Southern Hospitality, Egyptian Style

Egypt tea

CRS staff members Kathryn Kraft, left, and Mahitab Mohamed enjoy some tea at the end of a long day. Photo by Rosalie Haughton/CRS

“What will you drink?”

It’s the first question asked at almost every meeting since we arrived in southern Egypt for a one-week tour to learn about the needs of rural Egyptian women. Two colleagues and I are meeting with local non-government organizations, businesswomen and businessmen, government officials and, of course, rural Egyptian women.

Our very first lesson in the Egyptian version of Southern hospitality was that no one can enter a home or an office without being served a drink. So, after introductions have been made but before we start talking about how CRS can help provide economic opportunities to poor women in rural areas, a decision must be made about drinks: “Do you prefer tea, Turkish coffee, Nescafe, or Pepsi?”

We always say, “Nothing, thank you.” This is not mere politeness: by noon yesterday, I had already downed 2 Turkish coffees, 1 tea without sugar and 1 tea with sugar, a lovely glass of lemonade, a Pepsi and countless sips of water. Except for the coffee, which I ordered at the hotel to wake myself up, each of these drinks represents a different local organization. While drinking these diverse beverages, we learned about exciting projects like women’s literacy, vocational training, small loans for entrepreneurs, and education about girls’ and women’s rights.

So, all day yesterday, I tried to refuse the drinks because I really had had enough to drink. But they always won the argument and then we had to decide how much sugar to have. Our choices were “plenty” or “extra.” Upon seeing our baffled faces, they often offered, “Or, we can just bring the sugar on the side and you can serve yourselves.”

Later in the afternoon we went to visit some village projects. There, they didn’t ask what we wanted to drink: they just brought each of us a can of soda.

At the end of the day, we met a woman who owned her own store, selling kitchen things for brides setting up their first homes. She served me a can of apple-flavoured soda and I tried to refuse, requesting a glass of water instead. I wasn’t sure my body could handle any more sugar at this point. She obliged and got me some water, but after finishing the tour of her shop, she insisted that I take the sugary drink home with me to enjoy later.

All said and done, total tally for the day: 3 bottles of water, 2 sweet sweet coffees, 2 teas, 1 sweetened lemonade, and 3 cans of soda. No diet option. When I joined this assessment team, I knew it would be challenging. But what I’m finding is that this truly is the sweet life.

Kathryn Kraft in CRS’ community education program manager. She is based in West Darfur and on temporary assignment in Cairo.

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