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.

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