On Copts, Endings, and Beginnings

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So the end of the semester is rapidly approaching and pulling the rug right out from underneath me. I feel like I have barely even had a chance to settle in and already things are coming to a close. I had a bit of a mid-program crisis last week when in the middle of my homework when I realized that I’m not having full, comprehensible conversations in Arabic yet as I had dreamed I would at the beginning of the program. Then I calmed down a little and realized that I could barely read at the beginning of the summer. Now I can tackle four pages of metaphor on the Egyptian revolution – which was handed to us this morning in class, مش مشكلة (no problem!). And of course, this is just the jump start. الحمد لالله (Thanks be to God), there is still all of next semester to figure out how to say “life affirming conversation” in Arabic.

In the meantime though, big travel plans are in the works for August. I have had the pleasure of meeting several wonderful people from around the globe through this program – all of whom (except Jessica!) will be leaving after the end of summer

Three of my traveling buddies for August – Uma, Maryam, and Aaron

classes, but not before a few of us get to blaze trails together.  I will talk more about that next week before the adventure begins. But first, I am leaving tomorrow to spend a long weekend in Athens and surrounds with the one and only Jenna Haimes. Some of you might better know her as Thoroughly Modern Mille from the Stagedoor show, or as up and coming Broadway star – I’m telling you, keep tabs on this one. Jenna has been working as an au pair in Switzerland for the summer so we decided to meet roughly halfway and do some romping together. I’m so excited I can’t sleep – I’ve been researching Greek gods for the past week and a half now.

But enough of all that stuff, I have a little catching up to do. Last time I uploaded we had just returned from the weekend in Ain Sokhna. I said in my last post that the hotel in Alexandria was the fanciest place I had ever stayed, which was true, but the hotel in Ain Sokhna topped beat it out by a long shot. You know it’s fancy if there is a pool twenty feet from the beach (I still don’t understand that logic) and if they hire people whose sole job is to ref your beach volleyball games. My favorite part of the weekend was a visit that we paid to the Saint Anthony monastery about 2 hours away from the hotel in the middle of the desert. This is where the idea of monasticism started in around the 3rdcentury AD. The story goes that Saint Paul had been living in the Egyptian desert as a hermit for most of his life subsisting only on a half a loaf of bread brought to him by a crow every morning. Saint Anthony had been living in the desert for some time as well and thought he was completely alone, until he received a vision from God telling him of Saint Paul. God told Saint Anthony in a dream that Paul was dying and that he should go be with him in his last days and when Saint Anthony woke from his dream a bird was at his windowsill. Saint Anthony followed the bird to Saint Paul and during the time the two men were together, Saint Paul’s crow brought a full loaf of bread for them to share. After Saint Paul died Saint Anthony gave him a proper burial and then went on to found the first monastery of Saint Paul at his grave site. The monastery that we visited was the second

Maximillian showing off the glass floor revealing the archeological site underneath.

monastery and was founded at the end of Saint Anthony’s life. Our tour guide was Maximillian, one of the monks at the monastery – and incidentally candidate for the next Coptic pope. He was possibly one of the most joy-filled people I have ever run into. Giddy is the only way I could describe his attitude in explaining the history of the monastery and of Copts in Egypt. And when he revealed that the floor we were standing on in the main chapel was actually a glass pane revealing the archeological site underneath the church, there was an almost theatrical flourish in the manner he pulled the rug away revealing centuries-old monk’s quarters under excavation. Copts make up about ten percent of the population of Egypt and have a truly fascinating history that I am hoping to research further during my stay here. There is a Coptic church across the street from the student housing which I went to this weekend with a friend. We managed to make it between weddings – for some reason there have been Copts getting hitched there almost every day this past week.

The ALI group with Father Maximillian at Saint Anthony’s

Speaking of religion, Ramadan is starting this weekend on the 20th and lanterns have started to go up all across the city. Apparently Cairo is famous for one of the most festive Ramadan traditions in the world and there is a definite buzz in the city. We went down to the souk for a nighttime stroll last week and nearly every store was selling some version of فانوس رمضان (Ramadan lanterns) which I have been told is the Muslim version of Christmas lights. My favorite part of the beginning of Ramadan has been the abundance of honey-soaked sweets that have begun to appear in storefronts, classrooms, and my belly. I think they could be right when Egyptians here claim to have the best desserts in the world.

Lanterns in Khan al-Khalili. Not the Ramadan variety, but pretty nonetheless.

There will be a lot more to write about after the weekend, but I guess I’d like to take this opportunity now to wish me mum a happy early birthday. She is old and grey-haired and wise now and her birthday is next Monday the 22nd, so be sure and send her lots of old person jokes and the like. As they say here, كل السنة و أنتي طيبة – may you be well and have another year mom!

This one is for you mom. Happy early b-day.


3 responses to “On Copts, Endings, and Beginnings

  1. I’m touched! Birthday ripples! Thanks! (I need to know precisely where they are for full geo-enjoyment, however . . . . !) Love-

  2. Stephen your pictures are absolutely beautiful!!!! That’s amazing you get to hop over to Athens. If you want to know all about the Greek gods/goddesses, just watch this video:

    Hahaha 🙂 but really, we watched this in my Greek Mythology class.
    Ramadan in Boulder hasn’t been quite as festive, but I was wondering where our evening regulars have been! We have a huge crew of Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti people who come in and get white mochas and passion tea lemonades. I swear they keep us in business.
    I’m impressed by your Arabic skills already! I’m sure by December you’ll be amazing at it. I’m so excited to start Arabic classes in a month!

    I love reading about all your amazing adventures.

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