Friday is the new Sunday

25 Aug

-or, Three Cheers for Religious Freedom

-or, The Spies Who Fellowshipped Me

Christian churches here, including our own, go with the local culture and hold services on Fridays, the day that Muslims go to the mosque for prayer. So Friday is the new Sunday. It will be weird for three reasons: 1) it’s Friday, not Sunday; 2) we’ll go to church on the first day of the weekend (so I guess now Thursday is the special day we get ready for Friday); and 3) this will really throw a wrench in my usual Thursday night drunken debauchery, as now I have to wake up for church the next morning.

So we got up Friday morning and walked to church. The “church” is actually an unmarked villa only a few blocks from us – unmarked, because the LDS Church isn’t officially recognized by the Egyptian state (there are only three Christian churches that are recognized: (Coptic, Roman Catholic, and Presbyterian). That’s one of the swell things about Egypt – most of the buildings don’t have numbers on them, and many of the streets don’t either. Which makes it really great if you’re lost and need to get your bearings. Even better is the fact that no one here reads maps, so even if you pull one out they look at it pretty much the same way I look at anything in Arabic. If you ask someone for directions, they’re usually quite helpful in pointing you a certain direction – but it’s about 50/50 as to whether or not they actually know what they’re talking about, or are just trying to be hospitable. The location of the church isn’t really secret, and the government knows we’re here, but by law there can be nothing, including a sign, that might be construed as either direct or indirect proselytism. But in the end we were able to find the building based on other people’s descriptions – that, and the dozen or so pasty white Americans in dresses and white shirts & ties. I literally don’t think I had seen a minivan in all of Egypt until I went to a Mormon church, where I counted at least four parked outside.

There were about forty people at church, almost all white (I counted exactly one black woman, who turns out to be Sudanese). Partly it’s because it’s an American church, but also, as the branch president pointed out while he was conducting, Egyptian members, of which there are a few, aren’t allowed (by the government) to attend services. They can come to social functions, home teach and be home taught, etc., but they can’t attend Sabbath services, and both they and the church would get in trouble if they did and were found out.

Makes you (at least, me) think a bit about religious freedom. I often hear Americans, especially in July, pray that they are thankful to live in a country where they can worship as they please. I often regarded that as a mild form of jingoism, since I’ve pretty much taken freedom of conscience for granted. But it’s quite true that many, many people in this world live in countries where their choices as to public (and sometimes private) worship are more or less curtailed. There are lots of First Amendment issues that polarize Americans, but I think something that conservatives and liberals alike could agree upon are the basic human rights of freedom of conscience, speech, and worship. Those of you who are praying types might offer a prayer or two on behalf of those who can’t worship as they please, and everyone might think about supporting human rights groups, like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch, who work on behalf of basic human freedoms around the world. My own prayer is that God will open the door for true religious freedom here and around the world. That may or may not include the right to proselytize right away, as that can raise all kinds of issues related to power and neo-imperialism, but the basic human right to worship should be universal.

Anyhow, the church members here are extremely friendly, and we met virtually everyone. As I said, mostly Americans, with some New Zealanders and French thrown in for good measure. Mostly working for embassies (Melissa & I assume they’re all actually spies), plus a few international businessmen. Actually a fair number of students, mostly undergrads studying Arabic at AUC, which is cool. So it’s a nice mix of people, in terms of age, background, etc. One of the best things about church was that it was only two hours, although, alas, it will probably go back to three once everyone comes back from summer vacation. The old Mormon cliché of feeling at home wherever you go in the world was certainly true for us – it’s one of the benefits of hierarchy and correlation, although the potential attendant downside is the quashing of localisms in favor of an American corporate style. We both liked the branch and the people quite a bit, and look forward to getting as involved as we were in South Bend.

A family, Dave & Pam, invited us over for lunch, along with a really cool couple from New Zealand, Pita & Tasi (she’s actually American). Dave works for NCIS (some kind of Navy investigative unit – I think there’s a TV show?), which means he’s probably a spy. I really didn’t expect my first dinner conversation with church members in Egypt to be about polygamy, Mountain Meadows, or Mark Hoffman, but we managed to hit all of them in the space of about two and a half hours. Solid. It’s not the same as our traditional South Bend Sunday Dinners with the Andrews & Carriers, but it was really nice, and we felt immediately welcome.

After resting at home for a while, Pita & Tasi, who live in Zamalek (an island in the Nile just west of downtown, about a half hour’s drive-o’-death from our place), invited us over. We shared a car with a humanitarian service senior couple doing all kinds of fascinating and positive work through the auspices of LDS Charities. Some of their projects include providing wheelchairs for the handicapped, arranging for free medical care for poor people in rural communities, and serving a leper colony. They aren’t missionaries in the usual LDS sense, but strictly humanitarian specialists, and I really admire them for their dedication. Anyhow, they eventually found our apartment (even though our building, like the church, isn’t marked, and in fact has the exact same number as another building down the street, which is marked, which they sat in front of for fifteen minutes wondering where the heck we were). It was a really nice get-together at Pita & Tasi’s, with a few people from church and several other friends of theirs, including folks from New Zealand, England, Egypt, and Japan. Pita works for the New Zealand embassy, which also means he’s a spy. Although frankly, I’m not very afraid of New Zealand spies. Unless they’re from Mordor.

As Melissa said after we came home, “Everyone here is interesting!” Indeed. The Egyptians are interesting just because they are (to us), and the Westerners (and Pacificers) because it takes a certain kind of person to be willing (or gullible) enough to come here, and they often have fascinating backgrounds, experiences, and stories. So far we’re hanging out with Mormons and spies, and a few Mormon spies. Should be good times in the months ahead.

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9 Responses to “Friday is the new Sunday”

  1. mom & dad August 25, 2007 at 7:58 pm #

    Sounds like the beginning of a James Bond adventure! Patrick, I always felt there was a shifty look about you. It was there in the eyes. The way they glaze over when we put salsa in front of you. You’re probably right there in the thick of it with these possible spies! My first grandchild will probably come home to visit wearing a burnoose and little see-through walls spy sunglasses and put me through interrogation tortures before letting me change his diaper!

    But inquiring minds want to know the really important answer………. Melissa, was it the #1 shrimp in Egypt or not?????????????????

  2. Cody August 26, 2007 at 3:26 am #

    These posts are verbal gold, liquefied and consumed and sweated out of the pores of the internet gods.

  3. Miranda August 26, 2007 at 8:27 am #

    Patrick and Melissa–what a great idea to keep a blog so that the rest of us can share your adventures in lieu of our (or at least my) own lack of them.

    Provo is not really an adventure-inspiring place nor is it full of spies. It does have mountains, and I can’t get enough of staring at the Wasatch front after being in the midwest for so long. My big news for the week was that I finally moved into my office, and I do indeed have a fantastic view of Mt. Timpanogos as well as the Provo Temple and the new clock tower on the Hinckley Alumni building. I think I am going to ask the computer tech guys if they’ll move my office computer to the window so I can stare at the view while I write. Perhaps it will inspire great Anglo-Saxon scholarship or at least inspire me to come to school everyday.

    I am glad you like your ward (branch?). I enjoyed going to the local ward in York while I was in England, and I think I could have stayed and been quite happy helping out. Such optimism for my ward in Provo is requiring much more effort. It is good that one does not need an invitation to go to the temple, another benefit of a Provo residence.

    Enjoy all the new experiences–good and bad, and thanks for sharing.

  4. Melissa August 26, 2007 at 3:42 pm #

    The shrimp was quite good and #1 in the same way that I’m your #1 daughter. Of course, I never caused you King Tut’s revenge. I’ll spare you the details.

  5. Stacy August 26, 2007 at 5:06 pm #

    Your Friday/Sundays seem much more exciting than our Sundays here, unless, of course you count a dog straying in Sacrament Meeting or Miles, Jim and Dan falling asleep all at once! We may have some of our own spies right here in the South Bend Ward, but we just don’t know it. I’ll be looking closer at people from now on. 🙂 I’m sure the Branch is ecstatic that you are there and will put you to work immediately.

    Thanks for this blog. It makes us all feel all the closer to you!

  6. Janae August 26, 2007 at 7:52 pm #

    I agree with everyone this blog is fantastic. Thank you so much for taking the time to write all about your experiences… yet sparing us your “King Tut’s Revenge” woes. yikes!

  7. Janae August 26, 2007 at 7:54 pm #

    Sorry for the double post. I accidently submitted before being ready. I was going to say next time you are out and about looking for a place- lost and afraid you should bust out the “Safety Dance” and everything will be alright

  8. Patrick August 26, 2007 at 9:04 pm #

    Good point, Janae. The Safety Dance cures all ills, and is officially recognized as the International Dance of Goodwill in at least 147 countries. If we’re ever in danger (not that we are, parental types), I’ll bust it out — what could be more safe?

    Glad to hear you’re settling in, Miranda. We’re not sure if there are mountains around here. I don’t think so, but since visibility is usually less than half a mile due to pollution, we could be living at the base of the Alps and have no idea. No pyramid sightings yet.

    Interesting theme we have running here in the comments, between Cody’s liquid gold and Melissa’s pharaonic revenge.

  9. emilycon7 September 28, 2015 at 6:19 pm #

    Hello, This is a more related to the De niro page but I am unable to leave a comment on that page. If any other church members or other people are looking for a place to stay, they should go to airbnb. You have the option of using your facebook acount to login. It pulls up either peoples houses/apartments or hotels. You have the option of selecting for how many days. There are a lot of good deals on here. Works out really well if either as a last minute or trying to prepare in advance.

    Best,
    Emily

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