In the following posts, I will offer some insight and observations from this most ambitious trip.
I have dreamed of exploring Egypt since I was a child. With shelves of books on this ancient country, clothing with hieroglyphs and art objects of the sphinx and pyramids and a love of Middle Eastern dance, a trip to Egypt was inevitable. Three weeks in Egypt was to be a fantasy come true.
I was not disappointed.
A little over four hours air travel from cosmopolitan London, Cairo is a step back in time. Though a modern city in many ways, remnants of the past linger and are as much a part of the Egyptian lifestyle as the great pyramids at Giza that loom over the city.
The first thing that strikes you about Cairo is the density. Over 25 million people are crammed into the city.
Multiply the residents by the number of automobiles and you have traffic chaos. Rush hour in the States is nothing compared to the everyday havoc on Cairo’s roads. Cairo is notorious for being the most dangerous place to drive in the world. The videos on You Tube don’t come close to capturing the reality.
A ride from the airport is an indication of things to come. First, there are no traffic lights or stop signs in Cairo and rarely do you see a traffic cop directing traffic. Second, there seem to be no rules, as one-way streets and marked lanes are ignored. Automobiles and trucks also travel at speeds inappropriate for the conditions. Bumper-to-bumper driving is the norm with inches between cars. It’s no wonder that so many side view mirrors are cracked or missing. Most of the automobiles are what we consider “beaters.” Dents and scrapes are just accepted. Automobiles are, after all, just a mode of transportation. In Egypt, just having one is a luxury unlike the status-conscious American mindset,
Automobiles share the roads with donkey carts, an occasional camel rider or horseman. Pedestrians weave in and out of traffic in a suicidal ballet of “dodge the cars.”
Horns honk constantly. Traffic circles are a nightmare game of “Dodge-em.” Yet, for some insane reason it all works. Accidents are few and far between considering the traffic. American drivers would never be able to cope. Thus, renting an automobile would be out of the question. In Egypt, I’ve learned, there is trust. People trust other people. Trust is a form of courtesy. Trust is a way of life.
There are valuable life lessons to be learned from Egypt. I will share them with you as I relive my journey.
As I continue to reflect upon my recent journey to Egypt, I am reminded of how short life really is and how human beings have not changed much through the centuries. It seems we keep “reinventing the wheel” and never really learn from our mistakes or from history.
History comes to life at museums. The famous Egyptian Museum in Cairo is one of the most fascinating. One of the oldest in the world, opened in 1863, it features two floors crammed with ancient artifacts. The current museum building, a new one is slated to open in Giza in 2011, complements the displays with its aura of intellectually old-fashioned, non-air-conditioned, stuffy ambiance.
One can easily spend weeks in the galleries. I had only a few hours and maximized every moment. The amount of statuary is overwhelming and the condition of objects, especially wood statues, furniture and such, were astounding. The jewelry would make any Middle Eastern dancer drool.
Statuary of limestone, granite and quartzite, heiroglyphics painted on papyrus, and furniture tell the story of Egypt from
the Old Kingdom (3100 -2180 BC through the tomb discoveries of the 1900’s. The treasures are astounding. The Tutankhamun Galleries are the most famous. Though the pharaoh died before his prime, the discovery of an intact tomb, the wealth within and the legend made him famous in death. His gold throne, innermost shrine, and ornate funerary mask are more shimmering and ornate in person than in photographs.
Sarcophagus, coffin covers, coffins are set on shelves and line walls. Sentinels of death. Actually, most of the Egyptian artifacts pay homage to death. The number of objects, everything necessary for life, were placed in tombs. The belief in the afterlife was important. Pharaohs lived life actually planning for death; building tombs and amassing wealth. When they died they thought they could “take it with them.” I guess many people today share that belief as well.
For the pharaohs, a peaceful slumber in an ornate tomb among their favorite objects was not to be. This is more than evident in the creepy yet fascinating Royal Mummy Room.
It’s rather morbid that the greatest rulers of the world during their lifetimes are relegated to having their mummified bodies on display under glass in temperature-controlled boxes for curious tourists to ogle. The Ramses dynasty lie in repose like a Ripley’s Believe it or Not freak show. No wonder some people believe in mummy curses. Could you blame the mummy?
Speaking of mummies, a room is dedicated to mummified, birds, cats, dogs, crocodiles and other animals held sacred.
Even they were entitled to an afterlife.
It is fascinating to note that the belief in an afterlife of some kind has existed and still exists. The common held belief seems to negate the “Is this all there is?” mentality. Gives us a little hope, doesn’t it?