Wednesday, 5 December 2007

We arrived in Cairo, Egypt, around 7am, sleeping in spurts on the plane. I woke up to see the sun rising, a bright orange streak across the sky that widened as we descended, it was really a beautiful way to arrive in Egypt. A man in first class, just a row ahead of us (we’d been separated by a curtain to keep the riff-raff away from the first class) offered the kids three kits given to first class passengers. The kids fell in love with this nifty zippered pack, with all sorts of sections containing itty bitty tubes of toothpaste, a toothbrush, a combination brush/comb, sleeping socks and a sleeping mask. As we trundled into the car that met us at the airport, they explored their new treasures, and Clay and I rolled our eyes at the additional baggage we had just picked up.

We had originally planned to head to our hotel and rest for the morning, then meet up with our guide to see the Egyptian Museum. We decided that everyone was too excited about being in a new city to sleep, so we changed our plans to wait and go to the hotel that afternoon. We called our guide, who was willing, and actually invited us to her home for tea before we headed out.

Dr. Azza is our guide for our time in Egypt, she is a Professor at two Egyptian universities, and has an excellent store of knowledge to share with us. She’s also a proud mother and grandma, the owner of two fluffy kitties, and will never let us go hungry. She pressed us with cookies and chocolate and fruit (we had been served a brownie and croissant for breakfast on the plane, and were all sugared up). She had a beautiful home, an apartment that overlooks the busy Cairo city.

Cairo is the third largest city in the world, and was such a change from Morocco. As we drove through the streets to get to the museum, it was all hustle and bustle, traffic and advertisements and high rise buildings. The museum itself was a great introduction to the history of Egypt. Azza told us the story of the Rosetta stone, showed us on a map the route we’ll be taking as we travel through Egypt, and explained how we won’t see a lot of naked people (in Egyptian art). This pleased Alayna immensely. The Egyptians were modest people, who only showed people naked if they were under twelve years old or if they were fisherman (apparently, this occupation required no clothes). It was amazing to see statues carved around 2,500 BC of everyday people doing everyday things, like crushing flour for bread or mending fishing nets. One of my favorites was of a scribe, sitting cross legged with a roll of papyrus stretched across his lap. I can identify with these ancient writers and their desire to record their own sort of history.

The mummy room was really cool, although it was a little rough for Benji, who opted to stay outside after his first glimpse of a shriveled up head. Alayna and Nate studied them pretty closely, and we all marveled at these 4,000 year old humans.  Benji preferred the animal mummy room, where we saw mummified monkeys, crocodiles, and even a horse. Some misconceptions were cleared up while we were there. Azza explained that servants were never buried along with a ruler in the pyramids, and we shouldn’t call the coffins of the Egyptians sarcophagi because this translates to mean “flesh eaters”, and because they were mummified, their coffins were “flesh keepers”.

By the afternoon, we were all feeling a little dazed. Nobody had more than four hours of sleep the night before on the plane, and it was beginning to become apparent. Azza dropped us off at the hotel, after reminding us that we’d be picked up at 2:30am and shuttled to the airport for our short flight to Abu Simbel the next morning. Yikes. We ate a late lunch, closed the blackout curtains and got the kids to bed by 6pm, and by 8pm Clay and I were thankfully tucking ourselves into bed. Someone knocked on the door just as I was drifting off, Clay got up in his cow print boxers to see who was at the door (Clay got these cow print boxers back in Edam at a cheese factory. We had bought them for Nate, but they were an adult size, and were just a little too roomy, so Nate took Benji’s mediums and Clay inherited the large pair). It was room service, come to turn down the beds. After four and a half months on the roads, we’ve mastered the knack of untucking hotel sheets and getting ourselves into bed on our own, so he told them thank you and goodbye.

As he crawled back into bed I asked Clay if the man at the door was surprised that we were going to bed at 8 at night. He said no, he was more surprised by Clay’s cow print boxers. Something for the staff to talk about downstairs, while we drifted into a weird Egyptian dreamland.