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DISPATCH: Luxor, Egypt
January 24, 1997

Greetings and Happy New Year!

I think of you all snuggled by a warm fireplace, glass of sublime pinot noir in hand, maybe a bracing rain watering lush lawns and thirsty deer, soon to amble off to your cozy warm bed, the satisfaction of the day sending you into a blissful, deep sleep.

Here the mood is a little different. The neighborhood pack of half-wild dogs are ten minutes into their hourly snarling fit, a cyclone of jagged sound that will soon move south to the next neighborhood pack, where the noise will seem ever more slightly distant. A bark, I've discovered in Egypt, is more contagious than any yawn or viral disease, and is almost never absent from the charming ambiance of the West Bank, Luxor. I sit in my penthouse room at the Pharaoh's Hotel, cold desert wind whistling through the barely joined planks of pine that nearly succeed in conveying the impression that one is in an enclosed space. The ceiling, sadly sagging in the middle though it is, was built toward a similar goal. Not only does it enclose the space called Room 304, but a space some might call an attic: at three in the morning, I call it other things, things not quite fit to print. The hotel manager says the culprits are just mice; I swear they sound more like rabid raccoons, bounding through the crawl space, squealing in nocturnal orgies of food, sex and heavily opinioned argument. God did not take my soul away when I asked him to last night: he made me listen for hours.

It was a colorful time. At two a.m., during this month of Ramadan, men walk very slowly down the streets of the adjacent village, making sure that not one pious Muslim misses the last chance to eat before the time of fasting begins. They carry drums and big sticks. They surround the hotel for half an hour, moving slowly, drumming steadily, just in case there is a heavy sleeper in the vicinity. The dogs are agitated. Nothing is sleeping anymore.

Then at four o'clock, the mosque on the hill ignites its loudspeaker and unleashes the muezzin into the night air. Since he has to be awake, you can bet he wants every pious Muslim within earshot to join him in his song of praise. Allah is pleased: no one is asleep during the call to prayer.

The sun comes up at six and shafts of light pierce the impressionistic walls of my room. Pigeons on the sill begin their mournful cooing, a donkey brays painfully, and yes, a cock crows in the yard next door. It may sound bad, but this is when I get my best sleep - sheer exhaustion wins out every time. I must remember to avoid that after dinner cup of chai...

I've been in Egypt for six weeks now: two on the rollercoaster of re-entry with Hassan as the main source of entertainment and consternation, another two amazing weeks of psycho-spiritual travel down the Nile with a group of friends from the states, one week of recovery in Cairo and one more week in Luxor to recover from the previous seven days. I'm now ready for a vacation.

As the universe would have it, I am now going to work. A travel agent friend of mine wants me to assist him with an English-speaking group for a couple of weeks: room, board and maybe a little money. The details are sketchy, but it will all take place in Sharm el Sheikh, which is the good news: a very expensive resort area with some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world. My teacher at CAL told me there are more things that can kill you in the Red Sea than anywhere else on the planet (I'm excited...). After that, I'm giving myself two more weeks in the Sinai to visit St. Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai, and the great Sinai desert: the parochial school flashbacks are glimmering in anticipation. Then back to Luxor and Dispatch #3.

 Links to other Egyptian dispatches: CAIRO | SINAI  | OASES

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