Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Incredible Egypt

Wow, what a week! Sunday we left early and went to Egypt. I had a lot of trepidations about leaving the family behind. Jill Judd, who watched our youngest three when we went to Egypt last time, was going this time. That meant that she was leaving behind all five of her children for Julianne to watch, and we left behind all six of ours. So Julianne was watching 11 children here by herself. Happily, Sister Bentley, a wonderful service missionary here, helped her out a bit. Still, I knew it would be tough, and I worried and prayed.
We had a great day on Sunday. We drove to Be’er Sheva, where we spoke of Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, the Israelites, altars, etc. We had a great time, and I think that several things started to come together for the students there.

Students going down the water system at Be'er Sheva

Then we went to Arad, where we did more teaching about Israelite things, and visited an Israelite temple there, complete with an altar and holy of holies.

Me with students in Holy of Holies at the temple at Arad

We continued our drive down to a kibbutz where we would spend the night. We taught them a bit about Lehi’s journey as we went. Jeff Chadwick was on my bus, and he was incredible. He is so good at teaching them, and does so many good things with them. He is also just fun, incredibly fun. He and I had a wonderful time on this trip together. One of the things I will remember for the rest of my life was how much fun I had with him during our week in Egypt. Before going to the kibbutz we met them at a sand dune, where we played in the sand and then had some time for students to think about wildernesses and in particular about Lehi journeying in the wilderness. Then around a campfire we bore our testimonies. It was a great experience.
The next morning we headed to the border, got across in record time and went on our way. I was so glad to see Emad, our travel agent from last time, with us again. He is so good, and a great friend. I love working with him, he is a good man.

Students on the long bus ride.

We pretty much just had a long drive, and we shared some stories, did some music, and had a nice time. We enjoyed watching the ships in the Suez canal, and I always love the reaction of the students when they first see the Nile and the pyramids. This time it was still light when we got to the sound and light show, so they could actually see the pyramids pretty well. A student who is interested in Egyptology had me sit by her at the show, and before it began I just started telling her things about the pyramids. Before long I had a fairly large group gathered around me and we just had a great time learning about them right up until the thing started. It was a pretty fun show.
The next morning we got up early and headed off to the pyramids. We picked up our great guide Ahmed, who always does so well for us. This time we knew what we were doing better, and I think we had an even better experience than last time. We knew better how to warn people about all the folks at the pyramids who would be trying to take advantage of them, and we steered pretty clear from that.

Jeff Chadwick and I in front of the pyramid.

Jeff and Abbi Chadwick and I in front of the pyramids

Before we went into a pyramid we sent the students out to explore a bit, instead of just waiting around. I took a group with me and we went into a tomb and explored some other cool things around the Great Pyramid.

Some students in a tomb next to the Great Pyramid

We went into the Menkare pyramid, the small one this time. It was fun. I was able to show a few people his pyramid/funerary temple also. It was a great experience.
Then we went off to Sakkara. This time I was better able to prepare the students for some of the scenes we would see in the tombs and some of the other things we would do. We spent a little time in Memphis, then ran out to the tomb of Ti. By the time we were done, we had hardly any time at the step pyramid of Djoser. But we had a ton of fun. We literally ran back and forth while one of the security guys was blowing his whistle to make sure we were moving along quickly. We ran from place to place for pictures, having him take our pictures, and had more fun than I could imagine having there, though we saw less. It was a great time.

Crazy fast picture at the step pyramid

Then we flew to Luxor. All in all things went pretty smoothly. We had a small problem with our dinner in that the restaurant did not want us to drink our own water. But just a little firmness took care of that problem. At the airport there was a group of locals who tried to get around our students and form a separate line getting on the plane, which I was worried might make us late. So it took a lot of firmness, some key body positioning and standing with feet firmly planted, and even some help from a security guard, but we made it all work out okay. I think I feel a little protective of these students.
The next morning we went out to the Valley of the Kings. We had our same incredible guide Rifat with us. He is so good. He explains so well what they will see. While in the tomb I just turned my mike on and talked to myself about what I was seeing, so that the students could have some kind of explanation. Because no guides are supposed to talk in the tombs, I just spoke to myself and said things like “self, I am so pleased to see the god Khepri here doing such and such,” or “self, look, here is the sun god going through the night sky”. I think the students enjoyed it too.
From there we went to Hatshepsut’s temple, had a wonderful time, and then to the Ramesseum.

Girl power picture at Queen/King Hatshepsut's temple

I loved the Ramesseum, it is bigger than it looks from the outside. It is impressive, and I loved seeing all the birds that lived inside. I took a bunch of pictures hoping that my brother-in-law Jed can take my poor photos and make them look great as he and I put together a book on ancient and modern temples.


We ran back to the hotel, had lunch, then went on a boat ride and a camel safari. Tons of fun!

Felucca ride on the Nile

Kristin on her camel

That night I went with a bunch of students to the suk, and had a really nice time and even bought a few gifts. The shop owners can be pretty aggressive with our girls, and I had to be a bit aggressive back a few times. But it worked out okay.
Everyone was loving everything. It is so fun to see how much everyone enjoys seeing these things for the first time, and how cool it all is. The next day was even better, as we took a boat ride to Karnak, and had a spectacular visit there. We love having Rifat as a guide. He is better than anyone I have ever seen at moving us through crowds and groups, and at pointing out things and drawing in the sand.

Rifat drawing in the sand

He uses a little mirror to shine light on the places he wants us to see, and is masterful at it.

Rifat using his mirror to point things out

Carriage ride to Luxor

Then we rode a carriage to Luxor, which is also way too cool. I love these places, and love seeing the students love them.

A bunch of students in the avenue of sphinxes

After a short nap I went with a small group of students on a bike ride. We rode along the Nile, which was beautiful. Then we went through the local village and got a better idea of what things are like for the people that live here. It was wonderful. Finally we caught the overnight train back to Cairo. A few people lost a few things, sadly, but we mostly did okay. The train ride was nice and uneventful, other than a few weird porters and a few students who were a bit too loud. I have to say that I was immensely proud of our students, who were a bit loud during playing times, but were as respectful as anyone could ask them to be during touring and teaching situations. I was worried about that, but they were incredible. I slept very well on the train. I was worried that I had not heard from my wife much for a while. But I finally did just a little.
She has been busy. But all her reports have been positive. The kids have been incredible and really gone out of their way to help out, and while I think she has been exhausted, she says things have been great. I am so grateful that my kids are coming through for her. Good for them!
Tuesday, the day we went to Giza and then to Luxor, Egypt had some anti-government protests. A few people died in the process. Since we got back to Cairo on Friday, the day when protests will get bigger, we were keeping our eye out. So was the government. Most things in Cairo were shut down, including the museum, where we were planning to go. We had to change plans. The owner of our travel agency, Dr. Gabry, met with us. He was so incredible and great to work with. Most things were shut down. But we were out away from the center of the city and where things were tense. We decided to go do something that took us even further away from those areas. As cell phones and internet were being shut down by the government (which cut me off from communicating with my wife) I suggested we head out to Dashur. Dr. Gabry agreed, and off we went. We had a great time. We went in the Red pyramid. I took the mikes for both classes and we walked around the pyramid and saw all of the things around it. I tried to explain a bunch of things, but to not talk too much. I have no idea if I hit the right balance, but I know I had fun. Then we went over to the bent pyramid.

Students at the Red Pyramid

It was great for the students to see a pyramid with so much facing on it, so that they could have an idea of what a faced pyramid may have looked like. We went around, and into the pyramid temple. We were so fortunate that our incredible guide Ahmed got permission for us to go down to the Valley Temple. I have tried a number of times to go there, and have never been able to. But this time we got to go down. I was still on the mike speaking when we walked down, and I think I may have gotten a little giddy as we got there. I talked to them about what we were seeing for a while, but since I had never seen it before after a while I told them I needed to look around and see what we had there before I could explain it to them very much.

Jeff Chadwick and I in the Bent Pyramid Valley Temple with the Bent Pyramid behind us

It was great to be there, and I loved seeing all that we could see there. After a while I told them some more. Then I found some more cool things, the students found some more cool things, and we had a great time.

Me at a stela in the Valley Temple I have been trying to get good pictures of!

Jeff and I especially enjoyed ourselves. We were later than everyone else getting back to the bus. We ran most of the way through the desert to get back. Kent Jackson was up there and I was figuring he was there to tell us to hurry, everyone was waiting. But he was there to share in the cool moment with us. It was a great time.
After that we were on lock down at the hotel. All the students stayed there. The faculty and service couples had a meeting about what we should do. We ended up having our meeting at the Giza plateau as I took them to see the boat museum and few other cool things. But soon we had to go back to the hotel. We did have a very nice, edifying Sacrament Meeting.
We gathered with the students to watch the tv. Cairo was going on lock down too. A curfew was imposed. Riots were happening in a few select places, but really in only a few places. If we had not been watching tv we would not have known that there was any kind of uproar. Everything really seemed very calm to us. But we kept in touch with our embassy and our travel company kept in touch with people they knew, so that we always knew what we should be doing to stay safe. We all enjoyed being with each other. That night I ended up with over 20 students in my room as we watched the news and talked about the politics of Egypt and the Middle East. It was an interesting time.
In some ways it was a great learning opportunity. Our students learned about world politics in a vivid way. They had real questions about things in other countries, and I think they got a bit of a sense of how blessed they are to live in the countries they do. We had also just learned from a forum speaker about how overblown and incompetent much of what is seen on the news is. As the students sat in Cairo (really we were in Giza, a suburb of Cairo) watching the news about Cairo on CNN, they could see how much the news really only reports the worst. The situation was not as bad as it seemed to folks watching tv in America. Really the news reports the worst, again and again, and makes it seem even worse, because that is what gets them viewers. Things were never as bad as they seemed on tv. It is almost always that way.
I am interested to see what happens in Egypt. It is such a great country, a country that I love. It is full of wonderful people, a people that I love. I hope that all things work out best for them. I pray for my friends there. I am anxious to see what happens there. I am also anxious to see what happens to all Egypt’s neighbors. There will undoubtedly be a ripple effect.
The next morning we had to cancel everything that we had not yet done, and just left for Sinai. On the way out we could see evidence of the previous day’s activities. There were some burned vehicles and rubble on the road, but for the most part the city was quiet. We were blessed to have never been in danger and to have had good opportunities the entire time. We had an incredible experience despite some mid-course adjustments we had to make. All was well, in fact even better than well. I was sad to see that our friend Ahmed had been hurt. He had heard about people trying to loot the museum, and had gone off to help protect the place, and had been wounded in the process. I hope he heals well, he did a good thing protecting the museum.
We just went on our long bus ride and got up to Sinai. That night we went out and looked at the stars and talked about Moses chapter 1. The next morning we got up at about 2:30 am and hiked the mountain. It was cold, very cold. During the week I had figured out that it was going to be colder than I had anticipated. So I bought a good jacket in Luxor, and at Sinai I bought a scarf, gloves, and a warm hat. I was glad, it was very cold up there. In fact, there was a lot of ice on the steps. I had a nice hike up though, visiting with incredible students and getting to know them better. We have such a great group.

On the top of Mount Sinai just before dawn, all bundled up in the cold

I had been sick up until just when we left for Egypt. I finished my last round of antibiotics at the beginning of the trip. I was sad to see that I was getting sick again. As I went up the mountain my throat hurt and I could barely talk. Since we were supposed to have a meeting there, and since we wouldn’t have the headsets, I needed to be able to talk loudly for my students, but I didn’t know how I could do it.

Students trying to stay warm on Sinai

While we huddled in the cold waiting for the sun to come up, we sang. But I couldn’t sing, my voice wouldn’t work. I was nervous. But the sun came up. Because it was windy and cold it was one of the clearest days I have seen there. It was the best sunrise I have ever seen there.

Sunrise on Sinai

As we kept singing, my voice suddenly came back. I found myself able to sing louder than ever, and perhaps better than ever, which would really be a miracle. We had a great time singing together and watching the sun come up. Then we hiked down and Jeff found us a wonderful place out of the wind and in the sun where we could have a meeting. My voice was strong, and we read scriptures together, I talked about them, we had some testimonies, some journal writing time, and some songs.

Class on Sinai

It was a great, an incredible experience. Then we went down. On the way down some students walked with me who had some questions. We had a great conversation the whole time. I really love these guys, they are great. I was able to talk the whole time. But when I got to my room my voice went away again, and I struggled with it the whole rest of the day.

Me teaching on Sinai

There were very few students who got sick this time. We didn’t have any significant sicknesses until our travel days. While it is no fun to travel sick, it is better than missing cool stuff because you are sick. Three students talked to me about being sick. Two of them asked for a blessing. They were both better by morning. The other student asked for a blessing the next night. She was better in the morning.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, things had gone really well for the family. BJ came through in a major way and made it so that all things went well. Good for him. Julianne is amazing!

We had a long ride back to Jerusalem. The border crossing was incredibly short, with no problems at all. It was almost weird how empty and easy it was. We kept hearing bits of news that things were still in turmoil in Egypt, but we never felt any affects from it. We told stories on the way home, and it was a long but nice drive. The best part was that when we got home I got to be with my family again. It was a great time, an edifying and exciting time, a historical time, and a bonding time. But getting home was even better!


  1. I wondered how the unrest in Egypt was impacting you but had no idea you were actually there when it was happening! Glad you all were safe.
    Sounds like the incredible times keep on rolling.
    Interesting post.

  2. Great post. Fun to read about new places visited. We never visited Arad. Glad to hear you are all safe.