Yes, I’ve fallen awfully behind yet again, but in my defense, an awful lot has happened in the last week and a half-ish. I have done a ton of things and been to a ton of places. To give you a little bit of an idea of how crazy my life has in, in the past two weeks I have: finished classes, tried to get a new student card, moved, fasted for Ramadan, traveled to the “terrorist headquarters” of Egypt, bought a Koran, crossed two borders, and am now chilling in Jerusalem. Yes, it has been a very eventful several days…
So, where should I start? Let’s see, for that “start” to happen, I need to go check my journal. Which also means I need to write in it, as it’s about midnight and we’re seeing the Dome of the Rock tomorrow.
So, now that it’s tomorrow…I think I’ll start where I left off, at least pretty close. I decided to go to South Saqqara, which contains several pyram ids and temples, and according to my book, had no entrance fee. I donned my qofia and galabeya, and took a few pictures before I was approached by the caretaker and told the site was off limits. I told him I really wanted to see it, and wouldn’t be here in October when it’s more open, and that I could read hieroglyphics. He was skeptical and told me to read the pharoah’s name. After I found a cartouch, it was pretty simple. Pepy’s about the easiest name there is in hieroglyphs. I’m glad it wasn’t something more complex, but I’m sure I would have done fine either way. I can read most names, sounding out the characters and such. He was impressed and we chatted a bit. The reason the area is closed is because it’s an active dig site for a French archeological team. At least the closing makes sense, and not like at Abu Seir where there’s no apparent reason. He did let me take a few pictures before I headed back, though none of them were as cool as I’d hoped.
The cool thing was that, afterwards, a kid was yelling at me from the walls of Saqqara Village, so I went over to talk. Ended up talking to his dad, Ayman, who’s an archeologist that works with the team when they come every year. We exchanged emails and he will keep me informed on the things that happen on the dig site. Cool! Also, his son climbed the date trees and got me some sun-ripened-on-the-tree dates. SOoooooOOooo good. Oh, and on the way back to the mini-bus stop a lady offered to let me marry her daughter. I politely declined.
I also got to talk with some of the local children, who were especially interested in the reason I was wearing Arab head gear. I explained that it’s because the sun is hot, and it’s more comfortable to dress like they do out in the desert. They were also curious about America, and the differences between villages here and there.
The next day, I went to the ancient city of Memphis. I was a bit disappointed, mostly because the great majority of the site is fenced off as a “military area,” whatever that means. It seems that there’s a military base adjacent to pretty much every archaeological site except Giza. (There might be one there that I just don’t know about…) Maybe it’s a way to deter tomb robbers or something. (But that didn’t deter Ibrahim the vendor from showing me a cash of Greek and Roman coins, shabtis, and scarabs he swore were found at the site…although the workmanship of most of it was pretty laughable, and the hieroglyphs said absolutely nothing. If it was real, I don’t believe in supporting tomb robbers to begin with. He was even all secretive about taking me back behind his booth and opening up a “secret” compartment/cabinet. Of course when I came out there was a guard right there, and nothing seemed to be the matter. :-P )
Anyway, I walked around the severely limited enclosure, taking photos and getting yelled at by the guards for walking by the fence and looking into the “restricted” area. The first guy tried to only use English on me, which consisted of “no” repeatedly, no matter what I said or asked in Arabic. Finally, his supervisor came over and answered my questions in Arabic, and everything was fine. Just talk to me people, I’m not an idiot. (No, just a sneak. I got pictures from the catwalk above a famous statue later on…haha. Take that, establishment.)
The main attraction is a 20 meter high statue of Ramses the Great, which was found on its side in the Nile near the site. Aside from water damage there and a missing leg, it’s quite impressive, if you haven’t been to Aswan (which I haven’t). Also had fun reading glyphs and was pleasantly surprised at how many I remember.
After completely exhausting available sites and humoring Ibrahim and another vendor, I decided to find my way back through Saqqara village. I bought a bottle of water, and settled down in the shade to drink it and look at the town. After a while, a few little girls who had been giggling nearby came and started to talk to me, asking me questions about why I was here (seeing Memphis and studying Arabic), why I was wearing a Qofia (it’s hot out and it’s comfortable in the sun), if I was Muslim (no, I’m Christian), why I wanted to take pictures in the village (because villages here are different from in the states, for example, lots of brick buildings and date palms), etc. I was extremely happy that I was able to answer all of their questions, and really felt a lot of love for them. Learning the language really does help you connect with the people. I sure hope I find a woman who loves people as much as I do.
At church this past Friday, I taught my last Sunday School lesson on the Priesthood. It was a good class, though I wish that the students had participated more. It was one of the largest groups I’ve had, but, as is pretty typical for that age group, they were mostly silent when I asked a question. I wish that I had been able to figure out how to encourage better participation in class. However, Sis. Cannon came up to me after church and mentioned how much Cody, her son, had said he enjoyed and learned from my lessons. It filled me with gratitude to hear that he had gotten so much from my meager effort at teaching. I hope that the Spirit was able to teach him, and the others in my class, things that they will value throughout the rest of their lives.
Bro. Cannon also took me aside and shared a little about the Utah Nat’l Guard language unit, which he thinks could be a good jumping off point for me for a career in the Foreign Service. It probably would be. I considered his offer to call a recruiter form their home, and after a nap, called Bro. Cannon and went to meet at his house.
I never did end up calling the recruiter, but we did have a really valuable (for me at least) conversation. I learned about military operations, what happens in the national guard, basic training, benefits, MOS’s, and a whole host of other interesting things. Most of all, I learned that I need to use my languages more as a means to reach an end, rather than a means to themselves. Bro. Cannon said that if I keep doing what I’m doing, people will take it as someone who lacks direction. Which is true. I hate being locked into something.
I guess I just need to find something I’m good at. I just worry that if I choose something, that I will find that I’m not happy in it. State Dept. would be great cause I’d get to travel to a variety of places. The problem is that the life seems so sterile. You are separated from the society and normal people of the country in which you live. You have to have a driver instead of riding public transportation. I don’t think I would like that. Maybe it will just be something to get used to. I want to be able to have the same range of amazing experiences with people that I have enjoyed these past few weeks, none of which would have been possible if I had to use my own driver.
I also want to do grad school. I have the credentials, just not the direction. Once again, being locked in to something really scares me. Maybe it will actually give me more freedom, but I have no idea how I will grow to see it that way. It seems that any decision I make will only serve to limit my possibilities for the future. Sure, I love Arabs and their culture, but do I want to study that exclusively? No! China? The same. And so it goes for any other country, language, and culture. I want to be well-versed in many styles of the music of human thought, not just one or two. I want to understand the world and the way it works, I want to see the big picture, not just the little pieces presented by each mind set.
I guess I really need to talk to a career counselor or something when I get home. I have faith that things will work out OK in the end when I make the right decision. If only I could figure out what that was.
The final adventure before Israel, where I am now, was a visit to Al Fayoum. The travel book was right on as to the location to catch the bus, however, it failed to mention the sheer SIZE of the minibus depot. It said it was “behind Ramses Train Station.” More like, AROUND Ramses Train Station. All around. There were no less than three separate areas I had to check before I found the right bus. Thankfully, it was in plenty of time.
When it was packed full, we headed out to the Fayoum. It was a bit uncomfortable, as for some reason everyone kept closing the windows and there was no AC, but we got there in good time. Once there, I was dropped off at some random place not on the map I had, and wandered about until I was convinced to take a carriage ride around the city to see the famous 7 water wheels.
I mentioned I was fasting for Ramadan, and so the driver assumed I was Muslim and gave me a good price. I still feel a bit bad about that. Not so much so as he ended up taking an extra 5 LE as a “tip” at the end. As if he doesn’t get the money I paid him… Haha. The good part was that he dropped me off at the bus depot I needed to catch the arabea (truck, this a modified pickup turned into a sort of bus thingy by building walls and a roof over the bed) to my next destination, a small town where I would change arbeas to the final village, known as Qasr Qarun.
The first ride was good, and I ended up chatting with everyone else for a good portion of the time. Al Fayoum is a hotspot for such radical Islamist groups as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Madrasa Islamia, who were the masterminds behind the 1995 tourist massacre in Luxor. Police presence in the area has been stepped up since then, and I was half expecting to be hassled by them, but the most the police did was smile, wave, and comment on my excellent choice of carriage drivers. I felt like one of the guys in my truck there was a member of the brotherhood. Not for any particular reason…perhaps the way he carried himself and asked questions. He seemed like a nice enough guy. Asked me when I planned to break my fast and I couldn’t remember the word for “sunset” until he said it. (It’s “maghrib.”) The feeling changed when I mentioned working for the government, but they were still civil to me.
The next bus was not as interesting, and I was dropped off at the Temple of Sobek just before the village. I was the only person there, and the police there had to get Ibrahim the caretaker to open the locked gate and take me around the ruin. It was OK, though I really don’t like having to have a guide, as I like exploring on my own. I still got to look around in the underground passages and shine my flashlight everywhere. It was great! Also went up top and took pictures of the ruins of the Roman and Pharoanic settlements surrounding the temple (which is still standing after 2000 years.)
After that, I bid them goodbye, got my 5 LE change from the front desk, and gave Ibrahim a small tip before making a beeline for the ocean. Across a bridge, I walked for 4 km along a dirt road, which changed into plowed fields criss-crossed by a series of 5 ft deep canals, which I had to find ways across (ie jumping and hoping I didn’t fall in and break my ankle on the uneven ground below or on the other side.) It was a nice walk, though I was a bit worried about time, as my guidebook said the last bus for Cairo left at 7 PM, and it took over 30 min to walk to the sea. It was cool though, cause I got to take some good pics of the countryside, a donkey riding boy (who offered me a ride, incidentally, but I said I preferred to walk), and a group of hobbled camels. And lots of people. Sleeping the Ramadan fast away. Haha.
At long last, I arrived on the beach and was greeted by the awesome site of sandstone cliffs across the deep blue acres of Lake Qarun. To add to the surreal effect, there was a small fisherman’s hut, standing guard over a soft blue pile of nets, and several blue painted boats floating placidly beside the shore. I took a picture, and then the fisherman came out and invited me inside to sit and chat for a while.
I was surprised to find no less than 7 people inside the small hut. After introductions (though I remember none of their names—except I know there was at least one Ahmed, a Mohammed, and probably a Moustafa—I asked about their lives, and found that they work 14 hours every day for a take of 22 kilos of fish, and that that is a decent catch. After a while, I bid farewell and began my walk back to the shore road, where they said a bus truck would take me back to the Fayoum.
I left as Moustafa (the one standing), a relative I assume, drove up on a motorcycle. They offered to have him give me a ride up, which was much appreciated (and had been prayed for in fact.) I waited by the side of the road, being mostly ignored by the passing traffic, including the trucks. After a while, I flagged down a truck and asked about where to get the ride to Fayoum. They let me hop on until they turned off the main road, and directed me ahead to where I thought another road met up.
OK, I can walk another kilometer. Even though I’m starting to get a stitch in my side from the Ramadan fast, and am dreadfully tempted to take a swig of the water in my bag and break my fast early. May I suggest not doing physically demanding things while fasting… Although, I did learn to appreciate what Muslims go through in Ramadan a lot more, which was the point of joining in the fast in the first place (though most sleep it away, as noted).
At long last, I was able to catch a lift on a passenger truck, where I met Hady the Duck Man (at least I think that’s what he said. He had a group of empty cages and was very happy about selling them all, whatever “they” were, at the local market. I assumed ducks, cause I know the word for dove and chicken, and he didn’t say that, and there were tons of ducks in the area for sale. :-P) After a while, he and a woman named Hani, the only other person there, helped me to know where to get off to get a bus to Cairo. However, the bus driver disagreed, and I stuck with him cause I didn’t know what else to do. He was good as his word, and flagged down a Cairo bound bus. It was empty and I worried about paying more, but it was fine. 12 LE instead of 10, but they dropped me off at a metro station (sure, it was furthest away from where I needed to be, but it was a metro.)
Maghrib (sunset worship) happened as we drove, and so I listened to the evening prayer on the radio before partaking of the packets of dates and backs of water and date juice which had been handed in for the bus’s occupants by people standing along the road for that purpose. I felt honored to participate in the fast with them, and happy it was over.
Got dropped off at New El Marg, the absolute last stop on the Helwan subway line, and rode to Sadat, where I met up with Kevin Blankenship for a drink (juice of course) and a nice chat. He even helped me get pomegranites from a juice vendor. Also, thanks to him, I now am addicted to wishing everyone “Ramadan Kareem!” which literally means “generous Ramadan.”
Next time, you get to hear about my visit to the Holy Land so far. :-)