Wednesday, January 9, 2008

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.


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