Sunday, December 18, 2005

Covert Ops at The Egyptian Museum

Thursday I arrived at the Synod of the Nile to find that Jackline (she pronounces it Zhack-LEEN), one of our secretaries had returned from her two-week stint in the hospital. She pantomimed having something removed from her throat and that’s about all I know. I have missed her ever so much because she basically gives me Arabic lessons and is incredibly nice.

That afternoon Jay, one of my fellow volunteers called me up to help him out with a web site. Since I didn’t have much going on at the Synod of the Nile, and there wasn’t anybody there that could give me work, I went ahead and helped him out. Care with Love is an NGO that trains men and women to be in home healthcare providers. They take care of the elderly and children with cancer. Jay’s supervisor wanted to get a website together and he knew I could help with the graphics. I came up with a quick design that he seemed to like. Now Jay is fleshing out the text and hopefully we can have it up and running sometime next week. I will post the address once we complete the site.

Friday morning I had my last day of English class. I passed out a test based on the vocabulary words I had been teaching them. The first half was matching, the second half was fill in the blank. Several of them did really well. One girl was distraught because she didn’t know any of the answers. I assured her that it was okay, that the test was just an evaluation so I would know how to be a better teacher for my next class. This did not seem to comfort her at all. After the test I had THEM read ME a story. They did pretty well. Finally I broke out the tray of sweet goodies I bought on the way to class. The organizer of the program told me that kids are used to having a party on the last day of class so I supplied the sweets. I broke out the Pooh/Tigger ball and we threw it around for some time (it’s a BIG classroom). And that was it. I hope they learned something out of our time together. The organizer asked me to teach a class again next term and I said I would.

Anne Catherine, the French teacher at RCG who lives with us at Dawson Hall, had a birthday party on Friday night. She invited all kinds of French people and French-speaking people that live in Cairo. There were Egyptians and citizens of France sitting around singing popular French love songs. Then the Egyptians sang popular Egyptian love songs in Arabic. We Americans didn’t do a very good job representing our language. Jay and I sang a song that we could barely remember the words to. It was still a great night of international singing.

Saturday I decided I would use my day off to go to The Egyptian Museum (AKA The Cairo Museum) again and go at my own pace this time. I took my camera again even though they didn’t allow me to take it in last time. I figured I might act like an Egyptian give some baksheesh to the security guard and see if I could get my camera in. Baksheeh is the Arabic word for tip.

I took the Metro because there is a stop just next to the museum. For once the volume of people was low and I actually got to sit down. As I’m flipping through my guidebook, checking out the details of the artifacts I’m about to see, I hear this little Arabian tune playing over the speakers inside the car. I find myself humming along with it and am shocked when I realize I know the tune. It took me only a few seconds to figure out how I knew it… it was used in the old Game Boy video game Tetris.

If you look on the web site for the Egyptian Museum you will discover that for a low, low fee of 10 Egyptian Pounds (about $1.75) you can carry your camera in with you. When you get to the security gate of the museum you will discover this is not true. They don’t let cameras in at all. This of course is designed to force you to buy the expensive souvenir books, which are a lot more than 10 Pounds I can assure you. They are probably in the neighborhood of 250-300 Pounds ($44-$53). I mean come on, the Art Institute of Chicago let me in with my camera. I could even use it as long as I didn’t use my flash. What’s the big fuss here? Money of course. Egyptian tourist sites are AWFUL about fleecing tourists, so I hope you will understand my complete lack of respect over the next few paragraphs.

I got to the metal detector where I was turned back with my camera on the last visit. The guard patted me down and seemed interested in the medication bottle in my other pocket. I said “Medication.” He made the international “Oh” nod and waved me through. He didn’t even check out my camera. And here I was, prepared to give him 20 Egyptian Pounds (about $3.50). I scooted on through the area and headed to the first room.

I discovered between visits that my Lonely Planet guidebook to Egypt had a section on the Egyptian Museum, which is great because barely anything in the museum is labeled. The guidebook tour didn’t have information on all the rooms, and it only covered a few items in the rooms that it did have information for, and it still took me two hours to go through the tour.

Once I had seen everything I wanted to see, I went back through the museum and discreetly took pictures of some fascinating items. I want to make it absolutely clear that I didn’t use my flash, so I wasn’t harming anything. I got some really great pictures of statues and items that belonged to kings and queens of ancient Egypt. I did this for an hour before I got really brave and decided to take a picture of one of King Tut’s caskets. I pretty much knew I was going to get busted, but I gave it a shot. Sure enough, I had just barely clicked my shutter when a guard came up and emphatically told me that no cameras were allowed in the museum. He escorted me out of the room where Tut’s caskets were and told me I would have to take my camera out of the museum. He summoned a security grunt and all the while I was playing dumb. “I didn’t know cameras weren’t allowed,” I said. “I’m sorry,” I said and shook the man’s hand. As the grunt approached, I asked him some rapid-fire questions like, “What do I do with my camera?” “Who do I give it to?” “Where do I find this person?” I think he was a little perplexed by my questions and finally he just said, “Keep your camera. Put it in your pocket and don’t take it out again.” Having gotten all the pictures I wanted, I casually walked back out of the museum and made my way home. Check out the photos on the photos page. I think they are quite good considering that I took them all without a flash.

That night Teri and I went to the Ramses College for Girls Christmas/New Years celebration. We hung around long enough to see the guest of honor arrive and pass out Christmas gifts. That guest of honor was Santa Claus!!! Santa handed out all kinds of presents to all the little boys and girls, Christians and Muslims alike. It really baffles me how Muslims have taken on Santa as a part of their own culture since he is so closely related to Christmas. It was so fun to see the children’s eyes light up as Santa passed out the gifts. They extended their hands, eager to receive their colorful gift bags.

Tonight Laura Mendenhall and her family visited Dawson Hall at the invitation of Teri. Laura is the president of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA, the seminary that Teri graduated from in May. Laura and her family arrived a few days ago and were here to visit her daughter for the Christmas holidays. Her daughter works with UNICEF in Sudan and was unable to go all the way to the States to be with her family, so her family came to her… well, to Cairo to meet up with her. They all visited us to see what we are doing, to learn what jobs we are doing, and to listen to our impressions of Egypt. We chatted for about 45 minutes before they had to go to the Ramses train station to catch a train to Luxor for a few days’ relaxation on a Nile cruise.

We helped them get to the Ramses train station by taking the Metro. We made our way to the station but once we got to the platform the Teri took the three ladies to the far end, the front end of the platform so they could get on the women’s car, while I hung back with the three guys. We hoped that the ladies would get by without any harassment by splitting up.

As I stood with the gentlemen on the platform, I thought back to my first few days in Cairo. Our site coordinator did a great job of easing us into the chaos of Cairo. One day she walked with us down a swarming stretch of road to get us accustomed to our neighborhood. A few days later she took us on the cramped, claustrophobic Metro for the first time. She got us used to the experience in stages. And now Teri and I had just taken this family and did the same thing all in one night. I couldn’t imagine what must have been going through their heads. In the end they did all right. Laura was as cool as a cucumber, seemingly unshaken by the entire experience. We said our goodbyes, parted ways and Teri and I headed back to Dawson Hall. I hope they have a good, relaxing time on the cruise.

Yours in Christ,

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