Sunday, November 22, 2009

Moon 14

ازيكوا يا حلوين؟ كله تمام هنة في مصر، بس محتاجة استراحة من المذاكرة
Screw reading about the collective religious consciousness in Egypt! Salaam min Masr, the mother of the world! How are the spacious skies and amber waves of grain over in Amreeka? I miss it. My first meal when I get back? French toast drenched in maple syrup, BACON, a fresh fruit salad, and Puerto Rican coffee. By the way, for any who were fearing, I have decided not to stay the whole year here, although this was a distinct possibility, and the decision was a hard one, as the thought of leaving Egypt tugs at my heart. I dream to come back this very summer, equipped with a senior thesis and hopefully some grant money.

Some pictures & thoughts from our latest trip to Upper Egypt (really Southern Egypt, reached by an 18-hour train ride through increasingly drier and hotter weather):

"On the River Nile. The sun just descended behind the sandy rock plateaus to the west. The Egyptians' party felucca with its claps and drumbeats reverberates across the still water. Pink and golden hues sweetly grace the surface, quickly disappearing into deep blues, and soon, darkness. My comrades play Monopoly behind me, cards in the nearby boats. My feet are draped over the edge of the boat. We stop for dinner on the shore."
So went my 2 days on a felucca cruising northward on the bounteous Nile! Days were packed with nothingness, some Dominos and some epiphanies, and nights with rounds of Mafia and conversations on the stern of our felucca. One word to sum it up: Salaam. I wrote a lot, so here were 3 things I've learned about myself this semester so far:
1.) I'm adaptable to new places and their people.
2.) I believe in God and have a deeper spirituality than I thought.
3,) People are drawn to me for my positive energy, openness, realness and humor.

The two big cities in Upper Egypt are Aswan and Luxor. We hit up Aswan first, where we ate stuffed pigeon, perused its great sou' (market) and I learned to dominate at Dominos. I liked that Aswan is not stereotypical Egypt. Nubians and their rich history are littered across Aswan, with some great museums & ruins, as well as a little village plopped on an island in the river center. Although these distinct people contributed pharaonic greatness to Egypt, their villages were the first to go when Lake Nasser was created; as you can see, their past and present are sometimes at odds with modern Egypt. I also visited my first Coptic church here, opening my eyes to the 10% of Egyptians who are not Muslims. I was quickly reminded of my deepening respect for religion as I sat in peace in the balcony overlooking mass, the strange iconic faces painted on the walls and the Arabic chanting sending me into a time warp.

A 4-hour drive south of Aswan, maybe some 15 miles from the Sudanese border, is Abu Simbel in all its greatness. You may recognize what I mean:
Ramses II knew how to build himself a temple, that's for shit sure. Typical of any egotistical male ruler, he was honoring his own glory in battles and trying to intimidate enemies. The 4 figures outside are all Ramses himself, with his wife and children at his feet. The inside of the temple is carved full of ornate depictions of offerings to gods like Osiris, god of the underworld, and Amun, one of the era's main divinities. Next to Ramses' temple was his wife's, Nefertari, also dedicated to the goddess Hathor, figure of fertility and life. In the 60's, as the Aswan High Dam was being built, it became clear Abu Simbel would drown. So began the UNESCO-led engineering feat of man to move this relic to safer ground. Between 1964-1968, it was cut into ginormous pieces, and indeed, saved by moving it to higher ground, where it now sits on the edge of man-made Lake Nasser. Check here for more photos, but honestly, go see it yourself:
Wanna hear some more ancient history? I heard my favorite story as we visited the Philae, an island south of Abu Simbel on which lies the Temple of Isis. Isis is my girl. She was married to her brother Osiris (don't judge), and they ruled the world happily & justly together (aaww), but their brother Seth was jealous, so he killed Osiris and chopped him into little pieces. Isis was a badass woman, so despite her grief, she used her power to locate his body parts and revive him long enough for them to make a child together. Osiris become the god of the underworld, and so was born Horus, whose sole purpose was to avenge his father. He spent his life training to fight Uncle Seth, which he eventually did, but he wouldn't have won had it not been for Big Mama Isis. Horus is represented by the falcon, and was later seen as a symbol of kingliness by pharaohs.
After Aswan came the feluccas, which led us (slowly) northward to Luxor. Best part of Luxor (besides using a real bathroom and not the Nile shore)? Bikes & Karnak. One day, about half the group and I rented squeaking break-less bikes, crossed the Nile to the West Bank, and set out. We saw the Valley of the Kings, where over 63 kings and their families built ostentatious and glorious tombs for themselves. We saw Hetshepsut's Temple, a great queen who gave real meaning to "Girl Power". We did this all by bike under the roaring desert heat, but it was well worth it, especially after collapsing in a family's shaded backyard for some traditional Egyptian food. After rejuvenation, we hit up the Karnak Temple. EPIC. Ya Allahi! The largest ancient religious site in the world, Karnak was added to by many a ruler honoring many a god, and this is visible by its sheer size. I tried to soak up everything I could. I will always remember standing in the Hypostyle Hall, dwarfed by 134 hieroglyphic-ed pillars representing a papyrus forest. I lost myself to time as the sun set on this spiritual fortress.Before we return to modern Egypt up north, some favorites:1.) Phallic symbols at every m3bed (temple) we went to. I had a running tally. 2.) Dinosaur faces/sounds with Elley. Friends in general.3.) Eating a McFlurry while touring Luxor's temple (are you seeing a temple theme here?!)
Oh, but the adventure did not end! Yullah! About 15 of us climbed back on the train for another 10 hours. This is the part of the story where I discover the "Twilight" series, leading me to sorely desire a vampire habibi... alas. Anyway, this train took us to Cairo, where we were met by 10 of the Egyptian boys from Alex. We then headed to a Mohammad Mounir/Chab Khaled concert, an Egyptian & Algerian singer who got together to celebrate the World Cup qualifier match (which ended quite badly.) Surrounded by our army of Masreen Gemideen (strong Egyptian men), we amusedly watched thousands of Egyptians smoke hashish, wave flags, and chant along to the music!
Needless to say, Iskandriyya welcomed me with open arms as our bus pulled in to the Mediterranean's shoulder at 6am the next morning. And here I am, still sorting through Egyptian paradoxes, still loving Egyptian warmth, still living large. I love this city's calm yet confident energy. A few days ago I went tomb raiding with my Egyptian friend Kholy, but I'm no Angelina, as I fell into 2 feet of tomb water. This evening, I watched an Egyptian movie at one of my professor's house. This week begins Aid al-Adha, celebrating Ibrahim's sacrifice of Ismael to God. Many sheeps will be slaughtered (a sight I have grown surprisingly accustomed to walking by), and everyone will be with family. All the program's students are traveling the region, but I will use the opportunity to soak up Alex, and hopefully will find some Americans, a turkey, and ideally some cranberry sauce, to share Aid el-Shukr (Holiday of Thanks) with.
I will be thankful for all of you next time I see God in the sunset over the sea. I can't wait to see you.
PS- What does Moon 14 mean? Sounds better in Arabic: " 'Amr arba3t-a3shr"... it means you are as sweet and wonderful as the moon is 14 days into the month... when it is full! I love this language...PPS- A happy picture of some friends on a felucca:

No comments:

Post a Comment