Fontaine à Chambéry

Fontaine à Chambéry

Friday, April 26, 2013

Charlie and the Great Pyramid

This story was one of my college roommates’ favorites. It’s better told in person because I can do the voice and accent, but reading will have to suffice for now.

In college I went to Egypt with a small group of fellow Truman students for a two-week study abroad trip. I’ve been Egypt-obsessed since I was four years old and first saw the mummies at the St. Louis Art Museum. After reading the Magic Tree House book where the kids travel back in time to ancient Egypt, I was hooked.

Actually being in Egypt was surreal. Imagine wanting to go somewhere your entire life and then finally doing it—that’s how I felt. Seeing the Giza plateau, Saqqara, the Red Pyramid, the Bent Pyramid, Alexandria, the Egyptian Museum, and King Tutankhamun’s mummy was absolutely amazing…ahh. Writing this makes me want to go back right now. I think about my trip to Egypt on a daily basis and truly hope I can go back someday.

We went to the Giza plateau, the site of the pyramids, the morning after we arrived in Egypt. These iconic constructions are a monument to human engineering feats and intelligence. I’m certain everyone has seen images of the pyramids rising out of the desert, but until you’re standing next to them, you have no idea how grand they are. Imagining how they were built leaves you in total awe. The fact that they’ve stood for four millennia blows my mind too. It’s weird to think about how many people throughout history, including some of the most famous historical figures, have stood at the site and marveled upon the pyramids. I’ve stood there too and I did the same thing! Now that is pretty cool.

A select number of tickets are sold daily to go inside the Great Pyramid. They’re sold on a first-come, first-serve basis in the morning, so you’ve got to get there early to beat those tour buses. We got our tickets and had to wait around for a bit before we could go inside. Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take anything inside, including cameras, so we left everything with our professor.

The inside of the pyramid smelled like cat litter and was hot. It’s physically challenging to maneuver once inside and there are a lot of times when you’re crawling through narrow passages on your hands and knees. There’s no way to get out because someone is crawling right behind you. If you’re claustrophobic, this venture definitely isn’t for you. There’s just something about crawling through a pyramid that freaks you out: I was certain even though that sucker has been standing for 4,500 years and has endured natural disasters, war and who knows what else, it was going to collapse and entomb me forever.

When you’ve crawled for what seems like an eternity the passageway opens up to the Grand Gallery, where you’re finally able to stand. The Grand Gallery is located in the center of the pyramid, has steeply-slanted walls and a ceiling height of almost 30 feet. The corbelled vaulting bears the weight of the pyramid and helps keep the entire structure secure. Off of the Grand Gallery are two passageways leading to the burial chambers where king Khufu and his queen would have been placed with their grave goods. In order to get to the king’s burial chamber, you have to walk up a long ramp; the chamber is located at the top. The angles of the ramp ceiling create an optical illusion so you feel like you’re climbing a mountain. (Do a Google image search to see photos of the inside of the pyramid. Since we didn't have our cameras, I don't have any photos. The photos will help you get a visual of the inside.)

We went in the burial chamber, which only contains a large stone sarcophagus. It was somewhat crowded in there so we didn’t stay for too long—just enough to look around at the room and try to figure out how they would have carried the deceased king’s body and funerary items inside. We made our way back to the ramp to head outside. Now, the optical illusion was bad going up, but it was nothing compared to going down. I was holding on to the handrails for dear life because I felt like I was going to tumble to my death. Not so, because all that’s there is a low-incline ramp, but the angle of that ceiling really throws you for a loop.

About halfway down everyone started to go really slow and then pass a group of people. There was a little boy who was probably six years old with his parents and older brother. He was terrified and was in the middle of a major anxiety attack because of the stupid optical illusion. The family was British so everything the boy was saying was in that adorable British accent. Here’s the dialogue, which I recorded in my travel journal later that night:

Mom: “Come on now, Charlie, you can do it. There’s nothing to be afraid of. We’re holding up the line. Come on now.”
Charlie: “I just can’t. I’m so scared.”
Dad and Brother: “Come on Charlie! Be brave. You can do it!”
Charlie: “No, I just can’t. I’m so scared!” (At this point his arms and legs were wrapped around the railing. “Just leave me. Go on and leave me. I’ll never make it. You all can have my stuff, just split it. Leave me here and go have fun. I’ll never make it! I’m going to fall to my death. Just go on. I’ll never make it.”
Parents: “Charlie, you’re not going to die. Come on now, you’re holding up the line.”
Brother, who had just run down the rest of the ramp: “Look Charlie, I’m at the bottom! See how easy it was? You can do it!”
Charlie: “Ok, I’ll try, but I may not make it.”

Little-by-little Charlie inched his way down the rest of that ramp until he finally got to the end. Everyone cheered and clapped for him and he was quite visibly relieved to be done with the ordeal. His parents thanked us for being patient and waiting, and we followed the family out of the pyramid. By the time we exited, Charlie was talking about his adventure inside like he had never been scared.

In retrospect I think Charlie was redheaded, which makes me like him even more. I’ve got a thing for gingers. I’ll always associate the Great Pyramid with Charlie, the redheaded British boy. If I ever go to Egypt again (who am I kidding? WHEN I go to Egypt again), I’ll go inside that pyramid, but it just won’t be the same experience without Charlie, who was brave enough to say what all of us were thinking and had a freakout that was minor compared to the one I would have had.

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