Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Great Pyramids, King Tut and The Arab Spring

Emerging from the morning mist
In an adventure full with bucket-list moments, the Great Pyramids may well have been #1 on my all-time list. I've wanted to visit the Pyramids since I first learned about them in grade school.

We headed to Giza right after breakfast that day, the pyramids emerging almost hesitantly out of a thick morning mist. My first impression was that of sheer mass. I had no idea how colossal they would be. Rebekah and I climbed all over the massive limestone blocks like kids, laughing and pointing and staring open-mouthed. The stones were honed so perfectly - back in 2560 B.C. - and fit so tightly that no mortar was used. Just a little water, the guide told us, and they vacuum-sealed together like sheets of flawlessly flat glass.

The Great Pyramid, at 481 feet in height, remained the tallest structure in the world for over 3,800 years after it was completed!

Such a cool time!
Eventually, after exploring and taking photographs and listening to facts and statistics and dodging the constant swarm of vendors and beggars, we assembled at one of the viewpoints for a 45-minute camel ride around the dunes.

My camel was named "Bob Marley," and the experience was all sorts of fun. Sand dunes, cool weather, the simple fact  of being in Egypt, and Pyramids in the background made the camel ride a far cry from walking around the parking lot at the zoo.

The Sphinx and the Great Pyramid
By the time we made it down to the Sphinx the mist had burned off and the view changed accordingly (check out a new photo album to go with each travel post over the next 12 days at my facebook page). All in all a breathtaking experience.

ARAB SPRING: Twists and Turns: We completed this remarkable day with lunch on the river Nile in sailboats, a visit to an ancient Coptic Church, and then a tour of the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities that included the complete King Tut collection, an exhibit that is mind-blowing on every level.

Rather than King Tut, what I want to mention here is the juxtaposition of ancient culture and the current day "Arab Spring." Our guide, Essam, had recently voted in a parliamentary election for the first time in his life and he almost cried when he told us his story.

Lunch on the Nile
The museum - home to one of the world's most important collection of antiquities - sits at the head of Tahrir Square, the focal point of the 2011 uprising that led to the fall of Mubarak. Mubarak's party headquarters sits immediately adjacent. You can see the burned out shell in this picture, and get a sense of how perilous the times are.
One of Mubarak's tactics was to instigate violence (the so-called Muslim attacks against Christian churches, for example, were actually government thugs) and then blame anti-government protestors. One day the Egyptian Museum was targeted.
Our guide picks up the story:

Mubarak's burned out headquarters is adjacent to he Egyptian Museum of Antiquities
When the government lost control of the country, over 6,000 guides arrived at the museum. We organized ourselves. We placed a human fence around the museum. We put more than ten guides in each room. The fittest and strongest were in the King Tut exhibit. We arrested everyone we found without credentials.
Three days later the army came, and gave the people we arrested one hour in a private room to unload their pockets and back-packs. After one hour they were searched and released. When we went in to the room it was full with priceless treasures! 
Throughout Egypt over 17,000 guides did the same thing, sleeping at the entrance of the Valley of the Kings, keeping our treasures safe. It was a tense time.
We did all of this from heart....

On the banks of the Nile with Rebekah
I'm just scratching the surface here, I understand this. Tomorrow we'll take a look at Egypt's poverty, at hope, and at the phenomenal power of the Gospel of Love.

Peace, peace in the Arab world, peace at home, and peace to my friend Essam - DEREK

PS - See the day's best slides from this day at my facebook page!

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