Today is not my day. Do things go in cycles, or what? Day Five was also difficult. Day Ten wasn’t so easy because I was tired. Funny, you never know at the beginning of the day what your day will bring. It could be glorious, or in more and more places in the world, there could even be a bomb.
I read today in my devotional, “I am with you. I am with you. I am with you.”
The day starts out well enough. I’ve had a lovely time of reading, prayer and meditation with my delicious cup of coffee, I am calm inside; I’m ready for a new day.
I walk over to the convent, and someone lets me in. But when I get inside, the table isn’t set for breakfast, and there’s only one sister in the dining room. “Fasting day,” she says. “Wednesday.” I didn’t know that they fast on Wednesdays. “But only breakfast. One eat lunch.” I see a pot of beans boiling. I get to eat a sumptuous breakfast on this morning when practically everyone else is fasting. The foul is there, all of it for just Nagette and me.
As I prepare to leave for the school, I see Marsa, the cook, with a live chicken in the sink. The chicken is squirming, but silent. I can tell what’s coming, though. Protest wells up inside me. This must be one of Sister Mariem’s chickens! I’ve already asked Mariem if we’ve been eating her chickens, and she has assured me, her chickens are only used for the eggs. Just to make sure, I ask Marsa if this is one of Sr. Mariem’s chickens. It is.
I haven’t seen one killed since I was a little girl. My grandfather killed a chicken every time we came for a visit, and that really upset me. I almost didn’t eat the chickens, but the smell was always too tantalizing for me to resist, no matter how sorry I felt for the poor chicken.
I leave the kitchen quickly and go to the bathroom. From the kitchen, I hear loud squawking. And then silence. By the time I return to the kitchen, the chicken is dead. Even as I write this, it brings tears to my eyes. That poor chicken didn’t want to die. It protested for all it was worth. But it had to give its life for our sakes. Possibly for my sake. I have no idea if this chicken will be cooked just for me, since today’s a day of fasting. Did that chicken have to die? We eat chicken and meat heedlessly every day, amidst laughter and jokes. We may even compliment the cook, but we give no thought to the life that was spent on our behalf. A life that didn’t choose to be given. We humans have tremendous authority over the animal kingdom, and we rarely even think about it.
That chicken could have been someone’s pet. I know a little girl in Germany, Leah, who had a pet chicken she taught tricks to, like riding down the slide.
I have a pet dog , Toffee, whom I pet and kiss every day. I’ve just been reading an email from my husband about how Toffee is doing. Toffee is almost like a person to me. Here, dogs run wild in the street and no one pays any attention to them. They look mangy and unkempt. You wouldn’t even want to pet them.
The same thing goes for the cats. And chickens, apparently.
If I could, I’d refuse to eat this chicken, but that won’t do any good. I’m a guest here. I have to eat what’s served. Besides, it’s already dead. It’s also organic, free of antibiotics and hormones. But it had to give its life for us humans. I consider going back to being a vegetarian. But I do love chicken, and I know I won’t give it up, sad as I am today. I will treasure and be thankful for the chickens I eat in the future, though.
I arrive punctually at school, and basically everything goes fine except that one kid, Bolla, a wild little clown, continually interrupts the lessons, dancing like someone on MTV, and he’s only five.
You just can’t get him to sit still. He has a bag of Doritos he shares with Mahaariel, who also turns into a jitterbug. She even starts licking the leftover salt off the table when I take the empty bag away from Bolla. I later talk to Marleen about this.
“I think he may have ADHD,” I say.
“I know,” she sighs. She says she has repeatedly told his mother and other parents not to give their kids chips and sweets, that they need to eat healthy food, but they don’t listen. She suspects they give in to the pleading of their kids.
I have plenty of time to talk to Marleen because my driver hasn’t shown up yet. I know Rohmy knows I need to be picked up because this morning as he dropped me off he asked me if he should come at ten o’clock, and I answered yes.
One hour later, Marleen is finishing up a teacher’s meeting they’ve held in the lobby. A kid walks into the lobby with some of that soft, lovely bread they eat for communion. He gives it to Marleen, and she takes off a bit and gives the rest to the teacher next to me. I’m engrossed in my cell phone by now, since there’s no Rohmy, looking at the New York Times headlines, and don’t notice that she’s trying to give me her bread. It’s after eleven by now and I’m kind of hungry. I start eating the bread and go back to the news. It’s delicious. I take another bite.
The teacher nudges me. “Excuse me.” I look up. “Give the bread to next person.”
I finally get it. This is communion bread, meant to be shared. I quickly pass it on, as the others smile.
I’m supposed to be visiting the handicapped center this morning, but it looks like it’s not going to happen because of this driver situation. It’s twelve noon now and still no Rohmy or any other driver.
I keep talking to Marleen, who then asks me if I could give up some clothes I don’t want, for some people at the school. “They are needy people,” she says. I think she means that I should mail clothes from Germany, but no, she means the clothes I’ve brought with me. Actually, I like all the clothes I’ve brought along. I don’t really want to part with anything. But I tell her I’ll find some clothes and wash them. There happens to be a state-of-the-art washing machine on my floor.
Finally, at about one o’clock, Marleen spots another driver from the Salam Center passing the school in his car. He’s on the way back to the Center with one of the sisters. She yells and he stops, confused. She asks him to take me back. Finally, after three hours, and a morning wasted, I’m back in my room. I only have about a half hour before I have to go to lunch.
I hurriedly gather clothes together. I’ll have to hang them up to dry because they need to be dry before I give them to Marleen tomorrow. I throw my jeans and almost all my shirts, and some underwear into the washing machine. I change into some black slacks, and still have my black top on, which I have decided to hold onto. I walk through the training center to go to lunch when Teresa stops me.
“Your clothes,” she says. “You’re wearing all black. In Egypt when you wear only black it means someone has died.”
Actually, it feels like I’ve given up a part of my own life by giving up these clothes. I’m also going to donate my nice ankle boots that I was going to wear on the plane back home. All I have left is dirty, ripped up walking shoes and flip-flops. I won’t give up my flowered Italian flip-flops for these women. But then again, maybe I will.
I tell Teresa I’ll go back and see what I can find that isn’t black. I find a turquoise printed blouse and a turquoise necklace, and return. Teresa has already left to go home, but a male worker there assures me I look fine now. “Gameel!” Beautiful!
I go back to the convent to go to lunch, but the buzzer doesn’t work. Someone working on the entrance has actually shown up for work today, and he comes to the gate to let me in, but his key doesn’t work. Another worker has to come and help him open the door for me.
And then, when I’m finally ready to hang up my clothes, I discover they’re all full of paper bits. I think it’s Kleenex until I start looking for the list of Arabic words I’ve lovingly prepared. It’s my lifeline! I go over this list many times a day. This list is what is helping me to speak the few words of Arabic I can manage! But it’s gone. Now I realize where it’s gone – into the wash, torn up into shreds.
Is there a lesson in all of this? I think so. It has come to me while typing this account. But I’ll leave it to you, the reader, to find the lesson you think is in this day. Is there a lesson in your day today? One of the things about being on a pilgrimage is the awareness that all of life has something to teach us. We just need to be aware of it and ready for the lesson.