Your ancient culture is hard for me to comprehend.
Since I was a little boy, I’ve dreamed about seeing you. It started when I heard about King Tut, the boy king who would rule for ten years (he died at 19) before likely being murdered by his regent and whose tomb would later be found with 3,000 pieces of treasure inside.
We learned Tut’s tomb was the smallest of all 64 tombs in the Valley of the Kings and the only tomb found intact in modern times with a cache of priceless items. I could spend the rest of my time addressing you asking questions about Tut. His treasure left me in awe.
Your mystery, magic and history amazed me. Because of you, future generations founded mythology, religion and the beginnings of human philosophy. I never fully understood that so much started with you. Not the Romans. Not the Greeks. You. You were where our civilized world began some 10,000 years ago. You came first. Before Moses. Before Mohammed. Before Jesus.
You dreamed on a big scale and were not afraid to make things happen. You taught us the earliest things we know about medicine. You showed us the power of architecture. You grew and collapsed and grew and collapsed again. Entire Egyptian dynasties lasted nearly 1,000 years. At the same time, you’ve always been open to diversity, and you welcome all newcomers without a lot of internal civil war. Impressive. So much of who you were in the past is still alive today and so much has been borrowed and incorporated into many present-day cultures around the world.
After seeing you with my own eyes (shout out to Horus), I now see so many traces of you in my daily life. The things I wear (flip-flops, for example), the place I worship (basically the same design as Egyptian temples), the jewelry women wear (see Tut’s bracelet), the boats we sail in (Khufu’s boat looks like a modern sailboat) and even my 365-day calendar (yours was 360) have all been influenced by you. We don’t give you enough credit. You are everywhere and with us always.
I’ve highlighted some of your accomplishments, but I’ve not yet mentioned your most impressive asset; the clean, abundant and overflowing river of life – the Nile. Your ancient people knew this too, for they used the image of the Nile and her citizens regularly in your drawings, designs and hieroglyphs of animals, plants and birds who play an important role in your history. In fact, some of these characters even became Gods for you. We’ve all studied the Nile in school and know. that she overflows annually and runs south to north. We also know she’s what makes life possible in the desert. That said, the majesty of the Nile is something I had to experience in person.
As we made our way from Luxor to Aswan on a boat, it was the slow crawl that sealed the deal for me. As we passed villages, we saw daily life like ancient civilians must have seen. Boys and girls laughing and playing in the river, farmers riding donkeys, water buffalo (oxen) pulling carts, women balancing water on their heads and dogs and cats enjoying the hot (too hot) days. It became apparent very quickly why Egypt has been so successful for so many millennia. The Nile meets most of your needs in good times and bad. It provides food and water, transportation, shelter (in the form of trees that grow everywhere near its banks) and even materials for clothing. Today, the Nile even provides energy for most of your country through the Aswan Dam. I came here thinking your pyramids, tombs and mummies would be the stars of the show (and they were impressive), but it’s the Nile that helped me make sense of your rich history.
There’s not enough room in a post to capture everything I felt as we visited you, so I’ll try to capture a few highlights:
- Egypt did not feel dangerous. While security was my top concern coming into this experience, we felt safe the entire time. We’ll be your tourism advocates in our own country for years to come!
- The Egyptian Museum is a mess. It’s more than 100 years old and the treasures that sit inside, including most everything from King Tut’s discovery, are fit for a more deserving display. The good news is you’ve built a new Egyptian Museum and it’s slated to open next year.
- I really enjoyed the 24 hours of lectures by the famous American Egyptologist Dr. Bob Brier whom I listened to as we prepared for our visit. His lectures are straightforward, interesting and very educational. I recommend them to anyone who might be thinking about visiting you.
- A guide who understands your history is a must. We used the wonderful Nouna who had more than 25 years of guiding under her belt. She writes in hieroglyphs, too! [ed note: Reach out to us if you want to get connected to Nouna.]
- Consider exporting your handmade rugs. They are spectacular and we hope our purchase will live on in our family for generations.
- Stop smoking. I have to continue making this point!
In addition to the tour of the Egyptian Museum, the Pyramids of Giza, the Nile River cruise, the visit to the Valley of the Kings and the tours of six famous ancient temples, we also asked Nouna to help us better understand the religious history of your country. We visited several medieval mosques and Coptic Christian churches.
We arrived the day before Eid celebrations, which gave our family a sense of religious life in Egypt. On June 15th, we saw several thousand children playing in the streets, as is the custom on the first day of “the feast”. They were of all ages, from toddlers to early teenagers. They were as amazed to see us as we were to see them! Requests came from all angles in broken English. “What is your name?” and “Hello!” were two things we heard the most.
It was immediately clear to us that these children have very little. Looking around at our surroundings, we realized they may live in tiny apartments with meager resources. They were, however, very happy. Recognizing true happiness is unmistakable.
As we walked the streets with our two American boys, both of whose eyes were wide open, we wondered two things:
- Would our boys be as happy as these children as they grow up in a world where possibilities are limitless?
- Would the children we met, who are full of talent and energy, find a way to reach their full potential?
Egypt, you are more than memorable. I say with confidence that we will be saying that about you for generations to come.