As I ventured into the tombs of ancients rulers, I was surrounded by detailed reliefs and pantings of kings, queens, and gods on the walls. Hieroglyphics, now deciphered, told the stories of those who long ago were placed into these tombs, not as a final resting place, but as preparation for their journey into the after-life. To see details of kings offering gifts to the gods, fighting battles, and uniting north and south into one nation was fascinating, but knowing that this art in front of my eyes was 2000, 3000 years old was mind-blowing.
I stood before a pyramid, built over 2000 years before Christ, the tallest man-made structure for over 3800 years, and then I crouched through a tunnel to journey into the tomb chamber. The chamber itself, while a marvel of skilled masonry, was, in fact, a bit boring - an empty stone room containing an empty stone sarcophagus that once held the mummy of Khufu.
Was I disappointed? Oh, no! I have been inside the heart of the Great Pyramid - standing underneath 5 million tons of limestone, these huge blocks of rock held in place only by ancient mathematical and engineering skill.
Egypt is a land of fascination. The life of ancient Egypt was preserved for us to glimpse due to the arid land and distinctive geography. The unique beliefs of ancient Egyptians regarding the after-life led to immense information available to us in the wealth of objects from their lives and hieroglyphics filling ancient tombs and the stone monuments of temple remains. We can learn about their lives and their efforts to successfully navigate the after-life. We can truly glimpse a civilization that could build immense pyramids using mathematical and engineering skills, that still stand today over 3000 years later. These pyramids were not built by slaves as once thought but by a skilled workforce of 10,000 people who were housed near the sites, supported by significant infrastructure and logistics.
Ancient Egypt was a highly developed society with advanced knowledge of science, engineering, astronomy, and mathematics. They had medical specialists who focused on specific parts of the body. Women were respected and could own property. Then came the decline of Egyptian civilization as they were invaded and conquered by various forces including the Romans and the Ottomans, and was later a British protectorate. Egypt gained its independence in 1922 and is a vastly different world than that of the great pharaohs.
Along with the opportunity to see ancient wonders, cruise on the serene waters surrounded by the lush landscape of the Nile, and meet beautiful people, I also witnessed the struggles of a country that is over-populated, lacks infrastructure, and subject to unstable political conditions over time.
In the edge of Cairo, we traveled a road with a canal along side. The sides of the canal were covered with trash, rubbish floated in the water, and occasional dead cows and goats littered the edge. Birds and people fished in these waters.
My heart broke watching what should have been beautiful white Egrets that were dirty and stained by the polluted waters. Watching one of these birds along the edge, it was shaky and its neck quivered, likely nerve damage from whatever it consumed. The modern, wealthy areas of Cairo have garbage pick up twice a day, areas such as this have no garbage pick up - none - at all.
A few statistics
Egypt’s population reached 100 million in 2020, from just over 40 million in 1980
95% of the population lives on 4% of the land (along the fertile Nile)
Population density of Cairo (population 20 million) is 50,000 people per square mile
The average salary in Egypt is around $8000 per year
Another country, another experience that broadens my world view. When my world view changes, I start to look at life from a different perspective. My little world is just a particle in global life. And camels are cool!!!!