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Cairo Update

Date Written:
  28 July 2001
  Better late . . .
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Greetings from Cairo,

OK, OK, I know that it has been more than a month since the last Cairo update. The reason? At the end of last month our phone line had been cut off, and therefore we had no Email access. Why? Unpaid bills. Yes, when we picked up the telephone handset and tried to call a number, a recorded message would say that due to unpaid bills the phone line had been disconnected from service. Anyone who tried to call our number would get a message to say that the phone was out of order.

The upsetting thing is that we had no idea that we were behind with the bills. The system in Egypt is not simple- we have to pay our phone bill every six months. We have an Egyptian friend who pays our bill at the same time he pays his own- every January and July. (It is better to get an Egyptian to do this, otherwise as a foreigner I will be expected to pay extra money "under the counter" to get the same service). The system had worked just fine, until the end of June when our phone was disconnected.

We found out later that the reason was because we had an even telephone number and therefore our bill was due (unknown to us) in April and October, whereas our friend had an odd telephone number, and his bill was due in January and July. Everytime he paid our bill he was paying it three months late, just getting in before the deadline to be cut off. For some reason last month it was too late and so we were disconnected. It was nice to get the helpful information about when to pay the bill, but we would have preferred to have a polite letter to inform us that we missed a payment, instead of being disconnected as a way of saying we were behind with our payments!

Never mind- it was sorted out in a few days after paying a fine!

The summer time is always busy for me. Schools finish at the beginning of June for three months, and so there is always high demand to have people like me to attend various conferences which have been set up for the long summer break. One such conference was for about 80 children who live and work in the main garbage collecting places in Cairo. This particular conference was for girls aged between 9 to 14. The age range was slightly older than what I'm used to so I had to adapt a couple of my sketchboard talks. During the break an announcement was given that the girls should stop teasing a particular girl in the group. The girl being teased was deaf, and the others found it amusing to point and laugh at her; needless to say the girl had quite a low self-esteem.

At the end of the second session I gestured for the deaf girl to come to the front. She obviously had no idea what was happening and she had a very confused look on her face. This soon changed as I showed her that I knew some sign language, and we proceeded to have a basic conversation in front of all the others, then showed everyone the Lord's prayer in sign language. I presented Nermine (the deaf girl) with the sketchboard papers for the day and afterwards I was told that it had been an excellent time for her, and a real time of healing past hurts. She was used to being ignored or teased, but now a foreigner who was held in high regard by everyone took time to talk in her own language and presented her with a gift.

Afterwards I was determined to meet Nermine again and her teacher who translated for her into sign language. The sign language that I picked up at that point was mainly from casual acquaintances at the deaf school, but since I found it so easy to learn I wanted to have more formal lessons. I arranged to meet them a couple of weeks later and we had a great time. I took my camcorder and recorded the teacher doing sign for the whole story of Jesus calming the storm. I took it back home and learnt the basics within an hour- not bad I thought.

For my next trip to the deaf school I was pleased to show off the story to one of the teachers present. Fortunately for me she was honest enough to tell me that I had learnt much of it incorrectly! The lady who first taught me had the sign language equivalent of a speech impediment- and I copied her inaccuracies precisely. Oh well! . . . So I've recently recorded the story again and now I have to unlearn what I did the first time and learn it correctly again! Still, it was easier than the spoken Arabic so I'll press on.

Another conference that I went to was just for teenage boys from some of the poorest parts of the city- about 60 of them. It was all arranged at the last minute- a good friend of mine who does a lot of speaking to children pulls me in when he thinks I will do a better job than him! When we arrived at the conference centre I wondered what I let myself in for. The boys obviously weren't used to going on trips and were all as high as kites because they were somewhere new and had the freedom to run around. I carried my sketchboard and equipment through the courtyard, weaving in-between the various fights and games that were going on.

There was a lot of running and shoving when the boys were told to go into the room and to be honest I wondered if they were ready to listen to anything that I said- I had just been told that many of those present weren't from a church background. But these are the kind of children I like to speak to most, I always like to be the first to explain the "message" to them knowing that they have no other "baggage" to confuse them. I need not have worried- they sat and listened intently and were clearly eager to learn. About one third of them made a first time commitment and I saw one or two tears also . . .

This kind of event reminds me of the verse "'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirt' says the Lord" (Zec 4:6) It seems that when I feel out of depth, He takes over. I spoke to some organisers of the event who were obviously praying at the back of the hall, they were quite emotional when they spoke to me afterwards- they had started working with these boys and were hoping for a breakthrough like this. To keep my feet firmly on the ground I was socialising with the boys afterwards, but I never feel comfortable in the one-to-one situations.

The friend who invited me is much better at speaking to teenagers in a casual small-group basis. For me it has always been a problem because I'm still not comfortable with Arabic to make an effect, and I just prefer the conference speaking slots. Some of the boys had some searching questions which my friend was able to answer in an effective way- I was pleased to have him around!

For the past week we went on holiday to Sharm El Sheikh in south Sinai. Because of the trouble in the Middle East tourists tend to stay away, so the hotels lower their prices to entice foreigners to book. Over the internet we managed to get a really good deal in a five star hotel- a family room with breakfast included, swimming pool and a beach all for about £30 per day! It was such a nice time it was a shame to come back.

More from me next month.

Toodle pip,


PS Some nice holiday snaps, we went together with Alison's brother and his family . . . enjoy!


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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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