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Cairo Update

Date Written:
  02 December 1998
  Speaking the truth?
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It's been a busy couple of weeks since I last wrote. Our group here went on a retreat to a place outside Alexandria. There were guest speakers and plenty of time for fellowship. You may remember in my last E-Mail I mentioned that Egyptians don't always find it easy to tell the truth, well let my give you an example. . .

We arranged for a minibus to take us to the conference centre near Alexandria. One of us arranged a meeting place and time in Cairo. Whilst at the office the friend made sure about the arrangements. He gave the name of the conference centre and asked the manager- "Does the driver know where it is, because I can arrange to fax you precise directions otherwise". His reply was-
"Yes, yes, we all know where it is". Still he insisted on asking the driver in the offices- the reply was the same:
"Yes, I know where it is. It will take no more than two and a half hours to get there". When we met together on the day of travel the bus arrived and we checked again: "Are you sure you know where to go?" The driver replied again in a similar manner.

Well, you can guess what happened- yes we got lost on the way there. Very lost. The problem was further expounded by the fact that we asked lots of people the way, and they didn't know either so they made up an answer. We should have arrived at 6 o'clock, the actually time we got there was past 9 o'clock. We reluctantly paid the driver and arranged for him to take us back. We asked him "Is 2pm on Saturday OK?"
"Yes, no problem" he replied.
"Are you sure, we can arrange a later time if need be"
"No, 2pm is fine, I'll probably be earlier . . . "
The time he actually arrived on the Saturday? Half past 4!

The culture here is to always give the reply that the person WANTS to hear. You can't always believe what you're told which is why I've become cynical when asking for directions.

Last Friday was children's day in Egypt. The Egyptian church usually arranges a special event for the Sunday Schools to attend. This time there were over 600 children attending the special meeting which lasted over 3 hours- I had two slots in the program. I've learnt that in meetings like this to keep the presentation fast-moving and interesting because it's much more difficult to keep the children's attention due to the party atmosphere. I asked the children which of them had seen me before, over half of them did. Not bad, I thought for a random sample of children in Cairo! But I thought afterwards that maybe they were just giving me the answer that I wanted . . .

I performed items like knife juggling and balloon modelling, all with appropriate messages of course! I recently remembered a trick of putting a sharp kitchen knife inside a balloon without bursting it. I used this to illustrate how we can say words that hurt people, like a knife going inside of us. But if we have received hurtful words then with His protection we can allow it not to spoil our lives. Many children have never seen things like this even on television so it was easy to keep their attention. There was quite a contrast a few hours later when I was performing at a child's birthday party and there were mainly foreign, English speaking children present. It was a lot more difficult to keep their interest even for half an hour- I had to use the last resort of fire torches . . .

A couple of Fridays ago I had quite a shock. I had just finished a busy few days where there had been many meetings. Finally I managed to finish them all and I was exhausted so I decided to go to bed at 3pm. Just as I was getting into bed Alison asked me "Don't forget the meeting that you have at 5pm". I had completely forgotten about it! And unfortunately it was in a place where they have seen every message that I've done so far so I usually have to put together something new. I got dressed again and started to sketch out a few new ideas. I remembered an idea that I had been toying with for a few weeks so I planned a way of putting it on the sketchboard, then phoned my Arabic teacher to get the words translated. Well, the outcome was that both the teachers and the children really enjoyed it- but they'll have no idea of how disorganised I was beforehand, they don't see the panic and the hurried phone calls that go into making a message like that!

An interesting fact I found out the other day. I was in a five star Hotel looking into the possibility of programming a central reservation system for them. I asked the manager present how far in advance bookings come, his reply was not usually more than 12 months. Now I had heard earlier that all the hotels in Cairo were already booked up for the year 2000 celebrations, so I asked the manager when he first started to get bookings. I was surprised by his reply- the first booking for the year 2000 was in 1987 while he was working in another hotel chain. Shortly afterwards the hotel was completely booked. The first booking was for a number of rooms and required a deposit of $20,000- and he received it within a couple of days.

All of the hotels have put their prices up to meet the demand- one hotel chain has prices of $3000 per room for the new year celebrations and that is fairly typical. It seems that there are a lot of freaky (and presumably rich!) new-age people out there that want to be at the pyramids at the stroke of midnight to celebrate going into the age of Aquarius, a new world order that promises peace and prosperity. The ending of the age of adversity and polarisation. . . what a load of old cobblers! There can never be true peace without The Prince of Peace. Maybe I'll join them for the celebrations, it could be a source of interesting conversations.

Greetings to one and all,

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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