Thursday, December 20, 2012

Coptic Cairo

I didn't expect to find such a beautiful Christian enclave in the middle of Cairo.  Coptic Cairo is a perfectly preserved artifact of a Cairo that is slowly disappearing.  Were it merely the gradual change in demographics that was causing this, that would be understandable, but sadly there a greater forces at play forcing this change in Cairo.

I had expected that it would be difficult to reach Coptic Cairo, but nothing could be further from the truth.  I took the Cairo metro and within 15 minutes I was at my station.  Arriving at the beautifully named station "Mar Girgris", or St George station, I could see out the windows of the carriage the church spires rising out of the grey mass of buildings.

I could not help but think back to my time in Sharm El-Shaikh and my conversations with my guide about the relationship between the Christians and Muslims in Egypt.  I'm certain his assertions of their shared love of Egypt and their friendships were true, but sadly it seems that a very vocal minority is changing that for all Egyptians.
As I walked into the spectacular Hanging Church, I could hear a children's choir laughing and practicing their Christmas songs.  Walking up the stairs listening to this singing was uplifting.  It was an atmosphere of joy that I hadn't experienced for a long time.  Living and working in Sydney, I often find that I am in a generational and social ghetto, segregated away from the general population with people of a limited set of ages and backgrounds.  I have no day to day interaction with families, children or the elderly.  Even with people around my own age, I find that I only ever interact with other lawyers, bankers, accountants....  It is not the rich social cornucopia of life that I would have expected in life.
 I walked further into the Hanging Church and was once again struck by the positive energy of the place.  This was still a working church and there was clearly a very high amount of community engagement.  There were children running around, groups of ladies selling religious books and other sitting and praying.  The presence of tourists like myself was clearly not a rarity to the church, but at this time I was the only one there. I was relishing the lack of other tourists, turning these amazing locations back into being what they were meant to be, rather than just items on lists to be checked off.
I sat in the pews and contemplated my surroundings.  It was not like the quiet of the European cathedrals.  I preferred it though.  I didn't want to leave.
I am probably wrong to have described this place as artifact.  It is still very much alive.  However, the thought of this wonderful place slowly fading away from relevance in Egypt is a tragic thought.  I hope that this trend can be arrested before the laughter of the children and the life of the community is gone.

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