The Costers met Didi during their first stint in Egypt, almost 20 years ago. He was a taxi driver who worked close to their house, and over the years became close to their family. Didi had diabetes, and the disease got worse and worse. He had one leg amputated in 2003, and the other leg followed in 2006. Throughout this ordeal Dan and Ann were helping Didi and his family in any way they could. Didi was definitely a fighter – after both his legs had been amputated he had his car converted so that he could drive just with his hands. I remember a couple of times while I was here visiting that Didi drove over in his car just to see me and Dylan. We would walk downstairs to wherever he was parked and chat with him for a few minutes before he had to go. I actually had the privilege of going to Didi’s house for dinner during one of my first visits to Egypt with Dylan. We were served koshari (an Egyptian lentil/pasta/tomato dish – Dylan’s favorite) with typical Egyptian hospitality (being forced to eat far more than we would normally eat). Didi had a good sense of humor. One of our favorite stories from that night is how Didi playfully threatened me, “You eat more or I shoot you!” He has apologized for it every time we’ve seen him since. =)
Today we picked up Faiza, another family friend, and went on our way to pay our respects to Didi’s family. You don’t call ahead or anything here, you just show up anytime within a week or two of the death and sit with the family. Didi lived in Dar Es Salam, an area of Cairo that is much different from our own home in Maadi. We reached the end of the paved roads about two thirds of the way there and began dodging not just other traffic but mud puddles, donkeys, piles of trash, and really large bumps (many of these last could not be avoided as they pretty much made up the whole road). Under one particular overpass we were forced to the side on a steep slant to avoid the trash and animal life filling over half the road. Sheep, donkeys, goats, and dogs were all rooting through the piles while their owners went about their business doing – I’m not sure what.
The stairs leading up to Didi’s apartment were dark, but when we knocked we were greeted by his wife. She was robed in black, her hair also covered by a black veil. She greeted “Miss Ann” and the rest of us with three kisses on our cheeks and we were welcomed to sit down in the small living room. It was much the same as I remembered it from my visit four years ago – several chairs and a couch covered in a yellowy fabric crowded around a small table in the middle. The dining room table is in the same room, right behind the chairs and I could remember eating my koshari there. As Ann told the family, we could picture Didi sitting there as well. Slowly, the room filled up with other family members. Didi has three daughters, all in their twenties, and two sons, one married and one in middle school. All the women wore black robes and head coverings (covering their hair, not their faces) and everyone was very somber. Sadly I was not able to understand everything that was said – Ann speaks reasonable Arabic, so all the conversation was in that language. She told stories of how they had known Didi back when the kids were little and of how brave he had been throughout his sickness. His heart had given out in the end. Didi’s daughter showed us a picture Didi kept on his phone of Ann and Abby, and talked about how much Didi had loved our family.
One phrase that was often repeated was Alhumdulillah, in English “Thank God.” We were thankful that Didi was no longer suffering. He had been in and out of the hospital over the week before and really hated it. Now he is at rest and at peace. Sadly, Didi did not believe in Jesus. The comfortable platitudes of, “He’s in a better place now,” or “He’s at home with God now,” did not apply.
We drove through the City of the Dead on the way home. I say the City of the Dead, but really it should be a City of the Dead because there are many scattered throughout Cairo. These are the above ground cemeteries where people inter their dead. It is difficult to bury people in a land of dry sand and rock, so instead the dead have walled tombs above ground. Even though there are roads winding through the City of the Dead, it is a somber sight when you’ve just visited a dead man’s family. Very few people in this country are Christians.
So, that was our cultural encounter today. I appreciated the chance to be immersed in Arabic and to help continue a friendship the Costers have developed across cultural lines. I wish more people could have that opportunity.