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Cairo Update

Date Written:
  19 September 2000
Subject:
  Visit to Sinai
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Greetings,

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 meetings.

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 an hour.

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 half.

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 enough now,

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.



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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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