Yet More Stories From Our Passports

“What is not started today is never finished to-morrow.” Johann von Goethe

No doubt about it, we landed at the Cairo airport for the proof is a page in my passport of just Egyptian writing. Others of my siblings could read it but not me. We paid a fee to enter Egypt for there are three cancelled stamps, in this case paper ones. One says the fee from those stamps went to help the Unesco Campaign to Save the Nubian Monuments. That needs some history–the Nile river was damned back with the Aswan High dam and when Nasser Lake began to fill it was flooding some truly historical statues of immense proportions—the Nubian Monuments. It is such a pity but we did not get to travel up the Nile past Luxor and on to Lake Nasser.

My family there in Egypt drove us up to Luxor using the mission car. There we stayed overnight before crossing the Nile to see the archeological sights on the other side. You might think “up” would be going North towards Alexandria but “up” is used to mean going South towards the headwaters of the Nile. Luxor is the site of the ancient city of Thebes and the area is often described as an “open air museum.” We visited the Temple of Luxor with a tall obelisk at its entrance and immense statues of fanciful animals and ancient Pharaohs. We marvelled at the extravagant size of the images, something our machinery would be hard put to do even now. Our visit to Luxor touched only a fraction of the antiquities you might see if you had the time. When there we did travel the short distance to Karnack to see more, much more of the elaborate temples and carvings. In ancient times, those two cities were tied together with elaborate burial processions.

Then we crossed the Nile by boat and were confronted by the Colossi of Memnon, two huge statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III. For 3,400 years they have stood some sixty feet tall as guards to the mortuary temple of a Pharaoh; this temple was the largest of any temple of ancient Egypt. But now, along with the city of Thebes, it is gone. Not far away is the great temple of Queen Hatshepsut that was another mortuary temple. Once again it is vast, beautiful and layered in construction as was familiar to builders when the city of Thebes was the capital.

Along our way to the Valley of the Kings we came upon a man with his boys who with a bit of shade from a sheet of tenting were carving alabaster and selling it to tourists. We stopped and I went away with a little jar made of this soft, semi-transparent stone. They had no tools that we could see except chisels, hammers and files. But what beautiful work! For years I kept that vase on my church office desk holding pens and pencils. Well, that was till the day I knocked it on the floor and the soft stone shattered.

We wondered, as we travelled to the Valley of the Kings, at this desert area with its forbidding rock cliffs, hills and sand. But that is Egypt when it is not on the banks of the Nile or near irrigation networks. I think of Jesus who must have known about these deserts in the Middle East. He declared of his followers that from them would flow living waters. The Living Water flowing from our Lord is the water most needed to-day. It would meet the need of a world in conflict.

The Valley of the Kings was the preferred place for the burial crypts of the Pharaohs from the period 1539-1075 B.C. for they had roots in that area. Most of the tombs had been robbed but the one of Tutankhamun (King Tut) was discovered intact. So together we descended the steps into the underground chamber that opened into the burial place of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. The huge stone sarcophagus is there still intact.

The mummy’s solid gold coffin has been removed and we had the opportunity to see it in the Cairo museum. The artifacts and furniture from this tomb that we saw in Cairo have travelled the world. DNA tests in 2008 have confirmed that Tutankhamun who is known as the boy king was the son of Akhenaten and he reigned just 10 years. Pharaoh Akhenaten is another intriguing story for he banished their many gods preferring just one god. Was it possible Moses learned something from Akhenaten?

On our trip back to Cairo we stopped at the Abydos temple that is remarkably well preserved; it was there we saw the beautiful bas-relief figures of Pharaohs and gods. Much of the paint has remained  vibrant enduring well over 3,000 years. I don’t recall much more of that trip except the peaceful scene of the sailboats carrying freight on the Nile River. Mind you, that is quite a sight with the palms near the river and the desert hills farther away on either side.

One thing about those desert hills and dunes that I should mention—Norman and Velma had plans to drive us out into the desert to have a picnic lunch. But there was too much wind all the time we were in Egypt. Such an expedition would have been made miserable with the blowing sand.

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