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Cairo Update

Date Written:
  03 April 2000
  Back Again
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Dear Friends,

We've only returned to Cairo 3 weeks ago but somehow it seems much longer. I've had to revise the list I'm sending this out to, if this is the first time you've received this update remember the following: The purpose of this update is to keep our friends and family up to date on what's happening here. So many people ask to be kept informed so we decided to send out a regular update about once every two weeks. We hand-pick the recipients since we want to make sure this information isn't "misused" in anyway. Remember that because of the area we are in, you may have to read between the lines to get the full picture . . . an similarly you must be careful about your replies. And on the subject of replies- don't feel you have to anyway! If everyone were to send a personal reply to each update then we would feel obliged to reply personally back . . . hence defeating the object of the easy "one for all" update. Write to us by all means but don't feel that you must do it for each update.

Enough said on that. Now what's it been like since we returned? Well just to make sure everyone is in tune with what has been happening I'll recap on what has happened over the past few months.

In August last year we went for the regular ultra-sound scan to make sure everything was fine with the pregnancy- unfortunately the doctor found that the heart beat wasn't beating correctly. The condition is called irregular arrhythmia, and the baby's heartbeat was dropping from 145 beats per minute to 55 beat per minute. We found out later that this is an unusual condition for the unborn baby and it could indicate there was a physical defect with the heart.

Because of the lack of specialist facilities in Egypt, and after much prayer and thought we decided that Alison, Hannah and Esther returned to the UK at the beginning of September whilst I stayed in Egypt to finish off engagements and returned in October. Shortly after Alison arrived in the UK a specialist hospital in Birmingham took a detailed scan of the baby's heart and measured the pulse over a period of time. They concluded that there was no physical defect, and anyway- there was no irregular heartbeat either! (He have print-outs from equipment in Egypt to show it WAS there originally!!) On January 14th Lydia Ruth was born fit and healthy and there have been no problems with her heart since then. We want to testify how grateful we are on how it all turned out in the end.

Whilst living in Egypt I had an arrangement with a company in London to do programming work and return it with E-mail. This work would help to top up our finances. For some reason they stopped paying my wages (I believe they were having financial difficulties) and they owed me over 4 months wages which they've never paid. Because of this I had to find other employment whilst living in the UK. Through a friend I managed to find a company which wanted a database specialist for a short-term contract. The situation was ideal for me and I worked there for three and a half months until we returned to Cairo at the beginning of March.

To be honest, the work I did in the UK was fine but to be sat down for eight hours a day became boring for me- I'm not used to being sat down for such a long stretch. The work I'm involved with here required that I'm always on the move and often the days have a certain degree of unpredicability. I'm nevertheless grateful for the work I did there and I certainly enjoyed working alongside the other staff members but I think it would take a while to get used to working in that kind of environment again.

Now that I've returned I'm starting to think that maybe having an office job where I sit in the same place for eight hours and do assigned tasks may not be such a bad thing after all!

Before I returned to the UK in October I agreed to help a friend with his internet company he started in Cairo. The company designs and writes web pages for the internet. This is an area I have no real experience with but I was willing to look after the company whilst he was on "home leave" for ten months. Because of the problems with the other company in London I've had to find another source of income, and this internet company could be the place but the work is unpredictable and clients are often reluctant to pay! I can see the next few months are not going to be easy.

The day after we arrived back to Egypt the former manager and I went to the court so I could have power of attorney over the affairs of the company. My friend had been working on this for weeks, since bureaucracy in Egypt had to be seen to be believed I understood why it took so long to prepare the papers. The procedure was something like- first go to that government office to get a certain form, then go to another government office to get an official form to confirm the existence of the company, next go to another office to get the first form filled in and stamped- then get a translation of the company's papers in another office and get this translation verified at another government office . . . etc. etc. Each office has a long queue and unhelpful staff who send you to another office to get something first before they can process your request.

Anyway, I was told that all that was needed was to go to a court building and sign the appropriate papers- a procedure which would take about 10 minutes. Of course I never believed this, and since the manager had been in Egypt for longer than me I couldn't believe how he could think that the final stage could be that simple- it's NEVER that easy in Egypt, something ALWAYS goes wrong.

Of course I was right! When we presented the papers to the court clerk she scowled at them intently. These government workers get paid next to nothing, and in my experience they always try to find fault with papers because:

1) It gives them a feeling of importance that someone like themselves can stop a big business venture;
2) They avoid work at all costs. If possible they send the people away to make corrections or fill in another form;
3) They might get a bribe go speed up the proceedings or to overlook a fault.

It took her about a minute to find the fault to halt everything. Two of the forms had translated the manager's name into two different spellings in Arabic, the difference was one alphabetic character and the fault was with another government office, but it was enough to halt all proceedings. No amount of pleading could change her mind- and the procedure to correct the mistake would be just as easy as to start all over again.

This was my welcome back to Egypt- it was nice to know that nothing has changed in the way of red-tape and to be honest I was neither surprised or discouraged. Because the manager was leaving the next day we decided to just have an internal company document that I had complete responsibility for the company during the absence of the manager; we hope this will be sufficient!

The other work is going well. The day after we arrived back the phone started ringing with requests for meetings. One of these locations is a place I won't forget, the deaf school in an area called Maadi. It is organised by the Anglican church in Egypt, and in particular by the daughter of the arch-bishop of Egypt and Sudan, she is known as Sister Claire. I thought I was just going to talk to the children, but because it was in the evening many of the parents and other deaf people in the area came too, it was like a community meeting in all there were about 80 present. I set up my sketchboard which aroused a lot of curiosity- the children tried communicating to me in sign language. I was surprised by the fact that I could have a good guess what the gestures meant- but I just couldn't respond in the right way. Fortunately help was at hand- the centre has two helpers from Northern Ireland who of course understand English and Egyptian Arabic sign language too! I spoke to them afterwards and they told me it is easier to learn Arabic sign language than it is to learn the Arabic language- after six months they could communicate easily with the children- I had to admit I was slightly envious! After three years in Egypt I STILL have difficulty communicating effectively in Arabic.

Sister Claire appeared and welcomed me to the centre. She is the one in charge of the centre and called the meeting to order and spoke in Arabic along with sign language, so I was able to understand what she was communicating. Everyone sat down in a courtyard area in a U shape facing the direction of the sketchboard. To begin the meeting she asked for someone to begin with a prayer. The volunteer walked to the front of the group and did the prayer completely in sign language. Of course no one closed their eyes because if they did they would miss the prayer! After the prayer had finished everyone "signed" the Lord's Prayer- it was all done in complete silence and seemed surreal to the outside observer. After the last "Amen" I was introduced as "Yasoon" (my Arabic name) from England.

Most children have a simple sign name and I was asked if they could make one up for me, I agreed- I was told to be careful since they commonly choose something unusual about the person's appearance. I dreaded to think what it could be. Whilst in England for four months I had put on two weigh stone in weight; (going from two meals a day to four is bound to have some detrimental effect!) but I needn't have worried, after being asked what my sign should be they all simultaneously took the thumb and middle finger on one hand and placed them on their foreheads then swept them backwards to the top of the head- they were indicating that I had a receding hairline and this should be my sign. All I can say is that it's a good job I'm no insecure about the state of my hair.

I gave them a sketchboard talk and did some magic tricks and I was surprised by how well they "listened"- of course they don't make any noise when they get excited but they do turn to each other and start signing- in this way it is easy to see who is not "listening". Afterwards I gave all the children a piece of rope and showed them how to do simple magic tricks for themselves. Sister Claire informed me that the type of material I was sharing was perfect for these children because it is so visual- the adults enjoyed it too. I was asked to return to give teacher training sessions to show the teachers at the school how to use a sketchboard and give a bible lesson using it. Of course I agreed, but I only regret not having enough time to visit the school on a regular basis.

Whilst playing with the children afterwards I started to learn their sign language- I think this suits me much better than the spoken language. They showed me some of their rope tricks too. It was a bit of a problem being surrounded by so many children all wanting my attention. Normally in these situations the children will call out my name, but these kids get someone's attention by tapping each other on the shoulder. I think I must have had about ten children all tapping me on the shoulders simultaneously whilst I was with them.

Most of last week was spent writing web pages for a client and doing company administration. I know where I'd prefer to be, so I guess it makes me more grateful when I can leave the office and do something I enjoy!

I hope this E-mail finds you all well

Toodle Pip,

Jason, Alison, Hannah, Esther and Lydia

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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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