Sunday, December 21, 2008


Aswan is in the south of Egypt and has a much more "African" feel than an "Arab" one. Here we saw the unfinished obelisk, the biggest dam in the world (on the Nile), and the Philae temple. After lunch we took a falucca ride on the Nile to the desert side, where we got on camels and rode to a desert monastery. After some exploring we rode our camels back to our boat and continued down the river to a Nubian village. A hospitable Nubian family invited us into their home for fresh hibiscus juice, dancing, and henna. What a fun day!

Old Cairo, the Egyptian Museum, and the Sleeper Train

Our next day started in the land of Goshen at Tel-al-Yehudiya ("hill of the Jews"), where the Israelites would have lived and worked for Pharaoh before the exodus. We discussed several Biblical passages here, but as I surveyed the flat landscape, rich soil, and green palm trees, what really stood out to me was that life in Egypt was good, predictable, and secure--the exact opposite of life in Israel. (I have more thoughts on that, but I think I will write a separate blog on them).

On our way to Old Cairo, our bus hit a car...and kept driving. Remember how I said there are no traffic lanes or lights? Well, I guess there just aren't many traffic laws, period. It's a different world.

In Old Cairo (or "Coptic Cairo"), we visited a two coptic churches and a synagogue. One was built in honor of Mary and Joseph's flight to Egypt. This was the highlight of my day, because I met a group of 10-15 Egyptian girls ages 13-14 in the bathroom. They were super excited to practice their English and take my picture, and we spent most of my time there hanging out in the courtyard.

We spent the afternoon in the Egyptian Museum, where we saw things I remember seeing in my middle-school textbooks, like the contents of King Tut's tomb and the mummies! I saw the mummies of both Ramses II and Tuthmose III, who are both thought to be the Pharaohs during the exodus (depending on whether you agree with the early or late date). They still had hair and fingernails!

After some time at the market and a stop at a bathroom, we headed to the train station. That night I slept on the overnight train as it clacked down the tracks from Cairo to Aswan.

Cairo & the Pyramids

Our journey started with a full day of driving from Jerusalem to Cairo, the biggest city I have ever been in with a population of 20 million people. To put it in perspective: the number of people who work the night shift in Cairo is equal to the total number of people living in Chicago. We got to our hotel near 11 pm, and Naomi and I went out to explore the city. Big, crazy, and dirty are all words that come to mind when I think of my initial impressions of Cairo. It is a city that never sleeps-- there were just as many people out on the streets at 2 am as at 2 pm. There were no traffic lanes, no street signs, and few stoplights. Mounds of litter and garbage lined the streets since there is no public garbage pick-up service. Suffocating smog and impure tap water are just part of life in Cairo. All these things are very different from Israel, and right away I also noticed that the people were different, too. In general, the Egyptians I met were friendly and loved to smile and laugh. Even security guards joked around with us. This was much different from Israel and the West Bank, where people are usually very tense and serious.

On our first day out, the traffic was good because the Muslims (85% of Egyptians) were having a four-day feast, the annual "Festival of Sacrifice" to celebrate Abraham's sacrifice of Ishmael. Sheep and cattle wandered the streets in front of our bus, unaware of their fate, and we watched men and their sons catch and slaughter their animals.

Our first full day was mostly spent exploring the pyramids at Dahshur, Memphis, Saqqara, and Giza. The ones at Giza were the largest at 440 ft. tall. It's estimated that it took 200,000 workers 20 years to build it! We also saw the sphinx.

That night Naomi, Jesse, John, and I explored downtown Cairo some more. We met a local young man, Muhammad, who took us to his cousin's cafe, packed with people. We hung out for quite a while, and enjoyed talking with lots of different people. I had some delicious fresh mango juice. I also rode in my first Egyptian taxi, which felt like a crazy carnival ride complete with multi-colored flashing lights and blaring Arab music. I decided that I like Cairo a lot.

Out of Egypt I called my son...

I have been back in the States for a week today, and it has been so good to catch up with family and friends! I ended my semester abroad with an 8-day field study to Egypt. My next few entries will include some pictures, stories, and thoughts from that week.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Last Week in Jerusalem

I am nearing the end of my last week in Jerusalem...can you believe it?! Early Saturday morning I leave for Egypt, and I will return to Green Bay December 14. This semester has gone by so fast.

This past week I finished up my final exams and term papers, did some Christmas shopping at the souk, and spent a lot of time enjoying the city and the relationships I have built here. Tuesday I went to a Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem called Tahatia, where 12,000 people live in less than half of a square kilometer. I was invited into a family’s home and got to hear their story. Yesterday I walked the ramparts of the Old City walls. Today I attended a free lecture on the “Theology of the Land." All these things were very thought-provoking. I have learned much during my time here, and in some ways I am coming home with more questions than answers.

Tomorrow I will spend my last day packing, walking around the city, and saying goodbye to Marwa and my friends at the Gypsy Center. After dinner I’m going to sing Christmas carols at St. Anne’s church with a group of friends, and after that we are going to Dr. Wright’s house for cookies and a time of sharing and praising God for his faithfulness this past semester. He is so good!