Saturday, March 6, 2010


Herodotus said after visiting Egypt during the Roman era, “Egypt is the Nile's gift.”

We drove through Cairo at dawn to catch the early flight to Aswan. The almost full moon was still up and the huge city just starting its frantic day. From the bus window I saw a woman in a burqa with a large box balanced on her head hail a bus and then climb on with the box still perfectly balanced. Several donkey carts merge in the not yet scary traffic carrying produce to market.

Aswan is a very different place. Although a city of 600,000, after Cairo it seems like a small town with a more relaxed pace. We go to see the high dam that changed life in Egypt from “before” to “after”. Our guide, Ashraf, always has two or more (often opposing) explanations for everything. The benefits of the high dam are that the Nile no longer floods every year, the water is regulated and electricity is generated for development and progress to modernize Egypt. The opposing reality is that the Nile no longer replenishes the scarce arable land that feeds Egypt so now chemical fertilizers are used, which wash into and pollute the Nile.

Then we go see the lovely temple of Isis on the island of Philae, which had to be moved after the dam was built to save it from being half submerged for half the year. A remarkable relocation of a 4th century BC temple for a lost goddess.

Oh yes. Also, hundreds of thousands of Nubians had to be relocated as their villages sank below Lake Nasser south of the high dam.

Hard choices for the people of Egypt with scarce natural resources and the desire we share for “a good life”: safety, security, the joy of seeing children and grandchildren thrive.

It makes me dizzy to see the monuments and artifacts of a highly developed culture spanning 5,000 years smack up tight against the forever-under-construction apartment buildings for the ever-increasing urban population.

It humbles me to hear the call to prayer and see men remove their shoes and prostrate themselves in prayer.

I am so thankful for the collective wisdom, kindness, and great good humor of my fellow pilgrims. They steady me.

We're having a wonderful times, truly. Wish you were here...

Posted by Pam Wiegandt

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