Egyptian chronicles #1 – In these eyes, I discover the beauty of simple and fleeting joys!

EN - Friday, 13 November 2020

Every week, a volunteer from the Mission in Egypt tells you about his week, his impressions, his life in the heart of the country of the ragpickers and the Pharaohs.

I have been walking around Egypt for just one week now with this feeling of following the footsteps of hundreds of volunteers, thousands of men and ages, but also those of the Holy Family. My first feelings? A mixture of wonder, melancholy and joy!

I discover a new life, new people with whom to share these six months of life in the mission and outside! Everything is completely different, the history, the religion, the customs, the people and the traffic!! Here, everything is noisier. The horn replaces the indicator, no pedestrian crossing. To cross, you have to impose yourself, walk ahead or back between two cars... The streets are covered with dust and rubbish that the ragpickers collect night and day. I didn't imagine any of this before I got here. I am immersed directly in this duality that is so characteristic of Egypt, between wealth and poverty.

sos chretiens orient egypte chiffonniers bidonville ezbet el nakhl

On my first day, I take a taxi and tuk-tuk to go to the inauguration of a leisure area built on the roof of St. George's church by former volunteers. Here I am in the slum of Ezbeth El Nakhl. It is part of one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Cairo. Here the smells are very strong! Rubbish is littering the ground: dogs, cats and donkeys feed on it.

The relationship with the animals is very different: no attention for them in the poor districts... Men are already struggling to feed themselves. I am told that they work at collecting rubbish. Very early in the morning, they leave with their little cart pulled by a donkey and go through the streets of Cairo to collect the rubbish bins from each dwelling. They return home, harassed, at around 4 p.m.

During this time, their wives and children sort the fruit of their collection. In the open air or in the gloomy ground floors of old buildings, they pile up in large bags of plastic fabric, glass, rubbish, amidst flies and smells. And this on a daily basis, without taking a single day off. What a misery compared to those who do this job in France...

When we arrive at the event to which the volunteers of SOS Chrétiens d'Orient are invited, the smile, the joy and the admiration of the children hit me in the face. They already love me and are crowding around us, each one asking for their photos with us! Their joy is communicative, they are so happy about this break in their so sad daily life, as I described above.

sos chretiens orient egypte inauguration du toit de eglise saint

Immense simplicity of the children, so beautiful, that I will find later at the orphanage of the girls of Daher, or at the one of Abbaseya. In these glances, I discover the beauty of simple and fleeting joys! Everyone here enjoys the present moment. Carpe Diem could be the motto inscribed in each of the places we visit. Each day has enough trouble of its own: that's what we understand in these poor districts of Cairo and any event, however small, is a breath of air so pleasant.

Last but not least, the patrols on the streets at night is a wonderful experience. During the day, there are no beggars in the streets of Cairo as begging is forbidden! Everyone gets active, washes cars, sells handkerchiefs or a few trinkets recovered from the dustbins.

sos chretiens orient egypte volontaires en maraude au caire

Every Saturday at 11pm, we take to the streets in our cars and prepare lunch bags for about a hundred people. We drive and stop, give our precious bags to the ragpickers who sweep the streets, to the women and children who sleep outside, between two lanes of cars on a small patch of grass or under a bridge. This poverty is a source of joy: for them to see their prayers answered, for us to be able to give and be blessed. Here there is no place for atheism... Christians and Muslims alike see in the help of each other the work of God.

sos chretiens orient egypte volontaires en visite au monastere de

In addition to these incredible human discoveries, I made others precious ones thanks to the presence of Father Martial: the visit to the cave of Saint Anthony of the Desert and the first monastery in all Christendom. Here I touched the origins of the Faith. In this dark cave, a man had gone into exile to pray for the world and its sins. He was sleeping there! A stone where he rested his head still bears witness to the asceticism of the hours he spent in this cave before founding a community that will endure, braving the centuries.

I saw the Red Sea in which I was able to dip my feet, Christian Cairo in which I was able to admire the house of Joseph and Mary during their flight to Egypt, the pyramids and the tomb of Saint Mark and the Coptic cathedral... So many discoveries that I already knew from my History classes, which are now becoming concrete!

Here, all relationships are simpler and the welcome extraordinary! This has enabled me to meet personalities who are already very advanced on the road to holiness: the monk Ruis at the Monastery of Saint-Anthony, Doctor Adel who worked with Sister Emmanuelle in the slums of Cairo and Monsignor Krikor, Bishop of the Armenian Catholics of Egypt. Being close to these people makes me want to give myself to my brothers and sisters from the East. 

Claire, volunteer in Egypt.

SOS Chrétiens d'Orient sends volunteers in mission throughout the year. Like Claire, come and live an unforgettable experience in Egypt. Don't ask yourself any questions. The only limits are those in your mind.

Per day, the mission of a volunteer costs 33 € to the association. If you can't leave, support a volunteer on a mission, donate.