Monday, July 17, 2006


I have been teaching and traveling. I had a week in Lyon, in France, for the Quilt Expo which was run in part by Quilts Inc who run the huge quilt show in Houston. Then a few days back in Cairo and to South Africa, seven days in Port Elizabeth, then three in Cape Town with a traveling day between. I am back now, but will be on the move again in a few days. More on that later.

There is a small boy who has appeared in our area of Zamalek. He is very little, and I would guess at his age being somewhere between four and seven, though if it is seven he is very small for his age. I first saw him going through roughly tied rubbish bags at the side of the road in the street where I live. It seemed odd - he was too small to be one of the usual street children. Even more surprising, when I approached he ran and huddled against a wall looking frightened, where the more usual street children might have asked for food or money.

I moved on that time, only a bit concerned that I had frightened him. He was very small, dark and obviously Egyptian with the large and melting eyes that are utterly compelling and which plead without even trying. He was scruffy and dirty. He has no shoes, and his trousers are stained and too short. He has a shirt which was once green and the sleeves are too long for his arms, a look that exaggerates how little he is.

I saw him another couple of times. Once curled with his hand in his mouth and a face that looked as if he had been crying and sound asleep in a pile of rather nasty garbage. An hour later I saw him with some of the guards from a nearby office. I stopped to ask where he had come from and one of the men gave an expressive shrug. I asked where was his mother and one of the others said that no-one knew. I asked how long he had been in the area and one of the men said about two weeks.

I went to the shop and bought a pack of freshly baked small pizzas, yoghurt and plastic teaspoons. I asked the men to give some to him and eat some themselves and they thanked me and said that they were watching that he got some food every day.

I talked about him to Bob and he suggested that if I pointed him out he would contact one of the agencies that look after street children. It was shortly after that that I had to leave for Lyon and I have not seen him since. The sadness that has struck me every time I think of him is that he was not wanted by his family, and that he was abandoned with the sort of casual disregard with which some westerners would discard a puppy that had been digging up the garden. He was so obviously unprepared for life on the streets, frightened and unable to beg, and yet perhaps that was in his favour as he was very endearing. The only thing that I can forgive his family for is that he was brought to a prosperous area with possibly more generous garbage than most.

I have just discovered that he was taken home to be looked after by one of the guards I spoke to. He said that his wife has only one girl, and he liked the little boy. It is so good to hear a happy ending.

There is another little boy who works on a corner near one of the main supermarkets. He sells flowers and is obviously part of a family who operates that corner. He is about ten, lanky, with a crop of curly hair and awkward and sharp and funny. I shop there occasionally and every time he runs up to ask me to buy his roses, or carnations, or larkspurs - or whatever is growing that week. He knows that I will never buy as I go into the shop but he gets an "In'sh'Allah" when he tries to pin me down to promise to buy later when I come out.

I meet many people who find this expression infuriating. It is impossible to get a promise from an Egyptian without "In'sh'Allah" being tacked on. Literally it means 'If God wills it" and many visitors to Egypt see it as the ultimate cop-out, the way of excusing themselves if they choose to. It is sometimes translated as 'maybe' but the more I live here the more I like it. In the west we tend to promise without thinking of the things that might go wrong. Then when cars break down, or children are sick, or any of the many things that can make us break appointments happen, we excuse ourselves. Egyptians promise with the rider that implies that they will of course be there, if nothing goes wrong. In some ways I find this a more honest promise than ours, and it is becoming an automatic part of my speech.

This little flower boy knows me very well, and he will always be there when I come out with his ridiculously cheap bunches of roses. So often I find myself carrying far more than I can reasonably manage, with wet and soggy newspaper unwrapping itself as I walk, and long and vicious thorns dragging into my arms. By the time I have gone two blocks there is no comfortable way to carry them left, and the last few blocks are painful. It is about this point that I remember that he carries twice as many all the time, and he is very small and they are very sharp.

I was in Africa last week when my lovely daughter Kim was badly burnt while burning off long grass on their country block. She was rushed to hospital by ambulance as her husband was afraid to even touch her. She spent a day and a half in Intensive Care and was so afraid that out reaction would be to jump straight on a plane to rush to her that she would not allow her husband to tell us that she had been hurt. She was airlifted to Concord Burns Unit a few days ago.

She has second degree burns to her arms, neck and face. I was intending to rush straight from Cape Town, but she begged me not to, pointing out that she was not in danger, that there were so many family members around her, and that she might need me more later. It was hard, but I taught the last class and packed and came back to Cairo. I am booked to travel on Wednesday, though even those bookings were hard to get. I will be in Sydney on Thursday.

Bob has gone to Damascus with others from the Embassy to try to set up ways to help Australians caught in Lebanon to get out through Syria. At the moment he has no idea how this is to be done. Every border point has problems and the team from the Embassy here - which looks after Syria - will have to play it by ear. Most are probably safer just staying where they are. There is a lot of "In'sh'Allah" in the Middle East.

Kim is recovering well, though she has a lot of pain and a long road to travel, but somehow all those children encapsulate her for me at the moment, and any kindness I can show feels as if I am helping my daughter. It is funny how trivial the small stuff is when someone you love is hurt.

And I still call Australia home.


Anonymous debbie jordan, elf4 said... are always able to tell us a little about some world breaking news stories with a lot of inside to the real human tragedy behind the news....often it brings tears to my eyes, and this story about the little boy did that, as did hearing about your daughter and about the plight of real people being stuck in lebanon....thankyou for your insight......sending hugs and healing to you and your daughter and family......

10:19 am  
Blogger Tonya R said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your daughter - I'm glad you will be able to be with her. Safe travelling.

2:46 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dearest Jenny:

This posting has me with tears streaming down my cheeks: first of all with the story of the little boy and then with the news of Kim.

Have a safe journey home: our thoughts & prayers will be with you

Big hugs Tena

4:24 pm  
Blogger Sarah Ann Smith said...

Safe travel for you and blessed and quicker-than-anticipated healing for Kim, and a family for the little boy.

A friend's husband, an American, was caught in Beirut while on a trip that I believe was sponsored by USAID, about forestry and establishing something comparable to the Appalachian Trail in the US. He was due to leave last Saturday, until the airport got bombed, and was there until just today when he was on the first US Marines' helicopter out....

I remember being abroad as as US Dip. all too well... travel safely, and prayers to you all...

Cheers, Sarah

8:55 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jenny it was good to chat in Lyon.
Thanks for the news of the little boy and the flower people. I can picture them in my mind and have often bought flowers from these great people.

My prayes and thoughts are with you as you support Kim. It is great to travel but the distance from family and loved ones is a difficult price to pay.

Glad you were able to get a plane at such short notice.

God bless

5:15 pm  
Blogger Helen from Canberra said...

Dear Jenny,

I too have tears in my eyes as I read yur posting. No matter how much your daughter has told you not to rush home she will be so happy to see you, after all there is no one like our mum especially when we are in trouble I still talk to my mum even though she is long since gone from this earth.

Love Helen

4:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jenny, I was fascinated by your blog entries about life in Cairo. I just picked up a New Zealand Quilter magazine (#52) today (July-22-06) at a local (Seattle, WA. USA) quilt store and decided to follow the advise in the magazine and check out your page. I have traveled quite a lot around the world but never lived anywhere but here in the Pacific Northwest.
I love to quilt and teach quilting from time to time locally. I just returned from Quilt Hawaii where I taught two 1/2 day classes and took three other classes as well. In a month I will be traveling to New Zealand to visit friends. One is a quilter I met on a trip to Queeenstown in 2003. Quilters are the most friendly and giving people I know!
I will be checking in for more of your continuing story.

3:07 pm  
Blogger teri springer said...

Oh Jenny, I am so sorry to hear about Kim. At the same time I am very grateful that she is in a country where she is getting good burn care. As a former trauma/burn nurse, I know that, sadly, there are very few places in the world that offer the quality of medical and, specifically burn care of the level you can get in the US/Canada or Australia.

And I am so happy to hear the little boy found a family. It is sad with so many people wanting children that others would just toss a precious gift from God/Allah out on the street.

Please let us know how Kim is doing. I know there will be plenty of people praying for her.

teri in michigan- with family/friends in Lebanon

11:45 pm  
Blogger brdhsbldr said...

Having just adopted a poor little mistreated kitten someone discarded at our gate, I am so touched that a child could be likewise discarded. It is gratifying to know a family has taken him in and we pray for him a good life.
I will be remembering you and your daughter in her healing, and your husband in his crucial work at this unsettled time.

9:15 am  
Anonymous Judym said...


You have opened my eyes to another world as well as expande my quilting knowledge. As a mother of three grown daughters my heart goes out to you and your daughter. I pray she will be healed soon.

4:46 pm  
Blogger Shirley Goodwin said...

Jenny, I have an idea that you're teaching at the Symposium here in NZ in January - if so, I look forward to meeting you there. So sorry to hear aabout your daughter, and I hope she's healing. Your blog is so different from the ones I usually read and your life there so different from our well-ordered and ordinary lives. I enjoy reading it.

10:22 am  
Blogger brdhsbldr said...

Well, Jenny, it's a very long time since you were on here and we are still remembering you and your daughter.

12:49 pm  

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