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"Those who follow the part of themselves which is great are great men; those who follow the part which is little are little men." -- Mencius
|Episode 27: Out of Africa|
@ Where`s Cherie?
Aug 05 2002 - 16:23 PST
|cherie writes: August 2000|
Still in Egypt, we found ourselves on a cruise on the Nile, the river that has given life to hundreds of millions over the past 5000 years. We were on a three-story boat rented out to celebrate three weddings. Kristi, Carter, Renee and I were the only tourists aboard. We would ultimately become a greater photo attraction than the bride and groom on our deck.
Egyptians took pictures of Kristi and Carter and had them enlarged to 8 X 10 to take home as souvenirs. Then in a celebratory dance, we joined the bride and groom dancing around in the euphoric dizziness. The only thing missing from every table: alcohol. Muslims, according to their religion, shouldn't drink. (And most don't...except our friend Yasser, who drinks enough for all of them.)
In the grand celebration of marriage, the love was easy to see in the hungry eyes of the 45 year-old groom, but a little harder to find in the dilated pupils of his teenage bride. Like a good girl she went through all the wedding rituals. She covered her husbands hand with her own, and then brought it to the breast of the belly dancer. A gesture representing the ultimate trust, carried out with pursed lips and skeptical eyes. This was not the happiest day of this bride's life. But for everyone else, it may very well have been.
Egyptian women aren't the only ones who marry young. King Tutankhamun (King Tut) married when he was 14 years-old. (Though his marriage only lasted four years--he died at 18.) In 1361 BC King Tut began running a country at the age of nine. Today the only running nine year-olds do is at recess. When King Tut's tomb was found in 1922 his body was placed in a solid gold coffin weighing 242 pounds. The pure gold mask we wore was an additional 24 pounds of pure gold. Curiously, they also found mini-sculptures of each of his 413 servants. Historians think King Tut wanted to take the servants with him into the after-life, I think they were just ancient Barbie Dolls.
In Cairo, we were staying at one of Yasser's lavishly decorated three-bedroom apartments complete with chandeliers, hard-wood floors, and Egyptian rugs. During the day Yasser got us a cabana at a five-star hotel where we could watch the pyramids while we frolicked in the pool. Just when Kristi and I thought it didn't get much better, it did.
I saw it in the distance like a mirage--a buffet table being wheeled over to us. A huge grin of realization came over me. "Excuse me," one of the white-gloved waiters asked. "Would you like this in your room, or would you like to take it by the pool?" Yasser had ordered it: a delicious spread of chocolate, nuts, fruit, and baklava. It caused us to revisit the age-old dilemma: 1. look good or 2. eat good? Logically we picked #2. Two is a bigger number, and for Americans, it's all about size. That day we covered our tiny bikinis with our full length sarongs and ate enough to make any pharaoh proud.
Now, it is not just my body that is out of shape, it's my hair. The heat does something wild with my curly locks, so that I either look like a fern, or a relative of Medusa. So, to beat the heat, we headed for the Sinai Peninsula and out of Africa. I still remember the first sunrise over the serrated mountains of Asia; the blue of the Red Sea, contrasted with the red of the blue sky. Tourists are lured here, not by the seductive breeze of summer or the cool spray of the sea, but because Sharm El Sheikh is one of the top three dive spots in the world.
Some people say they have two left feet, in Sharm El Sheikh, I had two right feet. I had only tried on one diving bootie back on the dock (if one fits, so will the other.) On the boat, hours from shore, I looked like an idiot in a full wet-suit with two right feet.
Regardless, it was incredible diving in 2,000,000 year-old fossil reefs supporting 137 different species of coral. I was 90 feet under, watching a Barracuda watch me (do those things bite?) Blue-spotted sting rays fluttered below me and eels peeked out of their coral crevices when I finally glanced at my air gage. It read 20. Forty-three minutes earlier it had read 230. 50 is the red zone, it's when you have to go up. My mind raced...how many breaths do I have left? 20? 10? 5? I swam toward the dive master in frantic spastic strokes, gulping the air I should have been saving.
The number one cause of diving deaths is panic. Don't panic, I commanded myself, but I was panicking. The dive master saw my gage and grabbed my arm with a bone-bruising grip. It was instinctual, I wanted to shoot to the surface, I was almost out of air. But a quick ascension would have been a quicker death. At that depth, the nitrogen can't leave your blood stream. If I rose to the surface too fast, the nitrogen would expand (basically my blood would boil) causing a rapid, painful death.
Now my gage read 15, it is never supposed ot go below 30. The dive master pulled my regulator out and shoved his spare regulator in. I quickly inhaled a mouthful of sea-water. (I forgot to purge the regulator.) But my second breath was oxygen, his oxygen. Together, we slowly headed for the surface, and my first burst of air was like my first breath of life: painful and exhilarating at the same time.
Ever in the pursuit of dangerous sports, we decided to rent desert buggies and 4 X 4 it into the black silence of the desert at night. We were guided by a yellow moon and a dictator tour-operator whose only English seemed to be "One line...One line!" Did he really expect a group of adventure seeking travelers to rent dune buggies and drive single file into the nothingness of the Sahara? So we made the buggies stall, got them stuck, and bumped into each other until we finally just turned them off. Then it washed over us like a wave, the awesomeness of silence only a pin-pricked midnight sky can create. Each star had its own tiny tube of light, creating a mini laser show on the desert sand.
In the distance we saw strange, raggedy cloth tents. As we came closer, we realized it was the Bedouin people, a few thousand inhabitants who make the desert their home. We had tea as we were welcomed into their tent/homes. For a few moments the earth seemed to swallow me, and I felt an incredible peace. Sometimes it seems like the raw beauty of past cultures is so easily exchanged for technology. Of course, then I opened my eyes, jumped on my buggy, and motored back to the comforts of the future where mobile phones destroy the silence and street lights dull the stars. In the comfort of my bed, my body ached for the sustenance of simplicity.
Stay tuned, next stop: Rome.
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