Monday, November 27, 2006

Happy Pie In The Face Day

I just had to share this e-card that I received this morning. Thanks so much Kelly. You definitely brought a smile to my face. I've got some pudding and graham crackers in the pantry. Maybe I'll whip up some yummy coconut cream to celebrate.

My pal Beckett

A friend of mine and I are making plans to get to get together to talk all about Egypt. As I've written here previously, I just got back from a trip there. My friend, Beckett, has been studying about Egypt in school. He is seriously interested to hear more about the monuments and the mummies, the culture and climate, along with all else that I experienced there. So we are going to go out one day soon and immerse ourselves in talk of pharos and hieroglyphics, Nile Delta flood patterns, rock formations, and tomb jewelry. I'm looking forward to it.

It just so happens that this friend of mine is quite a bit younger than me. Like about 40 years younger. Some would argue that the differences in our age (not to mention being different genders, different faiths, and having entirely different goals for our lives) would be barriers to having a meaningul friendship. But that is not an issue to me. Beckett is smart, and funny and has a powerful faith in Christ. Those are the qualities most important to me in a friend, not how old they happen to be, where they live or what their hobbies are. He likes my company and I enjoy his. So I am very much looking forward to spending some time with him.

I find it interesting so that so many folks look for others they have something in common with as a chief criteria for building new relationships. I'm not opposed to hanging out with people who think and live more as I do. It just seldom plays out that way in my world. I tend to gather folks around me who I appreciate all the more for their diversity that opens my eyes to other paths rather than those who mirror my own.

So, dear Beckett, you bet I am every bit as excited as you are to get together and share stories of Egypt. Let me get through my final exams first, ok kiddo? After that, we will definitely set a date. You can count on it!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Pilgrims in the eyes of a child

Today I got a Thanksgiving letter from my bank which included excerpts of things school children had written about the pilgrims and the first thanksgiving for a class assignment. My ancestor William Brewster would be turning over in his toolbox if he could read these! The source these are attributed to is I looked there but didn't find this... I suspect it was downloaded at some point in the past and has been reproduced over and over. These are truly great.

Stories of the First Thanksgiving and Why We Have It:

STORY 1 (no name given) Once up on a time there was these bunch of people that came across the ocean. It took them a couple of days. They were getting away from someone and came here. After they got here it was a bad winter. They didn't have no idea why they came but knew they couldn't live without friends. They tried to make friends with the Indians. Not many of them liked them because they dressed funny. One Indian helped them learn how to grow food like turkeys and corn. He helped them plant them in the ground. After some of the Pilgrims lived through the cold winter they were glad. They invited some Indians to come eat. They thought it would be one or two but a whole bunch came to eat and they stayed forever. All the Indians scared the Pilgrims but finally they came out to eat because they stayed a long time. The end.

STORY 2 (by Maria) The Pilgrims came across the water. I think it was a big lake or something. After they got here they made friends with the Indians because there wasn't anyone else to make friends with. One day they wanted to have a big dinner. They asked the Indians to come too. A big bunch of them came. The Pilgrims had to fix a lot more food. The Indians didn't know they needed to go home right away. The Pilgrims didn't want to make them mad so the Indians stayed a long time. The Pilgrims went out and chased several turkeys and hams. They cooked corn and beans too. For dessert they cooked a pumpkin in a pie. I don't know why I am writing about the Pilgrims. I am from Mexico and don't think we have Thanksgiving with Pilgrims or Indians. The only thing I don't like about Thanksgiivng is we can't come to school. I like school. Mostly recess and lunch.

STORY 3 (by Joel) The Pilgrims came over on the Plumflower. They came a long way on the ocean. I think the ocean is a big piece of water. They left so they could get away from mean people. The Indians became friends and they asked them to come eat. One or two were suppose to come to eat but several more came with them. The Pilgrim mothers had to go to the store and get more turkeys and corn. They cooked it and the Indians ate it even though they didn't know what it was. We now have turkey every Thanksgiving because the store was out of ham. I wished they had ham instead because I don't like turkey or pumpkins. The End.

Hat's off to Ya'lla Tours!

I must commend the excellent service we received every step of the way from all our friends at Ya'lla Tours. There are many, many tour companies throughout Egypt as tourism is their primary industry. I feel very blessed that we had opportunity to work with one of the best. From the day we booked our trip their communication with us was superb. The information they provided us with ahead of time made planning for this journey far easier and helped us look forward to it all with excitement rather than overwhelm or doubt. At every step of our journey we were given just the right balance between courteous service and autonomy to wander a bit on our own, always reassured that these impeccable professionals has every detail taken care of. Yes, I was VERY impressed. For anyone who may be considering a trip to Egypt in the future, I can strongly recommend this company as great folks to work with. They are very responsive to whatever the client wants - in my case specifically asking for a spiritual tour with time for reflection and prayer. I was treated with such total respect and graciousness I can never thank them enough. They welcomed me to their country and allowed me to see not just the typical tourist sites, but also took us on a great back-roads exploration of ancient Cairo, allowing me to experience a glimpse into the true daily life of the people. We saw old men smoking hooka pipes in doorways, children guiding donkeys and huge waterbuffalo laden with wares. We saw the garbage in the streets and dusty, crumbling buildings but did not focus on ugliness. My own country has plenty ugliness of its own. Instead we focused on the spirit of the land, the quiet courage of the people, the wonder of the history and the sensory delights of the music, the food, and everything else we found there. Thank you, Ya'lla tours for a job well done. I hope to be back!

My brother, Ossama

No description of our journey to Egypt would be complete without acknowledging a very special man, Ossama Sharaf. He was our private guide for our whole time in Cairo. He escorted us to Giza, Memphis and Sakara for our first full day of touring to show us all the ancient wonders. His knowledge of Egyptology was impressive and his fluency in English much appreciated. But what I valued most about dear Ossama was his kindness, his humility, and his openness for questions about the culture. So long as I live I will never forget the sparkle in his eye when he would smilingly say to me, "No matter what people believe, Lady, we are ONE!" The picture you see of him here was taken at the site of the Burning Bush at St. Katherine's Monastery. This devout Muslim man prayed with me, a Latter-day Saint Christian woman and both of us were deeply edified. Then after our restful time at Sharm el Sheikh, when we returned to Cairo, Ossama again took up his role as our guide to show us the mosque, synagogue and Coptic church. We sat together on the floor of the mosque and had a powerful discussion about faith and the role it has in our lives.

Ossama's courtesy was boundless. He kept us safe, informed us, entertained us with his stories and touch our hearts deeper than he knows. My understanding of Islam is much more complete and compassionate today than it was before I met him. Because of his graciousness, I will always feel as if I have a second home in Cairo. Ossama, you are truly loved.

Wehed, The finest driver in Cairo!

Cairo Traffic

I am very appreciative of my pal, jaquandor over at Byzantium Shores for pointing me in the direction of a blog by another guy who just returned from Egypt. I've enjoyed reviewing his impressions of the trip and comparing them with mine. Greg Burgas had this to say about Cairo traffic.

Cairo is a huge city. It's packed with 20 million or so of Egypt's 72 million people, and each one of them is either in a car every second of the day or stepping off the curb in front of those cars with absolutely no regard for the few tons of metal bearing down on them. I suppose the feeling is mutual, because the drivers have no regard for the fragile bags of flesh zipping like dragonflies among their behemoths. Of course, "behemoths" is a relative term, as most automobiles in Egypt are tiny things, the better to maneuver through tiny spaces in the traffic. The biggest vehicle I saw there was a Jeep Cherokee. The country was packed with Renaults, Fiats, Peugeots, Kias, and other small cars with maximum scooting power and minimum protection from every other car. Those quaint lines on the road that mark lanes in the United States were mere decoration to Cairene drivers: they regarded them as if some ancient pharaoh had painted them as part of his temple and had no direct bearing on their modern lives.

I can relate. However, I interepreted the same events quite differently. As I commented over on Greg's blog: The first day there I too literally felt I was taking my life in my hands to be on the roads of sheer chaos. Yet in all the time we spent there I never witnessed a single fender bender, something I can't say for an equal amount of time spent on busy US roads. I also did not see ANY "road rage". YES it es extremely congested with camels and cars and little kids hawking Kleenex all jumbled together. But it seems to occur in an intricate dance of human interaction that the local people understand well. I once took ballroom dance lessons with my husband and learned how to move here or there based on the slightest nudge of a hand at my back. Likewise, the people of Cairo have an amazing level of awareness of when to go and when to wait that is not at all based on street lights (which are practically nonexistant there) or lane lines (which are mere suggestions there). Instead they base their understanding of right-of-way on DIFFERENT (not less valid) means that we urgent Americans.

To expand on that a bit; I owe many thanks to our marvelous driver, Whed, whose calm, humble demeanor and excellent skill as he transported us not only all around Cairo, but also clear across country to the land of the Sinai, made the trip even more remarkable. Many blessings to you my brother, you shall not be forgotten!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Home Safe

Larry and I are back from our trip to Egypt. We are tired, jet lagged, and missing one suitcase (made it half way around the world and back and then went AWOL somewhere between Portland and Pasco). But we had a remarkable experience and loved every minute of it. Neither one of us are great photographers, and many of the pictures were taken through a van window while traveling so they are out of focus. But they will serve as reminders to us of what an amazing time we had. The most important pictures are the ones we took with our hearts rather than our cameras...scenes of the children, of our interactions with the local people, and especially of the time in sacred spiritual places, This experience rocked my world. Once I get caught up with all the things I must do for re-entry I'll try to capture some of it in words here...but some of the truly holy things we felt on Mt. Sinai, and within the walls the ancient mosque there simply are no words to describe. We felt very welcomed by the Egyptian people. I loved the food, the music, the sites, the culture. I have much to ponder in the days to come. I've been blessed to be able to travel several places over the years, but I can truly say on this trip I had the most memorable time of any trip I've ever taken. I am so very grateful for the opportunity and humbled by all that I learned.

Sunrise @ Sharm el Sheikh

Cairo Apartments

It doesn't really show up here, but these buildings, like many of the apartments we saw in Old Cairo, have rebar sticking out of the bricks at the roof. To our American sensibilities this seemed strange - looked messy and potentially dangerous. But when I asked why it was there I was told this makes it possible for families to add on another level for other generations when children are ready to marry. Egyptian family life is condusive to multiple generations living in close proximity. Beyond that, in a city of 22 million people there simply isn't enough land available to build individual housing units. Nor is there enough money for most families. The high income Egytians live in the new suburbs with shopping malls and more modern conveniences. Nearly everyone left residing in the old city is extremely poor. We saw people rummaging through trash heaps for what they could salvage. The disparity between the haves and the have nots was quite extreme. Realizing that whole families there live in apartments the size of my bedroom made me ponder long and hard about my relationship to resources and to consider deeply where both my obligation and my opportunity to share my abundance with others can lead.

Alabaster Sphinx

Near the remains of Memphis stands the Alabaster Sphinx. In addition to seeing the famous Sphinx that has been placed to guard the entrance to the Pyramids at Giza, we also visited this one. Very impressive! For a description and a little background on this monument, click THIS SITE

View from our window

When we first arrived in Cairo we stayed at Le Meridien Pyramids Hotel. This was the view from our window. We did see these up close and have lots of other photos of various pyramids (such as Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara (Sakkara) and the Bent Pyramid...overall there are about 110 pyramids (some seriously decayed, others in amazing condition after all these thousands of years...)

You can learn more about pyramids HERE

One for the Smelly Stories

Some of you know I have been working on writing a collection of short stories yet to be titled which I refer to as my "smelly stories", because even though each story stands alone and they are all very different in topic and tone, the theme that binds them together is scent. In one way or another smells are central pieces of every one of these tales. When I went to Cairo I hoped I might pick up some ideas for a few new stories to add to the pot. Boy did I!

There are over 100 perfume shops in Cairo. This is one of the ones we visited. If I'd had more money I would have loved to have brought home a bottle of lotus and one of papayrus perfumes, along with a collection of the beautiful hand blown bottles they had on display for giving as gifts for family and friends. did not happen. By the time we got here we had already committed our cash for other things, and I didn't want to risk fragile bottles in my suitcases. But ah, the smell of that place! It was delicious.

Veiled Women

We saw many women in full veil, although most wore merely the traditional head scarves. For more info on the issue of headcoverings and full veil check these links:

Furor over University ban on full veil

Argument Against the Veil

To Veil or Not to Veil?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

My Itinerary

Friday, November 10 - CAIRO

Arrival in Cairo about 6:30 PM. Once we clear customs we will check in to our hotel, meridian Pyramids which is 15 minutes from the center of Cairo and we will have a view of the pyramids from our room. We will probably walk around gawking like tourists, acclimating to the sounds, smells and sights of the place - find some good food, maybe take a dip in the pool and then try to get well rested for our big day to come.

Saturday, November 11

Our driver/tour guide will pick us up at 8:30 AM. We will drive to Giza and visit the pyramids. We'll see the great pyramid, a royal burial chamber, the Valley Temple, and the Sphinx. Then we go visit the Solar Boat and continue to Memphis, capital of the Pharaohs during the Old Kingdom. We'll see the recumbent statue of Ramesses II and the 80 ton Alabaster Sphinx. We'll get lunch somewhere en route. Next we go to Sakara to see the prototype of the pyramids we all are familiar with, the smaller step pyramid, built for the 3rd Dynasty Pharaoh Djoser by the exalted architect Imhotep. Continuing south, we will visit the Pyramid of Dahshour. King Senefru, father of King Cheops, built this pyramid, also known as the Red Pyramid, approximately 4,6000 years ago.

After all that we return to Cairo where we will visit a Papyrus institute then head back to our hotel.

Sunday, November 12

We will depart Cairo and drive to the Suez Canal. (about a 6 hour drive). We'll take the tunnel under the Suez and go check in to our hotel, Morgenland Village, which is nestled in the mountains of south Sinai, only 2 miles from the monastery of St. Catherine. There is a Bedouin tent hosting traditional barbecues and desert music folklore shows, a medicinal herb shop, and a few interesting things there.

Monday, November 13

Wake up at 3:30 AM and head up the Mountain of Moses. It lies south of St. Catherine's Monastery and rises to a height of 7,497 feet. We may make it to the top to experience the spectacular sunrise as dawn breaks over the land. We may wimp out before that and just enjoy the journey without focus on the destination. But either way...we'll be walking where holy things have happened and pondering much.

We descend the mountain and have breakfast at our hotel. Then we go visit the monastery of St. Catherine, which sits at an altitude of 4,150 feet on the reputed site of the "Burning Bush". Commissioned by emperor Justinian, the monastery was built between the years 527 and 565 in the name of the Alexandrine martyr who died in 307. The first things we will see as we approach are the gardens surrounded by cypress trees and the monastery's impressive walls. Once inside we will be able to experience the amazing icons, and feel a spirit I am sure will touch our souls.

In the afternoon, we will drive to Sharm el Sheikh on the coast of the Red Sea where we will relax and think deeply on all we have experienced.

Tues, Nov 14 - Thursday, Nov 16

Our time in Sharm is up for grabs. Here we did not plan anything specific...we have three days to allow it to unfold however it unfolds. Our hotel, the Renaissance Sharm El Sheikh, was opened in 2004 overlooking 300 meters of private landscaped beach frontage overlooking the national marine park of Ras Mohammed where some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the world is to be found. Larry is a diver so he is very much looking forward to that. I don't dive, but I'll be just fine laying by the pool reading a book while he gets his bubble time in. I expect we'll both go snorkeling together a time or two. We'll be able to pamper each other a bit and enjoy some exploring at our leisure. We will go geocaching at some point.

Friday, November 17

We will got to the Sharm el Sheikh airport for our early flight to Cairo. We'll check back in to our hotel and leave our luggage, then head out for a full day tour. We'll go to the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities where we will see the treasures of the Tomb of Tutankhamen and the mummy room, where over ten mummies, including that of Ramesses II, are displayed in freestanding glass cases so you can see them from all angles. We will gaze into these 3000 year old faces and wonder what it would have been like to have lived in their time.

Next we go to Old Cairo and walk back in time. We'll visit the Old Coptic Church and the Ben Ezra Synagogue. Lunch en route. Next we continue to the Mohammad Ali Mosque so in the space of a few hours we will have payed homage to all of Abraham's children - touching Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Later we will go to the Khan el Khalili Bazaar where I will do a bit of Christmas shopping for my grandkids.

Finally it is back to our hotel, the Concorde El Salam, for one last night on Egyptian soil. Many prayers of thanks and much amazement will be there, no doubt! They do have a typical Egyptian night club, but I suspect by that point I may feel more like pondering than dancing. But who knows? We'll see how it goes.

Saturday - November 18

We fly out at 3:45 AM so rather than get up early I suspect we'll just stay up through the night. We have a bit of a layover in Frankfurt, Germany, but will not be leaving the airport. Maybe we'll get to walk around and get a bite to eat.

We arriving in Pasco at 3:20 in the afternoon. It's another hour and a half drive from there to home.

Only our vacation does NOT stop then. I have taken off work the whole week after our return. So I'll have a chance to really process the experience, download all the pictures we took, write notes of thanks to people we met, and just catch up with my senses before hitting the grind again. I plan to have lunch with a couple of different friends I rarely get to see and take some long walks to ponder and remember.

Of course, I WILL have to do some stuff - grade papers for my two online classes that I teach, finish writing a research paper for my Advanced Human Development course, take care of some personal business... But it will be unstructured enough to allow us to ease back into our daily lives here rather gently instead of the abrupt shift I've usually had to do.

That is Thanksgiving week, and I am sure we will have MUCH to feel very thankful for.

NO McDonalds for ME!

I've begun packing for my trip to Egypt and am taking care of some final details. I'm starting to get pretty excited. We've planned this trip for so long, it's hard to believe it's finally here.

Of course, one of the things I've done to get ready is go on the geocaching website and find some coordinates to do some cache searching while we are there.

I'm going to ride a camel. I'm going to hike up Mt. Sinai. I'm going to see the pyramids. I'm going to do all sorts of things. One of the things I am NOT going to do is eat at McDonalds while in Egypt, although as this photo shows I certainly could.

I hope to have an amazing adventure. I'm sure I'll be posting lots of pictures when I get back.

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