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Walk Like An Egyptian


While Ben & Shaunna remain in Cairo to wrap up administrative details with the embassy, the press center and customs agents, Khairoon and I are on the overnight train to Luxor where among many notable archeological sites, lies the Valley of the Kings. Here in the bone dry Theban Hills on the West side of the Nile, an extensive number of secret pharaohic tombs have been uncovered over the years, not the least of which is the second last resting place of Tutankhamun discovered in 1922. (He is presently resting in the Cairo museum). Discoveries are still being made in the countless canyons and hills surrounding Luxor. As recently as 1995 a mass tomb for the sons of Ramses II was discovered. Inscriptions here suggested that fifty of Ramses’ one hundred or so sons were meant to be interred here. Although a complex of one hundred and fifty tomb chambers, some as large as four hundred square meters have been found, only the remains of four adults in their twenties have been located so far.

 I have mixed feelings about leaving huge and historic Cairo. Although it was overcrowded, noisy and is the most polluted city on the planet, (just walking the street is equivalent to smoking thirty cigarettes per day), it was quite fascinating. Here are a few basic details and observations. The cities population is roughly two thirds that of our entire country. Fuel prices are one fifth of those in Ottawa, the value of the Egyptian pound is just less than one fifth of the Canadian dollar. The predominant language is Arabic. (Here I am functionally illiterate.) There are more police per capita than anywhere else in the world. Even tough men kiss and hug on greeting and violent crimes are almost unheard of. This last point is the most amazing in a city of 20,000,000.      

Now in Luxor, Khairoon and I have had an excellent and unrestricted exploration of the Luxor Antiquities Museum.  Unlike the restrictions of no photography that we faced in the Cairo museum, this time we are now armed with a permit graciously written for us by the head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Dr. Zawi Hawwas. (See my last update for more info on this interesting man). I’ve included some of the great shots that the permit enabled us to get. Unfortunately some of the pieces are without labels but I thought you’d like to see them anyway. Thank you Dr. Hawwas!

This morning we had a wonderful experience with all the children in the CIDA primary schools in Hejaza, a small agricultural village just a half hour drive north of here. As you will see on the multimedia page, they were all cute 6 – 7 year old little hams for my cameras. The teachers had a minor rebellion on their hands when we were leaving as the whole school came to the doors and windows and began shouting “hello, bye, bye!”

CIDA is doing remarkable things here. Special thanks to the Qena area manager, Seif El Din Khodary Mubarak, for the tour and his guidance in Khairoons Curriculum preparations.  

As a boy I had a short list of things to do and place’s to see in this life. Having now visited the Great Pyramids of Giza in the south eastern corner of Cairo, this early list is nearing completion. Looking over top of the Cairo mega-cityscape from a distance and seeing these immense corrugated manmade mountains beyond was quite surreal. They just do not fit the scene. Up close one can appreciate why it took 100,000 workers twenty years to build Cheops, the largest of these three behemoths and another ten just to construct and remove the extensive ramping system used to haul the quarried stones that were transported here on the Nile. At approximately 4,600 years of age, these pyramids are all that remain of the original seven wonders of the ancient world. Cheops is presently131 meters high (originally 140) and measures 230 meters along its base. This pyramid is estimated to weigh six million tons and contains about 2,300,000 blocks whose average weight is 2.5 tons though some weigh 15 tons. One stone inside the chambers is estimated to weigh in at 163 tons! The great stone Sphinx is also here. Facing the Nile, it seems to guard these four dimensional monolithic structures.

I returned alone a couple of days after my first visit with the news team. I rented a horse and with the sun rising, I rode between the City of the dead, Cairo’s cemetery, and the ancient, partially excavated tombs of the many slaves killed to guarantee their silence regarding the whereabouts of the pyramids entrance.  I pondered lives lost and the resilience, depth and endurance of the human spirit.

Huwa mish mafhoom.

(It’s incomprehensible.)

 Mike Swarbrick


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All content copyright 2006 by: Mike Swarbrick