2015 Malawi #6

If you’ve been following this journey, you know that the weekend was a rigorous exercise in missionary activity – we spent a great deal of time in conversation with our hosts, in meeting and greeting neighbors in churches and prayer houses, and bouncing across some pretty questionable roads in bone-jarring fashion. When I told the team that I said that they looked as if they’d been “rode hard and put away wet”, some of them suggested that I was speaking gibberish and that perhaps I should offer an interpretation in common English. Fine. From The Urban Dictionary:

The way someone looks or feels when they’ve had a hard time of it. From a horseman’s term, when someone has not taken care of a horse after a hard day.

He was all hot and sweaty, he looks like he was rode hard and put away wet.

The fact of the matter is that our team was beat. And when you’re worn out, what’s better than toting fifty pounds of luggage into the bus and riding on more of the same roads for twenty minutes – I mean, four hours? But that’s what we did, with the promise of some rest and restoration in the form of a retreat on the shores of Lake Malawi.

Our team is greeted at Naming'azi Farm Training Centre

Our team is greeted at Naming’azi Farm Training Centre

Before we arrived, though, we made a couple of stops. The scheduled stop was at the Naming’azi Farm Training Centre, a ministry of the Synod of Blantyre. Here, local farmers are invited to receive training in more sustainable and fruitful agricultural techniques. From composting to fruit-tree grafting to animal husbandry practices, the staff at Naming’azi are seeking to provide village farmers with new (or sometimes ancient) tools with which to ply their craft. It was a great opportunity for the group to see the Synod’s engagement, and we were particularly encouraged by the ways in which Naming’azi has partnered with other NGO’s (non-government organizations) to make goats available to local villagers. As we left the farm, Vanessa and I talked about the fact that a hundred and thirty years ago, the missionaries showed up and built churches, schools, and hospitals. My sense is that in many ways, the missionaries of the next fifty years will need to start farms – places where we can learn and re-learn the practice of stewardship of creation and gratitude for life. Perhaps when the Kingdom comes, it will look a little bit like Naming’azi.

Randy and John relaxing at the Farm

Randy and John relaxing at the Farm

Naming'azi Farm sits in the shadow of the Zomba Plateau

Naming’azi Farm sits in the shadow of the Zomba Plateau

One thing that has not changed about Malawi for centuries is the need for fuel to cook the family meals.

One thing that has not changed about Malawi for centuries is the need for fuel to cook the family meals.

Elephants&BoatBecause our trip to the farm took more time than we expected, we made a second stop. We pulled into the Hippo View Lodge at Liwonde for lunch, and although the iconic “river horses” were missing in action, we were treated to a view of a family of elephants stopping by the river for a quick drink. It was a joy to watch the team appreciate these enormous beauties, and I also was delighted to walk up and down the riverbank sharing my binoculars with families who had none. The awe and majesty of nature was clearly on display.

 

We arrived at the Boadzulu Lodge (“a place to call home”) in time for a warm dinner and vibrant devotions (led by Deac).

Gabe enjoys a sunrise over Lake Malawi.

Gabe enjoys a sunrise over Lake Malawi.

I found a pair of Lilac-Breasted Rollers!

I found a pair of Lilac-Breasted Rollers!

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This morning we awoke and traveled to Cape MacLear, where we were privileged to board a couple of small boats and see the amazing diversity of fish in Lake Malawi. One source indicates that Lake Malawi itself has more species of fish than all of the rivers and lakes in North America and Europe combined. A highlight was having the opportunity to watch several African Fish Eagles swoop down and grab their lunch from the water!

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Lake Malawi Cichlids

Lake Malawi Cichlids

Lake Malawi Cichlids

An African Fish Eagle takes his lunch before our eyes.

An African Fish Eagle takes his lunch before our eyes.

Enjoying the island off Cape MacLear.

Sharon enjoying the island off Cape MacLear.

Pastor Angelo and Elder Daniel get a review of the Partnership.

Pastor Angelo and Elder Daniel get a review of the Partnership.

The afternoon was spent relaxing, and quite a few naps were taken. I spent some time with members of the South Sudan delegation, trying to catch them up on 24 years of partnership history and tradition and give them a chance to assess how and where the SSPEC might be appropriately invested in this relationship.

 

 

DancerOur “day off” was completed by a festive meal attended by several representatives from the Mangochi Presbytery. We were then treated to a performance by a group of young people featuring traditional Yao dancing, drumming, and costumes. This was our best chance at spending some “down” time together as we prepare to be separated to our sister congregations on Wednesday. Bananagrams is an international sensation, and several times the Americans got “schooled” by our host, Jatto, whose command of the English language is amazing. It was a blessed day.

I have to say, Sarajane takes no prisoners when it comes to Bananagrams!

I have to say, Sarajane takes no prisoners when it comes to Bananagrams!

South Sudan/Malawi Journey 2013

On January 22, I will be leaving Pittsburgh for nearly three weeks in Africa so that I might take part in an historic mission trip to the Republic of South Sudan and the Republic of Malawi.  The overall purpose of this journey will be to explore the possibility of formal partnership between Pittsburgh Presbytery (Presbyterian Church USA), Blantyre Synod (Church of Central Africa: Presbyterian), and the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church.  In addition, I will visit Malawi to witness and encourage the implementation of the “A-MAIZE-ing Grace” Famine Relief program launched by Pittsburgh Presbytery and the Synod of Blantyre several months ago.

I have had the privilege to travel to many places in the world for a variety of reasons.  As I prepare to leave on this journey, my sense of CALL is stronger than it has ever been.  That is a little unusual, because my sense of WHAT I WILL ACTUALLY BE DOING is a little fuzzy.  I believe that I am supposed to go, and that I am supposed to concentrate on BEING more than on DOING in the next few weeks.

For those reasons and more, I ask my friends to join me in prayer.  Here is a little more about the journey.

South Sudan: 24 – 29 January, 2013

map-south-sudanThe Republic of South Sudan was created on July 9, 2011, when more than 98% of the population voted to leave their northern neighbor, Sudan.  This nation is about the size of the US State of Texas and has 36 miles of paved roads.  The population consists of approximately 8 million who earn their living primarily as rural subsistence farmers.  Life has been hard in this nation, which has only known peace for about ten of the last fifty-five years.  The result of this conflicted history has been serious neglect, lack of infrastructure development, and major destruction and displacement. More than 2 million people have died, and more than 4 million are internally displaced persons or became refugees as a result of the civil war and war-related impacts.

Despite more than 50 years of civil war and an infrastructure that is in ruins, a sense of hope now pervades the people of South Sudan. The Republic of South Sudan began nationhood as one of the world’s poorest countries, but it has a landscape with rich natural resources and churches with abundant faith. The PC(USA) is working with its partner churches and organizations to help craft a brighter tomorrow for the people in South Sudan.

During this visit, I will join Pastors Ken White (Southminster Presbyterian Church) and Jeff Tindall (Carnegie Presbyterian Church / Stated Clerk of Pittsburgh Presbytery) will join PC(USA) Mission Co-Worker Michael Weller as we observe the General Assembly of the Southern Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church in the company of our Malawian partners.  Our hope is that this time of face-to-face conversation, worship, and prayer will lead to fruitful discernment as to the possibilities of a formal partnership between two or more of these bodies.  For more information about the Republic of South Sudan, check out the CIA Factbook entry.

Malawi: 29 January – 8 February, 2013Malawi Map

Malawi, a relatively small English-speaking country, is poor and has suffered from drought and floods as well as the spread of HIV/AIDS. Pittsburgh Presbytery, in Partnership with the Synod of Blantyre since 1991, has joined the PC(USA) in supporting the Church of Central Africa: Presbyterian’s ministries. We have had a share in such things as include health and development programs focusing on women and children, activities for youth, care for orphans, leadership development, and water and sanitation.   Members of the CCAP were influential in standing up for oppressed minorities in 1994 and bringing about a multiparty democracy.

On January 29, Jeff and I will fly south to Malawi, where they will be welcomed by our long-time partners in the CCAP Blantyre Synod.  Here, we will spend a little more than a week engaged in a number of activities relating to the A-Maize-ing Grace Famine Relief Program.  We will visit the Mwanza district, which is the epicenter of the church’s food distribution program.  In addition, Jeff and I hope to take part in a ceremony at the Zomba Theological College, which has received an outpouring of support from the students and staff at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.  While in Malawi, Dave also hopes to reconnect with friends in our partner church, the Mbenjere congregation in the town of Ntaja.  Our congregations have been twinned in ministry since 1995.

The A-Maize-ing Grace Famine Relief effort was launched when we learned that there were more than 2.1 million Malawians at risk for food insecurity in this year’s “hungry season”.  So far, this program has yielded more than $80,000 that will purchase food to supplement the diets of thousands of families in Malawi.  For more information on this program, click here.  For some of my own personal reflections on the origins, please refer to my earlier post on that subject.  If for some reason, you’re my friend and don’t know much about Malawi, you can view the CIA Factbook here.

A-MAIZE-ing Video

If you have not yet seen it, take a minute to watch this fantastic video put together by dear friend and brother Thad Ciechanowski.  And then, by all means, please share the link with anyone and everyone!  If you can’t see it here, the url is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOfYH9K_baM&feature=youtu.be

Specific Prayer Requests include

  • Safe travel to and from these countries.  In addition to our intended destinations, we’ll be flying in and out of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Nairobi, Kenya; Lubumshasi, Democratic Republic of Congo; and Rome, Italy.  In addition to the complicated network of air travel, the team will be driving hundreds of miles across a variety of roads in the USA, South Sudan, and Malawi.
  • The ability to be fully present to the people to whom we are being sent.  This request would include prayers for the ability to be physically attentive, spiritually discerning, encouraging, and gracious in conversation.
  • The ability to represent Pittsburgh Presbytery and our home congregations well.
  • The ability to communicate as needed with those who are at home.
  • Growth in our own lives as we learn from these African brothers and sisters whose walk is different from our own.
  • The opportunity to model sound and wise partnership in ministry and mission to any who are observant.

On Friday, March 1, 2013, you are invited to come to a formal report presentation, including photos and stories, at the First U.P. Church of Crafton Heights.  The program will begin at 7 pm.  This will be in conjunction with our Youth Group’s spring FAMINE RELIEF FUNDRAISER.  If you show up, we will hit you up for money to support this effort.  You won’t have to give, but you’ll be asked.  Save your pennies!

I Like The Sounds Of This Place

We saw this little mountain goat whilst hiking above Queenstown.

If you have followed along with recent posts you have heard me go on and on about the incredibly varied topographies and biomes that make up the small nation of New Zealand. I am here to tell you, this place simply doesn’t let up in that regard.  Just a couple of days ago, we hiked though a rain forest in order to climb onto, over, and through a glacier.  Our tour of New Zealand continued with even more adventure and incredible diversity.

We rode a cablecar 400 meters (more than 1200 feet) to get a view of how Queenstown is nestled into the alpine mountains and lakes of New Zealand.

We left the Fox Glacier and headed inland, crossing over the region that is known as “the southern alps”.  This lovely little town rests among a range of mountains called – I am not making this up – The Remarkables. One glance will tell you why. And somehow, between where The Remarkables end and Lake Wakatipu begins is this vibrant little city.  It being just about the beginning of winter here, the folk in Queenstown are gearing up for another ski season.  The mountains are all snow-capped at this point and the town is ready for peak season. Our highlight here was riding the Skyline Gondola 440 meters  (nearly 1500 feet) to a magnificent observation deck, from which we departed on a brief hike through the dense pine forest.  It was freezing, but incredibly beautiful. One final note about Queensland concerns the descent into town from the mountains. it was the twistiest, switch-backiest, most adventuresome piece of of pavement I have ever come across. I would have a photo to share with you, but my knuckles were too white from gripping the steering wheel, and I think that everyone else in the camper had their eyes closed in prayer at that point.

The Kea is a large parrot (almost 2 feet tall) that is native to New Zealand. It is a very inquisitive bird, as this guy’s attempt to investigate my camera demonstrated.

We left Queensland and came to the tiny hamlet of  Te Anau. From here, we were able to explore the region known as Fiordland. We boarded a bus here in Te Anau and drove to Lake Manapouri, where we embarked on a ferry that carried us across the lake to the West Arm power station.  This facility has been called the high point of New Zealand engineering. Here, water from the lake drops 200 meters (more that 600 feet) into turbines that produce 15% of the nation’s electricity. From the power plant, we boarded another bus and drove another 22 kilometers on an incredibly beautiful, but very limited-access road that led to Doubtful Sound.

In 1770 the explorer Captain Cook refused to take his ship into this vast body of water flanked by granite towers because he was “doubtful” that there would be sufficient wind to return him to the sea. Fortunately for us, our schooner was powered by diesel engines, and we spent 3 wonderful hours cruising through these glacier-carved caverns, islands, and valleys.  

The good ship Fiordland Navigator, which was our transport through Doubtful Sound.

The sunshine was brilliant, the scenery spectacular, and the naturalists on board were very informative. After plying the waters of the sound, we toured the power plant, which we entered via a tunnel that allowed our bus to drive 200 meters underground. The kiwis have every right to be proud of this facility that produces clean, renewable energy in harmony with the world heritage environment above it.

Doubtful Sound

As I reflect on these 2 days, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity I have had to witness these sights, and awe-struck at the work of the Creator who laid the foundations of these places. Like Job, I felt very small and humble today. Life is good, and this garden we have been given is a treasure. Thanks be to God!

Doubtful Sound is home to a resident pod of Bottlenose Dolphins. This guy and his mates came to check us out aboard the Fiordland Navigator.

From One Extreme To The Other

If I understood the guide correctly, I am standing in a “moulin“- a tunnel within the Fox Glacier.

New Zealand continues to impress us with its amazing diversity. A week ago we were on the North Island enjoying its  geothermal wonderlands as we looked at geysers and boiling mud and sat in naturally heated thermal baths.  As I write this, I am huddled under two blankets inside Fiona (our intrepid campervan) fresh from a day atop the  Fox Glacier. For several hours we hiked over this huge and ancient mass of ice that surrounds Mt Tasman and Mt Cook, New Zealand’s  highest peaks.  In fact, kiwis call this part of the country “the southern alps” and I am not going to disagree with them. One thing that fascinates me, however, is the fact that as we began our hike to the glacier, we started walking in a rain forest!

Here the sun rises near our campsite outside of Greymouth,New Zealand.

According to the Lonely Planet, the drive from Westport to Greymouth NZ is “one of the top ten drives on the planet.” The 2 lane road hugs the Pacific Coast like this for about 60 breath-taking miles.

As we have driven through the countryside, I am reminded of the saying “getting there is half the fun”. The roads are very well maintained, if somewhat narrow and twisty. Driving on the opposite side (and shifting with one’s left hand) adds a certain novelty to the adventure. And every 10 kilometers or so there is a one-lane bridge  that requires a bit of finesse to get across. In fact, yesterday we crossed a bridge that in its single lane carried not only north and southbound vehicles, but a railway track too! And, of course, it’s always more fun to drive when you are scouting out new birds, new scenery, and new road signs.

These local green mussels have been the hit of our dinner times here in Fiona the campervan. Raised locally and served with garlic butter.

The last post mentioned something of our daily routine. I just wanted to say how much I have enjoyed cooking here. Each of the campgrounds has a large clean kitchen, and many days we take our supplies there and cook breakfast or dinner. We have eaten a lot of lamb, a great deal of cheese, and, of course, prodigious amounts of kiwi fruit. Two pounds of that little gem costs about a buck and a half. Most days we barbecue, although we have made exceptions for shellfish and pasta on occasion.

So all in all our trip is progressing amazingly well. We appreciate the prayers and support we have received from everyone, and look forward to times to share more photos and re-engage on a more personal level.

The team of intrepid travelers atop the Fox Glacier. It is estimated that the ice on which we are standing is more than 100 yards thick.

“The Coolest Little Capitol In The World”

This playful little fellow is called a New Zealand Fantail. I wonder why…

That’s how the Lonely Planet guidebook describes Wellington, New Zealand, and they are not far off the mark.  We continue to be amazed at the beauty of this island nation.  We were surprised to learn that New Zealand is larger than England.

At an indoor garden in Auckland.

In the past few days we have spent time in many places.  Our “typical day” looks like this: we wake up,  and it’s about 30 degrees outside (and about 55 inside “Fiona”, our campervan).  We have a nice hot breakfast of oatmeal or eggs and then we unplug the van and drive.  If we see something that looks cool, we stop.

Breakfast – the most important meal of the day- inside Fiona.

When it’s time for lunch, we pull over and make ourselves some cheese sandwiches and have some fruit (I bought 6 pounds of apples and 4 pounds of pears today for about $4 American!).  Then, we drive some more,unless we hike or visit a museum or cultural show.  By mid-day, the temperature is usually about 50 or 55, and the last few days have been sunny & clear.  Eventually, we show up in a campground, plug Fiona in, and grill some dinner. Tonight, for instance, we are having some venison steaks that were given to me by the guy I bought my fishing license from in Taupo.  He heard me say I loved venison, and he said, “No worries, mate! I will fix you right up!”  And then I was holding 4 inch-thick steaks.  No worries indeed! We spent 7 days on the North Island.

One of the highlights there was the visit to Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand (think “Smithsonian”).  Fascinating. We were very impressed with the relative youth of this nation and the way that they have welcomed (at times) immigrants and refugees.  Te Papa also has a number of very informative exhibits concerning the affects of human culture (both Maori and European) on this island, which has only been inhabited for about a thousand years).  We also learned quite a bit about New Zealand’s politics, and the ways that it has been a good friend to the US and the UK over the years.  I was interested in some of the material dealing with WWII, which indicated that when Japan entered the war and NZ became a potential target, the Allies had to station US troops here because so many Kiwis were fighting in Europe and North Africa.

Sunrise over Marleboro Sound, just outside Picton.

After our time on the North Island was finished, we took the Inter-Islander ferry across Cook Strait to the South Island. The crossing took about 3 hours, and it was extremely rough. In fact, the captain almost didn’t sail because of the high seas. The waves were 5.4 meters high (17.5 feet).  Sharon was a little green around the gills by the time we hit Picton, but recovered quickly.  The South Island is more rural than the North, and we have really enjoyed the scenery.  Today, we beachcombed near Nelson en route to Abel Tasman National Park.  Tomorrow, we will take a water taxi into the park and be  dropped off for a 4 hour hike down the coastal trail.

These snow-capped mountains looked at us from across Welcome Bay near Nelson.

Sharon celebrated a birthday in many ways; here she receives a scone (with tea) at the Bushy Park Nature Reserve – a native forest surrounded by a “predator fence” to keep out stoats, mice, rabbits, etc.

Dangerous Wonder

When I last wrote, we were escaping the hustle and bustle of Egypt’s number one tourist destination…and now I sit in an oasis that is about the most remote in the entire nation.  More about the oasis tomorrow…today: How we got here.

One of the other Land Cruisers attempts to outrace us across the desert.

We took the bus from Luxor to Dahkla – about 6 hours.  We rested, and then took the bus another three hours to a small oasis whose name I cannot remember.  Once there, we transferred to three ancient Toyota Land Cruisers.  I mean to tell you, these vehicles have seen some action.  As we sipped tea while the luggage and camping gear was being strapped to the roofs of these trucks, I noticed armed guards watching our bags.  Turns out that to enter this part of Egypt you need an “escort” from the Tourist Police.  For a while, that meant five dour looking fellows in full combat gear following us in a Camry wagon, but that was later reduced to a side-arm wearing fellow who asked for (and got!) the front seat.

The desert as a place of double death and danger...this is the carcass of a German warplane that went down in the Sahara at the time of the fighting near El Alamein.

If we were to scan the scriptures, we would find that often the Desert is a place of wandering and punishment: think of the Children of Egypt having left Egypt, or Jeremiah’s wanderings, or Elijah fleeing Jezebel, or Ishmael and Hagar driven out by Abraham and Sarah.  And,  to be sure, we experienced the desert as a dangerous place.  The temperatures are scorching – I measured it to be about 100 degrees early yesterday afternoon.  With the window of the Land Cruiser open (air conditioning? Surely you jest!) it felt like I was sitting in front of a dryer vent, only hotter.  If we didn’t have enough water, we’d be goners for sure.

Ariel and Jenny returning from a "toilet stop" at the White Desert. Not too many places to hide!

However, the desert is also a place of blessing: think of Paul’s meeting the Lord on the road to Damascas, or Philip and the Ethiopian, or, of course, Moses in many instances.  The desert is where you can encounter the Holy.  And we did.

The White Desert is full of odd shapes such as this (we decided it was a chicken under a tree) that the wind has carved from the soft white rock (I think it is either gypsum or talc).

In the Jordanian Desert of Wadi Rum, we camped with a group of Bedouin in their homes.  Here, on the eastern edge of the Sahara, we carried our mats and blankets and set up the camp ourselves.  For the first time in our lives, the Carvers were not worried about rain on a camping trip. 

A Desert Fox heads for home after a night of foraging in the White Desert

This little guy wanted to come camping with us in the White Desert.

We ventured through a part of the Desert known as the “White Desert”, so named because of the many rock formations that pop up from the landscape and look like so many carved marshmallows.  We camped here for a night, and the white rocks in the 3/4 moonlight were a beautiful sight.  When in Jordan, there was no moon, and the stars were bright.  Here, I could have read by the light of the moon and the reflection off the white rocks.

The Black Desert is so named because this volcano erupted centuries ago, spewing black lava and ash over the golden sand.

A little further north, and we encountered a region known as “The Black Desert”, so named because of the volcanic sediment that litters the ground.  In its own way, it is fascinating and beautiful.

On Tuesday night we stopped at an oasis in the town of Baharia.  Wednesday, we awoke and began the drive of our lives: 450 Kilometers (200 + miles) by Land Cruiser through the desert.  Sometimes, there was a road.  Often, all four wheels were in touch with the ground.  We had a crazy driver who put the fear of God into us (and showed us a great time) by racing (think Dakar Rally) across the sand dunes, up and down and through…

The experience was enhanced by the presence in our truck of yet another “Guardian” AND the fact that our driver must have the world’s largest collection of contemporary Egyptian music.  We had six hours of Arabic singing, accordion, and recorder playing through the cassette system that was on the edge of blowing out the Toyota’s remaining speaker.  Six hours, and not a song was repeated.  Wow.  I mean, wow.

We drove nearly 4 hours without seeing another living creature, save some sort of desert eagle.  No other cars, no trees, no people…nothing but sand and sky.

Dangerous, if we were not prepared and guided.  Beautiful.  Amazing.  And we ended up at one of the most beautiful places of the entire trip: the Oasis and town of Siwa, about 20 miles east of the Libyan border.  But that’s another post…

I rejoice in having the time to be in this place.  And I am continuing to think about how it has and will affect me.  And while it is amazing, I will confess to missing my garden, my boat,  and most importantly, my community.  The desert is a place to reaffirm not only one’s love for the Lord, but one’s love for the not-desert.  So I will sleep tonight eager for the experiences of tomorrow, but I will dream of Pittsburgh.

It’s Just Like Eat N Park, Only Better…

OK, maybe Eat N Park isn’t your place, but I know that somewhere, sometime, you have bellied up to a buffet at some restaurant and thought, “Wow…there’s so much food and so little belly in which to squeeze it.”  You know, there are just more things to eat than there is time and energy to eat it.

If you know that feeling, then you know how Ariel and felt when we were given a full day and a half to explore Luxor, Egypt.  Luxor, as our guide was quick to point out, is home to 1/3 of all of the monuments in the entire world.  Again, there may be some who might want to argue that statistic, but the same guide says that it’s home to half of all the monuments in Egypt.  The temples, statues, tombs, and monuments grow like weeds here in this ancient city which, when known as Thebes, ruled not only Egypt, but the world.  We focused our time and energy on a few places: the Temple of Edfu, the second-largest temple in Egypt and one of the most well-preserved.  It’s dedicated to the god Horus, who has the body of a man and the head of a falcon.

We also spent time at the great temple of Karnak, considered to be the largest religious structure ever built.  It was built to honor the god Amun and establish his primacy in Egyptian mythology.

The great Temple of Luxor is connected to the Karnak temple and was used for a variety of experiences.  We enjoyed seeing it as it is one of the few edifices open after dark (and thus enjoyable when the heat of the sun is at least diminished – it is about 100 degrees every day, and not a whisper of a cloud.

We also enjoyed visiting the Valley of the Kings (no photos allowed!), the Burial Temple of Hatshepsut, and the Tombs of the Workers who were charged, for 400 years, with carving out the tombs that comprise the “City of the Dead” that is on the west bank of the Nile River.

We can either lament the fact that we couldn’t see it all…or savor the opportunity to have seen some of it.  To that end, we share some images in the hopes that you will celebrate with us this opportunity of a lifetime.

Ariel examines a wall of hieroglyphics at the Temple of Edfu.

We couldn't get the plaza of Edfu temple in one shot. It's huge!

Well, it looks like Ramses II wasn't content with building the Temple of Luxor, he wanted to make it onto the Blog, too! Congratulations, Big Guy!

"When in Rome..." So here we are at the Temple of Hatshepsut, assuming the position of a dead King bound for the afterlife...

So there’s one more story, at least, from Luxor.  The preamble: “fast” and “food” do not go together in this culture.  At all.  It has taken an hour or more from the time we order to the time we see our first food in most places.  So on Saturday, the group of us was sitting in the New Mish Mish cafe, waiting for our schewerma to come, and we saw a horse-drawn cart parked outside for at least half an hour.  We wondered why in the world this cart, pulled by a large draft horse and a diminutive donkey, would be parked in the middle of the street.  Finally, I noticed that the team had gotten the first wheel of the cart over a speed bump in the road, but then it had to stop and the beasts simply were unable to either pull it forward or back it up.  There was a stack of timber on this cart at least six feet high.

So we decided to lend some international aid to the situation.  The cart driver was surprised when a couple Americans, several Australians, a Canadian and a German trooped out of the restaurant and got behind the cart and pushed.  I don’t know how happy the horse and mule were, but the merchant was thrilled to be on his way again…and we got a story to tell.

This Mutt and Jeff team with its wagon was blocking traffic for half an hour until we helped them over a bump in the road. Score one for International friendships!

Here’s hoping you have a story or two of your own today!