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Cairo Update

Date Written:
  29 April 1999
  Correspondence and Thieves!
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Well, we're all getting excited about returning to the UK for a couple of months at the end of this month. We have a lot to do before that happens.

I had a busy day of Sunday. There are two sisters here that have arranged a Bible correspondence course for children and at the moment they have over 2000 children on their mailing list. Many of these children have little contact with good teaching otherwise. They needed help to produce the graphic design on the next lesson so one of them came and we sat for six hours and did it . . . I thought, well bang goes our family day!! Never mind it was a good job done. The amazing thing is that they still hand-write all 2000 envelopes! Despite my appeals they have refused to go hi-tech in this area. Incredible how committed they are to getting this done- I can't think of anyone in Britain who would be prepared to arrange hand-writing 2000 envelopes.

Last Monday I went to do a few errands in and around the city centre, then onto a place where I had completed some programming work. I did most of the travelling on the Metro since it is more convenient than the car during the busy times of the day, and in Cairo the busy times of the day stretch from 7am to 10pm! On the way there I was talking to some street children on the Metro. They travel for free because they simply duck underneath the ticket-operated barriers at their destination. The two of them were sitting on the floor in a crowded carriage. As usual I spoke with them and many of the passengers looked surprised that not only was a foreigner talking to these kind of children but he also physically went down to their level! The children were quite friendly and they didn't even ask for money afterwards. I think that the fact that I asked their names and showed a genuine interest in them was more than they got from most people.

After I left the Metro I went to various places then in the middle of the afternoon I proceeded back to the Metro station. Just outside three more street children, aged between about 6 and 9 came and asked me for some money. In these circumstances I give a little but more importantly I speak to them. With these children I spoke with them for about 10 minutes and did some magic tricks too. During the talking I noticed the youngest (called Samiir) take an interest in my leather waist bag, he was trying to undo the zips to see what was in it. If only he knew! I had just been to the bank and there was the equivalent of about 80 pounds Sterling (a hideous amount of money here) plus my passport, drivers license, bank cards and other important things. Since there was such a lot of valuable items inside I decided to play safe and put it inside the other bag I was carrying.

Afterwards I said goodbye to the children and started to walk back towards the station. I went to get the waist bag out but noticed that it was missing, I didn't completely close the zip of the other bag, and the hole was just big enough to remove the waist bag . . .
I looked round to see the whereabouts of the street children. The two eldest were still hanging around but Samiir had just run off down a side street. I chased after him but it was useless- he had too much of a head start and could have dived into any number of places! I went to find the others but noticed that they were missing too. I noticed a guy watching what was happening (Egyptians stare a lot!) so asked him if he saw where the other two boys went, he pointed to a place near-by that was shielded from view in the street by parked cars and bushes. I went and saw the other two boys there, this was obviously their "den".

I explained to them that all I wanted was my bag back with the contents, I didn't want to involve the police and I'd reward them if they helped. They explained that Samiir had run off but they didn't know where to. They agreed to help me find him. I took the two of them to the Metro station to see the police, who immediately seized them on suspicion of being involved in the theft. The whole scene attracted much attention as I explained to the Metro station staff and police what happened. One Metro passenger stopped and asked me what was happening. I explained, then she said, "Don't ever expect to see your bag again, really, there's no chance that you can find it". Why is it that all the insensitive people in the world always want to talk to me??

I went with the children and a police escort to the nearest transport police station, a few metro stops away. When we arrived I saw a large policeman waiting outside waiting for our arrival. The staff at the metro station phoned them to say that we'd be arriving. The first thing he did was to take his hand behind his head then slap both boys hard on the face. The boys hardly flinched, they just glared at him defiantly- man, these kids are as hard as nails! The police always assume that they are guilty of something, so a good beating now and again will make them think twice next time, eh? I tried to explain the principle that they were merely "helping with their inquires" but they obviously had no idea of what I meant.

In the police station I explained again what happened. I had to make a statement that I didn't take very seriously at all. Since no-one there spoke English I decided to make it sound very laid-back and casual. For some reason I wasn't particularly over-concerned and I had a great sense of peace that everything was going to work out. I was under the impression that they were going to "extract" information from the boys. I explained that there might be a better way. I told the police about the "den" I saw the boys waiting in, I explained that Samiir may wish to return to it to see his friends or even hide the waist bag there for later. I suggested that I would go back and wait there to see if he returns. They clearly thought that this was a novel idea so they let me go with a police escort back to the area where the theft took place.

Unfortunately there was no Samiir and no waist bag hidden anywhere. I wanted to actually wait in the den but the police escort waiting around outside would have given the game away. Shortly after we went back to the Metro station to return to the police station we were called to the stationmaster's office. As I walked in there was a guy holding a black leather waist bag. He asked me if it was mine- YES it was. He explained that a schoolboy found it under a car near the station, a Metro passenger saw him pick it up and immediately brought it to the station. I guessed that Samiir must have thrown it under the car as he was running. They asked me to check the contents . . . passport, bank cards, driving license, all the money and everything else . . . all still there, nothing had been taken. They all looked surprised . . . but I guess that's what comes from not having faith.

I returned to the police station to let them know that it was found. They took it from me and treated it as seized property. They explained that I had to return later to get it back. I was confused but agreed to return later that evening. Upon my return they explained that I had to go to the main police station to fill in forms there before I could receive it. When I arrived at the main police station they went on to explain that I had to return the following morning and go to court to fill forms before I could receive it . . .

Why all the bureaucracy?? I refused to return! I explained that I didn't have time to come back and forth. In the end we compromised- I could return the following evening but I didn't have to go to court. I agreed. In this way I also got the two street children off the hook because charges were going to be brought against them for being part of the theft, but because I refused to go to court they had to drop the charges.

Well, that was my excitement for the week. I hope your week is just as exciting!

Take care,

Jason, Alison, Hannah & 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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