This may seem as if it has nothing at all to do with writing, but in a way it does. Because everything a writer does, every experience, every conversation, every new fact learned, somehow influences the stories we tell. And so my recent trip to Egypt (my third, over a lifetime) may well end up in a book someday. I don’t know how it will work its way into a story. Perhaps it’ll be a memory of sun glaring on sand, perhaps the smell of the wind over the Nile, but there’s a good chance a detail, however small, will end up in a book.
But for now, it’s enough just to tell you I had a wondrous time there.
My two previous trips to Egypt were unescorted. And, if you’ve been to Egypt, you know how exhausting and frustrating such trips can be. Solo travelers must contend with the heat and the hucksters and all the arcane and unspoken rules that operate in a land where even Herodotus, 2500 years ago, found himself taken in by dishonest tour guides. But this time, my husband and I took the easy way out. We joined a tour.
And what an amazing tour it was. The one compelling reason I signed up for it was this man:
Egyptologist Bob Brier is a man I’ve admired for some time. Known worldwide as “Mr. Mummy,” his lectures on ancient Egypt are among the most popular recordings for The Teaching Company. Some years ago, I listened to all 48 of his lectures and was inspired by his wild enthusiasm for the subject. I read his marvelous book, The Murder of Tutankhamen. When I found out that he and his wife, art historian Pat Remler, were leading this particular tour to Egypt, I immediately signed up.
Am I glad I did.
One of the objects of the trip was to learn to read hieroglyphs. Bob’s lessons were the highlight of every day.
Within a few sessions, we were able to read and write simple sentences, move between past and present tense, and recognize the names of pharaohs in many of the cartouches on the temple walls. It took a lot of drawing practice, but after a few hours my vultures and quail chicks actually started looking like birds. Ancient hieroglyphs may represent a dead language, but that’s what made it so much fun — it was knowledge gained just for the sheer joy of it.
There was a lot of plain old touristy stuff involved, of course. At the temple in Kom Ombo, we stopped to contemplate this amazing wall:
I don’t know if you can see it, but it’s a carving of ancient Egyptian medical instruments. You can see saws and knives and forceps and even a sponge. It’s a reminder of just how medically advanced the ancient Egyptians were, and as a doctor, I was amazed by how modern the instruments looked.
After our week in Egypt, Bob and Pat escorted us back to London, where we shared another amazing day with them, touring the Egyptian collection in the British Museum, and the fabulous Petrie Museum, one of those quiet, out-of-the way gems that has in its collection the oldest garment in existence. The Petrie Museum is open to the public, but it seems just obscure enough that very few people actually find their way to its doors. Quiet and old-fashioned, it actually turned into one of my favorite places, and I can’t wait to go back.
Note: For those who are interested in traveling with Bob Brier, check out the website for Far Horizons. They specialize in cultural and archaeological tours.