Egypt, July, 2011
Note: *photos illustrate the story. See video of interview with youth activists in Tahrir Square
An Egyptian teacher I hosted who was in Chico for a course invited me to Cairo to visit her, so I made the arrangements. I’ll call her Susan, since Egyptians use that name, along with Nancy, etc. I called a week before and asked her for directions to her house from the airport; she said, “I lift you.” I waited for 1 hr. and a half—no lift. I watched what Saudi young men call BMO, black moving objects, some with just their eyes showing as they came out of customs. Some with embroidered sparkly designs on the cuff of the chador or on the back, a few with high heels, which seems to contradict the intent of invisibility. I had Susan’s address, so I took a taxi, my first encounter with overly friendly Egyptian men. He referred to me as hajibi, sweetheart, touched my leg, told me frequently to smile so I’d look beautiful. I told him we were strangers and that it was rude to touch someone you don’t know. Just joking he said. I found this kind of teasing is common with men. An older woman in Tahrir Square joked by sitting in a chair in front of the door for women and children because she liked me and didn’t want me to go.
Like others I’ve talked with, taxi driver Osama agreed it wasn’t fair for President Mubarak to amass so much wealth, while the people suffered. Some of the poor live in the cemeteries and we saw women in chadors standing on the highway meridian selling Kleenex in the midst of huge traffic, one with her little girl. It wasn’t easy to find Susan’s place, and the traffic is astounding. Cars merge closely, like Mexico City. Where there are two lanes, they create three. Families with two children ride on a motorcycle with no helmets. There aren’t pedestrian walk ways so people just weave through the cars: I tried to find someone to follow when I crossed a street. A chador-clad woman took me hand and pulled me through the oncoming traffic. At the airport, the taxi driver drove the wrong way on a one-way street since it was just a short distance to go, he said. At the airport I saw a woman pinned between two cars as one was trying to back up. She screamed but walked away. Cairo has grown from 2 million in 1950 to 20,000 now so it wasn’t designed for the current traffic.
Just as we arrived in front of Susan’s apt. building, she walked out. It wouldn’t have been easy to find her with 7 floors. Love synchronicity. Most of the housing is tall plain many story buildings, no gardens. In the country side houses are made of mud bricks, others of masonry bricks with plaster. Any design quality seems to be saved for mosques. I don’t think I’ve seen a country with such uniform structures. I hadn’t seen a house until I saw some huge ones taking a bus out of the city but I don’t know if they belonged to private people. I was surprised when Susan asked the young daughter of the building caretaker to carry my suitcase up seven flights of stairs; I carried it until the caretaker appeared. It seems like class differences; another example was a woman from Upper Egypt spoke with me at Their Square who didn’t speak English. One of the protesters said she wasn’t well-spoken, was from Upper Egypt as if people from Cairo look down on them. (Upper Egypt is the South where the Nile begins.)
Susan took me to her sports club, a huge complex with pool and various athletic courts, computer room, and many plastic tables to sit and talk as families like to be outside in the evening when it’s cooler. They stay up late and nap in the hot afternoon. Mostly boys were doing athletics although I saw a co-ed volley ball game. Most girls and women are in hijab, hair covering. (A guide Adel who showed me the pyramids said that girls may wear hijab in the university but not at other times. *They may also wear tight jeans along with hijab since men want a religious but attractive wife.)
I talked with two 18-year-old girls at the club, university bound. One of them and a 23-year-old accounting graduate, looking for a job, said they didn’t believe women should be political leaders because they’re “crazy,” not logical, lead with their hearts, while men think before they act and don’t make impulsive decisions. I asked about Angela Merkel and other women leaders. There are exceptions they said. I asked about the revolution. Miriam, 18, feels it’s good to have more democracy, but bad for the economy and tourism. They agreed the women protesters were very brave, hadn’t heard of the names of any of them. Miriam wants to be a Nano engineer, spoke good English, lives on the Nile which I’m guessing is an expensive place. The girls think the military leaders are doing a good job, but Adel said there was a second revolution because the military is still arresting protesters, trying them in military courts, did virginity tests on 17 young women protesters, etc. More on the revolution later.
I asked the girls how they meet a prospective husband if they’re not allowed to date–at work, university, family where you can see his behavior, they said. Marriages between cousins are very acceptable. Arranged marriages still happen in the villages, but not here. Marriage is expensive; families are expected to set up the new couple in a flat with appliances and furniture, and give jewelry to the bride. With many young people, housing is a problem. We saw lots of vacant floors with rebar exposed; Abdel said parents will complete them when their children marry. Nancy would like to have one child, a girl, because she can control her and be her friend, while boys like her brother go out. The teacher said she’s raising her two kids with the same values as she was-Islam, prayers, respect for parents and teachers, explaining rather than punishing, but with more freedom, like her daughter sometimes went to the university alone by taxi.
Personal space is different here; when I was interviewing the girls, the brothers of one of them stood close to us to listen and comment although they don’t speak English. Later swimming in a hotel pool, an 11-year-old girl wanted to swim next to me and talk to me, Susan wanted me to sit near her when she was watching TV programs and offered to sleep on the couch in the room where I was sleeping. If anyone does a small service like give your information, they ask for baksheesh, small tips. This extends to sound as well: On the bus to the Red Sea they played music–a kind of droning male voice chanting the Koran heard often, followed by a violent American action film with subtitles. People speak loudly on the streets and cell phones, drivers frequently honk their horns including at a foreign woman walking on the street, and loudspeakers sound the call to prayer to neighborhoods five times a day. Men yell in arguments, like when my taxi driver was yelling at a guy who was suggesting a hotel to me, almost a battle to get my fare. In Dahab even the cats were in your space grapping food from the low table and cushions. The restaurant supplied water bottles to squirt them.
I slept on a mat in the boy’s room while he slept in his sister’s room, very hot, very noisy with call to prayers from loud speakers including 2 in the morning, vendors yelling “ice cream” or butane gas sold from a horse-drawn cart as the driver clanked the cans to signal his presence. Kids stay up late and yell, playing, because it’s so hot during the day. *
Their flat has all the usual appliances, but wasn’t decorated–just one picture, newspaper as the table cloth when we ate in the kitchen, drying rack always up in the sitting room. TV was the center of family life. What people think is important: She didn’t want me to hang my underpants to dry on window racks where neighbors could see it in the building next to hers. (A teacher from Jordan told me what she would take back from being in California was not to be so fearful about what others might think.)
The father never introduced himself to me, so after two days there, I had no idea what he looks like. He told his wife that I should leave as he doesn’t like strangers in his house, so I’m at a hotel with a view of the Nile, swimming pool and air conditioning, yeah! Glad to have the concierge to help with making bus reservation to Dhab to snorkel because Susan doesn’t have Internet.
I heard different stories about the education system. The teacher said she gets class room visits frequently by the head teacher (principal) and inspectors from the Ministry of Education. They also talk to students and inspect for cleanliness. They check her lesson plans and give feedback, even as an experienced teacher. She has about 25-30 students in a class in what’s called an experimental school, run by the government. As well as taking an English language class, math and science classes are also taught in English. A student has to have high test scores to get into these schools. Parents are required to send their children to nine years of school or pay a fine. Since school is in four-hour shifts, it’s legal for children to work, as in carpet factories. Abdel said he’d estimate 80% of teachers don’t do much teaching because their salaries are so they reply on tutoring. They go to the home of a student and teach four or five there for extra money after school. The students just parrot back what the teacher says and repeat it on exams. He sees teachers on school excursions to the pyramids sitting in the shade, telling students to come back in two hours, and not explaining the history of the site. The new university-educated guides he trains are ignorant. I was able to briefly speak to the Minister of Education in Luxor. He said they only have $125 a year per student; budgets are strained by the decline in tourism, but he is setting up a new training institute for teachers.
Guide Abdul’s two daughters went to good private schools. (I asked him what’s different about this generation: They’re impatient, want things fast because of electronic media, and don’t let him finish his sentences.) Three young protesters I interviewed at Tahrir Square said the government schools were terrible, including the experimental schools, and students don’t learn English. They all went to private schools. A young man in Aswan said the teachers use pointers to have the students recite or just lecture without taking questions or reviewing to make sure students learn. A guide in Luxor said the schools were good there; you have to do good grades in grade 9 to get into a good secondary school. The senior year a student majors in either science or arts/languages.
After having my passport and bag checked by a woman in black nicrob with only her eyes showing, I went in search of English-speaking protesters in Tahrir Square, close to my hotel. *Mustafa, Ahmed, and Abdel let me video our discussion seated on rugs on the ground in the middle of tents and some sleeping men on the ground. In the middle of our talk, a young man came up and said, “They say you’re a spy.” For whom, I asked? Another man came up and checked my passport again. They’re more comfortable with academics than journalists. Of the three university students, two are in business—including the socialist, and one in petroleum engineering.
They’re demonstrating to put pressure on the government to change as the same faces are still in power with the Military Supreme Council and the prime minister. Before people were afraid to express and opinion, were silent because if you discussed politics, the State Security forces came to your home to take you to prison—if their target wasn’t there, they would take another family member. Now they’re happy to have a chance to be heard and share information with each other. Ahmed took the Spring semester off to demonstrate, the others went back and forth, sometimes sleeping in the tents and on rugs on the ground. Friends and strangers bring by food and water to stock the supply tent.
I asked why youth were able to make the revolution. It was all youth who did it, they said, because youth are rebels, active, think differently, have hopes and different goals, and can use the Internet. Tunisia’s success galvanized them, determined they had to get their rights and that they could change the system. They were born in misery, growing up in a corrupt system. Their parents’ generation gave up, took the easy way out, just focusing on daily life, getting food, getting married, and kept silent.
I asked about leaders and they didn’t name anyone, except the Tunisian revolution gave them encouragement that they could succeed too. Not having visible leaders was an asset in their struggle since the police couldn’t target a few leaders. The police torture and killing of Khaled Saeed helped galvanize people because it was on video, but similar violence was frequent. A guide in Aswan asked me not to mention even his first name writing about the revolution. He said people just want a job, food, health care, not aiming for a big car and house. It’s so expensive to set up a household to marry that grooms have to wait until they’re 40 or so, a problem in a society that doesn’t believe in making sex outside of marriage. To get a good job you have to have a VIP in the family or pay a bribe. At 30, he’s getting married soon. He couldn’t find anyone suitable on his own, so he asked his mother to look, and she suggested his cousin. She’s not too fat or too thin and they can talk with each other. He’d like two kids so they won’t use birth control until they have them, and then his wife will take the pill.
During the revolution, police violence continues, as in the case where they beat the mother of a martyr and also beat his brother, calling him a thug. One of the posters in the Square shows a young man in a red shirt who was sentenced to prison for 25 years for demonstrating. Other signs say “The people who made the revolution ask the Council for freedom.” While I was there they shut down a government building on the Square where people do paperwork, part of a strike around the country, then opened it with a sign “The complex is open by order of the revolution.” *Demonstrators lined the path to the building clapping and waving a flag saying January 25 Freedom Revolution.” In terms of the role of the US, they feel it waited to see who was in charge without any concern for the Egyptian people.
About women’s role in the struggle, they participated from the first day in the front lines, planning and in the streets. They want to maintain this equality in the new constitution. They’re disgusted by the virginity tests of the 17 women protesters and appreciate Amnesty International’s role in publicizing the problem and contacting the Supreme Council. * I interviewed a woman, 25, from Upper Egypt in the South with one of the students translating. She works in a clothing factory. She wasn’t able to get an education from government schools so she paid for tutoring to be literate. She’s not married but would like to be, to have her own home. She’ll pick her husband, not her parents, because she’s the one going to live with him. She came to demonstrate because she doesn’t like the situation in Egypt, she wants a secure country where women can walk freely in the streets anytime, without unpleasant touching and words. She has been harassed on the streets outside the Square. She wants police to help protect women; now they don’t care.
Men rule the exterior world: I only saw women in transit on streets, while men sit and smoke hookahs (shisha), chat, and play Dominos. Before she didn’t think about anything but work. Now she thinks women have the same abilities to fight as men. The revolution opened her eyes to new ways of thinking. She asked me if it’s true that women have strong personalities in the West and why there and not in Egypt. I said yes, women like Mary Wollstonecraft in Britain started advocating the rights of women in the late 18th century.
Two weeks later I came back to the Square and talked with two young women.
Ghada is 16, a student who would like to help people by being a doctor. Saydaelsayd is a divorced surgical nurse, age 35, who lives by herself. She’s been back and forth to Tahrir since January 25. Soldiers dislocated her shoulder. They left when Mubarak quit, but came back in March. As to why the revolution happened, they said people were angry, hungry, can’t get married, with very low wages for workers while millionaires have luxuries. They had no life. Facebook pages like We Are All Kaleel Saeed keeps them connected, along with cell phones. In Tahrir, everyone is together like one hand. Before Saydaelsayd felt very alone.
Men and women support each other, but traditional attitude die hard. Some of the men still want women to be subordinate and think their place is in the home. They want women to look down at the man’s feet, not up, to try to break her spirit. Maybe they fear being controlled, Saydaelsayd suggested. Muslim groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and Selpipheds don’t think a woman or Christian should be President. The goal is for men and women to love each other. Each tent or area picks a representative to serve on a leadership group, but it’s very fluid, changes in size from around 20 to 100. I’m still not clear how policy is set and decisions made. They reported women are a very small percent of the leaders, maybe 5 to 10 percent. When a group of demonstrators met with Mubarak, there were two women. A man listening to our conversation agreed. Women whom the Western press like BBC quotes as leaders, like Sally Moore, aren’t living with them in the Square and they haven’t heard of her. They know everyone in Midar the middle of the square with the tents.
The demonstrators have had to deal with violent intruders with knives, sticks or gun. The most violent opposition was the camel drivers paid by the old regime to cause havoc. When I asked a camel driver about it he said their intention was to confuse the demonstrators, not to do violence. The two women say they’re fighting for their freedom and they’re willing to die for it, for the good life. They’ll stay in Tahrir until freedom is established.
They think it’s too soon to have elections in September as new parties haven’t had time to organize. They want a parliamentary coalition to prevent one party from co-opting the revolution and taking credit for it. After January 25 they were hopeful that the military would be on the side of the people, but began a Second Revolution on May 27 when they lost this hope. They realized they needed more unity in their demands. The police came to the Square on June 28 to try to clear it. They are determined to forge a fully democratic country. They’re not worried about a bad leader getting in power as long as they have access to elections and can change the leadership.
Their current demands are to create a democratic secular constitution with equality for women and men and various religions. Second, guarantee a minimum monthly wage to workers of 1,000 to 1,200 pounds. Punish police and soldiers who killed protesters and the corrupt politicians from Mubarak’s regime. They said over 1,000 protesters were killed, more than I’ve seen reported in the media. Remove all members of the old administration, including university deans, the judiciary, media, and police. The education system needs improvement as the government schools are terrible, some teachers don’t even go to class, and students don’t learn English. The three guys all went to private schools that cost from 90,000 to 90,000 pounds a year.
I booked a tour of the pyramids via the hotel concierge and then stayed the night there, needing Internet to make a reservation for Dhab. Abdel, the guide was great, only me on the morning tour to Memphis, where the first dynasty united Upper and Lower Egypt in 3100 BC. It housed 100,000 people, the biggest Egyptian city of its time. Women had more equality then. Marriage contracts can be viewed that guarantee equal division of property if the couple decided to separate at the end of the contract period of five to ten years.* Now Memphis is a small town called Metrahina with one multi-storied co-ed school for all grades, with a morning shift and an afternoon shift of four hours. The city’s museum houses statues of Ramses II found in many areas because he ruled from his 20s to his 80s.
Adel showed me the first pyramid in the world, a step pyramid, designed by a priest called Imhotep for Zoser in 2700 BC. He was also a chemist. The pyramids in South America have similar proportions, perhaps an astronomical device. The four sides face in the cardinal directions. The ancient Egyptians believed that we have a Ka–spirit, and a Ba–soul, which lives in the afterlife in heaven or hell. Heaven is like here, minus bad people. This life is not important, compared to eternity. Judgment is shown as the dead person’s heart being weighed on a scale with a feather.
We then went to Saqqara, where the priests learned to build straight-sided pyramids without steps. We went into the rooms that used to contain the mummies and saw the wall carvings. The pyramid interior room walls contain wonderful bas reliefs (formerly with vivid color before it faded) portraying daily life: catching water fowl and fish, leading a herd of cattle by a man in a boat with a calf as an incentive for his mother to follow, dancers, growing grains. They didn’t think the objects would literally supply them in heaven, but I think they were a kind of template maybe like Plato’s idea of forms. They believed it was important to preserve the body because it’s connected to the ba; if the body goes, so does the soul. The grave robbers searched out the mummies for their jewelry and discarded them, so I wonder if the noble person’s ba disappeared? Families of the nobles and pharaohs came to rooms in the pyramids to make offerings for their dead relatives; you can see the offering tables.
In the afternoon we were joined by a Palestinian couple who live in Rydad, Saudi Arabia. (I saw pilgrims going there in the airport, dressed in white simple clothes.)She confirmed that women can’t go out unescorted, can’t drive, although most people don’t walk at all. They’d take a taxi just to go a block. The malls have family days and single person days. Religious police will come up to single men and ask “where are your families?” Amar said he thinks the overriding Arab problem is the belief that Inshala Allah: You can go speeding through a red light because all is in Allah’s hands. Women are lesser beings, for enjoyment. He had an interesting image for understanding Arab mentality. On the desert you see in the distance, horizontally rather than vertically. A leader gets respect by being strong and feared, not by following laws or natural order. He blamed the third caliph after Muhammad, Oman Muawaiah, for being the first to take the people’s earnings as his own and favor his relatives, the first not to work and to take away the right to elect leaders.
We went to see the famous pyramids built for Cheops, Chephren, and Mycerinis on the Giza Plateau with the Sphinx guarded them where all the tourists go. Cairo has expanded to be very near the plateau. The woman and I climbed down to the burial chambers. I was curious about the energy there; I felt “keep out.” She and I also took a short camel ride, swaying side to side with the camel. He seemed on good terms with his driver, giving each other a kiss. I asked about the camel drivers disrupting the demonstrations in Their Square and they said they didn’t intend to hurt them, just cause confusion. Abdel said they were forced to do it by the Mubarak regime.
Abdel said the priests were the ones who ran the show and created the belief that the Pharaoh was the representative of God on earth. They used the idea to control the people. Occasionally the pharaoh would be obliged to perform tests of strength like wrestling with a bull while they watched. If he became weak, they would find an indirect way to kill him. We saw a courtyard with columns and stone recesses where the priests sat to watch him perform near the step pyramid. They were magicians who trained Moses how to change a stick into a snake as told in the Old Testament.
The priests kept careful records, so they could predict when the Nile would flood and to what height so the pharaoh could take the necessary steps. The Nile flooded for four months each year, starting in July. The priests kept the young men busy building pyramids and other structures, encouraging people to travel to pilgrimage sites. In the schools for noble children they looked for those with a sixth sense to bring into the priesthood, moving through levels of initiation to more knowledge and wisdom. Some women were selected to be priests. They revealed their knowledge to Greeks but not the Romans, too barbaric, so their arcane knowledge died out with the Roman conquest and burning of the library in Alexandria in 30 AD. Abdel said the ancient Egyptians believed in one god, Raa, and that figures like Isis and Osiris are saints, not gods. Animals were symbols to whom the people made offerings, not gods: the bull for strength, scarab beetles push the sun across the sky like they roll dung balls, cow stands for enjoyment and an easy life, the crocodile is evil, and the lioness aggressive.
The next day, Thursday, I went again to Tahrir Square where a veiled woman–I could only see her eyes– checked my passport and bag. Knife-wielding thugs have come in the Square and attached protesters so they are understandably cautious. I said I wanted to talk with someone for my global youth book. A young man took me to look for Hassan, who wasn’t there, so three young men appeared who speak English. We sat on the carpeted ground with tents all around. They’re suspicious of journalists because they think they’re controlled by the old regime, but as an academic I was OK and so is Al Jazeera. A guy came and checked my passport again and another said “They think you’re a spy.” Ahmed, Mustafa, and Abdel let me video and take photos and gave me their email addresses so they trusted a professor. One was studding petroleum engineering, another business although he’s a socialist, and another in communications. (Video will be on YouTube in August)
The students emphasized that there are no leaders except Tunisia sparked the revolution in Egypt. Social networking enabled them to make a revolution, given confidence that young people succeeded in Tunisia so they could too. Abdul explained that Mubarak wanted people to relate to him as a father and symbol of Egypt, but the young people didn’t. The last elections where Mubarak’s party suspiciously won almost all the votes was also a factor preparing the way for the revolution. Demonstrators called for a second revolution May 27 because they lost trust in the military who continued with arrests, jail, and military trials. Before they weren’t unified in their judgment of the Supreme Council. Their demands now are a civilian council, removal of the officials from the old regime including university deans, an unbiased media which they think is slanted towards the military–hence their suspicion of me and only allowing Al Jazeera in to televise. They want prosecution of police and soldiers who killed over 1,000 protesters; they’re not sure how many. They want a minimum wage of around 1,000 to 1,200 pounds a month and better education.
They want equal rights for women and consider themselves feminists. With one of them translating, I talked with a 25-year-old woman who came from Upper Egypt because she wants democracy. She’s not married but would like to be, works in a garment factory, and because education is so bad she paid for private classes to be literate. She asked me if it’s true that women in the west have strong personalities and why there’s more equality for women there than in Egypt. They said to come back in the evening when tens of thousands come to the Square.
Abdel said the military council is involved in weapon sales to Arab countries, receives money from the US, and wants to make a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to not be put on trial. The MB is the only organized party. He said most Egyptians are for the revolution because some couldn’t feed their children under the old regime. Someone else talked with a policeman in Alexandria who was against the revolution because he felt it was a foreign conspiracy. A Cairo merchant was the only person I found who supported Mubarak because his business is so impoverished by the decline in tourism and there’s less security. It’s less safe to drive; he’s experienced guys with knives trying to stop his car or throwing rocks at it.
Abdel said under the old regime Mubarak changed history texts to denigrate Egypt so the people wouldn’t have confidence. He said before Mubarak people smiled and joked, but that diminished. They didn’t discuss politics, now everyone does. He also damaged their health amassing a huge fortune, bringing in poisoned wheat from Russia, putting poor quality chorine in the water, etc. Hospitals are supposed to be free, but to get care a patient has to pay the nurse and doctor. Some patients are housed on the floor. Nasser also hurt the people 60 years ago although he made education free in 1952. Under his rule all became poor when he divided up farm land, giving 10 acres per family. When they had 10 children to help in agricultural labor, the land was divided further so it’s one-quarter to one-half an acre at the most. The land is used to grow crops for animals like cows and water buffalos to sell their milk. Now close to half the people live on under $100 a month. (Sadat opened up the economy like Russia after the fall of the USSR and lower class people without much education suddenly became rich).
Mubarak’s wife Suzanne set up charities and schools, but some were only open when she came to visit and she pocketed some of the funds. Mubarak didn’t want new religions. Everyone has an ID card which states whether you are Muslim, Coptic Christian, or Jewish. After persecution, the Bahia was recently allowed to put a hyphen after their name indicating their faith. I wondered why after 30 years in power a man wouldn’t want to retire. Abdel said if you sit in a chair that makes you feel like a god, it has the devil in it.
In the afternoon, I took a 9-hour bus ride to Dahab in the Sinai Peninsula, on the Sea of Aquaba, across from Saudi Arabia which is visible. With an ocean view, deck that’s too hot to sit on and big breakfast, my room was $25. Whereas Cairo is crowded, most of the drive down was desert sand with an occasional thorny scrub brush that the camel are able to eat and small settlement of rectangular two-room brick houses. The 6 percent of arable land is along the Nile, which I saw taking the bus from Luxor to Cairo. I saw many more donkeys than tractors; men did the work in the fields with hand tools. I only saw a few women harvesting crops in the fields. We passed near the Suez Canal, with soldiers guarding the bus stop. A soldier let me use the toilet, but checked my passport, which happened along various stops. Egyptians’ IDs were also check frequently.
Now I’m looking out at the gulf, in a row of resorts for diving. There’s no beach, rocky to get out to the reef, but lots of colorful fish, similar to ones I’ve seen in Hawaii, Bali, etc. I saw a wonderful spotted ray flap through the water like a bird. A young couple from Spain and I were driven to the Blue Hole, lots of divers and snorkelers, Russians, and camels. As everywhere we sat on low cushions. The fish were prolific, lots of small gold fish, some big puffers and trumpet fish. The coral was magenta, chartreuse, beige, yellow, shaped like brains, antlers, tubes. Amazing variety and sad to think pollution is destroying coral globally.
I found a travel agent who arranged every detail of the rest of my trip (www.blueholetravel.com) who I recommend if you go to Egypt. As the Palestinian guy said, I have a star. Tamer, the agent, said he usually doesn’t do this because they don’t make money on one person. I’m going to edit his new website for a new tea garden to thank him. I flew across the Red Sea for just 40 minutes, and then drove through more deserts, just occasional Bedouin mud brick square homes, two rooms. They get water from wells. A young merchant on the plane said some are rich from smuggling hash and guns. A British university student worked on an ecological project with other unit students and reported some Bedouin do grow pot. They hunt a large lizard for food. He thinks it’s an endangered species so he didn’t try any.
With so much desert, they reply on imported wheat and rice. Luxor and Aswan are green on either side of the Nile, like the Delta in the North, but the rest is desert. In Luxor there are green fields of corn, sugar cane, alfalfa for the animals, and bananas for a strip on either side of the Nile.
I took a tour to the Valley of the Dead, the Kings on one area and the Queens on another. Amazingly you can still see the colored paintings of daily life, or in two tombs of princes the illustrations are of the pharaoh introducing his son to the gods portrayed as human bodies and animal heads. They raise their palms to the gods. The kings’ tombs didn’t portray daily life, but magical spells and hymns and such from mystical teachings. The tour had three Malay students studying medicine in the Czech Republic, 4 Germans, and 3 Americans. Such a global world we live in.
The Luxor guide told us the oldest tomb was built 1500 BC. There’s a Valley of the Kings and a Valley of the Queens, to the east of the Nile, the land of the dead. *I saw a ceiling painting of Nut, pronounced newt, and got a painting of her in Cairo, interesting myth. Her long body stretches across the sky. Every evening she eats the sun, leading to sunset, it travels through her body for 12 hours, and exits from her womb as a scarab beetle with wings, bringing sunrise. The wall paintings also showed the river in the underworld where the dead go to be tested to see if they can go to heaven. I did a paper in the 8th grade on Queen Hatshepsut so I was especially interested in seeing her temple.
The story is she claimed a god was her father. She married her half-brother and had three daughters with him; there’s a bas relief of her pregnant. When her husband died, she ruled jointly with her stepson Tutmose III who was only six. She later sent him off to military training and ruled by herself for 22 years. He came back and she disappeared and he ruled. Another guide said her mummy indicates she died of cancer. He defaced many of her statues. *She couldn’t establish her power as a military leader so she built a three level building to show her power and sent a trade expedition to the land of Punt—the Sudan, portrayed on the walls of her temple. (Akhenaton also defaced temples in trying to establish his new religion and Coptic Christians wrote graffiti–maybe prayers–in the tombs. I saw another temple with graffiti from Napoleon’s army). It was built to house her body to be mummified but served as a temple where people could make offerings to her as a kind of god. Some of the statues show her dressed like a man but with a feminine attractive face. In another temple in Luxor she built an obolesque to the gods, but Tutmose defaced her name here as in other temples.
At her temple we ran into a group of visiting male dignitaries, the governor and the head of education. They invited questions so I asked about low teacher salaries which lead teachers not to teach so they can do paid tutoring. The minister said their budget has suffered from lack of tourism after the revolution, only about $150 per student a year. He’s setting up a new academy for teacher training but mainly is waiting for the new budget. In the current news is a reshuffling of the cabinet again. He said there were two women ministers under Mubarak.
After visiting the temples, I walked around the Souk market in Luxor which sells scarfs, spices, statues, clothes. I strolled over to look at the Nile and the temples, was offered an hour boat ride to the island for $4. It’s not fun to walk around because guys come up to you wanting you to stop in their shop, ride on their boat, or take a taxi or horse and carriage. Where are you going? What do you want to see? Come and look. Are you married?
I took a train to Aswan, stayed in a hotel there, then visited a *Nubian village. I was able to interview a 23-year-old woman who recently graduated from university in social work, and her mother, a primary school teacher. Then onto a Nile cruise boat with mainly Chinese and French. I made friends with a Pakistani couple, both doctors, who now live in Bahrain. Then back to Luxor to take an 11-hour train ride back to Cairo and one night in a hotel. As well as going to Tahrir Square, I visited the Egyptian museum. The King Tut exhibit was fascinating because it’s in full color and gold, found intact, while other remains have been defaced, robbed, and faded in the sun. The temples must have been breath-taking with their reds, ochre, lapis blue, every space covered. They contained many columns designed to look like papyrus plants along the Nile. Then a short five hour flight to London.