I was looking for my family to be online so I could chat with them and was surprised they weren’t…because somebody’s always on. But then I realized it’s 6:30 am there. On a Sunday. Oops.
The only reason I know what day of the week it is is that my wristwatch says. Otherwise I would have no idea.
Yesterday (Saturday, May 29), we went n taxis to Muqattam. It is a community of Coptic Christians in Cairo. We visited a couple of their cave churches, which were unbelievably large. There are also lots of beautiful relief carvings in the cliffs. The churches were dedicated to Saint Simon the Tanner. Simon had plucked out one of his eyes because he had admired a woman’s inappropriately exposed leg because the Bible says “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:29). In all the depictions of him, he looks like he’s squinting but it’s supposed to mean he only has one eye. His bones were in the one church (St. Mary’s? I don’t know.) Anyway, the Holy Virgin is supposed to have spoken to Abraham and told him that a man of Simon’s description (i.e. with one eye) would effect the miracle of moving the mountain. And Simon prayed for a long time in a certain way and the mountain was lifted (the cave churches are in a “mountain”—limestone cliffs but the closest thing to mountains in Cairo). Or something. The story is kind of involved but I’m pretty sure that’s the important part :-P
After the churches, we went to … Muqattam is the community of garbage collectors. There aren’t waste management systems in Egypt, so there’s garbage everywhere. We’ve seen people in more rural areas just dump trash into the Nile. Anyway the people in Muqattam originally we not paid anything, they just got to keep the trash they picked up. They recycled it and fed the food waste to their pigs. The pigs were killed during the swine flu thing so now they either dump the food into the street or compost it and sell the compost.
We visited this center in Muqattam where they teach women how to make things using the recycled materials—which used to be trash but are now leftovers from factories and things. The women learn a trade and are paid during their training. After training, they bring the things they make back to the center and are paid for the number and quality of the items. They also can get free literacy training. There is a school and a daycare. The women weave rugs on big looms, which they take home and pay for in installments after training, sewing various patchwork quilted items (same deal with sewing machines are with looms), and make paper, which is sold are cards, envelopes, gift bags, etc. The things they make are then sold to people like us—they had some really cool, pretty things at good prices. And it’s helping the women and recycling and everything, everybody gets to feel good about it. The woman giving us the tour said Marc Jacobs (the famous designer, for you males) had placed several orders for these woven rag-rug handbags. We went to the school too, and played with the kids, which was awesome. They were so cute and they got to try out their English.
We took a 14 passenger van back to the hotel from Muqattam. (I should also add that it was beastly hot that day and no breeze.) Now, take a minute to appreciate what that means: 19 students, 1 professor, our 1 tourist police guard, the driver, and one additional woman (no idea who she was or what she was doing there). That’s 23 people including the driver in a van meant to hold 15 (also including driver). On a very very hot day. With our backpacks and cameras and water bottles and all of the things we purchased in Muqattam. It We were all pretty comfortable with one another by this time, but damn! People on laps, Julie was lying across a row of people. Sheri (prof) took a video of us getting out of the van. It’s pretty funny—you think the van HAS to be empty but people just keep coming out of it. I should see if I can get it!
Lunch (felafel, which for some reason is tamiyya in Cairo but not Giza) and a trip to El Abd: one of the most fantastic places in existence. It is a really epic bakery. They have all kinds of pastries, cakes (which you can buy by the slice), cookies…and everything else. They also have ice cream. It was crazy busy but so worth it.
Then we went to the Giza rail station to catch our overnight train to Aswan. It was kind of cool but the food was sucky (not surprising I guess though). We had a little sink in a cupboard and two bunks that folded down. The bathroom was in the same car but down the hall, which was very similar to an airplane bathroom but more spacious, in case you wanted to know :-P All of us from UMM were in the same car, which was fun, although I think the porter thought we were nuts.
We got off the train at Aswan and got on a boat. A 45 minute ride took us to a Nubian village. We went to the school there and the teacher taught us Arabic and Nubian numbers and the Arabic alphabet. Then he taught us all how to write our names in Arabic, which is done right to left! Tricky. We had some Nubian snacks and karkarde (hibiscus tea) in someone’s house and then we wandered for a while, shopping. I would just like to mention that it was 100 F today in Aswan. Ew. So much sweat. Then a boat ride to the hotel. The boat rides were much cooler and the Nile is very pretty and a lot clearer than it is near Cairo. You could also see a stark line between the green, growing things and the desert. It’s weird what an abrupt change it is. Lush foliage to red sand hills.
The hotel is the Iberhotel, and it is very fancy. I almost don’t feel I’m in Egypt, it seems very European (not that I’ve been to Europe). Big and clean, sterile. Lots of marble, very new-feeling. There’s a pool! Which we’re all excited about. We could shower on the train and it was so hot in the Nubian village…I showered right away when we got here, felt sooo good.
I guess I’ll add photos when I get them off my camera. I’m the the Iberhotel lobby for internet, forgot to bring my camera with.
Oh, update on the foot situation: it doesn’t hurt that much but it’s more swollen than it was initially. It’s gross. Ian, the EMT, said it was okay though, just the inflammatory response. We didn’t manage to get an ACE wrap in Cairo but I put a compression stocking on the foot (that I’d had for the plane ride) and tied it up in a bandana, which worked okay I guess. I’m almost glad I had the stockings. Almost.
Love you and miss you and sorry for such long, rambling posts…..