Two weeks before the beginning of the academic year, Marlène and her students welcome to their school, located in the heart of the slum of Ezbeth El Nakhl, the volunteers of SOS Chrétiens d'Orient to inaugurate their new kitchen.
′′My entry into the slum of Ezbeth El-Nakhl is quite chaotic: the tuk-tuk that takes us bluntly swings from right to left, and every little speed bump is the occasion of a gliding flight. Despite its discomfort, tuk-tuk remains one of the best experiences of this slum, and has nothing to envy bumper cars.
The smell of the slum choked me up as soon as I penetrate its little alleys, and I put my mask on, both against the coronavirus and to try to escape the stench of the rubbish covering the soil.
Jumping out of the tuk-tuk, relieved to get back to firm ground and enter Marlene's school porch.
I go up the stairs covered with biblical frescoes, memory of the work of former volunteers. Suddenly my nostrils are overwhelmed by a smell of peppers, grilled chicken and spices that make me salivate. I'm entering the kitchen where kids play chef! Under the tender but demanding look of Miss Marlene, head of Ezbet El-Nakhl school, children learn how to cut and cook vegetables, meat. The kitchen is resplendent, after nine months of work it has finally been refurbished for €9,500, funded by the donors of the association.
I put on the table both bags filled with food, and in front of Marlène's circumspect look I immediately reassure her about the nature of the content: here, no junk food is accepted and bags contain only fruit. In a country where a third of the population is overweight, learning how to eat balanced is this canteen's real challenge.
I grab one by one the different varieties of fruit while spelling their name to allow children to repeat. Once finished, the children recite the ′′Our Father′′ immediately followed by the ′′Hail Mary ". I take a few seconds to recognize these great classics in front of their knife-cut but so touching accent.
Time for dinner now. I get in the line to wait for my turn to be served too. Before starting eating, several children testify one by one of what they learned today:
′′Before, I didn't know how to cook anything, now I know how to cook everything!"
′′I didn't even know that sugar was causing diabetes and obesity problems! Now I'm trying to reduce my quantities."
′′I learned to eat wisely, not to get too much food."
Next to me, a twelve-year-old boy wrongly holds his spoon, I gently take it from him to show him how to hold it properly. This is the last week kids have the right to eat with a spoon, next time eating at the fork will be mandatory! I am surprised to see twelve year olds discovering how to eat with a fork whereas in France it is learned from an early age.
Meal is going forever. I finished eating but I'm the only one. Around me all kids still have vast quantities of food in their bowl. But Marlene is uncompromising. First lesson of the day: not to have bitten off more than you can chew.
I am amazed that all the kids are reunited here in the middle of August. Marlene explains to me: “even if they don't have class, I invite them to come, because here, they have a free and balanced meal, and they don’t work sorting the waste all day long.” She gives them an escape to their harassing daily lives. This free daily meal given to ragpickers children is funded by the association up to €150 per week for 80 children. Support the association.
Lorraine, volunteer in Egypt.