Faux Pas in Egypt

I like to enter new doors, see new places, meet new people; I love to dine at mom and pop restaurants, drive through small towns, visit other nations, experience other cultures, and expand  my horizons. The good things in life are meant to be experienced. Most doors I enter are purposeful and planned. But I remember an unforgettable experience I had when I entered a wrong portal.

On a mission trip to Egypt several years ago, we took time to dine at an outdoor restaurant in Cairo with the team and our hired driver. At the end of the meal, I had to find a women’s restroom. I was pointed in the right direction by our driver, alias guide. Since I couldn’t read Arabic, I was a bit handicapped in my search. There was an open door a few steps away, so I entered it. Wrong move!  It was a restroom, but it was a restroom full of Egyptian men, all of them wearing middle eastern garb. I was an intrusive guest.  It was more than an oops or faux pas or unpleasant surprise. It was a cultural offense for an American woman or any woman to pass through that door.

Realizing my mistake, I quickly turned around, walked out the open door, found my way to the women’s facilities INSIDE the restaurant, and returned to the table. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw activity at the threshold of that men’s facility. I watched as they threw a bucket of soapy water on the steps and floor of the entrance evidently to cleanse it. It was then that I shared my experience with the members of our team. The Egyptian guide told us the men had to cleanse the threshold because a woman had entered it.

After we finished our meal, we stood to walk back to our van. One of our team members, a young man, got sick at his stomach. He could hold his stomach contents no longer and deposited it in a flower pot beside the door of the threshold that had just been scrubbed. We kept walking.

Lessons from this story:

*not every open door should be entered
*don’t walk through wrong doors, especially in Egypt
*be careful what you eat in a foreign country
*after cultural faux pas, disappear into the crowd as quickly as possible
*after you get to safety, tell your team to do as you say not as you do
*write a book about an American missionary team and their stomach issues in Egypt
*run Forest run

Regina Shank