Week 1: 8-13 January 2018
Arriving in Cairo results in sensory overload. The chaotically organized traffic uses honking as a main means of communication and can only be partially drowned out by the combined strengths of all speakers giving out the computerized call to prayer. The air is filled with the city’s smog and a potpourri of smells stemming from the shops, thousands of cars, and street food.
By the time we showed up to the start of the program at the NVIC, all nine of us had managed to find a place to stay within the few days after our arrival. Some of the experiences we had during that process were later explained to us in a quick guide to Living in Cairo (most importantly: "Bakshish is a way of life"). Later that day we explored the most important quarters of Cairo in an extensive City Tour, which included a faint view of the pyramids amidst the smog of the bustling city.
Over the course of the first week, we had five intense units of Egyptian Arabic in order to obtain some basic conversation skills. To keep spirits high amidst the flood of new vocabulary we had some impromptu yoga sessions in the middle of the classroom during the breaks. In class, Khawla taught us with cheerful enthusiasm about self-introduction, numbers, how to chat with taxi drivers and how to order food. Especially the last one is something many of us will probably miss back in Europe, because in Cairo one can order just about anything for home delivery for an affordable price.
On Tuesday we visited the Egyptian Museum Cairo and learned about the inventory systems and the database for their objects, which, though only accessible in the basement of the museum, is a truly valuable tool for research. We were also shown around the laboratory of restorer Christian Eckmann. He not only explained his detailed work on the gold appliqués from Tutankhamun’s tomb but also granted some insight the restoration of the gold mask after its beard had fallen off.
During the following days we paid visits so several archaeological institutes in Cairo which support Egyptological and archaeological missions in Egypt. The one that stuck in my mind in particular was the one at the ÖAI, where Irene Forstner-Müller and Pamela Rose talked about ongoing projects in Kom Ombo and at Hisn el-Bab. Especially the latter one inspired some slightly morbid fascination, as the find of a deposit consisting of weapons and human remains gave detailed insight on the course of a battle that had probably taken place in the Roman Period. Another very interesting visit was the one to the IFAO, where we very taken around the one C14-laboratory in all of Egypt as well as their extensive collection of objects housed in a gorgeous villa.
The entire group spent their Friday in the Egyptian museum again, treasure hunting for our museum assignment but also simply smitten by their overwhelming collection. Not only the sheer quantity, but also the amount of well known, exceptionally well preserved and simply beautiful objects cannot be overemphasized. It is a place that makes any Egyptologist’s heart skip a beat or two.
Sunday was probably everyone’s highlight, as we drove out to the Giza plateau. To see the iconic pyramids (which are – no cliché – simply so much bigger than one thought) as the first in situ monument of the program gave the feeling of finally having fully arrived in Egypt. With a kick off like that for our Cairo semester – what could possibly go wrong?