Mission News

January, 2005

 The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need.  He lets me rest beside peaceful streams.  He renews my strength.
~ Psalm 23:1-3

January has been a month of reflection and regrouping as the schools are on break and I have had quite a bit of time off.  During this last week of the break, I am traveling to Luxor with two other volunteers, Karen and Rachel.  In order for you to get a glimpse of upper Egypt, which is actually in the south, I’ll be writing this newsletter live, on location!  So, get comfortable in your computer chair and buckle your seatbelt (just kidding, there are no seatbelts in Egypt!) ~ we’re going to Luxor!

 Day 1 (1:30 AM)

Like most travels in Egypt, our trip has gotten off to an exciting start.  Our train left the station ten minutes ago and we are scheduled to arrive in Luxor at 1 PM, after twelve hours of traveling!  Just a few hours ago, Rachel and I were preparing to leave for the train station when we got word that a northbound train had derailed just south of Minya.  Of course traveling in any developing country has its share of inherent dangers, but hearing about a major train crash hours before getting on a train is disconcerting, to say the least.  So, we took our nervous energy, a borrowed cell phone, and lots of prayers, and are now headed south.

Day 1 (8:30 AM)

The trip from Cairo to Minya takes about three hours…when one set of tracks isn’t blocked by the charred remains of a derailed train.  Two hours into the trip (3 AM) the train stopped in the middle of nowhere and didn’t move again until 5 AM.  We set out into the night before stopping again 15 minutes later.  The whole ride to Minya was like that until we eventually arrived after seven hours on the train!  We have now been reunited with Karen and are pulling out of Minya about four hours later than planned. 

Day 1 (11 AM)

I just woke up from a two hour nap (el hamdullah) and was rewarded with some beautiful scenery.  After 5 months in Cairo, I forgot that there are colors other than 27 different shades of tan!  In upper Egypt, through the Nile delta, everything is green and lush with stands of wispy palm trees dotting the landscape.  I have seen women balancing baskets on their heads, children leading camels and donkeys, and men in galibayas riding bicycles along the canal.  I am thankful for a glimpse of this part of God’s creation, as it is a refreshing change from the dusty urban landscape of Cairo.

Day 1 (8 PM)

Rachel, Karen, and I arrived in Luxor at 4:00 this afternoon after 15 long hours of train travel (ugh).  We arrived at our hotel and checked into a room that only had two small beds.  Rachel and I tried sharing a small twin bed briefly, but were glad when a triple room came available.  We wandered through the streets of Luxor a bit and discovered that the people here are extraordinarily dependent on tourism for their livelihood.  All over the place, people want tips for carrying bags, giving directions, and offering services (usually unsolicited).  There is an obvious disparity between the poverty of the local residents and the wealth observable on cruise ships, hotels, and other high class tourist establishments.  Seeing the living conditions here and in the rural parts of upper Egypt, I realize many of the people hassling me on the streets rely on tourists like myself to feed their families.  I am trying to be thankful for the blessings in my own life instead of becoming irritated with the less fortunate people around me. 

Day 2 (8 AM)

After a long night (we went to bed at 8:30) of people shouting outside our room, very hard beds, and even harder “pillows,” we are off to see Luxor.  We are also beginning to question our decision to move to the triple room sandwiched between the elevator and the kitchen of a restaurant that seems to be open 24 hours a day. 

Day 2 (5:30 PM)

Our tour of the Karnak and Luxor temples today was amazing.  We were blessed with a very kind and knowledgeable female, Christian tour guide who showed us around, helped us negotiate good prices, and then invited us to lunch at her home!  Manel, our tour guide, shared with us her home, her mother’s wonderful cooking, and good conversation about the Coptic Orthodox church and the differences between being a Christian in Egypt and the US.  Today we saw two major historical monuments and were reminded of the kindness of Egyptian people.  Thanks, Manel and Angel (her mom)!  Right now we are sitting with tired feet and full stomachs on the roof of our hotel enjoying a view of the city of Luxor, the Luxor temple, and the sun setting over the Nile as the call to prayer echoes through the air from mosques in five different directions.  

Day 3 (2:30 PM)

Nine hours later and I’m still (or again, rather) on the hotel roof.  We came up here to enjoy the sunshine and cool off in the pool (yes, it is that warm).  Today, after our tours of the Valley of Kings and Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple, we had an opportunity to tell Manel and our driver about our mission trip and the ways in which God has used this experience for our growth.  I am so glad we met Manel and had the opportunity to share our faith with her and hear about her beliefs and struggles. 

Day 4 (9:30 AM)

Last night was the third consecutive night we were all in bed by 9 PM (such party animals!), so we were up at 7:00 this morning ready to go.  Of course, most of our day today (as well as most of the night) will be spent on the train. 

Day 4 (4:30 PM)

We boarded a train bound for Cairo an hour ago and the train started moving before we were settled in our seats.  We found it strange that the train left at 3:35 and our tickets were for 3:45.  Since Pharonic times, nothing in Egypt has ever begun on time, certainly not early and we aren’t entirely sure we are on the correct train.  We are now seated on a very old, poorly maintained, marginally comfortable train surrounded by an unlikely group of passengers.  The train car we were in on the way to Luxor had 60 passengers, approximately 7 of whom were female (counting the three of us).  Today we are seated among a group of 15 middle-aged Muslim women.  They are filling the car with joyful smiles, chatter, laughter, songs, clapping, and finger symbols.  They rearranged their seats to make room for us, are sharing their food with us, and seem very glad for us to be here despite the fact that we cannot communicate very easily. 

Day 4 (9:30 PM)

Five hours later and the singing continues.  This may be the most cheerful and happy group of women I have ever encountered.  When the man who sells tea and coffee comes by (every 11 minutes), they break out in a song about tea.  Other song themes have included the train being crowded, Rachel’s height (she is taweela, or tall), and the bad smell coming from the train bathroom.  These women seem genuinely happy that we are here and we are certainly thrilled they are here.  Instead of a mundane twelve hour train ride, this is turning into an extensive Arabic lesson and cultural exchange! 

Day 5 (4:30 AM)

Thirteen hours after our departure from Luxor and I am tired, stiff, and glad to be home.  This week I have seen the beauty of God’s creation, in the lush scenery in Upper Egypt, in the love and kindness shown to us by our tour guide, and in the joy of the women on our train.  As our vacation time comes to an end and I prepare to go back to working full-time, my hope is that God will continue to show me these wonders in my daily activities.

 As always, thank you all for your thoughts, prayers, and support.  Please continue to keep all the volunteers in your prayers.  This week, please pray also for those who were injured or lost friends and family members in the train crash last Monday night.



January newsletter of Lisa Burke, serving as a YAGM with the ELCA in Cairo, Egypt