Another busy couple of weeks but very rewarding. Since giving
up the computer work I've enjoyed concentrating on the work at
children's meetings. It is surprising that although I have more
hours in the week they are still nevertheless filled with surprising
ease. As I've explained to others here, in a tentmaking role I
felt that I was a servant with two masters- loving one and despising
the other- it was difficult to do both the computer work and taking
The children in Egypt have more than 3 months holiday over the
summer and so many are travelling to relatives in upper Egypt,
leaving the number down to less than one third of the normal size.
This is great! For some of the poorer areas it means that I can
have lessons with a little less disruption. Large numbers can
sometimes mean that the background noise level can often rise
during a talk so I have to keep the talks short, snappy and straight
to the point. In one meeting recently numbers were down from 180
to 30 (although this grew to about 60 by the end of the meeting)-
it meant that I could concentrate more on the "core"
message since the children were listening so well. There were
eight first-time commitments. It is always nice to report large
numbers of children coming to meetings, and I enjoy talking to
so many children but it is often nice to have a smaller group
of very receptive children.
The opposite happened a few days later- I was expecting a small
select gathering of about 15, but instead 180 were present. Fortunately
I was informed just beforehand that this was going to happen.
It was a meeting for deaf people at a church near the centre of
Cairo. After previously speaking at a teachers training day for
the deaf I had arranged with one of the teachers to take this
meeting. I was even prepared to speak in Arabic to make it easier
for my words to be signed but the teachers decided to make it
into a conference. I certainly don't mind speaking to a small
group in Arabic, but a conference- that's different! I managed
to find a lady who understood English and could sign into Egyptian
Arabic. My first complete Arabic sketchboard talk is consequently
still waiting to be done.
A few days before my birthday I decided to visit Mount Sinai by
myself. When I'm busy it is so easy to take meetings whilst running
on "auto-pilot" with little or no real spiritual preparation.
I've been in danger of getting to this point several times so
I felt that I needed some time away to reflect on the direction
the meetings were taking and to spend a lot of time in prayer.
Since I hadn't visited Sinai I thought I could kill two birds
with one stone. I travelled on a Thursday with a bag of warm clothes,
a Bible and two books I'd been meaning to read for a while.
It is a six-hour bus journey to get to Sinai, and the only bus
leaves at 11:00am. Sunset is around about 7:30pm in Egypt at this
time of year so it is quite a push to climb to the top of the
mountain before it gets dark. The village close to mount Sinai
is called St Catherine's - named after the orthodox monastery
located at the foot of the mountain. (Incidentally, this is the
same St. Catherine who was martyred on a large spiked wheel, hence
the name of the firework the "Catherine Wheel"!) After
arriving in the village I took a taxi for the two kilometre trip
to the mountain- there I saw there was a nice visitors centre
where they charged $35 a night for accommodation . . . this is
very expensive in Egypt so it made me even more determined to
climb the mountain before nightfall. I heard that they rent out
mattresses and blankets at the summit for about 1 pound sterling
so this gave me even more determination to get to the top.
It was already past 6pm by the time I started climbing. There
are two ways to get up mount Sinai- the Camel Track or the steps;
it should be noted that Moses had neither of these. The steps
up the mountain were made over 100 years ago. They are mainly
made up of carefully placed rocks and boulders which were levelled
off to make an impressive (but difficult!) series of steps to
the summit. A guidebook stated that there were 3750 steps to the
top. The other way up is the Camel Track- this is a winding gradual
slope which, as it's name suggests, can be taken by camel if any
would-be climbers don't like the thought of a two-and-a-half hour
walk to the top. The Camel Track actually stops about a 20 minute
walk from the summit.
Not knowing either of these ways I started off eagerly hoping
to get to the top before nightfall. Now the way "up"
wasn't at all obvious, there were no signs and no other people
around making the same journey. A Bedouin boy asked me if I would
like a camel ride to the top. I declined the offer (it costs the
equivalent of $10) and asked him the right path to take to get
to the top. He took the refusal of an offer to ride a camel as
a reason to misdirect me. In front of mount Sinai are two smaller
mountains; unknown to me at the time the camel track was to the
left, the stairs were to the right- he directed me to the middle,
between the two smaller mountains.
The way started fairly easy, but soon it became quite difficult,
the whole area between the two smaller mountains was covered with
large boulders, presumably as a result of an earthquake. At first
I was jumping from one to the other, but soon I had to climb them
and I wondered if this could possibly be the correct way because
there was no obvious path. Eventually after over on hour's climbing
I reached a point where there was just a near-vertical face of
rock barring me from the top. I was quite exhausted and since
it was already dusk I knew it would not be safe to descend in
the dark. The only option left was to stay-put until morning.
It isn't easy to sleep half-way up a rock-covered mountain- especially
without the luxuries of a mattress and blanket. The best I could
do was to empty my bag and use that as a mattress (which was a
very poor substitute). Every available item of clothing I was
wearing because the temperature overnight dropped considerably.
I have to say that it gave me the opportunity to do exactly what
I went to do- pray and reflect on the work which was in hand.
Actually there was nothing else to do! The first item on the agenda
was to forgive the Bedouin boy for sending me up the wrong way
. . .
I was surprised by the silence there is half-way up the mountain,
and the strong sense of peace. As my eyes flickered looking at
the great expanse of the starry host in the night sky I was disturbed
by a solitary mosquito which I can only presume must have followed
me. This particular mosquito had a very loud buzz and somehow
it sounded very hungry. Every part of my body was covered, I even
had the foresight to bring a pair of gloves, and a Yasser Arafat
style head covering which I had wrapped around the top of my head
like a turban, the only part of me not covered was my face, which
was where the mosquito was buzzing and looking for a midnight
snack. I didn't fancy waking up with a face-full of bite-marks,
but fortunately I found in the side of the bag the only item of
clothing I wasn't wearing- a spare pair of boxer-shorts. I put
these on over my face and lay down to try to get some sleep. I
was glad that there was no-one round to take a picture of me in
this somewhat unorthodox nightwear. Nevertheless the mosquito
kept buzzing in my ears, and within an hour I distinctly heard
five different mosquitoes. I think that their philosophy was that
if they couldn't get my blood then they weren't going to let me
sleep. I admired their determination- they kept buzzing all night,
I heard every hour sound on my watch.
I think that I must have slept for about one hour on and off and
as you can probably guess, the rocky ground meant it was impossible
to get comfortable enough to sleep for any longer. The dawn finally
arrived about 6 am I was very tired and stiff, and I had a one
hour downward climb ahead of me. I decided not to climb to the
top at that time because I would be climbing whilst the sun was
getting hotter, and I would have to spend most of the day at the
top of the mountain without much shade, so I went to the Visitors
Centre to wait till later in the day.
The prices of drinks and food at the Visitors Centre where about
twice the normal amount so I didn't eat much. By 4pm I managed
to read through the two books I brought and plan some further
meetings and sketchboard talks. I set off to attempt to climb
mount Sinai a second time . . . this time successfully. I went
via the Camel Track, the journey was uneventful but quite tiring.
I think what made it more tiring was the fact that I had quite
a heavy bag full of clothes for the night and water which I brought
from home. It took me two hours to get to the top, and I arrived
in time for the sunset. At the top of mount Sinai there are a
handful of shops selling refreshments and renting blankets and
mattresses for the night. The refreshment prices were extortionate,
but since there was no-where else to go I reluctantly bought a
small Mars bar and can of Coke for about two pounds sterling;
and hired a mattress and blanket for another two. To my surprise
I saw that there was a small church at the highest part of the
summit, no bigger than half the size of a tennis court, but a
church nevertheless, and just at the side of the church was some
flat ground to sleep on. My first task was to take off my t-shirt
and leave it out to dry, it was soaked in sweat. Then I took some
pictures of the sunset and spoke to the few people who were at
the top with me. At about 8pm I was ready for sleep. Having missed
out the previous night and just completed a tiring journey I quickly
went into a sound sleep.
I was awakened at 4:15am by lots of loud Spanish voices. Apparently
a few buses of Spanish tourists had just arrived and ascended
the mountain via the Camel Track with the aid of torches. Some
of the Bedouin at the summit had previously told me that it is
common for lots of tourists to arrive at night, and this was no
exception. Afterwards I estimated there must have been about 300,
they all wanted pictures of the sunrise, and it just so happened
that I was in the perfect spot. They had little respect for my
little bit of personal space, they stood on the bed and shone
their torches in my eyes . . . it's a good job I'm a very patient
and understanding person! Well, this meant that I was awake well
in time for the sunrise at least!
By 7am I started the descent, this time via the stairs. I mentioned
that a guide book said that there were 3750 steps, well I didn't
count them but that sounded about right. It became quite steep
in places but it proved to be a quick way down, taking just over
I took a microbus back to Cairo again, and the first thing I did
was to have a deep bath and a shave. I was surprised to see that
I lost 3kg (6.5 lb) in weight over the two days.
For me the time at Sinai was a time of refreshment and contemplation
and a very worthwhile visit. Shortly afterward I got stuck into
the usual activity of meetings and travelling.
At a recent visit to a poor area I was talking about Noah. The
message I wanted the children to take away with them was about
persevering against insults. I asked the children what kind of
things they thought the people would shout at Noah, another teacher
wrote them down in Arabic. I learnt a lot of new cursing words
and insults, the children were obviously enjoying telling me too!
Within a short amount of time we had completely filled the bottom
half of the sketchboard with obscene words and curses, the children
watched as I took a wide paintbrush and with blue paint painted
over them, saying that the people and their insults were swept
away by the flood-water, and the only people that survived were
the eight in the ark- all the insults came to nothing. The final
picture on the sketchboard was a picture of the Ark on top of
a mountain, with a rainbow in the sky, and water filling the bottom
A few days later I did the same talk to a Sunday school in a well-off
area. The lack of enthusiasm was astounding- in fact none of them
could think of insults and I ended up having to suggest the words
I heard in the poor area. This is so common here, the poor children
tend to learn slowly but are full of enthusiasm. In one particular
area we start the meeting by picking children to pray, sometimes
fights break out between children as to who is going to pray first!
To be honest, I think I prefer enthusiasm mixed with bad behaviour
as opposed to good behaviour and indifference. Fortunately for
me there are considerably more poor areas in Egypt than rich.
There's more to say, but I think this update has gone on long
Love to you all,
Jason, Alison, Hannah, Esther and Lydia
PS Our family website is almost finished now. You can see previous
issues of Cairo Update and see our latest family photos, news
and various other bits and bobs, all at www.theFells.net
PPS Attached is a picture of the sunset at mount Sinai and the
Church at the summit.
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