Following is an excerpt from my travel memoir, “Travels Through Egypt,” which I am currently working on. Comments are welcome…
Our first day in Egypt, we all got on a bus and went to Lake Moeris, a sacred site to Rosicrucians. The group, all Rosicrucians except for me and one other spouse, were having a ceremony there, which my husband Greg could participate in, but I could not. (Aside: I later became one on the trip, because of the trip and the things I experienced there, and it was my first spiritual home, for which I will be forever grateful).
Our guide Emil talked on the way about building cities in the desert, giving free homesteads to “youth” and tractors to clear the land, and long-term loans to build. In ten years, he said, we will reclaim the desert, expanding it to create fertile land, and Egypt will once again feed Europe as they once fed Rome. Well, it’s ten years later and I don’t think it’s happened yet, or even close, but it’s a nice ideal.
The second day, we visited Sakkara, home of the step pyramid of King Zoser. Sakkara’s not my favorite site, although it has some interesting columns in one hall, and these days a lot of very friendly local dogs. The problem for me is that the three Pyramids at Giza are clearly, vastly older, and yet the step pyramid is crumbling, whereas the three on the Giza plateau are obviously of a different caliber. Though the Egyptians are proud of their homegrown pyramid, I can’t help feeling the inferiority of this burial tomb, which the Pyramids were never intended to be. The orthodoxy would condemn me for these blasphemous natterings, but I cannot help the feeling I have when I look upon what I consider a relatively inferior site, as if a kid built a sandcastle pyramid and it somehow stuck around for a couple thousand years.
At Sakkara, Emil showed us some minor tombs, beautifully colored examples of men who were workers for the Pharoah — his scribes or his priests — and could afford to be buried in the way of the king, with the stories of their lives carved and painted on the walls. We have never been inside the step pyramid, as it’s off-limits, but we often now perform ceremonies in what must once have been a large temple. Now the walls have almost all fallen to rubble. There is only the ghost of the building – a half wall to shield you from the unceasing desert wind (which always seems to whip me mercillessly here) and some low stones that make up the rectangular perimeter. On your way out, we take turns crouching down to peer into the eye holes of a stone box. Inside, you see the statue of King Zoser (it’s his pyramid, remember?) staring back at you. It’s kind of the first example of 3-D.
Afterwards, Greg, Lynn and I went wandering off on our own. We did this so often on this trip we became known as the “bad kids” and later, our smaller trips were subtitled the “Bad Kids Tour” since we were usually off the beaten path. An Egyptian man came up and offered us horses and camels to ride, and though I protested I couldn’t ride, hiked me up, threw my leg over a horse, and thwacked the horse’s side. The horse took off, and after a moment I had to concede that as much as my fear would have kept me on the ground… this was the life! Trotting through the desert sand, no one guiding or steering me, allowing the horse to go where it wanted without worrying about stops or other traffic – it was both exhilarating and freeing. The horse would lean back, sort of tumbling down a hill of sand, and then lean forward, climbing up the next soft sandy ridge. All I had to do was lean forward and back when the horse did, and I was an instant expert. After about half an hour, we brought our horses back, spending a five bucks each for a ride I will always remember.
To get to Sakkhara, you ride into the desert, but the way to and from is surprisingly green and lush, full of farmland that literally hasn’t changed in a millennia. Forests of palm trees and native plants are visible through the large windows of the bus, and open farmland where we can see people picking or tending to crops. Donkeys with their backs laden with hay wait quietly for more to be piled on, and once in a while, you see a man with no animals, out in his field, yoked to his own plow, dragging his livelihood behind him through row after row. Not a life I would choose to live, but they seem, if not happy, at least accepting of this land, this fate.
There are no sidewalks, and people walking or riding donkeysline the roadways in the busier sections, the tiny towns and villages; you almost never see an Egyptian on a horse unless it’s a member of the military or they’re joyriding in the desert on the Giza Plateau. The bus, a modern and comparatively huge vehicle, travels easily across the paved roads, bumpy with gravel and sand, but occasionally must stop for donkeys, cows, or people who traverse too close in its path. Once the bus stopped at an intersection and could not continue. After a while, our guide Emil, ever impatient, jumped off the bus to see what was causing the traffic holdup in front of us. He came back shaking his head. “Goats!” he grumbled. And indeed, a herd of goats had gotten mixed up in the traffic and their herder was trying to round them up. About fifteen minutes later, the goats presumably under control, the traffic resumed its regular pace and the bus was able to move forward.