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Cairo Update

Date Written:
  30 April 2001
  Visit to Al-minya
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No tooth fairies in Egypt!

I forgot to mention that on a visit to Luxor a few weeks back Hannah's first baby tooth came out. Unfortunately Hannah didn't notice, and neither did anyone else until she was eating an ice cream in Macdonald's shortly afterwards. We asked the obvious question: "Hannah, did you notice something hard in the ice cream you are eating?"

"No, why?"

"Have you noticed you have a tooth missing?" Hannah felt the gap in the front of her mouth, on the bottom jaw.

"I felt something in my mouth earlier, but I didn't know what it was so I spat it out"

"Where did you spit it out Hannah?"

"Oh, in the perfume shop..." (A place we had visited prior to Macdonald's). We hotfooted our way back to the perfume shop and made extensive inquiries and a thorough search of the area, but to no avail. The shop keepers in the area were helping too. They asked me why I wanted the tooth. I told them it was for the tooth fairies- they gave me a blank look. Tooth fairies obviously don't come to Egypt. They explained that their tradition is to let the child throw the tooth in the Nile. The belief is that the power of the Nile will bring forth a tooth to replace the missing one. I've also heard that children in Cairo throw the tooth up to the sun and say a prayer for the sun to replace the missing tooth. Apparently both traditions date back thousands of years to pharaonic times.

Easter is a great time for ministry. I always have many meetings over the Easter season, this year was particularly busy because both Eastern and Western Easters coincided on the same day, this only happens about once every five years, as a result every church wanted me at the same time! A few days either side of Easter I spoke to about 700 children in about 12 different meetings. To be honest, I do not usually try to pack the meetings so close together; to do so would invite burn-out which I have been in danger of doing more than once now.

After Easter I visited upper Egypt and spoke at some Egyptian Orthodox churches. I was surprised that they actually invited me, but they apparently heard about "An Englishman who painted Bible stories and did magic tricks". The priests didn't quite know how to react to me, and actually, I didn't quite know how to react to them. The members of the congregation hold the orthodox priests in high regard and above the status of the normal members of the church- of course I'm used to relating to pastors as equals and I wasn't so sure about stooping down and kissing the hand of the priest!

After speaking at several different churches I noticed that their reactions to me were different. They started to accept me. I decided that it would be wise to adapt to this sub-culture and bow down and kiss the hand of the priest too. In doing so I was showing respect for the people with me as well as the priest. The messages that I gave in the churches had a very obvious gospel theme, but this didn't seem to be a problem since I had won their acceptance. The Orthodox church uphold tradition on a par with the Bible- they say that a person can be saved through having faith and following the traditions of the church.

The reaction from the members of the congregation was far beyond what I expected. In many of the meetings adults and children were present. The adults' reaction was suggesting that no one has opened up the Bible in this way before. They already knew the stories I told them, but never with the real-life application I put to it.

What to do next is an issue for me. It was never my intention to do ministry with the Orthodox Church, but they have invited me back to do a lot more meetings and next time they want me to do a tour of ten villages. According to the reaction I received I'm willing to consider it.

The trip to upper Egypt left its mark on me. As usual for such places the food was not suitable for Western standards. OK, so I've learnt how to control the automatic gag mechanism when I put something foul in my mouth, but I haven't learnt how to control my stomach's reaction to it. In hindsight I shouldn't have finished that stuff that they called chicken soup. I should have noticed that the thin layer of grease on top wasn't a good sign, and the strange taste it had should have sounded the alarm bells too, the taste reminded me of the smell of rotting flesh . . .

When in polite company in Egypt it is more desireable to eat your food and be sick than to offend your hosts by leaving it, so I did the former. Fortunately I managed to get back to the privacy of my own house before the reaction started in full. I stopped being sick after the first day, but for the next three days I had to be within running distance of a toilet.

Next time I will pass on the chicken soup . . .

Toodle pip,


PS A photo of me hob-nobbing with the priests from the Orthodox Church.

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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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