Postcards From Egypt: The Heart of Egypt – Part 1

The Nile

Egypt, also known as Masr, is one of the most ancient countries in the world. The Egyptians are a people as proud as their country is old. The native people here can trace their lineage all the way back to Noah. One of Noah’s grandson’s, Mizraim, migrated and ended up living along the Nile River in what is now known as Egypt, and the name Masr originates from his name.

Through centuries of change, the heart of the people has stayed the same. Over 1300 years ago Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, who lived from June 661AD to 714AD, had this to say about the Egyptians while classifying the Arabs in his will:

“They are the killers of the tyrants and they demolish every unfair nation. If someone with good intentions came to them, they carry him as a mother carries her son, and if someone comes with bad intentions to them, they eat him as the fire eats the wood. They are a nation of patience and strength, but don’t underestimate their patience and kindness because if they loved a man from their hearts they won’t leave him except that he has a crown above his head and if they hate a person, they don’t leave him except that they chop his head off. So be aware of their anger because if it ignites only God can put it down. Treat them well and take from them their soldiers, because their soldiers are one of the best in the world and be aware of three things:

1. Don’t touch their women, because if you do they will eat you as the lion eats its prey.
2. Don’t touch their land, because if you fight in it, its mountains will fight you.
3. Don’t touch their religion or they will burn your world.”

This is still very true even today. Patience is one of the greatest strengths that the Egyptian people have. They will take and take and suffer great loss and say nothing, and will endure hardships and trials to a fault. This last January was not the first protest in Egypt; many others have happened before, but were generally not very large as most people feared retribution from a government known for its brutality. The difference between now and then is that now the Egyptians’ patience has run out. It took over 30 years of corruption and oppression for the people to finally say “enough is enough”.

Yet in this time of unease, no matter what the media may say, Egypt is one of the safest places in the world, no matter what your race, sex or religion. Some may say that since I live here as an Egyptian (I wear traditional clothes and a hijab, as I am Muslim) that I am treated differently, so we’ll look at Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton. She came to Tahrir Square on March 15, 2011, at the height of the revolution. Yes, she had bodyguards (she doesn’t go anywhere in the States without bodyguards), but do you think a few armed men could have stopped thousands of angry people if they had really wanted to hurt her? Also, Senator John Kerry visited Egypt on March 20, 2011 and also walked through Tahrir Square and stopped to eat some Koshary from a local restaurant. The truth is, the Egyptian people love Americans, Europeans, Jews, basically any foreigner from any country. They just may not like the government of the country you come from (not many people like their own governments these days), but they’ll love you especially if you show them respect and kindness.

Before I moved here, I lived on the edge of Shasta Lake City, just off Oasis Road by the Oasis Fun Center. I would not have sent my 9 year old to go play there alone; it’s just too scary these days. So it freaked me out when my fiancé, at the time, sent my daughter with his niece (she was only 4) down to the market the second day we were here. Kids here play outside and run to the store and their parents don’t give it a second thought, even if it’s after 9 p.m. They are safe here, and people know that. It took me a few weeks to relax because that is not something I would ever do in a city of less than 11,000 people, but here where there is almost 2 million where we live, you only have to worry that they may fall and get hurt. You know normal hurts, like a scraped knee or a bonked heads; not sexual assault, abuse, kidnapping or murder. As I write this it’s almost midnight, and if I needed to go get something from the local market right now, I’d be safe to walk there alone. This is Egypt.

Robyn Payne (aka Asmaa Ahmed) was born in Weaverville, California, and was raised in Mountain Gate. She graduated from Central Valley High School in 1988 and has lived all over the country since then, but always ended up back in Redding. A year ago she left Redding once again and now lives in Ain Helwan, Egypt, just south of Cairo, with her Egyptian husband and his family. She’s always enjoyed writing stories and poems and is a “just for fun” photographer

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of

Robyn (Asmaa) Payne was born in Weaverville, California and was raised in Mountain Gate where her family still lives. She graduated from C.V.H.S. in 1988 and has lived all over the country since then but always ended up back in Redding. In October of 2011 she left Redding once again and now lives in Cairo, Egypt, with her Egyptian husband and step son. She loves to write and is looking forward to sharing more of her new country and the people and places she loves here.
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10 Responses

  1. Avatar Laurie O'Connel says:

    Thanks for this intriguing first-person point of view. However, the statistics suggest that girl children in Egypt are at greater risk of bodily injury and death from their own families than from strangers, with more than 90 percent subjected to genital mutilation : . I would like to hear your take on the ubiquity of this horrendous practice in Egypt and any ideas to stop it.

    Your descriptions of casual evening strolls and a community that cares for its girl children sounds like a wonderful dream to this Reddingite, especially in view of our recent headlines about our town's soaring crime stats.

    Yet the reality for life in Egypt for women is far different: A completely proscribed position comparative to men in every aspect of life: religion, law and the culture, the wide prevalence of honor killing, female sequestering, forced and child marriages, and the nearly universal female genital mutilation, just to start. I'm curious that you haven't mentioned any of these profound issues in a column about a daughter's safety.

    I hope that due to your position of relative privilege as a Western woman of some financial security, your daughter has some protection from these nightmares. But tragically, the majority of Egyptian girls and women do not. This history of women in Egypt paints a far less rosy picture than your column:… (as well as its even higher stat of 97% female genital mutilation).

    And now, Egyptian women, who have struggled with the profound misogyny and oppression of their religion, culture and government for centuries, are now being shortchanged by the revolution as well:

    I'm glad that you see Egyptian children as free from the worry of sexual attack, kidnaping and molestation. But touting the female-friendliness of a culture where it's risky to even bring up these issues is perplexing and short-sighted.



    • Avatar Robyn Payne says:


      Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention. I must admit I was pretty much ignorant about this issue. I was not ignoring you, but decided to do some research before answering and that has led me on an interesting trek. So, I just wanted to let you know that there is just way too much to put in a response and I'm going to be doing some more research (the language difference is a bit of an issue, but I'm learning some interesting facts and opinions about this from the women who live here and others who know first hand about this subject) and I will write an article based solely on this subject from not my viewpoint (I think it's ghastly since I've learned what this is, and would NEVER subject any girl to this – as it's not in my culture and to me seems to be very WRONG….and to make matters square this is NOT an Islamic requirement as many think but is based more on traditions, ignorance and where the people live) but the viewpoint of the ones who experienced this, their opinions, beliefs and whether or not they would pass this "tradition" on. So I promise you I am working on this diligently and will hopefully get this out for January or February depending on the editorial staff and when they post the articles.

      So keep an eye out and it should be an interesting article…so far I am very intrigued, disgusted and shocked (both by the actual procedure, and by the attitudes of the women) by what little I have learned, so I know as I learn more it will be an interesting read.

      Just to let everyone know as well, my youngest daughter who came with me did not like it here. The neighborhood we live in is very traditional and is not as modern as other areas of Cairo…so she did not like it. During the Revolution, she had a choice to stay or go back to the States and she chose the States. A very hard thing to let her go, but my husband is here and I love Egypt. But she is happy and healthy and keeping my parents busy and young at heart. So thank God it has all worked out.

      I look forward to giving you this article and hope it gives a different perspective than what everyone writes about.

      Shoukran (Thank you)


  2. Avatar dtp749 says:

    The current Egyptians have nothing to do with the ancient Egyptians from the Pharos time. The original Egyptians were Africans. The current Egyptians are Arabs who occupied the country and settled there, living nothing from the old culture and people.

  3. Avatar St. Huck says:

    "Postcards FORM Egypt" and "the lion eats its PRAY"? Yikes! Is ANewsCafe serious? This ain't journalism, folks… just saying…. not even an interesting perspective. It appears that the author didn't pay much attention in English class at Central Valley HS!

    The only item of value here is the comments by Laurie O'Connell. I rather doubt that the author is prepared to respond to them, though.

    • Color me red. This totally slipped under the copy editing wire. Thanks for noticing. Will correct now.

    • Avatar Robyn Payne says:

      Dear St Huck,

      Thanks for the opinion! Actually that was a quote…I did not write the words, nor did I edit what was quoted. It was a translation from the original language and I did not want to "re-arrange" it to be grammatically correct. The point of this part of the article was to show that even after 1300 years, the soul of Egypt is the same. Sorry you missed that point. And just to defend myself a little bit, this is part 1, not the whole article. Please show a little patience and if not, sorry you didn't enjoy. Better luck next time.


      • Avatar St. Huck says:

        I appreciate your humility in responding. While I question the value of your compare and contrast approach (Oasis Road vs. Ain Helwan), at least now I can look forward to reading more about your recent revelations about the practices of female genitalia mutilation in Egypt.

        Given your situation (a Westerner, converted to Islam and married to an Egyptian man), you have been given an opportunity and a platform to report some very interesting perspectives about the developing events in Cairo. While your friends here in the North State probably care deeply about your family life, consider that you can share those with them via emails. The rest of us are really looking forward to your future correspondence, sans the chatty personal anecdotes. Sorry, Sabrina!

        • Avatar Robyn Leedy says:

          St. Huck,

          Thank you. And to make a correction, Sabrina is a sister in Islam, not my biological sister. She is actually from Kenya and married an Australian man who converted to Islam and she recently moved there. And I was just encouraging her to write about her own experiences. The majority of my family no longer speaks to me. But as you say this is not the place. I look forward to giving you more insight about this wonderful country. Once again, thank you.

  4. Avatar Sabrina says:

    keep them coming sis Asmaa i love reading your news letters on EGYPT …you remind me of History ….it was my fave subject ..

    bravo Asmaa !! keep the good work.