Sunday we tested out the Metro system, which is the subway here in Cairo. It is very cheap, only 1 Egyptian pound. (The exchange rate is about 5.5 Egyptian pounds = $1 USD) My group took the subway to the very end of the line, to an area called Shubra, which has lots of factories and lots of people. We wandered around neighborhoods, strangely quiet but decorated beautifully for Ramadan. A couple little boys started following us, and then pulled us into a compound that we found out was a school. A few adults were sitting around, surrounding by about 15 children. The men quickly found chairs for us, and started asking all sorts of questions about where we were from, what we were doing, and why we had come to Shubra, since they thought it wasn’t a very nice place. One man was the English teacher for the school, so he interpreted a little for the other man. They mostly talked to the boys in the group, but they were very friendly and excited to talk to us. The kids all crowded around and stared and giggled. We walked away saying, “That was so cool!”
Monday we went to Garbage City, which is an area in southern Cairo known for extreme poverty and a significant number of Christians. The garbage of Cairo is taken to this area, and the people of Garbage City go through it and recycle things they find. It is a depressing place. Looking in doorways, you can see bags of trash piled to the ceiling, and kids run around playing in the garbage. Adults sit in the middle of bags of garbage picking things out to use again. We walked through the streets to get to the Sisters of Charity orphanage, a compound open to children and the elderly, run by the same organization as Mother Teresa’s in Calcutta. For a couple hours we played with kids, held babies, and talked to elderly people. Walking into the room with little babies was overwhelming and heartbreaking. There were not enough caretakers, and the babies just sat on mats on the floor, some crying and some playing. A couple handicapped children lay on mats with flies buzzing around their faces. We went in and immediately picked up crying children, but over the hour and a half or so that we were there, others would cry and there was no way to comfort them all. Leaving was the worst, because all the little ones started crying again, and the poor caretakers were left with a room full of upset children. Some of us will return to the orphanage though, for service projects on Tuesdays.
After leaving the orphanage we walked up to the monastery and church carved into the cliffs above Garbage City and Cairo. The story is that way back in the day there was a Christian man in Cairo who was told by the leader of the city that he had 3 days to move the mountain back 3 kilometers or no one would believe in God. So all the Christians in Cairo got together and prayed for 3 days, after which there was a huge earthquake and the mountain moved back 3 kilometers. Now there are several churches carved straight into the cliffs, with biblical scenes carved everywhere. It was incredible. We walked around the rock churches for awhile and then drove back down into Garbage City to another compound, this time an environmental protection initiative. There they teach mainly women to weave, make paper, and create other things out of the garbage they find. They sell beautiful cards, bags, rugs, and even quilts. (Don’t worry Mom, I took a picture for you.) It recycles material as well as provides a livelihood for many women, most of whom can then avoid being married off at a ridiculously young age. The items were very cheap and really nice, so we spent some time in the shop buying things.
Yesterday we started a more regular schedule. Tuesdays we will be doing service projects, ranging from helping in the orphanage to teaching English to doing administrative work for an NGO. I am helping in a preschool for Sudanese refugee children, probably mostly just helping in the classroom. Today we started classes, and we got a 10 page syllabus for the semester. Yes, this isn’t all fun and touring and chilling on the Nile. There is work involved. We also received 3 big readers full of articles from news journals that we’ll use to write our seven 6-10 page papers throughout the semester. And the work begins . . .
Everyday I’m getting more and more accustomed to walking the streets of Cairo, and I’ve started staring when I see other white people, thinking they look out of place. My Arabic still needs a lot of work, but class started today!