Wednesday, July 9, 2008

July 8, 2008

More letter writing today, which went well. They decorated stationary, copied the letters, and I sent them in the mail to my mom so that she could distribute them to some people we know and they could answer. The post office was an adventure in itself. I had my stack of letters and pictures the kids drew, so I walked in with them and asked for an envelope. Apparently it’s common knowledge that post offices don’t sell envelopes in Egypt so the guy behind the counter flicks his wrist to the left and says, “Outside.” So I trek back out to an old man sitting in a store the size of a closet and buy an envelope. I go back in the post office and stuff the letters, still in their Fulla folder (Fulla is the Egyptian version of Barbie complete with head scarf), into the flimsy envelope and I ask the guy how much it will cost to FedEx it. 150 pounds! That’s thirty dollars! For a normal sized, 8.5 x 11 envelope. I guess I should have figured as much.

So I ask about option 2. The Egyptian form of FedEx. 140 pounds! Ok, so I ask about the average run-of-the-mill Egyptian mail. I could deal with 20 pounds but first I wanted to know, “Will it make it to the US ok?” “Yes, yes, Insha’allah,” which translates to God willing. It was such a perfect moment to use that phrase because I’ve heard stories about the mail system here.

I had another perfectly Egyptian exchange earlier today, as well. As Sam and I were preparing to cross a street a man told us to stop. He was trying to be nice, thinking that we were new to the city and wouldn’t know how to cross. Anyway, he said “I’m sorry for the Cairo traffic. Is crazy. Best to close eyes, talk to Allah, and run.” I loved it.

On another note, the aspects of Cairo’s destitution are beginning to wear down on me. I’ve seen things I never expected. That in itself is a dumb thing to say, because I should have known better, but Egypt, in some ways, seems so advanced and headed in the right direction. And then you see something that makes you completely reconsider that assurance that you once felt. This is a good time to evaluate if I really can do this forever, if I can deal with these important things that get so often ignored because they’re difficult. Can I really deal with seeing these sorts of things on a regular basis?

As I was walking out of a restaurant tonight there were two beautiful little children standing outside, side by side, holding hands. The oldest, a boy, couldn’t have been more than 7 while the little girl was probably 3. I watched them pace back and forth in front of the restaurant for a little while, making note if their mother was nearby. They weren’t necessarily poorly dressed, but they had the potential for being a little under cared for. Anyway, the little girl was crying and reaching toward the restaurant’s window and I tried to understand if she was hungry or if her mother or father was eating in there, or perhaps if they worked in the restaurant. I tried to ask them if they were hungry, but they didn’t understand.

So I walked away and I found myself thinking, “What did that do?” How many times have I walked by people here because I was afraid it would be awkward if they weren’t really hungry or if their mother was just inside the door or if the language barrier would make it difficult to communicate. Did it really matter? I walked a little further and bought two scoops of chocolate ice cream and hurried back to where they had been standing. They were still there. I handed them to each kid and the little boy gave me the biggest, heart-wrenching smile. The little girl looked semi-terrified but it didn’t stop her from licking the drippings from her hand.

I know I should have bought them something sustainable, but every kid needs ice cream. Plus, as I had noticed, they didn’t seem like they were starving. I just couldn’t figure out why two little babies were walking alone, close to dark, near incredibly busy streets. I wanted to take that perfect little girl and boy home with me. I wonder if they’re really as valued as they should be.

Obviously the US has plenty of problems and say what you will about the levels of poverty in the US, and trust me, I’ve seen them, and while they’re unbearable by American standards they far outweigh some of what I’ve seen here.


Sometimes I don’t know what I expected to see here. I guess I thought that I was better prepared to deal with these difficulties, but in reality I there’s no way to really be prepared for them. I know that I deal with these things much in the way my mother does; I internalize the painful things I see and obsess over them. I just hope that what I’m doing, this class I'm teaching, isn’t pointless in the grander scheme of things. I’m trying, but that doesn’t give me much peace.

To end on a positive note, before all of this happened, we stopped by the hostel where we’ve been arranging our travel plans and afterwards Sam went to the big open market and I decided to wander again like I did the other day. I ended up at this huge Coptic church not far from the main drag where the Egyptian Museum is. It just so happened that a service was going on, so I decided to go inside and sit. I stopped and sat all the way in the back and listened to the service, which was only about 10 minutes long. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had here so far.


Janelle Moser said...


That was so sweet of you to buy the little kids ice cream. I wish I could have done things like that in Argentina, but I was too scared they would pickpocket me or that the mother was standing nearby. I also wondered if I could deal with the poverty and crime 24/7 if I ever do work in a developing country (or a country a lot less developed than the U.S.)

I hope the last few weeks of your trip go well! I want to hear stories and see pictures as soon as you get back in the fall!

I hope you are having a wonderful, life-changing time in the Middle East!

Ma'a al'salaama habibiti!

The Silvas said...

I came across your blog from a comment your mother made on another website (Thrifty Fun) and I've been reading it, I love it! Especially this latest post. I've never had the experience of seeing things or living outside the US, but I can imagine that we take some things for granted here. I think what you're doing is wonderful, I'm glad that you get the chance to make a difference in these kids' lives.
Stacey Silva