Monday, May 24, 2010

Letters from Egypt: Channeling Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones to Belloq: "You want to talk to God? Let's go see him together. I've got nothing better to do."

I have this side of me that likes to pretend I was Indiana Jones in a former life and I like to channel him. Most people know that I absolutely abhor going to touristic places, and while I would have to be a psycho not to want to see the pyramids, I’m more interested in the off-beaten path. Unfortunately, it is rather difficult to find someone that will be my companion on my “Indiana Jones adventures.”

And I’ll also be the first to admit that earlier, I was held back because I was too scared to venture out alone. Therefore, I waited for others to go with me. However, as I learned from my escapades in NYC, if you wait around for others, you’ll probably be waiting around for the rest of your life. So, I get tired of waiting and decided that Friday I would go on an adventure alone.

I went to Medinaat ez-Zabaleen (Garbage City) located in Moqattam – where, if you remember – had the landslide killing many people in 2008 shortly after I arrived to Egypt.

Garbage City is mainly comprised of Coptic Christians as they (the ‘zabaleen’ or trash people) are the only ones that will do the work having to deal with Cairo’s pits and the “haram” sale/distribution of pigs. You may also recall that when the Egyptian government decided to slaughter all the pigs, this community was heavily affected (and it is speculated by many as the government’s way of getting back at the Christian community).

Medinaat ez-Zabaleen is where they hand-separate each piece of trash as a method of recycling.

At the end of this post, you’ll find a volunteer gig that I recommend to those of you that might be short on time. During the Baby Wash, I met another woman who gave me excellent directions to the area. However, I still asked many people directions, how to explain to a cab driver, etc. My Arabic is limited, but I can speak and understand enough to get around.

So I took off at 8:30 am and walked through Garbage City. I snapped photos of the children, of women sorting the trash and just anything else that I found interesting (ie goats wandering around). Then I walked up the mountain to St. Simon’s monastery. There are cave churches – carved into the mountain – with carvings of different Biblical passages. I walked into St. Simon’s with the help of a Coptic Christian family that saw me wandering around. They walked me in and we prayed together, then they walked me to the rest of the cave churches. By the way, did I mention that they didn’t speak a word of English? Let’s just say that thank God I have some Arabic.

They invited me to their house for lunch, which I declined. Instead, we had coke and crackers in a meeting place and they insisted on paying. These people don’t have much, but they were so excited to show me around. I tried to give them money, but they wouldn’t accept it. They walked me back down the mountain to get a cab, and although they took my phone number and vice versa, I cannot communicate with them as I am nowhere near fluent enough to carry on any type of conversation other than arguing with a cab driver.

It took awhile to get a cab as each driver tried to overcharge me, but the third time is a charm. Before I left, the son and daughter ran and got me a bouquet of flowers. I had a really sweet cab driver on the way back to Maadi and I wanted to say that this is one of those experiences that make me excited that I’m able to see such a place. While I can tell you about all the frustrations that I face here (and yes, I know frustrations exist everywhere), these are things that make me appreciate this country.

Looking to Volunteer?
I wanted to do something else in my nearly non-existent free time, so I began volunteering for St. Andrew’s Refugee Services which has various centers throughout Cairo for Sudanese refugees. I was tutoring English twice a week, which was a bit difficult with my crazy work schedule. And I’ll go ahead and be honest, not everyone is a teacher and I felt like a complete failure.

I’d heard about the Baby Wash for the past year, but have been unable to locate who is in charge of it. The Baby Wash is once a week (Monday mornings) meeting at CSA at 8:15 in Maadi and heading to Harem in Giza. You spend a couple of hours as mothers bring their newborns in to get properly cleaned and checked (between one and four week old infants).

So listen, I am not a mother nor am I near children often – in fact, I haven’t been near a newborn since my niece and nephew (approx. 14 years ago). I was so nervous – they’re so TINY (except one big boy I had…he was a chunk). The other women were so helpful and nice – and also, one of them even helped give me the idea for my weekend adventure (Thanks Deb). They will be breaking for the summer and will start up again in August.

If you are interested in this activity or volunteering for St. Andrews, you may send me an email directly and I will give you the proper contact information.


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