Before arriving in Cairo I knew basic facts about the country,
i.e. desert climate, 30 degree latitude, not much rain . . . etc.
So I was expecting the summers to be hot. Of course I was right,
and this summer has been no exception. What DID surprise me was
the way in which Egyptians complain about the heat of the summer-
I usually explain to them that when an Englishman thinks about
Egypt he always assumes it is hot country so it is little surprise
when the temperature gets into the forties Centigrade. Hot summers
are a normal part of life here, so why does everyone complain?
One person retorted- "When I went to Britain I heard them
complain non-stop about the rain" . . . OK point taken! Recently
though it has become very hot; last week I heard the temperature
was 45 Degrees C (that's 113 Degrees for those aged over 50) and
we were roasting!
Ex-patriot workers here are usually surprised to discover that
we don't have air conditioning; I would love to give the hard-guy
image and say that the heat is easy to cope with, but unfortunately
this isn't true! Our flat didn't come with air conditioning and
it is very expensive to buy and to run so in the meantime we have
to sweat! My personal way of coping with the heat is to have regular
cold showers and stand semi-naked in front of a fan. The children
don't seem to find it a problem, they will grow up like Egyptian
children and consider it normal. Even though it has become very
hot I would still prefer it this way than the British weather-
really! I like the predictability of the weather here and I'd
rather fry than freeze.
the heat can make the children a bit crabby. It is interesting
to see how they develop their discontentment. Hannah has always
been verbally advanced, even since she first began to speak at
about 11 months she has never said "baby talk"; her
words have always been clear. Now that she is five years old she
is starting to have difficulty finding the correct words to reprimand
us when we have done something she has not liked. In the past
she has used the kind of words we use against her, for example:
"Mummy I am very disappointed in you, I can't see why you
did it!". Recently she has put together her own words and
phrases to express annoyance. Recently I told Hannah she wasn't
allowed to do something, this really annoyed her and she glared
at me with a very angry face and shouted "Moussey!".
I've had worse insults thrown at me but this one was definitely
a first. Alison then explained to me that Hannah has shouted at
her "You big bungle Bill" in one of her fits of rage.
I'm really glad that we're living in Egypt where Hannah hasn't
had a chance to mix with school children who can teach her worse
words. It really is difficult to keep a straight face when confronted
with such insults.
Esther on the other hand expresses defiance better with her actions
than her words. Occasionally we have to put her in her bedroom
if she has been up to no good. If she is really annoyed by this
she expresses her anger by wetting herself on the bedroom floor,
knowing that we have to change her clothes as well as clean up
the floor. We're sure that it's deliberate because it is the only
time she wets herself AND she does it with such a defiant look
on her face. Lydia has not learnt how to be creative in expressions
of annoyance yet, she does the normal baby thing and cries until
she has the attention.
As far as expressions are concerned I'm probably more like Esther,
not that I wet myself when I'm annoyed with someone, but I prefer
actions than words. At a recent trip to a deaf and dumb school
I took two guests. I asked one of the workers there if she would
teach us the Lord's prayer in Egyptian Arabic sign language (Apparently
each country has it's own version of sign language). She agreed
and within about 20-30 minutes we had learnt it. The surprising
thing to me is that I have been trying to learn it in the spoken
form from a tape, but after three sessions, each taking one hour
I only got as far as "Your will be done in Earth as it is
in heaven". The director of the deaf school explained that
many foreigners find it easier to learn sign language than the
spoken Arabic, often becoming fluent within six months. I would
be very tempting to change the focus of what I'm doing here and
only concentrate on the deaf children and sign language and abandon
everyone else in the process! Not so, I've been invited to a large
church with a small deaf community and I've been asked to do a
talk for them. Unfortunately the person who will do the translation
does not speak English, so the preliminary plan was for me to
speak in English, then another translator to translate into Arabic,
then the deaf teacher to translate into sign language. Man, what
a long way round! Well, I've been putting it off for a while now,
but it looks like I'll have to start to speak only in Arabic when
doing these talks, in this way I'll cut out the middle translator.
Our guests from Britain had some items stolen from their bags
whilst travelling from the Red Sea. In order to make a claim on
their travel insurance they had to report it to the police. Easier
said than done in Egypt. The process took hours! We had the good
sense to take a friend of mine who speaks fluent Arabic. We first
went to the local police station to report the theft, after seeing
several people there someone explained that we couldn't report
the incident there because the items were stolen on a bus, so
it comes under the jurisdiction of the travel division, located
at another police station. We went to this next police station
where we were asked to make a full statement in Arabic, which
we duly did. To complete the statement we had to find the location
of the bus station in which the guest arrived, we took a quick
drive with a policeman to find the bus station, but without success.
We returned to the police station (the second one, that is). We
were told that to complete the process, we had to take the statement
to another police station in a different part of the city where
we could make the report. We went to this third police station,
but they did not accept the statement because it wasn't written
in their presence, so it had to be written again . . .
At each of these stages it has to be said that the police stations
seem to be run on similar lines. First, all policemen appear to
have to smoke in order to be accepted in the ranks. It seems that
all official work must be done with a cigarette in hand. Second,
work must be avoided at all costs. If necessary, make visitors
write a statement or something else to take up their own time
before passing them onto someone else, preferably not in the same
station. Third, if work has to be done, it should be done with
the minimum effort. Fourth, take advantage of people with a car,
with all of our travels to and from police stations we usually
had to take policemen who needed to travel there anyway.
At the third police station we had to re-write the statement because
the original wasn't written there; but we were told that we couldn't
report the incident there either, so they passed us onto the first
police station we went to! It has to be said that we were only
trying to REPORT the theft, we didn't expect it to be investigated.
Back at the first police station we managed to get further in
the process. They allowed us to make a report, but without a statement
(the two which we made previously were done in vain!) but we had
to pay money to report the incident, plus we were requested to
make a bribe to get the case number in order to make a claim on
the insurance . . .
After all that we were told to return in two days to get the official
paper. Thus far the process took six hours plus a lot of petrol
travelling between police stations passing us from pillar to post.
When we returned two days later it took another ten steps plus
one and a half hours of our time to complete the process but at
least the work was done! I can say a lot more about the process,
but this probably isn't the best place to do it.
There's been some exciting developments recently which I want
to tell you all about, but it will have to wait until next time
. . .
Return to Cairo
population is 66 Million
is four times the size of the UK
Only 3% of the land can be used for arable crops
has 18 million people and is growing by 1 millon each year.
is the Largest city in Africa and the Middle East
literacy rate is only 45%
total of 11 languages are spoken in Egypt
Debt per person is $790
annual income is $630
is estimated to be 17%
Approx. 85% Muslim and 15% Christian
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