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Occupy! Portland in early November 2011

The way I see it, Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi shaped the U.S. 2012 election in a positive way. Bear with me here, I’ll make the links.

In the 2012 U.S. elections, one of the key topics that candidates are being forced to address is wealth distribution (and income accountability, taxes, etc. etc.). This happened because of the Occupy! movement, which was encouraged by the protests in Wisconsin, which may not have been so powerful and remarkable had the good people of Wisconsin not already been fired up by protests in the burgeoning Arab Spring. And of course, the Arab Spring can owe much of its inception to the death of one young, frustrated man: Mohamed Bouazizi.

On the day the Times named our 2011 Person of the Year, I was disappointed to hear the winner was the vague “protestor.” I had a particular protestor in mind, and had been hoping they would choose Mohamed Bouazizi, the unfortunate fruit stand keeper who had endured one hardship too many and burned himself to death in protest. Not that he was the first person to self-immolate in protest in Tunisia, but December 17, 2010 his was the first story to grab news headlines. The Times talked about the runners up, who included Kate Middleton, Admiral William McCraven, and Gabriel Giffords, among others. Considering all  candidates’ contributions to the planet in 2011, I felt (and still feel) as though there is simply no comparison to the contribution of Bouazizi.

Occupy! Portland at the base of the Wells Fargo tower

Bouazizi’s flames pulled the trigger for much of Tunisia in December of 2010 and launched what probably no one was able to predict: an upheaval of north Africa and the Middle East, and shockwaves that spread across the globe. With the death of Bouazizi made public, Tunisians could no longer keep quiet. They were an entire nation of people who could identify with the last straw breaking the camel’s back. They could no longer endure the system they had been forced to negotiate within. They exploded.

As the news of the resistance of Bouazizi and his countrymen spread next door, the Egyptian trigger was pulled too. On January 25, 2011 Egyptians resisted their own oppression in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. I was riveted by the news of revolt in Egypt, since my daughter and I had been there – right there on that square – only a year previous. January 27, a huge demonstration rocked Yemen’s capital city Sana’a. News of similar revolts continued to roll in. Jordan. Bahrain. Palestine.

And with the thoughts of Arab Spring in my mind, the protests in Wisconsin hit the news February 14. I could not help but immediately make the connection and I suspect they were making it too. Revolution was on the news every day back then. Citizens in the Middle East and Africa were getting shot in the streets but willing to continue to make a stand for the will of the people. So when a wretched attack on collective bargaining rights for public servants was perceived in Wisconsin, it was only natural that they would respond with an aggressive spirit. If others are willing to die to change their government, why wouldn’t Wisconsonians be willing to misbehave and elicit some public scorn in order to block the passing of Governor Walker’s “budget repair bill?”

February 15, Libyans protested, and by the end of February their country was roused into a fury. The world was fired up! In England, unexplained riots of vandalism and theft swept through the streets. It made immediate sense to me, when everyone else was wailing “why? why?” This chaos stems from the despair borne of helplessness. An article in the Guardian suggests that we view those riots in the context of the “division between the entitled and the dispossessed.” Mexicans rose up against the devastating drug cartels. Greeks demanded accountability in the wake of their leaders’ ineptitude.

Americans again got fired up and Occupied! the country. And all the idiots in Washington said “It’ll never last,” and “Those stupid college brats are wasting their time,” and attempted to ignore it. But we remained Occupied! And the unrest that had begun in Tunisia and spread over here, rippled and went back. Hong Kong, Berlin, and Sydneygot Occupied! Politicians in the U.S. never did (and still mostly do not) have any clue how revealing the Occupy! movement is, and they continue to fuss about illegal immigration and same sex marriage, when we are UNEMPLOYED out here, and our homes have been FORECLOSED, and most of us could really give a flying fluck whether men marry other men because right now we have REAL issues to worry about.

KBOO live on the air in the midst of Occupy! Portland. Note the “people’s republic of portland” bumper sticker and the image of Che Guevara

U.S. officials tried to wait out the protestors, and wait for winter to discourage them, but they wouldn’t go. So in a nationwide coordinated effort, police were sent in to break up the camps, arrest any resisters, pepper spray the rest, and bulldoze the tents. Our own Portland Mayor Sam Adams joined the melee. But it was too late.

unoccupied Portland, with metal fences and locked gates

Too late, because guess what? The whole country has begun using a vernacular that includes phrases like “class warfare” and “income inequality.” We stand around our respective water coolers and mutter to each other that politicians care only about reelection. There is a “deep distrust of government” and “capitalism in crisis.” We’ve had Warren Buffet publicly announce that he thinks it is unfair that his millions are taxed at a lower rate than his secretary’s salary. Mitt Romney succumbed to pressure and produced his tax returns. Polls since Occupy! have included a new segment of the population that demands a focus on reducing the income gap. Just enter keywords “poll wealth inequality” and see the lists of what pops up. A recent poll reveals that Americans across party lines believe that the federal government should prioritize increasing the equality of opportunities. I do not recall Americans demanding this level of transparency in our last election and I certainly do not recall a transparent response.

I learned later that the Times United Kingdom nominated Bouazizi as person of the year. I am puzzled that the discussion of person of the year in the U.S. didn’t even mention the man (though curiously he is immediately identified on their person of the year home page), and then he was the person actually selected in the UK.

Panels by Jackson Middle School students, framed by mural art by Aden Catalani

{as always, please click the images for a larger version}

Here’s a modern story for you: Tara has two facebook friends from Jackson Middle School who were about to present art in a show. Tara had never met them in real life, and thought she should go to the show. It would be a fun night out, and she would get to meet her friends in person. I agreed that it was a good idea, and I felt some of her delight at meeting friends in RL who had till then only existed as profile photos and comment strings on a status post.

The two girls seemed younger than her, but possibly the same age. I’ll guess 12 or 13. So I was genuinely impressed at the quality of the art and the depth of expression that came from all the students at the show.

It was called Know Power – street art for social change. Each artist covered a small panel – most were 2-3 foot rectangles. The theme was Africa, and in particular they expressed the suffering of Rwandans during genocide, lack of food and water, and the plight of child soldiers kidnapped and forced into war.

Parents, friends, and artists discuss the imagery

The Grassy Knoll Gallery is in a second-floor space on NW 2nd Ave, just off the Burnside bridge on the edge of Chinatown. A wonderful space with high ceilings and enough room to move around and gain new insightful perspectives, while small enough to remain intimate and to share the sense of shared experience with the others also appreciating the art.

In the central gallery room, Aden Catalani had painted a mural to set the stage, with a silhouette of Africa and graffiti illumination. It’s no secret to those who know me that I love graffiti art. I said as much to the artist who eagerly encouraged us to come to his own show opening with Stephen Holding at Backspace the following night. (We were unable to make it to that show opening, but I see the show is up all month, so we will try to hit it later.)

Jackson teacher Bethany was on hand to manage the show and answer questions about her talented students. She told me that she had taught some of the background during her Social Studies classes, but the students had also had the opportunity to hear visitors describe some of the social challenges in Africa. The students had also worked with a visiting artist who helped them design their pieces.

A room off to the side held a buffet of things to eat and drink, and traditional and world music played on a actual record player during the show (vinyl!). The people who put the show together did a great job and I am so glad the middle school students had the opportunity to experience a real art show. They had all been instructed to dress up for the event, so Tara and I had polished up as well. (I got to see my tomboy kid in a SKIRT! She made me promise not to put the photos on facebook – ha!)

Friends in real life

The art easily outshone all the other stories of the evening. Many of the images were powerful on their own, and each artist included a short paragraph below the piece to explain the idea behind their expression. These snapshots of pain, hunger, thirst, war, fear, and death told a single story of human suffering. Young people can often see most clearly in the face of societal failures, because they have not yet learned the advantage that some seek through the oppression of others.

All proceeds from donations at the show will go to Play Pumps by Water For People. See previous post for a short video on the Play Pumps project.

My friend, Mohamed

I’m going to have some anxiety mixed with my joy till I clear it up with my Egyptian friend, Mohamed, who has insisted I don’t know all sides. I heard the news of Mubarak acquiescing the reins of the presidency with joy and with a marked dose of astonishment. I also worried that I was the butt of a joke, and had to check it for myself, since all day Thursday at work, as rumors from Egypt flew to us here in the U.S., we had been launching the joke back and forth across the cubicle sea.

“I heard Mubarak has stepped down.”

“Really?”

“Oh, looks like he hasn’t. Nevermind.”

And it continued like that. We’re mostly early risers where I work, and by 6am (the earliest we’re allowed to begin) that place is hopping. Friday Chris came in early and headed for his cube in his bicycle gear. He said, “Hey, I guess Mubarak has stepped down!” “Really?” I asked. “No,” he laughed.

But a couple hours later I heard the announcement. About 8:50am, I knew it was for real.

Earlier in the week, I had finally heard from Mohamed, a young man from Upper Egypt who recently received his degrees in tourism and business management. The week before I had jetted off an email in the thick of things, then remembered that he probably had no Internet. D’oh! So Wednesday he got back to me and assured me that he was safe. Our communication is poor, since I speak about thirty-five words of Egyptian Arabic and he can probably triple that for English words. We are pathetic, but determined! Ha ha.

Mohamed’s message was brief, but it chimes in with Middle Eastern media voices I keep hearing whose theme is that Americans just don’t have a clue. My message to Mohamed was simple enough. I told him that I send my love and I hope he is safe. His response to me was that of the 80 million people in Egypt, there are many sides to the situation, and not to think I know what’s going on. He said the Egyptian media only gave one story in the beginning. With our emaciated language skills, I can’t tell what he thinks of the protests, or the Mubarak regime, or what.

Then he expressed his doubt and fear about being a citizen. He didn’t say “doubt” and “fear.” On Wednesday, prior to news of the departure of Mubarak, he wrote to me: “Now all things may be back like last in street and in government. What the result! Problem in economy for example ( tourism ) after that no tourists.”

And this is going to be the looming story for Egypt through the remainder of 2011 and beyond. His words touch my heart with their poignancy, and they still hold true. What the hell are the common people going to do now? So many people were struggling anyway, and now the entire system has been ravaged. It’s not like Mohamed can go back to work on the tour ship Monday. It’s not like his Uncle can set up his shop at the dock and sell anything this week. In Mubarak’s speech Thursday he called to the young people in Tahrir Square to “go back to your jobs.” That made me furious and I don’t even live on the same side of the planet. Talk about not having a clue. The victory here is undeniable and I hope it will carry some Egyptians through the painful coming year.

I don’t think Mohamed (or his countrymen and women) understands the American perspective. He has so many fears and stereotypes about Americans that battle in his brain. he’s always telling me how unusual I am for befriending him. But that isn’t true! Americans are no more haters than Egyptians are. On a one-to-one basis, outside the bark of Fox television, we are just like people anywhere. We can love you no matter what your native language is.

I want the people of Egypt (all of them!) to know that we, over here in the United States, have been concerned much less about the type of government that reigns in the end, if it was placed there by the popular voice of the people. Argue all you want, but think about it, and it’s true. We have not been tuned in to the news out of our concern for the quality of the regime overhaul.

Americans value voices freely raised!

THAT is why we are so excited. That is why we have been tuning in every day for the past 20 days. The silly commentators keep bringing up the implications in world markets, in Israeli relations, and whether President Obama is saving or losing face with his reaction. But we don’t really care. We want to hear the shouting, see the banners raised, hear thousands of people holding their country’s flag and chanting their pride and patriotism. We particularly loved hearing an authority organization – the army – supporting the people!

Mohamed is afraid that I’ll make a judgment based on inadequate facts, but all I needed to know was that Egyptians were speaking up, which the media certainly provided. And I wanted to see a result that incorporated their voices. The particular demands are not so important for me to understand. Some Egyptians expressed that Mubarak was not so bad that he needed to be ousted.  So ok, it’s not my country; I won’t judge the Mubarak regime because I don’t know enough.

But that does not dim my enthusiasm for an Egyptian revolution. I was invested in getting proof that their voices were heard. Come on, admit that’s what you wanted too. I wanted to see the people express a common demand and have it met, and I wanted so badly for it not to end with bloodshed and mass imprisonment. Sadly, over three hundred people did die, and their deaths are not forgotten. I hope the death toll holds steady as governing negotiations ensue.

Americans value voices freely raised. And for that fact above all others, we have stood in support of Egypt for three weeks. Americans value a people’s victory. And for that fact, we too are celebrating. Mostly to ourselves, our friends, or in our facebook status. But we are celebrating, nonetheless.

I'm standing amongst one of my favourite families in the whole world.

I met this incredible family almost exactly a year ago. They are warm, wonderful, kind and forgiving. I am in awe.  Here’s the blog I wrote at the time.

And here’s the video of their journey I found this morning.

I remain in awe.

I heard a news story this morning about how cattle rustling is a big problem in the rural areas of Oregon. Cattle thieves continue a centuries-old tradition, even in 2010. Oregon’s laws require branding of cows to keep track of ownership. Nearby states do not. On the radio program, Malheur County sheriff and rancher said, “One guy on horseback with a good dog can fill a trailer.” Across the border, possession is the law.

My beloved Meadows Valley

…and images of my childhood in a ranching valley in northern Idaho came to mind.

Growing up in a tiny ranching/logging town, we were self-sufficient and didn’t trust government or outsiders. Credit it to hundreds of years of being off the radar of the nation. Out there in the Wild West, people create their own solutions; they help each other as insurance against future need, and place great value on non-conventional tools such as a good dog.

Theft of 150 cows over a few years could be devastating, through the unrecovered expenses it entails. Rural westerners seem to be always on the edge of broke, and each new season provides the opportunity (or not) to pay off last years’ bills. But even beyond that, theft is an unforgivable act among people who must pool their resources to keep the community intact. Theft damages the integrity of the whole system, by removing the resources. It removes a provider and creates one additional needy family.

The perspective of the news program was to suggest microchipping cattle. It may surprise city-dwellers to know that cattle ranchers aren’t warm to the idea. Why aren’t they? It’s because true westerners have a core understanding that self-reliance is the only aspect of life to count on. Aside from The Almighty, of course.

  • 1) any problem is solvable at home
  • 2) no one in Washington, D.C. has a clue
  • 3) only you and your neighbors understand the situation accurately
  • 4) the less control an organization or government has over your livelihood, the better

One does not thrive in the wilderness without developing convictions similar to these. And, when it has served a population for thousands of years, it becomes instinctual to cling to proven measures of safety. In this light, it’s much easier to understand fierce resistance by large segments of our national population to national programs. Healthcare, anyone?

Many intelligent people champion brilliant arguments to support social programs. They can make the mistake of discounting people who don’t buy it. In their confusion about why the case for a social program wasn’t accepted, the champions can make the mistake of assuming the resistors are not intelligent. They consider that perhaps the worldview of rural citizens isn’t large enough to understand the greater issues at stake.

The biggest mistake of all is not to try to understand the core of the resistance. Say, for example, that rural people are quite intelligent, especially in the aspects of survival. If this is true, then what is responsible for the resistance? If microchips could provide an opportunity to track every last cow and calf in a national database, what could possibly explain resistance? What arguments would address their interests?

Let’s take it beyond ranchers. Beyond rural experts vs. national experts. Extend to indigenous populations vs. colonizers, individuals vs. corporations, small poor countries vs. large rich ones. How about the experienced workforce vs. the employees fresh out of college?

Not the brainland - the Heartland of Idaho.

I catch myself sometimes assuming a breakdown in communication is due to one side being simple-minded. The cattle rustling story was a simple example to help me see a bigger, more accurate story of world peace and conflict.

Though I’m many years and many experiences away from my rural Idaho home, I retain a bit of that old instinct. I can tell you from an insider’s perspective that while they are often judged as ignorant, entire rural populations are convinced that THEY are the only bastion of clear-thinking intelligence to be found.

Steps under construction

Steps under construction

My exciting news is that our newly poured concrete steps can be walked upon today. Yes, it takes little to make me giddy.

Little? Actually concrete for construction is a big freaking deal to some people. Like in the Gaza Strip. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

Over the past week, I hired a crew from Patrick Masonry & Concrete here in Portland to build me some new front steps. The previous steps had been poorly constructed and were falling apart. The metal railing had nearly broken off, and I was growing increasingly concerned that the mail carrier or an elderly neighbor would slip on the crumbling steps and crack their skull.

Sidewalk alongside the house

Sidewalk

Steps

support for new slab

plastic

protection from rain

Patrick showed up within 30 minutes of my cold call. The very next day the old concrete was gone and the wooden forms were in place. By Thursday it was done. Friday morning they removed all their gear except for the orange cones and the temporary mailbox down at street level. Since it had been pouring rain most of the week, the concrete was drying slowly, and he suggested that we stay off until Sunday – today!

Ready for walking!

All week I thought of Palestine. Enduring warring civil factions, Israeli blockades, bombings and terrorism from multiple sources, increasing Egyptian border control, joblessness and the looming thoughts of despair always hovering and waiting for the chance to swoop in and devastate a family…  my steps are an example of the wealth and opportunity in the United States of America.

Gazans don’t have access to concrete, nor access to many construction opportunities. With the opportunity to pour this amount of concrete, they would certainly use it for something more critical. I am almost ashamed at my frivolousness in comparison.

We all seek our personal joys and life goals in the setting we are dealt. It is conflicting to think too hard on my achievements when others don’t even have the chance to try it. However, I think my job is to be the most I can be with what I have. Thus, I’ll continue to be thrilled at my new concrete steps, I’ll wallow in the joy of rebuilding my gardens on either side of it, since they were damaged during construction. I’ll savor the security of knowing my little girl, the neighbors, the mail carriers and everyone else will now have safe passage on my property.

slab and curved walk

Slab and curved walk

I will continue my awareness of the struggles of others, and be grateful when I am afforded opportunities. I will try not to squander my precious gifts.

Colossal Rameses II reclining

Bleurg. 5:00am wake up call again for our flight back to Cairo. Then from the airport to the buses, and on to Memphis – the first capitol of Egypt. Believed to be founded by the first pharaoh of the first dynasty, that makes Memphis (modern-day Mit Rahina) five thousand years old!

Did I mention that Rameses II has won my vote for Most Self-Absorbed Pharaoh? Anyway, in Memphis we were able to see RII once again, in all his glory carved to perfection. The colossal statue was prone, and we were able to get a close look. As I stood beside him, I realized his head was taller than my whole body! The details in this version of RII are as interesting as ever: knife in his belt so it’s at the ready, just in case. A scroll in his right fist. Left leg forward for action and strength.

Rameses II and me

Scroll and saber in belt

Outside the building that houses RII, we were able to walk the grounds of the open-air museum, and see an alabaster sphinx. It has the body of the lion and the pharaoh’s face has not been identified. There is another huge statue of RII outside, and this one seems to have only the white crown of Upper Egypt, which is interesting.

white

Prior to the unification of Egypt, the Nile Delta area kings wore a red crown shaped like a bowl, and its patron goddess was the cobra goddess Wadjet. The delta is Lower Egypt. Kings of Upper Egypt wore a tall, conical white crown, and its patron goddess was the vulture goddess

red

Nekhbet. To show unification and support of all Egypt, pharaohs wore both crowns together. The two lands of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt could also be embodied in the cobra goddess and the vulture goddess together on the forehead of a crown.

Ankh

The Ankh, referred to as the “key” frequently by our guide, is a common symbol for life in hieroglyphics.

blending the two crowns

Gods are often depicted holding one. Hossam sketched out a map of Egypt to illustrate where the Ankh symbol came from. Start with your pen at Cairo and draw a loop around the Nile Delta. That’s Lower Egypt. Draw a straight line south from Cairo along the Nile to represent Upper Egypt. Then draw a horizontal line to divide the two. The true origin of the symbol is unknown to Egyptologists, and Hossam’s version is one I haven’t seen anywhere else.

Alabaster Sphinx of unknown pharaoh

Step pyramid built by Imhotep

Palm forest surrounds the Imhotep museum

Next we traveled to Sakkara. We stopped first at the beautiful and modern Museum of Imhotep. We saw statues carved in wood rather than in stone.  My favourite display was an ancient blueprint used by an architect in the planning of a temple at Sakkara. Hieroglyphics and outlines painted onto a flat rock – too cool! Tara liked seeing the mummies. The necropolis of Sakkara doesn’t look like much in 2010, but its implications are impressive, and the history here is also awesome. Sakkara was originally part of Memphis, revealing that Memphis originally covered a vast area. The main attraction for us was the step-pyramid, the oldest known Egyptian pyramid.

detail at Sakkara

Prior to pyramids, important people were buried in mastabas, or raised areas of earth with flat tops, erected over a grave. A particularly innovative priest and architect named Imhotep had the idea of building successively smaller mastabas, one on top of the next for king Djoser. When complete, it was the largest man made structure in the world at the time (2600 BC). There is a theory that it may have been an attempt to reach up toward the sun god, Osirus/ Amun-Ra. Classic pyramids that followed the step-pyramid design are said to be built to represent the rays of the sun, coming down from Osirus and giving life to Earth.

temple entrance at Sakkara

"Bent Pyramid" on left

Sakkara contains many of the older mastabas. We walked past a row of them and ascended a ramp to a high point, where we were able to look to the south and see the “bent pyramid.” In the evolution of the classic pyramid style from step pyramids, there was a pyramid where construction began at one angle, then the engineers changed orders, and the remainder of the pyramid was completed with different angles. The bent pyramid is believed to be the oldest pyramid of the newer design with smooth sides. From this same high point, if we turned around to look north, we could see the Giza pyramids again.

man and his donkey at Sakkara

Also in Memphis we visited a carpeting school. Hossam explained that it is a project both to give children of the area a trade, education, and also to create great carpets. Sales of carpets fund the project, and the education of the children is theoretically an investment in the future of Egypt. Apparently the founder told parents that he would offer their children a chance to earn wages and learn a trade, but the children had to live there at the school, and the parents had to agree to let them get an education. The kids work 4 hours a day, learning to tie knots in carpets, and also attend school to learn to read and write and other basics, which poor Egyptian children rarely learn. They get spending money for their free time, and can leave the school whenever their parents wish them to leave.

young artists at work

gracing us with a smile

Inevitably, after viewing the students at their work, we were led to the showroom. Prior to the visit, I had no plans to purchase a carpet, even though I dearly love good carpets. Tara changed my mind when she reacted to the carpets and told me how much she wanted to have one. She unknowingly helped her cause when her eye was consistently drawn to the wool weaves (the least expensive type). I enlisted the bargaining expertise of fellow traveler Marty, who happens to be a carpet salesman back home. Marty did his work, and then we talked to Hossam who approached the floor manager, and got us a stellar deal on a wide runner carpet with excellent colours and design.

With our prize in hand, we boarded the bus and were delivered to our next hotel, at the Cairo airport. We got all our instructions for the return home the following day, and by 6pm we had our keys and were released.

Luxor Temple

The city of Luxor was the ancient city of Thebes, if you want to place our modern trip into context. This morning we got an early start to head out to the Valley of the Kings after breakfast, and spotted Luxor Temple in daylight.

Looking past the entrance into the Valley of Kings

The Valley of the Kings on the west bank of the Nile in Luxor is a remote, desolate place with no vegetation. On the bus on the way over, Hossam told us a creation legend from ancient Egypt which holds that in the beginning the world was all water except for an island in the shape of a pyramid, and upon that island was the source of all life. As we walked from the parking lot up the hill toward the tombs, Tara pointed up to the peak. Rising above the area is the Qurn (“horn”), a mountain that many regard as a natural pyramid shape, presiding over the entire cemetery. Hossam confirmed that this peak was commonly believed by the ancients to be the island pyramid.

Tomb of Rameses IX on left and Tutankhamon center

(thanks to www.thebanmappingproject.com for the images of the tombs) The Valley of the Kings was awesome, though we went quickly through it. I could have spent 4 hours slowly walking through the fantastic tunnels. Sadly, we were required to leave our cameras on the buses.

Omnipresent security guarding the gates

We began with Rameses IX (KV 6 – the identifier used by archaeologists). We formed a single-file line and entered a narrow tunnel that was only wide enough to allow exiting tourists to pass on their way out. Floor-to-ceiling plexiglass protected the walls from us, which was appropriate, because I wanted so desperately to touch the work of ancient artists only inches from my face.

Stars on the ceilings

Hossam had already told me that if I liked seeing the colours as I claimed, then I would like the Valley of the Kings. It’s tremendous – the colours inside the tombs. Stunning. They are so bright, detailed, intricate…it’s awe-inspiring. After three thousand years, we can see the different shades of similar colors. For example: white, cream, light yellow, dark yellow, and orange, all layered in one place, showing the folds or decorations in fabric, for example. Then there are the reds, the black, green, turquoise, and the startlingly brilliant cobalt blue. Especially on the ceilings…covered in a darker shade of cobalt, and sprayed with gold stars to represent the night sky. It’s so beautiful.

Inside tomb of TaWsret & Nakhet

Unfortunately, the insides of the tombs smelled awful because of all the smelly tourists crowding through. It truly was crowded and hot inside them all. The temperature was in the 80s outside, perhaps 90 degrees. We were dying: especially the women, who had to be covered up. I was pleased to find that everyone in our group stayed covered up: bus 1 and bus 2. Other tourists who wore backless tank tops with miniskirts embarrassed me. Today was a good day to find out who would break the social mores. One woman removed her outer shirt and had a sleeveless shirt on, but otherwise remained covered. Some women rolled their pant legs up to their calves. I thought we remained a respectable group. Often, often, we women talked of how unbearable it would be to have to wear the full burqua in such dreadful heat – especially when they are nearly always heat-absorbing black.

Tomb entrances in the mountains, as spotted from the bus

After Ramses IX, we visited the tomb of Ta Wsret and Nakhat (KV 14), followed by Seti II (KV 15). Each one was extraordinary, but KV14 was the best tomb of the whole trip, in my opinion. (Forgive me if I’m getting the owners of the tombs mixed up. Also, I found that Hossam spelled the names for me differently than I’ve seen them spelled on the Internet.) The story with KV14 is that it was originally built for Queen TaWsret (or Tausert), but before she died, her son with Seti II died. So it became Nakhat’s tomb (or Setnahkt).

God Horus in Hatshepsut's temple

At the places closer to the entrance, hieroglyphics show TaWsret honoring the gods, and as one goes deeper, her image has been covered and repainted with Nakhat, even though they are scenes that are appropriate for queens, not kings/princes. In the deepest sections, there is only Nakhat. We walked through tunnels that opened up into a large room with inner columns, then another tunnel, then another room with columns. There is an unexpected magical atmosphere created when a dark, musty cave is illuminated to reveal columns, anterooms, paths, ramps, tunnels, doorways, and altars underground and illustrated on every square inch.

The order of construction is that first the walls of the tomb were built, and then the kings and queens (while still alive) had artists paint onto papyrus classic scenes and new scenes depicting the gods, the king doing his great deeds, and historical and stories from religious texts such as the “Book of Gates,” which explains how to get through all the steps one must go through to successfully arrive at the gates of the afterlife. At the last gate, one’s heart is weighed on a scale. A light heart gets you into the afterlife with the gods and your ancestors. A heavy heart will be eaten by the monster standing nearby. The papyrus would then go to artists who painted a draft in red onto the stone. A senior artist would review and correct the paintings in black. Then carvers would create sunken relief (deeply carved images) and raised relief (higher quality, more difficult illustration of raised images where the negative areas are ground away) into the limestone cave walls of which the structure was built. When that was done, artists would then come and paint them. The figures on the walls with non-human heads are gods (including pharaohs/kings who are believed to be gods). Commonly seen gods are Horus with the falcon head, Osirus with a red sun disk, Anubis with the head of a jackal, and Hathor with a cow head, cow ears, or cow horns.

The most recently discovered tomb, and the only tomb found intact by scientists, is that of King Tut-Ankh-Amon. Hossam offered to get us into the king’s tomb if we wanted to, but it was extra money and he talked us all out of it by saying that it’s not much different than the other tombs, and all the treasure is at the Museum of Antiquities anyway. We let him sway us, and we didn’t buy extra tickets to see a fourth tomb.

Surreal view of Pharoah Hatshepsut's temple

We were able to take our cameras to Pharaoh Hatshepsut’s temple, who ruled from about 1475 to 1455 BC. This was a high point for Tara, who studied Queen Hatshepsut in school last year. One of the few female pharaohs, Hatshepsut was a powerful one. Tired of hearing that women can’t be kings, she ordered herself to be called King Hatshepsut, and images of her sported the long beard of a king. She may have even worn a beard in real life, since kings always shaved their chins clean and wore a fake beard strapped on anyway.

Queen with the double crown and beard

Her temple was remarkable. It is set into a cliff face, three stories high, and looks out across a low slope into the valley (wadi, in Arabic). From the parking lot, the huge temple dominated our view during our walk up to it. There remain the stumps of two frankincense trees at the entrance, which Pharaoh Hatshepsut brought back from her travels in Africa. Her temple is in poor shape mainly because her nephew/stepson Thutmosis III was her successor. He hated her and went to great lengths to destroy her works all over the Nile valley. Where he couldn’t break an image, Thutmosis III had any references to Hatshepsut chiseled off the walls.

Inside Hatshepsut's temple

Next we went to the Valley of the Queens. It’s a similar group of tombs beneath mountain peaks, in a valley south of the Valley of the Kings, and still on the west bank of the Nile. Egyptians typically had their tombs on the west bank because of the setting sun, and their main living areas were on the East bank because that is where the sun rises.

All I can remember about the Valley of the Queens is Nefertari’s tomb. Again, cameras were not allowed. (thanks to Swarthmore for the images) It was a heartbreak not to capture on my own camera the images Nefertari left for us.

Inside Nefertari's tomb

Inside Nefertari's tomb

I was stunned to wordless- ness (yes, I know, hard to believe!), but I’ll try to put something down for you. Here we saw the most pristinely preserved hieroglyphics yet. The colours were incredible; the detail awe- inspiring. I could not believe the quality of preservation of the painting! It looked as though the artists were in there last month. In five minutes I identified a dozen different birds in hieroglyphics, each with amazing detail of colour variation and individual feathers painted. Women had straight, wavy, curly, and kinky hair, with earrings and painted fingernails. I could count the scales on the fish. It was truly humbling. The ceilings we saw in every tomb and temple had a blue background with stylized gold stars painted in a pattern. I’ll recognize that design forever.

Goddess Hathor (left) and Nefertari

The level of detail itself is impressive, but I think the most amazing thing for me is the sharpness of the detail after so much time. It’s hard to believe that the crisp edges of tiny carved scarab legs and feelers are clearly evident, and that the individual feathers of the dozens of types of birds are illuminated to such precise degree that I’m sure the species of the birds could be identified and compared to modern birds to determine whether any evolutionary changes had occurred since 1500 BC. But it’s not only birds. I wish I could explain better – trillions of images walls, columns, statues, tablets and sarcophagi inside. The sarcophagi and statues inside were often granite, so the detail was not as good – though still inspiring.

Grinding an alabaster vase, buried in the ground

Finished vases

It was noon and we were so hungry, but before lunch we went to an alabaster factory. It was interesting to me that vases and bowls are actually carved from stone by patiently grinding a hollow into them, and then grinding and polishing till smooth. We saw a demonstration in which the alabaster was buried to the lip in the dirt on the floor of the workshop. Differently-shaped carving tools (think router bits) were inserted into the hollow, and with a long handle attached, a man twisted around and around, continuing to carve and shape the inside of the bowl.

The alabaster showroom

The Colossi of Memnon

After alabaster, we saw the Colossi of Memnon. Amenhotep III erected these two 1000-ton statues. Due to an earthquake in 27 BC, the crumbling statues would sometimes make a tone with the movement of air through them. This is how they were granted the nickname of Memnon, the grandson of Eos, goddess of dawn. To be granted a song meant that you had earned the goddesses’ favor. A good deed went wrong when Roman emperor Septimius Severus repaired the statues in 199 AD. The song has never been heard again.

Rameses II statue in Karnak Temple

Our lovely crew had lunch waiting for us on the MS Neptune. In better spirits, we went for an afternoon tour at Karnak Temple on the north end of Luxor. For over 1000 years, and obviously through the reign of many pharaohs, this temple was continuously built upon and enlarged. It encompasses three main temples and additional small temples, both inside and outside the main structure. Covering almost 250 acres of land, this is the largest temple complex in the world. We were granted a generous amount of time to wander and explore this gigantic place, while avoiding men in gallabiyas eager to show us a new path to follow, for baksheesh. At Karnak, Hatshepsut had twin obelisks erected, at the time the tallest in the world. One still stands, as the tallest surviving ancient obelisk on Earth; the other has broken in two and toppled, perhaps by Thutmosis III?

The best, best part of Karnak is the Hypostyle Hall, a gigantic (I’m running out of adjectives that mean “big.”) hall filled with columns, for columns’ sake. They are all in the design of papyrus reeds and flowers, with many representing the closed bud of a flower, and the central, monolithic columns topped with open papyrus blossoms. A total of 134 columns fill the hall, and the 12 in the center are certainly the largest columns I could ever imagine. These are the sequoia sempervirens of columns, 70 feet high and big enough around that 100 men can stand together on the top of one of them. Not that this has actually happened, but Hossam said it was possible.

Columns in the style of open papyrus blossoms

We walked counterclockwise circles seven times around a gargantuan granite scarab on a pedestal. Apparently that brings on pregnancy, marriage, or just good luck. I hope we get to choose which one. At Karnak we saw an example of hieroglyphics carved excessively deep into the stone. Hossam explained that with a history of the new king coming in and having the last king’s name and good deeds scratched off the stone, some of them got wise and had their stuff carved so deeply that it would discourage vandals.

At the base of the Hipostyle Hall. See the person?

detail from above

Before we left, we snapped photos of the sphinxes in the setting sun. This is also where my WordPress profile photo was taken.

Rams head sphinx

Next we stopped at a perfume factory. Since scented oil was an extremely valuable commodity in Ancient Egypt, I consider this a relevant stop. But I’m not a big fan of scents. We had a demonstration of glass-blowing, while an artist created a delicate vessel in which to hold oils and a glass stopper with which to dab on oils.

Me posing with the sphinxes at Karnak Temple

Tara and I were all shopped out, and were grateful for the free toilet and hassle free browsing time. I stopped at the doorway to purchase some of the cheapie papyrus bookmarks being sold by hoards of children, and whipped out my dollar quickly to make the trade for a fistful of bookmarks before I was surrounded. Too slow, because another child showed up quickly enough to make a claim on the dollar. I backed away from the pushing fight that broke out after I put the dollar into the hands of the first child I saw, and watched their plight in helpless pain.

Avenue of Rams Head Sphinxes

Glassblower at the perfume shop

Flirtatious young Egyptian who was very interested in my daughter

towel monkey

Each time we return to our cabins, the cabin boys have done something amazing with our towels. they use all the clean towels, plus other things in the room, to sculpt something for us. We had a lotus flower flanked by two swans, a crocodile eating the remote control, and a monkey hanging from the ceiling with a strip of toilet paper for a tail. It’s a riot. The guys stand at the end of the hall and wait to see our reactions when we open the door. I wish I could hand them each a $100 bill for the fabulous service and fun they have provided us.

Philae Temple on an island in the Nile

Safety tips in Arabic

Ug. No rest for the wicked, nor for us. Wake up calls hit us all at 3:15am. We showered and showed up for breakfast at 4:00am, and were on the busses by 4:30am. We went back to the airport,  checked in, went through security, flew to Aswan – about 1½ hours south of Cairo – baggage and got on more busses. Tara and I are exhausted. I saw the Nile through the haze from the airplane. Exciting!

We went from the airport to see the High Dam at Aswan, which was built after the Old Dam (construction between 1898-1902 by British Engineers). The structure is apparently 17 times the size of the Great Pyramid. It is not that impressive to me, but perhaps that is because I live in the western United States. Compared to Grand Coulee or the Hoover Dam, this is not much to look at. The problem is: there is a very low slope of hand-placed bricks alternating with paths that running in parallel lanes down to water level. It belies the height, which must be more than it seems. There were the ubiquitous stray dogs sleeping all over the slope of the dam, for example.

Not-so-interesting Aswan Dam

As seems to be the case with every dam, people here were forced to move or die in the flood. Adding to the disruption of the High Dam in Aswan is that ancient ruins tracking the great history of the people of Egypt were also flooded. Emergency action with international help allowed some of the most valuable artifacts, temples, and tombs to be rescued. Sadly, a list of the most valuable was saved, and the rest were swallowed by the Nile, where they remain today.

Tethers waiting to taxi tourists

After the dam we went to Philae temple of Isis. (Please see the image at the top) It is one temple that was rescued from flooding when the dam was built – taken from the low island it was on previously, and transferred to a nearby higher island. The best thing about going to see the temple, of course, is that it was by boat. We motored through the water of the Nile between the two dams. The air in Aswan is moister and clearer, and it was quite refreshing after the beige haze and smog of Cairo. I leaned over the side of the boat, but could not touch the water.

Our boat handlers

Wending our way toward Philae Temple

The temple itself is beautiful, and vies with my favourite stop so far. It’s hard to choose a fave of course, but the Philae temple boasts many many walls of hieroglyphics, and a fascinating combination of Egyptian and Roman work. For example, the columns in the long colonnade are covered in hieroglyphics and feature papyrus leaves or busts of Isis at the top instead of the more familiar Doric or Corinthian styles.

fascinating columns

different column

The temple is in pretty good shape, considering it bore years of flooding between the construction of the Old Dam and the High Dam, and then was deconstructed and rebuilt on another island. I was particularly impressed with how well the hieroglyphics remained in sharp detail to today, after thousands of years. This is a rare temple in its history of use because, while all the other Egyptian temples were eventually closed when Christianity moved in, this one stayed active the longest because the Nubian leader was very tied to the local area, the local gods, and to the people of the area. Finally, the leader converted to Christianity along with most of the rest of Egypt, and he closed Philae. However, he reopened it soon after with a dedication ceremony, converting it into a church. At the entrances to doorways, there are small Maltese crosses carved over the top of the Egyptian work to indicate that it served a new function. One doorway carries a long Greek inscription by some dignitary, stating that it gives him great pleasure to dedicate the new church.

Exquisite raised relief inside Philae Temple

I was surprised to see such sharp detail

Isis and Horus

Small temple next to Philae

I could have taken a hundred photos there – the scenes and hieroglyphics on the walls and the columns were so captivating to me. The colour of the temple is beautiful in itself – a peach/coral colour. There were actual green things growing there on the island – and flowers blooming that were not buried in dust. The air tasted so much better, and the morning sun beat down hotter as the day progressed… I could have happily stayed there all day, poking around corners and climbing over things. But alas, after only a few free minutes, we had to clamber back into the little boats with jewelry for sale.

Tara in her new string of Nubian Jade

On the trip back from Philae, Tara negotiated a loan from a fellow passenger on the boat and bought a necklace of green stones. She was able to pay it back once we returned to our rooms. We could not recall what kind of stone she was wearing, so after some discussion, we named the stones Nubian Jade, after the Nubians of Upper Egypt.

Unfortunately, a good idea went wrong when I decided for fun to bring the gold U.S. $1 coins. I was expecting to find people begging for money in Egypt, and I thought the coins would be more interesting and fun to give out. However, the locals refuse them. Apparently, they have never seen the Sacagawea or James Polk. I showed them where it says U.S. $1, but no dice. They actually give them BACK to me, wagging their fingers and shaking their heads in a stern “no” as if implying that my behavior was distasteful.

I couldn’t even give the coins away as gifts. I wish I could understand their perception of our roles a bit better. Local panhandlers are completely comfortable asking me to cough up money for no good reason, but generously return anything they won’t be able to buy dinner with, even when they see it would make no difference to me if they kept it. Even when I ask them to please take it. Odd. Isn’t there value in an interesting piece of metal?

I wish they would take a gift. I hate the division of give and take here. I wish I could explain to them that in my country I am not rich, and that I understand poverty and don’t view myself so removed from their status. I wish they could be normal people around me and act like they have more respect for themselves. I wish they didn’t push at me yelling “Yes, please!” “Hey! Hey!” “One dolla!” Shoving beautiful things in my face, and very clever carvings, beads, and boxes. I may even want to buy some of them – I probably would – except that their manner disturbs me, and I know that a mere glance of interest at some of those sparkly things would set them at me in a piranha frenzy.

Columns lining the causeway at Philae

The men we meet (you hardly see women) have really been after Tara, perhaps out of genuine interest in a young, beautiful, fair-haired girl, but they turn it into marketing somehow. As soon as they spot us, they swoon and gush, “Oh my god!” They drop what they’re doing and follow us. “Hello pretty girl!” the countless dark boys say. “Beautiful daughter,” or “beautiful sisters,” to us both. “How many camels?” they keep asking. Tara and I have decided it is a joke to suggest they want to buy her, thus meaning it as a compliment to her beauty and to me, her mother. By complimenting us they might hope to make a sale. It doesn’t work in their favor though, only makes us more uncomfortable. “Smile sister,” they say to her when she becomes focused on getting through the press of salesmen, lowers her eyes, and presses her lips tight in determination.

Our next stop was the unfinished obelisk, which took me ages to understand, even on site. Foremost, I did not know what an obelisk was, and kept asking, but no one could explain except Hossam, who said it’s like a pyramid. We got to a place in Aswan where for the price of a ticket we could see the unfinished obelisk. Hossam explained it from the bottom, and pointed out one crisp, horizontal line of carved granite that we could easily see, and stated that there it was. I confess, I remained confounded. It was a giant bowl of granite shaped in hundreds of different places and different directions. I still couldn’t imagine what I was looking for. We were given another 20 minutes at the site to do what we wanted to do. I saw that a path went up onto the back of the hill of granite and down the other side. Other tourists were climbing up, and I thought Tara and I could both use the exercise since we were both nodding on the bus. I asked her to come along, partially to rescue her from an older woman who wanted to tell her stories about how she chewed her fingernails as a girl. We went up, up, up, for no other reason than to climb and kill time till the bus would go.

Unfinished obelisk

Washington monument

Some people had scaled a boulder, so I did as well. Aha! Finally I could see that the giant bowl was merely a quarry, and not part of what I was supposed to be looking for. At the very, very, tippie top, one can look down onto that straight line of carved granite and see exactly what an obelisk is. The Washington monument is an obelisk. Below me in the hillside, lying on its side, was a mostly carved rectangular tower with a top sharpened to a pyramid point. The story has it that a flaw was discovered in this piece of granite, and work was stopped. If it had been completed, it would apparently have been the largest obelisk in the world. Really? I don’t know. It seems like everything in Egypt is the biggest and best ever.

Our cabin, with Tara's back end visible under the curtain

We were all running on fumes at this point. The luckiest of us had 5 hours of sleep (that would be Tara and I, who were so tired we skipped dinner last night), and some folks only had a couple of hours. We tried to cram down a breakfast at 4 o’clock in the morning, then weren’t allowed to stop till 1:00pm, when we FINALLY were taken to our boat. The cruise ships are so tightly packed on the shores of the Nile in Aswan that we had to walk through two other boats to reach ours. It’s a good idea, actually, and we were able to see the interior of several cruise ships in addition to our own. (Most of them were much nicer, but I’m sure we had just as much fun!)

Our View!

Tara and I took a very long break in our room after lunch. She worked on Math for nearly two hours, and I journaled. Then we went up on deck to enjoy the warm air and the sunset. I am surprised to see what a small strip of green exists along the banks of the river. I thought I would see wide swaths of life fed by the waters, but this only happens with extensive shore irrigation. At all times we had a good view of the dry desert sands. I do love to see mountains here. Again, I’m from the Western United States and I need elevation to feel my position on Earth – to get my bearing. I am more comfortable when I can spot land above the trees and buildings, and there are some impressive elevation changes south of Cairo. Very beautiful.

Life on the edge of the water

We both noticed the large areas of oil spread across the water, and were sickened by it. I felt responsible for contributing to the river pollution.

Dusk settles over the water

There had been a scheduled “tea time” for all passengers. We skipped it. There is a tour tonight of Kom Ombo temple, when the ship stops. Though it breaks my heart, we will skip that one too. Tara doesn’t want to go, and I can’t push myself any farther. Dinner is at 8pm, and involves dressing up in our fancy Egyptian dresses that we bought at the market. AFTER dinner, at 9pm, we have a guest belly dancer with Egyptian music. But seriously? I just don’t have the stamina for this kind of itinerary. After being awake for 18 hours, including a flight, two tours, and moving onto a boat, they plan a fancy dinner with entertainment beginning at 9pm? Ugh.

Sunset on the Nile

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