Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Flight into Egypt

Technically, we've been back from our trip to Egypt for three days.  But since I was struck down on our last day there by the mother of all head colds (sore throat, congestion, lethargy), and then traveled 26+ hours on Saturday, to get from our Cairo hotel to the airport to Paris to Atlanta, there to spend the night in a hotel located 3 feet off the airport's busiest runway, and then came home to Bristol on Sunday afternoon, and then spent all Monday on the couch or in bed, feeling like a dog, today seems like my first day home.  I've started laundry.  I've done the dishes.  I've begun, slowly, to put Christmas decorations away.

I've got a lot to say about Egypt but it's difficult to summarize.  What was it like?  Filthy.  Chaotic.  Peaceful.  Serene.  Beautiful.  Ugly.  Awe-inspiring.  Disorganized.  Friendly.  Aloof.  All of these, plus a million details of a splendid ancient civilization, more hieroglyphics and temple carvings than I would have thought possible, and a thousand ways to interpret every one.

Here is where we went: Cairo.  Memphis.  Saqqara.  Alexandria.  Luxor (Thebes).  Dendera.  Aswan. The Valley of the Kings.  The Temples of Luxor, Karnak, Dendera, Hatshepsut, Kom Ombo, Philae.  We saw the Colossi of Memnon and an unfinished obelisk. We cruised the Nile.  We walked near the oldest pyramid ever built, and the Great Pyramids, and the Sphinx; we sang in the ruins of a Roman amphitheater. 

On my son's eighteenth birthday the ship's company serenaded him in English, the Swiss dialect of German, and Arabic.  A new-found Australian friend, noting that my son would now be a legal drinker in Australia, bought him a gin and tonic, and I decided not to care.

Our plans to go to Egypt caused angst among family and friends, who felt we were putting ourselves at risk, unnecessarily.  "Why not wait for a better time?" one friend asked me.

I answered, "What if there is no better time?"

Why Egypt?  I would laugh and say, because we couldn't afford New Zealand.  But also, it's where the pyramids are.  It's unique.

But also, it's where the Muslims are.

This part really doesn't make sense to a lot of our friends.  Everyone knows the word that comes after "Muslim" is "terrorist."  Right?  And Egypt had a revolution, only two years ago, and their government was all over the news, just before we left, and things from an American perspective looked really bad.

My husband felt the American journalistic perspective was skewed; after a bit of research (oh, how I love research), I agreed.  The U.S. Department of State currently lists some 60 countries they officially advise Americans to avoid, due to political unrest or other dangers.  The list includes Mexico.  (If we'd planned a trip to Cancun I doubut any of our friends would have flinched.)  Also Haiti.  (One of my best friends lives there.)  But not Egypt.  We signed up for Unrest Alerts through the American Embassy in Cairo, and got advice such as, "Don't go to Alexandria on Friday, they're planning a big demonstration then.  Go on Saturday instead."


Several years ago, I was in charge of planning a family vacation not long after I'd come out of my first serious bout of depression.  Our family had shrunk a little, during my illness, circled around me protectively and lovingly, but also a little fearfully.  I didn't want us living smaller lives, not for me or any other reason.  So I planned a trip to a very nice Ecolodge that happened to be in the most remote part of Costa Rica.  This freaked my children out entirely--was I aware that Costa Rica was a third world country?  My son remarked bitterly that when Dad planned the vacation we didn't need special vaccinations.  We went anyway, and we were a little afraid, and then we hiked through the rainforest and learned to use our eyes and ears, and kayaked in mangroves, and my children played soccer with barefoot village children, and at the end of the trip, my son said, "Really, we are just like them.  We're all the same."

And that's why we went to Egypt.  Because there are an awful lot of Muslims in the world, and most of them, like most Christians, most Hindis, most Jews, want the same things: a secure, happy life for their families.  Bart and I knew people of all faiths and backgrounds when we were in college, but we grew up in a homogenous small town, as our children are doing.  Now our children know Muhammed, who shepherded us through chaos at the Cairo airport; Hazem, who made us pose for 3000 family photos; Abdu, who tried to explain not only the art of the Egyptian Museum but the concept of art in general; and Wael, whose patience our little group tested 3 times a day.  The children know that really, we are just like them.

That, and the pyramids were awesome.