December 12, 2008

Hapi days

For the last day we have been in Aswan, the modern name of the area of the First Cataract of the Nile and the island of Abu (Elephantine), believed to be the source of Khnum's giving life to the Two Lands via the inundation waters.

As it has been every time I have been here, Aswan is a desert paradise. Water that is literally the color of lapis waves softly northward, carrying thousands of tiny sailboats called felucca as well as loud, noisy water taxis and the giant hulls of cruise ships readying to take the flotilla north to the city of Luxor and its Pharaonic Disneyland of monuments and tourist amusements.

Before we came here we spent a day and a night at Abu Simbel, the area about 300km south of Aswan where the great temples of Userma'atra Ramses and his wife Nefertari shine above the impossible blue of Lake Nasser. Because we spent the night we had a time in the larger temple more or less alone. Tek got to hold the great golden key carved like an ankh that locks the temple up at night, and we spent time wandering the halls, saying prayers, marveling at the beauty of the gods carved into its walls and making offering to the gods there. The second temple had a few more tourists in it but it was wonderful to be able to see Hethert's smiling face up close once again and think of all the joy I know that those who are with me on this trip are yet to experience as we continue to visit the sites and take them in.

In our time in Aswan we have been twice to Philae, once at night and once in the daytime. Imti and Tek got to visit a closed area of a Hethert temple up close and personal and have quite a story to tell about Nubians and the seeds of a sycamore tree but I will let them tell it. We have been to several Nubian houses and the village of Western Sehel, and will be visiting more tomorrow. We have sung and danced in the Nile and even gone wading in its cold and clear waters. We've gone riding through the town and visited the holy places of other religions as well in the form of the large mosque on the hill in the center of town and the great Coptic Cathedral near the Ferial Park and the Old Cataract Hotel. Khnum and Ra, the gods of this Kemetic year, appear again and again on the monuments, in the signs and advertisements we see, and today we saw them both up close and personal in the tiny temple of Beit-el-Wali on the Kalabsha island.

The guards upon learning why we were in the temple (we do not pretend to be tourists on our trips as I do not believe there is anything to be ashamed of in our religion; and the reaction we get when people learn we are neither uncaring tourists or crystal-wielding New Agers is generally very positive) allowed us to climb Kalabsha roof and gaze out over the Nile. While I was there I thought of all of you and wished you could be there with us.

Insh'allah (Netjer willing), one of these days, you will be.

Tomorrow we sail for Luxor. For tonight, we will embrace the city of creation once again, and take in its peace under the full moon over moving waters.

December 8, 2008

In Search of Cool Triangular Shapes

The pilgrimage is off to an interesting start. Currently I am posting on our final evening in Giza, looking out the window toward the place where the Great Pyramid watches the traffic go by. We have spent two days in and around the Cairo area, taking in the city as we adjust to the new time zone and the preponderance of antiquity to be seen nearly everywhere one looks.

Last year the group started a long-running joke about the Pyramids based on the odd English wording on a bag of Doritos brand chips someone purchased during a break. The bag stated that one of the reasons to enjoy the snack was because of its "cool triangular shape." As the bus was driving up to the Giza Plateau about the time that this slogan was discovered, the name stuck -- and a quest to find "cool triangular shapes" began.

You'd be surprised how many triangles appear when you least expect them. Yesterday the obvious ones appeared on the plateau in the form of the pyramids of Khufu, Khaefra and Menkaura. This morning, Menekh found some lurking in the inside of the courtyard washbasins of the Muhammad Ali mosque at the Citadel. Tek and Imti had fun picking them out on Giza's street signs, painted on buildings and trucks for no apparent reason, and even worked into the iron work of gates and fences. Cool triangular shapes make up bus stops, packaging, even items of food and the "free pyramids" thrown in when Kai-Imakhu Sedjemes purchased some clothing at a shop near the hotel.

...And to think some people think that modern Egypt retains no memory or pride for its pharaonic past. Clearly, they aren't noticing the cool triangular shapes lurking all around.

Tomorrow morning we're off to the other end of the country. I'll check in from Abu Simbel if there is internet that far south. If not, you'll hear from me next in the beautiful city of Aswan in a couple of days. Senebty!