We always meant to do some sight-seeing this winter, while the weather's not so hot, but we got a little side-tracked by the revolution. Now that that's all over, we felt free to take up our cameras and sunglasses and guidebooks and go see some pyramids. We've both been to Giza multiple times to see Egypt's most famous pyramids, so this time we took the less traveled route to Dahshur and Saqqara, both about an hour south of Cairo.
Dahshur has three main pyramids (and two other piles of rubble that used to be pyramids). The Bent Pyramid (left) is so named because the workmen started building at a 50 something degree angle, but found the structure was becoming unstable halfway up. They then switched to a forty something degree angle, causing the pyramid to appear bent.
The Red Pyramid is named for the reddish color of the rocks that now form the outer shell of the pyramid. You can actually go inside this pyramid - so we did. You go backwards about 140 meters down a steep ramp with metal rods across to brace your feet on. It gets hotter as you go down - my hair was sticking to my neck by the halfway point. There's no wind at all inside a pyramid. The inner chambers (there were three) were lit by electric lights along the floor. The third chamber you had to climb up again a bit to look into, and we didn't stay long because the smell was horrific! Dylan plugged his nose with his hand and I covered my mouth and nose with my shirt. All the chambers were empty, but it's still cool just to think about the fact that you're in a pyramid thousands of years old!
Saqqara is best known for it's Step Pyramid - actually one of the first pyramids built in Egypt. As you can see by the scaffolding, people were working on the pyramid - doing what, I'm not exactly sure. Restoration? There were actually a few tour groups at Saqqara, although it was far from crowded (Dahshur was actually deserted except for us).
We had a great time exploring Saqqara as we could largely go wherever we wished and there were so many tombs and other structures! I'm heading into a tomb in this picture - most of these only went in a few feet before they are filled up with sand again. The site was basically one big cemetery surrounding the pharaoh's tomb.
Yesterday was March 25th, the two month anniversary of the start of the Egyptian Revolution. Dylan and I have some friends who have gone to Tahrir Square frequently in past few weeks so we decided to go with them and check it out! Although the revolution and protests are theoretically over, people still gather in Tahrir during the week and especially on Friday. But while the rest of the week is more serious protesting, Friday is like "Bring your wife and kids day." It's a new kind of tourism - revolution tourism. Ironically, Dylan heard of one protester saying, "We'll protest until the tourists come back!" Not sure he understands the situation...
Entrepreneurs have definitely capitalized on this situation. We were approached by at least ten men and women who wanted to paint flags on our face or hands (we all got our hands painted). The fences around the square were covered with t-shirts displayed for sale, and many vendors had their wares spread out on the ground on mats - black, red, and white hats, headbands, scarves, license plates, etc. As you'll see we took advantage of the t-shirts. =) There were also many men selling bread, pretzels, popcorn, and roasted nuts.
We're guessing there were about 500 people in the square. There were relatively spread out, with a couple of clumps here and there where people were listening to a speaker. We'd been told that Tahrir has a celebratory feel about it these days, but I'm not sure we felt that. It's been so long now since the revolution that everything is really dying down and people are getting back to normal life. There were definitely still people there enjoying the crowds and taking pictures - several asked us to take pictures with them or for them. Children with their faces painted or with red, white, and black hats were happily walking around with their parents.
The crowds in Tahrir were apparently shouting "Maspero," which is the name for the state TV station, so we went there too (one of the friends who was with us spoke decent Arabic). There were again a few crowds at the TV station, but nothing exciting happening (I'm not complaining).
By the time we got back to Tahrir after that, Dylan and I were pretty tired. Although everything was peaceful, it was unusual for us to be in such big crowds and around so many people we didn't know and who didn't really speak English! When we got back to Maadi it seemed extraordinarily calm and quiet - usually I consider it to be quite busy! We're glad we went and I would feel safe going again with a group of people. Once is enough for now though. =)
We thought it was going to be a week before we got the results of Saturday's vote, but we started to hear rumors last night which are confirmed in the New York Times today (click here to see the article) - 77% yes, 22% no. This means that legislative elections will happen early this summer and presidential elections will likely be scheduled for August. This gives a big advantage to the Muslim Brotherhood and the NDP since they are already organized and ready to campaign; a big disadvantage to the new liberal groups that are only just now forming. Keep praying for Egypt.
On the bright side, there was a HUGE turnout for the vote - the biggest in Egypt. Everyone was really excited and very proud to vote - and nobody knew which way it was going to go! This feels like a real election where each individual's choice actually counted, which is a big step for Egypt. There was almost no violence (one potential presidential candidate was harassed at a voting station) and overall many people were just glad to participate.
It'll be very interesting to see how this turns out! A committee appointed by the Supreme Council of the military has made several amendments to the Constitution, mainly changing three things (at least this is what I've read): who can run for president, how long a president can stay in power, and the rules regarding emergency law. There's a big divide between those who think this is enough (the military, the Muslim Brotherhood, the old National Democratic Party) and those who think the whole constitution should be scrapped and a new one put in place (the organizers and many participants in the protests). There's so much other stuff going on that this isn't in the news so much but you can click here to read one article.
It's a beautiful day here in Maadi - sunny and mid-80s (which is feeling a little warm!). We're going about business as usual - I'm not even sure where the polling centers are; I don't think there are any very near us. Curious to see what will happen after this vote and hope the results come out fast!
I went to my meeting at African Hope school at 9:30 expecting to be done by 10:30 at the latest. Expecting everyone to be there on time. Expecting to focus solely on the issue at hand. Clearly its been a long time since I interacted with the Sudanese!
Aside from starting 20 minutes late (one person actually didn't arrive until 10:30 anyway), we talked for only about 15 minutes before we had to break for staff prayer meeting. That was when I started wondering how long I'd be there. :-) As it turned out, the prayer meeting wasn't all that long, AND had a really good message which I'd like to share.
Pastor Peter (Pastor of the Sudanese Community Church and also a counselor at African Hope) had us start by looking up Luke 9:62. "Jesus replied (to the man who wanted to say good-bye to his family before following Christ), 'No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.'" Peter talked about how we need to look forward, to what God is calling us to rather than looking back. Okay.
Here's the part that got me - Next we turned to Numbers (what are we going to find in Numbers??) 11:5. The Israelites are complaining, after God has called them to the Promised Land and given them manna to eat in the wilderness. "We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost - also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic." As we were reading this I was thinking, "I remember the bacon we ate in Indiana at no cost - also the sausage, ham, hot dogs, and frozen pizzas." (Maybe you think this is a weird list, but hey, some of my favorite foods that we can't get here.) I realized I've been looking back a lot at how good things were in the States, whether while we were in Wheaton or recently when we stayed with my parents in Indiana. And yet, God has been moving me forward, toward something better for me, and all I can do is look back and say, Oh if only I had bacon again! Wow.
Pastor Peter went on to say that God was working for the Israelites good, and he was trying to transform them spiritually and bless them through following his plan. But they were so focused on material comforts that all they did was look back and complain. I had a really hard time coming back to Egypt after our evacuation in February, and thought of all sorts of things I was NOT looking forward to. But God has something for me here; this is where he's brought me and I should be looking forward instead of back.
After prayer we went back to our meeting and were done by 11:30 (not bad, all things considered).
Took a few pictures while walking around today - more flags and such. =) The second picture is meant to look like an Egyptian license plate, but it says 25 (on the right) January (on the left). The light post Dylan is standing to is right in front of a McDonalds. The pictures on the walls are from Victory College - a place CAC uses for softball fields near our house. We saw some tanks too, but I wasn't brave enough to stop and take a photo. Those things are intimidating!
That's the main line of a song that's been stuck in my head a lot recently. Our church has been having extra prayer meetings in the evenings since the revolution and today we prayed for strength. Things in Egypt have calmed down a lot, but people are really tired. I feel lucky that I had the chance to get away for two weeks, because the people who have been here the whole time are feeling the effects of living in tension for so long. And that's the expats! Many Egyptian Christians have much more anxiety over this than we have, and they are also struggling more than us economically.
This is the situation in so many Middle Eastern countries right now! Libya is still a mess; protests continue in Jordan and Iraq; today I heard rumors about unrest in Saudi Arabia. I've heard people say that the unrest is an answer to prayer - a shaking up of this largely Islamic region. Is God being glorified through the protests and falling governments, the fighting? Are people turning to him as we've been praying they would? I don't know; religion seems to have played such a small role here in Egypt at least.
Another group that is tired are those people who are still trapped in limbo - are they coming back to Egypt or not? If so, when? The embassy has just made the decision to keep its employees and dependents in the States for another month. Should the kids be enrolled in school where they are, or continue with virtual school based in Cairo? When will the emergency embassy staff who remained here in Cairo get to see their families who are waiting in the US for this to "blow over"? A news article in the Washington Post recently highlighted a bunch of CAC students who are waiting to come home. Other people are coming back to Cairo only to find that they won't have a job next year because so many people have left. It's not an easy situation.
In light of all that, our family is pretty well off. We're all together, we have our jobs (and Ann is sure of hers next year as well), we got to take a break from revolution tension in the States. We live and work in Maadi so we don't have to venture near any trouble spots.