Northern Africa in Retrospect.

As Greece and Turkey burn across the sea to the north, experiencing their worst heatwave in thirty years I write to you from an even hotter place, from a tiny sliver of life, perched between the Western and Eastern deserts of northern Africa.

This post finds me wandering around the “Religious Complex”, better known as Coptic Cairo which can be found towards the south of the great Ibn Tulun Mosque. I thought I understood the beloved city very well but this interfaith district has a certain charm all of it’s own, reminding me of how the intertwining districts of Jerusalem could possibly be, reminding me of my days spent in the enchanting lavra under the city of Kiev with it’s burrow of chapels and shrines, of hushed whispers and candlelight.

It seems like an eternity now that I had left northern Europe, washing up on this new continent, full of promise of what might be. An emotional refugee you could say, escaping from my haunting past, escaping from the ghosts that had consumed me so entirely, how they had conspired together with the demons within me, playfully dancing on top of my soul, crushing me with every waltz.

They say that you cannot escape from your past by running away and as I spend my remaining days here I realize that to be true.

You could say the only consolation I have is in the indecipherable script above doorways and on shop windows, the distant tones and guttural sounds of the unknown language, of the moments seeing fireworks reflect in my eyes making me wonder, just for one precious instant, which celebration it could signify this time and of course, the city, the magical, supreme city which arises with every blazing dawn and at night bathes in the sultry and balmy air of the world’s greatest river.

Even it´s moon is beguiling. I can assure you only from this point on Earth is she at her most beautiful, her otherworldly crescent and dim light, her tranquility indescribable as she lingers in solitude above the crowded city below.

Church of Saint George

I love to spend my days discovering the most beloved of cities and this district has been a real eye opener, the heavy presence of religion confronting me with my own mortality, the dust of the ancient manuscripts, the still traces of Roman blood on Babylon Fort, the love and devotion to God. I realize my struggle is but of a temporary nature. In some strange way I feel a deep connection to this district, it’s religious expression giving hope while adding serene joy to my eyes, to a soul starved of ethereal beauty.

This alien civilization is the only thing that can console me inside, it keeps me preoccupied during the daily toil of a humdrum life. As I try to spell and pronounce the nursery words from the unintelligible instruction manual it keeps me at the certain and, above all, necessary level of distraction. Distracted from the flames of the natural disaster which forever lies within me. I live each day as a newborn, given the possibility of hope, of the chance that I might one day be able to live again.

I have been living here for a few years now and when thinking back I realize I must have gone through a major life cycle and at night I often wonder if I’am better or worse for it. I do know that since I was very young I have always been adamant on living a life full, to savor every emotion, whether they be good or bad. To one day know, on my deathbed that I had lived, that I had truly lived.

Ben Ezra Synagogue
A service inside a Coptic Church
Icon in Coptic Cairo

It has been a strange journey and indeed that of a newborn.

I always thought I would have missed the restaurants and art galleries of Europe, the food and entertainment but in fact the only thing I miss are the forests. I first noticed this during my first autumn in the desert when I had asked my friends to make photos of the forests for me, and in particular of bright green moss. An urgent need for my most basic wants to be appeased. I found these photos to be mesmerizing and I longed to walk through a summer forest at dawn once more, the droplets of dew, the life elixir of everything or to swim in the lakes between the lotus flowers as I had often done in a time less pressing.

As winter approached I would close the blinds to the endless blazing sun and inside watch videos about the frozen forests of Sweden and the Arctic Circle and of life there, as if my body was aching for the winter months once more.

When I first emigrated here I thought it such a novelty to sunbathe in March, gleefully calling my friends to speak of sunlight and warmth. These days clouds, the blacker the better are my favorite due to the rarity of such vision. The first drops of rain after summer usually stop me in my tracks as if in suspended animation, my soul dancing in totality, my hands raised to the heaven.

Notice the beautiful facade of the building in the background with it’s Pharonic hieroglyphics.

These are some of the oldest known streets in Cairo, very atmospheric. I spoke to some of the residents in broken Arabic and they in broken English and we seemed to have reach the same conclusion that we were charmed by each other.

The photo above is of the Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox church, built during the patriarchate of Isaac in the 7th Century. This church is unusual, being built atop the ruins of Babylon Fort.

Saint George killing the demon, the dragon.

Charming ancient streets of an ancient city.

The photo above is showing A’mr ibn Al’as Mosque, built in the 7th Century as the center of the newly founded city of Fustat.

I spoke to a rather wonderful if not eccentric homeless bag lady (as I often do) and she spoke surprisingly good English. She explained to me that the area is being cleared so that eventually this great mosque, the oldest in Egypt, will look uninterrupted onto the waters of the Nile.

I’m developing a deep rooted fascination for the Greek community who live and have lived in Egypt and of ancient Greece itself. I was caught rather of guard by this photo on a tombstone, the girl’s eyes totally compelling.

I guess you could say I needed a gentler life, and as ironic as it sounds I have found peace here in a city of 20 million. This new world seems poetic. I feel for once that I’m living in a place that somehow matters to the person who i’am inside, an old soul in the ancient holy world, where the Fertile Crescent links me to Mesopotamia, towards the cradle of civilization. and even further away to the mountains of Iran.

I´m very much at home here, where old fashioned manners matter, where families still know each other and children are respectful to their elders. No matter their hardships the Egyptians still smile, their resilience a lesson to us all. I have witnessed so many incredible acts of kindness, it is always the smallest things, like watching someone help a stranger whose moped has broken down, or for instance a security guard who went out of his way to help me find where I needed to go, that matters the most.

It has been one of the greatest joys and honors of my life to have had the chance to spend my days in northern Africa and I feel a true blessing from God and the angels when I was in my darkest hour.

Blessed are the hearts that can bend for they shall never be broken'” – Saint Francis de Sales.