According to the World Fact Book, Egyptians have the following religions affiliations – 90 percent Muslim, 9 percent Coptic Christian, 1 percent other Christian. This weekend was a long holiday weekend – recognizing the roots of Easter in some ancient fertility celebrations. Monday, in fact, was a bank holiday across Egypt, Sham el Nessim – whose name translates roughly to Smell or Breath in (Sham, with Shamo being Renewal of Life) the Spring Breeze (el Nessim – which is breeze or zephyr.) It is a holiday that has been traced back 4500 years, to roughly 2000 BCE and predates any religious celebrations. (Egypt is/was an early adapter to a lot of religions – remember that Christianity was started here, and the walls of St Paul’s monastery still stand.) All Egyptians celebrate, with picnics and feasts – we had a delicious vinegar battered fish and classic Egyptian rice. Read more about food and Sham el Nessim at The Egyptian Kitchen.
The breeze – by the way – is worth stopping to smell. Just walking down a street, you feel like you are smelling the most perfect cup of herbal tea, perfectlly brewed and steeped. It is better than any perfume. For Sham el Nessim, we went to a park along the Nile, and played. One of the nicest things about parks here is the beverage service – a very nice gentleman brought coffee in a samovar and poured it into a crisp white porcelain cup and saucer. Even the police celebrated – they’ve put away their winter black jumpers and wool pants and donned crisp white cotton uniforms, the likes of which Laurence of Arabia would appreciate (I can’t spend an hour in white without getting dirty, and even in a city as dusty and grimy as Cairo, these guys stay immaculate – I think it’s something they teach at the Police Academy.)
To celebrate Easter for the boys, we set up an Easter egg hunt, and tried to think of stories involving the Easter Bunny (which is hard.) Even harder was trying to get the man at the Supermarket to help me find Jelly Beans. I recognize that I am the ignorant Westerner hoping someone speaks English in a foreign land, but there was still strong comic element to the whole thing. I asked, and he originally thought I wanted jelly, replying yes, we have apricot, grape or strawberry. I said, no thank you though, but I am looking for Jelly Beans for children, as a treat. A sweet, even. He heard, sweet red kidney beans. This went on for a while, me trying to get treats for the boys without the boys hearing it, and the man offering me a litany of beans from around the world; none of them from Cadbury.
Eventually, we did find sweets and treats, but at a different store.
Here are photos of the egg hunt and park outing. One photo is Egypt Kitty, the cat adopted by Villa 41, hidden among the flowers – in case you hadn’t had enough hunts this last weekend.