Oct-Nov Trip to Egypt

January 11, 2010

Rachel and I went to Egypt last fall for about three and half weeks. My parents had been there for three years and were in the last year of a contract at the Cairo American College and we figured it might be our last chance to go see them before they head off to Mexico. I stupidly booked flights trying to get the lowest cost with Emirates, not thinking that it would have been better to put our holiday over China’s National Day week-long fest. Consequently I had no classes for over a week during that holiday, and then almost a month while we were in Egypt. Normally I would be quite content with such a situation, but working freelance makes a bit difference in how you see income opportunities and costs. But regardless, we were on our way to Egypt, the land of the pharaohs. It was Rachel’s second trip and my third, and we were determined to try to see as much of it as we could.

Unfortunately, my Dad got sick about 10 days before we arrived. His blood pressure went up pretty high and the doctors he went to complaining about various symptoms didn’t think to check it. How does a man over 50 go see a doctor for any reason and not get his blood pressure checked? Anyway, it got way worse than it should have until finally they figured out what was going on and got him on the right meds. For the most part he’s totally fine now, but when we got to Cairo he was still pretty weak and wasn’t yet back at work. It was really tough seeing my Dad like that, even though I’ve realized over the years that he and my mom are graying and aging just like anyone else. Rachel and I put off going outside of Cairo for a while and just spent time with my parents, while taking in some of the sights in Cairo. Thankfully my Dad got most of his strength back and was back at work within a week of us being there. A couple weeks after we left he was back on the golf course and doing his normal routine.

On our way, Rachel and I stopped in Dubai, a strange investor’s bubble of a city. The massive buildings and artificial islands are only outdone by the ridiculous plans they have for a huge metropolis full of luxury apartments, glittering office towers, and golf courses. There are a few sites to see, but I can’t say that it’s worth more than 3 days or so. However, I would like to spend more time in the Gulf States in general. Plus it’s always nice to visit my sister.

Cairo has tons to see and do, but most of it has nothing to do with the Ancient Egypt that we read about in books and see in traveling museum exhibits; Most of Cairo is about 1000 years old, which and was built up long after the age of the pharaohs was over. Of course we went (back) to the Pyramids at Giza and the Egyptian Museum for taste of the old glory. Actually we went to the Giza Pyramids twice: once for the light show at night, and another time during the day. We had gotten a new camera (since lost, woe is me) and managed to get some good shots. The Egyptian Museum has thousands of artifacts in a wonderful old building built specifically to house them near the Nile in Central Cairo and is worth seeing a few times in one’s life. Otherwise, most of the things to see in Cairo are Islamic.

After being conquered by the Arabs in 640, Egypt eventually became dominated by Islam. There are many beautiful old mosques, mausoleums, and madrassas dedicated to the rulers of the Middle Ages, which for Islam was a golden age. Thus, Cairo is dotted with minarets and domes, and the call to prayer echoes throughout the city five times daily. However, Egyptians were one of the first groups of people to convert to Christianity, and a sizable Christian community still exists (9-10% of the population). They split from most of the rest of Christianity quite early over doctrinal issues, and are known as Copts, but most of the art and churches look quite similar to the Greek and Russian Orthodox style traditions.

The highlights for Rachel and I were the Al-Ghouri Complex, the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, and the views from the Cairo Tower. See post here for more details. Rachel, I and my brother Cory took a couple days to go up to Alexandria. It’s a much more beautiful city than Cairo, and seems quite European in form. (It was founded by the Macedonians.) The new library is impressive, Pompei’s Pillar and the catacombs are interesting, and the views along the coast of the Mediterranean are fantastic. Yet for me it lacked the magic of Cairo. If it weren’t for the pollution, I’d like to live there sometime soon. I have a thing for ancient Egypt, and I’d like to study it up close for a while. I also want to learn Arabic – a project I know will take me some years.

Since we came back to Shanghai, the parents decided on one more year in Egypt. We won’t be able to visit them next year, so I’m not sure when I’ll get the chance to go back. Certainly there’s a lot of things I haven’t yet seen: Siwa, Farafa, Dakhla, and Kharga Oases, most of the Delta area, the Suez Canal, Abydos, Tell Amarna, and many other places throughout the Nile Valley. Enough places to justify a couple of years there down the road. We’ll see.

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