It is a Wednesday in late August. The temperatures have been in the high 30s all week, and they don’t seem to fall much during the night. From my African days I have always tended to wake with the light, but Cairo is a city which never sleeps, so there is always noise outside. Often it is the call to prayer from the nearby mosque which wakes me. I doze a bit, before getting up before 06.00 and putting on the kettle. I am unusual in waking early; many Egyptians go to bed in the early hours of the morning, so sleep late.
I have a small flat at the end of the corridor on Floor 4 of the Dorm (up 6 flights of stairs), and during the summer it is quiet, as most of the students are away on their internships. There is a bedroom and living room with a shower room and small kitchen. It is ideal.
One side looks over the Police Training Academy, including the Police Equestrian centre and their kennels (the dogs’ barking makes a lot of noise, though it is amazing how accustomed you become to it). The other side looks over St Mary’s, a Coptic Orthodox church with a big picture (mosaic) of Mary painted on its tower, whose bells ring at 07.30.
Breakfast at the Seminary is from 08.30, which is too late for me, so I usually have tea and a bowl of granola. There are several different types of granola in the shops, all of which are made in Poland. As with all imported goods, you buy them when you see them, as they are on the shelves for a few months, then you can’t find them for several months thereafter.
I always try to walk down the stairs rather than use the lift (though the thought of walking up 6 flights is more daunting!), and I am in the office by 08.30. Four of us share the office, all working on ‘Development and International Relations’. We seek to raise awareness about the Seminary and to keep in touch with friends and supporters through newsletters. We also take care of visitors and show them round the Seminary. Another task is to raise funds for the various projects and write reports to donors, so I find myself busy behind a computer screen. During term time there are chapel services mid-morning, but in the summer everything is quiet.
On Wednesdays I leave the office early and walk to the metro station in order to go to Maadi in the south of Cairo, as I teach English to a group of Oromo refugees from Ethiopia.
It takes about 25 minutes to walk to Demerdash station and involves zigzagging across a busy road (no helpful pedestrian crossings!), then walking through the grounds of a hospital and past the mortuary. I am used to mortuaries from Zambia, where I often had to collect coffins in my pick-up to take to the cemetery for burial, but here there is less obvious grief in evidence; everything is God’s will.
I walk through a covered market selling all sorts of goods, though halfway through I could veer off into a small park, one of the few patches of green in this part of Cairo, where rather bizarrely there is a plaque commemorating a visit by Margaret Thatcher.
Reaching the station I pay my 2 ginay (the equivalent of 4p) and wait for the train. Often on this line the carriages can be crowded, and some of the trains are older and their a/c does not always work so effectively, so, in August, it is like being in a sauna. Some of the other trains are newer, so if you are not too pressed for time, you wait until one of the new trains comes. The middle two carriages are reserved purely for women, though women can also use the other carriages as well.
People are very good at giving up their seats to the elderly or infirm, though this often involves an elaborate ritual of refusal and insistence. I have never had a problem with security on the train, even though at times they can be jam-packed, and have found people really friendly. On arrival at Hadayek Maadi, I transfer to a tuktuk, which can be a hair-raising experience as they weave their way at breakneck speed past pedestrians, cars and donkey-and-carts.
This takes me to a square, where the women are gathered and from where we take a minibus to the Oromo School for the lessons. Often returning on the bus the women sing songs and chants from Ethiopia, one of which translates ‘We did not understand this week, but maybe we will next week’!. I started to teach the group a year ago, and now we have two groups; a class for beginners who want to proceed at a gentler rate; and a class for those who feel more confident. While the aim is to teach English, the main purpose is psycho-social rather than educational and is for the women to get out of their homes and socialise. Many of the refugees have their own difficulties living in Cairo, so it is good for them to come together.
After the class is finished, it is late afternoon and I make my way to Maadi, a slightly more upmarket suburb nearby, and treat myself to a meal from a Lebanese Takeaway, which is a nice change from Egyptian food. During the winter or spring I would often get off the metro in the city center (called Downtown) which was redeveloped in the 19th Century and modeled on Paris. Now the streets are lined with shops (amazing the number of clothes shops, especially for men) but if you look up you still see glimpses of grand buildings, but very much decaying grandeur.
Tonight however, I make my way back to Abbassiya, walking past pens of sheep, which are sold for the Muslim El Adha Feast which takes place this year at the beginning of September (the sheep and cattle are slaughtered on the streets which are literally running with blood!). I dump my stuff, and then go across the road to the Coptic Orthodox church, where there are services every night for two weeks leading up to one of the Coptic feasts.
It is very different from the Presbyterian services, but I enjoy participating. There is a tremendous sense of community, and the church has been well-filled every evening of the feast (it is also a fast, so most of the people there have not been eating meat or diary for some weeks). I am always impressed by the number of young people at the churches in Egypt, and many of them are involved in the worship.
Afterwards I walk across the road to the Seminary where, unlike most of the inhabitants of Cairo, I tend to fall asleep before midnight.