Sunday, November 27, 2005

Thanksgiving and Pyramids

Thursday, as you know, was Thanksgiving. This is not the first time I have been away from home for Thanksgiving so I knew what it would be like to be away from family. But knowing what it will be like does not make it any easier or lessen the desire to be with them. However, having a good Christian community to share Thanksgiving with was the next best thing.

Thursday I started off my day by going to work. I didn’t have much to do, but the day was not a holiday here. While at work I learned that Anisse, the man from my work that was hit by a car (see previous entry), was not doing as well as I had been led to believe. I found out from Emil that Anisse had been unconscious since the time of the accident and that the cause may be hemorrhaging of blood around the brain. This news sounds rather dismal, but hopefully it is an injury that can heal. At times it is hard to truly understand what is going on when there is a language barrier, especially in the midst of an emergency. You want to get accurate information, but when language doesn’t quite jive, sometimes all you get are vague bits of information.

I returned to Dawson Hall in the early evening to find the preparations for the Thanksgiving feast underway. Over the last several years it has become a tradition for many Christian missionaries to gather at Dawson Hall for a traditional American Thanksgiving meal. This year nearly fifty people attend. There were all the usual Thanksgiving dishes including green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, turkey (of course), and even canned cranberry sauce (one of my Thanksgiving favorites!) We all had a good time chatting, sharing past Thanksgiving experiences and gorging ourselves on tons and tons of food. Afterwards, as our stomachs settled, we broke out the old red hymnbooks and sang several hymns. It was a good time had by all.

Friday night we had dinner with Samia’s family. Samia is a wonderful Egyptian lady who works for the Synod of the Nile Schools’ administrative office, which is in the same building as Dawson Hall. She is the person who takes care of all of our maintenance needs. She invited us over to her home where we met her son and two daughters, the husbands of the daughters, and her grandchild. It was almost like we were having Thanksgiving all over again, Egyptian style. The table was overflowing with food that looked and smelled wonderful. I didn’t know what most of the food was called, but that didn’t stop me from eating it. My favorite was a meatball and potato dish. After finishing the meal we sat around and talked for a while. Samia’s son passed around some photos from his time in New York State while he was attending school. We listened to some popular Egyptian music with Arabic lyrics as we chatted. Samia asked us all to gather around because she had some special words to say about our site coordinator Carole. Carole is leaving at the end of December and Samia shared with us how much she would miss her, almost to the point of tears. I could hear a little quiver in her voice as she spoke. Samia presented Carole with a very nice jewelry set that had earrings, a necklace, a bracelet and a ring. Carole has been so influential in the lives of so many Egyptians and it is evident now that she is about to leave. Everywhere we go we hear stories about how Carole has helped someone. She will be sorely missed, and not just by the Egyptians. The Young Adult Volunteers have been spoiled by her wisdom and knowledge that she garnered during 13 years of mission work in Egypt.

Yesterday, on Saturday, all of the Young Adult Volunteers (YAV’s) got together for our first trip to the pyramids. And I’m not talking about just the three famous ones at Giza. We started the day by going to Memphis to see the remnants of that once glorious city. All that’s left now is a handful of ruined statues, and slabs of stone with hieroglyphics carved in their surfaces. There are several gigantic statues of Ramses there. One of them has a somewhat unusual story behind it. Our Egyptian guide Adl told us that it was shipped in pieces to Memphis, Tennessee to be restored. It toured the U.S. for a year or two and then returned to Memphis, Egypt. Adl told us that he was on site the day they crated the pieces. He found it humorous that the crate bore the words “From: Memphis, To: Memphis” in large letters.

From Memphis we traveled to Sakara and saw the famous step pyramid of Zozer. It was the first pyramid built with cut stones. This is evident from the other pyramids in the area that are now just a bunch of hills. They were built using rocks that were not fitted together. Adl told us that the chamber beneath the pyramid of Zozer was once excavated, but was very unstable, so the excavators filled the chamber once more with sand. Many of the places we have been to have similar problems with underground structures. Adl explained to us that the water tables are rising because of the damming of the Nile. It’s amazing to think that even after 30 years the Aswan High Dam project is still causing environmental changes. The dam was officially completed in 1970. Adl said that just in the last few years the humidity level during the summer consistently reaches 80%. This is a vast change from the last several thousand years. For millennia the dry air of Egypt has helped to preserve the treasures of the ancient Egyptians. Now many structures and statues are rapidly deteriorating because of the increased humidity.

On the way to Giza, Adl had the driver stop at The Valley of the Kings Carpet School where we got to see large carpets being made… in some cases by children. The proprietor assured us that the children work no more than three hours a day, but one look around the factory at the multitude of carpets, and you get the impression that the children are working many more than three hours a day. I think the idea was that we would buy some carpets, but I think showing us the children working backfired on them. Not to mention that a small carpet was 2,200 Egyptian Pounds. Yikes! That’s more than one month’s stipend.

We arrived at Giza where the others in our group got their first close encounter with the three famous pyramids. As you may recall, I got to visit them briefly back in September. This time I got a chance to visit the Solar Boat Museum. In a chamber just south of The Great Pyramid, archaeologists discovered a complete boat broken down into over a thousand pieces. They managed to figure out how to assemble the boat and it now sits in a museum next to the hole where it was discovered. No nails were used in its construction. Only rope holds the boat together. The boat is not watertight, as it was never meant to float on water. It was more of a symbol of the pharaoh passing into the afterlife. Supposedly the pharaoh would use the boat to travel to the sun after his death. What I thought was amazing was the rope that was intended to hold the boat together, rope that was 5000 years old, looks like it was coiled up yesterday. Modern rope was used to assemble the boat, but the original rope is kept in climate-controlled chambers.

Well, that’s it for this week. I hope you are all well back home. Take care.

Yours in Christ,
Jason

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