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