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Some surprises are good some not so. We are now counting down to Coptic Christmas, which is celebrated on January 7th. As I do every year I am giving a lunch on that day, inviting my friends and family to celebrate Christmas with me. One of the few things my Mom was adamant about was that I should continue with all the celebrations I used to host especially after she is gone. So in that spirit I am giving the same dinner for Christmas in December and the Coptic Christmas on 7 January.

The Coptic Christmas celebration is a rather large one: a lunch so all my family and friends coming from town can relax and enjoy the day and also because usually the weather is good and we have it in the garden. This necessitates a great deal of preparation, as the guest list is rather a long one. This year I have over 65 guests, so I need to make some preparations, which necessitated previous planning.

A week before the 7th everything starts going into party mode. As this is the celebration where “Santa” brings gifts for each and every guest, male or female, young or old, then a lot of shopping needs to be done, with a lot of thought into the whole process. So I was on my way to do some of that shopping when I took a side road from the main road I always take to the shopping center and was surprised by a great deal of traffic that brought the car to a snail pace. I was most impatient as I had a great deal to do and to be stuck in traffic, especially on a road that was always quite clear, was very frustrating. After what seemed like hours to me, but which must have been more like twenty minutes, I finally arrived to the bottleneck that was holding back all these cars. It was two large trucks each carrying one very wide load of an odd looking huge contraption. This necessitated that only one car at a time could bypass these trucks. I finally passed them and went on my way.

Two days later I had to go again to do some more shopping and took the main road straight to the nearest shopping mall, and surprise surprise! Those two strange looking contraptions that were holding up traffic a couple of days before were now the main body of an overpass being built by the army that would drastically reduce a daily traffic jam at that spot. What a lovely surprise! I no longer begrudged the twenty minutes I was held up a couple of days ago, and became inordinately proud of my army.

Five days before the event, and just as a precaution, I looked at the weather forecast just to make sure that we should have our usual good weather for our Christmas celebration. But that was when I had a nasty surprise. The weather forecast was for a big dip in temperature, overcast skies and a 40% possibility of showers! There go all my plans for a day in the garden, in the sun, enjoying our lunch al fresco. OK, quick change in plans. Now how do I get over 65 people to have lunch indoors?I gave myself two minutes of panic, then took myself to task and started thinking.

The ground floor will have to be turned into an indoor garden. The tables would have to be laid out wherever they could to accommodate 65 + people. It was a bit of a challenge, but after deep thought I decided that I need to close off the terrace and make it part of the house. I already have the thick tent material to use and immediately alerted my staff of the change in plans. The tables and chairs that needed to be brought into the house and the furniture already there that needed to be redistributed to allow for the tables and chairs.

Another element that had to be dealt with is the fact that the weather was going to be very cold. Fortunately I have an open fireplace that could be used to burn wood. This would heat up the whole house. I also have electric heaters that could be placed at strategic point all over the house. First and foremost I had to get the wood for the fireplace.

Years ago when I lived in the town apartment I used to call a shop that was across the Nile and order my wood that would be delivered within the hour, but now that I live an hour out of town that is not an option. The only thing I could do would be to drive down there and buy the wood and transport it back to my house. So off I went on that new adventure.

The area where that shop is located is now a stronghold of some of the most ardent followers of the deposed President, Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. That, to me, is not a very comfortable area to be, being a woman, not veiled, and a Christian to boot. I have a little cross hanging from the rear view mirror for luck. Anyway, off I went hoping that my luck would hold and that I would not encounter any unpleasantness.

Traffic was good and I made good time. But when I got there I could not remember where the shop was so had to ask directions and finally found it. Sitting outside the shop on a low chair smoking a water pipe was a gnome: a typical fairy tale character, a slight, short very old man, with the mandatory large hooked nose, small smiling eyes barely peeping through hundreds of laugh-lines, leathery skin and a stubble of white beard.

I asked him for the price and he told me, it was near enough to what it was a few years ago so I asked if he had those large logs that are used for firewood in a fireplace and he said he did. While negotiating the amount I need I mentioned that we used to have him send us wood across the bridge when we were living in the apartment, and to my surprise he rattled off my address there and said yes he remembered. I was quite taken aback. This was at least 20 years ago and he just rattled off the address like it was yesterday. That was quite a surprise, a really very pleasant one, someone from my old world who remembered.

Surprises are not always good, but when they are, they really are fun. I am usually swamped Christmas week, but these little moments left such a strong impression I had to write about them. To me that is what life is all about, those little moments of surprise, gratification and warmth.
5 Jan 2015

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