Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas time in Cairo

Egypt is an interesting place to be during the Christmas season because you have to search REALLY hard to find little pieces of Christmas. Here is a list of great little Christmas experiences in Cairo this year

#1 – Christmas Candle

This was one of the special requests I had asked my mom to pass on to Kelby’s mom to bring when she visited. It’s hard to get the Christmas smell here! I have been lighting it frequently and listening to the Sufjan Stevens Christmas album or “All I Want For Christmas is You” on repeat…

#2 - Sarah’s Community Orchestra concert and BBQ – This was great- a bunch of people joining together outside to drink mulled wine and listen to Christmas carols played by an orchestra of about 20 people from ages of single digits to 50’s. It was one of those moments where no one playing was amazing – just a bunch of people from the community - but together it sounded so refreshing to hear Christmas carols. If you closed your eyes you could imagine a huge orchestra performing. I had to keep reminding myself o where I was at.

#3 - Our Magic Surprise Tree – Last year, Lori and I inherited a fake tree from Peter and Arney Ford when they left Cairo. We kept talking about putting it up, but the weekends kept going by so fast! We left for Istanbul without our tree up, but walked in the house 6 days later to find our tree up with lights strung around, beautiful glass ornaments and a huge bow with a little angel at the top. Hidden in the tree was a note from our friend Jen Hartshorn who had come into our flat while we were gone with decorations, searched all over for our tree and decorated it like a master elf.

#4 - Christmas Pageant at MCC – Every year, my church puts on a play to show the Christmas story for the community in Maadi. It’s pretty sweet because our church meets outside to begin with, so everyone is bundled up at night, there is a Christmas Choir, and the 3 wise man ride in on real camels (they’re a lot easier to come by here) and Mary and Joseph rode off in a reluctant donkey who had to be pushed from behind off stage. One of my favorite lines were “Yalla Donkey! My wife’s going to have a baby!” - Joseph

It was cute. I recognized a couple people in the play and it was neat to see so many people involved.

#5 - Muslim “Merry Christmas!” – One thing I’ve noticed this year that I didn’t last year is how my Muslim friends and students recognize Christmas as something that is important to me. In Arabic, Merry Christmas translates to “Birthday of Messiah”. When my kids or other Muslims have said “Merry Christmas!” I get a huge smile on my face because they had to put extra effort into remembering that their winter break is my Christmas break. For some reason it seems more intentional than when I hear it from someone who celebrates Christmas as well. It’s kind of weird because I don’t say Merry Christmas back. That’s like when you’re at the airport and the person checking you in says “Have a good flight!” and it’s hard not to say “you too!” I wonder if that’s how they feel when we say “Happy Eid” (Eid Sayeed) or “Kareem Ramadan!” for their holidays. I do live in a weird but great place where religion is everywhere and tensions exist, but at the same time, we both coexist and are respectful of what is important to each religion.

#6 - Jen’s Christmas Dinner – I don’t really know if I can explain this one… Jen Hartshorn had sent out hand-made invitations about a week and a half ago inviting about 15 of her closest friends to a night of celebrating Christmas and good friends under the stars. She put together a full Christmas (or Thanksgiving) meal – turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, veggies, 3 different types of pies, assortment of cookies, fudge… None of us knew what to do. She had set up a long table on her roof top balcony with nice plates, silverware, napkins and candles. Many of them she had borrowed from the people who were there! She was so excited to be running around serving us. She had asked Sarah to draw a chalk Nativity scene which turned out awesome… and to play violin while we started eating. She played some of the Christmas carols from her concert. This is really hard to set the scene. It was very un-Cairo…

Then, after we were done eating, Jen called all of us into the living room where she started distributing presents she had bought for each person there. Each person had about 3 presents that were so specific to each person. Each one had a different story behind it and Jen explained each one. All of us were looking at each other like “is this real?” and kind of giggling… Jen was really giddy too. I don’t think I have ever met someone that thoughtful, hospitable and giving. She is amazing. I got a journal covered in Ramadan tent fabric that she had written about 3 pages in, hand warmers for hiking Kili, and each girl in our bible study got a shell ring. Each ring was different because she brought in shells she had picked up at the beach in Ein Soukhna during our little retreat a couple weekends ago. She had each one put into a ring setting so that we would remember that weekend. Then, after all that, she had leftover containers for each of us to take a bunch of food home, so I had the best lunch of all time at school Thursday. I am pretty blessed to know so some great people here. I am being taken care of.

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