January 23, 2010

Egypt: How I Love You And Do Not...

It has been almost a full week since we arrived in Cairo and everyday has been full of seeing places and eating amazing food and taking everything about the city as well as the many other areas of Egypt we've traveled to.

First impressions of Cairo itself... Well it's loud and dirty, the air is full of smog and the smell of cigarette smoke, the traffic is crazy, the architecture is incredible all over the city, and Muslims are everywhere. Of course that makes sense though. So just a few specific descriptions: I love riding around the city looking out at the very different city streets. The people are mostly poor and there are mounds of trash everywhere, in the canals, in the river, on roof tops, on the road. There are animals roaming the streets like sheep and people driving donkey pulled carts overflowing with produce. And if you look out the window and someone happens to look up at us (which happens frequently) children run after us and men smile and shout. The shouting is usually inappropriate comments but I'm slowly getting used to just ignoring that part of people. The streets are so colorful with the people and many markets with people selling anything you can imagine.

Picture this... seven lanes of traffic because that's how many cars can fit across a 3 or 4 lane road here. The cars are so tiny and no one pays attention to lines if there are any. There are people crossing where ever they choose and not one vehicle stops or slows down. They simply veer one way or the other into places no vehicle should be able to fit but some how they do anyway. It's really entertaining to watch.

As for what we've been up to, most of our days are made up of early mornings into the city to some fascinating structure like the Pyramids or tombs and early nights to bed to the sound of the Call to Prayer echoing throughout the streets. After four days in Cairo we went to Alexandria where we saw the library and some ancient Roman ruins. We have became famous for singing in random places where the acoustics are incredible, for example the Roman ampitheater, inside the center of the second Pyramid, in a Greek Orthodox church, and during evening prayers at the Coptic monastary, Anafora where we stayed Thursday and Friday. So far Anafora has been my favorite place to stay at least. The people are so friendly, the food is fresh from their fields and farm, the desert is beautiful with palm trees and watching the sunset every night from the roof tops of our houses. Now we are in Luxor and walked through the Valley of the Kings. This town is in Upper Egypt just along the Nile (southern Egypt) and so green and sunny despite the nearby desert mountains on the horizon.

Yesterday our group sat down and just reflected together on things we've thought about so far. It was a good time for our group to get together for the first time since we arrived and talk. One of the things many of us have struggled with is trying to find how the things we are learning and trying to grasp about the culture and conflict here are relevant to our lives now. Though its an amazing experience, sometimes it's difficult to wrap my mind around everything we have absorbed so far. It is hard to believe that we have only been here a week. I'm glad that we have a lot more time but many of us are weary and perhaps discouraged. But God is good and so are our leaders. Our group is connecting well in a short amount of time and we are all anxious for what comes next....

January 13, 2010

Here to There

Over the last few years there has been a great deal of heres to theres mostly between Vermont and Virginia but with a other places mixed in. My experiences over the last 3 or so years have been many and great as well as challenging. I am entering the last leg of this part of the journey that may be the greatest and most challenging yet. It seems as though not enough time has passed for everything I have learned and dealt with to fit and yet sooner than I care to admit, it will all be over and I will be moving on to something different but no less great. I finished last semester realizing that I would not be returning to EMU for another semester and I would have a very different senior year experience than many in my class. There's a tremendous feeling of excitement and terror for what is to come but I know that wherever my path leads it is the way God has directed. I have lived my life this far without ease but with success; God is the center of everything, my goals and decisions. With that assurance, I can face the near and far challenges that are sure to come even with the presence of fear. I can have hope with His love that goes with me.

As for this semester... I am so looking forward to the many wonderful places and people we will meet and see. This week we have been going through the orientation process. Much of our discussion has been how to interact with the people and what will be expected of us however throughout the discussions we have already started talking about the meaning behind traveling to the Biblical sites. The places are beautiful but it is not necessarily what we will see that is important but the spiritual relevance and and growth that will be very present as we travel. We have been encouraged to go without preconceived notions and cognitive dissonance in our ideas and opinions of the people and the situations we will become a part of. This openness will be more challenging for some but still difficult for all of us as we have all heard the stories second hand. I look forward to being able to talk with the people myself and hear directly what the people think and believe on both sides of the conflict. There will be hopes and fears but there cannot be one without the other which will truly enrich our many experiences.