Friend and I have gotten into the vicious habit of volunteering at a church here in a lower-income area of Cairo. Our current project is setting up an early childhood development center, something friend and I aid primarily through an abundance of good wishes due to our utter lack of qualifications.
Why do we donate our semi-valuable time? Though it’s mostly for the Arabic practice, there is also a small part of us that wants to “help people.” There’s something to be said for the furry, balmy feeling you get when you delude yourself into thinking you’ve made life on this earth a little more bearable for someone. While this morally indulgent feeling is great, it’s simply not enough. I need something spicier, so this is how I make the most of my volunteering experience:
Step One: Hunger Monger
Since I know our five hours of volunteering (probably) won’t include treats, I eat a tiny breakfast. Thus, without fail, I begin starving roughly 30 minutes after arriving at the volunteer site. The awful rumbles coming from my stomach provide a great backdrop to the children and cat screeches coming from in and around the church. Volunteering is even more interesting as I become a hunger zombie and spend my last kilojoules of energy planning out exactly what I’m going to eat when I get home.
Step Two: Sleepy Time
I never get an appropriate amount of sleep the night before involving myself in charitable work. This is a trick I learned during Ramadan, when I would regularly stay up until 4 am and then leave to volunteer at 8:20 am. Living life was so much more meaningful and full of nausea while running on less than 4 hours of sleep! While at the church, I would gaze into the distance with glazed eyes and wonder when I could leave and be reunited with my bedding and a bowl of ramen noodles. The feeling that nothing was real added an special depth to our projects.
Step Three: Ham it Up
The ladies love us, and by the ladies I mean all the females at the church, regardless of age or relation to puberty. They be smiling at us, giving us those eyes, coming to say hi to us…. Though it doesn’t take much additional work, I try to look as clueless and non-Egyptian as possible in order to create an even bigger spectacle and stir up more interest. Wacky faces and disturbingly broad grins seem to work well.
Step Four: Keepin’ it Real
In Egypt, there’s something called the “foreigners’ complex,” which means that anything involving foreigners is automatically considered better than something made from scratch in Egypt. Thus, when I wake up in the morning, I wrap up in my big ol’ American flag I keep beside my bed, throw on a cowboy hat, and grab a 64 oz. soft drink cup before heading out the door. There will be no question as to where my nationality lies.
And that, my friends, is how you volunteer.