My Extraordinary Easter Dinner With A Muslim Family From One Of The Poorest Cities In Egypt

When a man I met Friday invited me to his family’s home for Sunday dinner, it was an exceptionally uncommon offer. When the invitation turned out to be in Dar el-Salam, one of Egypt’s most poverty stricken areas, Easter afternoon turned into a once-in-lifetime affair.

The road in to Dar el-Salam is dirt and a crest of smouldering refuse lines the middle of the thoroughfare, being picked over by cats, dogs, burros, kids, and refuse collectors trying to bring home any money they can.

It took four attempts to get a cab driver willing to take us, and when we arrived the man who invited me, Hani, sat with a group of 10 or so other men at a cafe. The local mafia family, he said they specialize in whatever makes them money. From what I could tell their enterprise includes largely drugs and theft, but whatever it is offers them a neighbourhood wide respect because they took to to a place I couldn’t have even imagined. And perhaps no one could have gone without a personal escort from them.

Back through the dusty, narrow alleys, past broken down billiard tables shoved in to mud brick rooms, haphazard grocery stores, and untold apartments, we came to a dead end.

A massive bed of gravel and rock led up to a sheer cliff wall and the skeletal remains of homes destroyed by the last rock slide. The families whose homes they took me into were unlike anything I’d ever seen, and far from being unaware of the situation they were in, they let me stomp into their world because they thought letting the world know they were there was important.

I’ve yet to meet someone happy with the results of the revolution and these people were no different. Their neighbourhood started to slide about eight years ago, and has gotten dramatically more trying in the past couple of years.

One Muslim family of seven sleeping in one subterranean room invited us to stay for Easter dinner. An incredibly gracious offer we had to decline, make our way out, and over to Hani’s father’s apartment.

Dinner was on the table when we arrived. A big plate of French fries, and a new bottle of Ketchup right before the seat of honour, the middle of the couch where I was directed to sit. It was one of the most generous invitations I can recall. 

Here’s a couple of pictures from the visit. I’ll post a longer feature on the experience next week.

Robert Johnson/Business InsiderThey did not have much, but they were all smiles and offering to share.

Robert Johnson/Business InsiderWashroom off the kitchen

Robert Johnson/Business InsiderStairs

Robert Johnson/Business InsiderEaster dinner, with French fries and Ketchup for the first American they’ve met

Dar el SalamWithout enough money, women are forced to share the same space as the men

Robert Johnson/Business InsiderAnd then power went off, my host said it’s because president Morsi is selling electricity to Gaza. And charging 30 per cent more than it cost under the former president.

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