Two weekends

Surprisingly, Egypt has been treating me pretty well these days. Despite the fact that I’m on week number two (and entering week three) of a terrible cold, I decided to ignore it completely and go about my business as usual.

Last weekend, my Societies and Cultures of the Ancient Near East Class went to Tell al-Farama (the site of Ancient Poliseum) and the Suez Canal. I was bound and determined to go, mostly because of the two months I spent writing a paper on the Anglo-French Relationship and Egypt (1876-1882) last semester, which focused largely on matters relating to the Suez Canal. We crossed the canal via the Mubarak Peace bridge, just as ships in a convoy finished making their way past. When we rolled over the canal, my professor announced that we’d just entered the continent of Asia, something that I’d never thought about before. That means that I’ve got five continents down—North and South America (Peru), Europe (Italy, Frankfurt’s airport, Zurich on the way home), Asia (Egypt, Jordan, Turkey soon), and Africa (Egypt). I can see myself perhaps traveling to Australia in the future if I can find a good reason to go, but Antarctica might be a bit more of a stretch. I really don’t like being cold.

We went to Farama first, which is one of the most complete sites I’ve been to. Tannis and Bubastis were really just fields of fallen granite with (in Tannis’s case at least) interesting statuary sprinkled throughout the site. Farama actually has foundations, which illustrate the set-up of the town. It’s also home to a massive defensive fort whose walls have been excavated, but the interior remains buried under heaps of sand. My professor said that no one will likely ever excavate it, because of the vast amount of labor needed to clear the sand. Farama is in an isolated area far from where regular tourists venture, so there’s not much profit to be had in figuring out what lies in the Tell. It was a beautiful day, and since we could see the Mediterranean at the far edge of the horizon, the air was clear.

We drove along the area where the biggest tank battle since World War II took place (during the October 1973 war) and experienced the weird phenomenon that takes place when ships sailing in the Suez Canal appear to be sailing through sand from a distance. My Professor spent the time between Farama and Suez telling us about the history of the Canal—and my dad, who proofreads all my papers and knows exactly how boring this topic can be, would be astonished over how interesting it can actually become.

Suez and Port Tewfiq are really depressing cities—rebuilt after 1973, they’re just ugly. However, we did get to see where the Suez Canal empties into the Gulf and watch a grain tanker go through the canal. I got a phone call from my roommates while in Suez, and two hours later I was back in Cairo, dressed up, on my way to see Carmen at the Cairo Opera House, performed by a traveling Spanish flamenco troupe. It was slightly surreal.

The next day we all got up early and the five of us piled into one taxi that (of course) got lost taking us to Islamic Cairo and the Mosque of Ibn Tulun. The mosque has been restored and is very dramatic. We climbed into the Minaret and were able to look across of all of Cairo---we could even see our apartment building.

I carried my obsession with house museums with me to Cairo, and Miranda and Joanna and I paid to go into the Gayer-Anderson Museum. It cost us twenty pounds, which was a total rip-off, because if you happen to be a tourist who understands and reads Arabic, you can see on the signs where it says “Egyptian students—one pound.” We have student IDS from the American University in Cairo, which technically make us Egyptian students, but the clerk at the museum wasn’t budging since we clearly are not from Egypt. The Gayer-Anderson museum is made up of two restored, sixteenth century homes that are absolutely beautiful and full of mashrabiyya screens and ornately decorated Persian furniture. We were enthralled and really glad we’d paid the price of admission (I have some really pretty photographs). From Gayer-Anderson we went to a local restaurant that serves the best falafel in Cairo according to the New York Times (and it was pretty darn good, actually), though we couldn’t figure out why there were bananas in the baba ghanoush.

We then found our way to the Street of the Tentmaker’s and Bab Zuweila (one of the medieval gates into Cairo) where I started my souvenir shopping. We wandered through the markets until we left the tourist section completely behind and ended up walking past stands selling rabbits and pigeons and every variety of vegetable imaginable.

This weekend we hired a driver and went to visit Saqqara, the site of Djoser’s step pyramid. I went inside my first pyramid—the Pyramid of Teti—which on the outside is a crumbled heap that conceals an intact burial chamber. We had to bend nearly in half to descend the passage leading to the burial chamber and got to see the original sarcophagus (the mummy is at the Egyptian Museum). You can see the Pyramids at Dashour and the Pyramids of Giza from Saqqara, and we got our first real sense of how many Pyramids there actually are in Egypt! We got yelled at a record number of times for trying to go into areas that were blocked off to tourists/take pictures without flash inside the tombs, but it was a wonderful time. We also spent the day posing as Canadians—on our way into Saqqara we were stopped at a checkpoint. Before the soldier came up to the window our driver asked where we were from. When we answered—honestly—America, he clicked his tongue, shook his head, and lied flat out to the soldier, telling him he had six Canadians in the van. After he pulled away he said it was better for us to be Canadians—if we’d told the truth we would have had to wait likely an hour for a police escort to join us, who would have been sitting smushed between the driver and tommy in the front seat.

We’re packing so much in because—as of today—I only have twenty eight days left in Egypt, and seven of them are going to be spent in Luxor and Aswan! I’m very excited about this—while I like Egypt, I can’t wait to be done with AUC. So that’s one Nile cruise, five exams, one powerpoint presentation, one group presentation, and one paper to go until December 20 when my flight leaves Cairo International for Istanbul.

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