Thursday, January 27, 2011

Our "Farewell" dinner and cruise

It's a beautiful night in Cairo - hard to believe that the news from here is actually taking place here.   It's odd, really - people are going about their daily lives, tourists are visiting all the sites, babies are being born and the Muslim call to prayer goes on as scheduled.   Still, you don't see any of that on television back home, do you?
We see the same reports when we walk into our hotel rooms and have to wonder........what are we missing???

Mhd. El Baradei arrived in Cairo today.  It will be interesting to see if his presence either calms the angry mobs OR incites them to be braver in their condemnation of the government.  Time will tell.   We surely can't predict what next week will bring, but we've heard that Friday (after the noon prayers), there will be a rather boistrous demonstration downtown, not too terribly far from where the students are housed.   For that reason, we'll be heading on out of the hotel by noon, and do some visiting/shopping in a new area of Cairo, far away from the action.   (Some of the students are not happy about this - they want to see history unfold!)   As we have a concert tomorrow night, it seems right to get out of the area and then head to the concert site.  By the time we return at  11 pm, everything will be settled down again.   We thank the Tourist Police for helping us coordinate our schedules - they do an amazing job of keeping an eye on us and other foreign groups visiting Egypt.  I thought it would be odd at first, but it becomes pretty normal and the guys are great.

Here are a couple of photos from the dinner and fun that followed.   See, GOOD THINGS happen in Cairo, too!

A whirling dervish performed after dinner.   A "dizzying"
display of talent, that's for sure!

Leave it to Lindsey to give whirling a try.........she
made us proud.......nobody else would try it!

Now THIS is a belly dancer.
She moved parts of her body that many of
us didn't know were moveable.  :-)

The Wings folks presented us with a cake to
celebrate the end of our tour.   Bruce and
Laura Ayres (Pres of the Band) did the
honors of cutting and serving.

Special appearance with a special song
written exclusively for this party by
North Dakotan Verlene Dvorack.  (With
help from her friend (and ours) Ellen.)

Seems I'm crooked here, but the lights were
beautiful tonight along the Nile.

Look!  People are still getting married
in DOES go on!  The entire
Band cheered the couple as they came down
the stairs to the boat........I think the happy couple
was a tad overwhelemed.   

Three days of pictures and the story that goes with them.....

So much has been happening in our world the last three days - I've not had the time to write a "traditional" blog, but have been capturing thoughts and ideas about the protests/demonstrations you all are hearing so much about.    It's time to play catch up, and I think I'll do it simply - through photos.   Hope you don't mind.   Here goes the last three days..............

"Local" Belly Dancer on the ship.  Uh huh.

These guys are strong.  This case weighs 74 pounds!  Plus,
he had one under his arm.  Amazing.

The row of ships.   Quite a sight.

At the "Unfinshed Oblisk" where all Oblisks were quarried.
This one would have been the largest in the world, but it broke as
they tried to remove it.   

Atop the granite hills near Aswan.

How could I resist this shot?  They were all standing together,
looking at the Nile as it flows from the Aswan Dam.  The
colors were astounding!  :-)

Lake Nasser, behind the Aswan High Dam.  This water all
flows from rains in Sudan and south.  

Your blogger and the twins.   The Band Twins.

Hard to tell, but these are police cars ahead of us,
leading us away from the demonstrations upon our
arrival in Cairo.  Traffic was thick as flies.

Police presence is everywhere today....

Bus One at Abdeen Palace!  Trouble?  Where's the trouble?
We had a GREAT day today!

Bus two at Abdeen Palace

Letter to King Farouk from Adolf Hitler
on his accension to the throne

Similar note from Franklin Roosevelt

Everday glasses for the royal class





The "old folks" at Abdeen Palace gardens today.  With
our trusty guides and tour managers.

We all agree we will miss the street scenes of Cairo!

If you don't have a car........make do.................

What will the future hold?   We're
experiencing history, my friends!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Meredith's Perspective..........

"Hey man, sing me a song, when we were everyone. We were more than just a slice of American pie." -Five for Fighting "Slice"

With only a handful of days left here in Egypt and facing my return to the Land of the Ice and Snow, I must say that I'm really, really going to miss this place. In particular, I'm going to miss the friends I made at the universities and all of our tour managers and guides--you guys are awesome, and I can't begin to thank you enough!

As I sat in my hotel room this evening and listened to the echos of protests in the streets below (which, as Brad mentionned, are not as widespread and dramatic as the news makes them out to be), I realized that this goes to show that no matter our nationality, we all seek peace and safety and prosperity, but we will fight for and protect that which we love.

Thinking back on this month, especially the people I've met and the friends I've made, I'm glad to say I've learned everything I wanted to and then some. When we left New York City nearly 3 weeks ago, I really had no idea what I was walking into, but I hoped that I'd get something good out of it--clarity, perhaps, or maybe some new pals and a new perspective. And that's exactly what happened. 

I firmly believe (and this trip has only strengthened this belief) that the only way to get to know and understand other people is to go to the places they call home and see for yourself what it's really like. Talk to people, walk the streets, open your eyes and take a look around. With this comes a deeper understanding and awareness of one's own culture, both the good and the bad, as well as acceptance of the fact that there are some things that you will never fully understand because you haven't lived them. And that's OK, I think. 

The point is not to understand everything perfectly, but instead to comprehend what you can, respect what you can't, and allow the experience to make you grow and deepen as a human being. 

Perhaps history is being made tonight in Cairo. Only time will tell. But it's my hope that as paths cross and connections are established, history will be made in our own lives. That's certainly what happened to me. As we move forward in our lives, let us leave behind the walls and misconceptions and carry forward the lessons of peace and friendship wherever we go, be it across the Nile or across the Atlantic Ocean. 

As far as I'm concerned, 6,000 miles is a simple question of geography--friendship and harmony know no boundaries. Let's make our story one of respect, understanding, and acceptance and see where history will take us.

Meredith Reynolds

"Let's make this our story, let's live in the glory. Time, it fades away, precious as a song, 'cause someday we'll be gone." -Vanessa Carlton "More than This"

Yes, we have safely arrived in Cairo!

It would be less than honest of me to report tonight that we arrived and checked into our respective hotels without incident.  In fact, the Friends group got a chance to see the Riot Police head down a main road and from there forward led by a police car with sirens blaring.  Our forty minute drive turned into almost two hours, but we are fine and happy, safely secluded in our hotel.   We even went to McDonalds.  How bad is that?  :-)

The students arrived at their hotel well before we did - they avoided the protest area - and checked in without difficulty.   I just spoke to their leader on the phone and was told that they actually got to see about 100 young protestors walk by their hotel (the students were all up on the top watching and taking pictures......)  Once the people roared by, the shops reopened and life went on.    Still, at the suggestion of the tourist police, our trusty guides are keeping all the students in the hotel tonight.  I'm sure many parents have already heard about this from their sons and daughters..........All we talk to anticipate that these sorts of things may happen now and then, but should not interrupt what we are doing during our last few days in Egypt.

You'll be happy to know as well that our Tour Managers and Guides are all staying with the students - if there would be any reason to change our itinerary, they will be able to do so immediately.   Again, none of us see that as a remote possibility, but I will never say never.    Bottom line - we are in good hands.  Please, when you watch the news, understand that in a city of 13 million people, there are two square blocks being affected by what you see on the television.   

I hope to share news with you of our last day in Aswan tomorrow........too tired at this point (sorry) and thought it more important to share the current news.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

CNN, BBC and more - a quick word from Egypt


Can't tell you how much it means to the students to know that you are following them and their incredible Egyptian experiences.   I'm still beaming from watching "sheer joy" in the faces of them last night as they donned their Egyptian clothing and danced the night away.

We have heard from a few of you tonight regarding the bits of news from Egypt on CNN and other news stations.   Yes, there were some demonstrations (not riots) in Cairo, Alexandria and even Aswan (where we currently are) today.   Interestingly enough, none of the stations report that this was a "National Police Holiday" in Egypt (an interesting day to plan a demonstration, don't you think?)   Most of the "thousands" the news claim as involved were bystanders.   They haven't seen things like this for a long time.  Then, when you consider that the banks were closed, most people were on holiday....well.....  In Aswan, we spent a magnificent day touring temples and traversing the Nile on feluccas.  If there was trouble here, we never saw it.  Or heard it.

My comments are not to dismiss the energy that appears to be bubbling in Africa.  Surely Tunisia has led the way in government change, and it may happen elsewhere.   Today's actions in Egypt may deepen, but realize they are NOT directed toward us or any other foreigners.   They are directed toward their government - some wishing for Egypt to "dream" again, and others push for the government to improve the lives of the most needy.  If we have learned one thing while we are here, Egyptians are good and kind people; they have expressed their admiration of us as Americans, their excitement about "Obama" (which they say over and over) and share an honest and warm welcome with us wherever we go.  It saddens me to think that you back home might be worried about us because of the "bits" you see on the news.  It worries me more that we can take a one minute news story and have it cloud our view of the world.......I get it......but if you were here with us, you'd see another, better story.

Please understand that we will do nothing to endanger ourselves ~ we are being well taken care of, and will monitor any situation that warrants our attention.  For now, however, we have five more days - and we want to make the most of them.

Please note that I rec'd a "guest blog" from Bekah Walker today and added it to the appropriate day.   That day now appears out of sequence.  SO, to get to TODAY's news, you'll have to go back a bit.

AGAIN, thanks for keeping up with us!       Good night!                      

Brad Heegel

Temples, Felucca’s, and we don’t want to leave………

We can understand why many Egyptians claim Aswan to be their “favorite” city in all of the country.    Aswan is a beautiful city, with a wonderful mixture of Nubian and Egyptian people (as our guide says, “the lighter skin from the north, the beautiful darker skin from the south”).  Nubians were the native people of this area who were removed or resettled in nearby areas during the building of the great dam and the change of water levels.  Many are now in Sudan, just to the south of us, but it seems that all of them are kind people with ready smiles and as well as “kinder and gentler vendors!”  In other words, they give you a fair price without too much bargaining and if you don’t buy, they don’t chase you down the street!

We began late this morning, thankfully.  As I re-read what I posted last night, I see that I was even more tired than I thought!   Dancing up a storm with college kids on a ship with ceilings only five inches higher than one’s head (and hot blinking lights) was just a bit more than I should have done.   That said, everyone had a wonderful night – our trust guides and tour managers led the way with everything from native Egyptian songs to Egyptian rock (?) and good old Y.M.C.A.    What great memories they have provided for all of us!

Our boat, the Jamila.  It means "Beautiful."  And it is.

One of our tour managers, Hussein, has taken excellent
care of the students.   He even likes his shirt!

At 10:00 we loaded buses and headed south a bit to an area full of vendors (yikes!) and, at the end of the gauntlet, wonderful boats into which we jumped and headed off to see the Temple of Philae.  This gorgeous setting is actually not the original setting……..UNESCO worked for eight years to move the temple from its original location on Philae Island to its current location because of the building of the Aswan Dam (1900), the completion of which submerged most of the original structures.    We found it a bit amazing and almost too hard to imagine how this vast complex was cut apart, catalogued, moved and re-built as it looks as though it has always been in this location.  The temple is in honor of the god Isis and dates back to the 4th century BC.  Location, location, location.   Wow.  It’s certainly got it!

Nadine and Dale's next Christmas card photo.  They were
enjoying the sun and the boat ride to the Temple.

Ahmed (from the north) and Mahoud (Nubian from the south)

Some of the students are trying to race us........

Main area of the Philae Temple

View from Temple to approaching boat.

Ficus trees grow much larger here than at home.

As always, plenty of shopping opps!  

We returned to our “Boatel” (now that we are docked and not moving, we came up with this name) and had lunch.  The Friends group swung by a Perfumerie and learned that nearly every perfume sold in the world has roots here in Egypt.  There are certain base products found only here – and they proved it through some pretty fine demonstrations.  Ooops, more weight in the suitcase….these Dolce and Garbana (#35) bottles are heavy, but the scent is undiluted and a drop a day will make the bottle last for 100 years.   Wow.  Something to hand down!    Aromatherapy anyone?   Uffda!

I’m told that no trip to Egypt would be complete without a cruise in a felucca, the name for the boats that Egyptian/Nile fishermen for centuries.   We boarded three of these vessels near our floating palace and began a two hour ride around Elephantine Island – the large island in the center of Aswan.   Not sure what to say other than it was one of the most relaxing experiences of the entire trip.   We watched the sun set, and became amazed at how these boats managed to keep moving when it appeared no wind was around.   Little guys in rough hewn boats would pull up alongside to sign us songs (and get a dollar or two of course) and ever turn brought new and wonderful things to see.   Ahhhh, what a memorable day this has been.   Yet there’s more to come.  How do we keep up?  HA!   All in all, after a day like today, it’s just a bit hard to think we’re heading back to Cairo tomorrow.   Aieieieieie – can you feel us gearing up for the excitement of the city again?

"Sbe'll be comin' round the mountain" was sung
to us (in Nubian!) by this young man...

They're everywhere, they're everywhere!

Believe it or not, Dr. Ammann and his group are on
this Felucca.  What a view..........

And we need to leave all of this?    Seems impossible.

Tonight, dinner and a Belly Dancing show.   Looks like I'm in for a long night again.    I'll write tomorrow from Cairo and fill you in on the details.  

Good night!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cruisin' the Nille, part TWO.

What a day.   Or maybe I should say, what an evening!   I can’t possibly go to bed until I tell you what the troops were up to day……and since it’s 11:30 p.m. here in Aswan, I hope I can stay awake long enough to do so!

We just docked in Aswan, but our day began in Edfu.   Another early morning as we wanted to eat a good breakfast before heading out to see the Temple of Horus in Edfu and we had to be back on the boat by 10:00 to sail on to Aswan.   Buses awaited us at the shore, and in minutes we were right in the middle of the Temple, listening to our guides and wondering  how this place could have ever been built!  This temple was built to honor the god Horus (the falcon god) and it was massive.  Built between 37 and 249 AD, the temple is one of the newer ones we’ve seen, but is known for being one of the best preserved in Egypt as it was literally under the sand until excavators began to locate it in the 1860’s (about the time Augustana was founded).   We enjoyed our time here, but it felt good to get back to the ship as well – we had a few hours of relaxation until our next visit at 4:00.

Relax is exactly what we did.  Another beautiful day to sit atop the boat and enjoy the passing scenery and the sun!)

Shortly before 4:00, we came to shore at the town of Kom Ombo and most of the gang disembarked to see the Temple.  This is a Greco-Roman styled temple built right near the shores of the Nile.

 We departed Kom Ombo at 5:30 and prepared for dinner.  Following dinner was the weekly “Galybea night” where everyone dresses up in a typical Egyptian attired and we danced, sang and carried on.  I swear to you, the students had faces of joy as they danced in these goofy duds.  It was fun, fun, fun.
And now the magic question:  How am I going to separate myself from this group of wonderfully witty and talented people at the end of next week?