Monday, January 31, 2011

I've Held a Piece of History

In 1998 my parents and I traveled to Africa to visit my sister who was serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in a town along the Gojam Road in Ethiopia. Our trip took us from the US to London to Dubai for about 12 hours (airport only) to Addis Ababa and then finally to Finote Selam, my sister's village.

But this post isn't about that part of the trip. It's about our 36 hour lay over on the way home in one of the most populated, most important cities in the world - Cairo.

Anyone who has been paying attention to news for more than just the weather report over the past week has probably seen images, video and snippets of news coming from the streets of Cairo where Egyptians are pouring out in droves to protest for their beliefs. I have to say that I am woefully ignorant of what they are fighting for other than the right for a decent wage ($2 a day is not one) and their right to vote for their leaders (30 years in office really is a long time). But other than that, I really don't know.

But then again, this post isn't about the politics. Rather, it's about a small piece of history I held while in Egypt.

Our trip home from Ethiopia included a lay over in Egypt, Cairo to be exact. When I first heard of the route, I told my father that if we were going anywhere near the Pyramids he better make sure there was enough time for us to leave the airport, drive to Giza, take a picture and get back. He extended the 6 hours to 36 and I am thrilled he did to this day.

Our first, and only, full day in Cairo was jam packed and we have a gracious host to thank for that. My father had a friend who had a friend who was kind enough to take a day off and show us around town. This host paid for a guide to the Egyptian Museum and a photography pass for me then later for a ride out into the desert on horses and camels to see the true glory of the Pyramids without the Cairo skyline and tourists flooding our senses.

It was out in the desert that I was handed a fist-sized piece of stone to hold by way of apology by someone who offended me greatly. The stone is a cast off from the stones used to build the pyramid. According to the camel driver who handed me the stone, his ancestors (and mine too, most probably, but he didn't know that) had most likely dropped this piece of stone and millions more like it off of blocks they were carving to build the pyramids. He held it in reverence and offered it to me with great humility. He loved that piece of stone, the cast off he found in the sand just moments before offering it to me. I am seeing that reverence again in the faces of those who are choosing to protect the ancient treasures rather than protest against the government. They see the importance of these small pieces of stone to the entire world and are choosing them over all else.

I remember the stone was whitish, soft and had two veins of pink crystals running through it. I remember it felt ancient, as most stones do, but more so. Heavy with history is probably the only way to describe the feel of it. I have always loved Egypt, the myths, the buildings, the treasures, and on that trip I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to hold just a small piece of that history in my hands.

There is a long, not so wonderful story about why I got to hold this marvelous piece of history, but again this is not that story.

It's the story of a day I held history in my hand and today, 12 years later, the day I beheld it.