Arrival in Egypt
Our housemates on the top floor above the Bishops residents were mostly young men who were working with the Church. They spoke almost no English but were very passionate about helping us learn Arabic and picking up some English along the way. I actually learned enough to basically get around because of these interactions. They also loved to cook for us which I was quite happy for. The other resident was an older, celibate priest who was quite playful and would often harass the young men while the others looked on and laughed uproariously.
After a few days in Beni Suef we went down to where I will be located in a place called Beba. I also will be staying in the motranaya there which I am quite happy about. Apparently my Bishop is a younger man (I believe he is only 32) which is almost unheard of for Bishops. He is also quite sociable and loves to eat dinner with the other young men in the motranaya and apparently would have long conversations with the last foreigner who was in my position. I am very much looking forward to this opportunity because I would love to learn more about Coptic Orthodoxy and its practices. As a side note, the Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the oldest Christian traditions in the world and traces its roots back to the Apostle Mark who they say was the first person to bring Christianity to Egypt.
Beba is quite a small town and rather quiet. I believe they said that the only form of public transportation within Beba is a horse and buggy, so I guess Akron was a good orientation in more ways than one. I’m assuming that I will mostly be walking everywhere though, as it really is quite a small town.
One of the interesting things about the Egyptian culture is the way in which their day is divided. For the population in general, the day begins at about seven or so, but breakfast does not usually happen until around ten am. They then continue working until around 2 pm and take a break because this is the beginning of the hottest part of the day (very few places have air-conditioning). Lunch happens generally by 3 pm and then everyone “takes some rest.” This normally means going inside and sleeping through the heat. At around 6 pm people begin to wake up and start moving around again. Often the streets start to fill with people once again, with everyone running errands or visiting others. At about 10 pm people begin to get hungry and so this is when dinner normally happens, although it is sometimes later. People then begin to finally go inside and head to bed at around 1 or 2 am, although it is not uncommon to hear people say that they didn’t go to bed until 3 or 4 that morning. It is still disconcerting to me to see children out playing in the streets at midnight or later every night, although this is indeed generally accepted as the norm.
There are some differences between the Christian and Muslim ways of breaking up the day, however, and apparently especially during the summer months the Christian population likes to sleep in. This is where my story again returns to Beba, because I have been having a hard time sleeping in. I rarely will sleep later than 8 am and normally am up by 6:30 or 7. That morning after a night in Beba, however, I woke up at 6 am. I spent some time unpacking things that I would not need for my month of language training in Cairo, and arranging my room and whatnot and then decided to venture out and see if anyone was awake. As it turned out the entire motranaya was fast asleep and I could not find a single person stirring. I decided that this was a good opportunity for me to explore the town on my own which I enjoy doing and which had up until this point been impossible because the Church had made sure that we had baby-sitters for every step of the way. This morning I was awake hours before we were supposed to meet up with our baby-sitter for the day and there was no one else around so I walked into town on my own.
Outside of the church the town was already bustling and so I wandered around for awhile and eventually came to what I think is the city center and where all of the micro-buses meet to both bring people to Beba and to take them from Beba to wherever else they may be working. I noticed there were some tea shops around, and so I headed over and sat down at one to have some morning tea, much to everyone’s surprise. I don’t think they were used to seeing foreigners at all, and especially not very large ones wandering around on their own asking for tea. They were happy to oblige, however, and so I sat for awhile watching the comings and goings of the Beba city center. After about 45 minutes or so I decided I should probably head back in case anyone was awake and was thinking of sending a search party out for me. Along the way I was saying “hello” to everyone as I like to do and was passed by a motorcycle with two people on it. I said “good-morning” to them as well and they cheerily waved back and drove on. About five minutes later the driver returned without a passenger and asked me what my name was and where I was from, and when he found out that I knew a little bit of Arabic he was very excited and through gestures indicated to me that he wanted to show me around Beba. So I hopped on the back of his motorcycle and he gave me a little private tour. As I walked into the motranaya I realized that everyone was still fast asleep so I hadn’t needed to worry. When I told my baby-sitter who eventually showed up about my adventures of the morning he looked very concerned and said that I was very different from the other foreigners who had served with them before. But then after thinking about it for a bit he said, “you will know Egypt very much” with a big smile. Which I assume means that he decided he liked my adventurous spirit.