On this day I spent the day visiting Mosques, Churches and a Monastery.  It was time for me to commune with my spiritual self in this magical place where Christianity, Islam and Judaism all live together and has so much history behind it.The first place we stop is The Mosque of Sultan Hassan, built in 1363 AD.  This is considered a very important Mosque in Cairo. DSC_0111 DSC_0123 DSC_0126

As we enter this enormous complex of beautiful buildings into the Mosque (this was the Mosque by the way that Obama visited when he came to Egypt) we must first remove our shoes and then in case you didn’t bring a scarf, there are scarfs available for you to wear them while you are in the Mosque as a sign of respect and custom. I don mine and follow Mohamed into the very large courtyard where it is dominated in the middle by a large fountain used for washing.  This is the place where according to the Koran; you must wash yourself before your prayers. From head to toe you cleanse yourself before you begin you prayers and ritual.
The Mosque is divided into 4 areas as it houses several schools; it has a hospital and other community services.  In the open pulpit area, there are beautiful old oil lamps now modernized with electricity hanging from the very high ceiling.  The area has beautiful stone and wooden hand carvings dating back from when the Mosque was built the intricacies are beautiful in detail.
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There is an inner room as well which also is used for praying and has the same detailed carvings and stone etchings.  Everything is extremely well handcrafted, elegantly beautiful but very simple.  There is nothing ostentatious in this Mosque, yet you see the care, beauty and solemnness with which it was built. DSC_0147
Mohamed asks me if I would like for the leader of the Mosque to make the calling of the prayer for me.  I am surprised and quickly say yes.  For a few pounds he honors me with a special song and calling.  His voice is loud and beautiful and others that hear it cannot stay away and come in to hear his mournful and moving song. There is such serenity and an air of tranquility in the air, combined with the spiritual song  that it is really a feeling of peacefulness that comes over me.  I cherish the feeling and bask in it.……DSC_0175
We then leave to visit an even older Mosque built in 879 AD.  This is the Mosque of Ahmad Ibn Tulun and is the largest in land size.  It also houses a very large courtyard and has a beautiful minaret with an outside staircase.  Minarets are those tall distinctive spires or conical peaks you see in Mosques and provide a focal point but were used for the calling of prayers. DSC_0201 Now days they use microphones, but it is still part of the Mosque architecture.  It so happens that a class of female art students is there for the day making painting and drawings of the Mosque.   After spending time there we head off to Coptic Cairo, or the Christian area of Cairo. DSC_0211 DSC_0217
Before going to the area called Coptic Cairo, which is the Christian part of town, we stop for lunch at a corner local restaurant that Mohamed knows and we have cuscus and Turkish coffee.  The cuscus is sweet with powdered sugar and milk and the coffee is strong but then again I’m used to Cuban coffee which is even stronger.  Mohamed looks at me as I down my coffee and just shakes his head…
Our first stop in Coptic Cairo is the Crypt of the Holy Family.  There is where Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus fled after the order by King Herod’s orders of the killing of all firstborn to escape the prophesy.  The way into the church that houses the crypt are very narrow streets and look like the pictures I’ve seen of Jerusalem.  There are no pictures allowed in the Church or crypt but it is a very tiny place with a spirit of holiness to it.
Next we go to the Hanging Church. And no it’s not called Hanging Church because they used to hang Christians there but because the church is suspended over a passage way above a Roman water tower.  It is one of the oldest churches in Egypt the original dating back to the 3rd century.  Many restorations have taken place since then
and it is done in the “Basilican” style.  The courtyard entrance to the church is decorated with beautiful mosaic depictions of Jesus stories.
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Mohamed suggests we visit the Monastery of San Simon built high up in the mountain in an area called Mokatam. We head out that way which is about 30 IMG_0585minutes from the downtown area. On our way Mohamed mentions that we will go through “Rubbish City”…he says this several times and I guess he sees I’m not impacted by it or I’m not quite paying attention to what he saying so he says, “Julie, I’m telling you we will go through Rubbish City because it is where all the garbage is accumulated, a Garbage City for real”.  I look at him and nod and I imagine in my head the dump/trash locations we have in South Florida and the incinerators so I say “Oh Boy, the smell must be lovely”…he smiles and says , “yes, the smell is great”.
But nothing Mohamed has said prepares me for what I witness the next 5-10 minutes it takes to navigate through the streets of Rubbish City to get to the Monastery at the top of the mountain.  As soon as you enter the outer ridges of the city you begin to see the garbage.  The streets are narrow as we enter the city and you see garbage piled high all over, on trucks, on the side of the road, on the back of motor bikes, on carts, on top of bridges, absolutely every space is taken up by garbage.  This is while a living and thriving community of about 6000 families live in it.  To say I’m speechless is an understatement.
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I can’t understand how a government would let this get like this, how it can allow their citizens, especially children… to live under these conditions!  The unhygienic conditions must lead to rampant disease and infection.  It is deplorable!  Mohamed explains that the garbage pickup is managed by private companies paid by government contracts that are highly corrupted.  The money that is supposed to go towards garbage pickup, delivery and incineration is used for personal/private use and the money never funnels down to what it is intended for.  One of the many reasons, the people got fed up and revolted on January 25.DSC_0330
We finally make it to the top of the mountain and I get another surprise….but this one is a happy one. The monastery is cut right into the mountain and as soon as I begin to see the carved figures on the side of the mountain I am taken back.  There is simplicity to the figures and they are not of exquisite detail or what might be considered major works of art.  But the difficulty in reaching some of the locations the carvings have been done, show the love and determination behind the work.  To enter the Church in the monastery you go through a tunnel and what I see in front me is so unexpected and beautiful after witnessing the most ugly and sad site of the city that I am humbled by the faith these Christians have in the face of the adversity they must confront every day.
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 The mountain curves in and the Church has been built within this curve. It is enormous! Big enough to fit 7000 people…simply Amazing! I meet the lead priest in the monastery and he has so much joy and spirit it is humbling again. He tells me in his limited English, the story of how the Church was built, the miracle that San Simon did and how for years the Christian families had no place to worship God and now they have this beautiful place. Every so often he says, Jesus #1….lol… He is man full of life and the biggest smile you can imagine. I feel the same sense of joy and peace here in this simple church, without gold or luxurious decorations, that I didn’t feel in the other 2 churches I was in before, but I felt at the Mosque of the Sultan Hassan.

 DSC_0373And as we head back down the mountain through Rubbish City again, I thank Mohamed for bringing me to this special place…. I have many thoughts in my head, mostly I’m thanking God for the many blessings I have in my life, my 2 beautiful sons, my wonderful friends and family, my home, my health, my work, my life overall, all this as I see the surrounding conditions, and then….I spot 3 boys walking down the street.  It looks like they are walking home from school, dressed in the dark blue pants and light blue shirts of their school uniform. The biggest one is in the middle and he has his arms around the smaller boys protecting them.  They are laughing and talking loud, just being boys, oblivious to the trash and misery around them……and I think to myself, even in the midst of the greatest perception of despair and misery…..Life is still Good…..
God Bless all of you, Salam!
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Traveling Redheaded Lady (TRL)

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