It's the end of May. The lockdown is over in France and although it has never been obligatory in Egypt, it is getting less respected. SOS Chrétiens d'Orient's activities have been at a standstill for three months, I have nothing to do and I'm turning in circles like a bird in a cage. But now Jérôme, my head of mission, comes straight at me, all smiles: he announces that activities will finally resume! Bishop Thévenin, apostolic nuncio in Egypt, just called him to ask him for help. I have to pick up the books that are buried at the bottom of the cellars of the Latin Church in Cairo, to make it a real library on the second floor of the Vicariate. Glad to return to the rescue of Christians of the East, I hasten to accept.
Luckily the vicariate is less than 10 minutes from our apartment. But in May, even those 10 minutes seem endless to me so the heat is suffocating. And unfortunately, I, who expected to find freshness and moisture in these cellars, I'm rather discovering some kind of shed that doesn't spare us from the furnace. It is with disgust and caution that I take objects buried for decades. Alas it doesn't take me long to find myself covered in dust and dirt, and I'm dropping any reserve quickly enough to take me to the game and flee to full hand in the big trunk storage here and there.
While searching, I come across books written in Arabic, French, Italian, English or German. Behind a cluster of bricks and a bunch of magazine, under a carpet is a collection of encyclopedias that I don't take the time to flip because the minutes go by and the work is just beginning. But the cracked blanket gets old by years of wear and oblivion leaves no doubt: I really touch historical treasures that would certainly passionate more than one history student! Geography maps, ancient manuscripts, old phones pile up in these cellars, all covered with a layer of dust that stings my eyes and makes me sneeze. Torn between the wonder of these discoveries and anxiety at the immensity of the task, I get to work.
Arms loaded with books I'm leaving this Ali Baba cave to go up to the second floor, location of the future library... and I'm coming back soon to get new books. This carousel hasn't lasted for a long time since already my arms and legs beg me to take a break, which I think is well deserved! And I do it all over again, I go up and down a billion times these stairs that give me aches and make me sweat.
Finally bringing the last boxe of books. I put it on the floor, about to renew my break when my boss stops me, even before I can sit down, holding a cloth to clean the books. And the work continues! Using the cloth, and often my t-shirt that doesn't stay long white, I dust old books. By passing my hand on the pages of the old manuscripts I feel the paper wavy by moisture, which gives them a magnificent charm. At four, sometimes five, in a small room without air conditioning or any wind, I find it hard to handle the heat that liquefies me on site without even having to move.
And I thought the difficult stage was behind us now, I was wrong! Pretty easily, I sorted books by language, even though I get into trouble when I mix books in Italian and Spanish in the same package. I am confused when it comes to sorting books by theme: I don't understand the difference between spiritual books, religious books and sacred books, and every volunteer soon goes with their definition! I'm definitely lost when I find myself with a dozen books written in Arabic, and of which I don't understand a single word. I'm seriously thinking about exploding when my boss asks me with his sweetest voice possible if I can put them in alphabetical order...
A dozen minutes later, Jérôme returns joyful, with, according to him, a ′′surprise′′ in hand. He places in front of me a hundred small white, orange and green tags. And here I am sticking on each book these tags, depending on their theme. Of course, it is only when I finish a whole cupboard that I realize that I chose the wrong colors. And here I am, starting again! I must admit, however, that once the work is done, the whole looks pretty good and it is with satisfaction that I take a last look at our library!
Today work is done but tomorrow it will resume with always more intensity. But for that, we need you. Support our cultural actions for Christians in the East.
Haloïse, volontaire en Egypte.