April 2009


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This is the biggest Jesus Fish that I have ever seen in my entire life.  I actually took it last year on a class excursion at the St. Simon Monastery, a church dedicated to Saint Simon the Tanner (St. Sama’an, in Arabic), who lived towards the end of the tenth Century when Egypt was ruled by the Fatimid Caliph.  This monastery actually contains seven Churches and Chapels hidden in a series of caves in the Mokattam (Muqattam) hills, slightly off downtown Cairo.  

This Monastery, erected and dedicated to the Saint about a thousand years after his various miracles and death, actually lies behind “Mansheiyet Nasser“, the Zabbalin village (garbage collectors).  This village was established in 1969 by the Governor of Cairo when he decided to move all (yes ALL) the garbage collectors of Cairo to one of the Mokattam hills. There, the collectors built for themselves primitive houses of tin.  Numbering about 30,000 villagers now, I was so taken aback by the sheer poverty, trillions of flies (not exaggerating here) and graphic nature of what I saw as our bus traverse through the narrow village streets – trash carts were passing by along with piles of rubbish, plastics and tins on the sides of the alleys with people sorting them out.  As much as I try to describe here in detail, the Zabbalin village is a hard place to picture and can only be seen to believe. 

You will be moved if you are there to witness the scenes, but what was more surprising was this little “tale” I heard from the monastery’s caretaker – this entire village of garbage collectors were actually all Coptic Christians!  Apparently, one fine day, there were some miracles performed at the church and witnessed by some of these villagers.  Word spread, one thing happen after another and the whole village were converted.  Was it then a coincidence that the garbage collectors looked poor but did not look really unhappy or asked us for handouts unlike many other parts of Cairo? 

There are more photos of this extraordinary monastery (including an auditorium carved off the hill that can seat several thousand people) but no picture can do justice to this remarkable place.

haven’t been blogging much lately as i haven’t been thinking much lately.

in other news, it had certainly been a surreal three weeks.  flitting through three countries within three weeks is just like going through a portal – u step into an aircraft and hey presto! ur in another place.  that certainly feels like it anyway.

also, the disconnection with things and people back home were thankfully not as strong as i expected it to be.  still the changes were there, the tensions were there, time had left its mark there.  that is to be expected and thank God it was not too difficult a pill to swallow.  just more food for thought back in Cairo.

certainly daft …