Of Pyramids and Perspective

I had wanted to see the great pyramids of Egypt since reading about them as a young boy and watching all those old films showing them brooding eerily in the background like The 10 Commandments and The Mummy (with Karloff, not that recent schlock). They were just so mysterious and awe-inspiring. And no one can contest them being one of the greatest achievements of the ancient, as well as the modern world. No wonder I was excited when we finally arrived in Cairo late in the evening after what seemed an eternity crossing the desert in a “semi-luxury class” bus. No matter, I was going to see the pyramids.

Cairo has to be one of the more fascinating cities in the world; it is itself a study in contradictions. Apparently, it has one stoplight for every half million people, and half of these do not work. This equates to about 8 functioning intersections in the entire city. Once, while stuck in the ever-present traffic jam on the main thoroughfare, I looked out my window only to find a fellow on a donkey cart laden with onions in the lane next to ours, and he was making more progress. The Egyptian Museum houses over 136, 000 items of antiquity but unless you’re carrying your own flashlight you can forget about seeing much of anything beyond the featured displays; they use hardly any artificial light source. Fortunately, I was prepared for this and instantly became an ad hoc tour guide for hapless visitors whenever I found it helpful to illuminate an exhibit.

One of the more interesting incidents we encountered came as we visited the Tomb of Anwar Sadat, former president of Egypt, assassinated in 1981. It is located in a rather robust section of downtown, and looks somewhat similar to our own “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” with regard to a fitting memorial and location. The odd part of it all relates to those guarding the tomb. Every month, these guards dress in ceremonial costume typical of each epoch of their history, from ancient times to today’s camouflaged military fatigues. We were fortunate enough to be there for Pharaoh month. The 4 man detachment is dropped off across the street which forces them to scurry across the 8 lanes of on-coming traffic hurtling by at speed. It looked like a weird version of “Frogger” as these “Pharaohs” dodged and weaved through the cars which, from all appearances seemed bent on running them down. I must admit, this was one of the more humorous moments I’ve ever witnessed as these garishly dressed guards in full ancient regalia, complete with scepter, whip, and headdress bobbed and weaved between sedans and buses as they made their way to the plaza. Once safely across, the boys lit up their cigarettes and had a good laugh. They even encouraged us to have our pictures taken with them in front of their charge, the tomb of their late president. This stood in stark contrast to the solemnity of what we’ve seen in Washington DC or Arlington.

The next day was pyramid day – finally. I suggested we might want to take along some extra water. After all, we were heading off into the Libyan desert and who knows how accessible refreshments might be out there. Sufficiently supplied, we boarded the bus for the trek into the hot, dry land of ancient Egypt to see something that Jesus, even Abraham might have seen in their day, the Giza plateau holding the 3 great testaments to the ancient world. …………….Three blocks later we pulled off into a Burger King parking lot and I gazed out my window into the cold stony stare of the Sphinx. You must be joking. I stood there transfixed, mute. The majesty of a magnificent sculpture of timeless wonder looking squarely into a row of fast food offerings; the contrast was numbing. There’s just something about watching a family of four licking grease off their fingers at the KFC not 50 yards from the most famous monuments of all time. Words escaped me. In fact, this had to be one of the most incongruous experiences of my life. Everything I knew about these fantastic edifices was now tainted. Cardboard containers littered the walkway to the dusty plateau and paper napkins were caught in the webbed fencing separating us from history. Now I knew how Iron-Eyes Cody felt on those “Clean Up America” commercials. I wanted to cry too.

I guess this is the down side of travel. What we’re presented in films and magazines is tailored to what we want to believe, not necessarily representative of reality. Life is sort of like this as well. We’re very quick to accept our perspective of life around us as normative while decrying alternative perspectives as either ill-informed or poorly construed. It’s only when we take the time to look around objectively that we might find there are Pizza Huts tramping on our ideals.