Tuesday, July 11, 2006


I would first like to put an end to some misinterpretations of Luxor (and Egypt in general) that are constantly perpetuated by Las Vegas and Walt Disney. First of all, there are no pyramids in Luxor. Shocking, I know. Second, the sphynx and the pyramid are not connected; in fact, they are quite separate. And third, a "sphynx" is just a human/animal cross...so you see them everywhere.

Now that you know what not to expect (no pyramids...and the actual "Sphynx" is in Cairo!) I can continue.

July 4th:

Considering that just the day before we had climbed Mt. Sinai, I think it was rather harsh to give us a wake up call at 2 am. That's right. We got on the bus...and fell asleep. We woke up at the airport, sat down, and wrote a blog post. The airport was another amazing experience. When we finally got to check in they took all of our baggage without really looking at it at all, and it was all put under Bonnie's name (she had 40 some-odd bags!). Then when we got our tickets, they just randomly passed them out to people. So, Andrew and I were the Rachels...we eventually did get all of the tickets sorted out, but it didn't even matter because when they checked our passports they didn't look to see who we were, just that we had visas. It was strange.

When we arrived in Luxor we headed straight for Karnak temple. This was an amazingly huge temple with a lot of detail on the walls (which we won't bore you with until we get home unless otherwise pressured).

What amazed me the most was that there was detail on everything! The paint job was amazing because the ceilings were still very colorful (although it wore off toward the bottoms of the walls) and everything was intricately carved. It was very impressive.

After we explored the Karnak temple, Andrew and I took a horse carriage for 5 Egyptian pounds (about 85 cents) to eat lunch at McDonald's, which was fantastic and then we headed off to find our carriage guy because he wouldn't let us pay him before. Taxis in Luxor are outrageous (at least for tourists--about 30 EGP) so we stuck to carriages, but they have this neat little trick: 5 EGP for each leg of the journey. He wouldn't let us pay him at McDonald's because he wanted to take us to the museum, to Karnak (even though we told him we'd already been there), to the Luxor temple, which is right across the street from McDonald's (in fact, it has a wonderful view from the upstairs window), and pretty much everywhere else. We let him take us to the museum (which was closed) so he took us to the Suq (market). We got out and tried to give him a 10 pound note but he refused it saying that he'd wait for us again and take us wherever we wanted to go. We argued with him for like 15 minutes before I finally said, "Look. 10 pounds now or nothing!" and then started walking away. He took the 10 pounds (smart kid).

We walked from the Suq to the Luxor. All along the way cab drivers and carriage drivers would pull over and try to get us in their taxi. We were walking right behind some hijabed ladies when one cab driver told us to get in his taxi--because the sun was hot. Andrew thanked him but said no. The ladies were like, "Come on, just take the taxi..." (everyone in Egypt is against you...it's one big scam!) so Andrew said, "Oh, no! We like the sun! We're from America. We don't have the sun there." That shut them up...then after thinking about it for a while they laughed and left us alone. Andrew started telling that to everyone. It got us in trouble only once when we were walking in the shade and a cab pulled over and told us, "Get in, the sun is hot!" After saying that we like the sun everyone was like, "Then walk in the sun!" One shop keeper even pushed us off the sidewalk and onto the sunny road. So, we walked there a few paces until everyone was ignoring us again and got back up on the shady sidewalk.

The Luxor temple is also cool but we didn't stay very long because it was right in the heat of the day and we were dying! (Perhaps we should have taken that cab). It's a lot smaller than the Karnak temple so I would suggest going to the Luxor temple first so that you are still impressed with Karnak...which you would be anyway. When we got to the Luxor temple we were like, "Oh, neat...let's go home." because the Karnak temple was much more grandiose.

The Luxor temple was fairly empty. Inside were a group of Arab men, some police officers, 2 other American tourists, and us. After singing a "Nancy" song to the guards so that they would stop teasing us and let us through the gates, we were pretty much alone for most of our time in the temple until we ran into the Arab men. Egyptian men, as well as Arab men in general, have no problem hitting on young single girls. Because I am so young, they assume that I am still single. I suppose I am lucky because as soon as they find out I am married they will, for the most part, leave me alone. The first question these guys asked us was: "Is this your friend?" That means that because I was with a guy in the first place they didn't want to hit on me too soon. When Andrew said I was his wife, their demeanor changed completely and they started asking us how long we'd been married, etc. After getting through them, we ran into a police officer who wanted to show us something. He walked us up to a wall and showed us a hieroglyph of a person. He had us tough it for good luck...and then he asked us for "Baksheesh" (a tip). Everyone in Egypt wants a tip for everything. Breathing, going to school, having children, driving a taxi, shaking your hand..."baksheesh" "baksheesh" "baksheesh" -- that's probably the most common word in Egypt! Sheesh!

We again refused taxis on our way back to the hotel because we wanted to walk by the Nile. (Plus, we like the sun...) I was absolutely amazed by the Nile. It is simply beautiful and green. The water is kind of scary but it looks a lot better than other rivers that I have seen. Apparently there is a dangerous parasite that lives in the Nile but I touched the Nile anyway--I've been in a lot of dirty bodies of water, and I think that since I didn't bathe in it or drink it I should be okay. I'm not sick, so I think that I am okay.

July 5th:

We got up at a semi-decent hour this morning (5 am!) and headed to breakfast. We were hitting the Valley of Kings and Queens early (also no pyramids there, sorry to disappoint anyone). We left our room quickly in order to get the most out of breakfast. We didn't want another boxed breakfast. Before we left our room though, I noticed this arrow on our wall. I knew it didn't say "exit" so I asked Andrew. It's the qibla, or the direction of Mecca, so if you were to say your daily prayers you should pray that way.

The Valley of Kings was cool. There are no pyramids because the Pharohs started noticing that pyramids were getting robbed because they were so obvious to robbers. Instead of building their tombs in pyramids they started carving them out in valleys so that they would be difficult to find. Considering they just found one this year, they did a good job hiding them! We looked at the excavation site but we couldn't go in yet.

To be, as dear old Fauzi would say, perfectly frank, the Valley of Kings and Queens are not very pretty--they are just desert-y valleys with nothing growing in them. But then, you see an entrance to a tomb and go inside...it's pretty amazing. All the walls are painted and elaborately carved. Some of the heiroglyphs were so uniform that Andrew and I hypothesized that they were stamped on the wall. There was plaster covering the rock wall, so after seeing the ancient stamps in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo we decided that we were right. They put the king's name in the tomb so many times I wouldn't blame them for creating a way to make it easier on them.

We didn't go into King Tut's tomb because it was pretty expensive to get into, and the tombs were all pretty much the same...long passageway with a sarcophagus at the end and a few side rooms. We weren't allowed to take pictures but we did buy some postcards.

After visiting the Valley of Kings (and before the Valley of Queens), we went to visit the Deir al-Bahri (the Funerary Temple of Hatshepsut). Queen Hatshepsut was, as Fauzi says...to be perfectly frank, one of the greatest Pharaohs in Egyptian History. Her 20 year reign was, to be perfectly frank, some of the best years Egypt has had. (I am making fun of Fauzi here. He gave us the same speech about her twice. Word for word. Pause for pause, including the "perfectly frank" part).

Her temple is remarkably well preserved. They carved the mountainside in order to nestle the temple in it. It has been well-protected from the elements.

When we finally returned to the hotel after our long day, we were given free time. Andrew and I did the Luxor temple the day before and because it is so hot in Egypt, a lot of places close down for a few hours in the afternoon. Such was the case of the museum...so we couldn't go there. Instead we played cards. A lot of people opted to do the same thing. Luxor is a pretty small place and there isn't too much to do. We played Egyptian Ratscrew first with a bunch of people. Andrew won hands down. We thought that game was fairly appropriate. Then we played Janitor. And then Pyramid, which we also thought was appropriate.

After wasting enough time playing cards, it was time to head to a small Egyptian village outside of Luxor. Here we had 3 hours to mingle with the locals. We went to a house and divided between men (ground floor) and women (upstairs) to have our conversation. I was amazed at how many people from the village were all dressed up and ready to greet us. They didn't even care that I really couldn't speak much Arabic at all. They wanted to talk to me. Their English was even more limited than my Arabic (if that is at all possible) so we spoke in Arabic, but I needed a lot of help once I got past basic introductions. I even got to hold a new little baby...whose mother hadn't heard of diapers (he was a barebottom baby...you just kind of hold a cloth under him and hope he doesn't go!) I also had some mint tea with the ladies. It was piping hot but actually rather good. I didn't think that I would ever want to drink anything other than ice here, but the temperature actually felt really good!

We talked a lot of marriage because one of the Egyptian girls had just gotten engaged. She is 19 and will be marrying a 38 year old. It was an arranged marriage, but she said there is always love in marriage and that they couple gets to know each other during the engagement period. We also got into the topic of female circumcision because of that little baby. Lindsay translated this conversation for me. She asked the mom about circumcision and the mom said that she takes all her baby boys and girls to get circumsized a few days after they are born. Wow...I thought that was a dying practice! Another topic that we covered was divorce. It was interesting to get some first hand perspectives on these topics since people don't generally talk about them in mixed company.

Meanwhile, downstairs, Andrew is getting drilled about why he wants to study Arabic. Here's his story:

So, while the girls were all upstairs talking about babies and marriage and having kids run all over the place (well, they also talked about more serious things like divorce and female circumcision), I was downstairs, having much more serious conversation for the 3 hours. I talked with the minister of English teaching for the province of Luxor, whose family is the main family of the village. His dad was the imam (equivalent of priest) for the village and he has 8 other brothers and tons of sisters. We met in his house.

The English teacher guy spoke in Arabic the whole time, but it took a while for him to ascertain my level of proficiency. He started out teaching me the differences in saying "a blue book" and "the blue book" but after a few minutes of that, he realized I could actually speak pretty well. We began speaking about politics and economic problems in the Middle East and Egypt specifically. It was a cool conversation. We also talked about his family. They've lived in the same village - same streets and houses - for 300 years. Before that, they lived a few miles south of Luxor, where they had been living since the 900s, when Islam came to Egypt. They don't get around much...

While we were talking, the oldest brother, and current imam (he inherited the position from his dad) came and butted in, kind of angrily. He told his brother (in Arabic that he assumed I didn't understand - little did he know, I understood all of it) that he had just talked to a student about their motives for learning Arabic and was angry that the student wanted to sit in an office and translate news. That, he said, means that he'd be supporting Bush's policies and killing innocent Arabs by spying on them. He then asked his younger brother to ask me why I'm studying Arabic (I don't know why he didn't ask me directly - maybe he thought I was having an English conversation or something...who knows...)

So, even though I do want to sit in an office in DC or in the Middle East and translate and analyze news, and even though I hate Bush's policy in the Middle East, and his policy in general, I didn't tell him that, since he was pretty mad. I told him that I wanted to help build a bridge between the West and the Arab world, since neither really understand each other (this is another one of my motives - I didn't just make it up on the spot...). He seemed content, but then stood up and said "Hmph - that will never happen" and walked away. Oh well...

So, after the long and enjoyable time in this tiny village, we had to head out. When I went out the bus, I found every child (and grown up) from the village, and even a few cows, surrounding it, waving at all the students on it. It took a while for me to get through the crowd, shaking hands and giving high 5's to every kid and grown up I got close to. When I got to the bus, Nancy wasn't there, so I contemplated getting off the bus and going back to get her, but it would have taken too long to get through the crowd again. She made it ten minutes later (also being delayed by the huge crowd) and we headed out. The crowd chased us as far as they could, but we finally parted. It was an amazing experience, seeing actual, normal Egyptians that weren't out to rip us off or baksheesh us or anything!

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