Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Coptic Cairo and Volunteering

I know I said before I was aiming to be a bit less wordy to make my entries more readable, and I haven't really succeeded in past entries, but I'll try again. :)
Disgruntled at myself for not having gotten out more, I resolved to leave the apartment on a wee adventure. Coptic Cairo was my destination, though I'd visited a couple of the churches there last time I was in Egypt. I headed, determined, for the metro feeling self-sufficient and self-motivated. Only Egypt's inefficiency, I thought, could derail me now. Nope, it was my own dumb forgetfulness that, after trekking all the way to the metro station, left me without small bills/coins to purchase a ticket. I returned to my flat, dispirited but still resolved to get to Coptic Cairo. Taking a handful of 1 pound coins out of the pants pocket of the jeans I wore the day before, I returned to the metro, earphones piping in an episode of This American Life from my iPod to block out the incessant, excessive honking and the tiresome "Welcome in Egypt"s which more often than sincere sentiments indicate either a desire to whisk you into a taxi or someone's cousin's shop or are exclaimed as a novelty by Egyptians who then snicker at you and make not-so-hushed comments in Arabic.
Anyway, I navigated the metro with little problem and arrived at the Mar Girgis (Saint George in English) stop where I got off and headed to the Hanging Church. Among Christians, I was able to have a drink of water out of my water bottle without offending those fasting for Ramadan. I honestly have no idea how the Muslim population manages in this heat. I found myself in a bastian of calm and relative quite, though the call to prayer from a nearby minaret invaded the sanctity of the place and reminded me of the sometimes precarious position of the Coptic church in Islamic Egypt. To be fair, though, there have been times of great cooperation between the two groups. If anyone is interested, Sana Hassan's book, Christians versus Muslims in Modern Egypt, is an interesting insight. I read it when taking one of Dr Jason Zaborowski's classes at Bradley. I relaxed, took in the intricate designs, listened to some music, and thought about faith (both in Egypt and my own).
Later in the day, I met up with some other Better World volunteers. We headed up to what the NGO has optimistically named the "International Center for Technology". It is, in reality, the bottom floor of an old building full of big dreams and good ideas. It will, insha'Allah, one day live up to it's name. In the meantime, our little crew of Americans was put to work grading English language tests, essays, and administering oral exams. It was fun and reminded me of just how difficult language acquisition is. (Something I'm keenly aware of living in a country, for the first time, where I don't speak the language).
I came back toward midnight to meet yet another Rotary ambassadorial scholar, Nathan Swanson, from district #6000. He's freshly arrived from Syria, where he undertook a month of Arabic language study and is staying with us until he finds digs of his own.
Ross, Nathan, and I, as well as a girl named Mallory who volunteers with Better World went out into the night in search of dinner. Because of Ramadan, we were forced to settle on Pizza Hut (to those who know me, this is of course shocking). I was at least pleased to find on the bottle of Heinz ketchup (don't ask me why there was a bottle of ketchup at the Pizza Hut or why I was reading it) that, in its exclusion of high-fructose corn syrup, it seemed to be a little "healthier" than it's American counterpart. Well, enough of my dietary OCD. I hope all's well in the States. Tomorrow, I head for Alexandria with a school group. It's time to be a real tourist--yikes.

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