February 2011 Newsletter
Written after returning from a tour of Egypt with John Anthony West during the revolution
Dear Friends & Family,
Our group returned to the US last night incredibly inspired by a magical 18-day trip to Egypt. We arrived in Cairo on January 28, just as the unrest was gathering steam. Soon after we got off the plane, we were notified that no one would be allowed to leave the airport. Spending 12 hours in (any) airport sounds nightmarish, but watching the crowds in Tahrir Square on Egyptian TV (in Arabic!) in the airport Burger King, we met lots of Egyptians who enthusiastically welcomed us, translated the news to us, and communicated their excitement and pride in the unfolding events. Not knowing much about Egypt, my first worry was that deposing Mubarak might mean more restrictions for Egyptian women. Many women in Egypt wear bright headscarves, some wear burqas, and some don't cover their heads at all. One member of our group made friends with several young women in black burqas with only their eyes showing. They turned out to be biology majors in college and plan to become doctors! Other Egyptian women I spoke with convinced me that Egypt is very unlike other countries where radical clerics have taken over. Egyptians love their army, and while there is worry in any kind of cataclysmic event, most everyone we talked to felt that no matter what, Mubarak had to go. They spoke of their dream of a free society with free and fair elections, freedom of speech and the press, and the opportunity to control their own destinies. My deep belief is that they are not going to surrender this newfound precious freedown to radical groups, or to anyone (or anything) else. And the women are strong.
Our tour company heroically managed to get us out of the airport late that night in a bus with the curtains closed. The next day, we convened at our hotel on the outskirts of Cairo, well out of the way of the demonstrations, and guarded (probably unnecessarily, but still welcome) by an army tank. After deep contemplation for 2 days about what might be safe to do, each person made a decision whether to stay or to go home. Although events were unfolding unpredictably (such as the mass prisoner escape) I had a deep certainty that I HAD to stay. Thinking about leaving brought tears and I felt there must be some reason our group had succeeded in being there. I even hoped that we might somehow humbly be of service to the Egyptian people by holding our poise and a deep sense of hope for them for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Ultimately, most of the group decided to stay. After a initially tense ride through early morning Cairo past numerous neighborhood "checkpoints" (described in the news media as vigilantes, but actually courageous men protecting their homes with kitchen knives and sticks -- with smiles and peace signs exchanged between us and them when they figured out who we were), we flew to Luxor and spent 5 days on a heart-melting cruise down the Nile. All the tomb and temple sites were completely empty -- Luxor and Karnak, Philae, the Temple of Horus at Edfu, Hatshepsut, Valley of the Kings, etc., etc. -- each one more incredibly moving than the last.
It did seem that there was no need to pray or meditate as we drifted up the Nile -- we found it to be true that "the Nile meditated us". As the days went on, we couldn't imagine leaving. People would yell "Welcome to Egypt!" as we walked through Luxor and Aswan. As we moved past fear and into trust, it was clear to us that the Egyptian people's revolution was intelligent and targeted. (For those Enneagramarians, Egypt is a "9" culture, and they finally got mad). I never felt in danger, but we were constantly aware that we needed to be sensible and stay out of the way! We were quite a novelty, though, since in most places we were the only tourists there. It's a sad time for the Egyptian economy, of which tourism is a huge chunk. Apparently, the norm is crowds of thousands, jammed tour buses, and all that that brings. We were able to walk around the empty sites, pray, climb into tombs, feed the temple dogs and cats, visit sites that have been closed to tourists for 20 years, sit between the paws of the Sphinx, and spend time with a pristine mummy still lying in his original tomb that has never been opened to the public. Many of us had incredible heart opening experiences. The Egyptian people are well aware that they are the guardians of these world treasures brimming with powerful energy. As our Egyptian tour guide said, "Egypt is beyond time and space."
We spent our next-to-last day in the completely empty Great Pyramid at dawn Friday morning meditating. Rus led us in prayer for the Egyptian people. Later that day, Mubarak resigned. When we got back to our hotel to eat breakfast, a HUGE double rainbow broke out over Cairo, and a few hours later Mubarak peacefully left the city. Our Egyptian tour guide told us she had NEVER SEEN A SKY RAINBOW BEFORE --(it almost never rains in Cairo --she had seen one once reflected in a waterfall). Happily, one of our party is a professional photographer. He has put together a beautiful slide show, which he has promised to post. Look for the rainbow!
So pack your bags and go to Egypt now before the tourists go back! I think John Anthony West and Quest Travel have a tour coming up in a month or two. We also used Dannielle Rama Hoffman's book, Temples of Light. We found her descriptions of the temple energies to be exactly right.
I will never forget the sight of thousands of Egyptians, just standing there in the Square. I will never forget their generosity and kindness to 16 stray American, Canadian & New Zealand tourists whom they allowed to watch their poignant, elegant, restrained revolution. Our return flight was cancelled, so we decided to go to Tahrir Square as a group on Saturday. We bought Egyptian flags as we drove through downtown Cairo. When they saw us waving them, people reached out their hands to clasp ours at red lights. When we got out, they crowded around asking us to be in pictures with them!! It was overwhelming. We will never, ever forget it. Though masses were still celebrating from the night before, many in the crowd had donned rubber gloves, medical masks and carried trash bags and brooms. They were cleaning up the square, just like they cleaned up their government.