Monday, May 24, 2010

King of the Road

It is 7:43 am. We got up for the first call to prayer at roughly 4:30, and then again at 5:50. Then we got all of our gear into the van-no small feat with 20 Drake students, professors, armed security detail, His Honor judge Zamir, and all of our water and snacks. We are now headed for a 4 hour ride to an oasis in the Eastern desert. Then it is a 5 hour ride (with stops) to go to our camp out in the desert. This is one of the most exciting parts of the trip for me and I have been prepping for the astrophotography possibilities for the past two days. It is also the reason I brought my tripod-which also acts as an international fist of diplomacy in the Turkish airport when I whipped around and almost took out a bunch of Turkish tourists. (‘Merica!) This is going to be a long car ride, and I already have “King of the Road” stuck in my head. Could be a very long trip.
Friday- We got off the bus at more pyramids, this time the first pyramids built. We were greeted with more people hawking cheap tourist stuff. As our lovely American women departed they were greeted with “want a postcard? Want a husband?” The pyramids were cool, and so were the tombs. The 2nd pyramid we saw was the most encased pyramid (none of the great pyramids have the casing still on-the Christians and Romans took all of it for construction, apparently the great pyramids were not deemed important then.) We got to go inside of it! This required a 100m climb up the outside, and then at a 45 degree angle in a shaft about 3 feet tall, descended another hundred meters into the heart of the pyramid. It rank of something foul in there (dead mummy and 3,000 years of tourist sweat probably doesn’t go well together.) On the way up, well they didn’t build an elevator. Therefore we went up the same, far too small, far too long shaft:
Ladies and Gentlemen I am copyrighting a new workout plan. Guaranteed to destroy your legs, all with minimal amounts of stale oxygen! Possible soreness exists for three days after. Call now and you can get two pyramid works for the price of one!
On the way back we had a great lunch, filled with grilled up meats. It was great. We were then taken to a place that had all different forms of juices (I got my first chocolate shake-it is a life goal of mine, to have a chocolate shake in every country) It is really nice to see our professors let loose a little and sitting around trying the different juices really bonded the team together.
That evening a few of us went downtown to smoke hookah and enjoy the downtown area. Chalk up milkshake number two! The conversation with out Egyptian guide eventually turned to 9/11. “I was shocked, we all were. We watched it live on the news!” At this moment “Allahu Ackbar” (The first part of the call to prayer-translations: God is Great) rang out across the city. It was very eerie considering the conversation.
Sat-another 8am start time. I am a morning person, but some of these nights go long. We went downtown to the citadel which is the oldest part of cairo built on a hill. Salahadin, the great General who kept the Christians out of Jerusalem during the crusades (history is a told a little different down here) built a massive and gorgeous mosque. We also visited to the Muhammad Ali (father of modern Egypt-not the boxer) mosque as well as the sultan Hasan Mosque (Obama came and gave a speech here a few months ago.) This was ripe with excellent photo opportunities and regardless of what religion one is, the sheer power and vastness of these buildings and the peace that exists in them is to be admired.
One of the best parts was both our guide and our professor taught everyone who wanted to how to perform the ritual washing to pray. One of the best things about these sorts of trips is the learning that happens as well as being able to see our professors in their elements. It makes them even more personable and exponentially increases the respect and camaraderie we all have for them.
In a nod to fellow academics, our professor talked to an architecture professor whose students were at the mosque drawing for their final. We then had a quick cultural exchange with students our own age.
In fast succession we went to two Coptic churches, one that the holy family stayed at for 3 months when they were in Egypt (when Jesus was young) as well as an old synagogue.
Then we got to go to the old market. We split up into teams and let loose. Some people got great bargains (I got a jersey for 6 bucks, down from 30) some people got ripped off, but we got to see downtown Cairo and barter with shop keepers. I also got a few Khartoushes. These were the name plate necklaces that Pharaohs wore to identify themselves. They also happen to make great gifts. For dinner we ate pigeon (one could still make out the fried head) before heading to a sufi dance. Sufis are the ones who twirl, and the main guy spin in a circle for 24 minutes.
Interruption-We are finally out of Cairo in a vast open desert with few stops. Imagine the flatness and boredom of I-80 in Iowa but sans corn and add a really big sandbox. I just saw a sign, in English for a vineyard. “Uncork a good story.” It was catchy, but not sure if a bottle of wine is going to be the right thing to have on this road-I have seen three accidents this morning, and one truck completely tipped over already. The judge who is in the row next to me, informed us that the truck drivers are generally stoned. Oh, of course, which makes us going 80 miles an hour passing them all the more safe.
Yesterday (Sunday-The Arab start of the week) After all the stress and hard rolling the past few days we decided to take a much needed vacation. We headed to the closest part of the Red Sea, just south of the Suez, then sat my ass on a beach and popped in the ipod under the sun. As Jimmy Buffet’s “Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes” blasted followed up by Eagles “Take it to the limit.” Excellent day at the beach capped off by fried fish.
My Arabic teacher from the previous year joined us for the trip. She got to interact with our team and really got to open up about life for women in Egypt.
Our other Professor brought his 2 year old along. This has been an excellent addition. It gives us a chance to interact with little kids, and really brings out the motherly side of our very female strong group. Walking through the market, many Arabs reached down to fluff her hair, and pat her shoulder. In the Coptic church, a procession of Copts came in as we were leaving. The eldest woman grabbed the young kid from the professors hands and kissed her on the cheek talking about how beautiful the girl was. I am not entirely sure the child appreciates it, but it is interesting to see the reverence and importance the Arabs put on young children.

It's now 10:15am and I am still singing King of the Road. We stopped off at a truck stop. Apparently it is another 2 hours until relief, but score! we brought snacks. The Judge is really interesting and really funny. Half the team is sleeping. I have a mobile upload for my laptop, so even though I can't see any other cars, and there is nothing but flat desert, I can tweet and facebook (or update this).

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