Easter (or is it Spring Festival?) in Cairo.

This post is from Easter, 2007.  Suzi and I were working in Egypt.

The Spring Festival, “Sham el Nessim,” “smell the breezes” always falls on Easter Monday (Based on the Eastern rite’s reckoning, which this year was the same as Western Easter.)  The festival dates back to Pharaonic times.  It’s a day for family picnics where people eat green onions, fish and hardboiled eggs that have been painted bright colors.  (Sound familiar?)  Favorite festival picnic spots are along the Nile or at the Pyramids.  Suzi and I passed much of the day strolling along the Nile watching families enjoy the day.  People were friendly, calling out greetings.  “Hello,” “Welcome to Cairo,” “What is your name? My name is Monique.”  “Have a good time!” and “Son of a Bitch,” said in such a happy way that it just might have been a greeting.

This holiday probably evolved from the older Pharaonic holiday Shoum.  That holiday was dedicated to the god Osiris who taught people to plow and fish.  Osiris was murdered by his brother Seth.  Isis, Osiris’s wife and sister, found his hacked up body.  She resurrected him from the dead.   The Egyptian Gazette says, “…scholars have noted similarities between images in the story and the biblical account of Jesus’ death and resurrection.”  A display celebrating Sham el Nessim included Easter Eggs.

On Easter Sunday I went to work two hours late so Suzi and I could go to church.  We got into a cab.  I told the driver the church we wanted to go to.  He asked “Are you Coptic?”  “No, we are Protestant.”  He looked confused, brightened and said “Well, happy New Year.”  At the church a man gave me a card, I could read the Greek, which said “Christ is risen, indeed is risen.”  In Arabic it said a bit more.  A friend translated “Christ is truly risen.  This is not just an artifact of history but is a living thing, for us, here, today.” On Easter, at least, Church bells compete with the Muezzin’s call to prayer.

Earlier this week a state archeologist caused a bit of a flap.  He took a group of journalists to the Sinai to visit some new discoveries.  A French reporter asked if this could be related to the Exodus.  It being Passover week it was on people’s mind.  The archeologist said; “That’s a myth really.” And added that there is no archeological evidence of a mass movement of people through the Sinai at that time.  That got the Egyptian spin-doctors spinning.  The response I liked the best went something like; “There was a plague of locusts, then everyone’s first born died.  The army was wiped out and the Pharaoh killed.  Egyptians kept good records back then but there is no record of this.  Perhaps the government then was like our government now.  We don’t report bad news.”


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