Our Trip to Egypt (Aswan & Luxor)

ASWAN

By sleeper train we came from Cairo to Aswan, the site of the great Soviet Dam that tamed the Nile. There further we got from Cairo, the more it began to look like Ghana, except there were not chickens. Understand that in Ghana, chickens are everywhere, and the sound of roosters crowing is non-stop from 6pm to 11am, but in Egypt, there were none. The morning we left, I saw on CNN that bird flu had been stopped in Egypt, but not after claiming nine lives, but this detail was forgotten by the time we landed in Cairo. “What is Ghana like?” people would ask, and so we would joke, “Not that different from Egypt except, fewer chickens.” Their reply was always a grim, “there are no chickens.” It wasn’t until the last day that we figured out what that meant, Egypt had eliminated all its chickens to stop the Bird Flu.

[Grace & Anna at Philae Temple at night]

At night saw the amazing temple at
Philae, which had been completely disassembled and moved to save it from being flooded by the Nile after the dam was built.

[Anna on Camel, note Nubian Village in background complete with satellite dishes]
[Fox on Camel, note Nile River in background] [Felucca Boat on the Nile] Like the pyramids in Cairo, these tombs were built to honor the dead, and walking through them and seeing there majesty, two thoughts kept running through my head. The first was wondering what the place looked like when my parents were here. In the last few years, much of these sites have been walled off to better preserve them from the crush of visitors each year, in fact in many of the sites we were not allowed to even bring in cameras. I bet my parents had free and unfettered access, whereas there were limits to what we could see behind Plexiglas. Still it was overwhelming.

In the 700s AD there was a movement in Christendom called Iconoclasm, who saw at the gains that Islam was making, and looked for a reason. Christians wondered “Was there some reason God had stopped protecting them?” Iconiclasts found their answer in scripture, and interpreded these ancient carvings in stone, or in mosaic, to be idols, and remembered the commandment

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or
any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth
beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Exodus 20:4)

And then they looked to the prophetic vision of Ezekiel who wrote: (it is God speaking)

“And I said to them, Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on, every
one of you, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the LORD
your God. But they rebelled against me and would not listen to me; not one of
them cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake
the idols of Egypt. Then I thought I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend
my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt. (Eze. 20:7-8)

Concluding…

“Thus says the Lord GOD: I will destroy the idols and put an end to the images
in Memphis;” (Eze 30:13a)

And Christians set themselves to destroying the faces of all the art in Egypt, and when Grace saw this beautiful ancient art ruined, scratched, or chipped out she sometimes just wept.


The second thought I had, as I looked at 7,000 year old stuff, was the realization that it was all pre-Christian, pre-Jewish, pre-Islam, pre-monotheism thought, and all that remains of these civilizations are the tombs built to honor their dead. The homes they lived in were understood to be temporary, like their bodies, but the Temples for their gods, and the tombs for the dead, these were forever. Even flawed as it was, they understood the significance of an afterlife much better than we do.

LUXOR

[3 cruize ships lined up]

Then it was a 3-day cruise ship down the Nile ending up in
Luxor. The cruise ship was nice, we would tour by day, and travel by night, and it was quite an industry. As far as the eye could see forward and back you saw cruise ships up, evenly spaced. Sitting on this wonderful moving hotel, stopping at places to visit, and then getting back on to sail to the next place was easy, but I felt somewhat disconnected from the places we were traveling through, and our emphsis was more on comfort than experiencing Egypt.

Strangely, it made me think of the church and an ad I had once seen.

“When the Church becomes a Cruise Ship…
God mourns….

He designed it to be a Lifeboat.”

And as I think back on the churches I’ve served, I realize that they were at their best when they understood what type of ship they were. So many of the irrelevant(or non-life saving) conflicts in the church, they were about these issues: Cruise Ship or Lifeboat. The Curise Ship Church is only concerned with those already on board, and their comfort and entertainment. It can be somewhat disconnected from the places it sails, or put another way irrelevant.
The Lifeboat Church’s only mission is to get people into it and off to safety. I looked at the lifeboats on our cruise ship and they look like they had not been tested in a long, long time (they were painted to the ship-sorry no pictures).
I wonder if a church can both? Remember in the movie Titanic, when the lifeboats were deployed half filled because they didn’t want the first class passengers to be uncomfortable? “Is there anybody out there?”

The Nile was everything I hoped it would be, we would pass by tombs, unexplored by tourists, just keeping watch over the river. There were palm trees, and cattle, and boats, and always something to see. It was cold, so we didn’t swim in the ship’s swimming pool, and really it was too cold to hang out much on top. The food was great, and something different each day, the strange things was the canned background music, they played the Titanic theme song (sometime along this trip we watched the movie on Arab TV, so it was cut to be PG).

[Grace doing a Titanic]
Ten years ago I was supposed to visit Luxor on the seminary trip, but there was some trouble there, when terrorists shot up the place and killed a number of tourists, so instead we went to Syria. There was no hint of trouble this time. Security was tight, in fact you were not even allowed to visit many of the sites without a guide.
Being a guide (or Egyptologist, as they are know) takes a four year degree, and each has some degree of specialization. These people knew there stuff. I would read up on the place before we went there, and try to ask interesting questions to probe the depth of understand and most times, I never hit bottom. They always knew more about what we were seeing than anybody wanted to hear, especially my kids. Still I think they had a great time. This was a “family tour” and so there was a mix of interesting stuff, historical stuff, and down time, to process the information. At one point, I think our tour leader was seeing the signs of Egypt fatigue, and so he booked a basketball court for an hour, and he played basketball with the kids. I learned something that day, watching my kids play, because when they were done, they were recharged, the trip for them was fun again, and all it took was an hour.

[Fox lay-up]


[Anna and coach Akmed]
[Donkey Races]

On our last day we went on a donkey tour through old town, part of the real village of Luxor. It started out a ride and ended up a race, which is really funny when you think about it. Here we are on these small donkeys, trying to coax them to walk faster, riding through this ancient Egyptian village, seeing how people really live. The buildings are not that different from Ghana, or at least the village of La, where Emmanuel our guard lives. The landscape, however, is. There are irrigation canals that cut through the town, paralleling the streets sometimes. This is the Nile, I think, WOW. So we’re racing through old town Luxor, and it is natural to start horsing around, and somehow I fell off my donkey. Beside my pride, I scraped up my left hand, and broke my camera.

The hand wasn’t a big thing, but losing the camera was. I didn’t realize how much I relied on it to give me purpose, and mission and now I wondered what do I do when we see these amazing sites? Look at them, I guess and study them. It is said, guys need something to do, and I felt a little lost without a camera. All in all, the last day was a good day to lose the camera, I mean suppose it had happened on the first (that’s my inner Midwest sensibilities coming out, things could be worse).

Our last day ended by touring the magnificent temple at Luxor, but I think we were over Egypted at this point and could not appreciate its majesty. It was like we had filled up on bread sticks and salad, and here was main course.

[Mosque built on the then undiscovered Temple ruins. What out for that first step]

Luxor Temple, like so many of the other sites we visited, had at one time been a 6th Century Bizatine Church, and now there was a Mosque built on the site. What made this site interesting was in the 50s they discovered a whole new level that had been covered with sand. So now the back door of he Mosque is about a 50 foot drop off into the restored temple ground floor. Among the other things discovered was a boulevard of sphinx.

Then it was back to Cairo by overnight train, and when we awoke, this is what we saw pulling into Cairo. In many ways it was good to be back to where we started, a welcome transition to home. Maybe we should have gone and seen some more old stuff, but mostly we needed to stock up on things we couldn’t get in Ghana, and so Akmed took us downtown and we went shopping, and that was fun, unpredictable, and a good ending.
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