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Fatou Takes on Egypt

December 18, 2017

 

Monday, August 1st

 

I just boarded my flight for Egypt. It’s strange because I’m not excited as I felt when I was going to Senegal. I also noticed that I wasn’t very excited while I was in Harlem. I’m starting to feel more like a world citizen. My black body is floating from city to city and country to country. I am 18 years old and by August 2nd, 2016, I would have been to 2 countries in Africa. And I’m not done yet. I don’t know what to expect while I’m there. But I’m excited to see what the country offers. I’m not afraid. I’m not scared. Egypt is not ready for me.

 

Tuesday, August 2nd

 

The flight didn’t seem as long as I thought it would be. Senegal felt longer. We went to the hotel and checked in. Mikaela and I bought paninis and fries. The food was really good. It reminded me of Olga’s Kitchen; I love their bread. We ended up taking an hour and a half, because people got their room keys extremely late. So, dinner was at 8pm and afterwards, we went to debrief and introduce ourselves. It was really beautiful hearing the reasons why people wanted to come to Egypt. Hearing the struggles and testimonies that allowed us all to be here, in the place where humankind started, is truly a blessing.

 

Wednesday, August 3rd

 

So our hotel is literally facing the Giza Plateau and the Great Pyramids of Giza. I wake up every morning, walk outside, and I face the greatest pyramids built by my people. Black Africans, as the late and great Asa Hilliard would say. And to know that my people created these phenomenal structures is almost unreal, but it is and I am blessed to even be in this presence.

 

This morning, we went to Saqqara. The first stop was the tomb of Ptah-Hotep and his son. We couldn’t take pictures while we were inside but I didn’t mind only because sometimes I just like to sink things in. For me, it was a way of living in the moment. We saw the hieroglyphs in each room and I couldn’t help but touch every wall of every single room that we entered. The stories that are told on these walls are so sacred. The pictures, the colors, the way the pharaohs stood in hieroglyphs with their left foot facing forward, and the way each animal is depicted in different ways is amazing. And these are my people. Ancient Egyptians who created these spaces that are now occupied by Arabs who are not truly connected with the Ancient Egyptians…but that is neither here nor there. I kept touching the walls. We saw a dung beetle walk all around us as we stood in the room of Ptah-Hotep’s son. After this, we were still on Saqqara, but we went to a different site. We saw Mereruka’s tomb and Titi’s pyramid. We had to go a couple of feet underground but it wasn’t bad. Once we got down there, again, I couldn’t help but touch the walls. These hieroglyphs have stayed down there for thousands of years and will continue to stay down there for thousands more. We visited the oldest stone building in the world. 4,750 years old. The architecture is brilliant. As I was walking to the next area, a man who was offering horse rides for money told me his name is Moustapha. And so of course I said to him that my father’s name is Moustapha. He said we would talk later but I didn’t end up seeing him again.


 

 

Saqqara


After Saqqara, we went to Memphis, which is where we saw a multitude of statues of Ramses II. When I first walked in, I was shocked. You know when your mom told you something when you were a child? And whatever she told you, you heard it over and over and over and over again and you listened to what your mom was saying and you believed it but once you actually learned about it or saw it, it’s almost as if you never heard it? This is exactly how I felt. My mother told me over and over again that the Ancient Egyptians were African and black like me. In fact, blacker than me. Black as the midnight sky. And of course I knew this, but standing in front of these statues changed my entire perception. I saw it. I could feel it and I could physically see the connection. Something that many black people will not be able to say. And it was powerful.

 

We left Saqqara and went to the Giza Plateau. I was standing in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza and again, all I could think is “My people created this.” They are in me, literally embedded in my DNA.

 

We walked up a set of stairs that was designed for tourism and we walked inside of the Great Pyramid of Giza. There were at least 3 flights of stairs, but like my professors keep saying when you come half way around the world, you want to try your best to go the last 2 steps. So I walked my unfit body up every single stair and I kept looking up. We made it to the top, but many of us later that day discussed how we didn’t feel a spiritual connection while we were at the top. I don’t know if it had to do with the Arab man leading us up the stairs rushing us out of the pyramid and continuously telling us to be quiet. I don’t’ know if it had to do with it being no hieroglyphs inside of this pyramid or not finding anything inside. But I did feel connected with my Howard sisters and brothers as we called out “HU!” and replied “You know!”

 

We left the pyramids of Giza and went not too far from our hotel to go camel riding. I’ve never rode a camel before so this experience was amazing as hell to say the least. We ended the day with dinner and a lecture with Dr. Carr and Dr. Beatty.

 

Thursday, August 4th

 

Today, we visited the Egyptian Museum. Everything that my mom taught me became realistic today. We walked inside and I saw 2 huge statues of a queen and a king. I didn’t write their names down but as soon as we walked in, I felt like something within me made gravitate towards those statues. I asked Hala, our tour guide, if we could go over to the statue and she explained to me that we were going through the tour chronologically, from the Old Kingdom to the Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom, and that statue was in the New Kingdom so I waited. We started with looking at small pieces from the Old Kingdom. The more we walked through, the more I started seeing my blackness within these statutes. And not just the statues. I could see it in the jewelry, the hair, the style that each and every single pharaoh or king or queen had in Ancient Egypt.

 

These are my people and I continue to see it in black culture, especially when I visited Senegal. Senegalese families have portraits of themselves and their children and their grandchildren and their parents, aunts, uncles, hanging all throughout their homes. The pride that black Africans have in our culture, our families, our scholarship, our traditions, our religions is truly an aesthetic that is represented in each of us. And I can see it reflected in Ancient Egypt. Kemet. The land of the blacks. I am black and these figures in this Egyptian Museum are black, which verifies my blackness and nobody can deny this. We continued and I saw two colossuses of Akhenaten or Nefertiti. Earlier scholars theorized it was Akhenaten but more recently, scholars are suggesting it is Nefertiti. I looked at the figures on both of these colossuses and could clearly see black. Their hips were wide and their legs were thick. Clear features of black Africans. But of course the Egyptian Museum interpreted it as “odd” with a “sagging body”.
 

 

Statue of King Akhenaten at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo picture


In order to know thyself, you must know thy history. If not, I would have taken everything that I have heard today or the texts that I read literally and would not have even questioned it.

 

I saw King Tutankhamun’s 2 coffins, the other is on the West Bank of the Nile at the Valley of Kings which he will be visiting in 3 days. I saw his 2 tombs that were made out of pure gold and the size of an average classroom in my eyes. I saw the mask that was placed on King Tutankhamun’s head when he died. It is solid gold and weighs 11 kilograms. 11 kilograms of pure gold. If someone tries to convince me that Ancient Egyptians aren’t black, clearly they have lost their damn mind. After this, we saw wigs that they wore. Braids and curly thick hair. Real representations of my people.

 

The last thing we saw in the museum were mummies. Black mummies, with black nails, black gums, black toes, black hair, black bones. Black people. My people.

 

We left the museum and visited the Mosque and Madrasa of Sultan Hasan, which the current Egyptians consider the greatest Islamic building in the world. It was very powerful. Hala was telling us about the beginnings of Islam and when Islam came to Egypt. In moments such as this, I am very blessed to have learned even a little bit about Islam in Africa because I can compare and contrast. Specifically, the differences and similarities of Islam in Senegal compared to Islam in Egypt.

 

Today was very fulfilling. And as the days progress, I feel as though I gain more knowledge.

 

Learning about the beginnings of mankind. Creating safe spaces among my Howard sisters and brothers and professors. Learning more about myself and others as the trip continues…these are the reasons why I am here. My faith got me here and my faith will allow me to go anywhere I desire.

 

Friday, August 5th

 

Mikaela and I woke up late, so today was not the best start. I remember getting up and hearing the wake-up call at 6am but I went back to sleep. Last night I did stay up making sure that I posted my first 4 days here, but I have stayed up later on other nights. Regardless of our tardiness, Dr.Beatty made sure we got up.

 

We went to the Maydom Pyramid. This pyramid was Snefru's first pyramid. Snefru is Khufu's father (Khufu's pyramid is the great pyramid of Giza, which is also one of the seven great wonders of the world) and is also the husband of Hetep-Heres. We walked on the outside of the pyramid to get inside. We walked down at least one hundred steps, probably more. Then, there was another set of steps that we had to walk up to get inside. This pyramid had a difference structure at the top of it in the inside from other pyramids that we have visited. Dr. Beatty explained to us how Egyptologists are still amazed to this day at the infrastructure.

 

After, we went to Snefru's pyramid. It took a very long time to get down and there were many stops but we finally made it all the way in after the next set of steps. It reminded me of National Treasure and the scene when they got inside and had all of those spiral staircases to walk up. The inside of the pyramid reminded me of a hallow cave with huge rocks sitting all around. We made it out and I heard Layla whistling "Lift Every Voice and Sing". All I could do was look up towards the light. To know that my ancestors built this and to know that my ancestors also went through the worst dehumanizing form of slavery known to man is cryptic to me. And I don't know how to feel about it.

 

We just left the Red Pyramid which is Snefru's 3rd pyramid and as I stood in front of it, I glanced at the 2nd one and it looked so perfect. The precision of each of the pyramids and the differences in each one is mind boggling. Now we are on our way to lunch. I had lamb, rice, bread and fries. The mango juice was really good, it tasted like the fresh mangos I had in Senegal.

 

Next stop was the Christian Coptic Church. We had to go underground. A lot of people were staring at us. I don't know if you all know this but the majority of the people in Egypt are Arab. So basically if I see black people, they are here for tourism. But there are black Nubians south of Egypt, which we will be visiting next week. Nonetheless, when we came into the church, all I saw was white looking figures and pictures. People were asking take pictures with some of us. And when I walked into a shop near the church, I met the owner and one of the workers there. It was funny because as soon as I walked in, Sall, the worker pointed to my skin and said "We love your skin. You are so beautiful." I was thanking him and the owner asked to take a picture with me. I ended up buying a dung beetle keychain from the store. Right before I left, the worker asked to take a picture with me. We left and people continued to stare at us and try to sell us things.

 

We ended the day on a boat going across the Nile River. The lecture was next and after that dinner.

 

Saturday, August 6th

 

I feel like Rev Run right now. I know y’all remember when he used to give some word of advice at the end of “Run’s House” in his tub and just relax.

 

I don’t have any advice to offer but I can share some knowledge.

 

We left Cairo this morning at 10:35a.m. and got on the plane to go to the city of Luxor. We landed and it only took about 50 minutes but I went to sleep so it went by fast. We placed our bags on the bus and before we got on the bus, everyone was staring at us. But it wasn’t like how the people in Cairo were staring at us…they stared at us as if they have never seen black people in real life.

 

We didn’t go to our hotel. Instead, we went to the Karnak Temple. It was amazing. We listened to Hala and Dr. Beatty give background history. This temple complex has 2,000 years of Kemetic history and scholars say there were over 90,000 priests working in this complex. And exactly how Dr. Beatty explained to us that the Ancient Egyptians’ buildings were synonymous to their characters at Dashur applied in the same context at Karnak. Before we entered, there were pylons at the entrance. One represents the eastern horizon and the other represents the western horizon and the opening between the two represents the sun. It is interesting how the original shape of the two formed into an Egyptian hieroglyph.


 

 

Karnak Temple


The highlight of my day was at the White Chapel. We poured libations for our ancestors and Dr. Carr mentioned those who have recently died and will never get the chance to come to Kemet. Black people who died for our rights in the struggle. And at that moment I began to cry. He said Trayvon Martin. We all replied, Ashe. Sandra Bland. Ashe. Eric Garner. Alton Sterling. Ashe. Martin Luther King Jr. Ashe. Theophile Obenga. Ashe. Kwame Nkrumah. Ashe. I thought about how blessed I truly am to be in Kemet. This is when it sinked in. My purpose of being here. My obligations that I have to my own community locally and globally.

 

We went back around and translated many of the hieroglyphs. My favorite glyphs deal with offerings and I can tell that Ancient Egyptians very giving people, because most of the offerings were given in plural amounts. We could tell this by seeing 3 strokes under or above the glyphs.

I saw the stories of Queen Hatshepsut and how she really was a king and wanted to be displayed as a king. Her obelisks are the longest and biggest in the world. I love her. And I love the respect that the people had for her.

 

The next place we went to was very interesting. But it had to do with the people.

 

As we walked in we received more stares. This time, everybody wanted pictures with us. It was as if they were more excited about us than they were with the temple. I took pictures with a mother and her children. I didn’t mind, because I knew it was out of curiosity and again, the fact that they have probably never seen black people before in their life. This fascination amazes me as much as it amazes them.

 

Before we got to our new hotel, we stopped at a papyrus shop and a man showed us how to make real papyrus, while explaining how the Ancient Egyptians made it. I bought my mom a papyrus for 115 L.E. It’s really beautiful.

 

We ended the day at the hotel with dinner and no evening lecture. Tomorrow we have an earlier start.

 

Sunday, August 7th

 

We are currently at the Valley of the Kings. I learned today that Ramses II had over 150 children. His children's tomb is the largest tomb in the Valley of the Kings and it’s basically a family mausoleum. The first tomb that we are going inside is that of King Tut Ankh Amun’s (King Tutankhamun). Three tombs were found in the the sarcophagus: the outermost gilded wood, the 2nd was inlaid with colored glass and semiprecious stones, and the innermost was of solid gold. King Tutankhamun has the smallest tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

 

I finally got to see King Tutankhamun. After years of hearing his name. After years of seeing the mini version that my mom bought, I finally got to see this King and the innermost gold coffin that he was placed in.

 

I remember seeing the scene of King Tutankhamun being given to Osiris and I recall Dr. Beatty saying in our Hieroglyphs class that it was strange for Ay to give another to Osiris. One scene was very interesting to me because it showed the gates or doors that the deceased have to go through. And I counted 24. 24 hours in a day. Each glyph had a curved beard, which means that person became a god.

 

I am now standing in Djehutymes III’s tomb. Many of these tombs weren’t c