Politically, the hot topic of the moment was the new constitution which was about to be voted on. It was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood and some saw it as another step in the wrong direction. Aladdin voiced this opinion. It is what happens, you see, when economics sour. People just want stability and then the Brotherhood tells them that a vote against the constitution is a vote against Allah and the uneducated – the farmers, whoever – they simply listen. It is difficult. It is like forcing a big stubborn camel to change it’s direction.
There is a well-educated, open-minded section of the population who wants nothing more than to be happy and allow each other the freedom to do so. Then there are those who would like nothing more than to have power, control people, and use ‘god’ to do so. It is like this everywhere – more fundamentalist Catholics and Jews can be no different – but it does seem to tend to a more extreme nature in Islam – the five times a day call to prayer that echoes throughout Egypt and every predominantly Islamic country. There are plaques and prayers to Allah above most buildings, in fact, it is rather ubiquitous. Imagine if there were Christian prayers everywhere you looked. I am grateful for a the generally tolerant view of religion in America. While the Christian Right tends to be rather out-spoken, and the narrow-minded ignorant views (like Creationism, amongst other things) of some of those in charge can be cumbersome to getting things done, it is none the less a diverse and multi-voiced country.
And so, for someone like Aladdin, whose family comes from the Bedouins, a free wandering people, it is not easy to watch his countrymen govern themselves by fear. It is not easy for anyone to watch that. In the conversations we had, it was easy to see that he is a part of that more open minded, young, intelligent voice that has been crying for the change that the more fundamentalist factions of the Egyptian government resist. While ‘liberal’ in Egypt is still rather ‘conservative’ in America, it is still stepping out from under the umbrella of fear. I hope that the people of Egypt can see through the fear and guide themselves to something more open and loving. With people like Aladdin helping steer that, I think there’s hope.
Anyways, after a time, I retired to bed where I read for a while and drifted off to asleep.
The next day, the four of us prepared to go to the Temple of Karnak. Karnak is a huge sprawling temple complex and sits to the north of the Luxor Temple, at the other end of the Avenue of the Sphinx. It was built on and added to over the course of 1500 years but the peak of it’s building was between 3500 and 3000 years ago. We walked up along the park that runs along the Nile where empty storefronts built for a possible tourist boom now lay fallow waiting for the government to work itself out and for the tourists to return. None the less, it made for a peaceful stroll.
Karnak itself of course has the gauntlet of souvenir vendors, tour guides, etc. all vying for attention upon arrival but once inside all of that is forgotten… It’s massive pillars, shaped and hewn so perfectly, tower overhead. It’s obelisks and walls and carvings – some of which were so clean and present. The most noteworthy thing (other than the fact that we were in Egypt at the Temple of Karnak which was incredibly beautiful) was when we chanced upon a guard who took us into a closed off area that was being restored. The Coptic Christians has used the rooms for some time as their kitchen and had lit fires along the walls which blackened them. Archaeologists, cleaning the soot off, found them to have some of the best preserved colors in any temple. There was still a sheen to some of them. How they must have shone in their time! With the raised reliefs all colored complete in their carnelian reds, golden ochers, turquoise and lapis blues, they looked alive. It was truly amazing, seeing these 3000 year old paintings as if they were new.
We left Karnak with Jimmy hungering for fries so we settled into a little restaurant we found with the high ceilings and trim of the British colonialism of yesteryear. Cheesy Christmas decorations were sprinkled throughout it – perhaps to make us feel at home – and, once again, it was almost completely empty. It’s amazing how few tourists there were. While the lack of crowds was nice and led to a greater appreciation for the more local culture, it certainly wasn’t helping anyone’s economic situation. When your industry and income is reliant on tourism and tourism bottoms out, it can be tough times.
We took a round-about journey back to the hotel. Our leisurely pace was nice – there’s enough rushing to see things in our lives and our travels. It’s nice to spend some time just enjoying – the echoes of architecture, of mindsets, of ancient and modern cultures.
When we returned to the Nefertiti Hotel, Violet went back to grading and I sat and drew for a while. Later I met up with Luna and Jimmy, and we ate a delicious meal of camel meat stew. It was splendid – sort of like lean well-cooked spare ribs in a rich sauce. Still later, after the sun set, after the call to prayer, as the night time bustle rose and fell, as Jimmy smoked shisha and Luna talked with Mohammed, there was another small meal.
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