Life in Cairo (Egypt)

Choubra-el-KhaymaCairo, the neighbourhood of the fraternityCairo, the neighbourhood of the fraternity is an area of about two million inhabitants in the suburbs north of Cairo. Cairo has about twenty million people, almost all of rural origin from the south. There is unemployment of course, but there are also several small factories, mainly for textiles, in which the pay is low. Christians and Moslems (who are the great majority) live there in harmony as far as I can see. The fraternity has been present there for a number of years, almost always with brothers of Arab origin (I am an exception).

For some time a number of brothers have written to me asking what I have been up to since leaving the General Fraternity. Meanwhile, some friends have also asked me why I have not gone back to Lebanon.AbdoAbdo
It would have been more normal – and certainly easier for me – to return to Lebanon or Syria where I had lived for thirty years.
I decided to come to Egypt, fairly well aware of the difficulties that I would have to surmount there.
So, what is it like for me to be in Choubra el Khayma? My days are filled with lots of little things, none of them very exciting, but it is just that that keeps me happy. On the practical level, I do the shopping and the cooking virtually every day. And quite often (whenever he asked me) I helped Girgis with his English while we were living together.

I like to find time to pray regularly every day, and I also like to have a retreat every month.
When I pray, I try to include all the people who are around us, in particular those whom I meet during the hour’s walk which I try to take every morning. There are all those girls very near us, who go to work every morning; the young jobless who don’t know what to do with themselves; the women and children who start in the morning to sift through the piles of rubbish one finds in the main streets and side roads of our district; the people who arrive early from the surrounding countryside with carts full of vegetables, pulled by mules or donkeys which are often skinny and always worn out, as indeed are their owners. Once untied, the mules join the herds of sheep, black with filth, which are also rummaging through the rubbish.
Then there are the people sleeping in the street; the old women who every day sit in the same place selling a few vegetables or other things they might have; or the old people who sit doing nothing in the shade of the earth wall which is a remnant of a district near us where some former refugees from Sinai who never went back home still live.
These are the people I rub shoulders with every morning, not just physically, but also inside myself.
I don't live like they do, I can't do much for them, but I want to be there for them; it is all that, with my relationship with Jesus, that gives my present life all its meaning. I don’t think that anything else is being asked of me.
Of course, I don't have the kind of relationships I used to, which in my previous life were always linked to work and neighbours. Here, we just say good day to our neighbours, on the stairs or at the bottom of the building with the two or three carpenters who have a workshop there. Our conversations never go very far, and never will given the different ways in which we speak Arabic; we each understand what we are saying, but it is not always clear to the person we are talking to.

But there remain the small signs of friendliness that can be moving, such as that of Maria, a little girl aged 4 or 5 who lives underneath us and whom I had not particularly noticed. One day, we were preparing for the feast of the Assumption, and at the time of the "Virgin’s fast" she persistently rang the doorbell so that she could give me three sugar rolls and say: “May you remain in good health every year!”

And in the parish, on my way to or from Mass on a Friday, I say good day to some people whom I have noticed, or who have noticed me, or to some of the young people who come to the Fraternity or are members of one of the local Secular Fraternity groups.
I am always too rational, logical, critical, concerned, preoccupied with the dark side of things. I am always asking myself - is it possible for me to change? It is, indeed, difficult to change one's ways, but with the help of advancing years it may be possible to assimilate something different into one's life… and if necessary making several attempts.

As it is, I am now slightly more accustomed to life here, in the alleywayin the alleywayto the local side streets full of potholes, to the omnipresent dirt and smells (especially in summer), to the bone-shaking large and small buses (whenever possible, I do try and avoid them and travel by metro), to the dust and lack of green spaces (though there are still a few fields near the parish church, and sometimes I go to see them, and even walk through them, now that they are being ploughed).
In fact, my real battle is with the summer heat, and with being in a sweat from the morning onwards as soon as I go out or undertake any activity. I have never liked fans, and yet I have to use them, even though I get covered with aches and pains.
And there is all the noise from the street, especially at night (things do not calm down until about 1 a.m. or even later). I am a light sleeper; happy are those who can sleep whenever, wherever, whatever the noise, like my Egyptian brothers!
Of course, when I am a bit depressed, I wonder if all this is feasible, given my age and temperament, but for the moment, at least, I say to myself that there are so many other people who have to live like this.Chapel in CairoChapel in Cairo
So this is what my current life in Cairo is like, in this area of two million inhabitants who are so poor materially, and in other ways too. I can't say that I’m unhappy, even if life is a bit difficult sometimes. And isn't this just the sort of
place where we are supposed to be?