Saturday, December 31, 2011

Exploring the land

Stop! Take a photo! This is perfect! Wow - amazing. I'm blown away.

Isn't it wonderful when these moments come during our travels? The same is true for our life travels, for our pilgrimage through life. Last night was such a moment for me.

Actually, I wrote about this evening two years ago, so you can check my bloglist for 2009 and you will find it there. Only a few characters have changed.

So what can I say that's new? I came upon a beautiful spot, much like the last one. It was worth coming back. And it was worth staying on the journey. I've seen again the importance of visualizing the things we're nervous about. I did it again, and the party was even better than two years ago. Peter and I are more harmonious than ever, more people came than ever, I was more relaxed than ever, and I think people communicated more deeply than ever. They're talking already about next year's caroling party. And I bask, amazed, if amazed basking is possible. I love the glow of knowing that I have been the agent for a marvelous evening. I can understand performers better than ever. I am starting to realizing that part of who I am created to be is a performer, and that that is a good thing.

This year we all sang a song I wrote - in both German and English. How good is that, to hear a bunch of people singing your own song?! And my friend Hildburg filmed it. It's on Facebook. I also performed a piece I had actually practiced, and it came off well. I wasn't showing off - I was sharing. I'm learning that performing isn't necessarily showing off. In a way it hurts to learn this lesson, because it still feels a bit like showing off. Growing pains are still pains. But it didn't really hurt this time. And we sang all my favorite carols - in English. I had typed them all out and made photocopies so that people would actually be able to read the lyrics. It worked! You can still do some of your favorite things in a new land where the language is different. It's possible.

Why am I saying this? Because you probably have some area in your life - a piece of land somewhere, someplace you're just dying to explore, to make a part of you, but you're afraid to go there. I'm telling you, go! But prepare beforehand.

Go to God. If you think this land is forbidden territory, talk to God about it. Think about it. If it isn't immoral or harmful to you, your trepidation is probably just your own fear. Ask God to help you overcome your fear. Jesus took all our fears, all our damage to himself at the cross. And overcame it when he overcame death. He really did. So we can overcome these hindrances in our lives. We won't always be able to overcome everything holding us back - there are sometimes mountains that are truly too high. With my asthma, my knees and my physical laziness, I'll never be an Olympic sprinter. But I'll continue to overcome and grow, also in that area. And so will you.

Dare to try the scary thing. Imagine God helping to make it a success. Imagine yourself in a specific scene. Who's there? How does it feel to be successful? What unfulfilled thing can you imagine being fulfilled? Exactly how does this happen? What would you like to have happen? Imagine it happening, but don't be surprised if it happens in a way different to what you imagined. That's also part of the journey. It's full of surprises.

What were my surprises? I invited two former enemies. One is again my dear friend. We managed to completely overcome our difficulties of the past. We have both changed so much. She is the one who filmed the singing. Another one phoned to cancel, but deeply moved that I invited her, thrilled to be invited. Soon I'll be visiting her at the stables, and learn a little about her new passion - riding. And I'll learn more about her as I find out what horses mean to her. There's more for us to explore as we overcome our past.

One day, I will be doing an entire evening of performing music I have either written or practiced. Or doing a reading. Or both. I already have someone asking me to co-host a musical evening with him. Want to come? Or maybe you have an event coming up you'd like to invite me to.

Have a happy 2012! And have fun, exploring new territory.

Finding Rest for the Soul

I wrote on Freddie Miranda's blog this month, at his request. This piece is about a blitz-trip my family took to Canterbury a few years ago just a few days before Christmas.

Check it out, and Freddie's blog. He's got great travel stories. His blog is in my bloglist: From a Traveller's Desk. Here's the link, if you can't find it on my page:

Happy New Year!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Others are praying

Coptic Christians protesting in Cairo on 9 October, 2011. On this day, 26 Christians were killed by the military. 240 were injured.

It's hard to believe. Just yesterday I sent a post about my concern about the situation in Egypt. I told you about my insight about prayer, and how I prayed, alone, in the dark of my bedroom.

Today I played piano again in the local church, and "happened" to hear a stirring presentation given by a man from an organization devoted to the cause of persecuted Christians - "Open Doors". One of the countries this organization actively supports is Egypt.

The speaker urged people to pray for the persecuted, but also for the persecutors in lands where Christians are persecuted, even murdered for their faith. He said that victims say, over and over again, that they can feel it when people pray for them, and that the prayers of others really make a difference.

He said that it is especially difficult for people who follow Jesus after having been born Muslims - in Egypt and in other Muslim countries. They have it even harder than the ethnic Christians, for instance the Copts in Egypt. Nevertheless, Egyptian Muslims are attracted to the concepts of grace, mercy and unconditional love. When they hear that this is the message and the life lived by Jesus, they are willing to follow, even to the point of being baptized converts, knowing what suffering this will cause. He showed a photo of someone being baptized in a bathtub, and talked about a "refrigerator" shell that is routinely filled with water for baptisms, then turned upright afterwards to give the impression of being a refrigerator.

I received a flyer today (in German), with an article written by a Christian minister in Cairo. Open Doors keeps the identity of these people anonymous. Pastor X wrote in response to the killings that occurred in Cairo on Sunday, 9 October, when Coptic Christians marched in what they claim to have been a peaceful demonstration, protesting the violence other Copts in a village near Edfu endured when their church was set on fire, and Coptic homes and businesses were vandalized. On this day in October, 26 Christians were killed by the military, and over 240 were injured.

Immediately following this tragedy, all Christians in Egypt fasted and prayed for three days, and have been praying ever since. Pastor X says they are praying for a end to the attacks that endanger the peace and security of the Christians within and without the churches. Apparently many Christians keep their faith secret in order to avoid persecution. He said that he and other Christians want the church to be able to fulfill its mission to be salt and light, thus giving honor to Jesus Christ.

Elsewhere online, I read this quote from a Cairo pastor following violence last weekend:
Violence also broke out in Cairo's Shubra district, when a small Coptic demonstration was attacked while marching to commemorate the end of 40 days of mourning for the victims killed in the October clashes. Please pray for an end to the current unrest. Pray that Egypt's governing Supreme Council would act with wisdom and justice in dealing with protestors. That the parliamentary elections will be free and fair, and that Christians will be proactive in taking part in shaping the policies of the land, while trusting that the future is in God's hands.
In the church service today many were moved to pray. Next Saturday I will be praying, but not alone. Several of us will be praying for the situation in Egypt as well as elsewhere in the world. My candle is becoming a torch.

If you would like to know more about Open Doors, here is a link.

This link will direct you to the Open Doors group of the country of your choice.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Trying to reconcile the irreconcilable

It's almost impossible to find rest for my soul during all the unrest in Egypt. Yesterday I heard that at least eleven people were killed in Syria. But I have never been to Syria. Now that I've been to Egypt, it feels almost like I've met the 39 killed this week as the police shot at protesters.

This is what I call Thanksgiving weekend, the weekend expats fit in a turkey dinner on one day or other, depending on when they have time. Thursday we were invited to an American/German family's home, where we had turkey and all the trimmings. My son Jon, in Seoul, Korea now, will be celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow (Sunday) with other Americans and Koreans at the English-language Protestant church in Seoul. Yesterday (Friday), just an hour after I began writing this, friends came to feast and express gratitude for the good that has come our way this year.

This weekend is also the beginning of Advent. The rest of Germany has long been anticipating Christmas, no matter what they believe about Jesus. Christmas products started appearing in the shops in September. When I did my usual Thanksgiving shopping at the market after teaching on Wednesday, the fruit and vegetable area was crowded into one corner, taken over by the Christmas market, which was in full swing, several days before the first of Advent, which is tomorrow. Thursday, I went to the flower shop to buy flowers to give our American friend, as is the custom here when you're invited for dinner. Most of the arrangements included four Advent candles. Almost all the bouquets were various shades of red and had red, white, gold or silver ornaments. All except for one lone bouquet in Thanksgiving colors of yellow, orange and white.

But one is all that was needed. I'm wondering if that isn't the message for this time. In the confusion in my mind muddled up with Egypt, American Thanksgiving and the advent of Advent, there is a place of quiet, of focus. That's what I need to remember.

As I prepared stuffing, green bean and sweet potato casseroles yesterday, I listened to one of my favorite CDs - "The Mask and the Mirror", by Loreena McKennitt. This CD speaks to me especially right now because Ms. McKennitt made this CD following a visit to Morocco, another Muslim country. Many of the songs here reflect her wonderment over the dazzling culture she encountered. They also reflect her yearning for harmony, a reconciliation of these various cultures and religions. She sings an Irish ballad full of Celtic mythology, and follows with a song she composed to a text by St. John of the Cross. Introducing her CD, she quotes a text by Idries Shah about the Sufis: "A common sufi may come dressed as a merchant, a lawyer, a housewife, be in the world, but not of it, free from ambition, greed, intellectual pride, blind obedience to custom, or awe of persons higher in rank..." And she likens this mentality to the Celtic Druids. It sounds an awful lot like Jesus to me, who told his followers to be "in the world but not of it".

I listened to her sing the words of St. John of the Cross. She sings, "Oh night, thou was my guide, oh night, more loving than the rising sun - oh night, that joined the lover to the beloved one, transforming each of them into the other."

This is nighttime. We are in the night of the year. What's happening in Egypt is very dark.

I sat in the dark yesterday, thinking, meditating, trying to pray about Egypt, thinking about prayer itself, about Thanksgiving, about Jesus, whom we are celebrating this month. How to reconcile it all? Can it be done? I like to think of Loreena McKennitt and myself as kindred spirits, because we both have hearts of reconciliation. I often find myself desperately wanting to bring the seemingly most impossible of things together.

As I sat in the dark, I prayed, "Speak to me about this, God." One of the thoughts that came was the realization that I have been created with a yearning to bring all the parts together. God made me this way, so it must be a good thing. Doesn't God also have a heart to bring impossible things together? I think so. Realizing this, I knew how to pray. I can't pray that all of Egypt will come to peace, or that everyone will suddenly love one another, because that doesn't seem to be in the hearts of so many of them. I could be wrong, but that isn't the sense of what I read in the newspapers or see on TV. But - I can lift these people up in my heart. My inner hands can hold this land up to God, offering my own longing for hearts that want to listen more than shout, and pray for more of this. I can pray for people who want to understand, for people who want to listen with their hearts to what the other side is crying. I can pray that this need grows in the hearts of more and more people. I can pray for this to happen in people from the military as well as the other side, in Copts as well as Islamists, intellectuals as well as farmers, liberals as well as fundamentalists.

What is prayer? I see one of its aspects as visualizing what not yet exists. Of course, that only includes the good that God also intends. I understand this to be things like love, understanding, trust, goodwill, gratitude and forgiveness. And so, I visualize an atmosphere in Egypt where this can occur, holding it up to God at the same time, asking God to correct or expand upon my view. But we aren't meant to stop here, I believe. Not only are we to pray for the things that the very best in us longs for, but to live for that end ourselves. We are meant to join our own energy to God's, to bring that about. I, the lover of God, want to be joined to my Beloved One, who does have the power to change things. I can't do much in Egypt to bring about peace, but I can live a life of understanding and goodwill here.

Some of our guests yesterday don't believe in a personal God. I practiced goodwill by listening to their explanations of what is going on in the world, why they think people still fight and kill one another, and what they believe we need to do. I don't agree, and they know this, but I practiced what I prayed by attempting to live the same way I prayed people would be able to live in Egypt.

They say one candle burns much more brightly in a dark room than on a sunny day. One candle is sufficient to provide light in a dark room. One Thanksgiving bouquet in twenty Christmasy ones was enough to bring joy to my hostess on Thursday. I believe that my prayers and those of one or two of you who read this can also make a difference in Egypt - and Syria - and at home, wherever you are.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend! Happy Advent!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"Shukran" means "Thank you" - Conclusion

Traveling changes you, they say. I think that's one of the most wonderful things about traveling. I wonder how peaceful this world would be if more people became acquainted with other cultures.

About ten years ago our family took a trip to Israel. This trip was the fruition of a long-standing dream. I grew up in a family and church that was very pro-Israel. My father's roommate at Columbia was Jewish, and they still kept in touch during my childhood. Israel and Jews were, for us, the "good guys".

Germans weren't discussed in church, except that a family escaping from Communist East Germany joined our congregation, and my parents befriended them. But for the Jewish people I was later to work with in New York City, Germany was the "bad guy". My destiny led me to live with the "bad guys", even to the point of marrying one of them.

Egypt didn't really figure in my thinking, but I suppose that if I had bothered to think about this country, it would also have been one of the "bad guys", this country that enslaved the Israelites thousands of years ago, the one that attacked Israel in 1956. I never entertained a thought about visiting Egypt until after Peter and I went to the "King Tut" exhibition, and I only did that to please him. I had no expectations for this trip except the hope that the air would heal my lungs and sinuses. I was completely unprepared for the huge impact this country would make on me.

This trip showed me my prejudices more than any other I have been on. I, like many other Americans, unfortunately think in "good guys - bad guys" terms. Black and white. Americans, if they think about it at all, tend to pit Egypt against Israel. The two countries are not seen as cousins, as family. They should. I loved my Israel experience. It felt a bit like coming home, after seeing places I had read and heard about all my life. Egypt was a completely new experience, but the people I met - all men - were so chivalrous, so kind, yet dignified, they didn't need to do much to win me over. I wish I could have met some women. Watching them on the streets, however, walking erectly, regally, faces reflecting confidence, I realized that there is much I need to learn yet about Egyptian women and men.

This was the first organized tour I have ever been on with Germans. Again, I was confronted with my judgmental attitudes, my prejudices. I am quick to make snap judgments, I must admit. I take it for granted that I'm one of the "good guys". I think we Americans generally see ourselves this way. During this trip, watching Claudia and Burkhard's warm friendliness towards everyone, I saw that I am not as good as I tend to think. Luckily, I was able to revise some of my initial impressions. I hope that I can become, more and more, an open, welcoming person who isn't so quick to judge, who rather embraces. Now, thanks to Kurt, the guy I loved to hate, my sinuses are slowly continuing to open up as I inhale steaming water containing copious amounts of sea salt.

This trip helped me to recover parts of my femininity that got lost. I think this could only happen in a country like Egypt, where the only people you have contact with are male. I didn't meet a single male who was overbearing or disrespectful to me as a woman. Well, once. One of the times I found myself alone, unprotected by Peter, a man wanted to sell me something. When I told him I had no money on me, he said, "I'll give it to you for a kiss."

"Shame on you!" I said. "You're a Muslim!" He was so ashamed of his behavior, he rushed over to me, apologizing, saying he didn't mean it, he was only joking, and would I please accept a present from him. American men sometimes come on to women, but I have never heard one apologize when reprimanded.

Peter, my walking encyclopedia, tells me that the notion of chivalry came to the West when the Crusaders encountered Arab men. Arabs - Egyptians - taught Europeans to be gentlemen. Then these "Christian gentlemen" went and massacred their teachers, returning to their ladies with roses. Now we women have told our men we don't want them to be gentlemen anymore.

Having Egyptian men wait on me hand and foot, pulling chairs out, pushing them in, smiling with warmth and respect with no trace of over-familiarity, showing merely with their eyes that they think me attractive, but always maintaining a respectful distance, made me want to be the woman they see. I sensed, I intuited, that these men like women who wear jewelry and makeup, who dress attractively, but without flirting or ostentation. They like soft, kind, respectful women. I want to grow in that. This, I think, has gotten lost in our western feminist culture. We women have made progress in attaining influence in the worlds of commerce and government, thank God, but we need to see men as complementary, not as threats, and not forgetting our own innate beauty.

In their book "Captivating", John and Stasi Eldredge say, "Beauty is powerful. Beauty may be the most powerful thing on earth. Beauty speaks. Beauty invites. Beauty nourishes. Beauty comforts. Beauty inspires. Beauty is transcendent. Beauty is what the world longs to experience from a woman. Beauty is an essence that dwells in every woman." This is something I had forgotten. My Peter is a gentleman. He is chivalrous. But I live in a culture that doesn't value chivalry anymore, and so I also devalued it. As a result, the flame of beauty was barely flickering in me, but the Egyptian men I met ignited it again. This is the kind of power I want, the kind that inspires, not the kind that rules like a dictator. I've started wearing skirts and jewelry again.

Similarly, sensuality, healthy sensuality got lost somewhere. I grew up in a strict religious culture that didn't value sensuality anyway. Then along came feminism, telling us women that our real value lay in our intellect, also in our clout. We learned to be tough, to try and force others to see our strengths. We forgot about the pleasure of a warm, gentle touch. Touching only invites abuse, we heard, so we threw out the baby with the bath water. "Civilized" men don't dare touch women anymore. Women don't touch each other much either, at least not in northern Europe. I didn't even know I missed it until Mohammed started touching my shoulder, my forearm. He never touched any bare skin, and he never made any inappropriate moves towards me or any woman in the group. But he was not afraid to touch. I want to touch again, to be touched. I want to dance again, to enjoy my body.

And that's another thing. It was obvious to Claudia, to Peter, and to myself that Mohammed was somehow attracted to me. My Baptist upbringing would have had me run away, lest I be subject to temptation. What would Mom have done if she had had a Mohammed touching her arm? I can see her darting away, trying to find a corner where he couldn't possibly touch her. She would never have even gotten near the tour guide to ask a question. I have already overcome much of that neuroticism. But we have the Hollywood version now, and our sexy novels. In our popular media, it isn't possible to be attracted to someone without hopping into bed. How silly! How dangerous. The more a woman is aware of the power of her femininity, the more of this she allows others to see, the more attractive she will be. The same goes for a man who allows expression of his masculinity. It is a fact, a beautiful fact of life. I can enjoy being an attractive person without jumping into bed with every man who finds me attractive.

I spoke to Peter about Mohammed's attention to me. "I'm not jealous," he said. "I trust you completely." He told me about the troubadours, who sang to women they had no hope of having a physical relationship with. They sang to them because they appreciated their womanliness, their beauty. If it went any further, everything was spoiled. He said, "Mohammed is your troubadour." Is that not wonderful? To have someone who is so sure of your love that he can share a part of you with someone else? He knows that I will not abuse that trust. I have not been as trusting with him, although he has never done anything inappropriate. I hope to grow in that trust, as I grow in the courage to let my beauty out.

Which leads me to the subject of God. There's a purpose to every relationship we have, I believe. The clue is to understand what the nature of each relationship is meant to be. If we know that, we will know the boundaries that are ours, and hopefully not overstep them. Living within God's heart helps us to know where these boundaries fall. This trip helped me appreciate how important God is to me. A life nestled in God is a beautiful thing, I think. But it needs to be the true God, not some stiff system of rules.

I was taught that the only true lovers of God are Christian. What nonsense. They're all over the world, in every religion! I even think some of my friends who claim to be agnostics show, by their behavior, that they are lovers of God, but I may be imposing my views on them to say that. At any rate, Muslims are getting a hard rap these days. But it's the ones who make a big show of it, who scream "Sharia", who we hear of locking their women up, who want to cut off the hands of thieves. I have met too few Muslims to know how pervasive this view is. I can't imagine that such people have much knowledge of the true God, whom I have found to be loving and life-affirming. But I've met one Muslim who adores the God who gave him life and who continues to sustain him. He adores God all day long - while riding on a bus, wearing a button-down shirt and trousers, head uncovered, while explaining Egyptian mythology, while eating a meal.

Yesterday I played the piano in a worship "band" in church. We sang beautiful songs, worshipping our God. We also worshipped Jesus, our Savior. This trip helped me appreciate just how important my Christianity is to me. I am so grateful to have Jesus in my life. That's the title of a Christian praise chorus and may sound trite or kitchy to someone without this experience. For me, Jesus is not different from God. He is the very essence of God. He is the face of God. Thus, he is God. This Jesus reaches out to us, searching for us, even before we realize we are lost. This Jesus gives of himself, to the point of being broken. He sacrifices himself, dying so that we might live. I know this to be true. It is part of my experience. There is power in this life. If we are lucky enough to hear the call of Jesus and to answer, we find this power. As in the power of a woman, this is not a power that subjugates people or demeans them in any way. On the contrary, it empowers them. It gives them a heritage they had lost. This power is one that comes from forgiveness. From compassion. It is mercy. It is grace. It gives. As St. Francis said so beautifully, it seeks to understand more than to be understood.

I would know none of this if it weren't for Jesus in my life. I have experienced freedom, liberation, from following him. I don't sense this aspect of God-worship in the Islam I saw, but Mohammed, a Muslim, showed me the same searching, merciful heart of Isis, who looked all over Egypt for the missing parts of her husband until she found them - all but one tiny, crucial part. It was her love that even made up for that part, a love so strong that she could breathe life into him again. It was her mercy, her forgiveness, that spared the life of her cruel brother. We can find parts of our Christian story in other stories, I found.

That same Isis-spirit has helped me to find some of my missing parts. Egypt, shukran.

"Shukran" means "Thank you" - Day Eight

A typical scene on a Cairo motorway

Time to go. We're on the motorway one last time, speeding toward the airport. I wish we'd get stuck in a traffic jam. My eyes are greedy to see more. But no, it's too early in the day for traffic jams. We're traveling too fast to see the squalor. The closer we get to the airport, the better the houses look. Signs in English advertise further housing developments. Why are the signs in English, I wonder, in a country where everybody speaks Arabic? The answer is right there. Of course! It's the language of elitism these days. The Latin of the the 21st century. English excludes all the undesirables - the uneducated, the poor, those who have to live in the rubble. But there's no Mohammed to ask if my hunch is correct.

At the airport, we have to go through emigration. We fill in our forms, apparently this time for permission to leave the country. My turn. The officer is a woman! She looks carefully at my form, at my passport. "Noreen," she says. "Nour. You have Egyptian name." She keeps the form and hands the passport back, smiling. Mohammed has already told me that my name is Egyptian and means "Shining Light". With compliments like that, no wonder I love this country so much!

We browse one last time in an Egyptian shop, and then head for the gate, where we meet some of the others from our group.

I discover that Astrid's seat on the plane is next to mine. We chat during the flight as we eat vaguely Egyptian food. Then I watch an Egyptian sit-com without the sound.

"It's a nice thing to do as a language teacher," I tell her. "I was recently at a workshop where we learned about using TV shows as an educational medium. One person listened while the other had no earphones. The one listening had to explain to the other what was going on. Or - you can turn the sound off, like me now, and guess what's happening."

"I'll have to remember that," she says.

Try it yourself. Here's a link to a show similar to what we saw.

The flight takes about four hours. Just as we're about to land, the rudders are already out, the plane suddenly swoops back into the air. What the hell is this?! Are we going back to Egypt? Have we been hijacked?

Hella, the one who's been to Africa so many times, thinks something has gone wrong during the landing process, that the pilot cut it too short and had to abruptly ascend. Whatever. We circle Frankfurt once, and touch down. An unbelievably smooth landing.

We inch through the plane with the rest of the passengers, several of them loaded down with Egyptian memorabilia. We thank the crew members, one by one.

Now we're at the cockpit, just about to leave the plane. "Shukran" I say to the last member of the crew and, much to my surprise, my eyes well up with tears.

I walk through the gate, tears spilling down my face. I wipe my eyes.

"What's wrong?" Peter asks.

"I can't say shukran anymore."

He takes my hand and we walk together to collect our luggage.

Note: This concludes the narrative part of my series, "Shukran" means "Thank you". Up to this point, the members of my writing group reading this will probably be pleased with what I've written. I have done what the books say you're supposed to do. I've shown you what I saw, what I experienced in Egypt, without too much clarification or comment. How many times have I heard Sharon say, "Show - don't tell!"

But when I went to school, we had "Show AND Tell", and I loved both parts. Besides, part of traveling is also unpacking the suitcase and looking again at all the things you've brought back. I want to tell you more about how this trip changed me. If you're content with what you've already read and want to stop here, go ahead. If you want more, read the next post. I'll be unpacking my suitcase.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Shukran" means "Thank you" - Day Seven

Traffic in Cairo

Today we're off to see a bit of Cairo. Our first stop will be the Egyptian Museum, but we are already thoroughly entertained by the ride into the city. We are becoming accustomed to the dust, garbage and squalor of Cairo. We're moving more quickly this time, anyway. No time to get depressed by ugly scenes. We are all cheerfully commenting on what we see. Farms with cabbage patches, sugar cane, date palm and mango trees surrounded by huge, half-completed apartment buildings. We roar in laughter as we see a camel driver and five camels approach the edge of the motorway. Traffic sometimes slows down as we pass a donkey or mule and cart on what could pass as a shoulder. But this motorway has no shoulders, and the road surface, marked as a three-lane highway, has a fluid lane structure. Most of the time five lanes crowd into crooked lanes on the highway. If a car breaks down with a flat tire, it simply stops in the right-most lane, where someone will rush over the wall with tires and service it. The buildings in this city are full of dust, but the cars are spotless. We see men washing their cars as they prepare for departure for somewhere. Some cars along the side of the road are covered in protective cloth covers.

We continue along the motorway. There seem to be areas particularly prone to traffic jams. Vendors have set up grass-roofed rest stops here. Sometimes they cross back and forth along the lanes, selling baked goods, balloons or toys for bored children.

As we travel, an envelope is passing through the group. Ms. Pouty Lips, of all people, has organized a collection for Mohammed. Peter and I place a large sum of money in the envelope. I check to see how much has been given. I'm impressed. He should be able to live for a while on this. I'm also revising my opinion of Ms. Pouty Lips. What's her real name? Ah, yes - Susanne. And of her doctor partner, whom I overheard giving medical advice to Claudia. She should inhale a handful of sea salt in a liter of boiling water. I'll do the same, I tell myself. Now he's Kurt, no longer Mr. Cool.

We cross the Nile - twice, because much of Cairo is situated on a large island. Downtown Cairo looks entirely different from what we've been seeing on the roads on the outskirts of the city. This part of Cairo is modern, with many attractive buildings. The Nile is sparkling in the sunlight, and there is plenty of green along the edges of the river.

We arrive at the Egyptian Museum. Mohammed shows us some of its treasures. Without him, we'd be lost in chaos. There are figures everywhere, arranged in some hodge-podge "order", as crowded as the Cairo streets. Some figures are covered in plastic, as workmen build primitive-looking pedestals on which to place them, paint splattered all over the floor.

We begin with the Old Kingdom. He shows us some statues in life-like perfection. The lighting is dim, so he shines a flashlight (forbidden) into the eyes of one for a split-second. Life shines through those eyes! How on earth did they do it? How can life shine through lifeless objects?

We see wall hangings of beautiful Egyptian geese that used to adorn the palace Nefertiti lived in, still in their original colors. But Mohammed has more, much more to show us. He moves us on a few steps, showing a bas-relief of a funny-looking man who looks more female than male. "That's Amenhotep IV," he says, "the husband of the beautiful Nefertiti you have sitting in a museum in Berlin." Passion is burning in his eyes, but it is not about Nefertiti or stolen art objects in Berlin. He has something much more important to say. Amenhotep, he says, broke with the tradition of all previous generations. He came to believe in one God, the supreme, living God, best symbolized by the sun, whose rays extend into all of creation. This god was already one of the many gods Egyptians worshipped, called "Aten". So strong was his belief in this one God that he changed his name to Akhenaten, which means "living spirit of Aten". This pharaoh was convinced that he was created by Aten and therefore a product of his living spirit. Akhenaten was so assured in his faith and so certain the other gods were false, he did something very bold - he forbade their worship, putting all the priests out of business. The priests were a powerful group of men, and they didn't like this. Akhenaten sensed that he might be pushing things further than was good for him, so he decided to simply move his capital and many followers to another town on the Nile, now known as Amarna, so that this new religion could flourish. Akhenaten wrote a beautiful poem praising Aten, whom he understood to be symbolizing the God of the universe. "Reading this poem," Mohammed says, "You would think you were reading one of the Psalms in the Bible. Some of the language is the very same, praising this God who created the earth and all its creatures. You should read it - it's beautiful!" His eyes are shining. "But this wasn't enough for the priests. They were jealous of this man and his religion, which was attracting more and more followers. They started an uprising and most certainly murdered their pharaoh. They took his name out of the book of the pharaohs, and destroyed his palace. They killed many of the followers of the one God they called 'Aten', and forbade any further worship of this one God, returning their land to polytheism. They forced Akhenaten's son to change his name back to include Amun. He was originally named 'Tutankhaten', 'the living image of Aten', but now his name meant 'the living image of Amun', the name of the most important of their gods. This was the pharaoh we know as Tutankhamun."

My heart is pounding. "Living image of Aten"? What does the Bible say about Jesus and all humans? "He is the image of the invisible God", it says in Colossians about Jesus. And what does 2 Corinthians say of the those who understand their connection to God, those of us who have invited Jesus to remove our veils of blindness? "We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-inceasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." Akhenaten understood this. Mohammed understood this. Muslims aren't supposed to understand, I've been taught. But I know he understands, as do I. Are Akhenaten, Mohammed and I bound together by heresy? No, it is not heresy. Akhenaten's priests didn't understand. I am convinced that it is Truth that is speaking to me, but I'm moving into new territory.

Mohammed leads us upstairs. "Meine Damen und Herren, this entire floor shows the treasures found in Tutankhamun's tomb." He lectures for a few minutes and then leaves us alone to explore awhile. He later resumes his tour, leading us to a golden throne.

"And this brings us to the end of the tour," he says. Somehow I know that he means, the end of the entire week. We are not finished with our tours for the day, but this one chair is, for him, the climax of the week. I listen carefully. "Tutankhamun was very young when he came to the throne. He had no choice but to obey the priests, at least superficially. But this throne shows what his true belief was." We look at a shining gold throne, depicting the pharaoh and his beautiful wife. "What does this throne show us about his religious belief? Do you see any Egyptian gods depicted on this throne? No - only a gigantic sun, whose rays extend the length of the chair back. No other images at all. This chair provides evidence that Tutankhamun defied their command, returning to the faith of his father. And that, meine Damen und Herren, is the reason I believe Tutankhamun didn't die of a hunting accident or malaria. He, like his father, was murdered for his belief in the one true God."

King Tutankhamun's Golden Throne - in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo

I leave the museum transfixed, thrilled. I have been in the presence of the living God. I hear the noonday call to prayer. I thank my God for these two courageous pharaohs. We board the bus, bound for the "Alabaster" Mosque, built by Muhammed Ali - not the boxer, but a Pasha of the nineteenth century. I decide to ask Mohammed some more about his faith.

"You told us that you pray every day, but you haven't been in a mosque all week. How do you do it? When do you pray?"

"I pray whenever I want to, but I also pray every time I hear the call to prayer. I recite some suras from the Koran."

"Which ones?"

"I can choose. I pick those that mean the most to me."

He's sounding like a monk in a monastery, but he's dressed just like the rest of us. True believers don't need to wear special clothes to pray.

The Egyptian Museum is tucked into one corner of Tahrir Square, the center of the demonstrations in January. We see a tall, modern building next to the museum, scorched by fire. It was Mubarak's party headquarters. Someone set fire to it - either some of his party members to get rid of all the records of their bad deeds, or some revolutionaries. Tahrir Square is very large and it takes quite a while to navigate through all the traffic before we can continue on to the mosque.

"What do you think about the Muslim Brotherhood, whom everyone in the West is afraid might win the upcoming elections?" I ask.

"We intellectuals are all hoping they won't win. It's hard to say what will happen, but we fear for what could happen if they do win."

A true Muslim who shows nothing of the fanatacism of the Islamists. We pass Al Azhar University, where the Imams are trained. He tells us that a group of Muslim theologians from the university went to the Taliban to tell them that it is anti-Islamic to destroy the religious monuments of other religions. Since then, this sort of bombing has ceased.

We arrive at the mosque. It is my first time to enter a mosque. It is beautiful, built in the fashion of the "Blue Mosque" in Istanbul, we are told. There are no pews, no statues, no monuments. Mohammed talks a few minutes about Islam and asks for questions. I ask, "How is it that you recite suras when you pray? I never see you reading any books."

"I've memorized them," he answers.

On through Cairo, now to a bazaar called "Khan el Khalili". You can read more about this souk here:

As soon as we turn the corner and enter the souk, I feel a jolt of adrenaline. What is this?! Masses and masses of people crammed into tiny, narrow, covered passageways with shops seemingly piled on top of each other. People crying out everywhere, trying to sell their wares. Colors, movement, sounds all around. Everywhere I look is so dense with wares, shapes and colors, I hardly know where to look. "Stay close to me," says Mohammed. "Keep your earphones on so you can hear me talk. We don't want anyone to get lost. It's easy to get lost in here."

Here is a virtual tour for you. Don't worry - you won't get lost!

Peter and I hold each other tightly as we walk and gape. "This is a lot like the souks in Marrakech," he says. I still haven't made it to Marrakech, but now I have it here. I don't think I have ever seen anything so exciting, so compelling, so overflowing with life. Jewelry, lamps, leather hassocks, housewares, antiques, brightly colored scarves, belly dance costumes, lutes and other musical instruments, spices, all crowded, squeezed so compactly there is nothing but color and shape, wherever you look.

"We have to come back," I say to Peter. He nods. "We will. I asked Mohammed for his card so we can have him for a private tour."

One of the stalls in the Khan el-Khalili bazaar

Mohammed leads us further through the souk. My eyes, my body cannot get enough of this. It is like a drug, this market. He leads us to a spice shop. Peter and I buy and buy - cumin, coriander seeds, mint leaves for tea, hibiscus flowers so we can make the tea we had as our first welcome drink, Persian saffron, pistachios.

Our time in Cairo is almost at an end, but we never want to leave. One more thing - dinner at a fine restaurant Mohammed has chosen for us. "I think it's a beautiful restaurant. I wonder what you'll all think of it," he says. It is right next to the souk. We walk up a winding stairway into a darkened room full of atmosphere. I'm especially impressed with the brightly colored ornate lamps.

One of the lamps in the Taj al Sultan Restaurant

A small fountain flows in the corner. We are in the Taj al Sultan restaurant, where we will drink fresh-pressed mango juice as our good-bye drink. Everything we eat will be highlights of the Egyptian cuisine.

Here's a link to the restaurant:

What atmosphere! it is hushed, yet festive. Peter and I manage to get seats across from Burkhard and Claudia. On my right sits Icicle Eyes. We are warming up to each other, and she says "du" to me. I appreciate her good intentions, but I'm sorry, she's still not a "du" to me. I stubbornly continue with "Sie". Mohammed is over in the corner.

The food is wonderful! We have all the usual mezze, but also a variety of stews Egyptians and Moroccans call tagine. Now that she's melting, I can no longer call Astrid Icicle Eyes. She tells me about her Iranian friend, and how she happened to become friends with an Iranian. I realize that if she and her husband friend with Muslims, they can't be as callous as they first seemed to me. Noreen, when will you ever learn? We talk about our common profession - teaching English. Over in the corner, I hear intermittent coughing. Mohammed is having a hard time. He's been talking all week. He shouldn't smoke, I think. I continue eating and talking to Astrid.

Mohammed coughs again, but this time he doesn't stop. On and on he coughs, violently, urgently. His face is as red as his shirt. He's surrounded by members of our tour group, but nobody's helping him. Can't they see he's in trouble? Somebody help Mohammed! Please! I scream silently. No one budges. It's as though they were all frozen to their chairs. Is this stiff German propriety? Or don't they see? Don't they care? I run over to him. My face is probably as crimson as his, but I don't care what they think. Mohammed needs help, and I'll help him, no matter what anybody says or thinks. I begin to pound his back.

"Harder!" he manages to croak.

"Do you have food caught?" He nods. I pound as hard as I can. The coughing eases somewhat, and he lifts his hand. The food particle is dislodged. I return to my seat. All eyes are on me, but no one says a word.

"That's my Noreen, a sister always ready for the rescue," says Peter. His words lighten the tension, and we all resume eating.

Just as we prepare to leave the restaurant, Susanne stands up and gives a small speech, thanking Mohammed for the superb job he's done guiding us around. She hands him the envelope. Yes! Thank you Susanne, too, for taking this into your hands.

It's dark. It's getting late. Our bus takes us back to the hotel.

"We will soon be parting," says Mohammed to the group. "Someone will be meeting you all tomorrow to take you to the airport, but I'll be leaving you as soon as we return this evening. But before we part, I have a present for each of you." He hands out CDs of Egyptian music and a DVDs about Egypt. The CD contains the music we heard on the bus when traveling through the desert, and some Mohamed Mounir. The DVD shows everything we've seen this week.

We arrive at the hotel. Time to say good-bye. One after another, people walk up to Mohammed, shaking his hand as they thank him. Peter and I are almost the last ones. I shake his hand, and then he surprises me. He bends over and brushes my cheek with a kiss.

"Auf Wiedersehen," he says, and turns to the next person, as we leave for our room.

Note: Although this post concludes the organized part of the tour, I am not quite finished with this series. Stay tuned. There will be one or two more postings in "Shukran" means "Thank you".

Friday, November 11, 2011

"Shukran" means "Thank you" - Day Six

Sakkara Step Pyramid and a camel. Camel rides are one of the things on offer at the pyramids.

The air here is horrible, despite the garden setting of our beautiful hotel. We're staying at the Oasis.  Click here for the link: 
I'm finding it difficult to breathe. Without my inhaler, I'd be practically dead. Oh, for the clean, hot air of Aswan! We walk through the cool morning air to the main building, where our restaurant is. We pass a chambermaid. A woman!

There is a huge spread for breakfast, as there was for dinner, and I can eat everything again, thanks to the tablets I'm taking now, but the food isn't as good as it was on the "La Traviata". Peter and I find empty spots next to Anja, whom I met through Claudia. Anja is lovely. She's traveling alone - no partner. She's so pretty and gracious, I'm surprised she's solo. This is her second trip to Egypt, and she's always dressed perfectly for whatever we do - she never exposes her legs, wearing attractive but modest trousers, always carrying a complementary scarf to cover her head and arms if necessary, or to protect her head from the heat.

We talk about her work. She's one of the few people who have talked about their jobs. Some of these Germans are so private, they share nothing but the barest details of their lives. My husband is one of these. Not so secretly, though, Peter admires me, who shares almost as much as people can accept hearing. Sometimes I embarrass him with my openness. But then, this is what he gets for marrying an American. I comment on Anja's openness.

"Well, you see, I always watch and wait a few days to see if the water's safe to swim in. Now I know I can talk to you." She's a controller for a company in the east of Germany, but lives in what was once called "West Germany". I ask her how it is, working with a bunch of "Ossies", as the people in the east are called. "They're unbelievably private. They share nothing! They've been damaged by having lived under a brutal, oppressive political regime. At first, I thought they were all cold, but I was determined to find a way to connect."

Ah, a woman after my heart! No wonder I like her so much. Most west Germans haven't even been to the east on vacation. "I kept looking for an opening. One day I found it - in my colleague's shoes."

"In shoes?! How's that?"

"Well, she had the most amazing shoes. One day she came with a pair of really unique, beautiful red shoes. I complimented her shoes. That broke the ice, and from then on, all the people there accepted me."

Anja believes in finding ways to connect. I've already heard her talking to Claudia about how you can always find a way to the hardest person's heart if you find something nice to say to the person. Yay, Anja! Way to go! And I've got a few things to learn from you, even though I normally practice the same thing. But I am exhausted from the bronchial and sinus problems of the past few months. I still don't like Icicle Eyes very much, but there's another person I can't stand - Kurt, the Austrian. He is a pure cynic, it seems, never bothering to talk to anyone, to ask any questions. Mister Cool. He offered Mohammed a Cuban cigarette the other day. I avoid him whenever possible - and his partner, Ms. Pouty Lips. She's always dressed like a fashion model, holding herself aloof from the group. As far as I can tell, there are four people she condescends to relate to - her parents, who are also in our group, a travel writer whose husband also writes travel articles for a reputable German newspaper, and sometimes her partner. And Mohammed, of course. Even though I admire Anja's attitude, I'm not even slightly interested in getting to know Mister Cool or Ms. Pouty Lips. Nor are they interested in me. I'm also learning something - I don't have to be friends with everyone.

After a short bus ride, we arrive at the famous pyramids. Cheops, the only one of the seven wonders of the ancient world still standing, is the largest of the group here, and it is a massive 138.8 metres (455.4 ft) high. I am surprised that it is not smooth. It looks more like a series of steps, leading to a point at the top. Mohammed tells us that it was once smooth, covered with white marble, probably crowned with gold. It must have been an impressive sight. Vandals, particularly the Romans, have taken the covering, bit by bit, until there was nothing left. You can still see bits of the covering on the neighboring pyramid, Khafre.

Khofre Pyramid, near Giza

He tells us that the Pharaoh Cheops was not as cruel as his reptation. He hired workers - they were not slaves, and he paid them well and fed them. They only worked in the summer months, when it was too hot to work at their normal professions, and he had enough workers so that no one was overworked. They worked in the mornings and evenings.

Mohammed leaves the group 45 minutes to walk around, explore a pyramid, or go into the exhibit displaying a boat, one of the funerary relics excavated near the Cheops pyramid. Peter and I decide to walk around the Khafre pyramid, the one in the middle. The air feels better here than at our hotel. We are on higher ground, away from all the fumes of Cairo. We can see it, however, hazy from the smog and morning mist. Cairo is ever-expanding, spilling out all around the pyramids. For a few minutes, on the other side of the pyramid, we are all alone.

We run into Claudia. Her shoulders are heaving. She's struggling for breath.

"Whatever is wrong, Claudia?"

"I don't know," she wheezes. "I've never had this before. I can't catch my breath." She coughs weakly. I teach her how to use my inhaler, but it doesn't help much. Her voice is raspy. That cough sounds nasty, but she soldiers along with us anyway. This is the trip of her life. This is the honeymoon she and Burkhard were never able to have until now, 22 years later.

"Into the bus! We'll make a Japanese break." What's a Japanese break? Getting off the bus to take photographs, then getting on again. We photograph all three main pyramids, then drive on to see the Sphynx. Here, we see both male and female tour guides and vendors, even girls selling trinkets.

"Onto the bus! Time for lunch!"

We're off to nearby Sakkara, the site of the very first pyramid. But first, lunch in a garden restaurant Mohammed has found for us. It's called "Sakkara Nest" because it's like a bird's nest in a garden. Yes, it is very large, but tranquil, like nothing we have ever seen. It's almost empty. Oh, Egypt, where are all the tourists? You're going to have to work very hard to win them back again.

A waiter in a white shirt and tie escorts us to a long table in the middle of the garden. Here is a link to a website where you can read about Cairo as well as view the restaurant.

We are going to have an Egyptian barbecue! The air is already pungent with the scent of spices and wood smoke. Peter and I sit down. I am unhappy to discover that Pouty Lips is almost across from me. Her parents are directly opposite me. The mother is nice, but very timid. Can we find anything to talk about? And then someone sits down at my right side. I don't believe it - it's Mohammed! Now I have him almost completely to myself. But I discover that he is no conversationalist. If I want him to talk, I'm going to have to do the work. The poor guy needs a break, though. He's getting hoarse from talking so much.

Germans aren't generally very good conversationalists. Peter likes to concentrate on his food when he eats. I sit there in silence for a few minutes, but I hate the silence. I remember something I saw on TV last night while zapping the channels. You can get Deutsche Welle in English! I sometimes use Deutsche Welle articles with my English students when we want to discuss German news in English, but you can't get this TV channel in Germany. I tell the parents and Mohammed about a story I watched about Babelsberg in Potsdam, the Hollywood of Germany. The parents are from east Germany. They're interested in what I have to say. So is Mohammed. He asks a few questions about Babelsberg.

I'm feeling better with a full tummy. We're eating kefta, barbecued meat balls. Delicious! Along with tahini, pita flat bread and rice. I notice a group of school kids across from us. They're all wearing identical green polo shirts. None of the girls have their heads covered. I ask Mohammed what he knows about them. "I don't know. I'll go ask."

They're students from a language school. "Language school isn't what you would normally think of. It's a private school where the entire curriculum is taught in another language. These schools are private and expensive. These kids are at an English-French school." Are his kids in a language school? Yes. German? No - they go to an English school.

As the children leave, they wave. One of the less shy ones says "Good-bye" in Engish. Then we leave for Sakkara.

Sakkara is actually a series of pyramids and buildings. Wikipedia calls it "the oldest complete stone building complex known in history". We first enter one of the tombs, famous for their murals. We see amazing water scenes, complete with people fishing, even a crocodile about to eat a hippotomus just being born. They are so sweet, so ordinary, showing everyday life of Egyptians 5,000 years ago!

We return to our hotel. The road, as usual, is full of traffic. We pass several mini-buses carrying school children, labeled "language school". The one that makes me smile advertises the "Wisehood School of Language".

I sit next to Claudia and ask how she's feeling. A little bit better. We chat. I tell her I have a project in mind - I want to write a blog about our trip. I want to include my experience of Germans in it. She says, "We're a great bunch of people, aren't we? I think this is a wonderful group." I feel ashamed. I've been looking at what I don't like. Claudia, even though she doesn't feel well and hasn't felt well the entire trip, has befriended every single person. But the journalist told me not to worry about making pointed remarks. It makes the reader react. I'm not so sure. I do want to be kind, but people aren't always so easy to like. Claudia wants to know who I find especially difficult. Is it the Austrian doctor? Yes. Yes, she finds Mr. Cool difficult too.

She changes the subject. "I think Mohammed likes you." Yes, I've noticed that too. It's almost embarrassing by now. I wonder why, I tell her. "Oh, that's easy. You're so open, so interested. You accept his culture." I know that's true. But I feel there is more. There is a spiritual connection. I'm the only one who asks questions or shares anything about a personal faith. I sense that for Mohammed, as for me, connection with God is the most important thing in life. It is this connection that connects us to everything else.

For once, we arrive back at the hotel early. It's only afternoon. I have time to go to the hotel jewelry shop and see if they can do anything about the ankh necklace I gave Peter. It's too small for him. I find a handsome young man about the age of my son Jon. Yes, he can help me. He sells me another necklace I can use to add beads. He shows me his perfume department. I end up buying two bottles of perfume, and a vial of kohl. "Use it - it will make your beautiful eyes even more beautiful." I don't know how to use kohl. "Don't worry - I will show you. Just come with me." He leads me back into the jewelry shop, turning his head every which way. Then he proceeds to paint my eyelids. "I have to be careful. If anybody sees me doing this, they'll kill me! I'm not supposed to touch a woman." I wonder if he really is taking his life in his hands. "Now you look beautiful. See?" He brings me to the mirror. Yes, it looks sort of like gray eye shadow. "Your husband will be pleased."

This young man, whose sister is sequestered at home, is one of the Egyptians teaching me how to be a woman. Does she already know?

I return to Peter, who thinks I look ravishing.

We find ourselves seated at dinner with the couple who found the towels on the boat spotted and the bathrobes grungy. They have been to Africa. We already know this from having overheard them talking to others. We ask them about what they have seen. They stayed with a German family in Namibia - farmers, who had so much property, you could do a whole safari and never leave their land. People like these live very well, they say. They open up more and more, with story after story about Africa. They are turning out to be really interesting people, not at all the stiff Germans I had judged them to be.

Almost everyone in our group wants to go out onto the terrace for drinks. We join them. The terrace bar has shisha pipes. Peter asks me if I mind if he smokes the water pipe. No, not at all. I think it will free him up more. He's so afraid of doing the wrong thing. Unsure, he asks me again. "Really? Are you sure?" Yeah - go ahead. He orders a bit of tobacco and the waiter brings the pipe, showing him how to use it. At first he coughs, but before long, he's got the hang of it. He says it tastes really good. And he looks good, too. Virile, manly. He offers it to me. I take a drag. It does taste good, but I cough. I try again. I hear a sharp "Nanzi!" from across the table. I look over to Mohammed. He's half-smiling, but he disapproves. I hand the shisha pipe back to Peter. Despite Peter's numerous invitations to take a puff, I decline. I'm learning that a refined woman doesn't smoke water pipes. I can't believe that I'm respecting Mohammed's wishes, and that I even want to. But I seem to be in a new kind of school, where the lesson is "womanhood". I've always been a diligent student.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"Shukran" means "Thank you" - Day Five

Leaving Aswan in a motor boat for Philae, an island temple. Most men outside of Cairo seem to wear the djellaba.

Another early start, as usual. Today we are told to leave our luggage outside our door by 6:15 a.m. at the latest. Before we leave the boat, I have an evaluation form to complete. I give the entire staff highest praise, writing in detail all they have done for me. The food, as much as I was able to eat, has been fantastic, the staff wonderful. Every day we have discovered a different animal formed out of towels on my bed. Everyone has been especially concerned about my well-being. Omar, the chef, has been asking every day how I feel. I have been well-cared for, but so have we all. We leave a large bakshish which Mohammed says should be designated for everyone on the ship's staff.

We board the bus which will take us to a motor boat, which will take us to the island temple, Philae. As we board the bus, Gottfried, the sweetest German grandpa you could ever meet, greets me. "It was a pleasure to watch you dance last evening," he says. "You were the best of them all - and I know what I'm talking about." I am amazed. I was never allowed to dance as a child - it was against our religion, I tell him. He looks at me, eyes twinkling. "Yes, I suppose anything can be abused. But this can also be a wonderful way to give thanks to God." Amen.

We arrive at Philae, another temple which has been relocated because of the Aswan dam, this time to another, higher island. It gleams against the sparkling water. It has a graceful beauty, surrounded by trees on the outside, adorned with pink oleander and yellow mimosa trees in the outer courts. It is the smallest temple of all the ones we have seen. Klein, aber fein, I murmer. Small but beautiful.

Philae Temple as we approach the island from the Nile

We stand in the outer court as the early morning sunlight warms our bodies. Mohammed begins his lecture. "This is last of the temples built exactly in the ancient Egyptian style. It was constructed during the Greco-Roman period, during the reign of the Ptolemaic rulers (282-145 BC). Alexander the Great, who was ruling Egypt before construction began, was a very influential and clever man."

He walks around from person to person as he talks, resting a hand on someone's shoulder or arm, usually a woman's, as he gestures with the other. I'm beginning to notice that his hand is often resting on my shoulder or arm. Is he singling me out? I decide to make an experiment. I move backwards, more towards the center of the group. He moves, still ambling among us, hand touching person after person, until it finds my shoulder again. It rests on my shoulder for at least ten seconds before he moves on to the next person, whose arm he brushes before moving on. OK. So he needs contact with me. I like his touch. But what is it about me? It can't be my looks. I'm married, over sixty and overweight. I'm way over the hill. I think about this as I listen to him speak.

"Alexander, of course, was bent on conquering the Egyptians, but he knew that it couldn't work by force. He also admired the Egyptians very much, so what did he do? He became their greatest admirer, building temple after temple in the old style, using the very best artisans. He, like the pharaohs before him, identified himself with the gods he portrayed, but he never set himself up as someone separate or apart. No, he made himself one with the Egyptians, and thus won them over." I wonder if he knows about the early Celtic Christians in Ireland, Scotland, and Cornwall, where my ancestors came from.

He goes on to talk about how the early Christians took over the temple, using it as a church, claiming it for themselves, defacing the beautiful stonework with crosses. He shows how they have even chiseled away the faces of the Egyptian gods. Later people such as the French writer Balzac did one better, carving their own names into the walls. Yes, these arrogant Christians. These insensitive Westerners. It is not until after we return that I learn, while searching the internet, that earlier Pharaohs also chiseled out the faces of gods they disapproved of. They were the first temple defacers, not the Christians. But Mohammed says nothing of this.

"The Philae Temple is dedicated to the god Isis," he says. "Nanzi, this is a story for you." He tells us how Isis and Osiris were siblings as well as man and wife. They had two other siblings - Seth and Nephthys." My eyebrows lift above my sunglasses. "That's right, Nanzi. But in this story, Seth is the bad guy. He was jealous of Osiris, who was a good ruler. He tricked Osiris into a coffin custom-made for him and slammed it shut, killing him." The story is a long and thrilling tale. Giovanna Magi tells the story touchingly in "Gods and Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt".

In the tale, Isis finds Osiris' body, but the evil Seth gets there first and manages to dismember the body into fourteen parts, throwing them all over Egypt. I am reminded of the Bible story in Judges 19 of an Israelite woman who is gang-raped and killed. In revenge, her husband cuts her body into twelve parts, sending one part to each tribe of Israel.

"There's more. Isis travels all over Egypt, seeking the parts of her beloved husband's body. She finds all but one tiny piece (his phallus, which Mohammed does not name). She gathers the parts and sings a song of love over his body, and manages to resurrect him for a time from the netherworld. The power of her love restores his entire body, and she conceives a son, Horus. When Horus grows up, he wants to avenge his father's death, but Isis interferes. She is merciful, Nanzi. Seth's life is spared." I am awed by the parallels in this story. Inside the temple, he shows us a bas-relief depicting Isis with baby Horus on her lap, breast-feeding him. "This is where scholars believe the practice of painting the Virgin Mary breastfeeding Jesus began." He finishes his lecture and heads for the café for a smoke and coffee. I rush after him.

"Have you heard of St. Patrick?" He hasn't. I tell him about the Celtic Christians, who had no contact with Roman Christians. They also had no contact with the Crusaders, who used violence to spread Christianity. I tell him that people like St. Patrick and St. Columba showed the Celts the parallels to their own pagan religion, explaining about the One true God, and Jesus. They respected the customs of their people, finding ways to incorporate their culture into Christian worship, with no violence at all. They won the people over. Mohammed gives a date - fifth century, AD. Did Patrick live around this time? He's spot-on.

I leave him to find Peter, but he's lost in some corner of the temple, so I walk on alone. A man walks up to me, reaching for my scarf. "Must be in the Nubian way," he says, and begins to wind it around my head. "Do you have children?" Yes, one child. "I have seven, but my wife died in childbirth." Ah, yes. He's asking for bakshish. I give him a tip, and his friend comes up, offering to take my picture. I grant this, paying another tip.

Scarf now tied in the Nubian way, in Philae Temple

Unable to find Peter, I walk alone back to boat. Men accost me from all sides, wanting to sell me their wares. I take shelter with another couple who arrives at the boat a few minutes ahead of time. Finally, Peter arrives, thrilled to have found the last hieroglyph ever chiseled.

One of the boatman is selling jewelry during the ten-minute ride. "Six million Egyptians make their living from tourism," he says. "They, in turn, support an average of three to four people each. That makes at least 18 million people dependent on tourism." Peter buys me a beutiful red camel-bone necklace. We arrive at the bus and drive on to the Aswan High Dam.

Mohammed tells us about the Suez Crisis and the construction of the dam. In his version, Israel is not the real villain - it is the US - I hope you're not offended, Nanzi, but it was this way - who stopped funding the project midway, forcing Nasser to turn more and more to the Soviet Union. In his story, Nasser is a hero. I grew up hearing that Nasser was a Communist who hated Israel.

Peter whispers to me as Mohammed lectures on the bus, "Have you noticed how little he talks about Israel or the ancient Israelites? It's as though they hardly existed." I have. But I like Mohammed anyway.

"I think Mohammed likes me," I whisper back. "I wonder why. Is it my faith? Is he attracted to my spirituality? To the Christian in me?"

"You're wonderful," Peter answers. "Who wouldn't find you attractive?" Peter has always adored me. I don't understand this, or Peter's response, but I hold his hand as Peter strokes my hair.

I learn about the advantages and disadvantages of the dam. The reservoir is now the world's largest, over 500 km long and over 35 km wide at its widest point. One of the big disadvantages is that, if the dam, constructed by the Soviets, but according to a German plan, should break, all of Egypt would be flooded within a day, destroying the entire country.

It's midday. We pile out of the bus at the Aswan Airport. We're off to Cairo, where we will spend the remainer of our time.

It's around 4 pm when we land in Cairo. Rush hour. We climb onto another bus.

"There is always heavy traffic in Cairo," Mohammed says. "This is, after all, a city with somewhere between 15 and 18 million inhabitants. I've chosen a ring road around the city which will, hopefully, not have so much traffic." Our hotel is outside Cairo. Everything west of the Nile is officially Giza, we hear. Our hotel is not far from the pyramids.

It starts out well. We speed past modern, pleasant-looking housing developments. Mohammed tells us he lives in one of these.  We see signs along the motorway, advertising more housing developments - in English. But before long, even this motorway is hopelessly clogged, and a ride that would ideally last less than 45 minutes takes over two hours. Two hours to look at the scenery. We are appalled. It looks like a war zone! Building rubble on the roofs. People living in gaping, half-constructed apartment buildings with bricks falling out, surrounded on all sides by other half-constructed buildings, each of them so shabby, it looks like they'll be falling apart before they're even finished. Garbage piled on roofs, along the road, sometimes meters thick. We see goats living on the roofs of some of the buildings, children playing in hovels where their fathers pollute the air outside their homes with toxic wastes emitted from their work. Dust everywhere, hardly a tree in sight. Cairo is mostly dusty desert. We pass a canal so full of garbage, there is hardly any water flowing. We see what appear to be dead dogs lying in one of the garbage piles. One of them moves his head. There is smoke rising from some of the garbage piles. Despite the air conditioning, the air is acrid and I am having difficulty breathing. This is shocking. This must not be. Is this the fruit of Islam?

"It is not the relgion that you should blame," says Mohammed. "It is the people. People are dumb. And the government we recently had. They have done nothing for us, no controls, and this is what has happened." I have never seen anything so depressing.

We arrive at the hotel after dark, spent, shaken. It is opulent, occupying acres of a beautifully landscaped park. It feels disgraceful to live in such luxury after what we have just witnessed.

"I feel sick," says Claudia.

It's almost dinner time. We are in a five-star hotel. We will live like pharaohs.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"Shukran" means "Thank you" - Day Four

Abu Simbel - Temple of Ramesses II
Abu Simbel is in the southernmost part of Egypt, in Nubia

We've set port in Aswan. No more sinus washes for me for the remainder of the trip. I've learned my lesson about Egyptian tap water.

Wake-up is earlier than ever, at 4:30 am. We will be boarding a bus at 5:00 for a three-hour ride through the desert to Abu Simbel, just 20 km from the Sudanese border. Abu Simbel, situated on the shores of Lake Nasser, is one of Egypt's most important archaeological sites - the temples of Ramesses II (Ramesses the Great), and the one next door he had built to honor his favorite wife, Nefertari. I decide to join the group. My stomach feels much more settled and will probably be fine if Iwatch what I eat and take the medicine the receptionist promised to provide.

The kitchen staff has packed boxed breakfast/lunches for us. Peter bites into a sandwich. M-m-m! Chicken marinated in cumin-infused yoghurt. I hand him my chicken and marinated beef. I'll have to be content with dry bread for a while.

Mohammed points to the Nubian homes and buildings as we pass through Aswan. "See how the roofs are curved, with domes on some of them? That is a very clever construction method which reduces the heat in these buildings considerably." The high predicted for this day, late in October, is 28° C, over 80° F. Because of the intense heat, we have to make this trip so early in the day. Security is an issue, traveling so long through the desert, where there is very little traffic. We have to make a stop at the police station, where an armed policeman joins us for the remainder of the excursion. He and all the people we see for the remainder of our time in Aswan are black. I ask Mohammed if there is a problem with racial discrimination in Egypt.

"Not at all," he says. "In fact, racial discrimination is forbidden in the Koran." That may be true, but the fact is that hundreds of thousands of Nubians were forced to relocate when the Aswan High Dam was built, since their homes would be flooded out. They were haphazardly, randomly moved, with no attempt made to give them homes near their loved ones and former neighbors, or to use Nubian construction methods in building their new homes. Since then, much has been done to correct this.

Most of us sleep all the way to Abu Simbel, then awakened by Mohammed, who wants to tell us about Ramesses and the temples. When it was decided to build the dam and reservoir that is now called "Lake Nasser", it was clear that this temple as well as several others would be flooded. They decided to move both temples, block by block, 65 meters higher and 200 meters further back from their previous locations.

The result is magnificent. One would never guess that a mammoth move had taken place. The temples, facing gigantic Lake Nasser, are impressive. That, says Mohammed, was Ramesses' objective. He wanted to impress the Nubians with his power. We are still impressed, almost three thousand years later, by his massive ego. Ramesses all over the place - in fact, there are four identical Ramesses statues flanking his temple, and more guarding Nefertari's. I decide, after looking at the bas-reliefs inside Nefertari's temple that he loved her because she stood by her man, serving his every need at every opportunity. She was also beautiful. Nefertari means "Beautiful Companion".

For the bus ride back to Aswan, Mohammed decides to play a CD of Egyptian music for us. As soon as the music begins, Peter exclaims, "That's Om Kalthoum!" Mohammed is impressed that one of us should be familiar with her music. We listen to her pour her heart out, song after song. If you give yourself to the music, it touches with its passion and reverence. She's been dead for over twenty years, says Mohammed, but she's still revered by everyone, young and old, in Egypt and surrounding countries. Here is a link so you can get an idea of what we heard on the bus.

After a while, the music is practically inaudible. Someone must have complained. Too foreign. But I like it. I seem to like everything about Egypt. Mohammed wants to know what we think of the music, so I tell him how dignified, how serious it sounds. "That's right. She doesn't sing stupid music," he replies.

By now, he's calling me "Nanzi", which sounds almost like "Nancy" when he says it. I tell him that as a child, I never liked my name, since I was the only Noreen in the whole world. I wished I had another name, something like "Nancy". Everyone laughs.

We return in the middle of the afternoon, but there's already something else on the program - two boat rides! First a motor boat will meet us at the ship and take us to a falouka, where we will sail around Elephantine Island. The driver sells us Nubian jewelry. The prices are great, and the jewelry is so beautiful it's hard to stop buying.

We glide in peaceful, warm afternoon sunlight, watching the herons and egrets on the shore. There are two men manning the sailboat. One of them makes mint tea for us.

Our falouka

We pass the Old Cataract Hotel, the elegant setting for the beginning of Agatha Christie's "Death on the Nile". It's now, unbelievably, owned by the Sofitel Corporation and has a French touch. We sail, drifting around Elephantine Island, whose rocks resemble elephants. A young boy paddles up to us, singing as he holds on to the boat. He wants bakshish, but nobody gives one. We've been instructed not to give money to children.

The sun is setting and it's quickly growing chilly. We sip a second cup of tea as we listen to the voices of various men calling to worship in the surrounding mosques. I ask Mohammed if the voices are recorded or live. They sing live. And they all inspire. My soul and body open to receive the divine healing these prayers remind me of, as they have soaked in the dry heat of the day. My sinuses and lungs need this so much! Aswan is a popular "spa" location. Aga Khan III often came here to recuperate because the dry, hot air was so good for him. We pass the mausoleum where he is buried. His Swiss wife, Begum, is also buried here. The villa is often frequented by members of their family. By the time we return to our ship, it is already dark. The sun sets quickly in Africa.

A falouka passes one of the mosques on the shores of the Nile in Aswan. Aswan is, to me, the most beautiful city on the Nile. It's a popular holiday site, and new buildings are always going up.

There is still more on the program for the day - belly dancing in the evening. It's our last evening on the ship. Claudia has become our best shopper, and she's discovered that the best prices of all are to be had on the boat. I decide to do a bit of shopping after dinner, and we'll see about the belly dancing. Besides, I'm not that sure I want to see a belly dancer. The ones I've seen in Germany border on lewdness, in my opinion. Peter couldn't agree more. He has wholeheartedly decided to spend the evening reading. I ask Mohammed what he thinks of belly dancing. Will he attend? Probably not - he's tired. He says, "Good belly dancing is not lewd. It doesn't provoke. And a well-bred Egyptian woman would never do belly dancing professionally. She would only dance for weddings and family parties. But almost every Egyptian is a fantastic dancer."

I don't eat much for dinner, trying to keep from getting sick again. I rush off to the shop, where the shop owner, greets me. He has purchased a book I ordered - an Egyptian cookbook in English. These Egyptians are master salespeople! He tries to sell me jewelry. I wonder how he can discern the quality of the gold he sells - his right eye is clouded by a cataract. What a nice guy he is! We chat, and he sells, and sells. He tells me he met Roger Moore while working on another boat. I leave the shop with gold jewelry, an inlaid box, a cookbook, more jewelry, and presents from him. One of them, an onkh necklace, I will pass on to Peter.

By the time I get down to the lounge for the belly dancing, the dancer's leaving, but the evening isn't over. There's a young guy dressed in brightly colored skirts! I see Mohammed, but he's just passing through. Did he watch the belly dancer after all?

There is only a handful of people in the lounge. Disgraceful! There are only a few people anyway on board - we fifteen and another party of six. Egypt desperately needs tourists! They all got scared away after the January revolution.

I join Claudia, Burkhard, and Gottfried, a sweet elderly gentleman who is traveling for, who knows, perhaps the last time, he says. A keyboard player plays an exotic melody as two men beat acoustic rhythm instruments. The boy twirls around and his skirts fly at a 90° angle to the ground. He seems in a world of his own. I later learn that I have seen El Tanoura dancing. Here is a link so you can see what I am talking about.

The dancer leaves, as do almost all the remaining guests. I am left there with a full glass of wine and no dancers. Burkhard asks one of the waiters if he has any music by Mohamed Mounir. Yes, he has. He walks over to a laptop and checks the playlist. The music is quiet - not the kind of music he has in mind. Burkhard has heard Mounir sing in Germany. He's great! Here's a link.

The waiter plays another piece and beckons to Burkhard and Claudia to dance. "I can't," protests Claudia. "I have a stomach ache." Oh, no! Not another one sick. But no, it's not that. She simply doesn't feel well. Burkhard walks up alone to the dance floor, even though, he says, his sport shoes aren't suited for dancing. Two of the waiters join him. Three men dancing together! They sway their hips, twirl their arms in time to the music. Mohammed is right. They're good! One of them walks up to me, takes my hand, leading me to the stage. I join them. Now they're really excited. They laugh, smile broadly, snapping their fingers, clapping, even shimmying to each other. One of them, the best dancer, tries to get me to shimmy. I try to, remembering that I never could get the hang of it. Besides, isn't this erotic?

He teaches Burkhard to jerk his hips in a more pronounced manner. Is this erotic? I don't know, but it looks good, and the waiter and Burkhard are both pleased. I grab my scarf and a waiter ties it around my hips. By now, two more men have joined us. At one point, I am dancing with Burkhard and four waiters, and we are all in a place of pure joy.

It's a shame that I have to confess shame at erotic feelings, but I do. I am an uptight ex-Baptist, still a fervent Christian pilgrim on the search for more of God. I think I've found God's joy here. There is nothing indecent in what we are doing. It is pure, wholesome, healthy, and entirely enjoyable. Even the shopkeeper joins us for a few minutes. We are all one, the waiters, Burkhard, Claudia at her table, and I. These waiters have taught me something profound. I am beginning to learn that enjoying my body and movement without shame is a holy thing. We dance until we are too exhausted to continue. For the second night in a row, my heart swells in deep gratitude to these Egyptian men, who are giving parts of myself I had lost, back to me.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"Shukran" means "Thank you" - Day Three

Horus, the falcon god. Doesn't he look just like a little man?!

Correction. Peter, my husband, read my post from yesterday and reminded me that the pharaohs buried in the Valley of the Kings are from the New Kingdom (between the 16th and 11th centuries, BC), and not from the Middle Kingdom.

I've made some new friends on this trip! Claudia and her husband Burkhard, who are really friendly and even live near Cologne. Claudia tells me that she is also from another country. She came to Germany from Poland when she was fourteen. That must explain her accent, which I can't quite place.

It's early morning and I've done the salicylic acid face washing thing and the sinus wash. I'm doing OK, but Peter and I are the last ones down to breakfast. Ah, there are two spaces free at Claudia and Burkhard's table! But I have to sit next to Icicle Eyes. Oh well, we'll find something to talk about. She tells me her name is Astrid. Does that mean I'm going to have to call her "du"? But she's not a "du" for me - she's a "Sie"! But what will she think when I call Claudia "du"? We've already gone through the ceremony. This is a problem I only encounter with educated, "cultured" Germans. In church, we're all "du", no matter how much or little education we've had. The same thing wherever I teach.

There's another couple at the table. The woman is already talking about filling in their evaluation forms. They're going to give Mohammed a negative point because he hasn't thoroughly explained how much bakshish to give whom. The personnel also gets a demerit because the towels - well - you should see them! They are not clean! No, not at all. They have spots! That will never do for a luxury liner. And the bathrobes. This lady has never seen anything so gray, so worn. Claudia and I both utter in unison, "I didn't even know we had bathrobes!" Nor have I noticed any spots. What Peter and I have noticed is that when we returned to our rooms yesterday, my bed had two bath towels wrapped and twisted in the shape of swans - or possibly the white egrets we see every day on the river. We are charmed by the sweet attention of a male. There are no women working on this ship. I remind myself to give everyone a good evaluation. I have no complaints. I'm having the time of my life.

egret towels!

We've been travelling south all night, crossing through the locks at Esna at 11 pm. We've spent the evening sitting on the sundeck, waiting for our turn to pass through. Someone jokes, "Our ship didn't give enough bakshish!" We've been entertained for hours by two men and a young boy in a small rowboat, treading water with us as we wait.

"Lady! Lady!" a man calls. "Beautiful dresses!" He aims a loaded plastic bag for the sundeck. Splat! It lands perfectly.

"How much?" Claudia asks.

"Five hundred pounds."

"That's way too much!" We laugh and banter with them. What shall we do with the beautiful dress on deck? Throw it back? Before we've decided, another bag lands at our feet. This time we see a beautiful red shawl, reminscent of a Persian carpet. Claudia has another new friend, Anja.

"That would make a beautiful comforter when you're watching TV," Anja says.

I ask the man, "How much?"

"Five hundred pounds."

"Too much." But I have something to think about buying. This time Claudia tries to throw it back to them with money for the dress she has decided to buy. They've agreed on a price. The bag lands in the water. Off they row, in pursuit of shawl and precious money.

Now we have landed at Edfu. We will be visiting another temple today, but first breakfast. At the serving counter, I notice foul, a dish made with fava beans. Sarah, my godchild, has a Lebanese boyfriend whose mother makes wonderful foul. I have to try it. It's delicious.

After breakfast Mohammed announces the day's schedule. After he finishes I ask,

"But it says in the program that we can have an Egyptian cooking class with the chef as an alternative morning program."

This is news to him, but he agrees to check with the chef. He comes back and says, "The cooking class will be early this evening. That way you can do the entire program today." Mohammed wants to make sure that I learn the difference between a temple and a tomb.

We leave the ship, only to enter horse-drawn carriages. Two couples per carriage. We end up with Claudia and Burkhard and share observations all the way to the temple. I notice the driver whipping the poor horse all the way. Claudia, sitting facing the horse, notices that the horse is terribly skinny. "Baby in horse," the driver says, as he lashes her.

Edfu Temple is much smaller than the one we saw at Karnak. "This is the most complete of all the temples in Egypt," says Mohammed. "Here you get an excellent idea of what the temples looked like. This temple," he continues, "is dedicated to the god Horus. That's the falcon you see everywhere. Every temple has several gods portrayed in it, but each temple is dedicated to only one of them. This is the temple in all Egypt for Horus." Horus, the god above everything else, hence the falcon shape. One eye represents the moon and the other the sun. When he flies, they move with him. This is the deity the pharaohs usually identified with the most, even equating themselves with him.

He turns again to the group. "Frau Nanz, I have a story for you about him. You will see mercy." He hasn't forgotten what I told him yesterday.

We enter the temple. It is so beautiful, so perfect! As we stand in the outer court, we gaze into the next-most inside court, the hall of columns. At the end, like the end of a little train, nestles a small enclosed room, much like a tomb. But this is the holy of holies, where only the priest was allowed to enter. Ah-ha! So this must be similar to how the temple in Jerusalem looked. My eyes are opened.

They are opening to the connection between religions. The Egyptians had a version of the ten commandments, they had a god above all other gods, they had creation stories similar to ours. I'm beginning to see a much bigger picture. We're all connected! We all know, somehow. And it's the truth behind the story that counts more and more for me, not the veracity of the story itself. My world is expanding, but my certainties are also changing. I'm not sure they're reducing, but they're definitely changing.

I'm also beginning to feel more and more sick. The foul is starting to move up my stomach, into my throat. I can't wait to get back to the boat, into my nice Egyptian cotton sheets.

I sleep through lunch, floating along with the boat in my dreams. I feel cradled, like Moses in the bulrushes. I hear voices in my sleep, male voices singing. It is beautiful! It is the call to worship. I worship my big, gigantic God from the comfort of my bed.

When I awake, I join Peter on our little balcony, watching the Nile and all the friendly people living on its shores pass by.

Washing carpets and clothes on the Nile

We land at Kom Ombo. Another temple to visit. But I'm feeling more and more queasy in my stomach. Will I be able to cook this evening? I join the others, but am not really concentrated. Then I walk back to the ship alone. No one bothers me in this town. I feel safe.

Omar, the chef, greets me with a big smile and a chef's hat. "What would you like to do?" he asks. I don't know, although I had mentioned making foul to him. He gives me a tour of the kitchen. It's huge! There are several freezers and walk-in refrigerators. We make tahini sauce together. He shows me how to make foul. I have to taste everything they show me. It's hard to swallow. All the men on the kitchen staff are so friendly to me, eager to show me what they are preparing for our Egyptian evening. I've been looking forward to this evening since the beginning of the cruise, but I wonder if my stomach will welcome this food.

At dinner I manage to get a few bites of tabouleh and a pastry down. A bit of rice. I bite into a falafel and my stomach lurches. I'm going to be sick! I dart from the table, running, looking for a place to throw up. There is only a bowl in the serving line with a spoon resting in it. I throw everything I've eaten this trip into the bowl, too small for the contents of my stomach. It spills onto the floor. I wish I could crawl under it. I am dying of embarrassment.

"I'm so sorry," I gasp, as a waiter holds a cloth napkin next to my mouth. I try to go upstairs, but my stomach has more to empty. Peter is at my side as I am sick again. We finally manage to get up to the room.

"I'll bring you tea," promises the waiter. "When we land in Aswan, I'll get you medicine," promises the receptionist. I am so embarrassed, but I feel enveloped in my embarrassment by kindness. I am being shown mercy. I think Egyptian Muslim men do understand kindness.

I sip my tea in my room, thinking about all the kindness I have been shown. A fellow passenger brings homeopathic globules to settle my stomach. I go to sleep, nestled in my soft sheets, surrounded by kindness.