Thursday, March 30, 2017

Egypt: Finding treasures in your backyard

Meet Hannah, who lives in "my backyard"--about eight villas down in the compound. Hannah's family comes from Egypt, a place of endless intrigue and fascination. How grateful and astonished we both were when we met one another last week. Hannah is an aspiring physician who is also an artist, She wants to combine art and medicine together with therapy and healing. I am passionate about how art can unravel and enfold creativity in people--especially people with special needs, in refugee camps, hospitals....  I am launching a non profit foundation called #art4every1. Hannah and I could not cease talking about our passion of how art can heal and bond. And to think we had been living just down the street from one another for two and a half years. #miraclefind
This month in a nondescript slum neighborhood in Cairo, Egypt a colossal eight meter, three ton statue was found sticking out of some water and mud. I am not sure if it was an ear or elbow that was seen first. But a huge precious Egyptian antiquity was found--deep in a murky puddle. When I heard this announcement, it confirmed to me what I have always known: there are so many treasures, invaluable gems, right under our feet. Sometimes the sought after treasure is buried so close to the surface where we ordinarily walk every day. Our footprints do not detect the trove of riches underneath us. Abundant treasure chests are so near, even beckoning, but we do not always see the possibilities in our own backyard and neighborhood. We just rush by.

Wherever you go in Egypt, you sense there is a chance you could discover something under some blowing sand too. Statues, Obelisks, tombs, hieroglyphics, and buildings beckon to other worlds and long gone dynasties. In 391 AD the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I closed the "pagan temples", and for 1500 years hieroglyphics became undecipherable. It wasn't until 1820 when Jean-Francois Champollion, with the help of the Rosetta stone, opened the door to the long-lost Egyptian culture. Hieroglyphics were known in ancient times as "the words of God" and were mainly assessable to the priests. But Champollion finally unearthed hidden knowledge that had been swirling in mystery for many centuries.

When I went to the Valley of the Kings (where all the tombs have been discovered), in my mind's eye, I imagined Howard Carter camping out intermittently on that sandy hill from 1891 to about 1925. Howard, the archeologist who discovered the intact tomb of King Tutankhamun on November 4, 1922, had been searching, digging, and scraping sand away for several decades before he finally found the treasure of King Tut's tomb. When he found it, he exclaimed, " my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold--everywhere the glint of gold. For the moment--an eternity must have seemed to the others standing by, I was struck with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon (who was with him) was unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, 'Can you see anything?' it was all I could do to get out the words, "Yes, wonderful things." Sometimes treasures are excavated after much painstaking work. Other times the treasure chests are just spontaneously found. Undoubtedly in our lives, we usually experience both.

One of my big take away lessons from Egypt was that under seemingly typical, even in repugnant or unpleasant conditions, marvelous beauty can be unearthed--sublime treasures. The lesson can be most applied to people. People who are wrinkled and old--maybe they don't see, hear, or walk as well anymore. People who look different from what our sensitivities are accustomed to. Children who may seem wild, loud, uncontrollable. Sick people who show scars from diseases that have ravaged their bodies. People who speak, pray, or eat differently than you or I are used to. Often times I wonder now, do I dig deep enough to unearth the goodness and talents of people? Or is there maybe a little more excavation needed?

I love the rejoicing words of Howard Carter on the incredible day when he found King Tut's tomb--the moment he had been aspiring to for decades, "We were astonished by the beauty, and refinement of the art displayed by the objects--surpassing all we could have imagined. The impression was overwhelming." However,  I have found the same elation when, under my own feet, I meet people who astound me--sometimes so very close I could touch them. Often I am surprised by the happenstance of intersecting paths, but mostly the treasure is found because I took the time to dig a little more.

Joseph meeting the bishop of Luxor of the Coptic church at the airport

Trying to become amateur Egyptologists--unearthing and understanding the messages behind the messages from long ago.

Enjoying the seeming infinite number of statues and carvings in Luxor.... When there is a continuous flow of treasures, it is important to not become sensitive, jaded, or disinterested around you. Not to just walk by because of the all the surrounding treasures.

There is always another spice or herb to discover in the Old Bazaar in Cairo.

The excavated tombs that required so much digging.

My boys in a mosque, looking on as others read their Qurans. It is always good to pause, and drink a little deeper.

Enjoying a few moments of friendship in the Old Bazaar.

The Cairo Museum--an endless array of treasures that were found by excavators....

One of my favorite minarets in the Old Bazaar--about 600 years old. Whenever we leave the Middle East, I always miss the punctuated rhythms of hearing the call to prayer five times a day. 

Always the fascination of looking a little deeper, trying to understand a little more, brings joy in the seemingly ordinary.
The entrance to the Sphnix, a portal where people prepared for death.
Other blogposts on Egypt:
Time and Immortality:…/egypt-time-and-immortality.h…
Enchanting Egypt
Experiencing Eid in Qatar and Egypt
Embracing the Dates:

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