I went on a touristic tour of old Cairo with my hubby & kids and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Old Cairo is much more beautiful than I ever expected it to be. I’ve seen parts of old Cairo before, but this visit was different. The trip felt like going on a ride in an open air museum, and I enjoyed every moment of it. I wish we had enough time to visit each and every one of the mosques we saw since each one had a distinct character and was beautiful in a very unique way. The mosques we actually visited were El Sultan Hassan aka the Obama mosque, al Hussain, and Amr ibn el 3as mosques. The latter left a lasting impression on me, not because it was the most beautiful, nor because it was the one where I had an exceptional spiritual experience, it actually touched me for a different reason.
While hubby & the two boys were inside praying, I was outside admiring the facade of the mosque, and trying to figure where the Hanging Church, and Ben Azer’s temple - that along with the mosque form the Multi-Religious Compound - were. Ms. Paparazzi (aka Noona) went around the mosque taking pictures of anything and everything. I noticed that next to the mosque was a Zakkah committee, specialized in supporting orphans, and a large number of women, old & young, were waiting in line to get to a window to receive what I assume must be a monthly allowance for the orphans they support. To me, this small building was as beautiful as all the mosques we saw. I was more than glad to see that in spite of my belief that the dominant flavor of Islam in Egypt now-a-days is a superficial one that exaggerates the importance of appearances and minimizes the role of the Muslim in bettering the society, yet a good number of well to do Muslims must be regularly paying their due Zakkah in order to sustain such a project and many like it around the country.
As I was admiring the beauty of Zakkah at work, Nouna returned followed by three young girls. Mai, Heba, & Habiba. She had asked if she could take pictures of them, and they gladly agreed, and then followed her to where I was waiting. We talked and Noona gave them some candy that Habiba said she will eat after she finishes the sandwich she had in her hand. This made me glance at her sandwich and what I saw lifted the thick veil of apathy that covered my eyes. Habiba was eating a spaghetti sandwich. Only then, her shabby and worn out clothes, and her bare feet completed the picture of poverty & deprivation that my mind was programmed to ignore. I know this might sound stupid since there are many more visible & tragic signs of poverty that we see every day, but the vivid image of Habiba eating her all carbs sandwich is still tormenting me. Stuffing my face at Chilli’s and paying over L.E. 500 for one meal for a family of five less than an hour earlier has definitely added to my guilt.
Most probably I will never see Habiba again, which means I will never be able to influence her life in any meaningful way. Yet she generously gave me a gift that I will cherish forever. Hopefully her image will continue to remind me to appreciate what I have, and to remember my duties, and pay my dues towards the less fortunate fellow Egyptians.