Sunday, April 15, 2007

Egypt - A Sweet Memory

We went to visit the Citadel and the mosque of Mohammed Ali. It was a holiday of sorts and there were a lot of school groups around. I mentioned in an earlier message that they had found that over 80% of Egyptian children had never seen important parts of Egypt's cultural heritage. Since then, there has been a great effort expended in taking kids to visit these monuments and see the artifacts.

Our guide explained that many of the school groups there came from the countryside and that they would be curious about us, because many had never seen tourists before.

So, we walked from the bus stop up to the entrance of the citadel, encompassed by a crowd of both tourists and school children. At the entrance, we took off our shoes and carried them with us. If the people at the door thought anyone wasn't sufficiently covered up, they were given a grass green cape with ties to put on. Two members of our group of 16 were given a cape to wear.

The first place we saw was a courtyard with a large fountain in the middle. This is the place where you are supposed to cleanse yourself. The fountain wasn't actually in operation, as far as I could tell, but was being used for pictures and shade.

Off to the side of the courtyard was the entrance to the mosque. As is befitting a Muslim mosque, it was elegantly symmetrical and elaborately decorated throughout. The carpet, though worn, is the original carpeting.

We sat in a circle around our guide, while he explained the history, the layout, and the activities going on in the mosque. Many people stood around our circle and listened to the guide, as he delivered his explanations.

I was sitting a little outside the circle and pretty soon a group of school girls came up behind us. They were intrigued by the guide speaking English and by us, the foreigners. One young lady, probably about 12 or 13 years old, sat down next to me and tried to practice her English. She asked me my name - and I told her. Then she related what I said to all of her friends who furiously whispered the news around them. They then suggested the next question she should ask, "Where are you from?" My response again was greeted with furious whispering, as the news was spread throughout her small group. This continued for several rounds. They were so eager to find out more about us - and I must admit, as a teacher, I was eager to interact more with them. The enthusiasm and simple pleasure of the whispered conversation was joyous. But before I could get my chance to reciprocate their questions, their leader gathered them and took them away. Still, it was a precious moment for me.

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