A Challenging View
Above is an image reflecting the view I have each time I leave the offices of Refuge Egypt here in Cairo. Below is another image which features some of the beneficiaries of the programme.
The first image, you may conclude, is not particularly arresting. Nor is it colourful, or feature any immediately recognisable Egyptian landmark. Moreover, it was captured a few hours ago on what has probably been the dullest, dampest day since my arrival in Egypt two weeks ago. I have reason for sharing it, however.
To the right is a partial view of All Saints' Cathedral. In the centre foreground is a tree. In the lower middle portion partially nestling in behind the cathedral is a very pleasant restaurant known as "Granita", where I have dined frequently since my arrival. Behind that a residential apartment block rises up in the background, and next to it, to the right, you can catch a glimpse of another sandy coloured high-rise building.It is the Marriot Hotel. I have dined there too, and even stayed on one occasion.
Why am I telling all this? Let me try and explain...
Being alone on this trip has caused me to reflect upon what I am involved in here, and who I am involved with, perhaps rather more than if I was part of a group. The individuals featured in the 2nd image are, as I have already intimated, beneficiaries of the Refuge Egypt programme to which I referred in my first blog. They are refugees. They are victims of a phenomenon of displacement as old as our planet. Even Jesus, Mary and Joseph at one point were predecessors of those attending Refuge Egypt today. Some might recall they fled into Egypt to avoid the wrath of King Herod.
Those in the picture are mostly, although not exclusively women. The programme however assists not only women, but men, children, and young people, whole families, a complete spectrum.Those to whom I was teaching English earlier this evening are mostly men.
So why then the first image? The one which is becoming increasingly familiar to me as I leave the offices each day. Put simply it is this: To me, what I see leaving the office is representative of those things which the refugees have left behind, and which they may or may not ever recover or enjoy fully again.
First the church. What does it represent? I suggest it represents community. It is a place where those of common values and outlook can meet, worship and also enjoy fellowship, one with another. This week I came across the story of a young man from Sudan who is a student within the Refuge Egypt programme. He is a Dinka, one of the major tribal groups in South Sudan. They have their own distintictive language and culture. He said that the worst part of being a forced migrant in Egypt is being cut off from "real life". For him, this can happen only in South Sudan, nowhere else. Everything else is but a shadow because he is now outside his tribe. The fellowship and sense of community he once enjoyed with his peers has been taken from him against his will.
The second aspect of the picture I have referred to is the palm tree. To my mind this symbolises creation, the outdoors, space and freedom. Whatever the background of those attending Refuge Egypt, 'The Great Outdoors' is probably a thing of the past. They are now living in a city of more than 20 million people which is choked with dust and pollution. The traffic, the crowds of people and confusion are a far cry from being able to sit under a tree and contemplate.
The restaurant to which I refer is one where delicious food of the highest quality, both Arabic and Western, is readily available. By our standards it is inexpensive but it is unimaginably beyond the expectation of many of those fleeing to Cairo that they could ever dine in a place like this.
The same can be said of the apartments featured in the picture. I have been in some of them. They are well apportioned and broadly comparable to the homes of many people in Europe and North America. Accommodation like this is a far cry from the places where many of Egypt's refugee population lay their head.
Finally the Marriot. Most of us, and I admit it, some more than others, like the occasional holiday. We like to travel somewhere, de-stress and enjoy a break from the pressures of everyday life. Those who find themselves living as refugees in Cairo and in other cities around the world have not travelled for pleasure. They travel as a last resort. They are fleeing from a multitude of assaults on the lives they would much prefer to be living, to embark on a new and overwhelmingly challenging existence.
Organisations like Refuge Egypt and the Diocese of Egypt through their staff are with great dedication doing what they can to ease the pain and suffering born of this challenge. Spare a thought for those working with refugees not only here in Cairo but across the globe. Spare a thought to for the refugees themselves... And for those reading this who still pray, take a few moments to say one for them tonight.
Nigel is taking part in a four-week placement with the Diocese of Egypt. You can read his other blogs here.