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Cairo Update

Date Written:
  28 November 2000
  Stone me!
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Season's greetings,

Yesterday saw the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting during the day and excessive NON-fasting at night. In some ways it is a shame to see the end of the month; the breaking of the fast comes at sunset, currently around 5pm and by then all Muslims are in their houses ready for the feasting. I say it's a shame to see it end because although the traffic is chaos leading up till 5pm, afterwards the roads are completely clear and it is much easier to get around . . . unfortunately there is nothing open to get to!

Yesterday was a big holiday and now everything will probably be closed until the new year; of course it is not like this every year since Ramadan is a moveable feast based on lunar months, the next Ramadan begins mid-November next year. During this time there is a lot of piety- Muslims believe their good deeds are given ten-times the weight than any other time of the year. The city beggars take opportunity of this time and are more likely to ask people for money. Recently I was asked by a beggar in the street for some money, and as usual I gave something- in fact I was rather generous. He looked at the money and asked for some more. I explained to him that it is not good to be greedy, he should accept the gift and be happy. He replied with a smile on his face: "Don't tell me how to do my job!" I gave him more because of his sheer audacity.

Many restrain from doing anything that could be seen as bad or corrupt during the month of Ramadan. I have a friend and fellow worker who was unwittingly invited to indulge in the 'pleasures of the flesh' by a lady of questionable morals, but she quickly added "After Ramadan has finished of course!" Ramadan affected me in ways I wasn't expecting this year. I'm still trying to flush out my kidney stones with cheap Egyptian beer (remember, as the doctor ordered! Details given in the last Cairo Update). I went to the only supermarket I know which sells the stuff and I was surprised to see that all the alcoholic beverages shelves were empty. I guessed that there might have been a sudden demand for it at the beginning of Ramadan and so I decided to return a few days later when the stocks were back again. When I returned I saw that the alcoholic drinks shelves were laden with soft drinks; then it occurred to me that maybe there are no alcoholic drinks sold during Ramadan . . . and I didn't have the foresight to get stocked up beforehand. Ahhhhhh!

I asked the guy on the checkout if there was any beer available. He looked at me, looked around me suspiciously then called the manager over to his checkout. "The foreigner wants some beer" he said in a quiet voice. The manager also looked around me then asked,
"What do you want?" in a hushed tone.
"Four bottles of Sakara" I replied. The manager quietly told an assistant to fetch the bottles from the stock room. I paid for the bottles then waited for them to arrive. The assistant walked from the store room looking around him all the time, the bottles were in two unmarked carrier bags, I guess to conceal their identity and also not to implicate where they came from. I wanted to tell everyone that I didn't actually like the beer and that I was only taking it for medicinal purposes, but I reckon I wouldn't have been believed anyway.

I drank through the four bottles in four days, then I had to go through the process again to get more. I discovered that I had to ask the right people to get the beer- some flatly refused and said there was no beer in the store. I decided to get at least one week's worth of bottles each time. They usually came concealed in boxes with Mineral Water written on the outside. Near the end of Ramadan their caution and careful handling of the situation started to rub off on me. I noticed other shop assistants eyeing me up and down too. Man, I almost started to feel guilty about buying the stuff! Yesterday I went into the supermarket and saw that beer was being openly sold once again. Hurray! All three shelves, about a meter long were stocked with alcoholic drinks; and this is the only selection I know of in Cairo!

As a family we had a relaxing time over Christmas. On the 23rd we had a party at our place with fellow workers. There were about 20 altogether. This was a great time, we laughed our heads off throughout the evening- and not a drop of alcohol was consumed! We ended with an impromptu candle-lit carol service in our living room.

We spent Christmas day as a family by ourselves, then visited friends late in the afternoon. It was my intention on Christmas morning to go into the girls room and wake them up by playing the guitar. For once in the year I wanted to be the one waking them up and not vice versa- unfortunately they still beat me to it! They had been awake from before 6am and were patiently waiting for us to get out of bed! We opened our stocking presents first, then opened the main presents after we had breakfast and dressed ourselves. We had bought the children lots of presents with money sent from the UK and they had a great day playing with their new toys. As we expected, Lydia found great amusement playing with the empty boxes and wrapping paper. We finished the day by visiting friends and watching a video- all three girls fell asleep on the floor and so had to be carried back!

I have a full programme at the beginning of January to coincide with the Orthodox Christmas, which is the date that most of the Christians in Egypt celebrate Christmas. Actually, the majority religion here buy a lot of Christmas decorations and even Christmas trees. I've noticed this a few times and often wondered why. A toy shop owner explained to me that to them Christmas and new year are seen as the same festival, and they associate Santa Clause, reindeer, trees, flashing lights and presents with the 1st of January. Later on in January I will discuss with someone about professionally recording my children's presentations on video. There has always been a big demand to use my material with similar workers with the Egyptian churches and it appears that this may be the easiest way to do it.

Happy new year everyone!

Toodle Pip,


PS NEW family photos on our web site:

PPS Here are some photos of the girls on Christmas day. Hannah is showing off her jewellery, Esther is smothering her new doll and Lydia is trying out her crawling mat which makes animal noises (but she just ends up walking on it now!)


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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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