Name: Ashlyn Dow
Year: Class of 2010
Hometown: Dallas, TX
Major: Near Eastern Studies
My time in Egypt … how do I even begin to describe such an enormous event in my life? I guess I can start off with introducing myself and telling you a little bit about my background, general pleasantries, of sorts.
Hi there! My name is Ashlyn from Dallas, Texas, and I am a transfer sophomore, majoring in Near Eastern Studies (specializing in Egyptology) and minoring in Museum Studies this year here at Hopkins. I’ve always planned on studying Egyptology and here at Hopkins, with their AMAZING staff, is the place to do that.
At the Transfer Luncheon at the beginning of my first semester, Dean Berger told me about a trip that the Near Eastern Department was trying to put together to take a small number of undergrads to Egypt over Intersession. At that moment, I knew that I absolutely, hands down, had to go on this trip. Here I am, studying this ancient civilization, language, and art … and I’ve never seen any of it in person! That just seemed absolutely preposterous to me, so I set out to remedy this situation immediately. Dr. Betsy Bryan, a world famous Egyptologist, was leading an extensive tour of Egypt for 24 days over Intersession break in January. I was fortunate enough to take her Ancient Egyptian Civilization class this fall, which was an in-depth survey of Egypt’s 3000+ years of history, and a fantastic introduction to the trip. After applying, being accepted, getting a visa, appropriate clothing, and FALL FINALS (whew!), I was officially ready to get out of the country for a month.
On the morning of January 3, the group met up to start our long journey to Egypt. Needless to say, we all were definitely a bit antsy to skip the traveling and finally be in Cairo. I’ll spare you talking about the odyssey of actually getting there, because no one wants to hear about TWO FULL DAYS of travel. Regardless, we arrived in Cairo late at night two days later, and no words I can think of can express the overwhelming sense of awe I felt when I stepped off that plane, finally in Egypt.
We definitely did not rough it in Egypt. We stayed in some of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed in (but also some of the worst), were bussed and guided around by some of the nicest people I’ve ever met (but also met some creepers), and ate some of the worst food I’ve ever tasted (nothing good can be said for Egyptian cuisine, our group decided that it all is “just a little off”). Dr. Bryan arranged for us to have private police escorts that allowed our group to move whenever and wherever we wished, instead of having to take a bus convoy like regular tourists. We therefore saw numerous sites with few tourists but ourselves.
We started off the trip in Cairo, where we stayed for five nights. On our first day we traveled to the Egyptian Museum, which houses the largest collection of Ancient Egyptian artifacts in the world. It was the most amazing museum I have ever been to because inside I got to see up close and personal pieces that I have studied and admired for the past two years. Besides the three Egyptology grad students along for the ride, I was the only Near Eastern Studies major on the trip, but I could still see that everyone else came for the same reason: we all love the wonder and mystery behind Ancient Egypt.
On our third day in Cairo, we finally made it to the most recognizable monument in Egypt, possibly even the world. THE PYRAMIDS OF GIZA. These things were ten times more impressive than I ever thought they would be. We met Dr. Zahi Hawass (The Egyptian Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Anitquities, or as we dubbed him, “The King of Egypt”) in between the paws of the Sphinx where he gave us a very interesting lecture. He is in control of all ancient archaeological sites and artifacts in Egypt and had the authority, which he exercised, to grant our group access to many sites that were normally closed to tourists. It is the law that to give tours at a site in Egypt, you have to be Egyptian, but Dr. Zahi gave Dr. Bryan permission to lead all of our tours, which was really nice because it was hard sometimes to understand what our Arabic guides were saying. Plus, no one knows Egypt better than Dr. Betsy Bryan. He also gave us all permission to enter the Great Pyramid of Khufu, which we obviously gratefully did!
But before this goes on for too long, I’ll cut to the chase. The basic layout of the trip was three full weeks of tours. We started in Cairo, went north to Alexandria, then started our journey along the Nile by bus to the very southern border of Egypt and Sudan. We saw so much stuff along the way (too much to even really remember most of it, thank god for pictures and the journal we had to keep!), including:
- 9 pyramids (5 of which we got to hike/crawl into)
- every temple imaginable (Karnak, Edfu, Philae, Kalabsha, Dendera, which was hands down my favorite stop on the trip, Luxor, Abu Simbel and Deir el Bahri just to name a few)
- tons and tons of tombs from all different ancient time periods (the Valley of the Kings where King Tut was buried, Beni Hassan, the Valley of the Nobles, Greco-Roman tombs in Alexandria etc.)
- Deir el Medina (the village where the workers of the Valley of the Kings lived and were buried, from where the most spectacularly preserved tombs are found)
- museum after museum
- ancient quarries
- tons and tons of the Nile River
- Lake Nasser
- and lots of sand
This of course is just a list of the high points, but there was so much more in between that was equally amazing.
On a very rare free day, we had the opportunity to take a camel ride through a few villages across the Nile from Luxor on the West Bank. It was a great opportunity to see how most modern Egyptians live and really made me appreciate everything I have back home. Despite everything though, Luxor is definitely one of the neatest places on earth, not to mention how beautiful it is to walk along the Nile and watch the sun set over the West Bank. Most people there know English (or enough to ask for “baksheesh”, or money), so it was really easy to navigate our way around on our free day and to talk to the locals. We frequented the Luxor souk, or open-air market, and bartered for our weight in “pashminas”, or scarves. I definitely came home with seven of those things.
Also in Luxor, we had the opportunity to go to the JHU archaeological site at the Temple of Mut at Karnak. It was a fascinating glimpse into the world of a working archaeological site and to see Dr. Bryan truly in her element. She works there several months out of the year with a team of archaeologists, excavating and attempting to put together this giant puzzle of a temple from thousands of pieces. She hopes to have it open to the public very soon.
We ventured even farther south down the Nile, stopping off in places along the way, finally ending our bus odyssey in Aswan. This city was GORGEOUS, especially our hotel, The Old Cataract. Maybe you have seen it, maybe you haven’t, but the Agatha Christie movie, “Death on the Nile”, was partially filmed at the Old Cataract Hotel, which has the most amazing view of the old cataract outcroppings, the Nile, and Elephantine Island. We spent a glorious 3 nights there, which I felt were the best nights of the trip. For the last few days, we boarded a four day cruise on the MS Kasr Ibrim which sailed around Lake Nasser. Everyday we would get off the ship and visit different temples and tombs that were relocated from their original sites when the High Dam was built in 1970, creating one of the largest man-made lakes in the world, Lake Nasser. During our cruise, we crossed the Tropic of Cancer, and we also spent quite a bit of time winding down with a book on the ship’s sun deck, a perfect way to relax after such an intense journey.
It seems impossible to me now that we did all of that (AND SO MUCH MORE!) in just 24 days, but it was constant go-go-go everyday, seeing as much as humanly possible to see. Being able to see these temples and tombs in their original context absolutely blew every museum I’ve seen out of the water. In Egypt, you see these sites they way they would have been viewed 3000 or more years ago, not in a sterile museum setting with beige walls and protective sheets of glass. It definitely gave me a newfound outlook on the way we view art today. I was also surprised at how easily I became accustomed to Egyptian daily life and culture, especially the 5:00 AM call to prayer everyday. I went on this trip to study Ancient Egypt, which we definitely did, but I feel the most important thing I took away from this trip was my personal understanding of the modern Egyptian way of life. There is no better way to learn about a different culture than to submerse yourself in it for a month, and I strongly encourage every college student to study abroad. Be it in Egypt or anywhere else, for a summer, year, or semester, everyone should do it.
Personally, I gained so much from this amazing trip, ranging from the remarkable experiences I had to the incredible friends I made. And lastly, being in Egypt truly affirmed my choice to study in this field. I know this will be the first of many, many more trips to Egypt for me in the near future.
Check out: http://www.jhu.edu/egypttoday/ for updates on current archaeological work at the Temple of Mut and more in depth overview of our first week in Egypt, documented in photos by our Hopkins photographer, Will Kirk.