I haven’t managed to capture any photos yet, but one of the thing that absolutely blows my mind/amazes/terrifies me is the way that people will pile on motor scooters here. The other day, I saw four young men all lined up in a row cruising down the street. Today, I saw a whole family–the little girl in the front, dad driving, mom holding on behind. I’ve even seen women with tiny babies. One evening earlier this week, I giggled to myself while walking down the street while two young men who were on the pudgier side flew down the street, going the wrong way on a one way. These scooters are everywhere and, often, are a faster way to travel than by taxi. Even if it means squeezing together to make room for one more.
It will be a long time, like probably never, before I ride one of these scooters. But what I have and continue to experience is a “there’s always room for one more” mentality when it comes to hospitality. There’s always room for one more at the table. There’s always room for one more for tea. There’s always time to talk. As my friend Peter told us when we were considering the move to Cairo, Cairenes can talk.
Sometimes, it’s funny. Like when the taxi driver on the way to Mar Gargis (Coptic Cairo) today really tried to convince us that he could wait and take us back home when we were done. “No, no,” we said. “I can wait,” he said. “No, no,” we said. “I can wait,” he said. My strategy is to say “shukran” (thank you) and walk away. Justin hasn’t quite mastered that. After paying the driver, I started walking away and Justin caught up, saying “the la finally convinced him.” (La is a very firm no in Arabic).
Sometimes, it makes you realize that you really have stepped out of “normal” and into a whole new life. After visiting the old churches of Coptic Cairo, we sat on a bench sharing a bottle of water and a bag of chips. One of the vendors started chatting with us and pretty soon we were in his shop being offered tea. We declined the tea, and though we didn’t buy anything today, if you’re ever in the market for some beautiful handicrafts in Cairo, I’ve got his card. This total stranger invited us for tea and was totally ready to serve it had we not insisted that we really did need to get going. It is an experience to be on the receiving end of such hospitality.
Our visit to Coptic Cairo was incredible. The oldest synagogue in Cairo is part of the compound. A spring on the site is supposedly where Moses’ basket was found. There are several churches, some of them with columns or other bits of architecture that date back well over one thousand years. Relics line the aisles and the iconography is stunning. Only the Hanging Church allowed photos, a few of which are shared on my Shutterfly site. The compound is so old that you walk down a flight of stairs to reach the street level. Several churches claim to be sites along which the Holy Family stopped in their journey through Egypt. One has a window in the floor to show the spring from which the Holy Family drank. We watched as a young woman walked along a wall of relics, kissing her fingers before carefully touching each one. In the Hanging Church, a grandmother showed her two young grandchildren around. The little girl, probably about 4, prayed in front of an icon, mirroring what Grandma did, down to crossing herself at the end. A few minutes later, we watched as Grandma pointed out the saints in an icon, teaching her grandchildren the story of a family in Christ that is larger than they can even imagine. In a place with so much history, hearing those little voices and witnessing that moment was a reminder of the ways our stories continue to unfold and play out and intersect. As we marveled at architecture that dates back centuries, its hard not to think about all of the faithful who have gathered to worship in these churches for more than a millennium.
Several kilometers north, our own little church is over one hundred years old. And over the course of a week, several different congregations worship there, in five different languages (English, Arabic, Nuer, Dinka, and Amharic). And though we worship in our own languages and traditions, there is a bond that we share as God’s people in this place. People who gather in Jesus’ name, people who place our trust in the promises of the cross and the empty tomb. Every time I meet with one of the members of our sister congregations, I am filled with the gospel message that they preach to me. I am filled with gratitude for the ways that they teach me about faith. I hear Scripture in a new way, and yet am reminded of promises that have been repeated over and over again. Do not be afraid; you are loved; God goes with us where ever we go. It’s good work that I am called to do and I am so blessed to do it along side deeply faithful people who come from so many different places.
Earlier this week, I met with some of the women from the Nuer congregation. We talked about blessings. They told me about the blessings they give to their peers and to their children. They embraced me. They welcomed me as a sister and as a daughter. They are amazing women and eventually I’ll share some of their stories.
From seemingly reckless scooter drivers to Egyptian grandmas to Nuer women gathering in a quiet sanctuary to vendors who invite you for tea, I’m reminded every day that there’s always room for one more. And that’s a pretty good thing to remember.