in the Arabic system my name would be Jason Stan Stan (yes, my father and grandfather had the same name). Despite this system it isn't a problem here to call a son after the father's name, It isn't uncommon to hear of someone called Mohammad Mohammad Mohammad. This goes for Girls names too, so in the same system Hannah would be called Hannah Jason Stan. Ladies don't change their name when they get married, they just change their title from the equivalent of "Miss" to "Mrs".

When the registrar asked me for my full name I had no difficulties: Jason Anthony Fell. He then implied that my father's name was Anthony, "No" I replied, "They are both my given names". I went on to explain that my father's name was Stan, the same as my grandfather but these aren't part of my name as it appears on the passport. He was confused because my name had to fit into three boxes labelled Name, Father's Name, Grandfather's Name. In this system people aren't allowed to have more than one given name, so the boxes weren't too big, Under "Name" he squeeze in "Jason Anthony", under Father's Name he put "Stan" He asked me what my father's second given name was, I said that he didn't have one, not everyone has two given names, some people only have one given name, others have two, some have more. I went on to explained that in order to identify me as the legal father he would have to put my surname as it appears on my passport so he put "Fell" as my grandfather's name. (I thought that it would be best not to mention that Anthony was actually my great-grandfather's name . . .)

It took two registration forms and a lot of explanation in order to get to this point. Eventually we got to the next part of the registration form, Mother's name. Exactly the same thing happened. I explained that her given names were "Alison Patricia", but Patricia wasn't her father's name! Her father's name was Charles. So he entered "Alison Patricia" as her name, "Charles" as her father's name. Again I felt the need to enter the surname in order for Alison to be identified so said "Fell" and the grandfather's name. The registrar paused . . ."You have the same grandfather?"

"No", I explained "That is the family name".

"You married someone in your family?"

"No, she was a Davies before she married, then she took on MY family name"

"She took on your grandfather's name?"

"No, it wasn't my grandfather's name, well, not his given name! It's a name that is passed from one generation to the next. It used to denote something like a profession, an ancestor or an area where you lived"

The registrar gave up trying to understand and just put what I told him to do. So Alison's name was entered as Alison Patricia Charles Fell

Next question: Baby's name. "Esther Mary as the given names" I replied. The rest he entered himself without my intervention in case I confused him I think. . . when I read the form afterwards Esther's registered name is officially Esther Mary Jason Anthony Fell. (REALLY!)

Fortunately I've been told that we can get a British birth certificate from the embassy here. They use a translation of the Egyptian birth certificate but I will be able to explain the anomalies between the different naming conventions and hence get Esther's name registered as simple straight-forward "Esther Mary Fell" on the British certificate.

We've booked our flight tickets to Britain for April 8th, we'll be staying most of the time with Alison's parents for about 6 weeks. It will be nice to get a change of weather since we're having some problems with sand storms at the moment, not nice when you wear contact lenses!

Toodle Pip,

Jason, Alison, Hannah and Esther

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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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