Saturday, August 23, 2008

Coptic Cairo

At church today, President McCallister mentioned that we currently hold the gold medal for finding an apartment. I suppose it seems like we found an apartment quickly—it only took us one day of searching before we signed a contract—but in truth, I’ve been searching for apartments for months online to no avail. I looked at thousands of apartments and pumped tens of landlords for more information. So our search extends far beyond the one tiring Saturday we spent looking at apartment after apartment.

But we’ll accept the gold. Unless the Shillings or Sharps can beat us!

Now that we’re getting settled, we decided it was time to venture out of Maadi. Since it’s Friday, the Sabbath, we decided to head into Coptic Cairo for the day. So, after church, lunch, and a nap for Rachel, we hopped on the Metro.

I was a little nervous at first since I seemed to be the only woman on the wagon—there are separate cars solely for women and I didn’t get on one of those. As I understood it, they are there for your convenience, and should I ever decide to use the Metro alone, I will probably jump on one. But it seemed for a moment that perhaps riding the women car was requisite—I was quite relieved when I saw some other women get on!

We got off at the Mar Girgis stop, walked out of the Metro, and right into Coptic Cairo. It is just that close. The Roman Towers stand right in front, and kind of below, the Metro station, marking the start of Coptic Cairo, or Roman Babylon.

Our first stop was St. George chapel, where several families stopped to wave at Rachel and take pictures with us. It was kind of interesting to be a tourist attraction at a tourist attraction, but such is the life of an American family with a “blonde” baby in the Middle East. Everyone was shocked that we spoke Arabic—truthfully only Andrew speaks Arabic, but I’m getting much better.

A little girl named Maria came up and asked me, very slowly,

“Ism-ha eh?”

“Rachel,” I said.

“Rasha?” she repeated.

That’s close enough. Most people say Rasha or Bashel. I don’t know why since they have all the phonemes in Arabic to say Rachel.

After I assured her that Rasha was correct (or at least along the lines of correct) she ran off to tell her family that I spoke Arabic to her.

They followed us around for a while, snapping pictures with their cell phone cameras, and asking us a few questions. They were definitely a Coptic family. Not only could we tell by the tattoos of crosses on their wrists, but the children’s names were a dead giveaway: Maria, Justine, and, of all names, Andrew!

It was quite a shock when we were innocently poking around the chapel when we heard a voice call out harshly, in Arabic,

“Andrew! That’s wrong!”

Andrew checked himself to make sure he wasn’t leaning up against any ancient relic and that the lens cap was on his camera still so that it wouldn’t look like we were taking pictures. He was clear. And then we saw the culprit.

A little Arab Andrew, swinging on a chain blocking the tourists from entering the rest of the chapel.

We eventually lost that family…and found ourselves in a group of teenagers, all haggling us for pictures. I was so proud of myself when I understood that one of them asked if Rachel knew how to walk. I am proud of pretty much every time I understand anything at this point.

We posed for several pictures and didn’t lose that group until we left to get on the Metro again.
We wandered all around the graveyards and into several chapels, including the chapel built on the cave that, allegedly, Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus hid in from King Herod; and the Hanging Church, all the while with our personal paparazzi, snapping pictures and repetitively kissing Rachel's cheeks.

After two hours, we were beat. We had finished off the last of our water, and Rachel was getting rather grumpy, so we headed home. We’ll go back to Coptic Cairo another time, not on a Friday, so that we can go to the museum and other things…but we’re waiting for Andrew to get his student ID card so that we can get in cheaper.


  1. Why is it called the hanging church? That seems an ominous name.

  2. Back in Roman days, it used to "hang" over the Nile, but now it doesn't...because the Nile isn't as wide since they dammed it.

  3. I think it's so cool that there are still places down there where people can be openly Christian... If that makes sense.