We moved into our apartment in a nice section of Cairo…Maadi, the town of foreigners, or ex-pats, as we are sometimes called. (To clarify, out of the three million people who live in this town, one million of them are ex-pats…leaving two million Egyptians.) We moved in on a Sunday evening during Ramadan. Ramadan is the month of fasting for Muslims, and the majority of Muslims in Egypt fasted from sunrise to sunset…breaking the fast at the call to prayer. A couple days after we moved in, we passed the doorman and his wife walking on the street. This was about one hour before the breaking of the fast.
“Please come and break the fast with us,” the doorman said to Jayson.
“Thank you, thank you,” was the reply.
“Yes, please come and have dinner with us tonight,” added the doorman’s wife.
I kind of looked at Jayson and immediately thought that we couldn’t do it tonight…although I didn’t have a good reason…I’m just not always ready for spontaneity! “Well, thank you so much. We can’t tonight. Um, um, thank you though, you’re so generous,” I kind of stuttered.
Jayson saved me and added, “Thank you for the invitation, God willing, we can join you tomorrow for the fast-breaking.”
The doorman replied, “Yes, God willing, tomorrow.” And we went on our way.
So, sure enough, the next night, we joined them in their home next to our apartment building. They live in what appears to be a half-knocked down building, but if you don’t mind that the floor above you is half-broken down, it’s really quite big and spacious.
They also have enough land to grow some vegetables and keep farm animals! As the wife told me, it’s a villa! We sat outside, on a mat on the ground and shared a simple, yet delicious meal.
The doorman’s wife was with us for 10 minutes or so before she disappeared inside. We ate somewhat quickly…as is customary during the fast-breaking meal, and washed our hands as the kids got up to play and the doorman’s daughter got up to clear the “table.” A little while later, I was invited inside to visit with the wife who had gone to lay down in her bed to rest. You see, she had had brain surgery about two weeks prior to this night. Apparently she had a tumor removed. It’s not appropriate in this culture, to ask too much about sicknesses or if it was cancerous, for example, but I don’t know of any follow-up treatment she is getting so, I am guessing it was benign. But still, a brain tumor!
So, as I was pondering our dinner invitation a few days later, some things struck me when I realized that I would never have invited ourselves over if I were in their shoes.
We are foreigners…wealthy Americans who are, in a sense, their employer, since we live in the building where they work. Their daughter knocks on our door twice a day to run errands for us and collect our garbage. Yet, they didn’t mind having someone from a “higher class” and a foreign country, to their simple home for a meal.
The first time they invited us was one hour before the meal! I don’t know about you, but if I am having someone over, I like to have some notice! I like to have everything prepared and the house clean and the table set. But this family, and as is common in this culture, is always prepared for guests…expected or not. They would have had enough food to serve us if we came at that first invitation. They are always ready to serve anyone who might show up. Talk about generous. And this from a poorer family.
The wife, the woman of the house, had major surgery two weeks ago! This is the kicker for me. I can’t think of many women I know who would invite people to their house when they are recovering from brain surgery! Yes, maybe for a sick visit, but, “Please, come have dinner with us. I won’t be able to sit with you long, I have to rest because of my recent brain surgery, but please, come, be with us. Sit with my family. My daughters will take care of you. You are welcome here!” Hmmm, inviting a new family in the neighborhood to my house, in that situation, would not have been the first thing on my mind.