Saturday, March 12, 2016

There and Back Again -- Egypt!!!

Holy Moly what a week! Early Sunday Alexia, Julianne and I got up and left for Egypt. We left before the kids would normally have to wake up for school, yet, though it is so hard to get them up for school, they all woke up on their own this day, so excited to say goodbye and do the playing they can do when Mom and Dad don’t monitor how much time they spend on electronics. Life is funny.

The trip to Egypt went very well. When we got there I was so pleased to see Imad and the Gabrys again. Everything is arranged for us by Gabry Travel. Dr. Gabry always comes to visit with us, and his son, Mustafa, comes with us to help with many things. Imad is their employee who makes everything happen. He works so very hard. I felt like we became close friends the last time we went to Egypt. I was so happy to see him again. He is a very good man.

The guide we were working with was new. His name is Mohamed and he is very, very nice and I like him a lot. To illustrate how tough things have been for the tourism industry here, he has not had a group to guide since August. He is quiet yet so pleasant. It took him a little while to get used to working with us and how we like to contribute and teach and direct things. But he got it down, and I think we ended up with a wonderful working relationship.

As we drove from the airport to Cairo I looked for my chances to do one of my favorite things. As we drove along the pyramids came into sight. I pointed out the window a direction to look and heard the gasps of excitement as people finally saw something they had always wanted to see. The same thing happens as you point out the Nile. It is so fun to help people be excited about doing something they have always wanted to do. We even had lunch on a boat that was floating on the Nile, and no one could believe how cool that was.

the students were so giddy about eating on the Nile

Alexia and I eating on the boat

Right away we took everyone to see some parts of the Old City of Cairo, where the walls had been built to make it a fortified city similar to the Old City of Jerusalem. We also saw the outside of some old mosques and schools and sabils (places where water could be given out to strangers). I think the students enjoyed it a lot. Our guide was typical of every guide I have worked with. He could explain details very well, but the students need more to fit those details into a context that makes sense for them. I tried to do that a bit, but it is a delicate balancing act because you don’t want the guide to feel like you are correcting him or that you don’t have confidence in his ability to teach.

The Gates to Old Cairo
Mosques in Cairo

a merchant coming through the Old Cairo gates

locals near the Old Cairo gate
In any case we had a nice time showing them various things and we also had some nice time to shop in the Khan al-Kalili bazar. On the whole I think it was a great day. Our hotel was super nice, and everyone was so satisfied with being there. We are having a fantastic time with Alexia, and I think she is so excited to be in Egypt. She is getting along with everyone and has been such a delight to be with.

Alexia and students learning in Old Cairo

fruit for sale in Old Cairo

Old Cairo
Locals in Old Cairo
The market in Old Cairo

locals near Old Cairo
The next morning we got up early and went to Memphis, after a fantastic breakfast with made-to-order omelets, other great food, and peacocks to look at while we ate. There are really no ruins of the city of Memphis to see, it is all covered up. But there is a nice museum with the remains of many statues, etc. that is very worth seeing. One of the colossal statues of Ramses II is there. It is mind-blowingly large. Alexia was having a great time seeing all these things, and we had fun showing her around. 
Colossal statue of Ramses II at Memphis

Alexia as the head of a small sphinx at Memphis
a large statue of Alexia
As we went out we drove past the remains of the temple for embalming the Apis Bull. Andy asked if we could stop there and they said yes. So we got out and showed them the remains and the huge altars that are lion couch’ish and talked about both the Apis bull and the Book of Abraham. It was a nice moment, except that for some reason it made all sorts of security folks very mad. It somehow turned into a big deal. But we just rode it out, and everything worked out. It was worth seeing.

The temple for embalming the Apis Bull at Memphis

A Lion Couch altar for embalming the Apis Bull
Cairo Traffic

Cairo Traffic

From there we went to Saqqara. We first went to the Djoser Step Pyramid. Everyone loves seeing that. We had a bit of free time and I loved taking Alexia and Julianne around to some various parts of it to explore. It is a bit hard to give them the attention I want to during free time because students have a lot of questions, and it is a bit hard to give the students the time that would be good because I want to spend time with my family. It is tricky, but I think it is going okay.

Alexia in front of the Step Pyramid

Julianne and Alexia with the cobra frieze wall at the Step Pyramid

From there we went to see one Old Kingdom tomb, the tomb of Kagemni. It is a very nice tomb. We tried to do it very quickly. When I was told that I just used the bus time to do the spiritual tie in that we wanted to do, and left all the time in the tomb for Mohamed.

In the meantime the students were loving the tomb, but one who had been a bit sick the night before and had gotten a bit dehydrated passed out while we were in there. That was exciting. We got her doing okay, and she just kind of rode out the rest of the day. We had a few people who got a bit sick throughout the day and we administered a few blessings and helped people just soldier on to see the various things they wanted to see.

We also went to the Serapeum to see the giant, huge sarcophagi that the Apis bulls were buried in. It was quick but amazing.

Lunch with the pyramids behind us

The bad thing is that all of this left us with little time at the Pyramids of Giza. We went up to the Great Pyramid, and everyone was so excited to see it. We had very little time there, but everyone loved what time we spent there. I think our little family and a few students who followed were the only ones to walk around and see the temple and boat pit on the other side. I called Phil and Jennifer over so they got to see it too. The pyramids are so amazing, and I think Alexia was so very excited to be there.

Julianne and Alexia in front of the Great Pyramid

All three of us in front of the Great Pyramid

fun in front of the pyramids
Then we drove over to Menkare’s pyramid, and went inside to the burial chamber. It is always so cool to go inside a pyramid and Alexia was having a marvelous time. We went around the back side to see its amazing temple. To begin with they said it was fine but after a minute they decided it was a problem for too many people to go over there. So we just ran and saw a bit and came back. It was one of those times when an administrator should have helped make it happen and instead was so risk averse that they took away an opportunity from the students. Still, they are seeing enough that for most it was not a big deal that they couldn’t see it.
Then we went down to the sphinx and sphinx temple. Everyone loved being close to the sphinx and we had a great time posing for pictures there. Alexia was so very excited to be where she had always seen pictures. I had a fabulous time being there with her. What a day!

Mystery solved, now we know what happened to the Sphinx's nose. Alexia took it off!

Alexia patting the head of the sphinx. Good Sphinx, good Sphinx!
The next morning we went to the museum. It is such an amazing museum and we had a great time there. It was not long enough, and we only had 15 minutes to wander and see what we wanted to see after the instruction, but the instruction was good and we had a great time. I again had a hard time both teaching the students and spending time with Alexia in the way I wanted, but I think we all ended up being satisfied. The place is amazing.

The statue of Kafre in the Egyptian Museum
The museum is full of huge statues

Alexia was really into Canopic Jars

and coffins

Mentuhotep II, founder of the Middle Kingdom, in the Egyptian Museum
The students wanted some kind of spiritual thought to tie it all together, so I did that on the bus. Then we went to the hanging Coptic church (Coptic is the sect of Christianity in Egypt). We had a very nice explanation there, and then both Phil and I took just a little bit of time to do some spiritual thoughts. I felt like it went very well and I feel like Mohammed is also getting a feel for how we work. We are trying very hard to make this a time for both scholarship and spiritual enlightenment for the students, not just a tourist stop. It is more difficult to do that now that we are not going to Sinai, but it is working out. I felt like the spiritual thoughts there worked fine.

Mosaic of the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt at the hanging Coptic church
Afterwards we went to the Ben Ezra Synagogue. That went well. It was cool to have with us the head of the Mor Company (the company that helped build and maintains the Jerusalem Center), Nahum Nuriel. He is a direct descendant of Ibn Ben Ezra, who founded the community and synagogue there, and his parents grew up there. It was his first time there, and so we asked him to share a bit about it all. It was a nice moment. Then I took a moment to share some thoughts about the importance of scriptures based on how the people of that synagogue took care of scripture. I think it went well, and our Muslim guides seemed to really appreciate the ideas expressed.

traffic in Cairo

Then we went to the citadel. We stopped in a mosque where Mohammed taught about Islam. It was peaceful and beautiful and he did an excellent job. It was perhaps the best explanation I have heard. I haven’t seen it done that way before and he did a spectacular job. Then we went to the Mohammad Ali Mosque and enjoyed it. It is large and beautiful and amazing, but not as nice and peaceful as the other. I really liked the way Mohammed timed it all. From there we enjoyed a beautiful overlook of the city, and then we packed up and went to the airport. The trip to Luxor went without problem.

Mohamed Ali Mosque

Mohamed teaching us in a mosque

Alexia in the mosque

Julianne and Alexia in the Mohammed Ali Mosque
Brilliant lighting in a mosque
Julianne and Alexia made friends at the Mosque
some locals at the mosque
Alexia looking over the city

We had an exciting flight to Luxor. There were some pretty big bumps as we went were taking off. the oxygen mask panel above Julianne fell open and the oxygen masks hit her in the head. I slept through it, but she was apparently quite startled.

Julianne with the oxygen masks

The hotel at Luxor is very nice. We have a great balcony which looks over the Nile. Alexia loved just sitting there and looking at the river and enjoying the serenity and wonder of being there. All was well.

the view from our balcony in the morning
The next morning we got going early. We caught a boat and rode to the Karnak Temple. 
Alexia on the boat ride on the Nile
That temple is amazing. I let Mohammed to most of the teaching, but I chimed in from time to time. There are so many things there that are worth pointing out and tying in for the students, so I chimed in from time to time. We looked at the list of places destroyed by Sheshonq/Shishak when we went up and fought against Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. We saw all sorts of amazing things that Rameses II built. We went to the hypostyle hall and I loved seeing everyone’s jaw drop. We had them hold hands and stand around one of the columns. It took 13 people to go around the column with their arms stretched out.

Entry to Karnak

inside Karnak Temple

The Hypostyle Hall in the Karnak Temple

13 students holding hands around the column

Looking at some of the columns of the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak

Obelisks at Karnak

Obelisk at Karnak

Julianne and Alexia at the Sacred Lake
While we were in that setting I took a moment to teach from Moses 1. I helped them see why Moses would think that man was something. They looked around at what is probably the most amazing room in the world, and talked about all that was going on that would make Moses think that man was full of splendor. Then we talked about the experience he had with God, and how he came to know true glory. I had them compare what they were seeing then with what Moses saw, and how Moses said he then knew that man was nothing. I tried to help them get a little sense of the glory and splendor of God, and then remember that this is the being that is on their side, that wants to bring them home. We were blessed with the Spirit to bear witness of that. I felt like it was a powerful moment that went well. At the end of the trip our guide, Mohamed, told me that this was his favorite part of the whole experience, that he really felt something there. That tells me that the Spirit was really present for my Muslim friend to be touched and remember what he felt there. I think it was a good moment. I will always remember it and how we were blessed there.
Me teaching in the Hypostyle Hall of Karnak
We had time to explore Karnak and we had so much fun doing it. I so loved being with Alexia and Julianne there and showing them around. We found all sorts of carvings that helped us understand interesting things. I loved it.

When that was over we went back to the hotel and we had some time to swim and relax. We did both, and even took a little nap. Then we gathered and rode a carriage to Luxor just as the sun was setting. Mohamed gave us some great instructions and we had a wonderful time exploring the temple in dusk and lit up after dark. Then we took the carriages back. I had some allergy problems from all that, but it worked out fine.

carriages taking our students to Luxor Temple

Luxor at night

Luxor Temple at night

columns at Luxor at night
The next morning we left early again and went to the Valley of the Kings. We went through three tombs (which is how many they will let you go through).They don’t let you teach in the tombs. As we went through I would put on the headset and talked to myself or Alexia about what we were seeing as we went along, which allowed people to learn a bit as we went through. After a while they got after me and I had to stop, but we were able to cover a lot of good ground before that happened.

locals in Luxor

Then we went to Hatshepsut’s temple. There are such great scenes there. I took a moment to tie things into the Exodus, just because there wasn’t a great place to do it before the trip ended.

Alexia and I at the Colossi of Memnon

Alexia in front of Hatshepsut statue

The Ladies of the class at Hatshepsut's temple
 Finally we went to Medinet Habu, the Mortuary Temple for Ramses III. Sadly, just as we went in our guide’s glasses broke. He doesn’t have much money, and he really couldn’t see without them. After a while he had a hard time doing the tour because he couldn’t see very well. I helped him a little but couldn’t tell if he really wanted me to take over or not. The other guide eventually came and taught a bit, and then we had free time. I did show them a bunch of stuff I like there, including the scenes about fighting the Sea Peoples, who would become the Philistines in the Bible.

scenes of captive Sea People

captives at Rameses III's temple
The students took up a collection and were able to give Mohamed quite a bit of money for buying new glasses. I think he was truly touched.

From there we hurried back to the hotel, stuffed a lunch inside ourselves, and went on a camel ride for about 45 minutes. We rode a felucca (sail boat) to the camels. Then we went through the beautiful, rural countryside. It was very enjoyable. Then we went swimming with Alexia, and played sharks and minnows with her and eventually a bunch of students, for a long time. It was pretty fun.

Alexia working the rudder on the felucca

Some of our students on a felucca

Alexia and Julianne on the Camel Safari

Some of my students on the camel safari
Finally we ate, and flew back to Cairo. After a very late night we got just a bit of sleep, got up very early, then went to the airport and flew home. The kids got home from school just a bit after we got back. They have done superbly well. The place was clean, their rooms were more clean than they have been in a long time, they ate well, and they were all happy and doing great! Tashara was a hero in how well she took care of things, and they all did so well. We had a great time seeing them again and then we gave some gifts, and we had a wonderful reunion.

The students were so tired by the time we got to the airport
We spent a pleasant evening together and I fell asleep fairly exhausted fairly early. The next morning we had church, and it was one of the better sacrament meetings I have been to. It really was wonderful. We had a lesson on forgiveness and apologizing in Sunday School. I needed it, I can see how much work is ahead of me and how much growth I need to go through. I was happy to be able to teach seminary for Julianne afterwards. We covered a good chunk of Isaiah, and it was a lot of fun.

Then we came home and as a family we did some scripture study and had a great time going through the Facsimiles together. I guess it is about time my children learned about them.

We spent the evening together visiting and playing games.
I can’t believe how blessed we are to be together and to be here and to have the Gospel to guide our lives. We are blessed more than we deserve. I am touched again and again with how much God does to help us be with him again. He loves us so much it is almost overwhelming.

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