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Cairo Update

Date Written:
  28 July 1998
Subject:
  Last Minute Planning
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Dear Friends,

The 20th of July was our wedding anniversary so Alison and I went out to a place called "Chillies" which is about a 10 minute taxi ride away. There was a nice selection of grills and burgers and various pasta dishes. We had a starter dish of "Volcano onions" (a BIG dish full- wish we took a doggy bag) and for the main course I had an 8 oz steak and Alison had a chicken and pasta dish. We were both well stuffed at the end but really satisfied. I had some coke with several free re-fills. The price worked out to be about 15 quid- back in England it would be at least double the price so there are certain advantages to living here!

Our Arabic teacher looked after Hannah and Esther while we were out, although there wasn't any problem because they were both in bed. When we arrived back we watched a video and drank some champagne which British Airways gave us as a gift when we flew to Cairo. All in all a very satisfying day.

The past week has been quite busy because I've had quite a few meetings. On Saturday my calendar showed an engagement in the evening at 6:30. The lady who booked the meeting said that someone would get in touch about transportation to the event. The event was a children's holiday club in a meeting place some distance from our house- I was pleased that I wouldn't have the hassle of getting in and out of crowded buses and metros with the sketchboard; for me this is a nightmare scenario.

I had another meeting in the morning and when this was finished I prepared and painted up the 3 talks ready for the evening, one for each different age group. By 3pm I was a bit concerned that I still hadn't received a phone call about the travel arrangements. The lady who originally arranged the meeting was out of the country and I had no other contact number, so I had to sit and wait. By 5pm I decided that there must have been some mix-up with the date and that it wasn't going to be that day, so I lay down for a rest and proptly went to sleep.

I awoke at 7pm and started to arrange what else I'd do in the evening but at 7:15 I received a phone call from the meeting housing asking why I hadn't arrived! I explained that I had been waiting for a call to for the travel arrangements then the lady on the other end was full of apologies. The children were still expecting me though so she asked me to leave straight away. I asked how, she said "taxi". I explained that there were several problems with this, first it would take a long time because of the traffic at this time in Cairo, and secondly the taxi drivers always try to get lost when there is a foreigner in the back so that they can claim more money, and since I didn't know where it was I couldn't do anything to stop it! We agreed that I'd try anyway. We arrived at the right area surprisingly quickly- 30 minutes was good timing for a saturday evening but then as expected the taxi driver didn't know exactly were to go so he stopped to ask someone. In this culture asking for directions is a game of chance- you'll be given directions whether the person knows or not since no-one wants to loose face by saying "I don't know".

The first person we asked pointed us in one direction and later the taxi driver asked someone else who said "Errr, try that place down there on the corner"- I was shocked to find it was the right place! In an area of 2 million people we managed to get to the right place by asking two people- this is unheard of! I think the taxi driver was disappointed that we didn't drive around for much longer so that he could claim more money. Someone came out to greet me and told me to go inside while he paid the taxi (Egyptians always pay less than foreigners so I wasn't going to complain!) There was enough time left for 2 meetings which went really well, lots of children were attending for the first time.

Fortuately the journey back was uneventful- I was taken by someone going in the right direction from the meeting place. I arrived back at 11pm and I was both mentally and physically drained but satisfied with what we achieved.

We had a welcome phone call the next morning by a friend of ours who invited us to go with his family to a swimming pool in a 4 star hotel near the airport. He has membership there and can take us as guests and we just have to pay the equivalent of 10 pounds sterling for entrance. Like all pools in Cairo it is outdoors, with sunbeds and plenty of shade, a poolside bar and refreshments menu . . .

Unfortunately I had to leave early because of another meeting but Alison, Hannah and Esther were able to stay throughout the afternoon. I was told afterwareds that Hannah really didn't want to leave and caused a bit of a fuss, but I think that she was just expressing on the outside what I was feeling on the inside! The meeting which I left to attend was in the poor area that I visited last month, after coming from the hotel swimming pool the difference in lifestyle was even more stark. At the meeting I was asked to talk about the wise and foolish builders. This isn't easy in an area like this because firstly, the area is built in the desert so everyone here build their houses on the sand; and secondly, there's hardly any rain or strong winds to threaten the houses. Hmmm. I had to explain it in terms of building a house in England where the sand is beside the sea and there is lots of wind and plenty of rain . . .

We have some guests here who are part of our company who have joined for 3 weeks. They've attended my meetings and have also gone out with other members of the team. Last night I was asked to do a "request" meeting for Egypt. I find this very difficult so I decided to take all 10 of them to the city centre where we submitted our requests outside the main government buildings, mosques, hotels, museums etc. . . The four hours that we had went by very quickly and I think that everyone enjoyed the guided tour too!

There's not so many meetings this week so I hope to have a more relaxing time, but we'll see!

Esther is continuing to develop really well. She's been taking solids for a few weeks now and seems to enjoy them, and yes, the contents of the nappies has changed accordingly too. She now recognises the bottle and is well on the way to holding it herself. She still enjoys hearing me play the harmonica (must be the ONLY person who enjoys listening to me!) At least I'm getting plenty of practise.

Till next time, Toodle Pip,

Lots of love,

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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