Friday, March 2, 2012

If You've Drunk from the Waters of the Nile...Day Eight

Today will be our first time in a private Nubian, let alone Egyptian, home. I am nervous. Will this end well? What do these people think of me? Will we actually get to the airport today? Actually, I can't wait to get to Cairo, away from this uncertainty, although uncertainty of an entirely different nature awaits us there.

Mahmoud meets us, piles our suitcases in the trunk of his car, and drives us to his home. We are ushered directly into what looks like the living room, where his mother is lying in a bed. His father and sister, the one who prepared the fish, are also in the living room. Another sister enters the room, which is much more modern than I had anticipated. There is a refrigerator they put the German chocolate into that I've brought along for presents for Cairo. There are rugs on a tiled floor, the walls are painted, there is a ceiling fan and a TV in a dark wooden wall unit. Everything is clean and orderly.

The entire family is waiting for me to pray for Mahmoud's mother, who is now sitting, head covered in hijab, looking so frightened, so forlorn. The poor, poor woman! She has just lost her friend and neighbor this week, and now who knows what's to come? I don't even know how to pray. For healing? Do I believe she will be healed? I have no idea - but I believe in a God who loves her and who could heal her, or do all sorts of good things for her. I walk over to her, asking if I can pray for her in Jesus' name. Mahmoud translates. She nods, yes. I am amazed at the trust of this family. God, you have to do something great here! I lay one hand on her head, another on her stomach, where her cancer is located, and pray out loud, in English. Then I join Peter on a bench in the same room.

Mahmoud tells us that his sister had to sell one of her rings to pay for the operation, and that they may have to sell their home. Can I believe him? If so, this is horrible! Oh, God, do something!

Mahmoud's family serve us hibiscus tea, the traditional welcome drink. We talk. I show pictures of my family I keep in my cell phone. The atmosphere warms up. Neighbors come to visit. Everyone looks so concerned - and curious about this family's visitors.

It is time to leave. Mahmoud and his father both drive us to the airport. We encounter a roadblock with police guards. Will we be stopped? No, we can go on. We're there now. Peter pays them for the trip - more than we would have paid the hotel guy. And we say goodbye to Mahmoud.

"Let us know how your mother is," I say.

"I don't have a computer. But - I have email!" answers Mahmoud.

The air is heavy with dread. I sense this feeling even after we have left them, until shortly before our flight is called, when browsing in books in the airport bookshop take precedence over fears about Mubarek's opponents or supporters.

An hour later, and we're in Cairo. Everything seems normal here - no sign of anything amiss. Mohammed, the travel guide on our last trip to Egypt, arrives, a huge joyful grin on his face, calls out "Nanzi!" and kisses my cheeks, "Herr Nanz!" and shakes Peter's hand. How good, how comforting it is to see him! It's like being met by an old friend after having spent a month on Mars.

He loads our luggage in the back of his car, struggling with Peter's suitcase, which broke en route, and we drive off for Cairo.

"How is it?" we ask. All is calm, he says.

"What did you see in Asswan?" he asks. "Did you go to the Kalabsha temple? The Nubian Museum?"

No. Well, what about the monastery ruins of St. Simeon's? Not that either. Nor Philae. Well, what did you do then? We had massages at the spa. We went on falouka rides. I feel his disappointment. Asswan was important for me as a spa - I really wanted to get rid of my sinusitis this time. By the way, my sinuses are much better. And we did get to the botanic island and the camel market.

"Really? The camel market?! That's wonderful!" He's amazed and delighted to hear that we were able to get there more or less on our own.

We pass Tahrir Square.

Tahrir Square

"You see? Only a few people standing around." Thank God. We are hugely relieved. And - we can go to Tahrir Square to church tomorrow. It looks like we can spend a normal week as tourists.

We arrive at the hotel, which looks very nice. Lots of Arab-looking people seem to be staying here, just as at the last one. A bellboy brings our luggage to the room, which is at least as nice as the last one. We go back to the lobby, where we have a coffee with Mohammed and discuss the coming week. Tomorrow we plan to go to church and after that, to meet up with some mutual acquaintances. Amazingly, Mohammed wants to be with us for both! And I thought I could ask my questions about Christians in Egypt in private. But no - everybody in this country is nosy and wants to know what everybody else is talking about. Well, get used to it, Noreen.

We talk about payment for Mohammed. How much exactly does he want? Just as with Mahmoud, Mohammed doesn't want to ask for any amount of money. He wants to show us everything, and leave it up to us what we pay him. I guess that's what happens here when you become friends with the people you once did business with. Strange culture to figure out. There's so much to learn about.

We discuss Peter's wishes. Now comes the classical tourist part. They discuss the week, which Mohammed has to shorten with us. He has some work again, leading a group, so will have to leave us on Wednesday evening. That's good news for him, since he really needs the business. And we don't mind really, either - we'll have a chance to be tourists on our own, facing new challenges. Peter and he talk about archaeological and cultural sites Peter's been reading about. We'll have a much more cultural week than the last one was. Well, that's what some people travel for. Here, I'm happy to be the passive traveler, who admires all the things Peter and Mohammed have to show me. I wonder if Mohammed will be as touchy-feely with me as he was the last time, with only Peter there.

Mohammed leaves to go home.

Peter and I wander outside the hotel. Our first time to be out walking the streets of Cairo. The sidewalks are just as broken-up, as uneven and treacherous as we have read. Amazing - the hotel is really nice, but as soon as you leave the property, it feels a bit like being in the old East Germany - crumbling buildings and darkly lit streets. We meet a shopkeeper trying to lure us into his shop. He has inexpensive perfumes! Cheap tickets to all the shows! But we've learned all about these tricks in Asswan, and walk away.

We discover a supermarket, the first we've seen in Egypt, and enter. All the items are labeled in both Arabic and English. I look, not only for Egyptian things, but for American things, a favorite game of mine when traveling abroad. This is awesome! Oreo cookies, Jif peanut butter, Shout stain remover, Tang, Cheetos! I should move to Cairo. There are a lot more American products here than in Germany. German products too. Here, I could get all I ever need to cook or bake. I buy a glass lasagna form. Only €5. I was out looking for a new one in Germany - it was over €20.

"How are you ever going to get that thing back to Germany?" Peter wants to know.

"You're buying a new suitcase here, right? We'll get it in." This is also typical for us - loaded to the gills on our return trip. We'd better not travel to any more new countries, or shopping for cooking will become impossible.

We check our email. There's an email from a friend. "I don't believe there will ever be peace in Egypt," she writes in response to my telling her I'm praying for peace here.

I spend my night worrying about Mohammed thinking I'm a religious fanatic when he sees just how important my faith is to me, and how I'm going to appear normal and still ask all the questions I have. And I think about what it means to pray for peace. At least the streets of Cairo are peaceful today. Isn't that an answer to my prayers?

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