From Cairo, part 1

Greetings from Heliopolis, Egypt! J-P and I arrived a few hours ago. It is
130am here…and in Dallas it’s 530pm (behind). We are staying with Debbie
Taylor, Justin’s mom, who has lived here for almost five years as an English
teacher.

Heliopolis is now a northern suburb of Cairo, but in ancient times, it was
an important temple city where the Egyptians worshipped the sun god, Ra,
during the New Kingdom (1570-1085 BC). The second largest temple in Egypt
was located here, which, in its heydey, employed more than 15,000 priests.
It was also the center for religious writing, and Egypt was the first
culture on the planet to develop the written alphabet.

Heliopolis fell into ruin for many centuries, then the British colonials
took a liking to it and made it their residential area, so it’s filled with
lovely colonial homes and gardens. Today it is a trendy place for the
wealthiest Egyptians to live. The President lives a few miles from Deb, and
his son lives at the end of Debbie’s street. She has a GORGEOUS apartment
on the top floor of an old colonial building that she has completely gutted
and renovated. I was excited to share renovation woes with her, but she has
had every ounce of work done for her…for almost pennies…the lucky girl!

For example, Mohammed coordinated the importation of her container filled
with all her furniture and worldly possessions. He went to the port in
Alexandria every day for three days to watch everything being unpacked and
inspected by customs officials. Then he bargained on the import tax,
getting it cut down from $1200 to $400. Then he had it all packed back up
and shipped to Cairo. Deb’s street was too busy to unload during the day or
evening, so he coordinated a team of men to arrive at her apartment at 2am,
forming a train to unload all the furniture and move it, in total silence,
from the truck outside and into her apartment. It took this large team of
men one and a half hours to get everything unloaded. The next evening they
came back, unpacked everything, and put it where she requested. And for
this entire process, she paid $250.

So Egypt is a very cheap place.

We have arrived on the last day of Eid Kabeer, or Big Feast, which is a big
celebration in Islamic culture. There are two Eids, one at the end of
Ramadan, their holiest holiday, and this, the larger feast. During this
time, every family is to buy an animal for slaughter, and they keep the
animals tied up in the streets for several days. Deb says she has heard
(and smelled) a cow wandering around in her back alley. This morning
(thankfully, while we were still in London) was the slaughter, and each
family gives a certain amount of the meat to the poor. Deb says last year
there were many animals tied up in the court below her home and she heard
them being slaughtered in the morning.

Deb has an “errand man” who does everything from pick us up at the airport
to painting to escorting her belongings through customs when she shipped
them here. His name, like most men in Egypt, is Mohammed, and he’s SO
friendly! He told Deb that last year he bought a cow for his family for the
Eid Kabeer, at a cost of over 7,000 Egyptian Pounds (about $1200 US)! His
family kept about 150 pounds of meat and gave the rest to the poor. Also,
in the Muslim faith, the practice of tithing to the poor is done
privately…ie not through a church or mosque. Mohammed says he tithes
about 5% of his income to the poor, and does it on his own directly to
families he knows are in need. And this is the practice across all of the
Islamic world.

Tomorrow we’ll go to the Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum, followed by a
dinner party with all of Debbie’s friends.

I hope you all are happy and well!

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