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Journal 1

As our time in Egypt draws to a close, it is not without a bit of sadness that I take my leave of the filthy streets of Cairo, the overbearing vendors, and a land so rich with history and legacy that one can hardly turn over a stone without uncovering some sort of tomb or ancient artifact.


Our time in Egypt has been a blur of sightseeing, from Coptic churches to Muslim Mosques to ancient Egyptian temples. There have also been a few unexpected obstacles along our journey, from culture shock to sicknesses to viewing poverty first hand. Above all, this has been a week of learning: learning to adjust to a new place with different customs. Learning about each other, the people we will spend the next three and a half months with, and learning about an ancient civilization in which
history, legend, and story collide.

The dominant feature of Egypt is the sight-seeing and tours. We have packed as much into a one-week stay as possible: a day with less than nine hours of sightseeing seems like a day off. Highlights along the way have been many and one can hardly be disappointed with the history we have all seen. The pyramids and the
sphinx were among our more famous landmarks as well as our first introduction to the magnificence of the ancient Egyptian civilization. We spent another day visiting churches ranging from Coptic to Greek Orthodox, to Jewish synogogues. As most of the sights date back between 3000 to 5000 BCE, we began to construct a new perception of time and what ‘old’ really means.

We were introduced to Islam almost immediately after we stepped off the plane and saw the majority of women covering their heads with scarves. Our day of visiting mosques furthered our understanding of one of the most prominent religions in the world. The mosques were as elaborate and beautiful as any cathedral and just as
mysterious and awe-inspiring. A man approached our group in one of the mosques and offered to sing the call to prayer which echoes over the streets in a loudspeaker five times a day. His voice seemed to fill the entirety of the immense stone building as he sang the lifting harmonic minor scales that seem to pervade Arabic music. Needless to say, the effect was breathtaking.

Although we have been able to see and do incredible things in Egypt, not everything has come easily. It has been quite the task to learn how to barter on the streets and in bazaars. We soon learned certain tricks of the trade in order not to be hassled by
overly persistent vendrors. We all acquire a certain look as soon as we step onto the streets that translates into “trying to look mean” in order to avoid any unwanted attention.

Another surprise was that in Egypt, going to the bathroom is apparently a privilege, not a basic human necessity and thus requires tipping to the person waiting at the door who rations the highly treasured commodity of toilet paper.

Perhaps the most important aspect of our stay in Egypt is the amount of learning that is taking place. Besides the information that our guides dispense in great
quantities, we are seeing first hand a place we have head about in textbooks, a place that holds so many connections to the stories we have read in the Bible since childhood. I can’t help but wonder when we see the great monuments and temples in Egypt if this is where Abraham spoke with the pharoah, or where Joseph forgave his brothers who had betrayed him. As we sailed on the Nile I wondered if this was the place that the pharoah’s daugther pulled Moses from the rushes and what this great river of life must have looked like when it was turned into a river of blood and death. In a way, we are the pilgrims on a journey; a journey much like Moses and the children of Israel took when they fled the majesty and bondage of Egypt to cross the Sinai desert in search of a promised land. We too are headed to the deserts and Mount Sinai, and a war-torn country, and like the Israelites, we are here to help each other walk the mile, and bear the load.

-Ashley Handrich

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