Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Photo Reflections

I'm still unpacking all the baggage from our trip...no not clothes. It will be a while before I can verbally express my feelings and impressions about this wonderful journey. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words so here are a few of the 1300 that I took that I think will express some of the things I cannot say just now. Most of them are not of places so much as of people. Without the friends, old and new, that I was blessed to travel with, the experiences would not have been nearly so rich. Relationships, for me, were the greatest treasure that I brought back from Egypt.


We had good times at Goal just around the corner from the hotel in Cairo.

People throughout the eons have known that there is bread in Egypt. As it turns out, the pizza isn't bad either.

Sufi dancing was amazing.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Mistaken Missiology?

This should be my last blog post, seeing as we're leaving for the airport in about 30 minutes to head home. I have previously written that I could not decide whether the hospitality of the Egyptian people that we have encountered in our day-to-day travels is genuine or not. I had an experience today which furthered my thoughts on this. I caught a cab with 3 other students to head back to the Coptic part of Cairo, and the cab driver first told us that it would be 15 LE for the trip. When we arrived, he tried to say that he had said 50 LE for the price. As we sat there arguing, two Egyptian men who were standing by the road (and who spoke more English than the taxi driver) came over to ask what the problem was. We told him, he spoke to the cab driver in Arabic, and sent him on his way. I was very thankful for this man helping to sort out the problem, and attempted to give him a small tip (not uncommon). He refused, but then he tried to get us to commit to taking his taxi on our way back to the hotel. His friend also tried to get us to take a look in his store and buy something. I was so frustrated! I thought that someone had honestly tried to help us, but they were attempting to make a sale instead.

As I thought about this more and more, our trip earlier today to the Evangelical Theological Seminary, Cairo came to mind. I'm sure that I was not the only one that was a little surprised and even uncomfortable in hearing a more conservative and evangelical perspective of Christian life and education in a Muslim country. I wanted to know how they evangelized in a nation where it is illegal to do so openly and actively, and frowned upon even in response to interested seekers. They said that, in general, they teach the same missiology, but with sensitivity to their context. One person spoke of different "techniques" for evangelism, such as getting in a taxi with another Christian and discussing Christology so that the driver could overhear. Another spoke of building trust in a Muslim community so that it could lead to an openness to hear the Good News.

I cringed when I heard these "techniques." It seemed to me to be a bait-and-switch missiology, no different from my experience later that same day. To be kind to someone in hopes to sell them something, whether it is a taxi ride, a papyrus, or the gospel is no kindness at all. These kind of experiences with vendors and drivers have annoyed and frustrated many of us on the trip, so I can only imagine what the "conversion targets" might think of us Christians doing the evangelism.

But then I began to examine these feelings a little more. What is it about that evangelical rhetoric, that stance towards non-Christians that sees them as souls to be saved rather than people to be loved, that makes me cringe? So many of us on this trip are open to dialogue with Muslims and people from all sorts of faith traditions, so why not with Christians more conservative than ourselves? Is it so bad that they are educating others and sharing their faith, just because I don't agree with how they are doing it? This is the height of my self-righteousness. To deny open conversation with my own Christian brothers and sisters, simply because I don't see eye-to-eye on every issue, while claiming to be a person who is "open-minded" or "all-accepting" and is willing to dialogue with people from other faiths is pretty ridiculous. Until we can honestly confront our self-righteousness, we cannot claim the kind of love for others modeled by Jesus. If we do, we're just selling an image of ourselves that is not genuine and I, for one, am not buying it.

Still on the journey,


Christianity in another world.

One of the most important things I have gleaned from this trip is just how much we as Americans take for granted. Clean drinking water, not haggling for prices, clean streets, modern technology at our fingertips all contribute to the privileges we expect in our great country. One of these freedoms is also the free practice of our religion. We take for granted that we can choose whether or not we wish to continue to be Christians, or that Christianity is such a commonplace metaphysical and hermeneutical framework in our culture that we assume everyone can analyze it through a post-modern critical eye. From my experiences with Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, sometimes just learning "the basics" is enough. The conflicts concerning post-modernity, soteriology, and other theological debates can become irrelevant in places where the church is struggling. ETS's mission is to teach in ways that will strengthen the church in the Arab world. This does not mean that the people who learn in this seminary will not experience critical thinking and advanced theological study, but it does mean that they do not have the luxuries that American seminarians share of having Christianity already comfortably entrenched in their social contexts. In America we take for granted that there is a church virtually on every corner, many of them rich in resources and means for helping those in need. Many churches all over the Middle East merely struggle for survival. ETS is serving to create leaders that will serve churches all over the Middle East and provide the resources it will take to continue to "Grow and Minister to the Body of Christ." Sometimes I think there is a great deal to be learned about the simplicity of the faith, works, and struggles that the people face in the Middle East. Our privilege as Americans can sometimes make us forget that religious freedom is not something that we should take lightly. My experience with Christians in Egypt made me realize just how lucky I am to be at a University that is rich in resources that will equip me not just for ministry, but allow me to think critically and analytically about my faith in many contexts. Not everyone is quite as lucky as myself, and this experience has made me count my blessings every single day. This experience will enrich the way I will serve the "Body of Christ" in America, with the realization that being able to analyze and grow in my faith is an incredible gift.

Grace and Peace,

Jim Penuel.

A Tribute to the Pharaoh

While the Divinity students have spent their morning at the Cairo Evangelical Seminary, the undergrads have enjoyed a nice morning off, reflecting and enjoying the city. For sheer entertainment purposes we have written a poem about a common experience here in Egypt and it is as follows ...

(Dedicated to all of those who have suffered, are suffering, and will suffer from the wrath of the Pharaoh)

The Pharaoh's Revenge

Amr warned us about Pharaoh's revenge
Often following an Egyptian food binge.
Only hygienic kitchens he would say
As for the rest - just stay away.
He always gave us great advice,
But sometimes it was just the wrong spice
That wake the Pharaoh from the dead
And send you immediately to bed.
Avoid most veggies and fruits
Or else you might have more than poots.
Those peeled and cooked are acceptable
But be wary about that one bad vegetable
Which can knock you off your feet
And send you to that most uncomfortable seat.
While some made it out straight and clean,
Others caused some minor scenes.
The Pharaoh will wake you at night,
But a few extra flushes make it alright.
Still Wake students refuse to be beaten.
Its Tums, Pepto, and Immodium we've eaten.
Although some have met him on the bus,
We will not be bringing him back with us

... we hope ...

~ sincerely,
 the Wake Undergrads Egypt '08

Friday, January 11, 2008

Back in Cairo

In case there was great concern, we have arrived back in Cairo and will be leaving in 25 hours for the states (but actually wont be back for much longer then that).
We have adopted the motto "when in Cairo, do as the Cairenes do". Since Cairo, the city victorious, is also the city which never sleeps. That means that many of the 'mangos', or fellow travelers, have grown accostom to later nights and earlier mornings. This trip, or pilgrimage as some may say, has definitely stretched our abilities to operate on a little bit of sleep and a lot a bit of caffine. For some the typical late, leisurely, Egyptian dinners lasting into the wee hours of the morning have contibuted to the lack of sleep, others have yet to get used to the calls to prayer ( I need to emphasize that there are several calls going off at different times and at different volumes and intensities) in the morning, while others have yet to embrace the late night honking wars of the city's cab drivers. This leaves a group of 27 weary travellers ready to embark on a journey back to the states only to hit the ground running in yet another (for many the last) hectic semester.  A pilgrimage is supposed to leave you refreshed, relaxed and (as Tony the Tiger might say) rooaarringggg to go. Right? I mean, at the end of this beautifuly overwhelming experience we are supposed to leave this place and return to the lives we have established elsewhere. Returning with a new perspective on society, culture, and life, we should be able to apply what we have learned and immediately see the fruits of our adventures. Now, don't get me wrong, no one is putting these pressures upon us. Instead, these are often pressures we put upon ourselves. For many of us who are already physically exhausted, the sheer thought of processing our experiences here is stressful, let alone attempting to apply them to a different culture and context. I'm kind of hoping that these answers will be handed to me on a silver platter when I go through customs, or maybe the fortune cookie on the plane will have life's answers perfectly spelled out on a phrase inside a nice little cookie. Instead, many of us are leaving this place with more questions than answers. Most of these questions do not even have answers. I think part of the challenge is finding comfort not knowing. Comfort in the uncomfortable. Maybe we should stop putting pressure on ourselves to have everything figured out upon arrival at Dulles and embrace the fact that we have only just begun to understand. This is just as much of a challenge (and rambling) to myself as it is to anyone else. Maybe, just maybe, this comfort in not having everything figured out, will leave us refreshed at the end of our pilgrimage, and rooooarrring to go ....
just a side note ... sailing down the Nile on a crisp day with the sun shining and excellent company isn't too shabby ...

Final thoughts...

Every Muslim we have been in conversation with has denounced violence, fanaticism, radicalism, fundamentalism, etc. These people range from our tour guide to some Kuwaiti women we randomly talked to in a coffeehouse, to a businessman. They feel that Muslims have been misperceived. But it also seems that the misperception is bi-directional: many Muslims also seem to think that many Americans believe that all Muslims are like the violent fanatics. It is an interesting and difficult obstacle that lies between reconciliation between these two faith groups.

Hospitality has been quite an issue here, but never wholly good or bad. There have been times when I have felt very welcomed by the people here, both individually and as a larger society. Yet with all of the hassling to get you to buy goods, all of the tourist traps, it seems like this is not authentic hospitality. It seems as if they are being nice enough to you to get you to buy something, or pay more, or eat in their restaurant. I do not want to say that this is the culture, but it seems to be prevalent in areas where tourists abound...is this a byproduct of tourism? I'm not sure.

Some of my favorite moments have come unexpectedly: conversations that just happen between myself and others, or that I am able to witness between two other people; meals shared with large groups, or privately with a few close friends; the random beauty that I have been privileged to see here in this place. Although these moments were not on an itinerary, but they should be...or maybe they shouldn't. Part of the beauty of these moments comes from the very fact that they are unexpected, surprising, serendipitous. To me, this says that we should not get so caught up in the plans and the schedule, but remain open to the possibilities that can surprise you.

Finally, this trip has been amazing. Thanks to everyone that has made this possible, whether it is by donations, fundraising, planning, or simply driving us to the airport. It has truly been the trip of a lifetime, but I hope that it does not stop at that. I would love to come back to Egypt, to revisit and continue to explore the country further. And I hope that many others will be able to appreciate its beauty and learn from this culture and from the encounters we have had here.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Some interesting and unexpected conversations

In all my travels I have found that the most memorable and cutting experiences have come in wholly unexpected contexts. The same has been true for Egypt. The random locals that I have met (at least the ones who were not trying to hassle money from me) have provided some insightful and evoking thoughts. I dont want to take up too much space so I will just give a brief synopsis with some questions that I have pondered on concerning what they said:

Im not going to use their real names and I will do my best to quote them as accurately as possible:

Rachel, a Coptic Christian living in Cairo. She is a student and is 19 years old, she lives at home with her parents:
- "I dont suffer any direct 'persecution' for being a Christian, but there are certain privileges that Muslims have that Christians dont."
- "Most of the rich people are very liberal. It is the poorest who are conservative. Many rich Muslims break the laws (referring both to state law and Islamic law, the latter is a kind of understood legal system), but if they get caught for doing something wrong they can usually get away with it. Not so for Christians, if they even do the slightest thing wrong they will get in a lot of trouble."
Comments and Questions:
- I found it hard at first to sympathize with her because she was obviously a rich Christian, and she had made the statement that most Christians are rich, and just because rich Muslims can get away with breaking the law doesnt mean that they should be able to. But then she started to explain that the laws she was talking about were mainly religiously based ones. For example, her and her friend, a Catholic Christian, both were in university but they were still living at home. In fact, they wouldnt even have the choice to leave home until marriage. This is law for all females. They cannot live on their own until they are married. Consider this as I describe the situation of the next local female that I had the chance to meet.

Mary, a 22 year old, married to a 40+ man, most likely also a prostitute, and most likely only one of his multiple (up to 4) wives.
- No real quotes here just observations. The fact is that because women are not allowed to leave home until they are married there is a great deal of work to do when it comes to asking for the girl's hand in marriage--permission must come from the father, of course. The man must tell her father that he would like to marry her. The father will first ask "How much money do you have?" It is all about the money. I will get into the specifics of this in the next story. The problem is that most younger men dont have money unless they were born with it. As result there are a great deal of younger girls who are "forced" to marry much older men (sometimes being their second, third or fourth wives) simply because the man has money. Here is the next story.

Alex, a 20 yr old man, a week away from having to serve two years in the army (as all men are forced to do)"
- "I hate my country"
- "She broke my heart"
- "Its all about the money"
- "Sometimes I think about taking a gun and shooting both of them, but then I think...what good would it do?"

I know these quotes can be quite shocking. His story is long and sad, but I will try to give the shortened dry version. In Egypt, according to some interpretation of Muslim law, young men and women are not allowed to date. They cannot ever be alone with each other. This makes it very difficult to find a life-partner. But Alex met a girl at school. They would meet each other "on the way" home or to school if only for brief moments. They would SMS (aka text message). But they would have to be careful to delete each message immediately. For three years during what we call high school they did this. "I loved her, man" Alex told me. He wanted to marry her. He told his parents and they arranged a meeting with the girl's parents. The first question the girl's father asked was: "how much money to do you have?" He began to demand that in exchange for his daughter's hand in marriage he would have to pay 20,000 Egyptian pounds (about 3,700 US dollars, but keep in mind that such money is worth a great deal more here). He also told Alex that he would have to buy his daughter an expensive wedding ring and a large house (by the way, i have yet to see any houses, the vast majority of Egyptians live in apartments or tenet housing). Alex, of course, couldnt do any of those things. He left the area for two years with his family, when he came back his love was married and already had a child with him. "She broke my heart." Alex doesnt trust any more girls. He told me that he hates his country and cant wait to get a VISA to the States or to England. Meanwhile he is about to go off for his mandatory 2 years of military service (all Egyptians are required anywhere from 1-3 years depending on how much schooling).

His story along with the others made me rethink a lot of things about the trip. I havent quite processed it all yet.


Call to Prayer

Growing up in the midwest I always felt that I lived in a very religious nation. People around me would talk of the US as being a Christian nation. This, of course, was my childhood understanding however. As I grew up I developed a very different view of the US and realized that people were not very devout about their religious beliefs. So when I first arrived in Cairo and I heard the Call to Prayer being issued from a loudspeaker at the mosque five times a day so that all Muslims could join in the prayers, I was immediately astonished. I have taken classes on Islam and heard about the daily prayers, but it is different to actually hear them and to see people stopping to kneel down where they are to pray. Seeing and hearing this brought to life what I had read in textbooks and heard in lectures. When we flew into Luxor the following week and were waiting in the airport to get our baggage, I noticed a man, tucked off in a corner and kneeling on his prayer mat while he prayed. I was amazed at how devoted he was that he would stop right there in the midst of the hussle and bussle of the airport in order to recite his prayers. I'm astonished at how he was able to tune out all these distractions.

Prayer has always been an interesting topic in my opinion. I've always been interested in when, why and how people pray because I think there is a great variety in the answers. I have a friend who once told me that she preferred to pray silently to herself in the presence of other people - that she had no problems allowing the noises around her to become a distant background as she focused on her interaction with God in that present moment. I have to admit I was inspired by this and tried it several times but found that I could not remove myself from the distractions - I still needed a quiet, secluded place where I could focus myself and drift away from the worries and chaos of the world.

So you can imagine my shock when the Muslim prayers could be heard clear as day throughout the city of Cairo, five times a day, and Muslims would stop to pray (sometimes on the side of the road) while the distractions of the day continued to go on around them. I don't even know how to explain how much I admire this - I wish I could say I had this discipline and devotion.

I was curious how Coptic Christians reacted to the daily Muslim prayers that they too could hear and in a discussion with an intern from CEOSS (Coptic Evangelical .......I can't remember the rest right now), she told me that you just get used to them and don't even realize they are going on. This really surprised me since they are so loud - it would be like attending a sporting event and being able to tune out the announcer. Maybe if I lived in Egypt I too would get used to them and tune them out, but I hope that I would not. I'd prefer to leave this place remembering the faith, devotion, and discipline I found here in the Muslim people - attributes I respect and admire in people, and hope that I can gain some semblance of in my own life.



So I have to be honset: I'm not much of a blogger. In fact, I don't think I've ever done it before, so bear with me as I try to type out my jumbled, often nonsensical thoughts.

Yesterday, we all went to the valley of the kings and the valley of the queens, which are the tombs in which the ancient kings and queens of Egypt were buried. Clearly. Anyway, they werent much to look at from the outside, intentionally actually, because these tombs were supposed to be hidden in the desert mountains so as to stave off grave robbers.

I didn't really know what to expect [I suppose cracking the spine on my guidebook would be helpful], but I kind of pictured the tombs to not be nearly as ornate and well preserved as they are. The valley of the kings was more impressive than the valley of the queens, with larger, more colorful and ornately decorated rooms and hallways.

While I was going through them, I began to think about the mummification process and all that goes into preservation of the body after death, and how this is not such a far distance from the way the body is treated these days. The mummifcation process is a rather long, intensive process that requires the draining of blood, taking out all the organs but the heart [which is taken out and reinsterted], and fill up the body with salt. These days, we have plastic surgery, which is kind of the same thing--parts of the body are taken away, saline solution is put in, fat is drained out, and this is all in an attempt to create a more perfect body and [I assume] a more perfect life after surgery. LIkewise, the mummification/entombing process is done in order to preserve the body after this life because it was thought that the afterlife would be more perfect than this one.

Now I have to admit there are some glaring differences between the two-most notably the religious aspect. Ancient egyptians were mummified as part of their religious beliefs, while plastic surgery, in all its various forms, is not. Or at least I hope it's not. But that still doesn't change the fact that we, as humans, view our bodies as malleable, able to be re/created in to something that we once were not. And that people will spend significant sums of money and time to make the body, the life [even afterlife] better.

But is it really better?

Undergraduate Dinner in Luxor

Last night we had the opportunity for the six undergrads and Rev. Auman to meet
for dinner and talk about what this pilgrimage has meant to us. We decided to
go to a restaurant near our hotel in Luxor, and upon entering, I became very
excited when seeing one of the waiters. He was wearing a long black jallibyah
and a red fez cap on his head. It was pretty rad. We scourged the menu for
some remembrance of home, and three of us decided to go ahead and get "Giant
Iced Tea"in honor of W-S. It was pretty good Tea. While the food eventually
came and we ate with delight, we began to talk about Egypt and how our
experiences over the last two weeks have beenquite unique. We each spoke about
our favorite excursion, and while some enjoyed going inside the pyramid others
enjoyed the collosus Karanak Pillars. Our convesation then shifted to Wake
Forest, and how what we have seen in Egypt reflects the vast diversity which
exists in our world, a diversity which does not exist in the Wake "bubble". We
thought about what it would take to enrichen the Wake experaince without losing
what makes Wake "Wake." We also pondered the dynamic of being in a Muslim
country, one which is progressive, academic, and relativley open. Given the
portrayal of Muslims and Islam in the U.S., we eventually came to see that in
the end, people are people, and no matter their faith or sacred text, there are
common threads we all share. By stripping away labels and stereotypes, we are
able to find that humanity is a more powerful bond than a religion or race.

Peeking Over the Walls

Imagine walking into every episode of the History Channel, Discovery Channel, and every National Geographic you've every read about Egypt, that would be an introduction to what we've seen and experienced. Everywhere we go we get a glimpse of the past and future of Egypt. What struck me one afternoon as Ron and I were relaxing by the pool was that sitting at our level we could have been relaxing by the pool at any spot in the world. It was when I stood up and looked over the walls that I saw the culture of Luxor; nearly every rooftop is unfinished, there are satellite dishes, and shelters that resemble our nativity creches on many, many of the buildings. The poverty and simplicty of life around us is startling. This simple reminder impacts everything I see now. I'm aware that in every situation from gazing at ancient monuments to spending time with friends I'm peeking over the walls.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

More general thoughts...

So many times while in Egypt, we have seen the old and new sandwiched together: a neon sign of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the entrance to St. Sergius church, where the holy family supposedly hid while in exile in Egypt; our guide Amr pointing out places to eat in Luxor, saying "If you look through the columns of the temple, you can see the McDonald's sign."; the ancient monuments of Memphis amidst shops and homes of a modern day working town. It really speaks to the layers of history that this country has, but does it in any way dilute the power or integrity of any one layer?

While at Karnak Temple, we saw a statue of a scarab beetle, thought to be a sacred and symbolic creator because it is hermaphroditic and can create out of itself. This made me think of our own creation myth. God creates out of God's self and needs nothing else, yet surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) makes human beings male and female. In doing so, God makes us intrinsically relational, not just to God, but to each other.

When Alexander dispelled the Persians from Egypt, he legitimized his rule by creating a story that he was from the semen of the god Amun-Ra (which we saw a vivid depiction of). It struck me that the manipulation and perversion of religions or belief systems to legitimate the power of the state has been going on for millenia. From Alexander, all the way to modern political candidates espousing their "family values" or "Christian beliefs" to get more votes, this is an age old fact. To me, this speaks all the more strongly to the importance of the radical separation of church and state, for the sake and integrity of both.

On the way to Dendara Temple, we rode in a convoy of other tour buses and vans with a police escort. I never felt unsafe, yet I was quite unsettled. As we drove through these small country towns, surrounded by cane fields filled with workers, and donkey carts being driving along the canals, everyone stared at us as we passed. Traffic was stopped to let us go through. We completely disrupted the daily life of these people, just so we could go see another ancient Temple. While I loved what we saw at the temple itself, the trip there and back was slightly disconcerting.

The story of the gods Osiris, Seth, and Horus is an interesting tale, but I cannot spell it out here. What I can say is that in avenging his father Osiris, Horus chases Seth around the country, finally stabbing him 14 times but not killing him. Horus is the representation of good, while Seth is the representation of evil. Thus, evil cannot be eliminated, yet whenever the two are depicted, Horus is always over or above Seth. I thought about the hope that Christians have that ultimately good will overcome evil, that God will restore all things at the eschaton. Yet we cannot deny the existence of evil, for it is everpresent with us. We recognize its reality, yet we hope for the healing and fulfillment that is to come.

The line that has stuck with me most this trip came from our tour guide Amr. Many folks have already mentioned the dialogue between Amr and Father Cedroc (which apparently none ofus know how to spell, myself included). After this, on the bus, Amr told us that too many people are too dogmatic in their beliefs and views. He said that there are "Only question marks, no comments." Indeed, this trip has left me with many more questions than it has answers.


Decision '08, Amr, and the Dream of God

The first time I ever met Joe Phelps, the pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, he raised his glass after his wife requested he make a toast. Whether premeditated or extemporaneous, Joe stated with the sincerity of a non clutching her rosary, "To the dream of God for this world." This simple statement implies a great deal, theologically speaking (which I will gladly speak as it's my job as a divinity student). To say that God has a dream, and to hold one's heart and glass up as a witness to that dream, is to believe that God has an intended outcome, a hope, for this world. This does not mean that God has set all outcomes in motion nor does it mean that God sits idly by the creation watching matters unfold like a gambler at a roulette wheel. For us to bear witness to the dream of God we willingly participate in God's activity in, with, and through the creation. The matter of divergence seems to be then what on earth (as it is in heaven) is the dream of God?

With this in mind, I asked our tour guide Amr what he thinks of the American elections and if he knows much about them. He said he has heard of some of the candidates and he asked us what many of them stand for. We talked about healthcare, poverty, peace, terrorism, education, etc and we expressed our various hopes for the new president. "Of course, everyone hopes for such things," said Amr. After this I asked him about the Muslim Brotherhood, a political party in Egypt with some growing influence. They believe that Islam provides the way for government and society to be organized and should be followed strictly. Interestingly enough though, our fearless leader explained to us how when matters of healthcare and education for all are raised in the Parliament, the only ones to oppose are the MB. The Muslims we have met and talked to speak of peace and charity for all peoples and that there must be peaceful dialogue among the religions. But who gets the news coverage? Ultra-Conservative Fundamentalist Muslims who are the ones who oppose education, healthcare, and tolerance towards all faiths? Terrorists and hate-mongers?

When we went to the Coptic Monastery, Father Sedrack (Spelling?) got into a discussion with Amr about Islam and the current state of Egypt. What was fascinating to me seemed to be that this discussion could have just as easily been in America and about American Christianity. The heated rhetoric, the Christian opposition to healthcare and education and all the way to ultra-conservative groups like the Restorationists who believe that the Bible should be absolutely followed as a blueprint for structuring our society. The similarities to the worldview of the MB and the Religious-Right are bone chilling and perplexing. But, what of the rest of us?

Islam is the combination of three consonants: SLM. Hebrew and Arabic are closely connected and if you insert the vowels in Hebrew, one gets ShaLoM. In Arabic, one gets SaLaaM. To add "mu" implies a person, so a muSLiM is one who is at peace through submission to God. The rhetoric of news media, televangelists, and many arm-chair religious historians tells us that Islam seeks world domination. Ironically, does fundamentalist Christianity not seek the same thing? For the Muslims who I call friends, brothers, or sisters, there is a likemindness about how the world is. We all join with Amr in saying, "Of course everyone hopes for such things." We desire justice, mercy, and humility before God. We all hope for peace. We spend such much time fearing the other when in reality, there is no other: we are all human. We all share the earth as our common home and God as our common parent. To be a Christian is to be something different from a Muslim; this is true. We are not all the same. But the diversity which exists among us is good and a reflection of the vast array of difference found naturally in the creation. To assume assimilation is to do violence to God's intended diversity. So, in 2008, where do we stand? We must choose to stand in solidarity with those who wish to dream the dreams of God-dreams of hope and love. To hope for healthcare and education for all regardless of social standing, tax bracket, or gender is to believe that with God we can make this world a better place.

Amr told us that with the internet more people can start reading and learning about freedom, religion, and politics so perhaps with this new knowledge and wisdom people will choose to love and learn, rather than hate and fight. This might sound like pipe dreams to many, but it seems that many Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Ba'hai, and so many more are seeking, hoping, and longing for this dream to be realized. I suppose I do, too. Maybe this is the dream we have been looking for. In any case, here's to the dream of God for this world. Not for America. Not for Egypt. Not for England. Not for Indonesia. For this world. Amen.


General thoughts from the trip...

A little girl no more than 6 stopped me in the street pointing to here mouth and bare feet and then holding out her hand. I thought that it was a scam so I did not give her any money, but it was very unsettling. Then today I saw the same girl a few blocks away from where she was yesterday, doing the same thing to other tourists. People are obviously willing to put their children on the street to make money, but as tourists what does this say about the luxuries that we enjoy while we are here? We get off the airplane and drive through some small town during their market, completely disrupting it, on the way to our hotel in our fume spewing tour bus, passing apartment buildings that would be condemned in the US, with shacks on their roofs. And today, we took a little tram that was pouring out smoke to take us to the gate of the VAlley of the Kings, when we could have walked that distance in 10 mins. Yet we walked through some side streets on our way to lunch, and we had a mother and her children sitting on their front stoop wave at us and say "Hello!" I'm not sure what to make of all of it.

Table fellowship has been a running theme on this trip. Often we eat together in the large group, and there is always good conversation and good social dynamics. Today's lunch was just another example, and everything is served "family style," so we enact our fellowship as a family of 27. It really does speak volumes that undergrads and graduate students, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Bahai can sit around a table and share a simple meal, proclaiming reconciliation and wholeness to a fragmented world.

In Luxor, monuments and artifacts are so common that people can come across them in simply digging a foundation for a new house. How fair is it to undercompensate these people, or turn off their running water to protect the supposed monuments under their houses. Which should take precedent...the preservation of ancient monuments and history, or the people's land and houses? I want to scream that the people should come first, but also find myself second guessing that reaction when standing in a temple or next to an obelisk that may have been destroyed or ruined had such measures not been taken.

The ancients really knew how to create a sense of awe. The built structures and created spaces that are historical and amazing to us, but were something more to them--sacred. Even though these were products of a long dead religious system, they are sacred spaces built in the belief/faith of something greater. So what does it take to make a space or a place sacred? I find myself taking a moment to pause and reflect/pray when standing and looking over Hatshepsut's Temple in the red mountains near Luxor, in the same way that many people here pause to pray 5 times a day when the call to prayer sounds across the city, in the same way that I would stop a moment when standing in St. Peter's Basilica. Space is sacred because God speaks to us there, not because it was intended for Christian, Muslim, or Egyptian use.


Tombs in the desert and chatting with the locals

Well we have seen much of Luxor and its historic sites and have not experienced a fraction of what is here. Luxor is much cleaner than Cairo and the weather is a bit more temperate. The atmosphere in the street is one of business people trying to make a living off of tourists, and even little children are hard at work selling smaller items to benefit their household's income.

I have had the opportunity to meet two Egyptian children and one of the workers from the hotel while journaling on the rooftop of the hotel. Because they speak English fairly well, I have had the opportunity to learn a bit more about Egyptian life from their perspectives. I have learned that they, like any resident of a city with tourist sites, have not seen many of the monuments and temples that I have been privileged to see outside of those that are in walking distance of the hotel. Each of them, upon hearing that I am an American, have said Ämerica is very beautiful"; but none of them have ever been there. I realize that they know as much about America that I knew about Egypt before making my trip abroad. They are very open to speaking about their religion, customs and beliefs and have inquired about mine. It is interesting that many of our Western misconceptions about Muslims in Muslim countries have proved to be untrue in my experience in my short stay thus far in Egypt.

Today I stood astounded at the age of the structures in which I stood--cared for and preserved. It is so very interesting that the economy drives what actually is cared for, because immediately after leaving the last temple that we visited today, we walked through an impoverished street of locals from Luxor--who outwardly appeared to be uncared for. We are far more than privileged to be enjoying Egypt in the style that we are.

Tomorrow will be yet another busy day; so I will sign off.

Blessings and a suggestion to count your blessings,


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Life and Death in the Fertile Desert of Egypt

While describing a hieroglyphic scene on a pillar at Luxor Temple, Amr quoted Heroditus, saying that Egypt is a "gift of the Nile." That makes sense when you are down here. That maks sense when you step on the grass and look upon the sand. That makes sense when you whatch this key to life, this giver of life to the Sahara Desert flow from the Upper Kingdom to the Lower Kingdom, beside the Temples built to the Sun God by these kings who ruled over both kingdoms. The way that life and death live beside each other is ever present in Egypt. This ancient civilization, which grew from the brown silt left by the Nile was protected by the hot desert that surrounds it. The desert, which means harship and death to invaders, unable to cultivate substantial life within itself, was able to keep Egypt set apart and protect Egypt's life from invaders with its death. And that same desert is still dry. It still burns. It's inhospitality to water and life allow the ancient monuments that blossomed from the Nile's shores to stand to this day.
The relationship between death and life seen in the relationships between the Nile and the Sahara, the people and the lifeless expanse between them and the rest of the world, discloses the fragility of life and the necessity of death. For Egypt, the desert is her protector; the Nile is her life; the desert is her limit, and the Nile is her overflowing provider. The Nile flows. Oh, and it's 10 Egyptian Pounds for a carriage ride beside it.

My favorite part of Cairo

Although we have seen many sights and wonders, one thing still seems to astonish me. If I could sum it all up with one word it would be: hospitality. Here we are in a place with different cultures, ideologies, geography, but still the warmth and accomodation we feel from everyone here has been incredible. From the dialogue with Amur and Sidrach the Coptic priest to being able to witness a Sudanese Anglican worship, everything has been nothing short of amazing. Sharing love and stories with one another is what makes our world seem much smaller than it truly is. Seen the smiles on faces of people of many nations makes travel all the more worthwhile. Despite the conflicts and struggles that many of the everyday Egyptian people face, they still look at us as people who are trying to see the wonders of their world. They appreciate the fact that we are strangers in their land, and many have tried very hard to make us feel at home. Some of the greatest conversations I've had have been in the back of a cab, talking about Egyptian football and the dangers of paying unfair prices at Khan al Kalili. These simple conversations have helped me to feel "welcomed as a stranger" in the beautiful land of Egypt.

God bless and be safe!

Jim Penuel.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Candids of Pyramid Day

Hello out there in the blogosphere! Hope these shots from our fantastic day o' camels and pyramids will add some spice to our words! -Emily

"Look what we can do." -Sports Night

Familiarity is the greatest enemy of the awe-inspiring. How do you respond to seeing with your own eyes images you have seen since childhood in tattered issues of national geographic piled in your grandmother's bathroom? As children how many of us dreamed of being archeologists or egyptologists (the other options being marine biologist, astronaut, or Transformer)? Today our class stood on the shoulders of giants. We touch the very stone carved by the slaves and workers of Pharaoh's, witnessed along with Herodotus and Philo the greatest monuments in the history of humankind. There is truth in the words of Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun, but one must wonder if he actually saw the Pyramids of Egypt; perhaps he would have hesitated in his cynical utterance for a moment. The pyramids have been a tourist attraction and a money making enterprise, but the beauty and grandeur of human accomplishment demands a moment of appreciation and gratitude for minds that can calculate, hands that can create, and hearts with the courage to do so. One of my favorite shows on TV, which didn't last very long, was Sports Night. There is this episode where one of the anchors is trying to decide what charity he is going to donate money to. By the end of the episode, a homeless gentleman breaks into the station and the anchorman finds him in his office. He offers him his sandwich and invites him to sit and watch live footage of a man summiting Everest. The homeless man pulls out a switchblade which startles the young successful anchorman, but he proceeds to cut the sandwich in half and offer the other half back. They both sit, the rich and the poor, watching this footage. The young anchor turns and say, pregnant with all hope and meaning, "Look what we can do." The homeless gentleman nods in reply.

Today, we actually saw the Pyramids.


Pyramid Day

Here is a great shot of the group at Giza.

Camels and Pyramids

Hey you guys,

The most amazing fun was had by all as we mounted camels enmasse this morning. Getting on made Laura G. think of creating the "camel dance". As you straddle a camel you must lean back to maintain balance as the camel gets to its feet. A camel places its back feet down first and then its front feet, so you must shimmy in the saddle as it arises. Pretty scary and a skill I am sure comes with time. After this we saw three pyramds, including the Great Pyramid. I had not thought that I would see in person pyramids at the point where the land of the living meets the land of the dead beyond google.com. It was amazing. We had fun taking creative photos with, in and around pyramids; and some of us even got to climb part of the way up before being warned that we might be hauled to an Egyptian jail.

The afternoon also began with an adventure. We got to go inside one of only two pyramids in the world that have rooms in the actual pyramid rather than under it. It was a bit claustrophobic and a steady climb up and then in; but we all managed (or the majority of us), and we would not have missed the experience. It is mind boggling to think that a structure built about 5200 years ago stands despite earthquakes, tsunamis and the natural wear and tear that the desert brings. We ended our tour of the day with a visit to Memphis, the oldest city in the world. The highlight of this destination was the statue of Ramses II, which lays on its side for it has no feet. It like many of the structures and statues of Ancient Egypt is tremendous at best and to think of how it was constructed becomes almost unfathomable pre-machine and modern transportation.

It was a long and exhausting day, only to be followed by a 3 am departure from our hotel as we fly to Luxor, south of Cairo. We will all add our comments of today I am sure and will keep all posted as we move through our second week this side of the Atlantic.

Blessings and love to all,


Mangoes in Memphis (and other stuff)

Hola! Today is Christmas for the Coptic (and Greek Orthodox) Church- to celebrate, we played a round of Dirty Santa (White Elephant, where the group of players purchases random gifts and plays a swapping game) and, I have to say, Aunt Becky won. Her stuffed singing camel was highly sought after and many of us have purchased ones very similar to it since. The goal of the game was to remember Egypt and I feel that we did that, in our own American way.

Today was fantastic! We boarded the bus when most of you (and most of us) were still asleep and headed to Giza. We loaded off the bus and mounted CAMELS! For about 15 minutes, we walked/trotted/galloped towards the smallest of the three pyramids and observed some of the niceties of camelian society. They ARE spitters here, no matter how polite you think they should be. Also, if you ever need reminding of your camel experience, fellow Mangoes, just ask Steven. He does a good one.

We took pictures of the little pyramid and headed over towards the second of the three pyramids, the tomb belonging to King Cheop's son, Chip. After properly gawking like amazed tourists, we bundled in to see the Solar Boat, this huge pleasure boat found buried outside the Great Pyramid. The boat is preserved in pristine condition- it's thousands of years old and the grains and designs in the wood are still visible. The museum also housed samples of rope and instruments found on board, along with a selection of knives. Viewing this reminder of the "oh geez" part of Ancient Egypt reminds me that civilization, not simple existence, has been around for such a long time. Empires weren't even twinkles in the eyes of 6th grade boys when these were around. It's so awful- as in the full of awe definition- that it makes me look at what we do in a different light. Thanks, Tupper- your class obviously trained my brain-box to always keep thinking theoloically, even over break!

After we leave the boat museum, we pile together and make a human pyramid. Some random security dude stopped us and told us to stop making the pyramid in the middle of this large and spacious desert spot. We tipped him when we left for looking the other way and not interfering while we ground Kevin's palms into the dirt and fumbled to balance everyone together. It was an awesome job- whoo, Mangoes!

Obviously, we took pictures of the Great Pyramid. It was big. Also the Sphinx, which was also big.

We went to lunch at a country club near our post lunch destination- the Red Pyramid. We climbed up the face of the pyramid through a twisty maze-path and descended a zillion feet at a 26 degree angle. My legs hurt after all this. The room was high and built with a roof that resembled stairs- afterwards we climbed up stairs into the inner burial chamber. The whole place had a certain... aroma... that made the experience, while awesome, different because we all breathed through our shirts. We climbed back up the shaft and down the pyramid. This is the oldest working pyramid. We were in it. We were in a pyramid. IN A PYRAMID!

We finally stopped at Memphis, the first capital anywhere in the world, and saw a gigantic statue of Ramses II. He was wearing fairly standard Pharaoh garb and his body proportions were extremely exaggerated. His wrists and forearms were the same size as his wrists, emphasizing the artistic style of the human body- perfect proportions that art was unable to successfully capture for thousands of years, even in Ancient Egypt, where the government's view of religion, creation, and perfection was ultimate.
Back to the hotel, Dirty Santa and off to sleep. We fly to Luxor at 3:30 AM. Wish us luck and safe journeys!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

A Couple Pictures of the Market

Since there are so many posts about the market, I thought I would upload a couple of pictures. So, here are two pictures of the market taken over the last couple of days. I would post more but it took several tries to get these up. The last picture is a picture of Neal with our tour guide Amr. You can click on the pictures to make them bigger.

You lucky man! You have three wives!

Despite the fact that several mangos have suffered from colds or stomach problems, we all continue to fight back the illnesses and enjoy Cairo. Today and yesterday the majority of us spent time in the market, Khan el Khalili (sp?) and revisiting some places we saw earlier this week. The market is almost like a maze with everyone willing to sell you something. Every step you take someone else is welcoming you to Cairo (or Alaska) and offering you something that want to overcharge you for. After haggling, you can almost always get the item for about half of what they originally quoted you at. The market was a lot of fun but also overwhelming because there are just so many shops and people trying to convince you that you should buy their goods. In all though, I think all of us got some really great stuff - and maybe a few extra items.

One of the many things we here from the vendors though is "you lucky man - you have three wives!" Neal insisted that we travel around with at least one male in our groups so as to not be as harassed which I must admit (despite my feminist beliefs) that this is often a better option. I did travel around briefly yesterday with just Kristin and while we were safe, we also got many marriage proposals and such - so having a guy around isn't all that bad. Without a male present we are proposed to and with a male present, the people assume we are already married to him. Over the last two days many vendors commented to Greg on how lucky he was to have three wives - really just the three women who were walking around with him. I'm pretty sure many of the other groups experienced this as well. All in all it was quite funny at the end of the day.

Greg posted earlier some things that we have learned in Egypt and I think I need to add one more so here it is:

Lesson: When an Egyptian tells you that he can take you to a better place to purchase something (in our case it was textiles), and you follow him for a good 10-15 minutes and suddenly you realize you are very far off the main road...and maybe he tells you it's in the second story of a building and you no longer see any military guards standing around as they usually are - this would be the time to politely refuse his further guidance and turn back.


Amr the Hammer and his Many Mangos

Mango Mango Mis Amigos,
No, Spanish is not the official language of Egypy, but Mangoes are the official fruit of Amr the Hammer, our tour guide/Egyptologist.
This is my first post, and it is tardy, but that is only because we have done so much. To hit a few of my highlights:
1. The conversation between Amr the liberal Muslim and Cedrock the Coptic monk was amazing. I had never seen a conversation between a Christian and a person of another religion where the Christian was actually representing the oppressed minority. I have heard Christians talk about persecution in America, but c'mon. This was different. It was almost like the twilight zone. You had the Christian giving generalized descriptions of the oppressive religion in power, and you had a Muslim defending his faith while describing how many Muslims are mis-interpreting their own religion. I don't want this to sound like either one was bashing Islam. They weren't. But it was interesting to see how a more liberal Muslim reacted to a Coptic monk describing Islam in blanketed conservative terms. I have felt the part of the Muslim several times in America when I have to defend Christianity against the mass of non-Jesus like (in my opinion) Christians that get much more media attention. But here, the table was turned. And while the conversation did have a lot of passion, it was always respectful as well. Amr is so great.
2. The amount of ancient artifacts just sitting out in the open for all to touch was baffling at the Egyptian museum. I mean, really...4000 year old sarcophagi just sitting there....right there...in front of you. And to think of the amount of gold and jewels that they retrieved from Tut's tomb, which was tiny and insignificant compared to other Pharaohs' tombs was remarkable.
3. Right now, across the street, in between two buildings, I see a minaret for a mosque. And 5 times a day, we hear Muslim prayers coming out of the loud speakers. In a country that is truly a Muslim Nation, (America is not a Christian Nation) I am allowed to experience a bit of what it is like to live in a country where religion is associated with national identity and civic life. Not just "In God We Trust" on dollar bills, Islam surrounds this country, engulfs this country. It's different and intimidating at times.

That's all I'm gonna add now; but maybe after some contemplative shisha thinking and maybe spinning around for 30 minutes straight, I'll have something cooler to say.

German Bodyguards, the Mysterious Mojito, and Secret Police

Cairo is a city that never sleeps...so I fit right in. Its the only place I know where I can come back to the hotel from touring and sleep from 6pm to 12am, then get up and go out without missing a beat.

Whether its relaxing and having good conversation over some Turkish coffee (delicious!) and the sweet scent of mango sheesha or spending an hour trying to find some alleged but unknown nightspot, there is always something to keep you occupied at any hour of the night.

The day is what you would expect in a city populated by 17 million people--cars, people, noise. Yesterday we went to the market. It was 4 hours of narrow passageways, dirt roads and incessant merchants who beg and plead for your money (so much to where one of us was offered a stray cat that happened by and one shopkeeper tried to sell the same empty coke bottle that someone had just given him to throw away). Most of us came out unscathed, I lost a 100 LE note somewhere, another was pick-pocketed, and im sure more than a few were ripped off. Nevertheless, it was quite an adventure.

Last night was even better, but I probably shouldnt go into too much detail. The title of this blog is sufficient enough.

Communion in Cairo

About that time, our fearless leader Neal Walls turned and said to Steven and me, "Well, that was the first communion I've ever taken in Africa!" I'm fairly sure that Neal was speaking for at least most of us there at All Saints Cathedral. Today is Christmas Eve for the Eastern Christians, but it was business as usual in our Anglican First Sunday of Epiphany Service. All Saints is the Cathedral for the Archbishop of North Africa and Ethiopia (I think) and is home to expatriates, Sudanese refugees, and tourists from across the globe (We worshiped with a couple living in both London and Cairo [She's a little bit British, and he's a little bit Egyptian], a Kiwi ex-business man turned missionary, and more Norwegians than you can shake a falafel at). But, in the midst of this global diversity (Ooo, diversity! *clasps arms and shudders with glee*), I could not help but be captured by my favorite text from the Didache tugging at my travel-weary brain:

[And pray over the bread of communion:] Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom

In the Call to Worship we spoke in unison: "We come to the light from the four corners of the earth, from the north, from the south, from the east, from the west. But we are all one in Jesus Christ." Even across the vast array of grassy hilltops in our world, the wheat is gathered together to create bread; bread which has the potential to give life, hope, and dignity. Bread which sustains. We ate such bread together with brothers and sisters we had not previously met, with family we never knew we had. To come together in this Cathedral in Cairo we participated in something grand and glorious that I easily forget from time to time-the communion of Christ cannot be contained in one nation or people. It is one thing to say "to all the nations." It is another to say, "for all the nations." Islam teaches that the greatest problem with humans is that we are forgetful, and five times a day the salat is called from the minarets as an invitation for those who bear witness to God to remember what God has done through prayer. The language of memory is heavily intertwined to our conception of communion as Christians. We are called to take and eat as a remembrance to what Christ has done, is continuing, and will finish. We are a forgetful people.

The anthem was sang this morning by a choir of Sudanese refugees singing in their own style and tradition. The rhythm and the melody, so foreign, so distant, so other, sounded as near as the hymns and songs of faith my family reared me on. Worship should be the great equalizer; a foretaste of the balance, peace, and unity of the Kin-dom of God. Sadly, it becomes a war of tastes, a battle of preference, and we forget why we gather together. There is a oneness to our diversity that can just as easily be overlooked. The hospitality of the Egyptians is overwhelming. A few trinkets dropped out of my bag in the bazaar yesterday and a man ran up to give them to me. Seth and I were offered tea in a little store while we shopped. Our Coptic Monk/Tour Guide (The very same with the digital camera and cellphone who said, "We don't ride camels anymore.") offered us tea and coffee and then ended up bring trays full of beans, pitas, and dessert. The streets feel safe and the people smile. Even though we are separated by nationality, color, or in most cases faith, our humanity binds us together and there is a genuine spirit of friendship among our hosts. Neal was certainly right, it was our first communion in Africa. The beautiful secret of this pilgrimage is that we have been in communion with Africa all along.

From Cairo,

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Mangoes in Misr (On Time!)

Yala Bina! (possibly (or definitely) misspelled Arabic for "let's go!"

Misr is what Egyptians call Egypt.

Saturday was very eventful- full of market mishaps and such. The group split into a bunch of different groups (Other Laura and I were under the weather and didn't venture out until dinner) and traveled all over the city. Eddie's feeling much better, thankfully, and Neal/Tim (Nim? Teal?) took him around to see the beautiful mosques we toured yesterday. Up on my top "wow" places is the Saladin Mosque- a huge building made of white limestone. We took off our shoes and walked into a huge building full of incredible architecture. Pictures are coming (ahem to the other bloggers). At the back were two prayer altars, large steps that led to a platform that allows the prayer leader to be heard. The acoustics are so precise that a single voice chanting from the platforms can be heard in the back of the room. The original prayer altar is decorated in green cloth with wooden railings that match the wooden carved ceiling, while the newer altar is white limestone with carvings that match the walls. David took some amazing pictures, along with a random pile of shoes left by the tourists. We are culturally polite Americans!

There are already some posts about the different group outings today. Tim and Neal and part of the group went to Khan el-Khalili, the famous market in Cairo... and experienced their first "Mango Down!" story- Tim was pick-pocketed! Thankfully, he only lost a few pounds (and some mints- these are some fresh pick-pocketers) and is fine. People bought lots of hookahs and vases and adorable kitschy gifts for the Dirty Santa tomorrow (nothing says Egypt like, literally, something that has a plaque on the front that reads "from Egypt!" in large letters).


Things We've Learned in Egypt

In addition to learning lots about history and religion here in Egypt, there are several other truths that we have discovered...

1.) Only get into a taxi if you are willing to put your life on the line...no lanes, no lights, no rules, NO MERCY!
2.) Everything is cheap and is probably cheaper if you haggle, haggle, haggle!
3.) Even though we're in Egypt, McDonald's fries (and chicken nuggets) are still a good late night snack.
4.) The Cairo Jazz Club has very little emphasis on the "jazz" part and a lot more emphasis on the "club" part (i.e. they play techno music from a DJ).

That's all for now, but if anyone else on the trip has any other life lessons learned, please post to comments!


Hello All

Well today was adventurous and from a Cairene perspective today is only half over. We have found out that the people of Cairo enjoy a Friday and Saturday weekend and that regardless of the day of the week they are out an about to the wee hours of the morning.

Today we went in small groups to a major outdoor market visited by tourists and Egyptians alike. The word was bargaining as we managed to talk down the vendors, who had no prices posted, nearly half of the initial mentioned price to walk away with buyer and seller satisfied. The experience far exceeded the purchases in satisfaction.

We have all been gone nearly a week and all miss our families and friends; however, we have not yet seen enough to want to come back. Unfortunately stomachaches have ailed some of us; but overall we remain ready to go despite periodic weariness.

Tomorrow is Chirstmas in Cairo, and like any good family we will be sharing Egyptian delights with one another--Dirty Santa will be the name of the game. This of course will be after walking to a local Anglican church to participate in their Sunday morning service. I am looking forward to visiting the craft shop at the church because their wares are made by and profits benefit the Sudanese refugees that live in the area where we are staying.

Well off for now to rejuvenate at the local Cairo coffee shop--Cilantro. I will write as events transpire.

Blessings to all,


Friday, January 4, 2008

Mangoes in Monasteries (Day 3... out of order, sorry Gil!)

Main Entry:
Inflected Form(s):
plural mangoes also mangos
Portuguese manga, probably from Malayalam māṅṅa
1: a tropical usually large ovoid or oblong fruit with a firm yellowish-red skin, hard central stone, and juicy aromatic pulp; also : an evergreen tree (Mangifera indica) of the cashew family that bears mangoes
2: sweet pepper
3: Div School and Co, travel group under the leadership of Amr, our fabulously connected tour guide.

Hola Div School world, this is a Laura letter! Sorry for the late posting, but we're functioning on Egyptian time and as such, you're lucky to get this post before next week, as we spend the days visiting places and the nights lounging around smoking hookah and eating tahini. The trip has been amazing!

Today (or, if we're being correct, we're talking about Thursday, but I'm trying to keep up the spirit of the blog's "posting every day" concept) the Mangoes got up at ZeroDarkHundred hour and quickly ran through freezing showers (the hot water was off, evidently) and blearily shuffled down to breakfast. The meals here are wonderful- for breakfast, we're treated to a buffet of 8 or 9 different kinds of bread, 3 or 4 different cheeses, various lunch meats, sausages, fruits, the more typical Egyptian breakfasts of yogurt and chopped-up fruits, scrambled eggs, omlettes, fresh squeezed juices, jams, honeys, and (usually very needed) tons of coffee and tea. The trend of presenting us with more food than we can possibly eat is one we experience often. It. Is. Awesome. Our lunches vary from gas-station sandwiches to a variety of deliciousness on pita. At the monastery, we were served (as a surprise lunch) wonderful pita and a huge pot of fava beans- they're cooked fairly blandly, and we mix them with salt, lemon (or lime) cumin, and various other spices before mashing them with a fork and gobbling them up. Aunt Becky, Cap'n Ron and I discovered that the ratio of how quickly you mash is definitely related to how long you've been in Egypt. It took Amr the same amount of time to mash the entire pot as it took the three of us to feebly attempt to smoosh a fourth of it. Mashed Fava on pita, molasses on pita, nouagat on... fingers, and a variety of teas make for a meal worthy of addiction. Mmm.

Right, so- after breakfast, we headed into the bus for naps and a long trek to the Bishoy Monastery. It's been around forever, practically, and has served as a fortress against the Bedoins when they attack (or attempt to attack, ha!). Upon entering, we're brought to a high tower overlooking an incredible view (pictures are coming) and see a small room where the monks lowered food to their visitors (even the Bedoins- these monks have a thing about offering food to strangers). We walked down the stairs and across a bridge (think a bridge across a moat) that was able to be raised and lowered to separate the food spot from the rest of the fortress. After entering, officially, we removed our shoes and stepped into the first chapel of the day. Like many Anglican practices, the Coptic church is all about the incense as part of their holy rituals and showed us the Holy Altar, which is separated from the congregation by a closed curtain. Only priests and monks are allowed to enter the altar room and the curtain is opened during every service with a flair to symbolize how the introduction of Christianity was newly equalizing- the priests aren't the only ones with access to the Divine. After this, reshod, we zoom down long corridors and up some stairs to a huge platform that overlooks the monastary and has a gorgeous view of the surrounding areas. My favorite part of the monastary is the Echo Room, where monks could stand far away from each other and use acoustics to project their voices towards a single person. It sounds eerily realistic, as if the speaking person was standing just behind your shoulders. Brother Cedric (pronounced Sedrahk, so that might be how it's spelled) showed how the early monks projected light onto walls to bring light deep into the earth by cleverly positioned holes cut in the ceiling. These holes let in a stream of light that was projected by a set of mirrors into tombs so artists could accurately paint words and pictures without marring the tomb with the smoke from fire. The grain room held a large mechanism for grinding wheat for bread that consisted of a large horizontal stick at chest height connected to a series of gears and stones. It was heavy- Brother Cedric, who looked to be upper middle age, could push the stick an entire revolution without effort, while Eddie got about half-way around and called it quits. Brother Cedric is a buff monk, which sounds odd to type. He climbs stairs and revolves grain sticks and inhales incense and does it EASILY, while the majority of the group looked a tad peaked/would be whooooah peaked if we had to do that all day. We headed on to chapel #2 and removed our shoes before stepping inside and seeing another altar and a group of people participating in afternoon prayers. The incense was thick and the religiosity was fairly high. After this, we were served lunch (surprise!) and witnessed a religious dialoguing debate between Amr and Brother Cedric (with some input from the Mango group). Interesting to watch, and very much needing a group hug. We finished lunch and left to view the last Chapel. A nice little worker dude unlocked it and we walked inside to find excellent acoustics, which means Emily ended up singing, because we begged heartily. She and Steven entertained (did someone get that on film?). The walls had paintings of various disciples and saints painted by one of the monks inside the fortress, for the Copic Pope. We climbed back on the bus and the day was over.
Mango Out.

A quick update

I have recently changed the blog so that any divinity student on the trip can logon and post. Hopefully this means we will get some more posts. If you are a student on the trip, check your e-mail for instructions on how to do this.

It took me a few minutes to enable this, and I only have a few minutes before we go to dinner, but I wanted to post a quick update. We spent the morning this morning in Coptic Cairo. We visited 3 mosques, and each of them had something unique that made them special. We followed that up with a quick shopping stop (guys, lets keep where we went and why we went there a secret so some of us can surprise our families back home) and lunch. We ate lunch at a restaurant that specialized in chicken, and the meal and atmosphere were both outstanding. Finally, we went to an Anglican church here on Zamalak (the island in the Nile our hotel is on) and attended a chapel service with students from Alexandria Theological Seminary and a worship service for Sudanese refugees. It was a great day.

The next two days are much freer, so I should have some time to post some more detailed information. And, hopefully, some other students will post as well.

Just as a teaser, here is a picture of one of the Mosques we visited today, the Mohammad Ali mosque.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A slideshow

Enjoy this slideshow. More pictures and descriptions are coming. Click on slideshow to see descriptions.

Egypt 1

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Day 2

Today was a busy day, so this is going to be a brief post. I will post some pictures tomorrow when I have some more time. (Not to mention the Internet is crawling tonight for some reason.)

We started off the day by visiting Coptic Cairo. This is one of the older areas of the city, which is not very old by Middle Eastern standards. We visited a very old synagogue and saw where Moses was recovered from the basket! As if that was not great enough, we then went to a Coptic Orthodox church and saw where the holy family stayed while they were hiding in Egypt! From there we went to the Coptic museum, which was great. There were a lot of icons on display, but the highlight for me was seeing some pages and covers from the codexes (I don't think that is the correct plural word, but I don't feel like looking it up right now) recovered at Nag Hammadi. For those of you who are not in Div. School, these early forms of books were found in the mid 20th century in Egypt and contained some Gnostic texts that were previously unknown such as the Gospel of Thomas.

From there we were off to visit a Coptic and Evangelical NGO called CEOS to learn a little bit about what it is like to do the work of the church in a country where Christianity is the minority religion. From there, we went back to the hotel where we had just enough time to get a bite to eat (the group I was with ate at McDonald's -- they have a chicken Big Mac over here!) before we headed off to see a presentation by Sufi Whirling Dervishes.

It is now 11:30 in Egypt, so I am going to head back to the room. I will post a more detailed post tomorrow and include some pictures. We are heading off to see the birthplace of Christian Monasticism, and I will have some time in the bus to compose my thoughts and time when I get back to upload pictures.

All of the lost luggage arrived last night, and as far as I know, everyone is doing fine.

More tomorrow....

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A Few of Pictures from Day 1

The Nile River
(taken across the street from the back of our hotel)

From the Light and Sound Show at Giza

Another one..

We have Arrived

All of our group has arrived safely in Egypt. All of the flights were fine, but two of us have had to live without luggage for the first day while the bags are tracked down. Those students were compensated with a free supply of toiletries!

We started today by visiting the Egyptian Museum, which is simply amazing. I thought Dr. Walls put it perfectly when he said, "You know, these are the kind of things you usually only see in pictures." I have wanted to visit the Musuem since I was a kid and saw a National Geographic photo layout on King Tut. Getting to see all of that in person was an incredible experience. I don't have any pictures from the Museum because we were not allowed to take cameras inside. Our tour guide for the trip's name is Amr (pronounced like hammer without the H), and if today is any indication, he is going to be a great tour guide.

Our museum visit was followed by lunch at a "real" Egyptian restaurant and consisted of pita bread with various kinds of toppings.

Tonight is a free night, and I think a group of us are planning to go to Giza for the "Sounds and Lights" show at the pyramids.

I have turned off comment moderation, so you all can post without waiting for me or Laura to approve the post.