16 November 2008

Cemeteries Part 8

My recent travels were yet again to another Middle Eastern country ... or so some travel agents categorize Egypt, although it is in North Africa. This photo is of an Islamic cemetery in Luxor, with a typical family tomb in the foreground. It is probably made of “mud bricks.” We did not have an opportunity to actually visit a cemetery as package tourist itineraries are set in stone and lingering on the street could mean your bus disappears. A guard armed with an unobtrusive machine gun is now mandatory protection on tourist buses.

Cairo has a similar immense cemetery. In 1961 I saw families here and there in the Necropolis, paying extended visits to deceased relatives, comfortably ensconced with their cooking fires and pots. Today, over a million homeless Cairenes randomly inhabit every nook and cranny of the Necropolis tombs.

Tour guides are very often students supplementing their income for a post-grad degree. They usually have encyclopaedic knowledge of their country’s history and monuments. Several of our local guides were Moslem women whose daily appearance in colourful garments could almost convince one to wear the hijab. They were lively, interesting and competent women who love their work (we also had young men in blue jeans and designer glasses). Later in Jordan we had Nadine the “unorthodox” Moslem woman. Nadine was outspoken and wore sweatshirts and no hijab. No public judgment is attached to her choices, which she didn’t mind explaining to us from the Quran/Koran. Our western countries are not the only ones to claim cultural tolerance and the flexibility to interpret religious writings.

On the other hand, one day at Giza, as crowds of tourists filed patiently along the street, the imam’s broadcast at the noon call to prayers was an endless, furious harangue. Our guide was embarrassed to translate. He was angrily calling on the faithful to reject the non-Moslem world. We all have our fanatics.

I do digress from cemeteries, don’t I. It’s an education, an invitation, to try to understand the greater part of the world outside North America.

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