Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Scooter of Arabia

I remember watching the television program "OtherWorld" back in 1985, and the premise of the series was: A family takes a tour of the pyramids in Egypt. Their tour coincided with an alignment of the planets. At the moment of alignment, they were transported into another reality... This premise seemed completely plausible to me given the mythic status of the pyramids in my mind.

Saying that coming to Egypt has been a dream-come-true feels like a tremendous understatement. As long as I can remember, I have wanted to come to Egypt... To see the pyramids, to see the sphinx, to walk where the pyramid builders did, and see the work of these incredibly intelligent engineers first-hand.

And the monuments don't seem to end. This is an ancient and fertile land which nurtured its inhabitants for thousands of years. Most of the monuments and statues are between 3 and 4 THOUSAND years old. Assuming having kids at 32, that's ONE HUNDRED TWENTY FIVE GENERATIONS ago. Almost incomprehensibly old... So there are LOTS of monuments :)

Everyone seems to want to come to Egypt. I feel lucky that I was able to go.

Cairo feels very old and very Muslim. During the day, scarved and long-sleeved ladies with only their faces showing, scurry about the streets... Loudspeakers blare out prayers, taxicabs honk incessantly as they weave and pitch agressively, the sidewalks get busy as the night wears on, the coffee shops fill with shisha smokers, and the desert backdrop is breathtaking. (Cairo, Egypt)

On the way to see the pyramids, I saw this view towards The Citadel--Mosque domes, minarets, and date palms. (The Citadel, Cairo, Egypt)

Looking up at the entry of a mosque. (Khan al Kahlili, Cairo, Egypt)

The Hanging Church, built on top of Roman ruins (Coptic Cairo, Egypt)

This church (closed when I was here) in Coptic Cairo was built over a cave which allegedly sheltered Mary, Joseph, and Jesus on their flight. (Coptic area, Cairo, Egypt)

Bougainvillea creeps over a graveyard wall. (Coptic Cairo, Egypt)

One of my FAVORITE meals. It is called "koshary". It is macaroni, vermicelli, lentils, and a YUMMY tomato/chilli sauce. The price for a large is 4 EGP (Egyptian Pounds), about $0.80 USD. (Ataba, Cairo, Egypt)

On my table is the hot sauce to put on top. In the red vest is the waiter-who stands at the door waiting for you to give him a tip-and to his left behind the counter is the proprietor. The proprietor sits in his marble-clad booth barking orders in a gravelly voice that could shatter glass. He has white hair and mysterious green eyes, and sits and smokes shisha with the long tube in his hand. He reminds me of a cross between The Cheshire Cat and Jabba The Hut. (Ataba, Cairo, Egypt)

I loved the color on this apricot Bouganvilla! (Saqqara, Egypt)

Saqqara is another site with funerary significance, and a grand step Pyramid. There is a very nice museum (accessible only after you buy your entry ticket from the unsigned, hard-to-find ticket booth). This picture shows The Step Pyramid--the first pyramid. Prior to the building of the step pyramid, funerary mounds were marked with only a mastaba. The step pyramid essentially looks like one big mastaba topped by a smaller mastaba, topped by a smaller mastaba. The architect who created this new design was Imhotep. (Saqqara, Egypt)

Descending into the Red Pyramid (Dahshur, Egypt)

The Bent Pyramid. A lesson in architecture. The base of the pyramid was built at 57 degrees, but when the surveyors detected instability, they continued the pyramid at 43 degrees. 43 would continue to be the "magic number" that subsequent pyramids would be built with. (Dahshur, Egypt)

The Black Pyramid. Another lesson in architecture. The Black Pyramid was not built from rock, was built too close to sea level, and had too many passageways inside (and not enough support structures), and collapsed. (Dahshur, Egypt)

There are LOTS of pyramids in Egypt! On the day I saw The Great Pyramid, I started the day at a site called "Dahshur". This site contains the Bent Pyramid, the Red Pyramid, and the Black Pyramid. Sadly, only the Red pyramid is truly accessible, as the area is a military base. Also, a large refinery has moved onto the land nearby. (Dahshur, Egypt)

Scooter Of Arabia. From left to right, Queen's Pyramid(s), Pyramid of Mycerinus, Pyramid of Khafre (the one I went inside of an snuck into the coffin!), and Pyramid of Khufu. (Giza plateau, Cairo, Egypt)

Ye old typical Egyptian photo: The Sphinx with the Pyramid of Khafre in the background (Giza plateau, Cairo, Egypt)

And although there is no photo, I HIGHLY SUGGEST the restaurant At-Tabei ad-Dumyati. Get the garlic-marinated tomatoes! INCREDELICIOUS!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Independence day!

One thing about the USA which I appreciate COMPLETELY is FREEDOM OF RELIGION. I have now been in a few countries where there IS no freedom of religion (China, Egypt), and generally speaking, I think that when you restrict how people express themselves, governments actually create new problems. I think the human creature NEEDS to have freedom to live most effectively.

One thing this trip has taught me so far is just how good we have it in the USA. Before I left, I KNEW we "had it good", but now I have a better idea of JUST HOW GOOD we have it compared to so many of our brothers around the world. From paved streets and sidewalks to regular trash collection to toilets that accept toilet paper to homeless shelters to health and safety officers to police who are--by and large--NOT corrupt, to handicapped accessibility to electricity that is online almost 100% of the time, to laws and regulations intended to protect our health and make our cities "more livable". We have all the basics taken care of--we worry about how PRETTY our cities are.

I love my country! I have high hopes that new leadership will correct some of the wrongs of the recent path and put us back in an admired leadership role in the world--not a begrudging acknowledgement, but appreciated--because we do things WELL and we do things RIGHT, not simply because we are rich and get to make big decisions (and when are compared to the rest of the world--we are very, very, VERY rich) .

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday--and appreciate the FREEDOMS that we all take for granted... Daily. There is so much to appreciate about our lives!