Saturday, March 21, 2009

Round and round and round it goes, where it stops, nobody knows...

So, this is going to be my second entry. A lot has happened in the, it's been a month. OK, so, I solemnly swear that I will do better on posting to my blog. There, that should do it. I now have no excuse for not keeping this thing up to date. Unless of course, it's that I don't have a cheap enough internet connection at my apartment.

Speaking of which... Last month I unknowingly racked up about a $500 internet bill (Yes, not Egyptian pounds, DOLLARS…DOOLLLAAARRRSSS...) Ahmed had neglected to tell me that the 3G internet I was so happy to have charged by the megabyte of interchange, 1 LE (about 20 cents) per MB. Yah, that's like 5 minutes on facebook. And I was downloading stuff, surfing the web, playing games, videochatting... you get the idea. Well, never again. Hopefully, we'll be getting a landline into our apartment soon, but until then, it's the internet cafe and a few helpful friends for me. Good thing I brought a laptop...haha. Anyways, Ahmed's brother, who runs the finances for the shop (and the apartment as well, so it appears) called me and wanted to know what was happening, and I explained that this wasn't how it worked in the states, but I was willing to cover the costs. He was very nice, and said that I would only have to pay $200 US, which is an enormous amount here in Egypt, but not as much as I was planning on having to pay. I probably should have tried to pay more, now that I look back on it, but I was glad just to have it all worked out and over with.

Sweets set out for the Prophet's Birthday

I really like the branch here. There are so many people that I get along with, and I look forward to seeing them every Sunday. I'd have to say that about half of the people work for the government in some aspect, most in the embassy here in Cairo, and we also have a few Arab members, as well as a French family, a Sudanese family, and a man from Nigeria, Bertram, who is like the coolest guy ever. I taught him to play pool a few weeks ago at the Cannons (Bro Cannon works at the embassy) and it was a blast!

Bro Griggs, an archeologist that is funded by BYU and runs a dig out in the Fayoum Oasis, about three hours from here, gave a cool presentation on their dig that I got to go to. The site they work is a cemetery who's history of use spans about 500 years, from the Ptolemaic into the Coptic eras. They shared some of the findings that they have had, including the mode of burial (Christians have their feet buried toward the East, to rise to meet Christ when he comes, while earlier pagan burials face the other direction, according to the belief that the dead go into the West), and they have also found some symbolism on the various shrouds and other textiles from the graves. He explained how archeology is a lot of guesswork, and really all you can say about theories are that they're the best idea anyone's come up with yet. Sounds like you can get a BS degree in Archeology, too. Maybe I should! :-)

On the subject of education, I found out that I did not make the cut into the U of U program for next Fall, which kind of leaves me wondering what I’m doing here and what exactly God’s plan for me is. I had kinda been having some doubts about whether a Masters in Middle East studies was the way to go, if I could really stand having to sit through that many classes based on one subject. That’s really just not the way I work, but no one seems to want a Renaissance man anymore. It’s all specialization and micromanagement these days. Maybe I was just born 500 years too late…Maybe Bro Griggs would be digging me up… What a pleasant thought…

So, as far as a life calling, sorta back to square one. I feel like Gerry in the Pixar short that plays himself at chess. He gets down to the last move, and everywhere he tries to put his king, the other him is like “Uh-uh-uh.” That’s kinda where I’m at. Every time I pick a direction, even if it seems like a good one at the moment, there’s that little “uh-uh-uh” nudge holding me back. Or worse…

And then there’s worse. Like when I planned to go to visit Luxor and the Valley of the Kings this weekend. Lindsey, a girl in the ward who’s studying at AUC (The American University at Cairo), her roommate Daphne, who’s American Chinese, and I, had all planned to pop down there for the weekend. Lindsey had found prices for the trains online for like 90 LE (Egyptian Pounds…about $15) and so we went down to the station to get them. Well, guess what, wouldn’t you know it that the train schedule just changed so there’s only one train that foreigners are allowed to ride, other than the exorbitantly expensive sleeper cars, and it cost 165 LE. We were sure there was some sort of mistake, but after calling her Arab friend and having him talk to the clerks, a little bit of arguing, and a friendly Egyptian man who tried to help out, we had the same results. So we went to the bus station and got tickets for 100 LE. Not as comfy, but it would get us there over night and at near the same time. And all was well. Or so I thought until the next day, when I showed up at Lindsey’s apartment for the last meal before heading out. We ordered in fried chicken from Chili’s, which is more than I’m usually willing to pay for food here (OK, so it was a grand total of like 4 dollars a piece, but hey, I’m cheap. I usually eat for under a dollar a meal at the falafel place.) Everything has delivery here, even Mcdonalds, and I think I’m going to order once just to say that I did it. Anyway, I had been feeling a bit odd, but chalked it up to being hungry, as I hadn’t eaten since around noon, and it was nigh on 7 pm. You can probably guess that outcome. I ate as much as I could, hoping it would calm my stomach down, but, as greasy food usually does, it didn’t help much it ended up being given to the mildly confused bowab (the doorman who cares for the apartment complex) in a double plastic baggy. Luckily, I had just learned the word for puke in Arabic and was able to say it to him as I stumbled out the door. I’m sure I would have enjoyed the look on his face more had I not been as worried about not falling flat on my own.

Needless to say, I didn’t make it to the bus station. Instead, I ended up staying the night with the Williamson’s, a young married couple that lives not far from Lindsey and Daphne. Jae Hee, (aka Sis. Williamson) had had a tutoring appointment fall through and had stopped by to say goodbye, and had gotten to take part in the fun. She kindly offered to let me spend the night with them, as they have a spare bedroom, and I was having chills and shaking uncontrollably from time to time. I guess I had it coming as I haven’t been really sick in over a year. They set me up with a mummy style sleeping bag (in Egypt, go figure) a queen sized bed, and a nice hot cup of peppermint tea. In spite of that, I ended up having delirious thoughts until about 4 AM, and then slept quite well until noon. Around 2:30, I finally got up enough strength to make it home, and stayed there until going to the Pixar party that night. Where we watched “Gerry’s Game.” I’ve been living on bread and Gouda cheese since then, waiting till I’m sure I can handle something more substantial.

Like the excellent Eritrean food that Lindsey and I had earlier this week. It seems we do a lot of stuff together as everyone else is busy, and it’s no fun going it alone. She showed me this place on the sixth floor of a downtown building, where one week a month the African refugees run a shop and restaurant. The goods were pretty cool, the food excellent (can’t beat that Eritrean spicy roast beefy stuff!) and the company was also entertaining. We met an Arabic professor working on a thesis on teaching Arabic to foreigners who offered to give us free lessons, and a Sudanese lady who was weaving some of the things for sale. We had a fun time, and I understood quite a bit!

Earlier this month, Jae Hee, Lindsey, and I had the great opportunity to go visit Saqqara with Bro. Knapp, who’s been in the ward for about 5 years and has studied a lot about the various ruins in the area. Saqqara is the home of the step pyramid of Zoser, the first pyramid ever built (not a mastaba, either, a PYRAMID!) And guess who the architect was? Imhotep. No, he wasn’t some disgruntled priest who murdered a pharaoh and was sentenced to an eternity in limbo to come forth from the grave every few millenia to aggravate passing adventurers. Actually, he was rather a nice guy with a round face, bald head, pleated skirt, and melodious voice (well, maybe. I couldn’t tell that from the 5 inch statue in the museum where the first impressive exhibit you see as you walk in is the chipped remains of a sculpture, consisting solely of Imhotep’s feet. That’s the mother of first impressions, let me tell you.) Anyway, after realizing that my grasp of hieroglyphics had woefully digressed from its former glory, and being greatly encouraged to review them, we left the museum to check out the temple complex.

View of Zoser's Pyramid from the Ruins

You enter through a room filled with stone pillars, meant to resemble a forest. Originally, the columns were painted red, to look like wood, and the supporting breastworks black. After passing through this, you come upon the pyramid, the great artificial mountain in the midst of the surrounding dunes. Bro. Knapp took us around to the various alcoves and tombs, some of which contain beautifully carved hieroglyphs, where the individual rays of each feather on a bird can be clearly seen, even after 4000 years. He explained to us some of the symbolism behind the monument, which has a many parallels with modern-day LDS temple worship, and even paid a guard to allow us to see the statue of Zoser enclosed in a chamber of stone, which is lit each spring on the Vernal equinox, signaling the time of planting in ancient Egypt.

After walking around for a few hours, Jae Hee started to get lightheaded. She hadn’t eaten breakfast, and had neglected to bring any water, so Bro. Knapp lead her back to the car, giving Lindsey and I directions on how to get back to the parking lot. Well, we got distracted. By many things. First, by the relief carvings on the entrance to the ceremonial walkway, which used to connect the complex to the Nile. It is separated from the ground by vaulting beneath it, making it neither a part of this world, or the next. The reliefs depicted the construction of the monument as well as facets of ancient life. I think my favorite was seeing a guy filleting fish! Above, carved stars sat in a background which still maintained some of its original blue coloring. I was happy to notice that they were actually the hieroglyph which means “star.” To the ancients, their language was art, and each artist gives his own personal flare to the inscriptions. You can see where the Arabs got their love for writing and language.

It's a little blurry but you can see some of the Detail

Coming through the entrance, we peered over the edge of the walkway to see a small group of locked doors interspersed with panels of carved glyphs, and determined to find our way down. Before we could do so, we were accosted by the gate keeper to the tomb of Wenis, who explained how, for a small fee, he would open the door to the tomb and allow us to see the “beautiful colors” of the tomb of Wenis and his son. Lindsey started to protest in Arabic, after which the man repeated exactly the same sales pitch in Arabic. Eventually he left to tend his camel or something, and we ran down to the tombs when he wasn’t looking. It was cool to see the walls of glyphs being slowly covered by the sand as it cascaded over their edges and piled against them. In Egypt, the desert reclaims all. Unfortunately, all the gates to the tombs were locked, and I had neglected to bring a set of lock picks to Egypt…

The hut and Camel of the Caretaker of Wenis's Tomb

The Desert Reclaims All

As far as seeing the sights, I also went to a local market this past week, where they sell everything from meat, to carpets, to clothes and cell phones, to small children. No, actually I don’t remember any children for sale, though I did look down once to find two beautiful pairs of eyes belonging to two cute little girls staring up at me. They were sisters who had decided that I was worthy of their oranges after hearing me speak Arabic to some other kids. I couldn’t say no, and was actually rather touched by the whole thing. Kids are the same no matter where you go. No wonder the Savior spoke so highly of them and declared that we are to “become as little children.” I learn to appreciate that more and more the more that I travel.

Classes are going well, and I’m about half-way through the second set of them. I love the language, and it’s coming along, even the verb tenses, which are a little complicated but not so bad as some other languages.

In other recent news, a guy on a motorcycle threw a bomb into a cafĂ© near the main market and killed 8 people, I saw a murder victim on the way to church one Friday, I got my hair cut, which included an eyebrow and nose hair trim, and I’m trying to find Chinese people to tutor in English. I really need money so that I can stay longer if I want to. I might, I might not. I at least want to make enough to go to Lebanon in May and Israel in August. That would be nice.

Well, that’s about it for today. I really do enjoy writing these and I should do it more often, like, once a week. If I get around to it. I think I may go have some bread and cheese. Or study hieroglyphs. Or more likely just fall asleep in bed. Later.


PS. I posted about 20 pictures, but it takes forever. And then didn't realize I had to publish to save them to the blog. So, facebook has the other pictures I was going to post...

1 comment:

  1. You're welcome to use the internet at our place any time. Everyone does. :)