Each day, Christians living in Upper (southern) Egypt face a difficult struggle to survive because they are Christian. The widespread discrimination and outright persecution they endure defines much of their lives, ranging from their children’s education to the menial jobs they work to support their families. The narrative below illustrates a single day in the life of one of these Christians. While fictional, it is also a composite of actual experiences and represents the day-to-day reality for millions of Christians in Egypt
When I woke up before the dawn, I realized that it was Saturday, the beginning of another work week.
I had to get ready once again to head into town to look for a job for the day. I put on my clothes, doing so quietly in hopes of leaving the house before anyone else woke up. I especially didn’t want to wake my wife. If I did, she would remind me, as she always does, that we need money for our two younger children who are still in grade school. Managing to slip out unnoticed and thankful to have avoided that conversation again, I then thought about my other two older sons. They dropped out of high school last year after the violence. I remember them coming home and telling me they saw their teacher in the mob that raided our street. Even though the mob didn’t kill anybody—on our street at least—my kids refused to go back to school after that. Without further education, I guess they will now be resigned to a life of hard labor like me. The younger two were lucky they weren’t older during the violence. They still haven’t lost hope. It was still dark outside when I left. I took the longer route to the train station. I never go the shorter route anymore, at least since the violence. I always remember my old friend Ragy when I think about going that way. The memory still seems so fresh, even though a year has already passed since the mob killed him. He was a nice guy, never harmed anybody, but still, the mob didn’t care. All they saw was a guy worthy of killing because he was “unclean”– a Christian. They still call us that in the village.
When I finally got to the station, I had to wait as the train was delayed, as usual. Sitting there on a bench, still thinking about Ragy and the violence last year, I remembered how I had tried to escape with my family. We didn’t get very far. The mobs were everywhere, going around the village, beating up any of us they saw. Sadly we had been forced to retreat back to the tiny, two-bedroom concrete box, crammed in a row of other concrete boxes, we call home. Fortunately, though, we remained unharmed…at least physically.
Finally, the train came. Shaking off the bad memories and focusing on the task at hand, I jumped into the wall of people exiting the train. It was very crowded, as usual. After riding for 45 minutes and sitting through several unscheduled stops, I finally arrived at my destination. I walked to the main street near the train station where all of the day laborers gather, waiting for someone, anyone, to come hire them for the day. As I waited, I remembered when I applied for a job at the village school as a janitor. Of course they rejected me when they discovered who I am and instantly knew my background. That job could have changed my life, and the lives of my kids, even with the pennies it would have paid. Dreaming about a life we would never have, someone in a beat-up pickup truck finally drove up, looking for laborers. I made sure not to show the inside of my wrist with its tattooed cross this time. All it would take is just one look and I’d be turned away for sure. But I wasn’t picked anyway. The guy in the truck picked two other people who looked stronger. He had a tough job and didn’t want to waste his time hiring a skinny guy like me. I continued to wait. Hours went by and a few more cars and trucks came by, but I wasn’t hired by any of the people who came looking for workers.
As noon came, the sun became blisteringly hot. It was clear that the day was shot and nobody else would come by looking for workers now. Resigned to another day without work and without pay, I walked sadly back to the train station. The train I took home wasn’t as crowded as the morning one at least. When I got back to the village, I didn’t want to go home because I didn’t want my wife to ask me for the money I still didn’t have for the children. Maybe the older children went to the local pickle factory today? After all, they get paid a few pennies for a day’s work. My wife hates it though. They always come back coughing from the strong fumes and acids used to accelerate the pickling process. Instead of going home, I went into a field and sat by the channel until sunset. When I finally went home, I saw my wife had saved some bits of yesterday’s meal for me…some warmed up, leftover brown beans and a piece of stale bread. But I was too depressed to eat, so I just wrapped it up, put it away and went to bed, hoping that tomorrow would be better. Maybe someone will even pick me up for a job. But I’m not fooling myself, because I know that it’s not likely. Even if I hide my tattoo, I think they still know somehow that I am a Christian, that I’m “unclean.” Still, I can’t give up…not while I still have life in me.
Source: ICC – Persecution Magazine