So, this was one of those experiences that simply doesn’t exist in North America or Europe. Jason, my room mate, and I were walking back from the grocery store around the time we first moved into a flat in Cairo together and got totally lost. While we were walking though, we passed this family that was eating dinner around a table in front of a small building that served as a shop and home.
There we met Mustafa, who lived there with his mother, wife and four children, and his two brother’s Said and Ahmed. Said spoke the most English, but other than that we made do with the little Arabic I spoke and a phrasebook and just sat talking to them and eating the incredible amount of food that they pushed on us for a little over an hour. We had plans to meet a friend and left after that, but they invited us back for Iftar, the meal that breaks the dawn til dusk fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Over the following month we ate with them more times, and were asked to bring another friend (Geigor from Germany), who spoke better Arabic so we could communicate more. The topics of conversation were fairly limited, but one of the things that stands out to me is that Mustafa would repeatedly tell his children that even though we were from different countries and believed in different religions, we were like brothers. A deeply religious man, Mustafa would leave us at the end of each meal to go to the Mosque and pray, but never once tried to convert us or force any of his beliefs on us. The most he spoke about religion was in the beginning, when we first met, he told us that Muslims were not angry or aggressive people like many people thought, and that even though we didn’t believe in the same religion we were always welcome at his home and would always be considered family.
We’d eat around a table in front of Mustafa’s house/shop and after dinner would retire to an empty lot where they’d set up a bunch of abandoned couches and raised animals (Mustafa was a butcher), where we would sit and drink tea and eat grapes and some of the baked goods that Jason and I had brought. We were given the most comfortable places to sit and every effort was made to see to our comfort and that we wanted for nothing. We brought flowers one day, which upset them because they knew the price of flowers in Cairo. Said said that there was no need for expensive gifts between family. I was really happy that I managed to print some of the photos that I’d taken of all of us and drop them off before leaving.
It’s difficult to properly relate the entire experience, because so many of the conversations took place without Said and took a long time to communicate simple things, by changing the words we used and using a lot of hand movements and body language; but it remains one of the most deeply touching experiences of my time in Cairo and probably my life.