Mission News

November, 2004

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to the Most High ~ Psalm 92:1

When you think about the month of November, what images come to mind?  Colorful leaves falling from the trees?  Turkey and pumpkin pie?  Football?  Here in Egypt, November brought relief from the suffocating heat, the end of Ramadan, swarms of giant locusts, and the first rainfall in over 10 months.  All of those things were great, except maybe the locusts, but for me it didn’t feel like November until Thanksgiving day.  Since it is November, even in Cairo, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to share with you some of the things for which I am thankful. 

There is a phrase in Arabic, El Hamdullah, that means “thanks to God.”  I have enjoyed the way that Egyptians, both Christian and Muslim, integrate this phrase so fully into their vocabulary.  The following is an example of a typical interaction between me and any Egyptian:

            Egyptian:  Hello!  How are you?

            Lisa: I’m fine, El Hamdullah. And you?

            Egyptian:  El Hamdullah.  Is your leg feeling better?

            Lisa:  Yes, El Hamdullah.

            Egyptian:  El Hamdullah!

Sometimes the phrase is used so often I wonder if anyone notices that they are giving thanks to God, or if they are just using the phrase out of habit.  Since I haven’t been speaking Arabic long enough to develop any habits, I still think about it, especially since it is hard to get all five syllables of El Hamdullah into conversation without sounding horribly awkward!

Since I shared my frustrations associated with underemployment in my last newsletter, I will start this one by saying El Hamdullah for full-time employment!  My job at the seminary is now in full swing.  I can finally walk there without getting lost and I am kept busy every Monday with a variety of computer tasks.

Monday nights I am now teaching an English class at the Coptic Orthodox cathedral.  We have had four classes and I am starting to get more comfortable teaching.  I think the students are starting to enjoy class and I hope they are learning English as I struggle to learn their names. 

I am still working at Ramses College for Girls three days a week, but I now have a full schedule and more responsibilities.  I lead science and English activities in the 2nd primary (about 3rd grade) classes and I help with a few 4th and 5th primary science classes.  I have also started an engineering activity during the biweekly activity period.  I only had seven girls the first time, but I had them designing bridges out of paper as a way of encouraging them to learn to think (something that is not a component of the Egyptian education system).  I think they enjoyed it, so hopefully the attendance will continue to grow.

Another blessing for which I am thankful is the community that I have here in Dawson Hall.  Now that we have been in Egypt for three months, the novelty of being in a new place is beginning to wear off and the frustrations of daily life in Cairo often make me want to go home.  Having a space like Dawson Hall to serve as a refuge and place where I can be as American as I want without getting harassed is certainly a blessing.  Also, living with other volunteers provides a Christian community so we can support each other when living here gets too hard.  So, El Hamdullah for the comfort, safety, and community of Dawson Hall.

Having just enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving meal with a large group of American ex-pats and some of our Egyptian friends, I can also say El Hamdullah for comforts that remind me of home and give me a temporary break from Egyptian culture.  While there are things I like about Egypt, it is difficult to be totally immersed in an unfamiliar culture for an extended period of time.  Just one evening of celebrating a uniquely American holiday with others who are also apart from friends and family helped me overcome feelings of homesickness and for that I am thankful.

The last thing that I wish to share with you this month is my appreciation for your role in my Egyptian experience.  Some of you are supporting me financially, which has made it possible for me to be here and I am grateful for the opportunity you have given me.  Many of you are supporting me with the letters, cards, and emails you send me.  It is very lonely at times being away from all of my friends and family, so I appreciate the time you spend writing letters and the efforts you have made to stay in touch.  Every time I get a letter or an email from one of you, it brightens my day!  Finally, many of you have offered to pray for me and have shared my prayer concerns with your families and congregations.  As I encounter challenges and difficulties, it is a blessing to know that so many people are lifting me up in prayer.  In closing, I would like to say El Hamdullah for all of you and for the support you are providing me in so many ways.  Happy Thanksgiving and as Christmas approaches, have a happy and blessed holiday season.




November newsletter of Lisa Burke, serving as a YAGM with the ELCA in Cairo, Egypt