on what the Band has been up to for the past two days............Enjoy! (And THANKS Meredith!)
Yesterday (Wed, January 19) was a day of epic proportion. We spent the morning touring Islamic Cairo, starting with the Citadel of Saladin, which protected Cairo against invaders throughout history. Part of the Citadel complex includes the Alabaster Mosque of Mohamed Ali, which was jaw-dropping beautiful. This was the first time I'd ever set foot inside a mosque, and it was quite different than any of the churches I'd seen in the course of my Lutheran/Roman Catholic upbringing. There are no chairs or pews like in a traditional Christian church. Instead, the floor is carpeted, with rectangles outlined where each person prays, all facing toward Mecca, to the east. Later in the morning we visited a second mosque which wasn't as much of a tourist trap as the Alabaster Mosque, so this gave us a chance to sit down with our guides and have a long question-and-answer session about anything pertaining to Islam. No question was off limits or too stupid. Khalid showed us how they pray and explained the 5 pillars of Islam: 1) The creed--professing that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messanger of God; 2) Prayer 5 times daily: at sunrise, noon, afternoon, sunset, and evening; 3) Fasting during Ramadan; 4) Charity/Almsgiving; and 5) The pilgrimage to Mecca. The call to prayer is heard 5 times a day throughout the city, and Kahlid explained that people can pray in a mosque or at home, and that they should pray at these times but are pardoned if they're at work or in school. On Fridays, however, everyone is supposed to pray together at the mosque. The Imam (minister) gives a speech about how to live well and what to do and not to do, like a sermon or homily in Christian tradition, and afterward everyone prays. Khalid also explained the differences between Shia and Sunni Muslims, which was very interesting as well. We discussed at length how certain aspects of Egyptian culture and religion are shaped differently by Islam, Arab tradition, and Western influence.
What struck me most was the realization that Islam is indeed a religion of peace, mercy, and charity. It's one of those things that you're aware of, but never really process until you're face-to-face with it. Unfortunately all that most Americans hear about Islam in our daily lives is negative--the extremists and the crazies get all the attention while the other 99% of the population slips through the cracks (and I daresay the same could be said for Christianity, too). This is quite a tragedy, because I think Americans have lost sight of the truth: people who blow things up and fly planes into buildings are NOT representative of the face and meaning of this religion. Islam is about peace and mercy, and I think it's vitally important that people see and understand that.
"There's a million people praying, raising up their eyes to what turns out to be the same God, the same sky." -Antje Duvekot, "Merry-go-Round"
We spent the afternoon and early evening at the Khan el Khalili Bazaar, which was quite the adventure! It was a maze of streets and narrow, crooked alleys packed to bursting with stuff for sale--food, scarves, handbags, t-shirts, cheap souvenirs, water pipe/hookah, you name it. Haggling with the vendors took some getting used to, but I found it kind of fun once I started to get the hang of it. Between my two shopping companions I learned more about swords and hookahs than I'd ever imagined was possible (don't worry, Mom and Dad. I wasn't the one making those purchases!).
The evening concluded with the Al Tannoura show, which was a performance consisting of traditional Egyptian music and dance by whirling dervishes. It was phenominal! The music and dance were mesmerizing, and according to our guides, this is as authentic as it gets. It was a late night, but well worth it.
Then, the brutality of the 4 AM wake-up call on Thursday, January 20, and our early flight to Luxor. Upon arrival we toured the West bank of the Nile, including the Valley of Kings. We were allowed to tour 3 tombs, most of which were those of various Ramses. The tombs were magnificent. Much of the wall paintings and hieroglyphics were still intact even after 2000+ years and who knows how many tourists. We also visited the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, but by this time I was feeling much like a zombie (how fitting!), so the rest of the day is kind of a blur, at least up until I woke up fron a nap and ate dinner. :) That's all I've got for today; further bulletins as events warrant.
Again, my thanks to Meredith. Tomorrow, the Friends group does what Meredith has just reported on (their "brutal day" that is), and we'll have some pictures to share......hopefully complementing both of our adventures in this area.
Thanks for being with us!