(Belly)Dancing in the Aisles

14 Dec

Among other things that kept us away from blogging recently, we’ve been up to our ears planning the annual conference for young single adults in our church’s Amman, Jordan district. We lead the small YSA group here in Cairo and figured we’d be putting together activities for maybe 10-12 people total.

Last Thursday, our group 0f 35 arrived from all corners of the district: Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Israel. We had Americans studying abroad in various places, as well as Arab members visiting from their home countries. We had some preparing for missions and others who had been hanging on by a thread and jumped at a free trip to Cairo. Families in the Cairo branch offered beds and sleeping bags, so I farmed our group out around Maadi.

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On Friday, we met again for church. It was a fasting day (in our church, we fast for the first sabbath of the month), but some of singles didn’t realize this so we had a lot of crankiness to deal with. Patrick’s favorite complaint was from an Israeli student who said he wasn’t used to fasting on Friday, only on Saturday (the Sabbath in Israel) so he didn’t know if he could do it.  I personally enjoyed catching a group about to sneak out and go buy lunch.  Luckily I had stocked up on juice boxes and snacks and handed them out in the kitchen to hungry people.

The theme of the conference was service and wisdom so the Lindseys, who are humanitarian missionaries and helped a ton with conference planning, and Patrick gave seminars, while I walked around taking pictures. We took a felucca ride that evening, hoping for the usual orange sunset over the Nile. Of course, Friday ended up being the only overcast day of the year, not to mention the most polluted and windless. So we ended up idling in the middle of the Nile for an hour. Andrew and Nancy had prepared a nice devotional and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves anyways. By the time we got back to the chapel we were starving. Several families had gotten together and prepared a lasagna dinner that was soooo good. I took Finn home and put him to bed while everyone stayed and played games. One of our Cairo women, Caitlin, did a great job getting everything excited and involved.

Saturday was a touristy day. We headed out to the pyramids, which everyone was really excited about (except for the Cairo people, who were like “do we have to go the pyramids AGAIN?!” Ungrateful!). We had warned people about all the scams people try to run out there, including acting official and asking for your ticket then refusing to give it back without payment. I was standing on the pyramid plateau after sending everyone off to explore when I saw a man approach a tourist demanding to see her ticket. She seemed unsure and then started pulling out her ticket so I called over to her that it was a scam and to walk away. The guy turned as she scurried off and started screaming at me that it wasn’t my business. I had been kind of tense and frustrated because of all the planning and feeling at times like I was babysitting, so I let loose on the guy. I screamed back at him until a policeman came and pushed him away. Man, it felt good.

Patrick, Finn and I wandered around the pyramids for a bit. It was Finn’s first time there and he seemed entirely unimpressed. I just kept thinking how lucky we are to be having this whole Egypt experience. I often wish we were closer to home, but being here is pretty wow. Patrick stopped to put sunscreen on and hopped on what he joked was “this ancient bench.” We laughed until I looked closer and saw the faded heiroglyphics on the side. It was indeed an ancient bench.

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We went for our first camel ride and it was TERRIFYING!. Everyone else looked totally at ease and happy, whereas I was about to fall off at any minute. I was gripping so hard with my arms and legs that they started to go wobbly after a few minutes. Our camel seemed to be lopsided which didn’t help. I couldn’t even scream, I was so terrified. I just kind of whimpered. I could sense Patrick rolling his eyes behind me. Finally I realized I was sitting way to far forward and once I scooted back a few inches, I was totally fine and started enjoying the ride. We went out into the desert and got some great views. There was something truly amazing about heading out into nothing but desert and having the busy city disappear behind you. Our camel was really into putting his face in other camel’s butts, which was pretty gross to watch.  After the ride we headed over the Sphinx for a few minutes and then to Pizza Hut for lunch.

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Our next stop was the Khan al-Khalili. On the way, we realized that the two buses we were using had self-segregated, with the Arabs on one and the white people on the other. Our bus was definitely the party bus. They turned up the Arabic tunes and started singing and clapping. At the Khan we told them over and over what time and where to meet, then let them loose, knowing that there would be a problem getting back  together at the appointed time. Several people had made it clear that they didn’t care about times, schedules, rules, or anything that didn’t mesh with what they wanted so we knew we would have a problem.

I’ve been to the Khan a ton, most recently a week ago, so I wasn’t in shopping mode and neither was Patrick (big surprise there). So we perched at a famous cafe, Fishawi’s, and had lemon juices with mint and fed Finn. The appointed time to meet came and went. A half hour later,the four people that we suspected would be late finally sauntered up. I didn’t even bother to hide my anger and let one of them have it. She was repentent and promised they wouldn’t be a problem anymore (and they weren’t!). To give her credit, the Khan is probably one of the most confusing places on earth and it’s easy to get lost. But all you have to do is ask people where al-Husayn mosque is and they’ll point you right back out to the entrance.

By the time we headed back, it was dark and our Arab party bus was really ready to party. One guy, Morad, had bought a drum and started beating out a rhythm. Ibrahim borrowed a bellydancing scarf and attempted to belly-dance. Unfortunately for him, the bus braked suddenly and he went flying. Everyone was dancing and singing and clapping in the aisles. At one point we passed the other bus (the white bus) whose occupants were sitting quietly, staring out the windows.

We got back to the chapel and had koshari for dinner. Koshari is one of the few dishes that Egyptians brag is totally Egyptian, unlike every other dish served in Egypt which was stolen from Lebanese cuisine. It’s a rice/vermicelli mixture, with pasta, chickpeas, fried onions, lentils, and a tangy tomato based sauce. One of the Lebanese students tasted it and said “oh, this is (insert Lebanese dish).” So much for authentic Egyptian. After dinner, I headed home to put Finn to bed. I couldn’t find anyone to watch him, so I missed the testimony meeting and belly-dancing that went on. By all accounts, both were amazing.

We headed out an hour late the next morning because the North Jordan YSA’s gave a long devotional. It was completely amazing though and very spiritually uplifting. We ended by singing a hymn in Arabic and English that’s traditional for the Cairo branch to sing when people are leaving us.

We spent the next few hours at the Egyptian Museum. I didn’t even go in because that museum overwhelms me. Just too too much amazing stuff without any labels or rhyme or reason to their display. I sat outside with Pita and Tasi  until everyone came out and joined us. We had lunch at the Tuellers in Zamalek. They have an amazing house, the former US ambassador’s residence, and we so kind to open it to us. We had a great lunch there, where Finn ate his first tortilla chip, and we put together humanitarian kits. Then we turned people loose to explore and shop before meeting back to head to the airport. It was really relaxing. People  were spread all over the house watching movies or just talking.

When time came to say goodbye, there was lots of hugging and crying. Everyone promised to Facebook each other. Several people thanked me for putting it all together and one girl said she thought it was incredible that I could do it all while having Finn to take care of. I thought “damn straight, I’m amazing!”

Since parting, we’ve gotten lots of good feedback. The YSA’s are all connected on facebook, sharing pictures and forming a group for conference participants.  So all in all a success.

We have a fun week ahead. Tonight is the annual branch Egyptian Christmas party, the one night where the whole Mason family dresses in galabayyias (Finn included). Patrick has his last week of classes. His friend and colleague, Kathleen, is coming in on Thursday. On Saturday we fly to Prague, where we’ll meet up with Mike and LeAnn and spend a few days. We’ll head to Istanbul after that and spend Christmas Day with the Turks.

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7 Responses to “(Belly)Dancing in the Aisles”

  1. Nancy December 14, 2008 at 10:07 am #

    You really did do a wonderful job planning the conference. I think everybody had a great time. 🙂

    I love that you yelled so long a policeman actually came over. I’ve never seen the police here do anything other than try to scam people, so that’s pretty cool!

  2. Stacy Andrew December 14, 2008 at 11:09 pm #

    I can’t believe that you used Sphinx and Pizza Hut in the same sentence.

    Sounds like an incredible YSA conference. The one and only YSA conference that I went to, all we did was go to the Museum of Science and Industry. It was okay, but nothing like pyramids! Congratulations on your planning. Sounds like it was all worth it!

  3. Luisa & Javy December 15, 2008 at 1:47 am #

    Can you blame poor Finn for being unimpressed at the pyramids? Look at them from his perspective please. He’s mostly seeing your back or Patrick’s chest!

    All in all, sounds like you organized an awesome conference. Well done.

  4. allyson December 15, 2008 at 3:12 am #

    excuses, excuses . . .

    great to have you back.

  5. Eric Chambers December 15, 2008 at 4:44 pm #

    What a great weekend of events. I love hearing how you guys are really embracing this experience.

    Of course you do realize that you are now our “un-official” role models for how to cope with relocating and living in a foreign country with small children! There may not be belly-dancing in Tahiti but they do have the ote’a!

    p.s. globalization = camel ride + Sphinx + Pizza Hut!

  6. Casey December 15, 2008 at 6:03 pm #

    Sounds like so much fun! And like you have a great Christmas trip planned! I have to second the fact that I am impressed that the police came over to see what the yelling was about.

  7. Janel Williams January 5, 2009 at 5:09 pm #

    I just got back from staying with my parents in the BYU Jerusalem Center for two weeks. During one Sacrament meeting while I was there we heard a report by Andrew Smith about the YSA conference–it sounds like it was definitely a success. I had no idea you guys were in charge! Congratulations!

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