Friday, May 15, 2009
Of Mummies, and Temples, and Trilinguility
Ah, yes. It's Friday again, which means that I have a few minutes to update my blog. This is week, it's the only day off I have, as I missed a day of class earlier on due to my teacher, Khaled's, family emergency. So I get to make it up on Saturday.
A lot has happened since Turkey. In fact, though I only posted the entry last Friday, over two weeks have passed since I returned. And, of course, in that time a lot has happened. I better get started.
Came back to spend a few days in my apartment in Maadi, and to arrange for my next battery of Arabic classes. (The picture at left is the statue in the center of Tahrir square. The large text on the base says, helpfully, "Statue") Turns out that my new roommate, Andy, who's American Chinese and has lived in DC for a number of years, as well as speaks Mandarin (woot!), is studying at the Fajr Center in Doqqi, which is closer to where I live now. So, I took a day and went down to the center there to arrange for classes. I had planned to take private tutoring for Ammeyya, or Egyptian Colloquial Arabic, but Andy advised against it, saying it was a waste of money and could better be served by doing frequent language exchanges with locals. So, I signed up for the next level of Fusha, or Standard Arabic. The classes didn't start for about another week.
In the mean time, I wanted to get out of my apartment in Maadi by the first of the month, as I was a little leary of the rent jump this past month and afraid of further unforeseen charges. So what did I do? Decided to move my stuff into my new apartment, and then skip to Luxor for a few days! :-)
The last day in my Maadi apartment, I invited my roomie, Ahmed, to have drinks at a local coffee shop. ("Having drinks" here does not imply alcohol usually, due to the stringent Muslim dietary laws.) We had a really nice talk for about an hour, during which I got the further lowdown on what the situation really is in regard to our apartment becoming the "Love Shack" twice a week. (Pic: Ahmed and his employees in The Tree, his veggie shop. Ahmed is in the grey shirt.)
As it turns out, Ahmed's older brother invested about 100,000 Egyptian Pounds in his store, which it was agreed Ahmed would pay back in installments. Well, low and behold, his brother decides to extort the situation by "asking" for the current arrangment, so he can have a place to meet secretly with his girlfriend, which no one knows about. So, sounds like there's some sort of Romeo and Juliet thing going on. Whenever Ahmed brings up the inconvenience of the arrangement, his brother replies with a curt, "Where's my money?" So he's in a bad situation. He is so annoyed that he's considering getting a loan to pay off the debt, or even finding a friend to pretend to be his wife so his brother goes away. Wow... I really hope things work out for him. If nothing else, he should have the debt paid off in a few months and then the leverage will be gone and he can have his apartment back.
Speaking of the long stretches of homelessness, I used the last opportunity to visit the Egyptian Museum here. I saw all the things I wanted to see, including all of the opulent golden stuff taken out of King Tut's tomb. I was even able to read some, due to my study of heiroglyphics, and, when I met a group of Chinese girls who worked for Emirates Air, I became their impromptue guide. It was a lot of fun. And, while I was looking at things, my mom called from China, and so we talked while I sat amidst hundreds of sarcophogi. Quite a singular experience.
Anyway, the day after my drink with Ahmed, I dropped my stuff off at Andy's and headed to the bus station. The bus was overnight, but I actually slept pretty well, all things considered, and arrived pretty well rested for the events of the next day. And it's a good thing too, as it was hot, and I had a LOT of walking to do. Checked in to the hostel which Lindsey and Daphne had suggested, and spent about an hour getting acquainted with Regi, the manager, who is also in the midst of an archaeology Ph. D. He told me the best places to see and the best ways of doing them.
Then headed down to Karnak, about a 2.5 kilometer walk by the Nile, where I was accosted by a boat owner to read a non-existant English letter. Really, he just wanted me to pay for a ride, but I was in a hurry and didn't want to spend the money at the moment.
Was so pleased and happy to be there that when I first saw the huge main entrance I almost started crying. Manly, I know. I'm a sucker for history, and it's a place I've wanted to go since I first heard about it umpteen years ago. It's quite an amazing building, and must have been spectacular in its prime. There are about 7 (I can't remember the exact number) sections, each built by a different pharoah, sometimes at the expense of existing structures. Included in the complex are rooms for washing, rooms for contemplation, rooms dedicated to the immortality of various pharoahs, including Hatshepsut, (whose image and cartouche was excised completely from the walls by order of her nephew Tuthmosis III, furious at her usurpation of his throne. see image at right), and, of course, rooms for the pantheon of gods, although in Karnak it is limited to the "Theban Trinity" of Amen, Isis, and their son...I forget his name... There is also a "Holy of Holies" in the central room, which has depictions of various rituals on the walls, many defaced by Coptic Christians when they used the ruins as a church during 3-500s AD.
My favorite part was the immense pillared hall which houses over 130 pillars over 15 meters high. The central two files are crowned by capitals in the form of opened papyrus flowers, while on the remaining, shorter pillars, the buds are closed. It is meant to symbolize the primeval swamp from which Amen was born, in fact, there is still the vestiges of the holy lake in the center of the compound, which was believed to be the remnant of this great antedeluvian marsh. Anciently, it was likely the site of many rituals of rebirth. Now, it is filled with nasty algae and floating plastic bottles, a far cry from the original splendour.
Another interesting aspect of this hall is that many of the original colors have survived, protected beneath the lintels spanning the columns. Most of the colored texts are cartouches and the epithets which attend them, the grand majority belonging to Ramses the Great, who commissioned the most lavish expansions to the temple. Also present outside are two obelisks, one erected by Hatshepsut. The surrounding walls are covered with accounts of battles and accomplishments of the various kings. I wish I knew more heiroglyphics...
I also took the opportunity to sit and chat with some of the Egyptians who caretake at the ruins. I was surprised that I could actually have a decent 5 minute conversation with one of them and understand what he was saying. More remarkable, he understood me! Perhaps I'm starting to get this Arabic stuff after all!
Then headed to Luxor temple, and walked through once before, and once after sundown. It's a completely different feeling, seeing the ruins lit in haunting lights, throwing the epics carved into the walls into sharp relief behind the statues and sphinxes. I wandered about till most of the tourists had left to see the very cheesy and overpriced lightshow at Karnak, stopping to help a woman from Holland who was trying to get one of the caretakers to leave her alone. After he left, I made sure she got a taxi safely back to her hotel.
The next day, I toured the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens (Where, oddly enough, I talked to my mom again...she has a knack for catching me at interesting places...), Hatshepsut's Temple, and the Colossi of Memnon. For once in my life, I went on an organized tour. Usually I avoid them like the plague, as the grand majority are overpriced and rushed, but this one was pretty good, and I made some new friends among the other tourists. Met Lauren, a girl from Australia, and it happened to be her birthday, so we "celebrated" by wandering around the ruins in 100+ degree weather. It really knocked out most of the group, who seemed to be more content to sit in the shade than see the sites. I was still ready for more!
In the Valley of Kings, saw the tombs of 2 Ramseses...or is it Ramsesi? Anyway, 2 guys named Ramses, who may or may not have been remotely related. Also, Lauren and I ran (yes, ran) all the way to the back of the valley so we could see the tomb of Tuthmosis III, much to the consternation and chagrin of our guide. We'd heard about this tomb in particular, as its walls contain most of the Book of the Dead. It was pretty cool, especially because it went way down into the rock before opening up into the tomb. In other tombs, we saw Coptic graffiti (if you don't want to be found, hide underground in a blisteringly hot desert. That usually does the trick) and what apeared to be some kind of chart describing characteristics of various stars, in the tomb of Ramses IV or IX. Star gate. It must be true after all.
Hatshepsuts Temple was awesome, though, once again, stupid Tuthmosis had defaced much of it, including the account of the trading expedition to Nubia, the crowning achievement of Hatshepsuts reign. Originally, the temple also included the story of Hatshepsut's birth, wherin she is shown to be the direct child of Re, and therefore has the right to rule over her nephew's claims to the throne. In spite of this, the best original paintings can be found in the bottom right of the complex, in full color. They include several "Mut" birds (Mut is a goddess, not a mangy dog, people) and a depiction of offerings given to the soul of the King (or queen...she tried to do everything like a man, even wearing false beards and mustaches. However, in the sculptures of her, the features of the face, if of nothing else, are decidedly feminine.)
To finish of the day, after resting a spell at the hostel, went on a sailboat ride on the Nile to Banana Island, aptly named due to its overabundance of tropical fruits, which range from papaya, to lemons, to, of course, bananas. Two Koreans from my earlier tour were on the same boat, with their McDonalds, and we had a great time. Also met two women from Croatia, one of whom is a freelance translator. We had some cool conversations.
The sun was setting as we sailed home, and made for some amazing views of the Nile. We also drank hibiscus tea, while listening to, of all things, old recordings of Bob Marley. He seems to be all the rage here in Egypt, and more especially in Luksor. Well, look at that, I spelled it as a direct transliteration from Arabic...haha.
Regi had gotten me a ticket on an Egyptian train going back to Cairo. Usually, foreigners are required to ride a special, and according to authorities, safer, but most importantly, EXPENSIVE train, which is why I took the bus on the way down. However, there is the convenient loophole that an Egyptian can buy the tickets. As long as they don't mention who they're for, there's no problem. Once you have the tickets, nobody seems to care. Nobody even looked at me twice.
I sat next to Ann, a girl from Malaysia who was traveling here to visit friends. Helped her get her next train ticket when she got to Cairo, and then headed to my new apartment for some much needed sleep.
Alas, it was not to be, as my phone rang, informing me that I had class at 8 AM, and wondering where I was. So, right from the subway, I got back on the train and went to class. Thankfully, I made it through the day.
Thus ends my adventure to Luxor, (man I really have to fight to spell it like that...) and thus begins my stay in downtown Cairo. More on that in the next entry.