It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to
the Most High ~ Psalm 92:1
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.
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
Hello! How are you?
I’m fine, El Hamdullah. And you?
El Hamdullah. Is your leg
Yes, 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
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