Thursday, January 31, 2013

"Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." Part 1: Aswan

Well, I'm back!
As promised, I will now post about the amazing trip to Aswan and Luxor! :D I will divide this into two posts, one for each city, and divide up those two posts by day, to save time and energy, and be more organized.

So, without further ado, let's begin with the first of the two cities we saw: Aswan!

January 23, 2013: 
This day, at least for the two of us in Alexandria, started off quite early. Regina and her host father came to pick me up at my home at 6:30 in the morning, and then we headed off to a neighborhood in Alexandria called Moharam Bi to catch a bus to the Cairo Airport. The ride itself wasn't that bad. We slept most of it away and then were treated to a really mystical view of the pyramids from a distance veiled by fog, which made them look really beautiful and almost ghostly. We then spent the rest of the ride just talking and sharing my iPod until we arrived at the airport at about 11, made it really quickly through the security line and check-in (which, oddly enough, are in this order in the Cairo Airport), and then explored the other side of security for quite a while, which was great fun. We eventually settled down outside of a coffee shop, and bought some drinks and pastries to enjoy while we waited for Carson and Annika to arrive. They did at about 2:30, and then we headed very calmly to our gate, as we still had plenty of time before boarding, and then hopped onto an airport bus that took us to our plane. The flight to Aswan was quite short, just over an hour. But it was more than enough time to get comfortable and take some pretty nice pictures since I was in the window seat (if I do say so myself :3).
We landed at about a quarter to seven in Aswan, and then were picked up at the Aswan Airport by an AFS volunteer named John, who gave us all a ride to the host families from the local AFS chapter that we were staying with.
I stayed with a really sweet family, the Hannas. Their daughter Rana went to Redding, California, with AFS last year. They were all almost unbelievably and adorably sweet, and it really was an enormous pleasure to stay with them. :) They even have a small horde of really adorable baby chickens in their home! :D
After meeting our host families and getting ready, we all met up together - us AFSers and the youth volunteers from the families that were hosting us - and just hung out, talking and playing some games to get to know each other better, and then went to a cafe together for some juices and sodas. We got home by about 11 to prepare for the busy days ahead.

Taken in the airport, from the chair I was sitting in in the coffee shop. 



Another one. 
Some of the baby chicks! :D

I held them and they started walking up my arms. :D

From left to right: My host mother, Rana, me, my host father. 

Just me and the host parents this time. 

January 24, 2013:
On this day, we all met up together again and headed off to the Aswan High Dam!

Some background: The Aswan High Dam was built between 1960 and 1970. It is 3,830 meters long, 980 meters wide at the base, 40 meters wide at the crest, and 111 meters tall. Before the construction of the dam, the Nile flooded every year, which was what sustained the farming that supported the ancient Egyptian civilization. After the construction of the dam, the Nile ceased to flood, which created the enormous, 550 kilometer long reservoir of Lake Nasser.
The dam was impressively large, and we got a very nice view of the back of the dam and Lake Nasser as well.
After seeing the High Dam, we went over to a place where we took a felucca to Agilka Island, where the beautiful Philae Temple is located.
Although earlier constructions exist on the island, the main temple that exists today was built in the Ptolomaic Dynasty and is dedicated to Isis, although shrines to various ancient Egyptian gods still exist in various places on the island.
One interesting thing is that the temple was originally located on another island, but was dismantled and reconstructed on Agilka Island, because with its original location, the temple would have been flooded and destroyed by the rising waters of Lake Nasser after the construction of the Aswan High Dam.
The temple was really beautiful, and it was amazing to be there, and feel the tangible thousands of years of history of the place. Visiting it was incredible, in spite of the fact that, although it was January, it was quite hot (But the volunteers told us that it was an abnormality for it to be that hot in winter)!
After that we headed back to the city, and dined in a Nubian themed-restaurant called Dokka, which was really tasty. Additionally, it had a beautiful view since it was situated right on the Nile, and there were some rocks in the water near it that we all had a fun time climbing onto to admire the sunset. :)
Then, after that, we stopped in the pretty Coptic cathedral, and took a look inside. I always find it interesting to learn about Egypt's Christian community and their cultures and traditions, since, given the fact that my host family and most of my friends here in Alexandria are Muslims, I haven't gotten to know many Christian Egyptians before. My host families in both Aswan and Luxor were Christians, Protestant and Orthodox respectively.
One of the things that I found really fascinating about the cathedral were the inscriptions in the Coptic language, which is, as I understand it, a mix of the ancient Egyptian language that was written in hieroglyphics, and ancient Latin, written in the Greek alphabet!
The architecture was also quite pretty, even though this particular cathedral was not especially old, seeing as it only just opened in 2006.
Afterwards, we walked from the cathedral to the Nubian Museum.
Some background: The region in Africa between Aswan and Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan, has been traditionally referred to as Nubia. The people of Nubia have their own language, and culture, dress, dances, traditions, and music, which was explained and illustrated in the museum in detail. It was very interesting to take a look at the traditions and culture of the people that live in this area. I remember that earlier that day, when we were about to leave Philae Temple, I heard a group of men talking in a strange language that sounded like complete gibberish, and Rana explained to me that it was indeed Nubian.
After the museum, we went to our homes for a rest, and then met up again to go out together, and did some shopping in a souq that was near Rana's home, and then walked on the Corniche, which in Aswan refers to the street that runs along the Nile (it bears the same name as the Corniche in Alex along the Mediterranean. They can't compare in my opinion since I'm a die-hard Eskandarany, but it was still pretty :3).
It was a really fun and amazing night in spite of the fact that I was very nearly hit by a microbus while crossing the road. XD
What happened was that there was an opening in the traffic, and we all crossed the street halfway. Then I, without thinking at all, very stupidly made a move to cross the rest of it, and failed to look both ways as I have instinctively, reflexively done since my childhood, and then when I finally turned my head as I was crossing (I'm usually not this dumb and reckless when crossing Egyptian streets, don't worry), I noticed that there was a microbus headed straight at me. In a split second, only one thought raced through my head: "OH FUDGE, I'M GOING TO FREAKING DIE," and I pulled back out of the way instantly, into the group, who fussed over me for quite a while to make sure I was OK. I didn't even have time to get scared, I only had time to react. Let's just say that I was quite lucky, and that God was watching over me that night, which I am greatly thankful for.
Because of this incident, for the rest of the trip, no one allowed me to cross the street alone. xD
Anyways, get ready for a slew of pictures! XD

Over the front of the dam.

The view over the back, Lake Nasser.

Courtesy of Carson. 

From left to right: Annika, Carson, me, Gina, John's sister, Regina, John, a returnee volunteer, and then people we don't know. xD

Another picture of the dam from the back. 

From right to left: Carson, me, John, Regina, Annika, and Hossam, another volunteer. 

The Monument of Friendship between Egypt and (I believe) Russia.

Me and the Egyptian coat of arms. 

I really like this kind of pictures. :D

John is the one standing up. From right to left: Me, Mina, a volunteer, Carson, Annika, Regina, Gina, Hams, a volunteer, and then Abdelrahman, a returnee, and Hossam are in the front. 

From the felucca en route to Agilka. 


Another picture from the felucca.

The entrance to the temple.

Some columns inside the temple. 

Photo credits to Carson again.

The Nile. 

Inside the temple. 

The rocks we climbed on outside of Dokka.

A really pretty bird called an egret. 

Another one landing.

The view from the restaurant. 


The cathedral from outside.

Inscriptions in Arabic on top and Coptic on the bottom.
The beautiful ceiling. 

January 25, 2013
The next morning, we all got together and met up to take a boat to the Botanical Island. Unfortunately, I realized when Rana and I were in the taxi that I'd left my camera in my host family's home! So I sadly have no pictures from this day. :( I will borrow some and add them to this post sometime.
Anyway, we traveled by boat to the Botanical Island, which is an island in the middle of the Nile dedicated to botany, where plants from all over the world are grown and kept. It was incredibly beautiful, and also quite interesting to learn a bit about botany, since I'm not such a huge expert on plants. 
Afterwards we took a boat through a national park, and caught sight of some amazing scenery and animals, on our way to the Nubian Village, which I believe was located on Elephantine Island. We did saw many interesting things, including some Nile crocodiles living in captivity there, rode camels, got some henna tattoos (that will come off in three weeks) - I got one of the eye of Horus on my wrist) - and drank hot karkadeh, a juice made of hibiscus, which is quite tasty.
Then we went back to the city, and Rana took me to see the Germaneyya Hospital where her father works, which is a hospital founded by a mission in Germany. I got to meet several people from Germany and also one from Finland who apparently live and work there.
We then saw the new surgery ward, and then sat on the roof and talked with Abdelrahman and Farrag, a friend of everyone in the chapter, since they were on the roof of Abdelrahman's home, right next to the Germaneyya. xD
Afterwards we went back to Rana's home, had a quick lunch, and then rested for a few hours before meeting up with the other AFS people in a pizza restaurant, and then did some more shopping and walking around town. 

January 26, 2013
This was scheduled in the plan as a free day, that each student would spend with their host family. I did just that, by going along with Rana, and her brother and six of her cousins to climb a small mountain (I guess it's more like a big hill ahaha) on the western side of the Nile. It was a bit hot on the way there, but that was fine, and the amazing view was more than worth it. Also, we were in good company. :)
We made it to the top quickly, in under an hour, stayed up for an hour or two, then came back down. We then ate lunch and I quickly showered and packed, since we were leaving that day, and then we all rushed to meet the other AFS people at the train station, said our very sad goodbyes, and then got on the train to Luxor with a volunteer named Ahmed from Luxor who came to pick us up and accompany us on the train.

On the way up.

The others on the way up.

The view from one side of the top.

That view, zoomed in. 

The view from the other side of the top.

The others.

The large rock thing on the right is part of the mountain. 

This is the gazebo-type thing at the top that we rested in. 

Well, that's all for the Aswan part of the trip.
I will update soon with a post on the second part, Luxor! 
See you guys soon and thanks for reading! 
Stay awesome,

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