We welcome a new Guest Voice, Rafik Baladi, with his memoir of life in Egypt. In Jasmines From Egypt Branches Forever, Baladi weaves a tapestry of life growing up in his homeland, Egypt, which is today undergoing tremendous transformation. Below is a series of short excerpts, each offering a glimpse of life in Egypt then and now. It's about tolerance and openness to other cultures and other Peoples, beautifully expressed here: "Not far lay the beautiful mosque of Sultan Hussein, the synagogue of Vitali Madjar on Komanos and El-Masala Streets—also known as the school of L'école Abraham Betesh . . . built in 1928. I entered them occasionally when I met my friends Emile and Roland in the fifties, with their parents ready to have Sabbath lunch at their homes."
by Rafik Baladi
When the canvass had cracked the formerly productive and privately owned corporations of textiles, steel, cotton, mega-retail stores, porcelain, and other industries ceased to sustain their levels of growth. Alas, they were no longer run under the leadership of their original owners; they had shifted to younger and less trained government ownership and bureaucracy. Consequently, the original owners, those who had been afflicted by nationalization, started fleeing Egypt.
The monastery was built in homage to Saint Benedict who was born in Nursia, a small town in Umbria, Italy, around AD 480. He was sent to Rome to pursue his studies. He separated himself from the mob, seeking refuge in God (within solitude) close to the present city of Subiaco, Italy. In AD 529, he was under pressure and left with a few disciples to build the first Benedictine Monastery in Mount Cassino, Italy, where he set down his liturgy for a monk’s life, following earlier monastic rituals that were inspired from the earliest monastic disciplines of the Monasteries of Saint Anthony of Egypt in AD 356 and previously, Saint Paul of Egypt in AD 248...
Mom prepared for Dad’s travel and hers. Dad’s workplace gave him a check for his medical costs and some other expenses. Monsieur Qattawi, his superior, had ordered that check. Mom never stopped thanking him. ...Monsieur Qattawi was the son of a prominent two-time Egyptian Cabinet Minister and President of the Sephardic Jews Association of Egypt. His father was born in Egypt in 1861 and died in Egypt in 1942 (my father would tell me, and I would take notes). His son (Dad’s boss) followed his same line of business until he left Egypt in 1961 and resigned as CEO of La Compagnie de Reforme Agricole d’Égypte (The Agricultural Reform Company of Egypt). Mom booked Dad’s spot at the London clinic for early September that year (1958), a few months before, with the help of the throat specialist.
... each of these deltas is rich with history, heritage, agriculture, holy routes, life, death, war, and peace. At the Nile Delta, we’d find one of the finest and most fertile agricultural lands in Africa. At the Sinai Delta, we’d track the most riveting religious and cultural passageways on the planet. We’d trace the plight of Moses and his people from Egypt to Palestine and that of Jesus and the Holy Family from Palestine to Egypt until the Holy Family settled in Cairo, across several shelters in Sinai, and elsewhere in Egypt thereafter. In Cairo, we’d find the well of Moses situated less than three hundred feet away from the oldest Synagogue in recent Egypt, Ben Ezra Temple. It was inaugurated in AD 872, and its fascinating story follows later in the book.
It is interesting to note that Saint Catherine was born of an atheist family in Alexandria but that she converted to Christianity when she saw Jesus. She wrote about Him: “His beauty was more radiant than the shining of the sun, His wisdom governed all creation, and His riches were spread throughout the entire world.” (I saw that, too.) Under Maximus, various martyrs followed her fate and, later, as Coptic Orthodox faith flourished, Greek and Roman Egyptians followed the route to Christian martyrdom. It was traditionally recognized that under Arab invasions of Egypt, Christian martyrdom continued until recently (given the clear Sharia law and the inevitable resistance of many...
In this land, we find fig trees, palm trees, dates, shrubs, thyme, rosemary, oregano, sand, sand dunes, sand storms, wells, remains of war crafts, tanks, used rifles, and so much more spread all across Sinai. But we also sense the vibes and the footsteps of our ancestors fleeing oppression, whether from Egypt to the Holy Land or vice versa. We render a sense of immense human waste following the four most recent wars. All this adds to its mystique and to its unexplainable glorious mosaic, its history, tragedies, and successes!
The glorious Sinai is a melting pot of faith, war, peace, fruits, beaches, and tourism. --- Alexandria’s cultural mosaic goes back to its founding by Alexander the Great in 332 BC. Previously, it was known as the Egyptian townlet of Rhakotis in Greek and Rakouda in ancient Egyptian and was a resort filled with fishermen and pirates. After Alexander died in 323 BC, he was succeeded by his disciple Ptolemy...
“Go home and rest,” he signaled to me. “I will, Pa, but you catch some sleep, and I will sit next to you.” He stretched his hand, asking for mine. I gave him both. He clutched my right hand and bent his head forward; I knew what he meant to do and left him to do it. He kissed my hand. This is an old Mediterranean tradition from father to son (blessings of the father to his son). “Are you giving me your blessings, Pa?” I smiled with appreciation and a little loving humor. ...He was half-awake. Then he coughed twice and slept in my arms. Dad had gone to eternal sleep, divine sleep, as I was kneeling at his bedside. “Papa …” I said with my cracking voice, imploring him...
We find ourselves in an educational surrounding, school or college, and later in a work environment; this could be nurturing or destructive, but we are expected to cope with both. We face changes, and we cope with them. We encounter more changes, and we struggle to cope with them. And yet, we engage with further change, and we struggle desperately to hold on to our identity before it slips away for good with ruthless change....
Not far lay the beautiful mosque of Sultan Hussein, the synagogue of Vitali Madjar on Komanos and El-Masala Streets—also known as the school of L'école Abraham Betesh... built in 1928. I entered them occasionally when I met my friends Emile and Roland in the fifties, with their parents ready to have Sabbath lunch at their homes. ... After the peace treaty with Israel, I received former friends of mine from Haifa, to visit their school but was reprimanded...
It had all started with the burning of the Church of All Saints in Alexandria on December 31, 2010 ... Egypt’s jails broke loose... Was this just the beginning of a return to a nationwide state of intolerance, social hatred and further labels? Were Egypt’s new leaders of 2012 driving it to plunge it back to centuries of darkness, religious polarization and loss of intellectual liberties?
Born in Egypt, in 1951, one year before the ousting of King Farouk, Rafik Baladi witnessed the struggles in Egypt among royalty, socialism, capitalism and past and more recent fundamentalism. He is a scholar of music, holder of BA in Mass Communication and a Higher Diploma in Hotel Management. Rafik Baladi is a musician, composer and writer. He is a curious contemplator of casualties of change and social injustice, to this day and in 2012. His music for Egypt and others could be sampled or downloaded at: www.FilmMusicMontreal.com.
***************************************Copyright ©2012. Rafik Baladi. All Rights Reserved. More information on the novel can be found at Jasmines from Egypt Branches Forever and at Trafford Publishing. It is republished here with the author's permission.