Egypt 2011: An American Tourist Speaks to the Leader of our Tour

The leader of our tour was an Egyptian woman, perhaps in her thirties, well educated at the University of Cairo, and obviously capable of more financially rewarding work than leading visitors’ tours (though she certainly put her whole heart and soul into ours). An American woman on our bus mentioned to her that she must not have taken the Islamic faith too seriously since she did not wear a head scarf. The reply was decisive and revealing. “I am a devout follower of the Islamic faith,” the leader said, but I prefer not to wear a head scarf and in fact don’t have to. I am free to follow my own inclinations in this matter.”

There was a tone in the American woman’s stated assumption that the head scarf was a requirement all Islamic women serious about their faith had to follow, and that tone implied her own superiority in being “free” of such old fashioned restrictions. There was also, quite possibly, some irritation at being so expertly schooled by a woman she had trouble regarding as her social equal.

I could not help wonder what the American woman made of our leader’s explanation of the ancient Egyptian myth of Horus, the sky-god of the Nile Valley pictured as a rather stern falcon, and his wife Hathor, pictured with a cow’s ears, who was also the goddess of music and revelry. Hathor visited Horus once a year at his temple in a town called Edfu, from which Horus sailed out on the Nile to meet her. The couple were at length left alone to re-consummate their union while the people, presumably themselves left alone by the attending priests, enjoyed a Festival of Drunkenness. Later on the Greeks identified Hathor with their own goddess of Love and Joy, Aphrodite.

Mary and Ron with Hathor and an interested bystander

I hesitate to think what our American friend on the bus thought of the Horus/Hathor myth, but given her air of superiority I imagine she regarded it as, like the head scarf, more old fashioned nonsense which we Westerners have thankfully discarded.

As for me, the Festival of Drunkenness reminds me of New Orleans on Shrove Tuesday, which she probably also dismisses as some pointless relic of the past. I like what the Latin poet Terrence wrote: “nothing human is alien to me.”

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