This weekend we took a 10 hour train ride south to Luxor, in Upper Egypt (called that because the Nile flows south to north). Most of Egypt is agricultural and traditional, dotted with villages and communities that have probably seen few changes in the last thousand years. It was interesting to travel south along the Nile and see the expanses of fields and farms with donkey-drawn plows and farmers working the land. Cairo is not representative of much of the population of Egypt. We got to Luxor at about 7:30 Friday morning, after riding the train all night. When we got to our hotel we all crashed for several hours, then spent most of the day chilling at the pool on the roof of our hotel. On Saturday we went to the west bank of the Nile for a tour of the Valley of the Kings, which included walking into several tombs. The preservation of the hieroglyphics is incredible! The colors are all original and often strikingly clear. And this is from thousands of years before Christ! We also got to visit Habu Temple and the temple of Ramses II, who was most likely the pharaoh of Exodus. So we were all saying that now we’ve been to two spots where Moses tread – Mt. Sinai and the temple of Ramses II. We might have stood in the very place Moses asked pharaoh to let the Hebrews go. In the evening we explored the bazaars and markets of Luxor, where the vendors are extremely pushy and vocal. (If one of the guys was walking with a couple girls the shopkeepers would yell out, “Lucky man! Three wives!” and sometimes offer to buy one of us for something like 50 camels. Mostly they’re joking. We hope.) On Sunday we went to Karnak and Luxor temples on the east bank of the river. The impressive columns have been standing for so long! It’s amazing how the architecture of the ancient Egyptians is so durable. Will our culture have things last for that long?
We got back to Cairo at around 4:30 Monday morning, and so we all collapsed into bed again and had a more relaxing day. My flat invited the other girls flat over in the evening for a girls’ night, and we even succeeded in making oatmeal chocolate chip cookies in our sketchy oven. (Granted, it was one big cookie, kind of like a cake, but it tasted great. We even had ice cream to go with it.) It was a nice time to just hang out. We don’t get many times like that because we’re always so busy.
Today I was supposed to have my service project, although many people didn’t since it’s Eid (the holiday at the end of Ramadan – which is very evident in the streets. There are fireworks going off late into the night and people riding horses through the streets.) We went all the way to the preschool this morning, but it was dark and closed, so we got back on the metro and came back to our building and got back in bed. It’s nice to have another day to relax and get some reading done. Some people are going to a football match later tonight, but I’m really not a big soccer fan, so I decided to pass.
Next week we start homestays, which is probably the thing I’m most nervous for. I’ve never had to do anything like that before, and the religion and language barriers make it even more daunting. Egyptians are incredibly hospitable though, and MESP chooses great families, so I’m sure it will be a great experience. Also, this weekend we’re going to be participating in some inter-faith dialogue with young Coptic Christians as well as Muslims, so there is bound to be some good conversation on the way.