It’s the last day of our Egyptian tour. After breakfast, we will exit the Royal Lotus cruise vessel where we have spent four nights and take our tour coach to the Luxor Airport. At the airport, we will fly to Cairo to spend the day visiting several sites in this famed city.
I pack my belongings, including the papyrus scroll I bought in Giza and a shirt with my name inscribed in hieroglyphics. Our tour leader Rabie arranged to have the shirt made for me.
Souvenir shirt with my name in hieroglyphics. Cost: $10
V/F = Horned viper
E = Reed
R = Mouth
I = Two strokes for two reeds
E = Reed
At the airport, we find that flights have been delayed because of smoggy conditions. The airport is jammed with travelers. After walking around awhile, Pam and I find and claim two seats. She saves my place while I go to a nearby shop to buy a bottle of water. Because the delay is longer than anticipated, the shop gives me the water for free.
Travelers cram the Luxor Airport after flights were delayed.
Flights resume in late morning, and by 2:30 we find ourselves at the famed Muhammad Ali Mosque in Cairo. Also known as the Alabaster Mosque and built in the nineteenth century, the mosque was commissioned by Muhammad Ali, an Albanian commander in the Turkish army. Visitors crowd into the Turkish-style mosque.
Exterior of the Muhammad Ali Mosque in Cairo
The inside of the mosque is lavish.
Ceiling in a section of the Muhammad Ali Temple in Cairo
Visiting the Muhammad Ali Mosque, I realize that something I said on the night Pam and I arrived in Egypt was inaccurately humorous. When we arrived at the Cairo airport, a chauffeur picked us up at and drove us to our hotel in Giza on the outskirts of Cairo. The traffic was horrific on that Saturday night, and it took a long time for us to get from the airport to our hotel. Our friendly driver chatted away while Pam and I, exhausted from the long trip, sat mutely in the back seat.
I perked up when I heard the driver say something about the Muhammad Ali Mosque. I knew Muhammad Ali as the name that American professional boxer Cassius Clay had taken after he joined the Nation of Islam. At one time, Cassius Clay had a home in the same small town in Michigan where one of my brothers, a pharmacist, lives. Awhile back, my brother told me that he had filled some prescriptions for the boxer, and that once when Muhammad Ali saw my brother in town, Muhammad Ali had thanked him for his services.
Listening to our driver talk about the Muhammad Ali Mosque, I thought, “Wow! Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) built a mosque in Egypt--what devotion! Maybe he took his new religion seriously.” The driver went silent as I told him the story of my brother’s interaction with the 20th-century Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) and was mostly quiet after that.
Now, here at the Muhammad Ali Mosque a week later, I cringe in embarrassment but inwardly laugh, at my blunder. I had no idea there was another famous Muhammad Ali. The driver must have wondered at my sanity.
After walking around the inside of the mosque, we go outside where there is a good view of Cairo.
Cairo as seen from outside the Muhammad Ali Temple in Cairo
Next we go to Old Cairo to visit the Coptic Museum, which houses a large collection of Egyptian Christian artifacts. Coptic Christianity was established in Egypt before Islam and survives as a minority religion in Egypt.
The museum’s flag waving in the wind welcomes visitors.
Flag outside the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo
I like the entrance to the museum because it’s bright. The sunshine streaming through its open ceiling gives natural light to the artwork along the walls.
The entrance hall at the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo is open to the sky. Inside, palm trees grow and valuable art treasures line one wall.
As could be expected in a Christian museum, the artwork along one side of the entrance displays Christian themes. The bright colors of the art make the display ever so much more cheerful than much of the Christian art I’ve seen in other galleries.
Mosaic depicting the story of Mary, Joseph and Jesus in Egypt as told in Matthew 2: 12-15. Entrance hall at the Coptic Museum, Old Cairo, Egypt
Like the Holy Family mosaic, a nearby fresco of the Virgin Mary is also very colorful and bright. The sunshine streaming in from above raises my cheer quotient.
Fresco of the Virgin Mary in the entrance hall at the Coptic Museum, Old Cairo, Egypt
After looking at other not-so-bright displays in the museum, Pam and I go outside to meet with our tour group. We come upon a scene that I remember a few weeks later after the Egyptian Arab Spring movement had begun and stories about the power and brutality of the Egyptian government and military were detailed in the media.
Several police stand threateningly close to a young man in our group and argue with him over a photo they saw him take. They insist the photo is improper and that he must give them his camera. He quietly resists as they loudly press him.
When a few minutes later our tour leader Rabie comes upon the scene, he castigates the police in English, and helps work out a compromise. The photo is deleted; our travel mate keeps his camera. After the police leave, he tells me the photo he took was of a nearby cemetery.
The day, like our visit to Egypt, is fast waning as Pam and I walk to where we are to board the coach. I snap a photo of the Old Cairo skyline.
Skyline of Old Cairo at dusk
A little further along, we come upon an area brightly decorated with photos of President Hosni Mubarek who is running for reelection.
Pre-election posters supporting the reelection of Hosni Mubarek in Cairo. The photo was taken on November 27, 2010, the day before the parliamentary election was held.
Mubarek resigned on February 11, 2011.
The next day, while waiting in line at the Cairo airport, the chauffeur who drives us to the airport and stays with us as we wait to get our boarding pass, tells us about his dislike of the government. His voice rising a bit, he asserts that he will not vote in the election scheduled for that day because those in power have corrupted the election and damaged the country.
At home the next day, my mind crammed with the images of the wondrous things we had seen and learned in Egypt, I mused on how I had come to visit Egypt.
Although I knew the Biblical story of the enslavement of Israelites in Egypt and their exodus under the leadership of Moses, news on Egypt didn’t make the newspaper in the small town in Michigan where I grew up. I was first introduced to Ancient Egyptian civilization during world history class in fifth grade. Fascinated with what I learned, I daydreamed that someday I would be an ambassador to Egypt.
I had no idea what it meant to be an ambassador. Nor did I have any follow-up education on Egypt or information on being an ambassador to keep the dream going. Eventually science took over.
In 2001, my son Dave and I scheduled a trip to Egypt for Thanksgiving week, but when 9/11 happened, we cancelled it.
The November 2010 trip to Egypt, especially since it was made with family members, became my first course in being an ambassador to/for Egypt.
With the tip that Pam and I gave Rabie at the end of the tour, I included the following note:
Thank you for sharing your deep, yet keen, knowledge and love of Egypt, past and present. We enjoyed your sense of humor and appreciated your organization skills, which helped keep us on track.
Verie and Pam Sandborg
New Ambassadors for Egypt
I saw and learned so much on this trip.
Ticket stubs of some of the places my family visited while touring Egypt during our November 2010 trip to the country
Previous posts on Egypt
Egypt: A Cradle of Civilization. Part 8. Karnak. Ten photos
Egypt: A cradle of civilization. Part 7. Luxor (Thebes). Seven photos
Egypt: A cradle of civilization. Part 6. Edfu. Six photos
Egypt: A cradle of civilization. Part 5. Cruising the Nile River. Twenty-three photos
Egypt: A cradle of civilization. Part 4. Abu Simbel. Nine photos
Egypt: A cradle of civilization. Part 3. Aswan. Thirteen photos
Egypt: A cradle of civilization. Part 1. Giza. Twelve photos