Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Egypt On My Mind

What can you say after a week in Egypt? Things are very... interesting. After the Sinai climb, my two travel companions and I set out on an all night bus journey for Cairo. I seemed to have left my health somewhere on top of the mountain so needless to say it was a very enjoyable bus ride. We arrived in Cairo at around 6 am, seemingly the only hour Cairo is relatively calm. After parting through all the jockeying taxi drivers, we wandered the streets of downtown Cairo until Mustafa, who would become the archnemesis to one of my travel companions, plucked us off the street and gave us a deal "we couldn't refuse" at his hostel. We made up our hours of sleep and eventually headed out to take in some of the sights and sounds. Cairo was hot and bustling by then and we were little prepared for the chaos that regularly orders this enchanting yet aggrevating place. The next day we went wandering Islamic Cairo, where the architecture is like anywhere else in the world and time is cloaked in many different masks. The beauty of Islamic Cairo is similar to what I imagined 1001 Arabian Nights to be like as a child. Minarets echoing calls to prayer through tiny alley ways lined with shops of every kind, weaving its way around opening up to awe striking mosques every several hunderd feet. There are kids riding bikes with hundreds of loaves of bread on their heads, pppppsssssssss air through their teeth dividing the crowds they ride through. Men line the streets smoking 'sheesha' with little else to do. And the mosques are simply incredible. From the invading bustle you step through a single, though enormous, doorway and inside instant serenty and silence. Over the next several days we visited many mosques, ranging in age from 8th Century CE to the 19th Century. As the sun sank on the second day and temperatures dropped with it, we found are way to the Al-Ghouli cultural house for a free performance of whirling dervishes. I apologize that I cannot upload the images from that performance because I am writing this from an internet cafe computer. It was a magnificent performance, dervishes of many different colors and levels of advancement dancing while drumming while others were in upper balconies playing essential Arabic music. It was an incredible sight to see.
The next day we went through the National Egyptian Museum in Cairo and took in the copious decadence of Tutenkhamen. After a day at the museum we set out for the citadel to view the mosque of Muhammed Ali (not the boxer). As we stood up on the citadel and looked out over Cairo, Turkish mosques dotted the cityscape, Mamuluk graves portioned off sections of this bustling city to ultimate abandoment, and the ancient pyramids stood in the distance. Three major empires. One city.
The next day we did what any person that comes to Cairo does... we went to the pyramids. It's true, they are impressive. Such incredible feats, so many tourists. Unfortunately some of the majesty of these structures is lost by all the tourists and hustlers that accompany said tourists, but it is incredible to stand in the presence of something so awe inspiring. We had fun taking quite impressive pictures that I'll be sure to post next time. Let's just say, men floating next to the pyramids. It was interesting.
It was here that I had to say goodbye to my two trusted travel companions Ben & Eli. They were on a shorter time line and longed to be back in the embrace of Israel. So as they headed back to Tel Aviv, I prepared to go further into Egypt, picking up another travel companion along the way. We headed out Sunday night, having said our goodbyes to Cairo and all its madness, and headed to Luxor, the modern version of ancient Thebes. Ruins are abundant and the heat is devistating. We're are currently right on the Nile Valley, right next to the Luxor Temple. When we arrived in Luxor, once again going through the rigamarole of hoteliers and taxi drivers, we found a place to stay, rested through the heat of the day, and set out on a felucca ride (a mini sail boat) down the Nile for sunset. Our captain was quite the character and after our journey had ended he insisted on taking us back to his house in the West bank for dinner. We agreed and thus set out on a journey of a different sort.
When we arrived at his house, his family greeted us very warmly and with little language, as we speak no Arabic and they very sparse English. Their house was a very small home and very modest, even by Egyptian standards. After meeting the family and eating some dinner, the captain insisted on taking me to a friends place to trim up my wildly growing beard. We arrive three deep on a motorcycle, having left my female travel companion back at his house with his sister, and the friend kindly opened his shop, where a single chair sat centered within turqouise blue walls with a hugh painting of Jesus as a shepard on the door behind the chair. It was a room that deserved to be in movies. I sat down, he lit a cigarette, and turned on some beautiful Arabic music. He gestured to some string, I nodded and what ensued I didn't even know was possible. Holding string in his mouth, he 'threaded' my face, clasping hair within the strings and rolling them so that he hair is pulled out of your face. Yes, it was quite painful. He did this around the ears, eyebrows, the entire forehead, etc. Then he powdered my face, lathered my neck, ashed his cigarette, and began cleaning up the unattended mess that was my neck. It was quite the experience and I have to say, it looks much better. So much so that today when we were touring the Valley of the Kings (a huge necropolis of former Pharoahs) two people separately commented on how nice my beard and moustache was. They have an eye for these things apparently.
That brings us to present. Today we went and toured the West bank of Luxor, seeing the Valley of the Kings and several other ancient temples. Our captain hooked us up with a driver and we were very well taken care of. We'll enjoy our last day in Luxor tomorrow and then begin heading back to the land of milk and honey. I look forward to returning to Israel even more than my initial arrival. It is a place of such love, common understanding, and spirit that the term "nation" does it little justice. That is the update for now. All the Egyptian people I have met want me to personally invite all of you to Egypt. They love Obama here by the way. Usually the first words out of anyone's mouth when you say your an American. "O-Bama, very good!"

Till the next post.... "Sha Allah" as they say here.

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