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Cairo Update

Date Written:
  21 June 2000
Subject:
  The Joys of Parenthood and Paying Vitimins
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Dear Friends,

Last time I spoke about potty training Esther, well last week we had a "potty party" to celebrate the final step. It was just a family celebration with presents and a potty shaped cake. There have been hardly any accidents for weeks now, and we are left with only Lydia in nappies but I think it will be a while before we celebrate her potty party. I say "hardly" any accidents for weeks, but there have been one or two. I am currently sleeping under the ceiling fan in the living room so I'm not disturbed by Lydia who wakes up a number of times during the night. I'd love to try and help Alison but alas, Lydia will not take a bottle so there is little I can do. The unfortunate fact of this sleeping arrangement is that when Hannah and Esther wake up either during the night or early in the morning they come straight to me. They have a good system of taking the available cushions and arranging them beside me, then they proceed to lie down next to me. I'm a very light sleeper and having two "shufflebums" beside me is often too much, so after they are asleep again, I'll go and lie in their bed which they made vacant. Of course when they wake up again, they find that I'm not there so they come to find me . . . and so on.

It was during one of these oscillations between the living room and the girls room that I woke up with a feeling that not everything was OK. I was lying on the sofa cushion on the living room floor with Esther standing beside me in her nightie and pants. She was actually stood very close, I remembered that she fell asleep over her tea the previous evening so we took her to bed without sitting her on the potty. As I remembered this I realised that the left side of my T-shirt and all of my arm was wet, as if someone poured a jug of water over me . . .

It was a temptation to cancel the potty party after that incident, but we decided to overlook it since she was not wholly to blame because of going to bed without going on the potty. As I explained to friends afterwards, as a parent one gets used to these incidents, in fact there's little which disgusts me anymore. After five years of being sicked on and wee-weed on there is little room for being squeamish. I sometimes use it to my own advantage. Once when Hannah was being potty trained we had visiting guests. The guy was a doctor so I decided to see if he would fall for a trick I liked to do at the time. After Hannah finished her wee on the potty I held the potty up to him, dipped my finger in the urine, put the finger in my mouth and asked him if he thought the urine tasted a bit sweet (this can be an indication of diabetes). What he didn't notice is that the finger I put in the potty isn't the same finger I put in the mouth. We he tried it however it was . . .

He assured me that the urine which tasted this was quite normal. Apparently Egyptian doctors DO check for diabetes in that way, and I thought it was ME being disgusting!

Life outside the home is going good. I always enjoy the work with children, especially the regular occasions visiting the children in the City of Peace (Medeenit Salem). I'm working with two ladies, from Ireland and Switzerland and I think the children enjoy our Western "creativity" we bring to their lessons. At the request of the directors of the shelter, we have been asked to speak to the children on the subjects of lying, gossiping, cursing and swearing. It has proved to be quite a challenge to talk to the children on these subjects whilst making it fun and interesting to learn. Apparently the issue of cursing and swearing are part of the "normal" language in the tough environment for the children in the area. The children simply mimic the language around them, not realising that it is greatly offending the nice middle class Egyptian who visit them- fortunately my Arabic lessons have not covered cursing and swearing words so I never notice it when they do! The last lesson I did with the children was about gossiping.

As usual I did a memory verse with them- I told them that an alternative to going and telling people gossip about others, we can instead tell the good news of the gospel. For this I used the verse from Romans 10:15. This is actually quoting Isaiah, and a good translation to English would be "most beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of peace, who bring good news of benefit". (19 words) Surprisingly the Arabic equivalent is just seven words. This shows the problems people like me have in learning Arabic, once I have the words in English, I have to pack the words together to make new compound words for the Arabic. I can transliterate the above seven Arabic word verse to the following: ma (most) igmal (beautiful) iqdam (those feet) al-mobashreen (the bringers of good news) b-salem (of peace) al-mobashreen (the bringers of good news) b-kheer (of benefit).

Of course, Egyptians assure me that English to them is difficult for the opposite reason. They feel that they have to break up each of their words and scatter the parts across each sentence. I can appreciate their problems, English has a lot of prepositions which Egyptians find difficult to get to grips with. Fortunately for me the children are very forgiving with my Arabic, and if they feel that I am having difficulty understanding them, they will say the same thing again, raising their voices each time until I finally understand.

I've continued to enjoy driving my car around Cairo. Recently I had to go and re-register the license of the car, this is the equivalent of the UK road tax, and it is valid for two years here. Unfortunately it was due in January when I was in England, so I took an Egyptian employee of the company I work for here to try and sort out potential problems at the government office. All government administration is done in person, usually in old and decrepit buildings, with short-tempered staff and involves a lot of waiting. This time was no different. In all I counted about ten different queues we had to wait in to get the different forms, photocopies and official stamps. It is during this time that drivers have to pay their fines for the previous couple of years of transgression. Someone at church told me how this process goes. First you hand in your old license and wait for them to bring out your file with the accumulated parking tickets and motoring offences noted by Cairo's vast army of traffic policemen. Then after a while the guy behind the desk takes a guess as to how much you owe according to how many offences you appear to have committed and how severe the offences are on the tickets at the top of the pile. You then argue that you couldn't possibly have committed that many offences, and remind the guy behind the desk that most of the traffic policemen are actually conscripts at the lower end of the literacy level (this is true), they have difficulty writing their own names, so writing car registration numbers should be beyond them. After a while you will both come to a compromise as to how much to pay (usually less than a third of what was originally quoted), then you pay a bribe discretely, then pay the fine, sign a paper then get a paper rubber-stamped; then you can continue to the next stage.

My case was slightly different, I'm still driving like an Englishman and so I didn't have any offences on record. I still had to pay a bribe however to prevent the guy behind the counter from making trouble! At the next stage of the process we were waiting in another queue. The guy in front of us was going through the same process and was getting very hot under the collar. The process up to that point had already taken a couple of hours, and it was getting close to two o'clock when all the government workers go home. The guy in front of us was told to return the next day to finish the process since it was closing time. He blew a fuse and explained to the workers that he didn't have time to wait around in queues all day. The workers were totally unsympathetic. I expected the same treatment, but the friend who was with me asked for some money, which he put under a form he was holding. When we reached the front of the queue he held the form in front of the guy behind the counter, discretely dropped the money on the desk in front of him, then asked if the application could be processed that day. The worker said that he would of course do his best to assure it would! After paying four similar bribes we were able to leave the building with the license. I've tried to justify this behaviour to people who question the ethics- I'm not actually paying a bribe to cause injustice, or get what is not rightfully mine; in fact the Arabic word for a bribe is very bad and would never be used in the above context. Instead I've heard the word "vitamins" used instead, or as one guy behind the counter said - "yes, I can process this quickly but you must try to make me happy". The Egyptian view is that this is a payment of appreciation to a low-paid government worker who couldn't care less about your car license and needs some kind of incentive to work. I guess Westerners would still call it a bribe, but here it is a way of life and the price of not "giving vitamins" is hours of fruitless waiting around. Yes, I think that maybe in this respect I've fully adapted to the culture!

Blessings to you all,

With our love,

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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