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Cairo Update

Date Written:
  09 August 2000
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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.

Occasionally 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 . . .

Toodle Pip,


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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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