Friday, September 15, 2006

Home Again

I am just back in Cairo.

It has been a complicated and often difficult period away. My daughter Kim is recovering so well. Her burns are healing and though she must wear pressure bandages for some time on her arms, her face is unscarred.

My husband has had his hip replacement and other than enduring lots of 'hip' jokes - 'hip hip away', 'into hip hop', all 'hip and trendy' and so on - he is recovering well. He walks with a stick - when he remembers it. He has stayed in Australia on doctor's recommendations. Clotting is a serious risk after such surgery, and he has a meeting in Canberra that he must attend in early October. One flight would be a reasonable risk - three is pushing the envelope. He will return after the meeting in mid October.

I have done my time around hospitals. I am not willing to spend time in another for at least a month or so. I have moved something like ten times, stayed in three houses, four flats, and a smattering of hotels - oh - and a hospital hostel. In that time I managed to make ten quilts - though three of these were tiny. Thanks to the generosity of Bernina I have sewn on round tables, dressing tables, small square tables and lacking my usual design wall I have draped pieces all over beds, floors, and curtains.

I made nine for tACTile - the ACT group of quilt artists I work with - as these will start to travel in January and we need to have photography done.

The other was a quilt for Kim. My lovely Southern Cross Quilters group on the internet, joined by a large number of Canberra Quilters, had sent 'healing hearts' - a six inch (finished) block with a green heart (Kim's choice of colour) on a cream background. I joined them into a stunning queen sized quilt with a deep green border - and quilted it - in my last three days. A friend is binding it for me and will send it to Kimbi. Photos will follow as soon as I find Kate's Bible and follow instructions to do that as I have forgotten how!

We flew in over Egypt and across the desert to the south, banked just in time to make sure we couldn't see the pyramids, then flew into what looked like a large dark grey bowl upended over the city. One of the things I have not missed is Cairo smog.

This was 'official' travel as it had intended to be our midterm leave, so I was met by one of our lovely embassy drivers whose wife is due to deliver their new daughter any day and the conversation was all on pregnancies and deliveries. The sun was just risen as we drove in through the silent Friday morning, and buildings were bathed in golden light. It was almost romantic if you could just get past the dirt and rolladoors.

I checked email, showered and slept for a few hours. I have visitors arriving within a few hours of my arrival and they wish to spend the afternoon at the Khan. It was about this stage that I realised that I have absolutely no Egyptian money.

I walked the short block to the Bank Misr on the corner. At I drew level with it I was looking in an absent-minded way at the circular holes in the glorious polished dark green stone that surfaces the underside of the portico over the road. It is the sort of marble that we might use - at huge expense - to surface a kitchen bench top in Australia. Here it faces the building and even covers the undersides of the portico! I was wondering why they had cut circular holes in it, then realised they might be in the sort of locations that woudl take a light, and wondered why they were fitting new lights. Then I looked down as I stepped up to the footpath level from the road I was walking on.

They have bricked up my bank. Worse - the handiteller was gone. A sign says that the bank is being rebuilt but it is in the 'total destruction' phase inside from what I could see. Probably the equivalent of the stage of tidying my bedside drawers where I upend the lot on the bed in the theory that I then cannot sleep till the drawers are sorted!

OK. I thought 'I can cope with this - after all this is the Middle East and you need to be resilient. I will go on to Saudi supermarket and get some money from their handiteller (which works about a third of the time).'

Saudi was closed. Saudi is NEVER closed except between 2.00 am and 7.30 am. Oh - and midday prayer time on Friday. Perhaps a good clue would have been the street outside at the cross road covered with green plastic mats and men in prayer.

Prayer time shifts according to sunrise - and because I have been away I have no idea when the midday prayers are at the moment. It was hot in the sun.

Cairo has such a long hot summer. I had been watching temperatures while away and worrying about the unremitting heat - 37 to 40 most days and not showing signs of letting up. The asphalt at the crossroads is deeply embedded with bottle tops which have just quietly sunk into the tarmac, and I suspect archaeological digs of the future will reveal perfectly protected bottle tops embedded like nuts in peanut brittle and up to fifteen centimetres deep. Here the caps are all from soft drinks - in Australia they would be from beer bottles.

As prayer time approaches all over Cairo people spread green plastic mats over the tarmac (without which I suspect archaeologists of the future might also find embedded knees)and left just enough space on one edge for the omnipresent taxis to squeeze through. This is to take the overflow from the small mosques and prayer rooms on suburban corners like ours in Zamalek.

In a bid to get out of the sun I walked into the crowded coffee shop on the corner - Costas. It was cool and airconditioned and very pleasant. It smelt of terrific coffee. I explained my 'no Egyptian money' predicament and asked if I could sit and wait till Saudi opened. No problem.

Then a waiter walked over to tell me that Saudi would be half an hour. Would I like a drink? I pulled out American money, Australian money and even some leftover rand. No problem. Pay later. I chose an iced coffee which was utterly delicious and texted my good friend Dagmar complaining that someone had bricked up my bank while I was away, and that the alternative was behind locked doors during prayer time.

She wrote back mentioning the "battle between God and Mammon!" At this point I realised it was churlish to complain. Despite the importance of God in modern day Cairo, He only rates half an hour a week when He becomes more important than the matters of commerce. I was in an airconditioned coffee shop packed with chatting students, drinking a coffee on credit (welcome to Egypt!) and life was really pretty good.

I watched the beautifully choreographed prayers from my very secular viewpoint. Stand. Hands flipped up, palms forward. Kneel. Prostrate from kneeling position. Hold for one minute. Up to knees. Hold. Stand. Repeat whole sequence five times. While watching I realised that very few Australians would show their devotion to their religion on a street corner. Here it felt very natural.

The whole sequence of prayer in Islam - clean hands, face and feet, pray five times a day in sets of five and including a sequence of movements designed to keep men limber - makes so much sense as a guarantee of cleanliness, fitness, and social reliance on a set of rules intended maintain a social structure, to say nothing of a belief in God. Here and there an older man stood and bowed his head when others dropped to their knees. I suspect these were men who couldn't get down, or feared that if they did they would not get up.

It was a nice welcome home - a bit of everything that Egypt could throw at me in a morning. Smog, a beautiful dawn, the affection of a very nice driver, a bricked up bank, Friday prayers, and then a coffee with a relaxed 'pay later' attitude that might be greeted with suspicion elsewhere in the world.

Prayers ended, the supermarket opened, I found the handiteller working perfectly, and am now awaiting my friends and a visit to the Khan.

Life is good.


Blogger :-D eirdre said...

I'm glad to see you are back and that Life Is Good - you've been missed!

7:41 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Judym Tassie,


Glad your daughter is healing well, so many quilts in the travels. Your morning in Cairo sounded frustrating and fascinating all at the same time.

3:10 pm  
Blogger Helen from Canberra said...


It is oh so good to have you back. Every day I have looked in your blog and was beginning to give up hope but this morning there you were it was like finding an old friend. Glad to hear that your daughter and husband are on the road to recovery. Keep well.

Love Helen

PS The weather in ACT at present is absolutely superb, today is 21o.

3:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Jenny,

It is so good to have you back and to know that your daughter is progressing well, and that your husband is over his op. Fantastic that you have managed to make quilts through it all, and thankyou for your picture of life in Cairo.

Margaret in NZ

6:32 pm  
Blogger teri springer said...

So happy you are safely back and Kim is well on the road to recovery. While I normally would not wish pain on anyone, in the case of burns, pain is a good means the burns are not full thickness and the nerve endings are preserved (I worked the burn unit a long time ago). And dad has two new ones and they are serving him well. Your DH is much younger and I am sure the new hip will be a grand improvement once he is totally healed.

Again, welcome back; you were greatly missed.


11:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dearest Jenny:

Like everyone else I am SO thrilled to have you back and to know that both Kim and Bob are making such good progress. I have literally checked your blog every single day, waiting for news and it is all obviously very good news indeed. Now I look forward to seeing the photos of the quilts, and specially the one made for Kim.

Big hugs, Tena

4:57 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another Scquilter glad to see you back on air - and glad to hear your daughter and husband are on the mend. I have enjoyed your blogs for some time now, and have missed your sensitive descriptions of your Cairo times, and the local people. Looking forward to more tales and glorious photos. All the best, Sue

6:48 pm  
Blogger Deb H said...

I've missed your postings.I'm glad you're back.Welcome home. I hope all goes well for both you & your family.

1:13 am  

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