From Jordan we took a large boat across the Red Sea to Egypt. At one point we were perhaps 10 miles from Taba, Egypt near the Israel boarder, but the boat didn’t dock there. Instead it docks halfway down the Sinai Peninsula, where we boarded a small van, and spent the next few hours driving back to Taba, before heading towards Cairo. Crossing the Sinai at night there were checkpoints every 30 minutes, where we had to show our passports, and report to the guards that there are five Americans inside. Seemed a little silly to us, and at one point Suzanne even asked whatever became of that data, for example, did someone check to see that this white van with five Americans in it ever arrive at the next checkpoint?
Egypt felt so much more African than Jordan. Its Africa with an Arab twist. It was beautiful, but chaotic in ways that only Africans can be. We went to the pyramids, us along with oh, 30,000 others. I wasn’t prepared for the crush of people and large buses here in Egypt. Yet they do an amazing job of moving tourists through their sites. I have to laugh at this picture of our family in front of pyramids, what you don’t see is about 5,000 people standing on either side of us when the picture was taken. I’m really not even sure how our guide took this picture. Tourism is Egypt’s number one industry, and they do a very efficient and effective job with it. Here, there is none of the pointless waiting around that we come to understand as a part of daily life in Ghana.
[Steve & Kids Next to the big blocks at the base of the pyramids ]
They pyramids are huge, and it feels a little surreal standing next to them looking up at these shapes we have seen pictures of all our lives. I guess I could have spent a whole day, just looking at them or climbing on the blocks around the base, or admiring the differences between the three big ones, but we were on a package tour, and so only had one hour to explore. What I’ll remember is that even today, Egyptologists do not understand how they were built, all they know is they were not built by aliens.
We walked through the great Museum, where we saw the plunder from King Tut’s tomb, and saw an inscription on one of the historical monoliths that has recently been translated to say “Israel, the desert people have disappeared into the sea.” I remember reading about this discovery, how it proved or at least pointed to the existence of the Biblical story of the Hebrew people, and Moses led them across the Red Sea. Up to the translation of this inscription, there had been no mention of an enslaved people defeating Pharos and escaping into the Red Sea, and so many wondered if it was just a story.
[St. George coptic Church]
Then it was on to the oldest part of Cairo, where we visited several churches, a Synagogue, and a Mosque all built in the area where the Holy Family stayed when Jesus was a baby and they were in exile. This area is known as Coptic Cairo, Coptic being the word for Egyptian Christian. Whereas Christians in the west believe in a duel nature of Christ (fully human, fully divine), Coptic Christians believe that Christ was only fully divine. Their churches are beautiful, and have a mystical feel, and are still in use. When we visited St. George’s (or the Hanging Church, because it is hangs over a the ruins of a Roman fort), it the sanctuary ceiling was covered with balloons from a New Years Eve celebration. While it distracted from the majesty of the place, it was great to see that it is an active congregational life, a living church, and not a museum to the faith of the dead.
[Grace with Covered Head]
Visiting the Mosque, the girls were required to cover their heads before entering, and everybody took off their shoes. As one part of the tour, the guide launched into a presentation about the great mosques of the world, it was part of a speech I had the feeling she had made before. When she got to the Dome of the Rock, the great mosque that stands over the spot (now Jerusalem) that Abraham almost sacrificed his son, she said, “…where Abraham brought Ishmael to be sacrificed.” I couldn’t believe it, I said, “now we Christians, remember that story differently. In our Bible, it was Isaac that Abraham brought to the mountain.” This was new material for her, and so we each told the story several times, just to make sure we understood what the other was saying. I think it was that point that we became real to our guide, and the conversations we had from that point on were much more interesting and interactive.
When you think about it, this different understanding of who Abraham took to the mountain has far reaching implications. Christians (and Jews) understand the land, descendants and blessings promise that God made to Abraham as passed through Isaac, and that is why Israel exists where it does today, but what if it were the other way around? What if this promise was passed through Ishmael? Then who does the Holy Land belong to?