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Archive for the month “May, 2013”

A Love Letter to My Mother

Dear Momma,

It’s been 270 days since we last occupied the same physical space.

I miss your (loud and obnoxious) laugh, your casual squeeze of my shoulder as you walk past, your half-smile.

Last week, I was in Paris, the City of Love, and when I wasn’t chasing around the 24 lovely maniacs I was there to chaperone, I was thinking of you, the person from whom I first learned love. Thinking of how I inherited a legacy from you. A legacy of longing, a desire to see and experience and cherish the world, to let in more wonder and let out more peace.

I’ve never had a strong pull towards Paris, only a residual yearning, leftovers from your love of the city. It makes sense, then, that I thought of you on the top floor of the Eiffel Tower, and when I drank my coffee with a croissant each morning, and as I strolled in the light rain past bistros and flower shops.

In the midst of this city and my nostalgia, I couldn’t help but get lost — and found — in my memories. I learned how to love from you, from all of the big and little moments that are etched into the map of my life.

Like the time we returned home with Coach Dad from Little League practice in grade 2, and you were waiting with hot chocolate and warm towels, ready to wrap around us after baths thawed us out.

And the way you loved your mother, bountifully and beautifully. When she was deteriorating and you gave her pedicures and plucked her eyebrows and visited her nearly every day for 4 years; when she was young and vibrant and you belted out her old favorites with her; when she was coarse and giving you unsolicited advice and you listened to her patiently as only a daughter can.

The day, with God-awful teenage hormones raging through my bloodstream and cutting off the circulation to my brain (and clearly my heart), that I called you a bitch. I can’t remember why I said that, but I do remember your pained look, and your closed eyes, and then your open arms. And you simply hugged me and cried with me.

All of the hours you spent trying to teach me how to clean, or craft, or cook, especially cook, and only sort of caring that I preferred to sit and watch you work your magic with a meal instead.

Your (loud and obnoxious) laugh on the other end of the phone when I called you during the summer after grade 4. My job that day was to load the dish washer and, since I only sort of paid attention when you taught me the correct ways to clean or craft or cook, I added plain old dish soap instead of dishwasher soap. The entire kitchen was filled with suds, and even weeks later, when a rogue bubble would appear from tile cracks as we walked across the floor, you simply laughed.

The morning I left for Cairo. You cried, with your eyes squeezing partially shut and the corners of your mouth turning down and your lips opening slightly. We have the same crying-face, you know. And through the tears, you said you were so damn proud of me.

You weren’t perfect. You made mistakes along the way. I recall loud words, though I couldn’t tell you what I had done to (deservedly) receive them. I recollect impatience and frustration and exhaustion. And then I remember you apologizing for those moments, teaching me that love is about making mistakes and then making choices to forgive.

In the last almost-year, I have experienced moments of peace and of anguish, both of which I have called on you to share with me. And soon, I will be home, orbiting around you, eating, hugging, talking, sitting, laughing. (I inherited that loud and obnoxious laugh. And when I laugh it, it is with abandon. Just like you.)

These are the moments that have shaped me, that define my past and solidify my present.

My entire life you have said that I do not belong to you. That God trusted you to raise me and love me and guide me along until it was time for me to find my place in the universe. Well, I found it. And it starts with you.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mommy.

Kate

Still my all-time favorite

Still my all-time favorite

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Telling Stories, Part 3

Three weeks later, I am finally wrapping up the end of our Luxor to Aswan Nile Cruise. We started our stay in Aswan at the The High Dam, the building of which changed the course of all of the other sites we visited.

Aswan Dam

The High Dam

Flowers by the Dam

Flowers by the Dam

So much GREEN in Aswan!

So much GREEN in Aswan!

The Dam was built to help control the life-sustaining power of the Nile. It’s actually the second dam, as the Aswan Dam was not quite large enough. It took 25,000 total workers 10 years, 24 hours a day, to complete the High Dam. This huge dam can hold 17 Great Pyramids of Giza, and the resulting Lake Nasser holds an unimaginable volume of water. This Dam forever changed Egypt.

Prior to the dam, the Nile would flood (usually) once a year, creating a short growing season and only one crop for farmers. Now the lake holds the majority of the water flowing in from Ethiopa, and farmers are able to rotate three crops throughout the year.

When the Aswan Dam was built (1898-1902), it created Lake Aswan, which in turn covered the island where Philae Temple was erected near the end of the pharaonic power in Egypt. The temple has Greek and Roman influence, and Queen Cleopatra added to this temple as well. In 1972, after the temple sat underwater for 70 years, archaeologists decided to reconstruct the entire temple, piece by piece, on a new island.

Philae Temple, in the middle of Lake Aswan

Philae Temple, in the middle of Lake Aswan

Entrance to Philae

Entrance to Philae

Greek influence

Greek influence

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Byzantine Emperor Justinian covered the hieroglyphs in this temple with Christian notations.

Byzantine Emperor Justinian covered the hieroglyphs in this temple with Christian notations.

A Christian niche and temple erected by Justinian and Theodora

A Christian niche and temple erected by Justinian and Theodora

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More yoga in ancient places

More yoga in ancient places

When the proposal for the High Dam was accepted, archaeologists determined that Abu Simbel would meet the same fate as Philae Temple. The newly-created Lake Nasser would cover this monstrous temple, and, after rejecting an underwater museum, the decision was made to move both temples at Abu Simbel. UNESCO, Egypt, and ‘Merica foot the bill to reassemble the temples about 40 meters from the originals, complete with fake mountains behind them.

Four 20m statues on the facade of Ramses II's temple

Four 20m statues on the facade of Ramses II’s temple

The temple that Ramses built for Nefertari, with four statues of him and two of her

The temple that Ramses built for Nefertari, with four statues of him and two of her

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We could not take any pictures inside the temples, but if we could have, they would show ancient propaganda at its finest. We are back to our megalomaniac pharaoh, Ramses II, who took the idea of pharaohs as gods quite seriously. In the temple room of the large temple, he built statues of 4 gods – and he was one of them. Other hieroglyphs in the temple show him in multiple battle scenes, from a 17-year war in Syria that ended in a stalemate. Ramses, of course, portrayed himself victorious. You can’t always believe the stories.

***

On the last night of our spring break exploration of Upper Egypt, Ben and I found ourselves in the city center of Aswan, sitting on faded couches in a hotel that is past its prime. We’d been kicked off our boat, as it started the return trip back to Luxor on the Nile, and we couldn’t hang out on the sun deck until our ride to the airport arrived as we’d planned. There we were, listening to commentary from a local soccer match on the TV while reading and swatting away mosquitoes, and the power cuts out. This is par for the course in Cairo; we are used to spending a portion of each night in the dark. The back-up lights around our couches were not strong enough to continue reading, so we moved to a different area and decided to play some cards.

A middle-aged Egyptian man, wearing a pink polo shirt and grandpa pants, yelled across the lobby at us. “Stimation?! Stimation?!” We smiled, said no, just cards, and he sauntered over. He asked if he could watch us play a round to learn the game, and that’s all it took. Soon we found ourselves playing “Garbage” with Osama, a table tennis champion from Luxor, laughing and joking. He taught us the Egyptian version of Crazy Eights, and we drew a crowd, this unlikely trio trading glib remarks when one player was skipped or lost a round.

The lobby of the Nubanile Hotel is, apparently, a hotspot for adorable middle-aged table tennis competitors and amateur magicians. These men, some who could speak solid English and some who couldn’t speak a lick of it, entertained us with their magic tricks. With a sleight of hand here and an exaggerated eyebrow rise there, I was mesmerized. I wanted to know how it was done. Two tricks I figured out on my own, and one was explained mostly in Arabic with partial translation in English, and a heavy reliance on the universal language of miming. Eventually we parted ways, after photo sessions and promises to call or email when we return to Luxor next.

 It was the perfect way to end a week exploring the wonders of Upper Egypt. The magic tricks parallel the unbelievable structures we saw throughout the Nile River Valley during our spring break; a combination of marvel and half-truths, sleight of hand and captivating details. And this unlikely encounter in the lobby of an Aswan hotel is my favorite story of the trip.

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