Today our team had an opportunity for a little down time, fun and togetherness. We went to the pyramids, the Sphinx, and to Khan al Khalili, which is an area of alleys, nooks and crannies of shops. (Some photos follow)
We had a driver from the embassy named Amr and were escorted around in a vehicle with an embassy i.d. which got us into great parking areas.
Through a connection with my parents' I was able to connect with a U.S. embassy employee and was invited to his family's home for lunch. This proved to be quite an educational experience. We spoke at length about the Embassy protest "incident" from a few days earlier. Here is what I learned: 1) Foreign countries will only allow another country to have an embassy there if the incoming embassy agrees to hire host country locals for security, housekeeping, etc. 2) the embassy is not in the country for the purpose of helping stranded tourists and 3) it is the sole purpose of the local security forces outside to protect the information inside the embassy from any and all threats, real or perceived. So, in other words, the security forces were doing their job in assessing the protesters as a potential threat to the information inside the embassy. Paper over people, I guess. It doesn't assuage my anger, but it helps to have some kind of an explanation. (I will talk more about this another time.)
When it was time to go to lunch at the embassy employee's house, they sent their Egyptian driver, Amr, to pick me up. We hit it off and he agreed to be our driver while we went sightseeing.
So Amr picked us up bright and early at 9 a.m. and drove us to the pyramids. The pyramids are as mystical and magical as ever.
My friend Sheri and I decided to take the plunge and ride some camels. Sheri, who is a country girl and used to riding horses (and I might add, actually went skydiving a couple times gulp), wasn't even afraid. I, on the other hand, who is city born and raised, was absolutely terrified. This has got to be one of the scariest things I have ever done in my life. I was positive I was going to fall off on my butt in a pile of ever abundant camel poop. I had Egyptian camel drivers holding me from all sides going up on the camel and coming down. There is a trick to getting on a camel: you have to lean back when he gets up and you are defying gravity to do this. Camels stand up back legs first and this is the perfect opportunity to fly headlong over his long neck into the smelly dirt. Needless to say it was a very short ride. No, I didn't fall off, thank God, but while Sheri Braveheart is riding no hands, I'm clinging to life and camel with locked limbs wondering how my children will fare if their mother comes home a vegetable.
After that near death experience, I went to the little souk to buy some souvenirs. One of the sellers who coralled me, tried to sell me some stuff for 200 American dollars. He offered to come way down on the price if I let him kiss me. My life flashed before my eyes once again. I told him absolutely not! He said I was breaking his heart. Okay, so I'm not going to tell you how much I actually paid for my pyramid trinkets because it's embarrassing, but it was substantially less than $200 and there was no kiss. I left him standing there looking for another woman to break his heart.
We went to the Sphinx next, which is entirely smaller in real life than it looks in postcards and movies.
The final stop of the day was Khan el Khalili. This is where I quickly learned that haggling is not as simple as the guidebooks make it sound and that Egyptian men like kisses. I even received a proposal from a stall owner who promised he would make me very happy. It was exhausting, but totally fun.
Our friend Yusif comes back from Gaza sometime tonight and we are looking forward to hearing about his experiences. Please check out MPT's blog: http://mptingaza.blogspot.com/ for an update and photos from this momentous experience in the coming days.
This experience here in Egypt, my first foray into peace activism, has presented me with an invaluable opportunity to confront my fears, to reconfirm some values and question others, to better understand the meanings of words like occupation, resistance, and freedom, to both teach and learn. No, we didn't get into Gaza. Only 100 of nearly 1400 delegates were selected to go. The governments at play threw us a bone; a token acquiesence. Ambivalence is the name of the game. There is no doubt I will be processing what I have seen, heard and experienced for months to come.
For now, I'm signing off. I'll be home on Tuesday; hopefully my luggage will choose to come home, too.