Discovering our Nubian Roots

Trip Start Dec 09, 2005
Trip End Jan 01, 2006

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Flag of Egypt  , Aswān,
Sunday, December 18, 2005

December 17, 2005: Most everyone on the ship woke up pretty early to take a flight to Abu Simbel to view the temples there. Michael and I, on the other hand, decided to skip that trip. Two days of waking up at 3:30 in the morning sounded like a bit too much for us. So instead, we decided to visit the Nubian Museum in Aswan. I could hardly wait to see this place. I have heard some about the Nubian people - their statuesque postures, their elegant, beautiful silhouettes - the very first Egyptian people, the ones from whom civilization was born.

A short taxi ride to the museum left us disappointed that we hadn't walked the short distance so we could experience the town and get some much needed exercise. At any rate, we made it there thanks to our driver, Mohammad, who assured us he would wait for us 1 hours and then take us back to the boat.

The outside of the museum building is fantastic. Built of rose granite, which is quite plentiful in this area, it is a beautiful architectural structure with an ancient yet modern look. But the truly breathtaking part is the display of the exhibits. I can't even begin to explain how much history is contained in that museum. What an eye-opening educational experience. It really shed some light on the pieces of history that I was taught in school, much of which did not even come close to including the wealth of knowledge about the Egyptian people and their vast knowledge of science, astrology, biology, physics and so many other areas. But why would it. American schools are certainly not the place to learn about other cultures in depth.

Viewing all of the exhibits reminded me of the Black Muslims in the States, who talk so much about Nubia and the roots of African American people. While they sometimes present the information in a somewhat militant form, I can see that learning of this culture can change a person once they are able to make the connection between the Nubians and their own culture - and that is true for all people, black, white and otherwise.

And beyond that, viewing the exhibits caused me to see many similarities between the ancient religious beliefs of the Egyptians and the Christian religions that have so obviously developed from them. I'm sure most Christians wouldn't admit it, most likely because they don't know, but Christianity has such a close historical connection to the worship of the ancient Egyptians. I'll avoid that conversation for now, but believe me, there are connections, and I found it very enlightening to be exposed to such.

The 1 hours at the museum went by far too quickly, and I so wanted to walk back to the boat, but we didn't want to leave our friend Mohammad waiting, especially since we hadn't paid him yet (he insisted that we pay him only upon return to the ship). And yes, when we got back we went down to the restaurant for lunch. Somehow I feel compelled to eat every time they serve food, which is a shame because that's how people gain so much weight on trips like this. So I'd better stop it or no one will recognize me by the time I return home.

After lunch, I couldn't resist the idea of going to the spice market here in Aswan. We've heard so much about all these great spices and we had to check it out for ourselves. So Michael and I headed out for the market. Thinking of walking there, we were practically accosted by a round gentleman (Michael swears he looked like Barry White) standing in front of a horse-drawn carriage, who quickly reminded us that we had earlier told him we might be interested in taking a ride later. He was right; we had seen him as we left for the museum this morning. Man, these people don't forget anything! So we hopped into his carriage and allowed him to give us a tour of his lovely city.

As Abdullah drove us down the main street with cars breezing past us, we turned onto a side street, rode through the market and then through a little village with goats and chickens and children running all around. It reminded me of some of the areas in Tijuana, Mexico. It looked poverty ridden by American standards. But these people seem to be getting along just fine. It's amazing the things we value and worry ourselves about in the U.S. Those things seem so silly and insignificant when you see people just living from day to day. They just want warm food, fresh water and a roof over their heads; and if they're lucky, to send their children to school. The very basics of life. It puts things in such a simplistic light.

Abdullah, a jolly fellow with skin the color of dark chocolate, gray hair, a beard and a rounded belly, shared with us that he has five sons and two daughters. He helped us differentiate between the Nubian and the Egyptian women who walked the streets. From his jovial banter, I got the impression that Abdullah is quite the ladies man. After a short tour of the village, Abdullah took us over to the marketplace. This place was a shocker to the system. The smells of spices and hot food cooking, the sounds of recorded and live Nubian music as well as the shouting voices of excited conversations and laughter, the sight of vendors all around with colorful wares. It was such an interesting experience. Similar to many other marketplaces I've been to in Mexico and Jamaica. But this one had a slightly different flavor that I still can't place my finger on.

As the bony donkey that pulled our carriage slowed its pace, I realized that Abdullah had a plan for us to visit his choice vendors to help us get the best price (and to get a little kickback for himself, I'm sure; I guess he's entitled to a little payola!). We spent over an hour in one shop, sipping warm hibiscus tea and expertly bargaining prices for jewelry and fragrances. And we really had to pray over that tea because we had been told several times earlier in the trip not to drink the water nor eat foods from the street vendors. Afterwards, Abdullah ushered us into a spice shop, where we purchase chamomile, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, saffron, curry, nutmeg and hibiscus leaves (I gotta make some of that tea for my mom; they say it's great for lowering blood pressure).

After the marketplace experience Abdullah took us back to the ship, and wouldn't you know it, we had to bargain a price with him. After 3 hours of riding us around, he had the nerve to want 300 Egyptian pounds - roughly $60. No way! It cost him absolutely no gas, and I'm just guessing that he doesn't normally charge $20 per hour. We bargained him own to $20 for the entire trip and got out of there quickly. Our Nubian cousin had definitely given us a nice tour and led us to some great shopping, and on top of that he got us back to the boat safely.

After dinner, we enjoyed a nice drum and dance performance by a Nubian performance group that came on board to show us their moves. Very lively and loud, but fun. Of course, they had an interactive part where they invited people from the audience to participate. And of course, they picked me, among others. So I got up there and made a fool of myself with some of the other shipboard guests. But it was all in good fun.
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