Saturday, June 29, 2013

On Spirituality

You don't have to experience addiction to have gone through hell, but tremendous suffering of any kind has a way of cracking you open--which feels terrible at the time, but as you heal, you realize that wound has also opened you up. Judging others, following the letter of the law instead of the spirit of the law, telling other people how to live, are all concerns that fall by the wayside. What's left is gratefulness and love. Embracing that is a beautiful thing.

Your empathy sparks awake, you feel compassion for others in pain, and the last thing you want to do is feel anger and hate--because so much of that was what you experienced when suffering.

Pursue peace. It's up to each of us to evolve and make a heaven of the Earth we all inhabit.

Friday, June 28, 2013

New Painting and Happy Pride!

Well, Egypt continues to inspire me. Here's the beginning of a new painting. They always start off looking like a mess. But we visited the Temple of Horus at Edfu at midnight, under a full moon, so I'm going to try to capture the feel of that mystical place. The statue of Horus isn't actually behind the first pylons like that, but I want him to be in the painting, so as usual I'm not going for utter realism but more for recapturing the emotions I felt.

Speaking of which (emotions), it's been an up and down week. First SCOTUS undid part of the voting rights act, which no doubt will lead to all kinds of attempts to disenfranchise certain groups of voters. Still, the country is rapidly heading for a non-white majority (this is already the case in California), and the GOP will have to find a way to attract these voters instead of resorting to gerrymandering, or it will die off as "the party of the past." That may not be a bad thing. Its social authoritarianism has been a turn-off to a lot of fiscal conservatives, who otherwise don't care about things like birth control, a woman's freedom to choose, gay marriage, and the like. We could use a new party or two anyway. I know even I am tired of some of the Dem's shenanigans (its getting right on board with the GOP on domestic spying and NDAA, while trying to water down the 2nd Amendment to silly extremes--I mean, a .22 rifle with a 10-round magazine classified as an assault weapon? That's just dumb.) And both parties are in bed with Wall Street and the big banks anyway.

But then, of course, came the real upper: Prop 8 is dead and so is DOMA! I remarked on Facebook with my usual dry sense of humor that it's so nice for others to decide that others can't decide whom I may marry. It is, of course, rather ridiculous that we have to have this debate at all, since marriage stopped being solely a religious institution ever since the government got into the business of handing out marriage licenses and giving certain tax breaks and other benefits to married couples. Still, being legally married in California when my other gay friends have not been able to do so themselves has ... well, been a weird feeling. I can say with all certainty that in the past five years, since Chelle and I and 18,000 other gay couples have been legally wed during that time, the Church has not been thrown into disarray, none of my straight friends have divorced, and in fact several straight couples I know have gotten married, so the institution of marriage seems alive and well.

Oh, and no worries, y'all, about gay marriage opening the door to people marrying their dogs or cats or whatnot. Animals are unable to give consent and thus may not enter into a contract. Neither can children, who are legally underage.

It's PRIDE weekend and I'm still debating over whether or not to head into the city on Sunday to watch the parade and partake in the festivities. This year's should be a particularly joyous party. A lot may depend on the weather--it's been blistering here, and the city should be cooler. Plus there's just something energizing about watching all the dancing queens. FINALLY there is something to truly celebrate this year!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Contribution to Peace

My dear friend Lisa and I attended a peace meditation in the Peace Garden at Rosicrucian Park in San Jose today (a fitting thing to end the summer solstice weekend, don't you think?) and ran into some friends from the Egypt trip (Hi, Carlos! Hi, Jacquie! Hi, Monica!) and made a new friend, Cassie. This was a powerful ceremony because we were reminded that all wars are fought by humanity's "lesser instinct" to control--to take another's possessions, or to impose their culture or religion on others, or to seize control for some other political reason. We were then asked to reflect upon the ways in which we all "war" with others in our own daily lives, in even the smallest of ways. We then concluded by meditating on the following:

Words to live by.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Power of the Heavens

You know, there are all sorts of interesting things going on in the sky right now. This summer solstice weekend coincides with a "supermoon," or perigee, when the moon is closest to the earth, so when the moon is full, it looks huge. The best viewing should be tonight and tomorrow. You can read about it here, or if it happens to be cloudy where you are, see it on Sloop.

But that's not all. There's also an interesting alignment that's been going on in which the Earth on the summer solstice is pointed directly at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Read more about that here.

Just a month ago, I was in Egypt for the full moon, when another interesting alignment was taking place as we were touring the Temple of Horus at Edfu (at midnight, go figure). It was powerful to see that Temple bathed in moonlight. The celestial alignment at that time was of Jupiter, Mercury, and Venus, which is comparatively rare. It all added to the mystical impact of the visit.

The heavens affect the tides, affect our moods, and though I'm not the sort of person who reads my horoscope every morning to see what's in store for Geminis, I do believe there's much truth to "As above, so below." There is simply an extra element--a mysterious one--that exponentially increases the power of meditations and charges the Soul when things are going on with the heavens. As Carl Sagan famously quipped, "Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can. Because the cosmos is also within us. We're made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself."

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Bob Dylan: "The Times They Are A-Changin'"

I post this in honor of my young friend, Jeff Williams. Youthful adepts like him give me hope for the future.

While you're at it, check out his books on Esoteric Science, Vols. 1 and 2. Jeff was kind enough to credit me as editor of Vol. 2, but really all I did was copyedit the work. There was simply no need to edit his research, style, or vision. If you begin with Volume One, you're in for quite a journey.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Homage to Sekhmet, Temple of Karnak, Luxor, Egypt

Now, my friends on Facebook have seen this painting because I posted pics as I was working on it, but now I'd finally like to write a bit about what inspired it. It represents what I experienced in the Chapel of Sekhmet at the Temple of Karnak, and it honors the goddess.

A brief history lesson for those who may not know: Sekhmet was the Egyptian goddess of war, protection, and healing. She was depicted with the face of a lioness and her breath was said to have created the desert. Most statues of her show her seated on a throne, but the statue in the Chapel of Sekhmet features her standing and holding a staff with a lotus atop it.

When we visited the Chapel, it was before sunrise. We'd arrived at Karnak early (as we did for many sites) for several reasons: to beat the heat and the tourists and to watch the sun come up there, which creates beautiful reflections in the lake and lights up the monuments in astonishing ways.

Now the Chapel itself has been closed off to tourists for about forty years as that section of the Temple is undergoing renovation (although I'm sure with appropriate baksheesh, some of the temple guards are more than willing to allow people to have a peek if they promise to not damage or deface anything). But since it was still dark, we had only a few candles to light our way, so we filed in silently in single file. Once in, the person leading us held up her candle to we could see the statue. We spent some time there taking in Sekhmet's energy. She is a powerful presence. I felt that she sized all of us up, was satisfied our intentions were good, so she settled down to listen to our inner requests.

Since Sekhmet is the remover of obstacles, I touched the statue briefly and asked for assistance removing the obstacles I feel have always gotten in the way of my being my whole, true Self: fears and anxieties, primarily; but also a tendency to being judgmental and snarky when compassion would serve others and me much better.

Afterwards, we all gathered on a small hill to watch the sun rise, and here came the power of the experience. I heard Sekhmet speaking to me. (Yeah, yeah, I've gotten all woo-woo on you; you'll just have to take it for what it's worth.) She wanted me to know that anger is not always bad. She said there are worthless fights, true; but she was insistent that there are righteous fights and that I must stop backing down all the time in the name of peace. One can fight without resorting to actual violence. The other thing she wanted me to know is that it's not so much fear that stops me at times: it's my own mind. If I would just follow my intuitive impulses and do without thinking so much, I'd blossom like a flower. I actually answered her back on this one: What about reasonable caution? She didn't answer but found my question highly amusing, and I felt a gentle, protective touch before she departed.

It still takes my breath away just remembering it.

And thus I made a painting.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Angel Island Immigration Center

Where immigrants first set foot on American soil
So, for our birthday weekend (mine's the 14th, Chelle's is the 17th), we both wracked our brains trying to figure out something special to do that didn't involve traveling out of the Bay Area. Seriously, we've done everything from Bodega Bay to Carmel. Finally we landed on something we hadn't yet done--catch the ferry out to Angel Island.

I think most people know of Angel Island because of Escape from Alcatraz--that's where the escaping prisoners were headed in 1962 because they figured everyone else would assume they'd headed for San Francisco. Of course, the way the Bay goes, they'd have been lucky to make it between the frigid waters and then fighting the current that sweeps towards the Golden Gate and out to the ocean.

But Angel Island is also famous because it's the West Coast version of Ellis Island. Here is where immigrants wishing to enter America would land, be processed, and be on their way to make it in the land of opportunity. Except... that's not how it really happened. The majority of immigrants entering on the West Coast were Chinese, and they were severely impacted by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The only way they could legally enter the country was to prove they already had relatives on their father's side of the family here. Proof was not easy to provide, and they were subjected to long, repetitive interrogations; often denied entry, they would appeal; be denied; appeal again and so on. At Ellis Island, where immigrants were of European descent (white), there were no such problems and processing took usually only several hours or at worst several days. At Angel Island, processing took several weeks if they were lucky and some remained in detention for as long as months or years.

The living conditions were not grand, to say the least. They were housed in barracks, the men separated from the women, and except in the case of very young children, children were often separated from their mothers. The dorms in the barracks were cold and drafty; rats ran rampant; the mess hall food was abysmal, and there were always water shortages, so showers and flushing toilets were a luxury. One doctor commented with disgust upon his view of the place:

Of course, the irony is that it's precisely those Chinese characters on the wall that now make the Immigration Center so remarkable. It turns out they are poems. The poems are everywhere. Homesick, lonely, desperate, sometimes angry, the detained Chinese took to carving poetry all over the walls of the barracks--quite literally the first examples of Chinese American literature we have.

Here is an example of one, and just imagine them, hundreds of them, covering the walls:

Numerous signs are posted in the barracks offering translations of some of the poems. Two that particularly spoke to me follow:

The feeling of the place is simply melancholy. Even though later on, during World War II, the Immigration Center housed some German, Italian, and Japanese prisoners of war, the walls mostly exuded sadness. And why not? To travel across the sea to the Promised Land, only to be treated like a criminal upon your arrival--despite attempting to enter the country legally, does give one pause. This is America: will we ever stop fearing perceived threats and fanning the flames of hatred? Or will we always just substitute one group for another as soon as the perceived threat proves itself groundless?

I was heartened to see these words posted from Franklin D. Roosevelt:

Well, I was left with much to think about. Other than the old Immigration Center, I should hasten to add that Angel Island isn't a total bummer of a place: there is much excellent hiking, and the views of the Bay Area (from Mt. Tam to even San Jose on a clear day) are breathtaking. The only way to get there is by ferry, either from the city or from Tiburon, and many people bring their bikes. There are also the remnants of an old Civil War fort (with cannon batteries, just in case Confederate ships ever attacked San Francisco, which never happened); Fort McDowell (a jumping off point for soldiers serving in the Pacific Theater of WWII); and even a now-decommissioned silo that once housed a Nike missile.

But obviously the biggest impact on me was the poems. For a 12-minute video on the story behind the poems, take the time to view this story from KQED, our local PBS station.

Happy Daddy's Day

Happy Father's Day, Daddy.  Funny to think that you've been gone now longer than I knew you while you last traveled this earthly plane. Still, I think of you often and continue to feel your presence. I told you I'd finally get to Egypt, and I did! I'll be listening for you on Angel Island today..... 

Friday, June 14, 2013

I Adore My In-Laws

That's right. Even a newly minted 51 year-old can still get her rock-and-roll on.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Soul Alignment

Check out this guy! Now, the video is a big tease because he never actually plays the instruments; he just demonstrates them. But I was intrigued enough to go to his website and purchase a CD and was pleased to get a personal email from him containing details on how to use the CD for the best effects. I intend to use them in meditation, so I'll report back later on what, if anything, happened.

As a Rosicrucian student, I'm a huge admirer of the Master Pythagoras but frustratingly horrible at mathematics. It's one of the reasons I can't read music--I have a total mindblock because it's too much like math. So playing guitar is utterly intuitive for me. But nature is a huge math and music project: everything is energy, vibration, consciousness, and once you realize that and start tinkering with that (New Age peeps would say "raise your vibration"), you really do start perceiving things that have always been under your nose but just couldn't see them before.

I'm still processing things that happened to me in Egypt, and I'm not sure I'll ever be able to talk about them without sounding like a total wackjob. Suffice it to say that being surrounded by 40+ other intuitives visiting all these ancient mystical sites opened me up in ways I hadn't anticipated. I heard things and saw things that, well, I suppose the Syfy Channel would call "paranormal," but really it's not. They're just "extranormal." These things are always there and available to us but most of us are closed off to them. So I came back more open and I want to stay open, bloom even more, in this continual quest to seek the Divine.

Pythagoras called music "A soul alignment." Our bodies are our instruments: we must continually tune them, or attune.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Meet Metal Peacock, Justin Bieber

Far be it from me to even try to top the Bloggess and her famous Beyonce, the metal chicken, post. In fact, if you haven't read it, you must--it's here.

It's one of my favorite blog posts ever. I'm also 100% sure Chelle has never seen it.

So, imagine my stunned surprise when I came home from Egypt to find this metal peacock in our house. It even swings back and forth. Do you remember those little fake birds that would swing back and forth as if dipping their tiny beaks in a birdbath or a cup of water or whatever possessed their owners to place in front of them? When I was growing up, it seemed like everybody over 50 had one on a windowsill.

To my relief, Bieber the Peacock (thus have I dubbed him) isn't meant to stay in our home--he's a gift for Chelle's dad, who likes metal sculptures, and the added bonus is his peacockness (Bieber's, not Chelle's dad's) because our 2 year-old nephew, Christopher, likes peacocks. So, when Christopher visits his grandpa, he'll have Bieber to play with.

In the meantime, our cats have Bieber to play with. Jerry particularly likes him.

Jerry hearts Bieber

Belmont Pick 4 Ticket

Here is what I wound up doing. I went with "most likely" and then some longshots, using what Chelle calls the "Ortiz angle." (Those brothers have been hot at Belmont this meet.)

Honestly, for the Belmont Stakes, I think the Derby trifecta shows up here.

Race #8    06/08/2013
$0.5 Pick-4
# 3,6,7
WT # 1,3,4,6
WT # 1,6
WT # 5,9,14

Friday, June 7, 2013

Tomorrow's Belmont Pick 4: Clueless!

Well, the track should be muddy for the Belmont Stakes tomorrow, so I'm looking for the mudders and the ones that are bred to get the distance. Orb, Revolutionary, Golden Soul, and Will Take Charge are the four that float to the top. Oxbow should get the distance, but you don't really wire the Belmont unless your name is Secretariat. Unlimited Budget can handle an off track but is a little questionable at the distance. She will also get bet down because she's a filly, Rosie is up, and people are hoping for another Rags to Riches. A lot of 'cappers are also liking Freedom Child, who wired the Peter Pan over this track when it was sloppy. Then again, as I said, you don't really wire the Belmont Stakes.

The one million guaranteed Pick 4 begins with Race 8, but that's a turf race and god only knows if the race will be over the turf or the main track. Mizdirection and Better Lucky have both won over a sloppy dirt track. The rest are a question mark on dirt, and who knows what the scratches will be. But it's a strong field: Hungry Island, Stephanie's Kitten, and Centre Court are all contenders. Dayatthespa can't be discounted, either. So, now I've just named the entire field with the exception of one. Given that, I may just go with the ones offering the best value and keep my fingers crossed for an upset.

Race 9: I like four: Capo Bastone, Zee Bros, Clearly Now, and Declan's Warrior.

Race 10: Another turf race that may wind up on the main track, but if you're looking for a single, it's probably Point of Entry. Optimizer, Bombaguia, and Twilight Eclipse are possibles.

But honestly, I have no clue what my Pick 4 ticket will look like until I see the scratches. Given that, I'll post my ticket here tomorrow once I make up my mind.

Update: this morning's news is that the rain has tapered off and the sun is peeking out, so the main track may actually be pretty dry by the Belmont Stakes. Also, the two races above on turf are remaining on turf, though naturally it will be yielding. No info yet on scratches.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


So I have a week and a half before summer session starts, and even then (since I tutor in summers), I won't have to bring work home. This means I can read for pleasure!

On my plate: Zahi Hawass' book, of course, and then another one I'm halfway through that I picked up in Egypt called Omm Sety. I also have already dipped into a novel called Azazael by Yossef Ziedan, which won the Arabic version of the Pulitzer or Booker Prizes in 2009. (It's about a monk, not a demon.) On my Kindle I have Dan Brown's new novel and a couple of Maggie Hope mysteries by Susan Elia MacNeal, Princess Elizabeth's Spy and His Majesty's Hope. I'm also about halfway through Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander. Thus, Tigger is in her happy place.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

So, How Safe Is Egypt? And, Some Travel Tips

The Egyptian flag
A few people have asked me now what it was like to travel in Egypt, was it safe, were there any negative encounters and the like, so I thought I'd give a simple answer and then a longer answer: It's safe for Westerners, and now is actually a very good time to go, since tourism is down due to these kinds of fears, and the Egyptian pound is not as strong as it once was. So actually you can get some real bargains when shopping!

And now for the long answer, along with some other tidbits. Our group had the pleasure of listening to several Egyptians speak about the revolution and the current state of affairs in that country. Really, it's not much different from America on that front. There's some suspicion of government, distrust of the media (propaganda), a genuine desire for democracy, freedom, basic rights, and a stable economy. They feel hopeful--even though everything is not hunky dory at present, the precedent set by the revolution has empowered them. When the people joined together, their voices were heard. The older generation feels that it's now up to the younger generation--those who started a revolution on Facebook and Twitter (imagine!) to keep fighting the good fight. The previously conceived class division of haves and have nots was shattered: the revolution was started by educated youth of some financial means, speaking out in support of all Egyptians.

The reason Mubarak (President from 1981-2011) was ousted is easily understood. For a long time, he was perceived to be a good President. But as he aged, his wife and son started taking over some of the policy decisions, and corruption entered the picture. The son appointed friends to cabinet positions and it seemed likely he was headed to step into his father's shoes. The people felt their concerns were being ignored, and they didn't like the nepotism, bribery, and mishandling of funds. So they took to the streets in protest. After a few days, Mubarak appeared on national television appealing for order and making various promises to improve the situation, and some were willing to give him a chance. But then Mubarak's army began shooting protestors the next day; needless to say that did not go over well, so a full-fledged revolution took place. It hadn't even been planned.

Then came the elections. Well, there were only two candidates: Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood (they had been repressed under the Mubarak regime, many of them jailed) and a candidate whose name I forget who'd been in Mubarak's party. One thing that people did not anticipate was how organized the Muslim Brotherhood was. I heard lots of stories about them paying poor people bribes for votes and others speculating that the election was rigged. Morsi also made tons of promises to the people about how their lives would improve, and, of course, none of those have panned out, and now the consensus seems to be that he was just telling the people what they wanted to hear but had his own agenda. The people do not want Sharia law written into their Constitution; they want free and fair elections and a Supreme Court not stacked with members of the Muslim Brotherhood. "The Muslim Brotherhood--they don't represent Muslims," said one person. His point was that Islam stands for peace and that true Muslims respect religious freedom. Although Egypt is largely Sunni Muslim, there are also a fair number of Coptic Christians (and some Jews), and they all get along just fine. Crossing the countryside, I saw many churches and mosques standing side-by-side. When I hurt my knee and room service showed up with a bucket of ice, the attendant said to me quite respectfully, "I will pray to my God that you feel better," and I took that in the spirit in which it was given and thanked him. At no time did I feel criticized or disliked for being a Westerner. In fact, more often than not, when our tour bus blew by any group of people, they would wave "hello" at us and smile.

Any lingering strife in Egypt seems to be between Morsi supporters and those who don't support him. Those who don't support him are waiting for the next election and trust they will be better organized the next time around. Before I left for Egypt, I kept close tabs on the US State Dept news of Egypt and stories in our own newspapers, and there was some to-do about "protests that frequently turn violent" in Cairo. Well, on the bus, we passed by a protest on the way to the Cairo Museum. There were about 40 people standing on one side of the street across from a Marriott Hotel, several blocks away from the American embassy (and, I presume, other embassies and government buildings), and all they were doing was holding signs. So our press tends to overblow stories as well, I think.

In short, I felt safe and welcomed. Consider that tourism is about 70% of the Egyptian economy and that tourism is down, as I said, and in general, Egyptians are delighted to see us. One thing I found interesting was that many vendors seemed to prefer to be paid in American dollars as opposed to Egyptian pounds (one dollar = seven pounds at the current rate of exchange). I expect that's so because they expect their currency to continue to lose value. Dollars may increase in value. So, if you go, bring along lots of ones and fives for tips, along with a credit card, and there's not much need to hassle with exchanging American dollars for Egyptian currency.

Even the Morsi government is dedicated to making Egypt safe for tourists. Military is stationed at every major tourist attraction, and twice we had to get a military escort for places we were going off the beaten path. Well, I take that back: Abu Simbel isn't really off the beaten path since it is a major tourist attraction, but travelers there still need a military escort because it's so close to the Sudanese border. The other place we went that the military insisted on following us to was the El Fayyum oasis (and town), but I'm not sure why. Maybe it's just a rule. In any case, better safe than sorry, although I will say as we were leaving Lake Moerris and returning to our bus, somebody out in the countryside started blasting the Qur'an from loudspeakers. It wasn't the typical muezzin doing his call to prayer. So, maybe there is a pocket of more radical Islamists in that area. Who knows? In any case, when our bus went back through the town, people still waved "hello" at us.

Other things about Egypt to know (that either charmed me or surprised me): public restrooms are a mixed bag. Some are clean; some are not. You do not flush anything down the toilets; you wipe and toss the used bathroom tissue into a basket. As you can imagine, some restrooms can get pretty rank. By the end of the trip, I was preferring to use the bathroom on the bus, and with a busload of 40+ people using it, that should tell you something. But, when nature calls, nature calls. Expect to tip for using the bathroom. Toilet paper isn't kept in the stalls; you are handed a small amount of paper by an attendant when you enter the bathroom. When you wash your hands, you are handed more toilet paper to dry them with. This is why you tip. But this is just public restrooms: hotels are normal.

Unless you are in a store where prices are fixed, expect to bargain when you buy an item. Your first offer will be highly inflated. Say the seller wants 500LE (pounds) for something. Offer 50. He'll say 300. Offer 100. Then refuse to go over that price and start to walk away. He will chase you and say "Okay, okay." Or, he'll continue haggling and throw in more stuff for free. For me, haggling is a headache. (But I'm an introvert.) I'm pretty sure I overpaid for things a couple of times, especially when I'd get the whole song-and-dance about the seller having five children at home and needing to feed them and so on. Truly, I'm a softie, and it was probably obvious. So I didn't mind overpaying at times, especially if the vendor wasn't too pushy. Consider that 100LE is just $14 and that I make in a month what they make in a year, and it was hard for me to argue too much. I rarely accepted change and just told them to keep it.

When leaving Kom Ombo and the Temple of Sobek, one guy approached me, and I didn't even want what he was selling, but he was so gentle and non-aggressive in comparison to the others swarming around us, I told him, "Put out your hand." I slipped a 200 pound note into it and kept on going, walking down the gangplank to our ship. I heard a "Lady!" called out from the shore and turned to look. There he stood, blowing kisses at me. That made my day!

I also received a proposal of marriage--some of the vendors will flirt shamelessly if they think you will buy something. I said I was already married. He said, "Egyptian men can marry up to four wives!" I laughed, but it's true. One of the temple guards we met had three and joked that he was looking for a fourth. He had to be at least sixty years old.

Which reminds me... after the revolution, when there was chaos due to no government and no police in force, there was a small amount of looting, which is to be expected. (Can you imagine no government and no police in this country? I doubt the amount of looting or crime would be small. Yet order largely remained and the crime rate didn't go up in any significant way.) But the one guard with the three wives got his whole extended family to come out and guard the Temple with him. As for the Cairo Museum, a few thieves did break in, looking for gold and for a substance supposedly placed into ancient mummies called red mercury. It's supposed to have all sorts of divine and healing properties, but according to Zahi Hawass, it's bogus and no such thing exists. Newspapers reported that Tut's death mask and all these other artifacts had been stolen, but Hawass says that isn't so. (And if Tut's mask was stolen, that's a mighty fine copy in the museum now, I hasten to add. It looked real to me.) A few mummies were vandalized along with a few small statues, but the damage was minimal. Hawass (Director of Antiquities under Mubarak, so he's no longer in that position) says that during the revolution, when he saw on television that the Cairo Museum was being looted, wanted to rush there right away, but he wasn't allowed to go. Despite the danger at the time, he went there first thing the next morning, only to be greeted by a chain of Egyptian citizens, armed locked together, standing in front of the museum to protect it from further looting. Emotion entered his voice as he was telling us this story, and I was deeply moved.

All in all, the Egyptians are a good, caring, loving people. When I was walking down the stairway to visit the Temple of Luxor, I misstepped and wobbled for a second, and the veiled Muslim woman on the step in front of me quickly reached out a hand to steady me. "Shokran" (thank you) is a word I found myself using a lot.  And I cracked up Housekeeping on the Nile cruiser by asking for a lesson in how to pronounce "Es-salam 'alaykom" (hello). Later on, when one of them saw that my friend Lisa was suffering from a bit of King Tut's revenge, he brought her a cup of peppermint tea, which is very good for soothing the stomach. Point to remember: don't drink the water, and don't eat anything that's uncooked unless it's a fruit or veggie that has been peeled. But that's generally true of any country you visit outside the US.

What else? Ah, yes, traffic. The only rule that seems to apply is direction. Otherwise, there are no lanes. People make their own lanes; needless to say, most cars you see on the road have scratches from being sideswiped. You can also expect to see motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic (the women ride sidesaddle!) and the occasional donkey cart, plus pedestrians crossing even freeways. Cairo is a traffic nightmare. Still, in Cairo, our bus got trapped on a side street because of a car that had double-parked, and at least 6-7 men in the neighborhood came to the rescue to help direct the bus inching forward and back and to look for the owner of the car. At one point they actually picked up the car and moved it forward a few inches. There really is a strong sense of community in Egypt that is sorely lacking at times in America, at least in the heavily populated metropolitan areas. "Don't get involved." "It's not my business." "I might get sued."

And finally, if you visit Egypt, you'll notice that many of the houses stand slightly unfinished even though people are occupying them. That's because there's a law that states if you buy a house and it's not completed, you don't have to pay taxes on it until it's done. So, Egyptians don't like paying their taxes, either. What's not to love about that?

Egypt is so much more than pyramids and temples and tombs and hieroglyphs. (I feel like I'm writing a travel brochure, hmm.) These were my reason for going, but I'm bringing back so much more than that. Another is a greater appreciation for the things we do have here in America: decent hospitals, free K-12 education, good roads, sturdy housing. We take so much for granted, but by comparison, we have so very much. Egyptians and Americans, I think, could learn a lot from each other by sharing the best of each other.

On that happy note, I'll close. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Video of Egypt Trip

Old Cairo--Armana (Ahketaten)--Lake Nasser and Abu Simbel--Nile cruise--Temple of Horus--Temple of Luxor--Temple of Seti I/Osirion, Temple of Hathor at Dendara--West Bank/tomb of Ramose/Temple of Ramsses III--Temples of Karnak--El Fayyum/Lake Moerris--Giza Plateau (Sphinx and Great Pyramid)--Dashour/Sakkara (bent pyramid, red pyramid, step pyramid). Background music by Diane Arkenstone, "The Secret Chamber" and "Seduction" from CD "Echoes of Egypt," available on iTunes.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Home Again, Home Again.....

I'm back!!!

But, too pooped to post much yet. Got in late last night (up at 4:30am Cairo time, arrived 10:30pm Pacific Time US), with only a few short naps on the planes. I dragged myself out of bed this morning to post my final grades for work, pay bills, and do laundry, and now I'm going to go collapse.

But here's a pic of me between the paws of the Sphinx. We were quite lucky and got to do a lot of things that most tourists don't, and that's because the owner of the tour company our group used is very well connected (no kidding, he actually got Zahi Hawass to come to our hotel and treat us to a lecture on recent discoveries in Egypt). He also personally knows guys like Robert Bauvall and Graham Hancock. Hence, we got to go into the Sphinx enclosure, inside the Great Pyramid (all the way up to the King's Chamber), into the Temple of Sekhmet at Karnak Temple (closed to tourists for the past 40 years, since it is being reconstructed), and we got lots of private tours of other temples (mainly because he scheduled them either early morning for sunrise or late evening--for example, we toured the Temple of Horus at midnight under the full moon).

I have so much to say and so much reflection still to do, but needless to say it was a transformational experience.

More to come.....