Giza, for the First Time
It has taken me a few weeks now to figure out how I feel about seeing the Pyramids at Giza for the first time. It was quite a profound experience, in both a personal and a professional way, but the day was clouded with sadness over the realities of seeing the grimiest parts of a truly poor and destitute city from way too up close.
I joined a group of coworkers for a day trip to one of the most iconic of the Wonders of the Ancient World, anticipating many of the things a history teacher might anticipate: wonder, awe, dazzle, transfixion… What I did not anticipate was the failing health of the camels that are paraded to and fro all day long in the stifling heat, or the starving dogs lying in packs under every spare patch of shade that can be found, or the desperation of the vendors, begging for what equates to just change by American standards, certainly trying to provide for their families by selling pure junk. I couldn’t even enjoy myself because the parts of that scenery that don’t show up in pictures still remain within arms reach. All you have to do is turn around and face the other way, and there they are.
I picked up the important parts of the tour…how the individual rocks that built the pyramids were brought in one by one from Aswan, 80 miles away. This is a tremendous feat considering the size of just one rock. I would not have believed it unless I saw it with my own eyes. Also remarkable was the precision with which each rock was cut. I saw a corner piece with 8 different angles, all cut from one single gigantic rock, and it fit – to the millimeter – into the angles of the rocks cut to sit next to, above and below it. Geometry that I cannot even get my brain around. We were told that compared to the heyday of the Egyptians, the grounds are a wasteland now, and they certainly appear so. This is an area that was once green with vegetation and veined with rivers and lakes. Now, it’s little more than a desert with a few spectacular landmarks dotting the barren horizon.
There’s more to see than the three main pyramids. Getting much less press are the other 100+ pyramids located nearby. Didn’t know that? I didn’t either, but I saw them. I also learned that of all the temples built by ancient civilizations, only the Egyptians gave their pyramids points at the top. All the other ones, especially the ones I am most familiar with in the Western Hemisphere, all have flat tops. That impressed me. The reason they had points? Well, this is the best part. There were once jewels placed at the tops of the pyramids and when the sun hit the apex at precisely the right (geometric) moment those gems cast a light that could be see from everywhere. How spectacular that must have looked, five.. thousand.. years.. ago…
I also found myself feeling more in touch with my humanity, as I remembered an old friend back home who is battling an illness. I missed my family even more than usual that day, because it felt strange not to have those most familiar to me nearby on what was a very special day. Mostly, I felt gratitude. You wouldn’t have believed this was possible if you’d known me ten years ago.
We are so small, even though we get to do pretty big things sometimes.