The Egyptian Maple Leaf: Rachel Friesen

The Egyptian Maple Leaf: Rachel Friesen

Rachel Friesen, a senior art and peace, justice and conflict studies double-major, is writing the first student perspective in our new column entitled "The Egyptian Maple Leaf."

Ahlan wa-Sahlan from Cairo, Egypt! We have arrived safely, and I’m writing today from our language school overlooking the Hada’iq el-Ma’adi metro station.

We landed in Cairo on Friday afternoon, and after only a little trouble with the customs officers (no, we did not want to buy another visa for $15 each!), all nineteen of us were cleared to enter the country. We were bussed to our home for the next several weeks, a Coptic Christian church compound on the outskirts of the city. Our rooms overlook the compound, where local kids come to play soccer and volleyball pretty much any time of any day, as far as we can tell.

Because we are housed in an enclosed area populated entirely by Christians, we had a slow introduction to what has become one of the most striking features of my first week in Cairo: the observance of Ramadan.  About 90% of Egyptians are Muslim, so naturally this Islamic custom is a huge part of the public atmosphere–Muslims fast every day during the month of Ramadan from sunrise until sundown, which means of course no eating or drinking on the metro, in the streets, or even in restaurants during the day.  What this means for us is that, in order to respect those around us, we are also not eating or drinking while we are out in public–not even water, though it is incredibly hot and dry here compared to Goshen. This makes for long days of touring and adjusting to the new surroundings, but it is also a really amazing thing for a group of newcomers/Americans/non-Muslims to experience.

One of my favorite moments so far was riding the metro in the evening on our first full day.  At exactly the moment the sun disappeared, two men got into our metro car and started handing out cold juice to everyone, a small shared celebration of breaking the day’s fast. It’s hard not to feel a tiny bit guilty knowing that we have been eating and drinking indoors while nearly everyone else fasts, but even for us sundown is a relief–no more fear of dehydration, and no more fear of accidentally slipping up by drinking a sip of water in front of someone fasting.  Luckily for us in both of these respects, we arrived during the final week of Ramadan.  Fasting ends tomorrow, so not only will we be able to end our daily “partial-fasting”, but we will also be able to experience some of the feasting and celebration that comes with the end of Ramadan. I have no idea so far what this will be like, but it is certainly an exciting beginning for our time in the Middle East.
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