Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cairo -- 1981

Reading about and watching the upheaval in Egypt has triggered memories of places I went and people I met in Egypt thirty years ago this July. It was so easy to fall in love with the country and its people and it breaks my heart seeing how they are suffering now. The Egyptians I met were gracious, intelligent, warm people proud of their history and heritage and eager to share it with visitors. The passionate and peaceful protests are entirely in character. We happened to arrive during Ramadan, a month-long fast for Muslims. I was impressed with the Egyptians' discipline. It was terribly hot, yet they would not touch food, water or even chewing gum until after sunset. Their daily sacrifice was quickly relieved when sunset was announced each evening from minarets around the city. My sister, Janet and I enjoyed sitting on our hotel balcony watching Cairo nightlife rev-up in Tahrir Square each evening. Nearly every building surrounding the square was topped with huge, colorful neon signs. The city became magical at night. A crowded bus terminal was also on the square, not far from the Egyptian Museum. Morning and evening rush hours meant people jamming into and onto buses. I still marvel at how they were able to hang on while riding on the roof or hanging from windows. Roads leading onto the square were jam-packed with cars, buses and taxis. Crossing streets was challenging because signals and signs seemed to be considered just decorations. Every time we ventured out on foot, we had to boldly step right into the traffic to get across a street. We had close calls, but never were hit, so the "system" seems to work. Coptic Christians are a small, distinct minority in Egypt. Visiting their Cairo neighborhood was like entering another world. The churches, houses and other buildings are quite old, with low doorways and narrow passages between them. Cars won't fit there, so pedestrians are free to stroll and enjoy each others company. Images of St. George appear everywhere. Families with little children strolled the neighborhood nibbling on little round loaves of bread, cucumbers or melon slices. Several times, we were offered a share of someone's snack by means of smiles and torn bits handed to us. The rest of the city was solemnly fasting and the Copts were sharing what they had with strangers on a hot, summer day. We visited several impressive, old Coptic churches. The most memorable was a tiny one with an equally small, walled courtyard. A children's choir was practising on an upper level of the church. Both of us had sung in church choirs, so it was a special moment. Egypt and Cairo have changed immensely in thirty years. I wouldn't say it has all been bad, but for the Egyptian people it is past time for Mubarak to step down. I hope the change of leadership will be intelligent, merciful and expeditious. Representative government takes belief in and dedication to the principles of democracy. It requires every business, political and religious faction to put the welfare of the people and country ahead of their particular faction's interests. I hope that Egypt can carry it off. I think they can. [Please forgive the poor quality of my pictures. They were taken with a tiny, cheap camera 30 years ago and have faded considerably.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the pictures and writing! I too was there in 1981. The friend I traveled with just found me back on-line so it was great to google Cairo 1981 and find your article...