Sunday, March 18, 2012

Time Flies 4.. The finale..

Hey, everybody! I'm back! I want to start this entry by saying I'm very sorry it took me so long to continue. I had been having troubles with my health and my husband came home so I was often busy. But I've got time now to get back into the swing. So with no further ado, let me continue where I left off.

The group began heading up toward the pyramids. The road was long, uphill, and it was hot hot hot!. I found myself stopping to catch my breath a couple of times. As we walked, we took photos and watched as tourists rode by on camels. And this made me downright excited because I've always wanted to ride a camel. There were also horse drawn carriages passing by asking us if we wanted a leisurely ride up to the pyramids rather than walking but we passed and continued our trek. As we got closer and closer I looked up at the great mounds of stone in awe. I had no idea of their true size. What amazed me more was the size of each individual brick that the pyramids were built from. It must have taken 10 grown men just to push one on a set of logs, or that's how I imagine they must have managed the feat.

To my delight, I found that my husband had gone ahead and was talking to a man who had a camel by his side and he called to us. "So, you want to ride a camel?" "haha.. YES!" I didn't realize how tall camels were either and wondered exactly how the heck I was supposed to get up on it's back. This particular camel was young and full of energy but he was also expertly trained. I watched as the man used a stick and tapped the camel's legs in certain places and this was a command for the camel to lower himself to the ground. I suddenly realized what I was in for. This is when I would climb onto the camel's back and let him raise back up to full height. I looked at him with a bit of nervousness thinking "What if I'm not all the way on when he decides to get up, I'm gonna go flying!" But, I told myself, "I think I just gotta trust this camel's integrity. He seems like a good one." So, I stuck my left foot in the stirrup and he didn't budge as I swung my other leg over and secured my other foot. Then this was the real fun part. The man told me "don't be afraid! Just lean forward!" And I braced myself, holding on desperately to the saddle horn as the camel began to lift the front of his body. I leaned forward almost parallel to his back and held on for dear life until he finally lifted up his back end and my heart skipped a beat as I realized how high I was above the ground.

In my younger years I had been around horses and owned them as well. I used to take riding lessons and was quite a good rider. But that had been many years ago and I could be sure now that riding a camel was NOT AT ALL like riding a horse. I was nervous to say the least especially because I am not fond of heights and it was sort of like being on the roof of a small house or porch. I could just see myself losing my balance and falling off to the sand and so I told myself, "Don't look down!" The man then began to lead me around on the camel's back and the camel was very much at ease. I began to feel comfortable with him and then just completely enjoyed the experience. Here I was, staring at the ancient pyramids on the back of a camel the way men had done for thousands of years. I felt positively alive! At one point, the man gave me the rope and asked me if I wanted to ride the camel freely on my own. And as much as I was sort of exhilarated at the thought, I declined feeling I hadn't enough experience to feel safe with the camel under my control.

After a while, it was time to get off, and the process was now in reverse. The camel was lead to a halt and the man told me to lean back. So I held on again for dear life, and leaned back as the camel went down on his front legs and then lowered his hind legs. The rise and lowering were the scariest parts but really, I felt proud of myself for not chickening out. And when I got off, I went to the camel's face and he greeted me with a loud noise and bad breath. But I was now totally in love with this big great animal. The man told me go ahead and pet him. And so I did and began scratching behind his ears, which he really loved, and I even got a kiss in there. He was just the sweetest thing! I told myself then that if I ever get a chance to raise a camel, I would do it!

Later after our other companions took turns riding on this great camel, Sayed wanted me to ride with him, and so we got back on. This time I was on the back and thank GOD there was a saddle horn both in the front AND back or I'd have gone right off. Especially because there were no second pair of foot holds, and mine were dangling in the wind. So I tightened my legs, through the same crazy steep rise up and we were riding. There is a picture of us with our arms spread out like wings. We have this sort of personal thing between us where we make the "Titanic" ship bow pose a lot in pictures. It was sort of the theme of our relationship. Our wedding song which we had danced to was "My heart will go on." So we made this pose on the camel's back. It was a lot of fun riding with my honey. We enjoyed every minute of it. And when it was time to get down, we thanked the man many times for his kindness and we hadn't even realized how much time we'd spent riding this camel. It wasn't until then that we realized the tourists were filtering out of the area and the site was closing down.

I thought, "bummer!" because I hadn't even gotten to see all the pyramids yet. But a strange turn of events occurred then. There was a guard that was leading people out of the site and nearly everyone was gone by this point. Mohamed decided to have a brilliant idea and talk this man into letting us go quickly up to check out the pyramids before we had to leave. At first, I felt bad because this seemed like an unfair trick on this unsuspecting guard, and I didn't understand why my companions were ok with this. But it turns out that they had been warned earlier by one of the carriage riders that this particular guard had a bad reputation for cheating tourists by telling them they couldn't enter certain areas without paying him. This is very unlawful, as part of the ticket price is to see all areas of the pyramids. So they felt vindicated. Mohamed had told this shady guard that he was affiliated with the higher authorities of the antiquities site. He had convinced him that if he would let us go up to see the pyramids even though it was past the hour, that he would speak on the guards behalf to these uppers and get him a promotion. Mohamed even went so far as to take down his name and number, really playing it up. Then next thing I knew, the man was leading us with a big smile up to the great Pyramid. Not only did we get close, but we got to climb up some levels of the pyramid's steps and Mohamed handed the guard my camera to take pictures of us! What a deal! We really weren't supposed to do that, and there are laws against tourists climbing up. But hey, when you have a chance to stand on a 5000+ year old ancient structure listed as one of the 7 wonders of the world, it's well worth the risk! I was thinking, "Gosh, this is a moment of a life time! This has been my dream since I was just a kid! And here I am!"

So even though we didn't get the full tour of the pyramids and didn't get to check out the smaller ones in the back, we exchanged that for a chance to do something most people who come from all over the world, never get to do. After this, we headed back down and took our time, skipping and singing. The view of Cairo from up on the hill was breath taking. And I vowed to myself that if ever we get the chance, we'll come back and take the full tour of the pyramids again. When we got to the bottom, we found there were a couple of upset tourists. A young couple from Portugal had paid good money for tickets. But they had been deceived. Some terrible thief told them that he required their tickets and he would give them a full tour. Sadly, they didn't know about the kind of shady people that hunted for naive tourists up there, and they trusted him. They expected him to come back, and he never did. They were asking us how we had been in past the closing time and we explained that we'd come early and got sort of lucky. They were very upset that they'd been cheated and my husband asked them if there was anything we could do to help them, though we couldn't do anything about their unfortunate luck. After that, they borrowed Sayed's cell phone and called their family member to pick them up. We waited with them and warned them that there are many untrustworthy people and that they should be very careful the next time they come not to trust anyone. Then their ride arrived after some time and we bid them farewell. Sayed had gotten the guy's name and they became friends on facebook although I don't know if they ever talked much after this.

At this point it was getting late in the afternoon and we were all quite tired. So we started to make arrangements for our trip home. I recalled the events we had experienced as we traveled in bus and car. This was a truly great adventure and a time I feel sure I'll never forget. And I'm glad that I could tell our tale in full details to others and inspire you to take the chance for adventure whenever you get it! Life is short and full of good times and bad times. But when you can seize the day and go out looking for new horizons, new experiences and especially when you can share them with others and experience them with friends and family, they make for incredible memories!

This is the end of this particular adventure, but there are other stories I have yet to tell. More adventures in Egypt and experiences to share. More views of this world that few but those who come here, could scarcely imagine. Egypt really is a wondrous country. And I suggest anyone come and experience her ancient history and contrast between a world that once stood, an empire that was greatest upon this earth long before countries like America were ever settled, and the modern world that exists today, trying to get by and open itself up to a new beginning. The revolution has opened the door to new pathways and there is a new horizon waiting to be shown in the full light of day. And I feel pride and joy at being one such outsider who has gotten the chance to get an inside look!

Until next time, my friends. Be well, and be safe. And come back again!  

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Time Flies... Part 3!

Story Recap....

There are a few parts of this story that I had completely forgotten about until just now. We had done so much adventuring in these two days that I'd forgotten all the details. I remember another incident that occurred that night when we were traveling to the Al-Hussain mosque. I'll recap it now. When we had left the museum, we had gotten a transport in what we call a microbus. It's basically an extended van with many rows of seats and people pay to take these to different locations all over Egypt. Anyway, Sayed had secured us a seat at the front of the bus next to the driver. As we drove, we began talking freely about different things, and of course, he's my husband, he felt no issue would come of him putting his arm around my shoulder. However after a while of cruising through the streets and commenting about the quite crazy way that our driver was driving, (Of course we were speaking in English, and he couldn't understand us, and no joke, Parents and children were jumping out of the way of this guy) the bus driver became quite agitated and started yelling at my husband.

I didn't understand what this was about. At first I thought he understood our talk somehow and that he was having a fit about our criticism. This was not the case. Several times, the bus driver stopped the bus in the middle of the street, turned off the bus, and started arguing relentlessly with my husband. He was waving his hands at him and Sayed kept trying to push his hands out away. Here we were, a bus full of strangers and our companions, and this crazy bus driver was arguing about "everyone but me" knew what. Mohamed had tried to talk to the bus driver as well. I was very annoyed and didn't understand what all the fuss was about. Sayed had picked up his phone and dialed a number and I really didn't know what that was about either. It wasn't until finally the crazy bus driver decided to take us to our destination, that I found out the truth of it all.

Turns out, the bus driver was suspicious that I was not, in fact, his wife and that he was parading around with a foreign woman he picked up off the street. And apparently he had called me many very insulting names. Sayed had tried over and over again to tell the man that he had no right to dare judge us and that we were in fact, married. The phone call, I found out, was Sayed's card to getting this guy to stop his bad treatment. Sayed had threatened to call his good friend Diaa who is a military officer and in Egypt, especially after the revolution, a military officer has no higher up in society. This bus driver then became very nervous because the people here fear anything to do with the police or military taking any reprimanding action. And so, he straightened out, and took us to our destination.

Later on, after visiting the mosque, we went to experience the Nile Boat Rides. We climbed down the steep walkways toward the bank of the Nile, and leaped from rock to rock making our way toward the opening of the boat we chose. There was loud, bumping Arabic techno, bright lights and a boat full of people. There were girls dancing like belly dancers, and other boats were out on the water with us. There was a whole row of these kinds of boats that would go out onto the Nile, travel down a bit, and then return to the bank where they came from. I really wanted it to last longer. It was so peaceful despite the loud music and lights. The flow of the water was even and gentle. I remember Sayed reached down and touched the water. When we returned from the boat ride, Hasnaa, Sayed and I waited for a while on the street side and watched the boats on the Nile. While we were waiting, Sayed had left to find out what was the plan, and Mohamed had gone to find a car that would take us toward the direction of Giza. I remember Hasna and I were sitting up on one of the high pillars of the gate that separated the street and the steep bank of the Nile. And something happened.

Suddenly a group of kids were pulling a boy out of the water. I didn't understand at first what was going on, but the boy had apparently started to drown in the water and the teenagers pulled him out. A small group of people started to surround the boy and I remember thinking, "do any of these people know CPR?" And I was beginning to get nervous and considered making my way down to try to administer it myself because no one seemed to be doing anything for him. But though my eyes couldn't see this clearly, Hasna told me that the boy was sitting up and appeared to be alright, Alhamdulillah. (All praise to God.) 
We took many pictures. Most of the pictures from this trip are on Sayed's computer and he's not with me right now, so some of the photos will have to wait but I'll provide what I can.

Getting back to the next morning...

The girls and I woke up in the morning and it was quite early. I remember my back was killing me because the average Egyptian bed is quite hard. But I got up and put on my clothes. The girls who had hosted us, graciously prepared a breakfast for us but did not join us. They had been making up days of fasting from Ramadan at this time and would not eat again until maghrib prayer at sundown. We ate quietly together and finished preparing ourselves to head out. I was surprised again when the younger of the two girls came out wearing a full pitch black niqab. I didn't expect this but I suppose it made sense because their appearances are not typical Egyptian and this would mask them from eyes that might judge or pry. We gave the traditional Egyptian greeting/goodbye, "salam alaikum" and took the hand kissing each cheek of the older of the two girls. And the younger lead us through the streets to meet up with the guys.

The morning was warm and the sun was bright but hazy. There were many people about surprisingly, mostly children and some women walking though the narrow, typically dirt avenue. When we reached the meeting place, we said good-byes to our guide as well and she returned to her home. The guys came out and we started to leave. (Though my husband may not like this part of the story told, I'll tell it anyway, lol.) Suddenly Hasna gave a startled intake of breath and pointed out the back of Sayed's pants. I realized that there was a fairly large tare and we stopped him quickly to let him know of the situation. So we delayed for a few minutes while he found another pair of comfy cargo pants to wear. It was probably a blessing in disguise because we had fun climbing in places later in the day and chances are, if the pants hadn't ripped then, they would have ripped in a place where we had no option to change them. Silver lining to every cloud, they say. Alhamdulillah. Then, we all went along our way to continue our journey.

I remember we walked a good distance before finding a transport to take us the remainder of the way to our destination. As we had ridden in the transport, I remember seeing the tip of the Great Pyramid over the tops of buildings that blocked most of the view, and my heart was pounding. The transport took us around toward the gate of the entrance. We had arrived and gotten off the transport and walked a little way down. On the way, we stopped, and Mohamed had bought us all a drink. This drink is something special and specific to Egypt. It's made out of the Egyptian sugar cane. It's mildly sweet with a hint of the taste of something like bamboo, or that's the best way I could describe it. It's very good, at any rate. The drinks were served in clear plastic bags tied at the top with straws in them. Cheaper than plastic or paper cups I guess. We continued on our way to the gate. I remember looking around and was excited to see a man riding around outside the gate on a camel. He looked like he came right out of an Arabian movie. There is a picture of him in my facebook profile. I'll share it here.

Finally, we went to the gate and the ticket booth opened up. They bought us all tickets. Little side note, I was supposed to have paid a LOT more for my ticket as an American. But, they had bought the tickets without me in sight, and even though every time, we were questioned and they spotted me as American quickly, and asked for my passport, alhamdulillah, they let me in without incident. I'll tell you, the difference between American tickets and Egyptian are HUGE! So it's a good thing I was let in as an Egyptian. :-) As we entered, I got my first clear glimpse of the Sphinx. What a sight! We began on our trek through the thick desert sand and many merchants were calling to us and walking beside us, offering this and that. "La'a Shukran" (No, thank you.) We kept saying as we walked by. And then we came to the entrance chamber of the Sphinx. Below is a picture of me attempting to "Walk like an Egyptian" which none of my Egyptian companions had ever heard of. This photo was funny because, unintentionally when taken, little Shahd appeared to be shrunken by the powers of my Egyptian walk. loool

The orange granite walls shot up out of the gray stone floor. And the ancient halls were filled with tourists. We went in through narrow, roofless passageways and came into great halls of sandstone. I had searched for some sign of heiroglyphics but didn't see any in this section. Then we filtered through the passageway to the open air. Surrounded by high stone walls, we could see the Great Sphinx in his famous lion-like position, facing out to the world, his ancient broken face full of pride and strength, despite the four plus millenia that had passed.

Some fun facts/theories about the Sphinx. This great statue is believed by some archeologists, to have been built as a means to solve the issue of unemployment during it's time in Ancient Egypt. When it was built, more than 4 and a half thousand years ago, there had been an annual flood from the nile which put many farmers and such out of business for quite a while. Those lucky enough to be hired at the sight, were paid to make the bricks that formed the statue, and those that were skilled in architecture, planned, designed and carved out the design. I recall a show that told about a hidden chamber 100 feet deep below the sphinx. If memory serves, it was a perilous tomb steeply dug, it's enterance west of the sphinx. The tomb was dedicated to Osirus who was rendered a God by the Ancients. The name that the Egyptians in modern time call it, is Abu Al Hul, which means "Father of Terror" or "The Terrifying One". The Great Sphinx has been the subject of great controversy over the long years. There is speculation that it predates the Pyramids because there is evidence that the causeways and structures used to build the Pyramids and tombs were constructed around the Sphinx, suggesting that it already existed and needed to be avoided.

We had lingered in this area and climbed up on the stone walls that surrounded it. I had wondered why no one was allowed inside the quarry to get a closer look at the Sphinx. That way was gated off, which was a little disappointing. I had always dreamed to touch the statue with my bare hands. At any rate, it was truly breathtaking to stand in it's presence. We decided to double back and head up toward the Pyramids, who's steep, uphill road was to the right side of the Sphinx. I remember looking up at the pyramids and thinking, "This is what I've been waiting for!"

And this is where I must leave you, my dear readers, waiting for part 4 of our adventure. I honestly never realized there was so much to tell, but when you write it all down, it becomes quite extensive. I'm so glad that I can share my experiences with others and I truly hope for this blog to continue to fill my readers with interest and vision through my eyes. Please, share this with anyone you feel would be interested. The more the merrier, as they say. And please feel free to comment and share anything of your thoughts.

Asalamu Alaikum for now! "Peace be upon you." Allahu barak feek! "God bless".

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Time Flies... Part 2!

We had stayed at the Museum right up until they kicked everyone out at closing time. It was still light out so we headed to visit the Al-Hussain Mosque. This was an important event for me because this would be the very first experience I had of praying in a masjid. Hasna, Summer, Shahd and myself went to the woman's section and made our way to the bathrooms to cleanse or wudoo for prayer. It was a bit hard for me because I was faced with the prospect of trying to go to the bathroom in one of these very strange toilets and I had decided at last that I didn't need to go, and would just make a general wudoo and be done. Here is a picture of what I mean.

My first experience with one of these was... well... difficult. It was my first night in Egypt on the way back from the airport and we had made a pit stop to relieve ourselves. When I opened the door and saw this as my means of relief, I became very distressed and confused because for one thing, I was wearing white jeans, the floor was dirty and muddy, and of course, as an American, we are used to toilet paper. My husband (fiance at the time) had paid 6 EGP just for a small box of tissue for me because I didn't know what I was supposed to do with the hose that was attached to the wall and sitting in a puddle of mud. lol. Thank GOD there are normal toilets here. Anyway, there I had made up the day's prayers as we had been traveling and were unable to pray at the standard times. The section was filled with many women and children and the kids were running around playing and the women were either praying or talking amongst themselves. I remember after praying, the group of us found a comfy corner and ate some chips together. There was a woman who had been going around asking people if they had seen a child. I remember Hasna telling me that the child had been missing from this area for some time and the mother must have been so frantic and desperate.

After this, we all went to meet inside the chamber of the tomb of Al-Hussain. There I saw many people gathered. And there were some strange things to be observed inside this section. A little back story, Imam Hussain Ibn Ali was the grandson and one of the last living descendants of our Prophet, Muhammad (pbuh) who had lived during and after his time. Hussain as is told in some Shia histories, had raised an alliance to overthrow the Umayyad Caliphate ruled over by Yazid 1. This ruler was believed to have distorted the true Islamic way and ruled over his people as a tyrant and oppressor. Hussain had wished to deliver the people from this ruler and re-instate the true Islam as had been taught by his grandfather, the Prophet, and he was meant to be the successor and leader of the Ummah but the brother-in-law of Muhammad, Muawiyah I, had gained support and battled against him and eventually Hussain wanted no more of battle and made peace with Muawiyah I and retreated to a life of peace. Yazid I was the son and successor of Muawiyah I and he had taken over rule of the Umayyad only to rule with an iron fist and even some of his own Ummah wanted his rule to end and secretly took to seeking Hussain and asking for his leadership as Imam in Kufa. When Hussain had decided to go with his family to fulfill this request as was his duty, he was stopped by the Umayyad army and he was forced to camp in Karbala with his family away from the river Euphrates and could not continue his journey. There, the army had taken some of his water supply, and when it had run out, he had requested several times to be allowed access to the river. They denied him and even had killed his brother, Al Abbas ibn Ali brutally, having cut off both his arms. And later assaulted Hussain with arrows, killing his 6 month old son. When he and those that were among him had become enraged and tried to fight the army, he was sorely outnumbered and nearly all the company was killed. Those who survived were made captives and slaves to Yazid I. Before his death, Hussain was recorded to have said "Don't you see that the truth is not put into action and the false is not prohibited? The believer should desire to meet his Lord while he is right. Thus I do not see death but as happiness, and living with tyrants but as sorrow." He and all the men of his company had been killed and beheaded.

Getting back to my story, in this tomb chamber, there were many people. Some of them, like me and my companions were just looking on at this monument with due respect and taking photos and video. But some of the others I observed were doing things quite out of the ordinary and we felt rather uncomfortable to see this. One child had climbed in behind the gate and people were giving her rings and other pieces of jewelry to rub on the metal castings of the tomb. Some were praying and kissing the bars of the gate surrounding the tomb. Others were crying and I couldn't understand their talk myself, but my companions told me that they were praying to Hussain himself! This astounded me! These were supposed to be Muslims. Muslims do not pray to men, alive or dead. We pray to one and only one. God! And to see these people committing shirk in this way gave me a very uncomfortable feeling. The air in the room was heavy and I felt I couldn't stay in there for long. Especially because this tomb was likely not even containing any remains of the Imam and the people there doing these acts seemed to me to be acting in complete ignorance. And that they were encouraging this child to do what was very wrong and sinful against Allah disquieted me greatly.

There are several different versions of the story of the location of where Hussain's body and head were located. Many believed his body and head were buried in Karbala, Iraq together inside the Shrine of Al-Hussain. Others believe that the head is in one of several different locations including this tomb, but absolutely nothing concrete to support the idea that any remains lay here. There is information that this particular mosque in Cairo was built over the burial grounds of the Fatimid Caliphs. These were a wide spread people of Algerian origin who were responsible for the conquer and conversion of many to Shia Islam. This was found out in the excavation of the sight of the Mausoleum or tomb chamber of Al-Hussain which dated back to 1154 AD. The rest of the mosque was built in the 19th century. I guess no one could possibly be sure where these parts of this particular man rest, but we as true Muslims would not concern in this. We know that he was beloved by his Grandfather, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and we believe he did his best in life to remain true to the truth of Islam and so we can have faith that he reached the paradise in one piece.

After leaving this mosque, we decided to get some food and so we went down the famous street known as the Khan El-Khalili Bazaar. Here we ordered some good old Egyptian food, and sat outside the dining areas on a bench and all ate together. Then we took a long walk down the street and marveled at the stores that lined this street. There were stores that sold Egyptian replicas and such, many different kinds of things. There were many that sold Hookahs or Shisha's as they call them here, of all sizes shapes and colors. There were incense burning in the air, and vendors called out to passers by to intrigue them with their stocks. I remember stopping at one shop and there was this adorable cat, I bent down to pet him and was amazed when he didn't run away quickly. He nuzzled my hand as if he were my own. So sweet, that was the one and only contact with a friendly cat I've had in Egypt. Most of the cats and dogs here are strays and very wild. They are everywhere, in the cities and towns, but they are not friendly. It breaks my heart to see so many without anyone to care for them. They dig in garbage cans and live in the streets.

When we were all tired out from the day's long adventures, we decided there was no way we would travel back to Diarb for three hours at this rate. And so arrangements were made. And here is where I got to ride for the first time ever, a tuk tuk. What is a tuk tuk?? THIS is a tuk tuk.

Well, this is an example of one. The ones around here aren't usually painted like this but you see them with sound systems and light displays bumping through the streets of Diarb and other small villages or cities, blasting Arabic techno and other kinds of music. These are great little inventions and I want one. lol! Summer, Shahd, Hasnaa and myself all squeezed into the back of one of these little rides and rode through the narrow streets until we came outside the door of our destination. The guys met us there and I was informed that the girls and I would be staying in a separate house from them. This seemed strange to me of course, and I wasn't keen initially at being away from Sayed, but we said our salams and I slipped inside the doors with my companions. There we met two teen age girls who's appearances really surprised me. They were quite light skinned and haired, and if I were to have guessed their heritage, I would have assumed German. But they were apparently born and raised Egyptian and of course spoke fluent Arabic. I had hoped they spoke English but that was not the case. They were both quiet and shy but very kind. They set us up in a bedroom and I went to the bathroom to wash up from the day and change into a night gown that had been provided for me, as I had not packed for a night over, and then we all sat together in the living room. The girls talked to my companions and I joined in conversation (translated of course by Hasna) from time to time. I showed them the photos we'd taken from the day and from my wedding and they enjoyed. Then it was time to sleep. I had spent a little time lying awake thinking about the day's events and there was no definite plan as to what we would do the next day although talk of visiting the Pyramids was in the air. And needless to say, I was highly excited at the prospect. I fell asleep after a while until waking in the morning.

Guess I'll make this a 3 part series because this post is quite long. Please stay tuned for our day 2 adventures in Cairo! And thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Time Flies...

I've been trying to recall some specific experiences since I came to Egypt. To tell the truth, the past 6 months have been kind of a blur. I can hardly believe I've lived in Egypt for half a year to the day tomorrow. But I want to take it back to some of my earliest experiences and impressions, so I'll try to focus on some main events.

Let me tell you about my first trip to Cairo. I have many pictures from this trip. It was a long but interesting drive from Abu Eid (a small farm village just outside Diarb Negm) to Cairo. We (Sayed, his sister Hasna, and I) went through the capital city of Al Sharqiyah governorate known as Zagazig, and continued on our way through to Cairo. We met up with their cousin, Summer and her husband, Mohamed, and toddler daughter Shahd at the entrance to the Egyptian Museum. There we had a quick lunch outside and then Sayed and I took a cab to go and do some paperwork toward legalizing our marriage. After that, we returned and went inside the Museum and I'll tell ya, my heart was beating a mile a minute because I had dreamed of these things since I was a child and here I was, able to actually touch them! I will download pictures from this time soon. At the moment my computer has an annoying virus and I can't access my photo albums.

Anyway, As I walked through, I looked at ancient pottery, statues, jewelry, even sarcophagi with ancient chiseled hieroglyphics. We went to see the Akhenaten (A.K.A. Amenhotep IV) display and I was explaining things to my Egyptian born and raised companions that they didn't even know. Go figure, I know more about the ancient history of their country than they do. lol. I told them how Akhenaten was actually proven by DNA testing to be the father of King Tutankhamen. Nefertiti, a famous Queen of Egypt was his wife and he was the first Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh to banish the concept of worshiping multiple Gods and adopting the sun God, Ra, as the one and only God. They didn't know this but in a way, Akhenaten was one of the earliest examples of monotheism, and the essence of monotheism is Islam. I don't know if I could say that Akhenaten was a Muslim, I think that's not quite right, because his understanding of even the one God he believed in was that he was associated with the sun, and of course Allah, is associated with everything in existence. But it leads one to think that if the Ancient people of Egypt could have seen his vision of one God and were willing to embrace it and continue it into the further Ancient dynasties, there may just have been a chance that they could have come to the understanding of Allah.

After all, later on in Egyptian history, Joseph (Yusuf), the dream interpreter, came to spread his message of the Abrahamic religion and after that, Moses (Musa) came into the understanding that he was not in fact an Egyptian Prince, but was in fact a Jew and one among the many thousands of Pharaoh Ramses slaves by birth. And he too came after God revealed the truth to him, and tried to spread the word of the Abrahamic religion. And even after that, it's believed that after the resurrection of Jesus (Isa), (Though I'm not sure this is strictly true, just one of many rumors, especially since this particular woman is only spoken of in the Bible and not in the Quran) that Mary Magdalene, one of the closest people to Jesus, then went on to Egypt afterwords and was reported to have arrived by boat with a girl named Sarah who in some legends was known as "Sarah the Egyptian". Really, that makes one think. Egyptian history is filled with religious history and controversy. And it almost seems as if the destiny kept trying for ages to bring Egypt to the understanding of Islam, even before Muhammad (pbuh) was ever born.

Anyway, I've gone onto a totally different subject back there, let me get back on track. Our next stop was the King Tut display where I was so glad to find was air conditioned because it was extremely hot in most of the rest of the huge museum. And I just sort of walked in, rubbed my eyes and dropped my jaw. I was standing in the room with the massive, golden, Matryoshka-ish sarcophagi and the inner-most golden, breathtaking death mask of the young Pharaoh. His artifacts from the tomb were displayed behind glass and I stood in awe and looked at every delicate detail and wondered at the immaculate condition these some 3000 year old beauties were in. And it was sort of like being in a dream. I looked at these things in pictures on the internet and in books I bought and tv shows like National Geographic..etc. And it was like stepping into the pages and scenes. I had circled around the room several times just sort of trying to make my mind take in the situation in full. After that, we left the room reluctantly and stepped back into the heat of the museum and went on to decide our next stop.

Finally, we came to the decision to visit the Mummy Rooms. And I can't describe the feeling of this. I went in and saw THE Ramses II. One of THE most famous Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs of all time. I knew him before I even looked at the little label that said his name. The long thin neck, the round skull covered by a thin layer of supremely preserved skin and hair, and the hooked nose that was a key sign for all the line of his family. There he was, laid out in a glass, his wrappings still bound around most of his body, his brittle, fragile fingers exposed. It took me a while to catch my breath. This man ruled over all of Egypt. This man lived and died as one more famous, celebrated, and remembered than nearly anyone on earth. He was the past of Egypt, and he was the reminder to all in the present and future. Even if one should become larger than life, one will still have to face death. He lived, even in this Ancient time where technology and medicines were not as they are today, to be the great age of 92. Most people even today with all the medical knowledge we have, don't live to be this old. Which goes to show that Ramses had a great will to live. Among him were several of his descendants and some of the other famous Royal mummies.

I remember feeling sad and wondered if the thousands and thousands of people who came to see these people in their preserved state ever really appreciated them. If people just looked on and never really understood that these WERE living, breathing human beings who lived and worked and ruled and eventually died. I remember there was a woman mummified and I don't know why but looking at her made me feel profoundly sad. Something about her spoke to me of loneliness. Her eyes were a painted mask and her body was entirely covered in wrappings but the face that was painted there seemed to say, "I wish I didn't die alone." Maybe that's crazy, for all I know she died within the arms of her loved ones peacefully. But I just got a vibe from her and I couldn't explain why if I tried. I remembered in a show that Dr. Zahi Hawass talked about a mummy of a woman who died a painful and excruciating death. She was found in her mummified form with her mouth in a silent, twisted, eternal scream. Morbid I guess, to speak of it but these were the lives of men and women, and their stories were preserved in their bodies, in their tombs, and scrolls and they are stories much worth the telling.

This post is already quite long so I will continue it with a Part 2.. and hope you come on back to read it. Salam for now!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Revolution = Evolution

Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of the January 25th Egyptian Revolution. The revolution hasn't ended by any means, but this day began it all. I remember being in Rhode Island, USA. I remember having friends from Egypt who I could not contact because they were banned from internet communication and I remember being worried. I remember spending every day, every night watching Al-Jazeera English and watching as the developments unfolded. Days of great emotion, days of sadness, days of chaos, and days of victory. These were incredible days that, though I was more than 5000 miles away, I felt a part of. I was praying everyday for the relief of the people. I prayed for their safety and hoped that they would recieve what they were striving so hard for. I had managed to convince some of my friends, (some of which were not even Muslim) to pray and fast during this time in hopes that Allah would answer our prayers and protect the innocent. And when that day came, February 11, 2011, and I heard the councilman stand at the post and announce Mubarak's official resignation, I burst into tears of happiness.

All my life I loved Egypt. Since I was a kid, I delved deeply into it's ancient history. To be honest, even in my adulthood I imagined Egypt such a different world from what it really is. I really had no idea what today's Egypt was like. I didn't know much about the recent history, religious history (outside of what I knew of the stories of Moses and Joseph) or any of that. I was mostly interested in what was buried in the sand. But after having met friends through facebook who lived there all their lives, my view of Egypt changed dramatically.

It was Egypt and my love of it, that inevitably lead me to investigate Islam. I learned that the people there were mostly Muslims. My friends from there were all Muslims. And they connected me to others all over the world who were Muslims. It began a chain reaction of life changes for me. And I never imagined, (well I dreamed, but that was as far as I thought it would go) that I would come to live in this country. I had imagined myself somewhere in my 40's or 50's finally having saved enough money to travel here and see all the sites for some vacation. But live here? And at my age? It was clearly destiny. A work of God's will alone.

When I look at how different Egypt is to the USA, I'm astounded by how the people here have managed to keep a good sense of humor and feel pride in their country. They have suffered at the hands of a terrible tyranny that most people could not realize. And this tyranny drove them to feel fed up with how little they've been given from their own governments and leaders. Hosni Mubarak was a bad guy. I don't know if he started out that way, but after he got a taste of power, it corrupted his very soul. The greed, lust, and hording of every good thing in Egypt took him to a level that he could never even realize himself. He horded foreign aid to fund God knows what. He stole, and deprived his own people, the people he was responsible for, of their basic needs. Here the cost of food is so high that it's amazing people have money left for anything else.

Women barely begin to scratch the surface of the working world because there are no jobs for them. They go to school, get an education, go to college, further that education and wind up becoming educated house wives. They have no chance to get out there and better themselves or continue their education because there is no point if there is no job to be had. And it's evident on the faces of the older generation that they are just bored and tired. It's been the same thing day after day, all their adult lives. I see the older women as I pass by in the car, sitting on their front steps with their hands holding their heads as if they've been defeated by time. And the younger women, full of hope and motivation, go out and do their schooling, and hope that they can beat this endless cycle that their mothers before them went through. And now, there is at least a glimmer of hope that they really can beat the cycle and move forward. All thanks to the revolution.

Not only the women, but the men have also struggled too. My husband is a mechanical engineer. He has a good education, good solid career, and yet he doesn't get even half the pay that he should get. The economy makes it impossible for even doctors, lawyers, engineers and other highly educated workers to really get what they work so hard for. And it's all thanks to the lack of what we call, economical trickle. Everything costs SO much money, and people don't get paid enough to handle the inflation. But there is hope, all thanks to the revolution.

When I say revolution = evolution, I'm speaking the truth. The educational systems are not up to the same standards as other countries such as China, USA, Japan, Malaysia..etc. Here the educational system is in desperate need of reform. And for this country to evolve, it needs the support of it's people, working together to aim for the most important things. Education is key. And this revolution has opened up the door for a million wonderful changes, if only the people can maintain their motivation and not give in to threats from the governing military council, and the remaining lackies of Mubarak's regime.

The elections are starting to begin. This is a great great thing! And it will be free and fair! Already the parliament has put almost 50% of the Muslim Brotherhood in the seats. This has been a subject of much controversy and for good reason, but one thing it surely and clearly symbolizes is change! The Peace and Justice party seems to have a lot to say, moreso than most of the other runners up for leadership in this country. And it seems a great percentage of the youth of Egypt supports them. So let Allah decide, I say. If they make it, then it is what is meant to be, just like the revolution itself. For better or worse, God only knows the reasons and God only knows the design. We can only pray for the best. I wish for every Egyptian, the very best and fairest of leaders. I wish for every Egyptian, the strongest of faith. And I wish for them to fear Allah only, not the military council, not the results, not the police, or anyone else. And I pray for a great and opportune beginning to a new era of Egypt's history. Insha ALLAH, Ameen!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Quick Introduction

My name is Shannon Lee Elghandor. Formerly known as some random symbol.... just kidding, that's Prince. I'm also Shannon Lee Hayward (my maiden name.) I moved to Egypt in August 17, 2011. And well, life has changed! And so has my aspect ratio of life and love and the world at large. Believe it or not, I met my husband on facebook. There I was minding my own business in Rhode Island, USA. Just net surfing, when a charming Egyptian guy started messaging me. You know, I didn't even respond to him for like 2 months after I accepted his friend request. But after some time, I started talking to him. And my head started spinning. I kept thinking, "What am I doing, he's more than 5000 miles away, I'm broke, no job, no idea what's coming next in my life which is in shambles, and here I am talking away to this man. What am I crazy???" But did that stop me? Noooo... of course not. The heart wants what the heart wants. And though my brain refused to believe it, though my usual way of thinking was to automatically be a pessimist and strongly doubt the likelihood, I found myself on a plane, landing in Cairo, getting hustled by cab drivers for my American riches (heh, yeah right, I had 35 bucks to my name), and meeting my fiance (at the time) at the front counter of the overcharging cafe.

Of course I had dreamed up the scenario a bit differently. I imagined coming down the escalator and seeing him before he saw me, standing there waiting. And being all a flutter in my stomach with butterflies. I imagined us slowly approaching each other for that first hug. But as fate would have it, his car broke down about a mile outside the airport and he wound up arriving late. I paid some cab driver 10 POUNDS, oy vey, to use his cell phone for 30 seconds to call him and find out why he hadn't arrived yet. And he wasn't sure how long it would take him to get to me at the time. What's more, we road the 3 hours to his family home in that car, which was on a flat bed. The bumps in the Egyptian roads filled with speed bumps and holes nearly killed my stomach which was in soooo much pain, I can't describe from the bad airplane food, my condition of IBS, and of course, nerves. But toward the last stretch, he and his sister road with me in the front of the tow truck, and he put his arm around me, and it just felt like home. And despite the craziness of that night's circumstances, it was quite familiar to me. Because just about my entire life was just like this! Always a misadventure that made for the fondest of memories. And so my life in Egypt began... To be continued.