SMITTEN BY EGYPT
By Rebecca Masters
Are we going? Are we not going? Do we need a PCR test? Is the shot record available with a QR code? Are we going? Are we not going? These were the questions leading up to our trip to Egypt in March. which often felt very tenuous at best. There were changes in the requirement to get into Turkey and Egypt that kept us wondering.
My husband, Allan, and I heard about the trip from my sister Ruth who knew the leaders of the tour group- she had been on archaeological digs with them. The theme of the trip would be linking biblical archaeology to what we were seeing in Egypt. Sadly, a week before the trip was to go Stephanie's father became seriously ill, hospitalized and then passed away. So, she was unable to come on the trip but her husband Bob would be with us on the trip.
There were eight flights in total, a four night Nile River Cruise, numerous boat rides across and along the Nile, a hot air balloon ride- I even managed to look out and would do it again, even though I was petrified, a crazy carriage ride through dusty and crowded streets, and a camel ride.
People often ask what our favorite thing was, but there is no way I could pick a favorite. I think it is more about the “Wows “. Of course, I knew about the pyramids and I knew there were temples, but what I didn't know, and which was truly awe-inspiring (not awesome like, “hey I just ate breakfast” “Awesome!”) was the sheer sizes and number of temples and tombs all along the Nile and that each of these was elaborately decorated with paintings, hieroglyphic, and cartouches. Every inch of wall and ceiling was covered in these places! The only ones that were incomplete were ones in which the Pharaoh had died before the work was finished and I guess the attitude was, “Oh well, he'll never know". Some of the images were scratched out. Sometimes this was the result of a later pharaoh wanting to obliterate the images of the previous one (cancel culture?). Another fun fact was that when the Greeks came and tried to be like the Pharaohs, the Egyptian Artisans would purposely make “spelling” errors or do substandard work on their temples and tombs. I also learned from a friend who visited the workers' tombs that the workers saved some of their best paint and artwork for their own tombs, which is confirmed by her pictures.. As a nature lover one of my favorite tombs was the Princess Idut whose tomb had so many animal pictures- fish of different species instead of generic fish and lots of Hippo pictures: hippo swimming across the Nile, hippos getting caught and 1 hippo giving birth while a crocodile stood nearby ready to enjoy some fresh baby hippo.
The other thing that I really didn’t appreciate until I was there was the fact that these have stood for thousands of years and therefore lots of other people had visited and used these spaces. Not only were pharaohs chiseling off the faces and images of previous pharaohs, but when the Coptic Christians arrived, they wanted to convert these temples into churches so they also scratched out images of the Pharaohs and put their crosses in where faces used to be.
The Nile cruise was fascinating because I realized that the Nile is really just a strip of green in this gigantic desert. There were places along the Nile where there was maybe 6 to 10 feet of something growing and then just dead desert next to it- no transition zone.. Places where they had irrigation went out a little farther but the line between green and desert was very stark.
At some sites we got to observe kids on field trips, and just like the Middle School aged kids I chaperoned, they were mostly rushing from display to display and then huddling together to talk about whatever drama was going on. At the pyramids we saw one young girl crying while her friend was comforting her-I am pretty sure she was not sad about the pharaoh. At one Museum, 3 girls wanted to practice their English so I had a cute but short conversation with them. They were very giggly just as Middle school girls anywhere might be. The kids also liked it when you waved at them.
There were two things I really struggled with - one was the litter and pollution, especially in Cairo - trash everywhere and lots of it plastics and plastic bottles. It just seems so overwhelming and impossible to remedy. The other thing, for me, was the constant pressure of vendors to buy “Only 1 dollar, We love America!”. Sometimes they would follow you for quite a while. Then if you did decide to buy, the negotiating began. I knew that it was part of the culture, but I felt uncomfortable with it. Allan, who LOVES to wheel and deal, enjoyed that part and got some good deals. Me, I think I vastly overpaid for some Argan oil and colorful peppercorns. By the end, I was able to negotiate, but still didn’t like it.
The last day of the trip and all were wondering what would happen if one of us tested positive for our return trip to the US. However, our tour guide kept assuring us that we would all make our flights and there would be no problem. How he knew that was only a partial mystery. You can draw your own conclusion, but magically we all tested negative for our flights home the following day. (Never mind the fact that one of our group had tested positive and he and his wife stayed in Luxor while we went on the cruise). As my friend Suzanne said, Egypt is in de NILE about COVID.
So, WOW to the size and quantity of the tombs and temples, WOW to the amount of etchings, WOW to the amount of desert.
Home at last and Ruth and I had terrific cold symptoms and Allan had bad fatigue and slight fever. Off to the real COVID tests we went. Allan tested positive and Ruth and I tested negative twice. Sketchy as that last day testing was, we were glad to be home and not in a hotel in Egypt for our recovery.
Above-smiting carved on tomb.
Right-Rebecca smites on sand
Above-the Nile River shoreline
Right-Coptic graffiti on side of tomb