Something I forgot to mention is how many lines and lines of people that were out voting on Wednesday and Thursday! It was so awesome to see this: people voting in the first free election in decades.
Yesterday was very busy. We went to see the High Dam, Philae (the temple of Isis), and the Nubian Village on Elephantine Island. Unfortunately, we did not get a very good tour of any of these things, so I really didn’t appreciate them as much until I got home and read my Nat Geo guide. The High Dam is massive, and holds back the largest man-made body of water in the world: Lake Nasser. Philae is a beautiful ruin on an island, and we took a boat to get out there.
The Nubian Village… was interesting. I have a real problem with taking tours of places where people live. Touring areas where people who are living in squalid conditions are going about their normal routine makes me feel like I’m supposed to be gawking at animals in a zoo. How would you feel if someone walked by your kitchen window and started snapping photos of the quaint way that you are peeling potatoes? How would you feel if you were lying on the dirt floor of your hut, surrounded by flies, and happened to look up and see someone snapping your photo? It’s just so impersonal and rude. It was interesting to see how they live, but I felt I needed to put my camera away for the tour of the island. At the end of the tour, we went to a man’s house and were given our first cup of Hibiscus tea, something that is extremely popular here (I’ve been served it two times since then). It’s very interesting in flavor. I would compare it to sort of a grape juice in thickness, and it is pretty good when you add sugar.
Last night, we decided to walk to the Golden Pharaoh restaurant from our hotel. It didn’t look that far on the map, but we walked for probably at least 45 minutes, moving from the city center to a hill on the outskirts of Aswan. Ten of the 13 of us are girls, so the three guys spread themselves throughout the group, trying to make sure that we were safe. Paul, the Greek, was near the front, Victor was near the middle, and Yunus (not how you spell it), the German, was near the back. Near the end of the hike, as we were walking up the hill, we were separated as a group, because some of us were walking faster than others. (In hind sight, we should have stuck closer together). The first seven of us arrived at the restaurant together (Me, Annalinda, Paul, Sherin, Victor, Maria, and Sonia). We called Thri to see how far back she was, and she said that her, Shoebee, and Arrany had been right behind us, but could not find the other three. For several minutes, no one could reach Yunus, Michelle, and Elvita. Michelle wasn’t picking up her phone. It turns out (than god) that they were all fine. However, Michelle’s bag was stolen off her shoulder by a couple of young guys who escaped on a motorcycle. The three of them were further back down the hill from us, trying to figure out what to do about the situation. Thri, Shoebee, and Arrany took a cab with Yunus, Michelle, and Elvita to the traveler’s police station and reported it missing. Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done. She can replace everything except the money that was inside (which totaled a little over $100). It shook all of us, especially since no one had experienced anything like this in Cairo (the crime rate in the Middle East is extremely low, and it really hasn’t ever been a problem for us here).
We’ve all taken it as a huge learning lesson. Now, we do person checks every little bit, making sure everyone is there. We double-check that our personal belongings (passport, money, and phones, specifically) are secure, and the guys have made an even greater effort to make sure that all us ladies are together and accounted for.
Started the day bright and early with a 3 AM wakeup call today! Drove three hours from Aswan to Abu Simbel in a van. . We had an armed convoy escorting us and a bunch of other tour buses across the desert. They do this for tourist safety, but it felt a bit odd.
The site was very impressive! The tour was good, and, besides the insanely hot weather, it was a good trip. The fact that they moved the entire thing from below the waters of Lake Nasser made it all the more impressive
Being that far south (Aswan and below) really is the more African part of Egypt. I really felt like Aswan was an African city, whereas Cairo feels very Middle Eastern. (I’ve heard that Alexandria, in contrast, is very European. Hopefully, I will find out in a couple of weeks!).
We rode back 3 hours to Aswan and hung around at the hotel (trying to stay cool and getting food) until our train came. We took the train back to Luxor, so we’re in our Luxor hotel right now! It, like the one in Aswan, is very nice! It’ll be another good night to shower and relax.
The rides, although long, have been enjoyable. I’ve spent most of them talking with Maria (who is working on her PhD in Middle Eastern Politics), Annelinde (who is entering a masters program in International Law), and a French guy from McGill named Victor who is a Middle Eastern Studies major entering his sophomore year. We had some fascinating conversations today on the train, and it made me more sure of what I am interested in.
Nine of the 13 people that are traveling with us right now are political science/ international studies majors. This makes for such great conversation! Everyone is well traveled, well informed, and so interesting. It is such a great setting for meeting people and networking for the future!
The highlight of my day happened when I was swarmed by men trying to sell me souvenirs. I was responding to them in Arabic, because usually it makes them go away much faster than just averting eye contact or (even worse) making vague statements in English that make it sound like you’re interested. One guy was very surprised that I was responding in Arabic (this is something that the street vendors in the old city are more used to, because most people don’t venture into the heart of the city without knowing at least a little Arabic. However, at the tourist spots, no one responds to the vendors like this). He was really nice, immediately stopped trying to sell me the postcards in his hand, and asked me a couple of questions in Arabic. Then, he said, “You speak beautiful Arabic! Where did you learn? Egypt?” It was a nice compliment! I’ve been using my phrasebook to learn more of the Egyptian dialect. I hope that I can come home with a much larger vocabulary. Victor, who has as much Arabic as I do, went out to smoke with some of the Egyptian guys on the train today, and he said he was able to keep a basic conversation up. Sherin and I were both quite inspired (though she should be able to do it with no problem, because her Arabic is much better than she’d ever let on). I’m so nervous to try this!