Christmas (December) 2013
To suggest that Christmas 2013 was a bit unusual for us would be an understatement. We have celebrated Christmas in warmer regions of the world before and even came to enjoy the longer, warmer days as an alternative to the cold, short, grey days of coastal British Columbia, so a semi-tropical Christmas is something to which we were actually looking forward. We looked forward to having our Indonesia family with us. We were even prepared to have Christmas on January 6th , it being the date of Christmas in the Orthodox calendar. But when you add those special events to:
- A three-hour horse-drawn ride through downtown Alexandria
- A beautifully sung Syrian Orthodox Christmas Eve (Dec.24th) mass
- A seven-hour marathon ride from Alexandria back to Cairo
- Camel rides around the Sahara at the Gizeh pyramids
- Christmas bombings in Egypt
- Soldiers guarding all church services during these days
Well, I think you get the picture. It is unlikely that we will quickly forget the images of our Christmas in Egypt. Egyptian Christians are also very quick to remind us that they were not left out of the nativity story. As they recount the flight into Egypt, it is possible that the Christ-child and his parents (that would be Mary and Joseph) hunkered down somewhere very close to Cairo until they were told to return to Palestine….a backwater called Galilee, not Bethlehem.
Today, we heard of a massive bombing in Beirut. What a tortured part of the world we live in…. It is filled with irony, seemingly endless violence and chaos, and yet the people we know and meet are friendly and helpful beyond description.
Enough of idle thinking; let’s deal with the facts. First of all, we started Christmas off with the arrival of our Indonesian family: Stephen, Dina and their daughter Bethany. Ever since coming, they have given their parents days of delight and happiness. They have embraced Egypt with enthusiasm, curiosity and energy. Their daughter has been the best two-year-old traveler I have ever seen, while charming everyone she meets. She lost no time in endearing herself to Grandma and Grandpa and has endured one strange, new setting after another with alacrity. How truly fortunate!
Given their short visit (only 12 days), we booked an ambitious schedule that included a visit to Alexandria. The trips to and from Alex were entirely forgettable—only memorable in their duration—long. Our full day in Alex, however, was delightful. We rode around downtown Alex in a horse-drawn carriage right there amongst all the traffic on the Corniche. We stayed in a modest downtown hotel that provided us with access to the Citadel, the library, a national museum and churches that provided us with a good sampling of the strength and vitality of Christian life in that historic city. (It was, after all, a Christian centre for the Gospel since the time of Mark, the writer of the Gospel.) We could have chosen to attend an Orthodox mass at 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve or a Syrian Orthodox service at 8 p.m. We chose the latter. While we left before the close of the service, we loved the liturgy that was entirely sung. We left the church and noted a heavy military presence outside of the church. Aside from the irony that the image presented, we learned the following morning that there had been a massive bombing in a city not too from Alexandria.
On December 26th, we went to see the pyramids. The day was beautiful. Not hot, but clear blue skies. We learned much about the skill required to build them and the history attached to the main pyramid and Sphinx sites. We also visited a rug-making and weaving place in Saqqara, south of the pyramid sites. It was a day to acknowledge the past (like/yaani, thousands of years ago) and to appreciate the present.
I suppose that we are not the first to have the conflicting and confused thoughts and emotions that we have when we think of our experience to date in Egypt. On one hand, we love interacting and working with good, intelligent, hard-working people who love their country and want only good for it. On the other, we vex at the impossible road conditions that we all experience just to get around the city. On one hand, we feel at home with Egyptians who, even as strangers, are kind and open. On the other, we are deeply saddened by the turmoil and divisions that are so apparent in Egyptian society, much of it in the guise of religious teachings that are intended to nurture peace and harmony. As MCC, we are grateful that we can play a part, together with our church partners, to do something about peace-making.