I waken to a world of sunlight so strong that I need dark glasses and sun hat for the short walk to breakfast in the Mena House Hotel in Cairo. I pass the sun-soaked turquoise pool that sits like a small lake surrounded by palm trees, flowers in brilliant reds and yellows. I climb the marble stairs to the dining room, find breakfast spread out in silver bowls: pomegranate seeds, grapefruit, yogurt, abundance of muffins, breads, sweet rolls, coffee in silver urns on a long linen-covered
Immediately afterwards, we gather in one of the hotel’s elegant meeting rooms.
An Egyptian man, perhaps in his early fifties, stands at the front of the room. With shy pride he welcomes us to his country. “I am Mohamed Nazmy”, he says “and my company, Quest Travel, is making the arrangements for your time in Egypt. I know what it is you seek. I have been in communication with your teacher Dr. Jean Houston for several months, preplanning as much as we could, waiting for the time to be right for this sacred journey. My company guides only people like you who seek the spiritual heart of Egypt. But this,” and suddenly his shyness dissipates as a smile like a rising sun irradiates his face, “this will be our greatest challenge, and our deepest joy. Samei, though young, is an experienced and learned travel guide. He will go with you everywhere your journey takes you. I will accompany you when possible, and shall be in constant communication with Samei.
“I do not need to tell you that some of the places you will enter are dangerous, some carefully guarded. As far as possible, I am making arrangements for your group to have private visits inside the tombs, temples and pyramids to allow for the teaching and rituals that are part of your journey.” He pauses, then adds, “the only solitary visit I cannot arrange is to the Valley of the Kings where each day this month, the number of tourists will exceed ten thousand.” With a gracious wish for a safe and blessed journey, he concludes his talk, turns to speak quietly with Jean.
We return to the chairs at the front of the room and Jean introduces the guest who has come to speak to us this morning. “You’ve seen him on the Discovery Channel and on National Geographic Programs. He’s Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, passionate about receiving, rescuing, restoring and retaining its ancient treasures. His ongoing archaeological work has earned him world-wide recognition and we can thank Mohamed, his close friend, for arranging this presentation by Dr. Zahi Hawass.”
“They call me the Indiana Jones of Egypt,” Dr. Hawass says, with a boyish grin. “They even say I wear an Indiana Jones hat, but the truth is that Indiana Jones wears a Zahi Hawass hat.”
With a power point he takes us with him as he is lowered by a rope into cavernous depths. “What did I find there?” he asks. “Not the wonderful things of Howard Carter’s experience in the tomb of King Tut, but the dung of centuries.”
These days, he’s working with a grant to study DNA from ancient mummies, seeking to trace relationships among King Tut, Hatshepsut, Nefertiti. He’s also excavating in the Valley of the Kings and seeking the burial site of Anthony and Cleopatra. He radiates joy and the passion of his commitment to work he loves. “With passion, any job can be the best in the world,” Dr. Hawass says.
“Egypt is a state of being that exists eternally in archetypal reality.” Dr. Hawass has gone, and Jean Houston is speaking to us now. “It is a quality of the psyche, of the intelligence, existing on the space/time continuum. Five thousand years ago, the essence of possibility entered into time”.
The magic has begun. I breathe in these words, not fully understanding, but knowing at a deep level their truth. This will be a journey of discovery even more enticing than those of Dr. Hawass.
“When in the thirteenth century St. Francis of Assisi visited Egypt, he sat with the Sultan in silence for hours before the Sphinx. At last Francis said, I know the answer. It is love.
“Now you are here as archaeologists of Egypt’s ancient spirit. We shall visit powerful sites, seeking matrix points for a world civilization, a world spirit. As the Ancient Egyptians dreamed a world, we shall, by use of imagination, bring forth a new reality that wants to emerge. We shall collect the broken pieces of our world and gather them into wholeness, as did Isis with the broken body of Osiris.
“And just as Hatshepsut restored the ruined temple of Hathor and created ceremonies of the Feasts of Light, we shall inaugurate ceremonies on behalf of our Temple of Earth.”
I listen intently, believing this to be possible, seeing it as absolutely achievable. It doesn’t occur to me then that a personal descent into cavernous inner places holding dung and wonderful things in equal measure, will be required of me.
“For today, you may be tourists”. Jean is saying now. “Samei will take you to a papyrus factory, then to some of the shops. After supper we’ll see the Egyptian Museum. Enjoy Cairo!”
In the papyrus factory store, we watch the process as papyrus stems are soaked, then soaped and placed under pressure to create paper. Young Muslim women wearing hijabs smilingly show us around the room’s collection of illustrated papyri.
Hampered by my lack of Arabic (I am able thus far only to say “Shokran”, “thank you,”) I manage to convey to one of the young women that I am seeking a painting of Isis. After some searching, some reading of identifying hieroglyphs, the young store clerk smiles brilliantly, places a richly-painted papyrus of Isis in my hands. I take in the rich midnight blue of her robe, the throne-shaped silver crown on her head, the breadth of wing span in silver and gold beneath her arms, the mystery of the many-hued hieroglyphs of bird, snake, woman, throne, carefully arranged above beside and below her. I hand it back to the young woman who carefully rolls it, inserts it into a cardboard tube, then returns it to me. I am in awe at this beautiful treasure I now carry.
Isis, with whom I began my journey two months earlier in a darkened room at my community’s retreat centre. ( to be continued)
from Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind by Anne Kathleen McLaughlin Borealis Press 2013 (http://borealispress.com)