It’s only been a few days since I last updated, but there is much to tell. I’ll start with yesterday and move my way on back. Yesterday, 23 of 24 MESPers hopped in taxis and made our way to Giza. We were instructed to tell our cab driver to take us to the Aboul Houl (the Sphinix). When the Sphinix came into view we saw other members of our group and told the cab driver that “here is good,” but apparently that wasn’t good for him. We had made the fatal mistake of telling the cab driver we wanted to go horse back riding so he drove us directly to a set of stables down the road from our desired destination as I opened to the cab door there was literally a camel’s face inches from mine. Meanwhile, I hear fifteeen different voices shouting: “I am the hourse and camel man.” Everyone here is just so dang helpful…
Before I continue I must warn anyone that is even borderline PETA to cease and desist reading this entry; it might get messy from here. You are duly warned I will now continue. So when we finally arrived at the correct stables and we were all loaded onto our horses we headed to the sand dunes for a two hour ride around the pyramid area. Before we made it to the open desert (very much like Hidalgo) we made our way through what I can only surmise was a horse graveyard. Laying next to piles of trash along our path were countless horse caracasses at various stages of decay. Many our horses appeared to be overworked and underfed. The condition of some of the horses was somewhat disturbing and it was a reminder of the poverty that permeates the city and Cairo’s inability to take care of much of its population let alone the horses. Nevertheless the ride was beautiful and now I am severly sore.
Friday: the highlight of my day was a visit to a service for girls in a poorer district of the city called Imababa. My Aunt Amani is a leader of this meeting so I went with her. The girls were fascinated with my nose ring, and at the same time slightly replused. I wear a ring on my right ring finger (in Egypt that is where you put your engagment ring) and in my very limited Arabic I was unable to convince the girls that I was not engaged. The meeting was incredible there were 150 girls meeting in this whole in the wall and a man leading worship on an accordian. The service ran over about an hour and a half. That’s right count ’em 90 minutes…and nobody even blinked an eye. A wise woman once told me that time is not the comodity by which we live our lives…maybe she’s part Egyptian.
Thurday, Thursday was the Feast of Sacrifice (I called it the Ieedes in my last entry, but that is a horrendous transliteration so I’ll stick with the English this time). The alarm went off at 4:45 in the morning and I sort of wanted to poke myself in the eye. We met at the Villa where we have class by 5:15 and headed for the sqaure in front of the nearby mosque. We were several hours early for the prayer that would take place, but I soon understood why we had arrived so prematurely. We situated ourselves a good distance from the mosque since we would not be participating in the prayer. As we watched, the square filled with thousands of Muslims carrying their prayer mats coming from every direction and filling in all around us. There was a carnival feeling to the whole event with large bouncy balls and cotton candy being sold by wandering vendors. The call to prayer was sung over a very, very loud speaker system and lasted for almost two hours. My ears were buzzing like I had been at a Billy Joel concert or something. The prayer began just after sunrise and the sight of about 50 thousands prostrate bodies as far as U could see is something that I will not soon forget. The prayer lasted about 10 minutes and then the crowd began to disperse and we began to walk to the streets of Agouza and take in the sights, sounds and smells of the feast of sacrifice.
It wasn’t long before we came upon the first of many butcher shops that was absolutely buzzing with activity. That first shop was having some trouble with one particular sheep…note to self: sharpen knife before its time to slaughter something. The Muslims were celebrating God’s provision of a ram and Abraham’s obeidience in his willingness to sacrifice Issac. Each family that can afford it has a sheep or cow slaughtered, gives a portion to the poor, a portion to thier neighbors, and then they feast. The street stank of with that salty smell of blood and the gutters literally ran with the scarlet liquid. The slaughter of the sheep causes me to consider the meaning of the phrase “the lamb that was slain” now that I have a somewhat vivid mental imgae to go along with it.
On a lighter note I do think that I learn something new everyday. Did you know that cows can climb up stairs but can’t go down? The morning of the feast the boys woke up to find a cow in the corridor outside thier seventh floor flat making quite the fuss. The neighbors apologized for the noise and with a finger across the neck indicated that it would no longer be a problem in just a few hours. The boys told us that they did a pretty good job cleaning it up but in some places you can still see remnants of the noisy cow may she rest in peace.
So in conclusion I suppose I’m not in Kansas anymore. Everything is new and different. Welcome to the far side of the sea. I heard that there was a bad storm in the States. It’s been cold here too, the other day it got all the way down to 7 degrees Celcius. Instead of shouting “Welcome to Egypt” people on the street have also been exclaiming “Welcome to Alaska.” Did I mention that Egyptians are also hilarious?