Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Industrial Village and More

Hi everyone.

I have had another very interesting day. This morning, Kristin told me we were going to a village outside of Cairo to learn more about the air pollution and other environmental issues. I wasn't so sure I wanted to spend the day learning about the yellow stuff in the air I see from Kristin's hotel room. But Kristin told me it was very important so I decided to go along.

Now I am really glad I did go with Kristin. Kristin and her group took a bus to a village called Kafr el-Elew. I have NO idea how to say that name so I will just call it the "village." The village is located near a number of factories including one that makes cement. A very nice American man who teaches here in Cairo took us on a tour to show us how the village is working to overcome air and garbage problems. Here you can see the cement factory behind the buildings under construction. See how dusty the air looks?

I was shocked at what I saw. The buildings in the village looked very old and rundown. People were selling food out of baskets in the street and there were flies EVERYWHERE! Plus, I saw many, many donkeys pulling carts. I asked Kristin what they were for and she told me that many people do not have cars so they use the donkey carts to get around the village. I had no idea! I thought every family owned at least one car.

Here you can see me standing along one of the main streets in the village. Can you see the donkey carts behind me?

Many of the streets were very narrow and filled with garbage. Our guide told us that the people living in the village have been trying to get help to clean up the garbage but there is no money to clean up the village.

I could tell this made Kristin sad. I asked Kristin if she has ever visited a village like this before. She told me she and Keith have seen many that are much worse in other parts of the world. Can you believe that? I can't imagine that there are other places worse than this village.

Our group attracted a lot of attention. Many children followed us as we walked through the village. They all seemed very happy but they were wearing old clothes. Many had backpacks just like I do for school but they told the group they couldn't go to school because they don't have a teacher.

I also noticed the children were not playing with toys. Then I remembered that Kristin told me the children in the pictures in her office also didn't have toys. I just can't imagine not having any toys to play with! Kristin didn't take many photos because she says the people in the village don't like having their photo taken.

As we left the village, I asked Kristin if I should give my new stuffed camel to one of the children. Kristin said that was a very nice idea but it would be hard to give just one toy when there are SO many children. She is right. I would need LOTS of camels to give to the children in the village and I don't have enough money to buy that many camels.

Kristin knew I was sad so she told me the best thing I could do is appreciate everything that I have. I think Kristin is right. I now know I am very lucky that I have toys, a nice home, and a school to go to. I don't always like school but I know it is important to learn how to read and write. Kristin told me that that's why she wanted me to come with her today. She wanted me to understand that I am very lucky. I promised her I would do my best to appreciate my life in Iowa from now on!

This afternoon Kristin's group met another very important person. They seem to meet a lot of important people don't they? Anyway, today we went to the United States Embassy in Cairo.

The Embassy is the building where the person who represents America in Egypt works. Did you know that person is called an "ambassador." I had no idea! The American Ambassador to Egypt is Francis Ricciardone. He must be VERY important. I had to go through an x-ray machine before I could go into the building and there were many security officers watching the embassy building. Kristin also couldn't take photos in the Embassy. Kristin says it is a security issue and that it is important to keep the Ambassador and the others who work at the Embassy safe. This makes sense.

I was too scared to shake his hand so I stayed in Kristin's purse but he seemed very nice. He talked to Kristin's group for a long time. I didn't understand what the Ambassador was talking about. Kristin told me that was OK. The group was talking about big political issues that can be very confusing. Whew! I was worried she might give me a quiz after the meeting.

I got very sleepy during the meeting and feel asleep on the way to Kristin's next meeting.

And, I have decided to go to bed early tonight. That's because Kristin says we are taking another trip tomorrow to a place called Luxor. See if you can find it on the map. I don't know why we are going but Kristin says it will be exciting. She also says we won't be able to use her computer there. So, it may be a few days before I can send you an update.

Until next time....

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Dancing, Veil, and Bazaar

Hi everyone. I hope all is well with you. I am still having a GREAT time in Cairo!

Last night after I sent you my message about my visit to the Great Pyramid, Kristin and her group had a private dinner at the home of a local journalist. Many people were there. Kristin told me many important people including the Ambassador of Israel to Egypt and CNN's Cairo reporter were at the dinner. I don't know who they are but they sure looked important!

The dinner included a live band playing traditional music and a woman who performed traditional dance. The music was cool and the dancer can dance better than anyone I've ever seen dance before. Kristin says she is a belly dancer and she had to train for many years to dance the way she does. I really wanted to dance with her for just a few seconds. I didn't think Kristin would let me but she told me she talked to Aunt Lynn and Aunt Lynn said it was OK. So, here I am with the belly dancer.

I was so tired from dancing I fell asleep on the way back to the hotel and didn't wake up until just before Kristin's group had to leave the hotel this morning for their first meeting. Today they also met with a very important person. His name is Ali Gomaa. He is the Grand Mufti of the local al-Azar University.

I had NO idea what the Grand Mufti does but he sure looked and sounded very smart. Kristin says his job is to help determine and decide the rules of the Islamic religion. Most of the people who live in Egypt are Islamic.

Kristin and all of the women in the group had to wear a scarf before they could go into the building where the Grand Mufti works. I've never seen Kristin cover her head and I thought she looked really funny. But, Kristin told me that wearing the scarf, or veil, is very serious here in Egypt. So she and the others were wearing their scarves as a sign of respect. I think this is similar to the reason why I have to take off my cap when people sing "God Bless America" at a football game. So, I took off my cap today for a little bit to also show respect. Here I am with Kristin on the bus with her head covered (I still think she looks a little funny....but don't tell her I said that!).

Kristin says she won't have to wear her scarf most of the time we are here but she is keeping it in purse next to me just in case she must wear it when visiting with special people like the Grand Mufti.

Late this afternoon Kristin's group visited the shopping district of the old part of Cairo. This place is Old Cairo and the shopping district is known as a bazaar. There I had coffee at a very famous local coffee shop called Fishwali's. It was very good!

Kristin and Loren also walked around the bazaar for a little bit. Guess what? It was just like the souk I visited with Kristin and Keith in Doha. People were even selling spices on the street just like in Doha. Very cool!

Kristin says her group is going to have several business meetings tomorrow and she was worried I might get bored. So, she kindly bought me a new stuffed camel made of leather and a wooden camel puzzle. They are SO cool. I love camels. I am going to name my new stuffed camel Cairo. Here I am getting ready for bed with Cairo and my puzzle.

That's all for now. Until next time.....

Monday, May 01, 2006

Pyramids, Camels, Celebrities, and More!

Greetings again from Cairo.

I have just had the most exciting field trip of my entire life! This morning, Kristin and her group visited a place called Giza on the outskirts of Cairo. Guess what? That's where the famous pyramids I see on TV are!

I learned SO many things this morning on our field trip that I could write all day about it. But, since your attention span is probably short like mine is most of the time, I will just tell you about the best parts.

Our visit to Giza started with a briefing from a man named Zahi Hawass. He is the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. That sounds really important, doesn't it? It turns out he is a very important person. It his his job to do something called "preserve" Egypt's history including the pyramids. I think this means he makes sure the pyramids and other important monuments and statues are kept safe so people many years from now can also see what I saw today.

Mr. Hawass is full of energy. Kristin calls him "colorful." He looked normal to me so I'm not sure what she means when she says he is "colorful." I can tell from the way he talked that he really likes his job. He was so excited when he talked that Kristin couldn't get a clear photo of him.

While Kristin and her group were asking Mr. Hawass questions, I realized that I have seen him before. He has been on the Discovery Channel talking about the pyramids. How cool is that! I must tell Aunt Lynn because I know she has seen his TV shows.

After Mr. Hawass finished his presentation, he asked one of his best guides to give us a tour of Giza. We started with The Great Pyramid. Here you can see me standing in front of the Great Pyramid.

Did you know the Great Pyramid was built more than 4500 years ago (that's a REALLY, REALLY long time ago). I had no idea! In fact, Mr. Hawass says the pyramids I saw today are one of what's known as the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. That's pretty cool!

Do you know why the pyramids were built? Kings who once ruled Egypt were buried inside of them. Who knew? Our guide told us there are more than 2 million stones in the Great Pyramid. Each stone weighs more than 2 TONS (that's REALLY heavy). Kristin says this is why the pyramids are "wonders." People like Mr. Hawass are trying to figure out how workers 4500 years ago built the pyramids. That's because those workers didn't have big trucks or cranes or modern tools to build the pyramids. WOW! That must have been a really tough job!

Our guide told us that the number of people allowed inside is limited because too many people inside can hurt the stones. So I was really surprised when I got to go INSIDE for a brief time. The inside of the pyramid is a series of very small, steep tunnels and rooms. It is like walking into a small cave. It was kind of scary. I think Kristin saw that I was a bit afraid so we didn't stay inside for very long.

Something called the Sphinx was next on our tour. It is a very large structure that looks kind of like a lion with a big face on it. Here you can see me and Kristin standing near the Sphinx.

Our guide told us that the Sphinx was carved out of a single piece of stone. Can you imagine! It's HUGE.

Our next stop was something called the "Mortuary Temple." This is where the Kings and other people buried in the pyramids were turned into mummies or "mummified." It is nothing but a bunch of open stone rooms now but our guide says there used to be a canal or small body of water that connected the Nile River to the front of the Mortuary Temple. And no....I did NOT see any mummies today. The mummies found here and in other parts of Egypt are now in museums all over the world including the ones I saw in New York. Now I am double glad that Kristin took me to see the mummies in New York.

Our final stop of the morning was to a building at the base of one side of the Great Pyramid. This building covers something called "The Solar Boat."

Our guide told us that this boat was found buried in the sand in near the Great Pyramid in 1954. I thought it was strange that someone would bury a boat. But, our guide told us that ancient Egyptians believed they would live in a different world after they died. So, when someone died, their family and friends would bury food and other things (like boats) along with the mummy so the person had the items he/she needed after death. I'm still not sure I understand why the boat was buried so I am just telling you what the guide said.

This boat is believed to be one of the oldest boats in the world. And, it was originally built with rope. There were no nails holding it together. Can you believe that?! Here's a close-up of some of the rope used to build the boat.

And here I am with Kristin standing at one end of the boat.

There were many, many people at the pyramids today. Kristin says that's because today (May 1) is a national holiday in Egypt. Who knew? Anyway, Kristin says families like to visit important places on national holidays.

I really wish we were able to spend more time exploring the pyramids. I could have been there all day! If we had stayed longer, we could have taken a horse, donkey or camel ride around the pyramids. That would have been SO cool. Oh well, it was fun to watch the animals. Of course, the camels are my favorite. The security guards use camels to patrol the pyramids. I think that would be an awesome job! Here you can see one of the camel guards.

Oh...I forgot to mention that our bus drove right past the Cairo Zoo this morning. I was able to see camels, ostridge and even zebras through the window! I asked Kristin if we were going to visit the zoo but she says we don't have time. Oh well, at least I got to see the zebras from the bus.

I could go on and on and on but I think I should let Kristin use her computer now. So, I will say goodbye for now with small versions of my favorite photos Kristin took today.

After my visit today I realized that I am VERY lucky that I was able to see the pyramids. Thanks Kristin for taking me with you today! Until next time....

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Greetings from Egypt!

Greetings everyone! I am writing to you from Cairo, Egypt!

I arrived with Kristin, Loren and the rest of their journalist group early this afternoon (although it was the middle of the night in Iowa!).

I am SO excited to be here. And unlike some of my previous trips with Kristin and Keith, I didn't have any unusual adventures to get here.

We left Washington, DC on time and flew nearly 7 hours to Frankfurt, Germany. We had what Kristin calls a "tight connection" so we had to rush from our plane to catch out flight to Cairo. Changing planes was interesting. We had to walk outside and get into a LONG bus. It was SO long that it had an accordion-like center so it could turn corners. It looked cool but I'm not so sure how safe it was to ride. The bus took us to the terminal where our next plane was located. We only had to wait about 15 minutes before boarding the flight. Here you can see me watching the crew get our plane for Cairo ready.

Kristin told me before we left Washington that I needed to try and get as much sleep as possible on the plane rides because I was going to have "jet lag" again. Kristin tells me that Cairo is 8 hours ahead of Iowa time. That means when it is noon in Iowa, it is 8pm here in Cairo.

I slept pretty well on the first flight but I was so excited to be going to Egypt that it was hard for me to take a nap. I keep forgetting that I need to be patient when traveling. The flight attendant knew I was with Kristin so he gave me a coloring book to pass the time while Kristin took her nap on the flight to Cairo.

We arrived at Cairo on time and I immediately realized Kristin wasn't kidding when she said I would need to pack sunscreen and sunglasses for this trip. It is really HOT and SUNNY here in Cairo. I think it was close to 90 degrees when we stepped off the plane.

Once we got off the plane Kristin had to wait for Customs to stamp her passport. That's when I realized I don't have my own passport yet! Kristin told me not to panic. She and the other members of her group got their visa stamps before they left Washington. So she said I could travel with her as part of her "group." Whew! But I need to remember to get my own passport when I get back to Iowa.

All of Kristin's luggage arrived with no problems and once everyone had their bags, we took a big (and air-conditioned!) bus to the hotel. It took longer to get to the hotel that I thought. But then I realized that traffic here is VERY bad. I think it is even worse than the traffic in New York and Dubai.

But we arrived at the hotel in less than an hour and soon we were check into our rooms. But all of Kristin's bags had to be checked AND we had to walk through a metal detector before we could enter the hotel. Kristin says this is to make sure no one brings anything bad into the hotel that might hurt someone. This is similar to what we had to do in Doha except they don't have an x-ray machine here. Darn! I like the x-ray machine!

We are staying at the Cairo Marriott. It is located on an island in the middle of the city. The center of the hotel is part of the famous Gezira Palace that was built in 1869. WOW! That means parts of this hotel are REALLY OLD.

The lobby is very beautiful but Kristin's room is just OK if you ask me. Her room in Dubai was MUCH nicer. Kristin says our room on this trip is much more like the hotels she is used to staying in when traveling overseas. Well, I am not impressed! Kristin says that's because we were "spoiled" on our last trip to the Middle East.

The Nile River runs past the hotel. The Nile is a very famous river in Africa. From the way Kristin talks about the Nile, I think it is similar in importance to the Mississippi River that runs through Muscatine. You can see the Nile from Kristin's balcony.

Here's another view from Kristin's balcony.

Cairo looks very different than Dubai. It looks like a yellow haze clouds the sky. Kristin says this is pollution. After walking outside for awhile, I realized it is harder to breath here. I'm glad I have strong lungs!

The buildings here are much older and many of the buildings also look alike. And ALL of them are loaded with satellite dishes. There are satellite dishes everywhere. I've never seen so many in my life! They hang from balconies and crowd the roofs of every building I see. I asked Kristin why there were so many satellite dishes. She just smiled and then told me that TV is very popular here and that's one of the reasons why she and Keith went to Doha and Dubai to study Middle East TV news broadcasters. Here what the roof of a building across from Kristin's balcony looks like.

I like the balcony but it is also VERY noisy. Cars trying to make their way through traffic are always honking their horns. I've heard more horns today than I heard during both of my trips to New York City (and cabs like to honk their horns in New York)! Kristin says this is why she has earplugs just in case she has a hard time sleeping. I think I am going to borrow a pair from her so I can sleep too!

Well I am getting sleepy so I think I am going to sign off for the night.

Until next time!