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Cairo Update

Date Written:
  19 August 1999
  Summer Holiday
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At last I now have time to write you something substantial! Since we arrived back to Cairo three weeks ago we've been going non-stop. During our Saturday in Britain we attended Alison's brother's wedding in Watford- the wedding went well and the weather was perfect. We stayed in London through to the Monday then departed for Cairo. The open secret at the wedding was that Andrew and Anne (the bride and groom) were going to Egypt for their honeymoon; and guess who they were going to stay with??

During their time in Egypt Andrew and Anne invited us to go with them to Taba. Taba is on the Egyptian/Israeli border and it is basically a five-star Hilton hotel surrounded by nothing but border posts and police checkpoints. Once in the hotel compound there is nothing to do but swim, eat and relax. Our travel there took a degree of decision making, we wanted to hire a car but the prices were very high. Many hire companies wanted to charge us an initial charge plus 40p per kilometer. The round trip is over 900 kilometers so we soon decided against it. We eventually managed to find a company that would provide a mini-bus AND driver for the entire stay for 200 Sterling- it seemed a bit steep but compared to the other companies the price was right, so that's what we did.

During our trip we drove through the Sinai peninsula and our driver gave us a running commentary on the desert and how they fought the Israelis for the land. "They took it in 1967, but we fought and got it back in 1973". Hmm, that's not what I heard. I thought that Israel took it in 1967, and when Egypt fought back in 1973 they won . . . for the first few days, then were routed until they were a matter of kilometers from Cairo- The Israelis decided to stop knowing that they made their point. Later they gave back Sinai in return for peaceful relations. A victory of sorts I guess, but history can be very subjective to whichever viewpoint.

After we arrived in Taba we were surprised to see that most of the hotel guests were Israelis, and most of the hotel notices were in English and Hebrew. We heard that when the hotel was built it was originally in Israel, but due to some dispute over the peace agreement the hotel and surrounding land were handed over to Egypt in return for $10 million dollars. The recent local history interests the Israelis and that is why there are so many visitors.

Whilst at Taba we saw the eclipse. It was only 70% total but enough to make the sun seem weaker for a couple of hours. The sky didn't seem to darken, our eyes probably adjusted to the change in brightness. Throughout the duration of the eclipse the swimming pool and beaches were almost deserted- almost everyone went indoors. This really confused us- we expected more people to be outside to see what was happening. We later found out that similar things happened back in Cairo, a friend of ours was warned by her Egyptian landlord not to go out between 1.30 and 4.00 (the duration of the eclipse) or she would be harmed by radiation from the sun. Another friend, a teacher at a private school told us that in the afternoon of the eclipse her class was reduced in numbers from 20 to just two!! The children were kept indoors "out of danger". The hotel gave warnings not to look at the sun during the eclipse and we guess people understood from this that there was danger, and maybe since they didn't understand exactly why, then they just played it safe and stayed indoors. We still get confused sometimes by this culture.

During our stay at the hotel we just signed all of our meals and drinks onto the room number in order to pay the whole bill at the end of the stay. When the day came to sign out I went to the reception desk and felt that it was judgement day- we had enjoyed ourselves but then it was time to pay the bill. I guess 200 sterling was quite reasonable, especially considering the fact that I can't remember the last time we went off for a holiday.

Recently I received a phone call reminding me of a meeting I had arranged before leaving. I confirmed the time and the place to meet to be taken to the meeting. It was only as I arrived at the town about 30km outside Cairo that I realised that I had been there previously and had done exactly the same talk that I planned to do. Ooops! Never mind, it was nice to see how much of the talk the children remembered from about 12 months Ago!

Afterwards I did a talk with a piece of rope that had a message of forgiveness. In a nutshell, the rope mysteriously gets tied up in knots and I explain that it is like this when people do things against us that make us sad, the sadness inside is like a knot on the inside. If we don't forgive the person the knot gets tighter and tighter and it becomes more and more difficult to forgive. Also, if we don't forgive we keep the sadness inside- it is the people who learn to forgive and make peace that are the happiest in life. For example, the story of the prodigal son- the happiest person in the story was the father because he forgave, but the older brother kept hold of his unforgiveness and became very angry.

It is such a basic lesson but it is an area which many Christians, old and new have difficulty with. As one wise speaker once said- it is the basics of Christianity which Christians fail on, more than the complicated doctrines.

Yesterday we went out in the car; it's really good to have complete use of the car since we've returned. We decided to have a family day out and go to one of the tourist bazaars. At the beginning of the journey we pulled into a petrol station to fill up. Whilst queuing, the side of our car was in front of another stationary car, which for some unknown reason pulled off and went into the side of our car badly damaging the passenger door. I was not happy, especially when the other guy denied doing anything wrong. Unfortunately hardly anyone has motor insurance in Egypt- it's up to the parties involved to come to their own agreements if damage has been done. I must admit that for a split second I considered the possibility of causing grievous bodily harm to the other driver . . . despite the fact he was an off-duty policeman. Then I realised that this was a perfect opportunity to practice the lesson of forgiveness and peacemaking that I had given a few days earlier. Sometimes the most basic biblical lessons are the most difficult to put into practice.

I took the guy's registration number and he wrote out his address. He seemed quietly confident when he drove off - somehow I don't think that I'll ever see him again or any kind of compensation either . . . being a policeman he will have the right contacts to avoid justice.

We put the incident behind us and had a really good time at the bazaar. We started to buy Christmas presents for when we return to have the baby. I visited a leather shop where I bought a nice leather jacket for the equivalent of 35 pounds- I've no idea why it was so cheap, similar leather jackets in the bazaar cost from 70 pounds upwards so I think I bought a genuine bargain. Just think, all the money I saved can go towards the repair costs to the car.

Well, I could go on, but it's time for bed now.

Take care,

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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