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Week 1: 8-15 January 2017

A week has passed since the start of the archaeology program of the NVIC. For most of us, the Cairo semester started with the search for a flat on the island Zamalek. After much negotiation and phone calls from our broker, Sanaa, we all managed to find a flat before the start of the program. Apart from some weird interior decoration (some more hideous than others) the flats looked fine at first. It didn’t take long before we discovered that some things were not as good as they seemed to be: Saturday we were invited to ‘maison gas leak’, which was apparently a very nice place compared to the freezer some other people are living in. Mums and dads: don’t worry, (most of) the problems have been fixed by now. Living in Cairo is very exciting. Crossing 26th July street is always an adventure, almost everything is incredibly cheap and to top that: CATS ARE EVERYWHERE! Many of us appear to be cat lovers, so we’re doing just fine here.

The first day of the program started with an introduction to living in Egypt and the schedule for the semester. In the afternoon, Marleen took us on a tour (by bus) through Cairo city. Cairo is an enormous city with a lot of different neighborhoods, so there are always a lot of things happening in this city. The next couple of days, Khawla taught us some Arabic in the mornings. We should now be able to introduce ourselves in Arabic, count to ten and ask for directions. It might not surprise you that we’re still struggling to pronounce these words. We try though, and the Egyptians seem to really appreciate it. In the afternoons we visited the main Egyptological institutes in Cairo. We were all very much in awe of the beauty of some of the institutes. We started with the American Research Center in Egypt, where we also attended a very interesting lecture on the conservation of coffins later in the week. The Swiss institute has the most beautiful colonial building and a garden with Nile view. Unfortunately, most of us will probably not go back there since the institute mainly has books on architecture. The German and French institutes are the more obvious choices for us, because they have more extensive libraries. The library of the IFAO (French institute) is the biggest. We also visited their conservation and dating labs. It was very interesting to learn more about C14-dating, the specifics of archaeometry and the vastness of their archives. The director of the institute was very kind to invite us to lunch at the IFAO, which was amazing. The German institute also has a very good library, but it’s closer to our apartments and they have a lot of really nice cats there…

Saturday we made of first site visit and of course this couldn’t be just any site. We spent the entire day at Giza and it was just as amazing as we all had hoped it would be. Marleen showed us the mastabas at the Eastern and Western Cemetery after letting us take a lot of pyramid-selfies, then gave us some time off to finish our Giza assignment and to visit the monuments we wanted to see. Of course most of us went straight to the pyramids. Only Khufu’s was open for visitors and after arguing with the security that our passes were in fact real (apparently, we were the first people to buy these passes, so every time we want to visit something, the security wants to check them and show them to all their colleagues), we made the exhausting, but very exciting climb to the burial chamber inside the pyramid. Then of course, we still had to visit the sphinx, where we obviously had to take a lot of selfies as well. For the assignment, we had to look at some photos taken by George Reisner a hundred years ago and try to take a photo of what that spot looks like right now. We split up in small groups to do so. Luckily we had gotten some information about the location of the photos, so finding them was not that hard. It was, however, very interesting to see how the site has changed over the years.
Next week we are scheduled for a three day trip to the Delta, so we’ve got some interesting sites and exciting adventures coming up!

Hanne Declerck & Maarten Praet

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