EGYPT 50 CENTURIES IN 2 WEEKS
Alun Buffry, 1989
In Memory of Sue Beswick
Cairo in Egypt, country of mystery
Has, we are told, fifty centuries of history.
From the ancient mummified, strange-named Pharaohs.
Through Greeks, Romans, Arabs and their foes,
Their signs and inscriptions on temples and tombs,
Statues and jewellery in Museum rooms,
Pharaohs and gods with so many names,
We forget who is who, but who could be blamed.
I think it was Horus, the son of high Isis,
The goddess of heaven, wife sister of Osiris,
The god of the dead, also called Tet,
There's Ra of the sun, and Thoth and Sobek,
Aten, supreme god, lion and snake,
Anubis the jackal god for the dead's sake.
Who worshipped these gods, everyone knows,
Were those unspellable names of the almighty Pharaohs.
Cheops, Cheophren, Menkuru, Nofreti,
Akhenaten and his consort the great Nefertiti,
Iknaton, Hatshepsut and Thutmosis the Third,
Ranses all eight and some names really weird -
Ra-Hopte and Seth and tombs that were robbed,
Now for a small fee by tourists get mobbed.
And Tutankhamen who died at nineteen,
Who's death mask is seen in Cairo Museum.
So to Cairo a welcome with some names in our heads,
We arrived at the Sheraton and inspected our beds.
Then to restaurant downstairs, our stomachs to fill,
For unlike those gods we need food, not just will,
For the energy that's needed and the smile that's the key,
And the patience that's needed for the mystery to see.
To ensure that the service is reliable and fine,
We give out baksheesh but it won't help the wine.
Outside the museum are streets full of fuss,
With vendors offering painted papyrus,
Which some say from banana also is made,
When colours thereon with time will then fade.
There's perfumes from flowers liquidized, neat,
Sent to Paris, they say, or is that a cheat?
For whatever in Cairo you're shown for a deal,
The seller's insisting that theirs is quite real.
In the evening we're told if you wish you can go,
On a floating Nile restaurant called the Nile Pharaoh,
Float down the river with bare-bellied dancers,
The taste they are trying the food the enhancer,
With wiggles and goggles and winks and smiles
They entertain tourists for about two miles.
The evening was fun although rather dear,
The buffet was cold and the terrible beer.
Next day, we spent nearby at Doctor Ragab's,
Floating Papyrus Institute Labs,
Where they claim that today papyrus is made,
Using techniques that from inscriptions he cleverly saved.
And in ancient Egyptian life we're instructed,
In the Pharaonic Village he well constructed,
With statues and temples and a small team,
With age-old repeated skills and means.
The Sound and Light Show, that night was quite cold,
At the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx so bold,
Called by some, the “Father of Fear”,
Almost brought down an awe-inspired tear
As the cracks in the face of the Sphinx quite visible,
Made by canons of Marmluks that must have been miserable,
Who like Alexander and Caesar and others that passed,
In the thousands of years that have gone in a flash.
The Pyramids here by day or by night,
From all angles appear an incredible sight,
With the help of good Moses our friendly guide,
We walked and absorbed the length or the sides,
Each one so massive, so still and so strong,
The placement of block upon block never wrong,
All built for a great king who's chief architect,
We know now by name of Im-Ho-Tep
Life round the plateau is probably the same,
For thousands of years despite touristy games,
As camels are ridden by turbans each day,
Or by tourists worldwide that will have to pay,
To sit on the beasts and ride in the sun,
Round old men and children just smiling in fun,
And shouts of “hello” sad “To Egypt welcome”,
And “tea, coffee or Pepsi, please come and have some.”
As the day was so hot in justice we felt,
To quench our thirst but perfumes were smelled:
Chanel number five, nineteen, or opium,
Is made here in Egypt so why not try you some,
Made without alcohol, the skin it won't burn,
For the Muslim religion in this is quite firm.
Yet Frenchmen dilute the pure essence,
To sell at a profit four thousand per cent.
From Giza by taxi we head for Saqqara,
To stepped-pyramid built for the great King Zosar.
Designed by Imhotep – that same name again,
The reason he built it, easily explained,
For he envisioned six Mastaba's well stacked,
In diminishing sizes, from stones that they'd hacked,
From various places and brought on the Nile,
Simply to make old Zosar smile.
There's fourteen pyramids standing round here,
Some seen far off but some quite near,
Some piles of rubble, in steps, straight or bent,
And hundreds of tombs that for Nobles were meant.
Down, down we descended, steps round and round,
Away from the light and away from the sounds,
161 steps down we are told
But without any light we are not so bold.
We awoke the next morning, I think it was Saturday,
And for some reason now tired, we decided to stay,
Reading and writing in our hotel room,
Maybe we'll sight-see in late afternoon.
There's so much to see around Cairo and towns,
On the great river Nile, so much to be found.
There's Mosques, Churches, Temples and tombs
And thousand of items in museum rooms.
Cairo citadel, Mosque Mohammed Ali,
In Alabaster stone, s grand site to see.
The Citadel started in the twelfth century,
By Saladin who's walls enclosed the cities
Of Cairo, Al-Fustat, Al-Askar, Al-Quatar,
All to the great glory of the God called Allah.
The big mosque was built later and also a well,
Bir Youssef, 30 feet down we can tell.
Inside the Mosque, Mohammed A's tomb,
Nearby the Mosque is Ibn Qalawun's,
Both so impressive and from here one can,
See bigger Mosque built by Sultan Hassan.
At the foot of the Citadel, built as a cross,
Masterpiece of Art and in height it's the boss,
'Cept for views of the Pyramids of Giza sSqqara,
And deserts of sand that loom much further.
Then on in a taxi to Old Cairo,
The traffic this time was ever so slow.
One thing amazing is that day or night,
Nobody indicates left or right,
With fingers on horns, their misses are near,
Are these really the world's best drivers, here?
Or is it the case of Insha-Allah
That we get there at all in this clapped-out car?
So anyway, off in a taxi we went in search
Of the Coptic Museum and Muallaqa Church,
Means “hanging” we're told by our instant guide,
We climb twenty steps to get up inside,
There's icons within of the Christ and his Saints,
But this place, we think, could do with some paint.
The fortress below which is flooded with water,
You can walk along planks if you think you ought to.
Nearby outside, Abou Serga, we're told,
Was where Holy Family stayed in years of old.
We entered the chapel and to monks we bowed,
Yet down in the crypt now no-ones allowed.
For down in the space where Mary did sleep,
Is flooded with waters now quite deep.
But feeling was good though there's little to see,
We know that in history the feeling's the key.
Back now in the taxi in mid-afternoon,
We put our feet up in hotel room.
Suddenly I hear to my great despair,
Sue's decided to let them attend to her hair!
So I wait in the hope that when she sees the result,
She'll be pleased by the style and feel no insult.
And all I can say is she's braver than me,
I wait for an hour the results to see.
Cairo we leave now to City Luxor,
At Sheraton hotel we are met at the door,
By brightly dressed men and music they played,
Instruments smiling our welcome as made,
To an Arabic tune like “Happy Birthday”,
We enter the foyer of this place where we'll stay,
We sit by the Nile as Falukka's float by,
Sun shining wagtails and kingfishers on high.
From hotel by calesh, taxi or bike,
You can hire transport, whatever you like -
First stop is the Temple of Luxor, a place
Built long ago by that divine race,
Still standing proudly amidst present day sounds,
Of tourists and guides on this once-hallowed ground,
Just pull out some notes that you have in your purse,
They'll show you the places that don't bring a curse.
Then Karnak, a Temple incredibly huge,
Stands waiting each evening for another deluge
Of travellers who pay for the Light and the Sound,
That takes them around this Holy of Ground,
Created in stereo by an Egyptian firm,
It runs through the names we're still trying to learn,
Of the Pharaohs, their wives and great gods of old,
And in case we forget a cassette tape is sold.
Karnak again in next morning's light,
Is terrific for photos of statues of height.
There's rows ram-headed sphinxes all along there,
Inside we glimpse Kiosk Taharque.
There's numerous columns of the Hypostyle Hall,
Two standing obelisks and one that has fallen,
From Hatshepsut the Queen and her nephew Tutmose,
A lake that is sacred and refreshment post.
Then off to one side of the Hypostyle Hall
“A policeman made quiet a “pss” call,
“Follow me, good photo, come look up there,
“Come quickly my friend, to the Temple of Ptah -
“Give little backsheesh to keeper of key,
“I'll open the door so within you will see,
Ptah Sekhmet, black, magic is strong,
“Make Offering to Goddess and you will live long.”
We head off next day for the West Bank glory,
We'll witness old Egypt in its half-told story.
Valley of Kings and Valley of Queens,
Valley of Nobles and the great has-beens,
Temples in ruin at the edge of the sands,
Carved out and coloured by masterly hands.
Here many gods are presented within,
And paintings of life and the weighing of sin.
Here we rich tourists that don't like to flout,
As children all fight over torn pound notes,
With some selling pieces they claim history,
Stolen from Pharaohs tombs is their story.
They claim genuine pieces from the tombs that they're offering,
Taken from nearby and within the coffins.
No way do I want those relics to take,
And pray to Amun that they're all really fakes.
Cursed on the walls and cursed on the door,
Tutankhamen’s tomb we stand before.
No of this I have little to say,
'Cept Sue has a mosquito bite at the end of the day!
Yet millions of tourists have walked within,
Amidst noise and usual touristy din.
Three tombs in this Valley I entered and blessed
Seti the second or third was the best.
Back to the East Bank and before sundown,
Hotel Jollie Ville on the edge of town,
To seek out the illustrious flying Hoo-poo.
Next day we leave town and go out in the sticks,
To a camel market just to take camel pics.
Suddenly we discover our last day is near,
Back to cold England we'll go, I fear.
They say drink the Nile and you're sure to return,
No thanks, I say, and in this I am firm,
From drinking that water I know we'll be sick
And our journey back here may not be so quick.
The sun and the Nile we'll just leave behind,
And take away pictures and impressions of minds.
Of the one thing I'll remember of the Egyptian races,
It's the live shining eyes and the proud smiling faces.