Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Egypt: A "Pharonic" Experience

On day 3 of my travels in Egypt I took an SAS trip to the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. The pyramids are located a few miles away from Cairo on the Giza Plateau. The Pyramids of Giza are the only remaining wonder of the ancient world. The Sphinx is said to be standing to protect the tombs of the great pharaohs of Egypt. We were able to go into the tomb of one of the wives of the pharaoh. After the visit to the pyramids we took a jeep safari through the Sahara desert. Then we rode camels through the desert and back to the restaurant where we had a typical Egyptian meal. After the camel ride we visited the tomb of Mere-Ruk. His tomb was robbed of his jewels before it was discovered by present day archeologists, however, the robbers were not able to find the actually mummy of the pharaoh. The mummy was found after the excavation and was the first actual mummy to be discovered. It is on exhibition at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Next we visited the Step Pyramid which was the first pyramid to ever be built. It has 6 levels and was built for King Zoser in 2800 BCE. My day in Cairo was very fun and I was amazed at the grandeur of the pyramids. We could see them from the road before we were even close to them and they were just absolutely magnificent. I still can’t believe that I got to see them and I am still in awe of their size.

That night I went to Chili’s with Amanda, Dan and Lucas. We had a lot of fun and we hung out and ate for almost 2 hours. We ordered so much food and it only costs the equivalent of $65 dollars for the 4 of us. The waiters loved us and gave us free chips and sodas. Lucas likes to think they thought we were from corporate headquarters lol. On the way back our cab driver tried to weasel us out of more money for the cab fare even though we knew what our agreement had been. We handled it well and ended up casually walking away from him.

I hung out on the ship during the second and fourth days in Alexandria. There really didn’t seem to be much to do in Alexandria since I had seen just about everything on the first day, and Cairo was a far trip it seemed. Amanda and I took a break from doing homework and visited the shops that were in the port. I bought a cartuge bracelet with my name in hieroglyphics which is pretty cool. Supposedly it is silver and only cost $20. One thing I have found, especially after talking to our tour guides etc, Egyptian prices are extremely cheap compared to the prices in the United States. Their standard of living is much lower and their monthly income is obviously much lower, but compared to the conversion rate of the Euro, the Egyptian Pound is a dream. My tour guide told us that Egyptian government workers only make about $150USD a month and workers in the private sector can sometimes make almost 10 times that much, which is still nothing compared to most Americans. The rent on a 2 bedroom apartment is about $60USD but that still means working as much as possible in order to survive. The school system is mandatory and free for children starting at age 6 and they usually continue schooling until around the age of 16 or 18. Children in the cities are encouraged to attend University. I was amazed that my tour guides (all of them women) had 2 or 3 children and all had their Master’s degrees and were about to finish their PhD’s in Egyptology. Egypt is comprised of 85% Muslim followers, most of which are of the Sunni origin. There are also 15% Christian Orthodox.

On my last day in Egypt I visited a Children’s Cancer Hospital in Cairo. I also got to see the Nile River which flows from south to north. The Nile is a very large river (larger than I expected) and is the main source of survival for the people of Egypt. In fact, Egypt is only inhabited in 8% of the countries land because the rest is desert. The government is building canals in an attempt to move water into more rural parts of the country and spread out the population. There are 20 million people in Cairo alone, but the people really have nowhere else to go. Overpopulation is the most threatening thing to Egypt at the moment.

On my trip into Cairo for the hospital visit we stopped at Kerdassa which is where many of the rugs, scarves and galabiyyas (long dresses worn by muslim women) are made. Then we visited the Saqqara area where we visited harraniyyah, a tapesty workshop. The workshop was started by an architect named Rames Wissa Wassah in the 1950’s as a sort of socio economic project. He wanted to bring a trade to the people of the village and taught them how to weave carpets. The workers are able to work as often or as little as they wish and the rugs are made completely of their own desires. They can weave whatever pattern comes to mind and when they finish the rug they make 1/3 of the profits. There is also a pottery section of the workshop and I bought a plate. Next we had lunch on a floating restaurant on the Nile. We had traditional Egyptian food again and then we went to the hospital.

Kasr el Aeni is the largest Children’s Cancer Hospital in the world. It is called “57357” because that is the bank account number where people can donate money. It was modeled after St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and can give as many as 100 children chemotherapy at one time, and the waiting room can hold up to 500 people. The hospital was built by an American architect and is mad of mostly glass. The design of the building is meant to resemble a ship and the world, a sign that the entire world is welcome at the hospital. Anyone can come for treatment, no matter religion or where they are from. The hospital runs completely off of donations and treatment is 100% free for all patients. The Egyptian government donated the land where the hospital was built, but otherwise no money is received from the government. The in-patient section of the hospital has 179 beds, more than any hospital in the world. They have the most up to date technology, donated by Siemens. The technology includes the latest machines for brain scans, MRIs etc. as well as muscle and rehab centers. The chemotherapy area is also equipped with comfy chairs for the patients, and private chemo rooms for older patients. Since many of the patients and families that visit the hospital are illiterate, the architect used many colors both to put the children at ease and for easy directing through the hospital. For example, if a family needed to visit radiology and they were illiterate, then the nurse could simply tell the family what color hallway to visit. We did not get a chance to visit with patients as we were originally intended to which was disappointing. We did see many sick children in the chemo area and waiting room though which was extremely sad. I am very glad I visited the hospital. I was expecting a run down, rural hospital but I was pleasantly surprised by how new and up to date the hospital was. As run down a city as Cairo is, the people of Egypt are gradually starting to try and raise the standards of the city.

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