Sunday, December 6, 2009

Moving on from Egypt . . .

Yes, It's been an age since I've posted. Life became incredibly crazy for a long while, and sort-of is still. However, I'd like to post a blog every once in a while, so I've decided to end the Egyptian thread for now. Of course, I reserve the right to add future Egypt stories. And I'm choosing to cheat with my last Egypt story: I'm posting the contents of an email I sent to entertain my sisters while I was in Egypt. (One who was bummed at college and sometimes likes my stories.):

Hey Meredee, (I'm sending this to you too Dixie, so I don't have to write it twice. I'm paying by the minute--love you.)
How are you? I hope school is well, and that you are over your--Why are all my roommates beautiful phase?--You're pretty too, and yes, I know I'm biased, but I'm not a liar by any means. (Of course, would a liar say she was?--Regardless, you know me.)

I made some friends this past week, a girl from Charleston, SC, a girl from St. Louis, MO, and lastly (the one I was closest to) a girl from New Orleans, LA (Is that the abbreviation for Louisiana?) Anyways, they're leaving tonight/tomorrow morning, so I'm a little bummed. But hopefully, next week with Mom is cool.

I'm a little (just a little) worried about that though. Mom got mad at me tonight because we went to the market where we were supposed to haggle. With haggling you are supposed to pretend you don't really like things and underestimate things' worth, so you can get a good price.--You warned me how Mom is, so just imagine. OH, THIS IS BEAUTIFUL! I LOVE THIS! (CHARGE ME EVERY PENNY I HAVE FOR THIS.) I tried to explain this to Mom and keep her under control, but she didn't appreciate my efforts at all. We did get a few nice things, and we went on a faluka (sail boat) on the Nile for a half hour later with my friends and their moms, so I think we're cool now. We'll see.

I have some funny stories to share--I guess it's kind-of sad too. I haven't told Mom because she could easily blow it way out of proportion, and I still have to live with her for another week. Anyways . . . Meredee I need you here because the last couple of days would have been a whole lot easier if I could speak French . . .

You should understand that people in Egypt, especially the kids, LOVE tourists. Our Egyptologist guide jokes about it by saying they think we're all movie stars because they see people like us on TV. Anyways . . . So, yesterday I'm at the pyramids, and mom and I walk up to the first pyramid after we get off the bus. And there are lots of native tourists, including some school field trips. I start chatting with a few boys (@ 10-year-olds) in English. (They all learn English starting in kindergarten, some know it better than others.) It's fun because I know what it's like to wish you could practice speaking with a native speaker. And, the kids are kind-of silly. They all want to use their cameras to take a picture with you, which is fine by me--I don't have to look at the pictures afterward. So, before I know it, I'm completely surrounded by a mob of 30 kids from the same class--but it's fine (people don't steal in Egypt; the penalty is too horrible). A security guard from our tour buses comes to save me (All our (9 or so) buses each have a security guard that accompanies the group. They're all in their early twenties, all good-looking (why?--I'm not sure), and all--as one friend put it--packing heat.

You know that's slang for carrying a gun, right Meredee?--sorry, I wasn't sure if the phrase was old yet. They don't actually use their guns--there's really no reason. The guards are more like glorified ushers, keeping track of us tourists, as we go from place to place to place--

Moving on, I tell the security guard I'm okay; I don't mind talking to the school kids; he smiles--but I didn't think anything of it at the time. Mom and I finished taking pictures (and having our pictures taken) at the first pyramid. So next pyramid, we get off the bus, and the security guard is helping everyone down from the tall step. His eyes met mine while he was holding my hand. It was an extremely brief glance but somehow awkward--I didn't think much of it at the time.

So afterward we're riding camels (I was on one with a cute life guard--really, not much of a story). And then we're having our pictures taken as a group and as individuals by a professional photographer. And, the security guard, like half of all the tourists I met that day, asks (with hand gestures. (He really only speaks Arabic and French.)) if he can have his picture taken with me. I think it's odd that he's going to pay for a picture. But, he didn't have a camera, and my hair color is a bit odd for around here--and mom's like, oh yes, get your picture with him, he! he!--you know mom.--So, I still decided not to think anything of it at the time, especially since I still could have had to pay for all the pictures with me in them, including that one, later that evening when they all were developed.

Well, later that evening we went to a dress-up banquet in a palace ballroom. When I got on the bus, the security guard tells me I look very nice (in English). I tell him thank you (because I did look nice that evening. I'll show you a picture soon.) But it's starting to dawn on me that this guy is going a bit out of his way to be nice. So, I decide to wait and see if he buys the picture before I put way too much thought into this (who knows, maybe he thought I wanted it--for some obscure reason). That evening, I only got the group picture back, not the one with him (. . . and not the one with the cute life guard . . .) I'm not panicking over this, but I'm thinking, what do I do?

And then there was today, it's not as bad as it sounds but here it goes . . . first thing in the morning the guests (as opposed to the delegates like Mom) get on their bus, and he's our new security guard. He wasn't before on our guest outings. I decide this is way too egotistical of me to think, oh, he's here because he wants to be near me. Um, well . . . this day we're visiting Coptic christian churches and synagogues. I'm near the end of our group line. He stops me and tells me (with hand gestures again) that my forearms are exposed so I can't go in. This would have been the case if we were entering a mosque but it wasn't true in this case--which I figured out soon enough but I was confused right then.

So I'm alone with Ahmud for half a minute. In English, he asks me my name--with difficulty like the Egyptian children, and I tell him my name, and I ask him his, like I did with the kids--ugh, I was way too embarrassed to tell this 19-year-old I'm married. And I've learned enough of the culture by now to know it would have seriously embarrassed him too, and he barely speaks English. So, I'm counting on the fact that Mom and I are leaving on the cruise in a few days and we're not touring anymore to save me from this.

But one last bit of awkwardness before I have to go, I'm almost out of time. So, I confess to my New Orleans friend everything about this security guard, and she comes to the same conclusion I did about his behavior. She's good about staying with me, so the rest of the trip went fairly smoothly--except when I saw a bin of bracelets. (All the guests were shopping at the time.) He's following behind us, which really isn't unusual; he's in charge of 'herding' the group toward the bus. And when he sees I like the bracelets, he proceeds to start talking to the vendor for me. And he and my friend help me pick one out. And then out of the corner of my eye, I see he's pulled out his wallet. I pretend not to notice, and I pay for my own bracelet.

Will he get a clue?

See you soon.

Love,

Cherry

--So the security guard didn't "get a clue", but nothing else really happened with him, so it's all good.

The "not much of a story" with the life guard happened when our group went to ride camels. I saw a woman tourist fall off a horse while our guides were haggling with the camel owners, so I was a bit nervous about riding. When our group finally was brought over to the camels, I happened to be walking behind Chad the Lifeguard/Mathematician. The camel driver asked if we wanted to ride together, apparently mistaking us for being together. Chad had a why-not attitude; I had a "yes please save me from falling off this camel" attitude, so we used the same camel. He may have said something mildly flirtatious about resuscitating me if I fell off, but that was the extent of my adventures with Chad the Lifeguard/Mathematician.

Wow the memories are flooding back. I dreamed about Egypt for three weeks after I left. I think I left part of my heart there. Oh well, I'll share more again someday. Maybe I'll write a book . . .

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Day Four--A Night with King Tut

On the evening of Thursday, November 29, 2007 Mom and I, and the whole People to People crowd, were given a private, after-hours tour of the Egyptian National Museum. Can I just say, “wow”? I’ve never been fixated on the idea of being rich and pampered, but that night I was thinking it might have some definite perks.

The museum was close to our hotel, but, due to the size of our group, we were shuttled there by bus. After being told, “No cameras”, we were divvied up into small groups and guided by Egyptologists. The museum was grand inside and chock full of artifacts. It had some organization to it, but it was hard to tell what; there were few signs or labels. All our information came from our tour guides. They had great stories and insights to share, but I took few notes that night.

I’ll share a little of what I found memorable, but first, guess what I did in my sleep-deprived, food-starved, yes-I’m-making-excuses-for-myself state. Our group moved on while I was still studying slabs of stone with various waterfowl. I followed two seconds later, and they were gone. I literally (from my perspective) followed them around the corner only to find they had vanished. It was a confusing experience. I made a quick sweep looking for Mom and them, no luck. I would’ve continued my search, but the museum guards were ‘watching’ me. I joined another group, led by Iman, my guide from earlier that morning, so my tour that night ended up being different than Mom’s.

My first guide, the one I lost, taught a brief history of Egypt and pointed out things like how the statues had their left foot forward, symbolizing entering the afterlife. She explained what some other symbols meant. A chair symbolized Isis, a goddess who was a protecting mother. The lungs symbol meant the Nile River, the lungs of Egypt. One wooden statue in particular looked life-like with its crystal eyes. Our guide told us to imagine grave robbers shining a light into a tomb and seeing these eyes shining back at them, frightening.

In contrast, the theme of Iman, my adopted guide, seemed to be “nothing’s new”. It was interesting, really; she showed us things like writing instruments, boomerangs, and chess sets. She talked about traditions like laying flowers on coffins. She did point out a few murals showing one tradition, unique to Egypt (I think). An engaged couple would share one pair of sandals to symbolize their engagement. How cute is that? And thrifty too; I like this idea much better than keeping a diamond that at any minute could take a dive down a drain.
The pinnacle of this evening, of course, was King Tutankhamen’s treasure. And like a little child at Christmas, I found the most spectacular thing was the box. Tut’s sarcophagus was in a gold box inside another gold box, inside another, etc. The museum had the boxes from coffin-sized to humongous lined up in glass cases down one hallway. Wow. Did I mention they were all real gold?--and the artistry and detail of everything, spectacular and somewhat overwhelming.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t really the wealth that was turning my head. Tutankhamen died early. His funeral was rushed. He hadn’t the time to prepare for the afterlife. It’s believed most pharaohs had many more riches buried with them--though grave robbers through the ages have guaranteed we don’t truthfully know--But what impressed me more than the gold was just this feeling, here was a young man loved by his people. I thought of the nation mourning their young leader’s early passing. I thought of the artists crafting these things and knowing who they would belong to. It seemed present and very real, while standing in a room surrounded by Tut’s pristine possessions.

At the end of the evening, I finally caught up to my mom. She had noticed I was missing but hadn’t been overly concerned. I think she gives me too much credit sometimes. Anyways, for most guests this last part was their favorite thing of the evening. We entered the mummy room. It had a low ceiling and was kept cooler than the rest of the building. Its walkway followed the wall and then went back and forth in the center of the room until leading to the door at the opposite side. And there, lined up head-to-toe in cases along the aisles, were people. Ancient, dead, preserved people. They seemed a bit on the short side; maybe they’d shrunk some during mummification--the point is they were real people. You could see all the old traces of life in their wrinkled faces.

I’m not a fan of the open casket funeral, and this felt like the same hallowed-but-awkward experience. Forgive me, I was feeling out of it at the time, but I really wanted to take them by the hand and wake them up. I wanted to see their flesh and youth restored. I wanted to look into the brightness of their eyes and ask about their lives. It was an odd temptation, since I fully realize I don’t have the ability to sweep away the dust of ages and restore people. Perhaps, it’s feelings like these though, that led to modern mummy myths.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Day Four--Islamic Cairo, AKA A Return to Blogging about Egypt

Alright-y, I’m going to make a more sincere effort to finish blogging about Egypt, so I can one, remove the guilt factor--I hate unfinished projects--and two, free my blog space for more up-to-date reports/discussions. I’d like to blog weekly from now on, and that’s just not going to happen with the Egypt story still needing to be told.

I visited ‘Islamic Cairo’ with the guest delegates on Thursday, November 29, 2007. I was minus Mom again. And, I guess I should relate my ‘daily embarrassing story’ up front. At all the mosques you take off your shoes before entering the building. The first mosque we visited had men who take and stow your shoes behind a counter for you. This was all fine. In fact, I was impressed--when our group came out of the mosque an hour or so later, the men seemed to remember whose shoes belonged to whom, and they brought everyone’s shoes out quickly. Everyone’s, that is, except for mine. All my fellow guest delegates were walking back to the bus, and I was trying to indicate with hand gestures that I still needed my shoes. The men couldn’t seem to find them. The women who were taking tickets at the entrance nearby started arguing with these guys. Meanwhile, my group didn’t seem to notice I’d been left behind.

I ended up going behind the counter and hunting down my shoes myself. They were placed in an odd corner away from where everyone else’s had been stowed. I had to run for the bus. Our security guard (there’s one on every bus) seemed mildly irritated. I was embarrassed--I had the worst luck. Later, after I’d gotten to know the Egyptian people better, I realized something; I was being teased. My shoes had been hidden on purpose, and that’s what the ticket-takers had been yelling at the shoe-takers about. So, was it my red hair, lack of common sense, or something else? I don’t know; but I swear I was walking around Egypt with a target on my back.
--One random tidbit of information, our bus’s security guard looked like The Rock, you know, Dwayne Johnson. Cool, huh.

Back to before--inside the mosque-school of Sultan Hassan, our guide sat us down and outlined the Islamic religion for us. I was fascinated and took a lot of notes--none of which I’ll share. Part of what I found interesting was Islam has more commonalities with Judeo-Christian beliefs than I’d realized.
Also of note, our guide Iman explained the Islamic religion is flexible. Through prayer, Muslims have a personal relationship with God, and are just supposed to try their best to practice their faith. Take praying five times a day—they’re supposed to wash, wear respectable clothing, face Mecca, etc. But if they’re out driving or in the middle of something, they can just pray in their hearts. Is this flexibility exclusive to Cairo’s Muslims?--that I don’t know. But it seems contrary to what’s portrayed in American media.

While in the mosque, we women didn’t have to cover our heads. That’s only required if we were going to pray. Also, when asked at what age girls were required to start wearing head scarves in public, Iman said there wasn’t any strict requirement. Many just chose to do it early because that’s what’s currently popular and stylish. Women who wore a full face-covering headdress were pointed out as extremists. Our Egyptologists repeatedly told us, “That is not Islam!” As proof, they said when those women make their pilgrimages to Mecca, they are required to uncover their faces.

On polygamy, Iman explained that it’s allowed but not widely practiced. Islam requires husbands practicing polygamy to provide for each wife equally; only the very rich can afford this. Also, divorce is allowed, so it’s rare for two women to willingly share the same man; the original wife will threaten divorce or go through with it.

And as long as we’re discussing women’s topics, most women in Egypt work unless they have small children to care for. The society is very family oriented. Extended families are close, often sharing the same housing. Young adults/couples don’t usually move away from home.

Returning again to the mosque--while inside the main dome, a Muslim performed the call to prayer for us. For those of you who don’t know, this is a song that’s broadcast from the mosques’ minarets to remind people it’s time to pray. I’ve heard some tourists get tired of this five times a day, but I thought it was great. Our next stop, the Salah El-Din citadel complex, was up on a hill and at one point the call to prayer started echoing up from all over the city; it sounded so cool!At the citadel, we visited the Mohamed Ali mosque. Here, they had green sheets that tourists could use to cover themselves if they were wearing immodest clothing (women who had their arms or legs exposed). At the end of our visit at the citadel, I had to run for the bus again, but I wasn’t alone. I had been helping a friend who was timid about haggling for souvenirs. I’d done it a few times now, so I was showing off. We took too long. After sprinting, we tried to sneakily catch up with our group at the exit--I didn’t want to develop a bad reputation--not with ‘The Rock’. Our other friends said they’d noticed we were gone and assured us they wouldn’t have left without us. (Dang it!)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Day Three--My First Pyramid

My first day touring Egypt (Wednesday, November 28, 2007) was yet another day I embarrassed myself. The guest delegates (minus the professionals) stopped in Memphis at an open-air museum which had been built around an enormous fallen statue of Ramses II (simply awesome, by the way). While I was viewing the artifacts displayed on the grounds, a museum guard (who I figured was bored) indicated with hand gestures that he’d help me take a picture; I accepted. Afterward he made it clear he wanted some cash for his efforts. I’m afraid I was surprised but quickly complied with a couple dollars. I didn’t give in when he asked for more money for his friend, and I silently swore I wouldn’t let something like this happen again. My face probably turned bright pink. I felt like it was just my luck to be taken advantage of, but I later learned this exchange wasn’t so unusual. A lot of locals hang around the sites in Egypt looking to earn ‘tips’. This includes many of the employees and guards trying to add to their meager incomes. Nothing’s wrong with tourists throwing a little money their way. I’m afraid though, I was suffering from culture shock at the time, and it took me a while to comprehend this . . . in the US, a museum guard could get fired for something like that, right?

This incident became generally known in my group as next I went out of my ‘comfort zone’ and befriended some fellow guest delegates. The first was Bill from Missouri. He had (bravely) shopped from a bazaar near the museum, so I hoped to enlist his bargaining skills. I needed to purchase souvenirs for a large quantity of people, and, since I know I’m a procrastinator, I was determined to start buying them right away. Thanks to Bill I was able to check a cool cat statue for my daughter off the list. Unfortunately this experience also started my addiction to haggling for trinkets . . . more on that some other time.
The next stop was Saqqara with King Zoser’s pyramid, the world’s oldest free-standing structure (whatever that descriptive phrase means) designed by Imhotep the architect; apparently he’s the one who started the whole pyramid craze. Picture a crumbling step pyramid, about seven-stories(?) high, in a field of dust and limestone fragments. Here and there were excavations and ruins (some with cobra-head d├ęcor). Surrounding it all was a wall, currently being restored. It was great, and I made friends with some guest delegates who were in the same circumstance as me. We were all separated from our professional school teacher moms while vacationing ‘with them’ in Egypt. We laughed, climbed around the site, and took comfort in each other’s presence while being harassed by souvenir vendors and locals interested in ‘helping’ us.

If it seems like we were just messing around at an extraordinarily historic site, this is partly true. I’m used to touring in the US, where you can spend hours (if not days) reading the information on the plaques at sites, or the displays at museums. I first discovered here in Memphis and Saqqara that Egypt generally lacks these. I never asked, but I think this is to help the economy. If tourists want to learn anything while they visit, they employ Egyptian guides. Miss Eman El Assey was the Egyptologist assigned to our guest delegate bus. She had introduced the site to us but then let us fend for ourselves. It was a little odd to wander around without anything to read about, but that’s alright; I made up for it with Wikipedia when I got back to the States.

Our last stop before dinner was the Oriental Carpet School. It was alright. Kids worked on expensive silk carpets while we watched. The kids were all cute and talented, some were showoffs. A guy gave us a tour and explained things like how children (we’re talking pre-teens) are employed because their fingers are small enough to fit through the loom strands. These kids in turn learn a valuable trade. He also preached about why silk carpets are so amazing and durable, which I’m sure is true and all, but I can’t afford a 10 thousand dollar carpet. The salesmen were set on us, and after a while I left to check out the view from the parking lot--which was nice. I watched farmers riding home on their little burrows at the end of the day.

Dinner was at Al-Azhar Park, or I should say, a restaurant with a balcony dining area open to the park. The park had extensive gardens and a grand-looking mosque, so it was definitely a picturesque dining experience. Truthfully, meals during almost this entire trip were torture for me. I was starving and given all this yummy looking food, most of it authentic fair, most of which I couldn’t eat. And I’ll apologize if I keep bringing this point up in future Egypt blogs. But I think the haze of starvation added to much of my stupidity throughout the remainder of this trip. (At least, I’m hoping my capability for logical reasoning doesn't effortlessly abandon me every time I vacation abroad.)
A last tidbit from day three: People to People delegates and guests were introduced to all the Egyptologists who would be guiding our various groups over the next couple of weeks. Walid Ibrahim(?) shared some pictures he had of Dr. Ruth (a celebrity of-sorts--for those of you who don’t know) at the pyramids in Giza. He had been her guide recently. Apparently, despite her age, Dr. Ruth is pretty active still and hasn’t changed much personality-wise--just thought I’d share.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Title to the post below should be "Day two--Reactions"

Day three--Reactions


So first things first, Mom and I needed to get our Egyptian visas, along with the rest of the People to People crowd from our flight. Meanwhile, I was finally in a foreign country, and I wanted to be a good visitor. As I’ve previously mentioned, the People to People handbook had guidelines for women, to help them avoid harassment while in Egypt. These included dressing extra-modestly and not looking men in the eye. I wore a t-shirt and pair of jeans for the flight, so I made sure and had my jacket on afterwards--piece ‘o cake. Not looking men in the eye was going to take practice though, so I decided to start working on that right away.

My plan was to stare at the ground or into the distance when in crowded areas, and to look at only a man’s shoulder if it seemed necessary. If this sounds ridiculous and impossible, you’re right it was--I couldn’t help but look where I was going, and the employees at the airport were all male and obviously not avoiding eye contact with you. Most of these employees gave you big smiles, and a lot even said, “Welcome to Egypt.” So I kept glancing into people’s eyes--thinking, whoops, dang it! . . . not again, dang it!

Also, I consider myself a polite person, so I told the people who welcomed me, thank you, which must have seemed insincere, what with my eyes darting between the ground, their shoulders, and their faces. And I started thinking, this really can’t be right. I especially thought this after I had to have my passport checked by the guys in the booth (right after getting the visa). The younger guy in the second part of the booth brushed my hand as if to get my attention when he gave me my visa back. Of course, he then said, “Welcome to Egypt” with a huge smile. What the crap? If anything, I expected Egyptian men to avoid touching despicable foreign women. I really didn’t know what was going on--yet--okay, so I was clueless about a lot of things for the majority of the trip--I learned a few things eventually . . . I think.

The airport was in Heliopolis and our hotel in Cairo, so next was the first of many Egyptologist-guided bus rides. I normally vacation by personal vehicle, but this was nice, having my hands free to take notes and pictures. Of course, I prefer to drive because I tend to get motion sick as a passenger, but whatever--I don’t actually ever throw-up. My stomach just feels like a rock, and I do my best to ignore it--which was easy. It was about 2 PM on Tuesday, the 27th of November, and I could see mosques, palaces, Arabic billboards, palm trees, statues . . . even the traffic was interesting, a lot of cars had carpet on the dashboards, and I saw three men sharing a small scooter. The Egyptologist kept a running dialogue about life, culture, and everything Egypt--so cool.

Our hotel, the InterContinental Semiramis in Cairo proved beautiful. A small reception awaited our arrival. We were given roses and a hibiscus drink, popular in Egypt, which tasted like how flowers smell (go figure). We explored the hotel, took pictures, and then went to a banquet later that night in the Cleopatra Ballroom. I hesitate even to mention it, but the banquet was a bit of a catastrophe for me. Excited to experience everything, I loaded my plate with a variety of foods and began sampling the native cuisine. Almost immediately I had some sort of reaction to the foods and broke out in hives. A member of the hotel medical staff checked me out. I was given Claritin and told not to eat foods I didn’t recognize anymore.

I was so embarrassed. The People to People staff, our delegation leaders, etc. were all wonderful to me that night and for the next couple of days, asking how I was and all--but truthfully, I’d rather have forgotten it ever happened. I went to bed early that night, and the hives were nonexistent the next morning, making me doubt my sanity. I mean, I’ve had random breakouts in hives, a couple of times before, but the rash usually got a lot worse--in the past I didn’t take antihistamine right away, maybe that was the difference. Still, I was so tired that night; I really didn’t handle it well, ugh . . . moving on. Obviously, I didn’t want to repeat that, so I took the advice about no adventurous eating to heart. I’m afraid I lost 10 pounds over the next two weeks, on a mostly pita bread and meat diet, and my Mom was pretty annoyed with me. Sorry Mom, I know I can be stubborn. Don’t worry; I’m sure I gained the weight back in the first week of Christmas break. Thanks to homemade cookies, my pants all fit very well again (and I’m going to start jogging again).

My next day in Egypt I finally would start visiting the sights, and this would be tons of fun (easily making up for any dietary inconveniences). One last note--I’ll cover day three in another post, but I think I should mention this here--at a meeting the next morning, a woman asked the speaker about the ‘not looking into men’s eyes’ thing. He told us there was nothing wrong with looking into others' eyes in Egypt. He further said, Egyptians love tourists, and, even if a tourist did something culturally offensive, like using one finger to call a waiter, Egyptians would be tolerant of the misunderstanding. As you can imagine, this was a great relief to me (as well as to other confused guests, I’m sure), and I looked into many a smiling face from that moment on.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Egypt Day One and a Half--Still Traveling

I thought flying to Egypt would be unbearable. It’s a lengthy flight, and I hadn’t had much sleep. Truthfully, the flight wasn’t bad at all. I watched part of Mr. Bean’s Holiday--without sound because my ear phone jack wasn’t working--which was fine. I’m not sure sound makes much of a difference with that kind of movie. I cat-napped and missed some action movies, but I’d seen them before, so no worries. I listened to my iPod until it died; its battery’s getting old, so that didn’t kill much time. I got up and wandered the cabin a little because I’d been told it’s a good idea to do such on long flights. Most other people on the flight didn’t bother; I can see why. It’s a little awkward. There’s only so much room in the aisles--forget personal space. And most everyone on the flight was relatively bored, so there were rows and rows of people who can’t help but look at you while you’re up walking--forget keeping a low profile.

Oh well, I got to stretch my legs and chat with a few complete strangers. Some of the conversationalists were fellow ‘People to People’, mostly excited about the trip. However, one lady I talked to was with a different group. They were traveling to Egypt and a few other places on a ‘spiritual journey’. I’m pretty sure I saw her group a couple times, about a week later, in Egyptian temples. The first time, in the innermost sanctum at Luxor, they were standing with their foreheads and fingertips planted against the walls. And the second time, they were sitting on a balcony at Philae with their eyes closed. Well, I hope the lady and her friends found, or someday will find, what they’re looking for.

The only other interesting thing about the flight was my usual game of observing people and trying to figure them out--it’s a writer thing. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered I’m a horrible guesser. Most people on the flight were obviously with ‘People to People’, a small amount of others seemed to be coming back from or going to visit families, and a few were business travelers. One guy seemed different, obviously an American college student--right?--tall, blonde, early twenties, comfortable traveling clothes, his own music, traveling alone. I think I pegged him for being on some kind of personal-adventure trip. I later learned he was with my mom’s math delegation--I never would have guessed. (See 'Camel ride with mathematician/life guard', pic to the left.) I lost at my own stupid game. (It’s okay. I’m pretty sure some Saturday-morning cartoon once said, we can all be winners, if we learn from our mistakes.



So, eventually the plane did land in Egypt, just in case you were wondering. Mom and I got to exit onto the tarmac via stairs, and, unlike New York, the air was soft and warm--the fairytale had only just begun.