Finding Courtesy in Cairo

This Friday afternoon found me sitting on a soft, green prayer mat in a mosque in Cairo, listening to the Imam’s sermon on Egypt. I try to avoid crying in public, something about feeling vulnerable and judged, but I was reduced to tears as the voice through the speakers passionately believed that what Egypt was facing was going to pass. Things would get better.

His words were like salve; it soothed the wounds that led to my heartache over the state of my beloved Egypt. I heard other women’s cries echo around the mosque.

Thoughts distracted me from the rest of the sermon as the tears ran. I thought of my year in Egypt. I thought of the lack of social etiquettes, something I took advantage of in British culture.

I thought of an Egypt where people would hold the door open for the person behind, not have the complex of being mistaken as a doorman if they did. I wished people would stop jumping the queue and respect that the other person has places to be too. I wished people would start respecting laws and rules, driving etiquettes and such. I wished sexual harassment would end, and that tough law was implemented to deter the perpetrators. I wished this culture of bullying and deceit would stop. I wished for so many things that if listed, would turn into a book. So I sat there, wishing for a better society, a society Egypt deserves.

After the sermon, I stood on the edge of the green carpet as we got up to pray. The line was a little crooked, and so the women asked we all move back a little to straighten it. I complied, not realizing that there was no carpet behind me, so my feet would be standing on the cold marble floor. I didn’t even notice, because my mind was elsewhere; on Egypt, on the bloodshed and instability.

But the girl next to me noticed this small detail. Before I knew what was happening, she was telling the other ladies that we couldn’t stand back a little, because my feet would be on the cold floor. She suggested we move forward a little so that we could all be on the carpet, including me. Some of the other women were a little impatient, telling her I could deal with it, others saying I could shuffle a little forward, others argued if I did that then I wouldn’t be in the straight line.

But to be honest, I wasn’t even listening to them. I was overwhelmed by this act of kindness and consideration from this girl. I didn’t even notice that I was standing on the cold floor, yet she kept insisting that I not stand on it, to the point where I finally managed to speak and tell her it was okay, I would hopefully get a reward for this. I thanked her for her kindness. However, she didn’t turn, she was adamant about my feet’s rights. A few seconds of negotiation, someone finally thought up an idea, to shuffle to the left so that I could stand on the carpet.

Now, reading this, one might think what a silly detail to cry over, but cry I did. There I was, during the sermon, thinking that all was lost in Egypt, but God showed me a small act of kindness, that to me, wasn’t small but weighed as heavy as a mountain of gold.

I was still trying to get over the fact that someone actually thought of someone else, just when I thought it was rare in a country where the majority of people are caught in their own little bubble.

She left quickly after the prayer, not looking for a thank you, not looking for something in return. It was an altruistic act, one I hadn’t expected to happen to me in Cairo.

Maybe there is hope for Egypt yet.

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