More Holidays and Family Trip: Part One--Cairo, Alexandria, Bahariyya, and Victoria Falls

Well, it's been a whole two months and so much has happened!  We had Christmas, the New Year, and the Big Eid, AND my family came to visit!  (And yes, I did find a way to work some formulas into my Excel spreadsheet, for those of you that were wondering.)


These were wonderful holidays and I had many opportunities to celebrate.  We had the church Christmas party in the home of the same family who hosted it last year.  Once again, we had delicious goodies and sung Christmas carols.  And once again, everyone wanted to sing every song in the book relating to snow.  Too funny!

My class of youth and I led the service on December 23, and we sang all our favorite Christmas carols.  On December 24, I went to a Christmas Eve dinner at a friend's house where we had a gift exchange.  Then I went to the midnight service at St. Mark's, the French Catholic church.  It was a beautiful service, with a gigantic choir (supported by a full orchestra) singing carols from the balcony.  The whole service (including the carols) was in French, but the magic of Christmas needs no translation.  I was there with my friends from Sweden, Uganda, Germany, and the Philippines, and not a one of us spoke French.  But all of us left feeling very much in the Christmas spirit!

On Christmas Day, I went to lunch at another friend's house--the same place where I had Thanksgiving dinner!  Then I went to a  get-together at a German couple's house in the evening.  That was truly an international event, with many different cultures represented.  I played Christmas carols on the keyboard, while my Filipino friend played with me on the guitar.

On New Year's Eve, the same German couple (they are from my church) organized a get-together for all the singles in the church.  We went out to eat and then back to their house for games and the count-down.  Again, this was an international event, and I got to hear about New Year's traditions in many different countries.  When the clock struck midnight, we went out in their yard and lit some sparklers.  We heard lots of firecrackers and other noises going on in the streets around us, and the German couple asked us if we had heard about the Alexandrian New Year's tradition.  When we said no, they informed us that Alexandrians throw down glass bottles from their balconies and windows into the street.  They don't know why, but that's what they do.  (Fortunately, I have long since broken myself of the habit of asking "why" when it comes to Egypt.)  As a result, many taxis don't run after midnight for fear of their tires getting torn up.  The street sweepers work all through the night to push the glass to the side before the next morning's traffic starts up.  Thankfully, the German man gave us all rides home, so we didn't have to worry about not finding a taxi.

When I got home, I started to wonder why I didn't hear about the glass bottle thing last New Year's Eve.  And then I remembered:  last New Year's Eve I was in a Cairo hotel room waiting on my ride to the airport, where I caught a plane to Turkey in the wee hours of New Year's Day.  Hard to believe that was a whole year ago!

St. Mark's tree       St. Mark's         My tree
The tree at St. Mark's                              Inside the sanctuary at St. Mark's                              My little tree with its 6 ornaments =)

Click on the two pictures on the left to hear some of the music from St. Mark's!


Every year, there is a big Islamic festival (eid in Arabic) to commemorate Abraham's sacrifice of his son.  This festival mainly consists of slaughtering sheep and goats and then eating them.  Last year, I missed all the killings because I traveled to Cairo.  Well, wouldn't you know that I again traveled to Cairo on the day of the slaughter?  Last year, I didn't see any blood, but this year, I saw some puddles of blood in the Cairo streets.  Also, some friends of mine took pictures of the slaughtering if any of you are interested.  Click on the Cairo sunrise if you want to see the pics.  WARNING:  These are graphic.  If you don't like seeing animals killed, or seeing blood in general, don't click on the link!



Well, the joyous day finally came when my family arrived!  They got here in the early morning hours of January 16.  I was so excited to see them after so long!  We had many adventures while they were here, and eventually I will recount them all.  But for now, I'll just do Part One.

Now, follow me here.  I have two parents, two younger sisters, and a younger brother.  They ALL came out to see me on January 16.  However, my sisters were only able to stay one week, since they both had to get back to work.  My parents were able to stay a whole month, since my mom doesn't work and my dad has his own company.  And my brother is still here!  He's going to stay for three months--he just took the semester off from college!

So, since the first week was the only week when they were ALL here, we tried to cram as much into that week as we could.  We went to Cairo, Alexandria, and Bahariyya.  In Cairo we went to the Pyramids & Sphinx, the Egyptian Museum, and the Khan-el-Khalili.  It was interesting trying to help 5 different people shop and bargain in the Khan.  I got offered another job before the night was over!  We were also able to visit with an Egyptian family in Cairo, and they served us an Egyptian feast.  Seriously, they just kept bringing out more and more food!  Then when we were stuffed full, they brought out dessert.  And not just one dessert, but three!  And then they gave us a box of cookies to take back to the hotel with us.  Whew!  Also in Cairo, my brother and I spent a lot of time in the Mogamma, getting our visas taken care of. 
I was NOT ripped off on the multiple vs. single re-entry visa this time.  They tried to give me just the single one again, but I was on to their scam and made SURE I got the multiple re-entry visa.  You ain't gonna fool ME twice!

Now, you have all seen pictures of the above places on this site before, so I'll spare you the bulk of the "same old" pictures.  That said, here's a few new ones (all courtesy of my sister Emily):

Kissing the Sphinx

Me "kissing" the Sphinx...I think he needs some Chapstick! 

Family on the train

My brother, mom, dad, and me on the train from Cairo to Alexandria

In Alex, we saw Fort Qaitbey, the aquarium, the fish museum, and the catacombs of Kom es-Shouqafa.  In Bahariyya, we did the Black Desert, Crystal Mountain, and White Desert.  We also got to visit some Egyptian and Bedouin friends of mine in Alex and Bahariyya (one guess as to what we drank in Bahariyya).  You've seen the Bahariyya stuff and most of the Alex stuff, except for the aquarium and the fish museum.  Those pics will come whenever I get around to my ghetto-fabulous update.  =)  For now, here's some more pics from Alex:

Megan and mom         
My mom and I outside the Alex Library

Family in Alex
The family eating lunch out by the sea.  From left to right: my sister Aliece, my mom, my brother A.J., me, and my dad

Megan and Emily
My sister Emily and I enjoying a Mediterranean sunset

After the first week, my two sisters went home, and my parents, my brother, and I went to Victoria Falls.  This was a surprise trip that I had been planning for my parents since about July.  My sisters and brother knew I was planning it and helped me gather info and keep it a secret.  This was a great trip despite the fact that we lost one day of it due to airline delays--one of our planes got a crack in the windshield!  We were supposed to fly from Cairo to Khartoum, Sudan; Khartoum to Nairobi, Kenya; Nairobi to Johannesburg, South Africa; then Johannesburg to Livingstone, Zambia.  We actually ended up flying from Cairo to Khartoum, and then from Khartoum to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia!  They grounded us in Ethiopia for 7 or 8 hours while they were trying to figure out what to do with our flight.  They ended up deciding to send a replacement windshield with the next plane to arrive.  Then we took the new plane, and the folks who were scheduled to fly on that plane from Addis to Nairobi had to wait while ours was repaired! (Side note: Never fly Kenya Airways. The way they handled the whole delay situation was appalling.)  Of course, by the time we got to Nairobi, we had missed BOTH of our onward connections.  Kenya Airways put us up in Nairobi for the night and then got us to Johannesburg and Livingstone the next day.  I'm glad we finally got there, but I forfeited a night of our three-night hotel package!  I'm still working with Kenya Airways on that.

Once we finally arrived in Livingstone we had a fantastic time.  Our hotel was actually in the national park where the Falls were, and we could walk right out to them from our hotel!  There were also plenty of opportunities to view wildlife on the hotel property.  Seeing giraffes, zebras, gazelles, and monkeys soon became common place.  We were able to go on a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River, ride on elephants, take a helicopter flight over the falls, and A.J. and I even went bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls bridge!  (In my opinion, having done both now, I will say that bungee jumping is scarier than skydiving, but much more fun!)  This was my first trip out of the Middle East for over a year.  It was so nice to be somewhere I could wear shorts and sleeveless shirts (it was summer in Zambia, and very hot), somewhere I could eat bacon, and somewhere I didn't have to hear the call to prayer every day!  Most of the pictures for the Zambia trip (and in fact the whole trip) are on my parents' and my brother's cameras.  (The pictures above were all from my sister's camera...I didn't really take any the whole trip!)  So I'll just post a few "stock photos" from the bungee company, as well as the video of my bungee jump.  I edited out my brother's jump and set a different song to play in the background.  Oh, and if you're wondering, the man that they zoom in on at one point is my dad!

Victoria Falls    Knife Point Bridge
The Victoria Falls                                                      Knife Point Bridge, with our hotel in the background

Victoria Falls Bridge
Victoria Falls Bridge--this is the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the bridge from which I jumped! 

Penguin bungee jump    Click on the bungee penguin to view the video (right-click to download).  It's 3.6 MB and in the Quicktime .mov format.

Hopefully I'll get the rest of the pictures soon and I can update you all on the rest of the trip!

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