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The misery of these Egyptian families is not in quarantine.

EN - Wednesday, 08 April 2020

The basic food products are a luxury for poor families in the of district of Ezbet El-Nakhl.

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This Wednesday, the black grid of the Coptic Orthodox Parish of Celestial Creatures opens exceptionally. In the middle of the afternoon, as the sky is gray, a loud and old white van hits the road. Quickly, it leaves the "big" asphalt street and enters an alley of dirt, regularly damaged by a "pothole", stone or any other obstacle of the same kind. At the threshold of a garage, the driver switches off the engine. A priest gets out, accompanied by volunteers in white sweaters with a big red heart.

At the request of Father Constantine, volunteers living in the slum of Ezbet el Nakhl, have made the trip to visit families living in extreme poverty. Their mission of the day: to make a brief needs assessment to prepare future donations. That day, despite the rain, they have an appointment with a small dozen families out of the hundred listed by the priest. Henri, volunteer, tells us:

"We are entering a kind of garage whose rusty metallic roller shutter, three quarters open, shelters a pretend shop. A few tables, covered mainly with snacks, a low-filled shelf and an old refrigerator are the only furniture in the room.

In the back of the shop, lit only by daylight, a woman in her fifties hardly gets up from her armchair to greet us.

sos chretiens orient egypte familles pauvres bidonville ezbet el

We learn that she has two children at school and that her husband works outside. The modest shop in which she receives us is her family's only source of income. It was only set up a few months ago thanks to the help and support of the parish.

Very quickly, we discuss her health problems. Embarrassed, she lifts the bottom of her dress a few centimeters to show us her swollen ankles and legs. Her edema almost prevents her from moving around, to the point that she rarely goes upstairs to her apartment, just above the shop.

The family therefore lives mainly in the back of the shop, which is very dark, dusty, concreted from floor to ceiling with large traces of mould on the walls. There is no bed nor piece of furniture. We deduce that the family sleeps on mattresses on the floor. After exchanging a few more words, Father Constantine invites us to say goodbye to the woman and return to the vehicle to visit the other families.

In a loud noise, the engine of our van restarts. We continue on our way through the lanes of land, between red brick buildings of three or four floors. On the way, I can't help but think back to this woman sitting behind her counter... The images of her shop never leaves me.

sos chretiens orient egypte bidonville ezbet el nakhl volontaire coucher de soleil

I try to imagine her children living in that cold, dark room. I try to understand how it is rationally possible to provide for the most basic needs of a family with the sole income from this small business. The other volunteers begin to talk about their feelings. They ask me questions but I don't know what to answer...

I am bewildered in the face of such miserable times...in the meantime, I am in admiration of the figure of the priest who accompanies us, who knows his parishioners so well and does everything to help them. What a beautiful example of charity!

A few streets further on, I got out of my thoughts by the environment we are passing through. On the side of the road, a sort of large ditch is filled with a dark liquid on which floats countless pieces of rubbish. We see, behind this dump, a few brick and wood huts... I don't know it yet but these are our next destinations!

The engine stops again. The doors of the van open in a general squeaking noise. We get out of the car and walk a few meters, time to say hello to the carpenters working outside. On the threshold of the famous huts, we are greeted by a woman, her husband, their older daughter and two younger children. They all walk barefoot on the land moistened by the light rain. He invites us to enter their humble abode. The floor is made of beaten earth. The cracked brick walls let the daylight in. The roof is made up of a set of metal sheets and tarpaulins resting on wooden beams.

The hostess invites us to sit on the sofa, a set of wooden cages covered with a blanket and a thin layer of dust. A few of us join her and sit on the floor. The room is so small that the father stays in the corner of the front door.

As furniture, an old refrigerator fixed with bricks, and a kind of chest of drawers, one of the doors of which will fall down several times during our visit. No gas cooker! Dishes are cooked on the wood fire in front of the house. Two doors open onto two adjacent rooms. One is a small bedroom, from which we can only see the patched clothes piled up on the floor along a wall. The second door, which is no more than a curtain, leads to a stable in which I see a skinny horse.

sos chretiens orient egypte bidonville ezbet el nakhl volontaires

The parents tell us that they manage to earn just enough money. With financial support from the church, they have the luxury of being able to send their children to school. The eldest daughter, who is not very old, is in accounting school and will get married soon. As for the parents, they both work as ragpickers and thus spend their day sorting the rubbish. Despite their misery, they did not complain once and kept smiling throughout our exchange. 

With 12€, you finance the purchase of a food pack that will feed 4 to 5 people for 10 days. The package contains: two kilos of pasta, rice, a box of tea, a box of sugar, 1 litre of oil, 1 kilo of beans, two packets of Halawa (a kind of sweet dough), margarine.

These basic food products are a luxury for them. Support these poor families!

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Henri, volunteer in Egypt.

Text written at the beginning of February, one month before the lockdown.