Monday, December 24, 2007

'Twas the night before Christmas

And even though we know that Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas in January and that the real birthdate of Christ is up for debate....we decided to take a Christmas eve trip to Coptic Cairo. Rather than sitting on Santa's knee at the Diwan Bookstore in Zamalek (honestly, I was tempted...) wouldn't it be more meaningful to walk where Jesus had walked and see where he had been while he was in Cairo?

We had a late start to our day and the ferry we had planned to take down the Nile had already made it's last run. So we opted for the Metro. The first time I took Cairo's subway, I went alone. That meant I had the priviledge of sitting in the orderly and spacious women's car. Today, I was with Yasir. And I was about to get my first taste of co-ed Metro travel. I had braced myself for the worst. I am happy to report that our journey passed without incident. It was a little crowded and hot but people were respectful and there was minimal shoving. In fact, when Yasir piped up with a loud "excuse me/ lao samaht" as we approached our station, numerous men tsk-tsked and gave him looks of: "Ok buddy, keep your pants on. We'll get out of your way in a moment." I was reminded of Jon Lovitz from Saturday Night Live: "You don't have to yell...."

The train spit us out at Mar Girgis (the Coptic Cairo Metro stop) in under 15 minutes. A few steps from the station, we passed through the huge and heavy door into Coptic Cairo. It was almost 4.00 pm and everyone was closing up shop. Still, we were free to wander the old walled city and thrilled that the streets were deserted.

We turned a corner and the air was filled with the scent of fresh oranges. A little girl ran out of a doorway, looked at us and said: "Orange." Not offering it to us, just showing us that she knew how to say orange, I guess. Thanks kid.

Women and children were gathered in a square, eating oranges, talking and mingling. No one said anything to us but we felt like we were intruding so we quietly turned around and left.

I don't know if the oranges were part of some pre-Christmas ritual or not but I do know that oranges from Sinai are in season and we've developed a bit of a habit. I must confess: we've been eating a kilo (or two) of them every couple of days...mmmm mmm. They are like the little oranges we call "kinn-oos" in Pakistan. The skins peel off without any effort and they are tart and fresh. But I digress...

One of the highlights of the visit was seeing the place where baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph took shelter when they fled Palestine. I realised I knew next to nothing about the early life of Jesus. My knowledge skipped from his birth to adult life. But nothing in between. I wanted to know more. So I googled it and here's an interesting article tracing his family's journey through the region:

All photos copyright Sufia Lodhi 2007

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