7am, the car chartered by the Coptic Patriarchate picks us up at the corner of the street. Our eyes are still tired but a 3 hours drive await us to join the region of the Lake of Mariut, next to Alexandria. Everyone is getting used to the air-conditioning being pushed to the maximum, and we watch the desert landscape parade to the village where we are going to make a donation. Every month, thanks to the donors of SOS Chrétiens d'Orient, the Coptic Patriarchate makes food donations to the thousands of very poor people living in the slums around the lake.
As soon as we arrive, we go to the church to attend the end of mass. A large hall, black wooden pews, walls painted with colorful icons, no doubt, we are in a Coptic church. The room resounds with prayers fervently repeated by the faithful. For a working day, the place is very full: men on the left, women, with their heads veiled on the right.
All are anxious to attend the holy service as evenly as possible. "Kyrie eleison, kyrie eleison, kyrie eleison”, “Lord, have mercy on us.” If we do not understand most of the words, we are marked by the attention that each one puts into his prayer. After the Communion, come the time of the final blessing. Strange custom, the holy water does not come out of a sprinkler, but from a carafe and is literally thrown with force on the faithful with the help of a twig. The water hits us head on, we sign ourselves, a little surprised by this last and vigorous blessing.
When the mass is over, Father Spraun, in charge of the faithful, invites us into his office where a king's feast awaits us: cheese, eggs, bread, yoghurts ... Our hungry stomachs are delighted to taste this breakfast. Enough to gain strength before the donation! Having eaten, we go to visit the real social center that the church has gradually built in the village, thanks to the donors of SOS Chrétiens d'Orient.
A nursery welcomes children whose parents work during the day. A school provides to the little ones the necessary education to open up to the world. A sewing workshop makes mothers and daughters work to make clothes for all ages. A hospice takes care of the elderly ... Each place is clean, modern and bright. The walls of the places dedicated to children are colored with drawings of Minnie and Mickey who brighten up the classes. Everything here is done to help the parishioners to have a job and the children to be educated.
From the rooftop, we can see the shantytown that stretches as far as the eye can see: ruined houses and broken-down streets. The shaky houses are made of grayish stones and sheet metal plates. Half-constructed buildings attract our attention: only two or three floors are finished ; some do not even have roofs and their staircases seem to be attacking the sky, aimlessly. The laundry hanging from the windows looks like colored stains in the middle of the dusty landscape. Seen from above, the streets seem wide, but they are narrow, bumpy, and littered with garbage. Impatient, we wonder what awaits us as we walk through them. The answer is not slow in coming, because it is time to go and make the donation!
A van full of food, an almost off-road old Lada and a tuk tuk form the crew that takes us from door to door delivering our precious packs. Our driver proudly tells us that his Lada dates only from 1997. Faced with our dubious air in front of the shaky bodywork, he assures us that it goes everywhere, especially in the rough streets of the Egyptian villages.
Here we are in the narrow streets. What we had seen from the roof of the church becomes clearer. Waste is everywhere. However the smell is not strong as the wind sweeps, without slackening, this part of Egypt. Donkeys feed on the garbage here and there, some still harnessed to their carts, others enjoying a fleeting rest. Wild dogs and cats abound.
In every home, we are eagerly awaited. Food packs in our arms, accompanied by our translator, we knock at the door. A woman, with a suspicious look, opens it for us. At our sight, her face lights up with a broad smile. She hastens to get rid of the food and invites us to enter her house. Her children eagerly unpack the pack: pasta, rice, tea, beans, meat ... Little things that seem obvious to us to possess but which, here, represents a real treasure.
The next family lives crammed in the same room. They rush towards us. The oldest member of the family, bedridden, even tries to get up to welcome us. From door to door, the van gradually empties itself of its precious packs. Our organization is well established: a volunteer picks up the package, a translator knocks on the door. We enter for a few minutes, share a few moments, a prayer, before moving on to the next house.
At the end of our donation, we cross a canal with greenish and turbid waters. A floating concrete slab, sheltered by a piece of sheet metal, serves as a trough. A metal cable, on which the ferryman pulls, is used to transport passengers and goods. A few pounds, the improvised ferry splits the waves and we are on the opposite bank. We will even help the ferryman to haul his "boat" for the return trip.
At the top of a half collapsed staircase, we deliver our last package. In the only living room, furnished with a carpet and some garden chairs, a family of 7 or 8 is iving there. The woman who welcomes us doesn't want to let us leave again. She grabs us, forces us to sit down. Her joy of life, her gratitude, her smile reassures us. Even in poverty, these people find the strength to live in joy. In every family, behind the misery lies simplicity and fraternity.
"God bless you all," says the mothers of families who are moved. The gratitude in their eyes is visible and so touching. We will come back here, we hope, so that next month these people will still have as much joy in their eyes at the sight of their food packs.
This monthly donation, worth € 5.030, makes it possible to feed 100 families, 600 people. Thanks to your donations, these wives, husbands and children can eat. So don't wait any longer! Financing the purchase of a food parcel worth € 15.
Inès, volunteer in Egypt.