You’re Never Too Old To Make Your Life a Story Worth Telling Part II

You’re Never Too Old To Make Your Life a Story Worth Telling Part II

I am currently sitting at my guesthouse in Giza, Egypt sipping my morning coffee and staring at the Giza Pyramid Complex. On the Giza Plateau sit the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx. Three pyramids dominate the landscape and each one was built as the final resting place for a king from the 4th Dynasty also known as the “Golden Age” of the Old Kingdom.  The 4th Dynasty lasted from 2613-2494 BC.  It was a time of peace and prosperity.

I have been in Egypt, for 6 days.  These magnificent structures are the first thing I see in the morning as my guesthouse (which I highly recommend) gave me a “pyramid view” room. They are also the last thing I see at night as each evening I go to the rooftop and watch the sunset over these structures.  I still have trouble grasping the fact that I am looking at and have touched something over 4000 years old…. it’s mindboggling.  The smallest of the 3 great pyramids was built for King Menkaure, his son, and his grandson.  Don’t worry ladies, the queens got their own pyramids.  The middle pyramid was built for King Khafre.  The largest and oldest of the three was built for King Khufu 2589–2566 BC and is also known as the Pyramid of Cheops.  At an original height of 146.5 (481 feet), it would take 3,800 years before another building would exceed it in height.  This building would be Old St. Paul’s Cathedral (1300) in London.

The other structure that stands out and is right before my eyes is the Great Sphinx of Giza. The Sphinx is a limestone structure, and it appears to have the face of the Pharaoh, Khafre.  The mythical creature also sits in from of the pyramid of Khafre. Not only is it one of the most recognizable monuments in the world, but it is also the oldest known monumental sculpture in Egypt.

 

 

The most amazing thing about this view is looking at the Great Pyramid and realizing it is the oldest of the seven wonders of the ancient world and the only one mostly intact. I will say it again, it’s mindboggling. There are other structures on the plateau, and I will talk about my experience later.  I have always been fascinated by Egypt, hieroglyphics, the pyramids, and the Pharaohs, especially Tutankhamen. So, how did I end up ticking this bucket list item?  I want to take a minute to say again, “You’re Never Too Old To Make Your Life a Story Worth Telling” or for that matter too young.  A little over 7 years ago, I packed up my life and moved abroad.  I have lived in Paris, China, Bali, and my current place of residence is Warsaw, Poland.  In February of 2020, I got on a plane and landed in Poland to work for English Wizards. It is because of English Wizards I am fulfilling a dream.  No, they didn’t send me to Egypt.  They did however ask me if I was interested in working at a summer youth language camp in Bulgaria.  You can read about that here. I jumped on the opportunity and started thinking about where I might go after the 7 weeks of camp finished since I had booked only a one-way ticket to Bulgaria.  Greece, Turkey, Georgia, back to Romania were all thoughts passing through my wanderlust infected head.  I even considered taking the train from Bulgaria to Istanbul.  After a lot more thought, I realized the opportunity to add a new continent to my list was enticing.  I looked up flights to Cairo and on impulse hit the button to buy the ticket.  No looking back now.  A week or so later, I hadn’t made any plans (ticket) to return to Warsaw from Cairo.  Another bucket list crossed my mind.  It must be easier to get back to Europe from Morocco than Egypt, right?  Bingo…plane ticket to Casablanca booked and a return flight to Warsaw from Marrakech booked.  I could figure out how to get from Casablanca to Marrakech later.  By the way, I haven’t worked that out yet. Okay, I know I have gotten way off track from the Pyramids, but the point I really want to make is don’t be afraid to follow your dreams.  You are never too old, trust me…I spent 7 weeks remembering what it is like to be with kids and seeing their energy 24/7.  I turned 59 years young at Z Camp. Some nights I fell into bed exhausted and felt every one of those years and more.  But it was an experience I will never forget and might even repeat.  So, if I’m not too old, neither are you and you’re never too young.  Take that gap year, take any opportunity thrown your way.  I promise you won’t regret it. I also realize this kind of life isn’t for everyone.  I just happen to love it.  That’s how I ended up waking to the only remaining wonder of the ancient world.  I’d like to tell you a bit more of my experience walking in the steps of pharaohs, the land where it is believed Moses was pulled from the Nile in a basket…it is indeed holy ground.

 

 

I arrived at my guesthouse in Giza just in time for sunset.  I went straight to the roof with a bottle of water, trust me when I tell you it is hot here.  I sat in awe as the sun dropped perfectly behind the Pyramid of Khafre.  I was mesmerized.  I decided at that moment that I would start the next day exploring the Giza Plateau.  After a lovely Egyptian dinner of lamb chops and rice, my head hit the pillow and I had dreams of ancient Pharaohs.

My guesthouse sits directly across from the ticket office and entrance to the pyramids.  The price for the initial ticket is 200 Egyptian pounds or about $13.  Entrance to the Great Pyramid and any camel or carriage rides are extra and paid on site.  I have to insert a warning here, once you have your ticket in hand, you will be bombarded by locals wanting to ride you up the hill in a carriage (for a price of course) or wanting to be your guide (for a price of course).  They will tell you it is no cost, just tip what you feel.  I was warned by the staff at the guest house not to fall for this.  They have ways of making you part with more money than you wish.

For example, if you decide to ride a camel, get the price for on and off the camel.  You may think $10 to “ride” a camel is a good price, but if you didn’t negotiate to get off the camel, you may be in for a surprise.  “Ahhhh, $10 to ride madam, but $20 to get you down”.  Since I rode a camel when I was in the Gobi Desert, I didn’t have a desire to repeat the experience.

I had already decided I wanted to walk from the entrance up to the pyramids and was able to call everyone and their offers off after many stern “Nos”.  For the ones that were particularly persistent, I used the “maybe later” line.  With tourism just starting to come back, everyone vies for your attention.  Me with my light-colored hair (not to mention the colorful braids) stood out in the crowd a bit.  This did bite me, when I left the guesthouse the next day and someone yelled, “Wendy, (everyone wants to know your name) you said you would come back for a carriage ride in the afternoon.”  To which I replied, I am sorry, I was just too tired.  Not entirely a lie as I was exhausted, although I had no intention of finding him later that day for a carriage ride.

As I started walking towards the Sphinx, I was approached by an older gentleman in what looked like traditional garb and an official-looking identification around his neck. He started up a conversation with me. He had a soft, gentle voice and asked me how I felt being here.  After I answered him, I went on to explain, I was warned of all the “tricks” people will use to get your money.  He said he wasn’t there to take my money.  Yea, right.  I continued walking and he continued with me telling me different things about the pyramids and again asking me how I felt.  He then said I looked like someone who would like to meditate somewhere near the pyramids.  He told me he would show me a spot I could sit and be with my thoughts.

Okay, I know it sounds hokey, but his conversation with me was pretty much exactly what I was feeling.  I agreed to let him walk with me around the area.  I also said again, I wasn’t paying him.  He said, okay, just let me walk with you, show you some things, tell you some things, and at the end, I will walk away.   I spent about 3 hours walking the complex and talking.  I was the only “tourist” in the area we were walking in the beginning.  He showed me some new excavation sites, some minor monuments and did indeed take me to a spot where I could put my hands on an ancient object with hieroglyphics and left me alone for several minutes with my thoughts and a few tears.

We left this area and went to the pyramids.  I told him I wanted to go out into the desert to see them from afar.  I knew I would have to pay for either the camel or a carriage.  I explained I have already done the camel thing.  We negotiated the carriage ride, and a young Egyptian boy rode me out into the desert.

The view was spectacular, and I took amazing photos and he returned me to the pyramid of King Menkaure. The pyramid was not open for viewing but I did take some photos at the entrance to the tomb.

 

 

I met back up with my walking companion and he took me up close and personal to the Great Sphinx. I even took some fun photos.  It was starting to get very hot; it was just hot when we started out, a mere 93 but the sun was high in the sky and the temperature was climbing.  I was hot, thirsty even though I had a bottle of water with me, and tired. As fascinated as I am with the pyramids, I knew it was time to end my visit.

We started walking toward the exit and he asked me if I was as happy.  I was ecstatic but I also have learned that if asked if I am happy means I should make the person responsible for “my happiness” happy in return.  In other words, a tip without asking.  I had planned from the beginning to give him something as we parted.  I handed him a generous tip, he smiled and walked me a bit further.

As we parted ways, he handed me a small ceramic scarab.  The scarab is a symbol of renewal and rebirth. My visit to the Giza Pyramid Complex was complete. My soul was happy!

A few other pointers for a visit to Egypt:

It’s hot.  Even if you think you can handle the heat, it drains you.  You’ve heard it before but drink a lot of water.  Rest in the shade when you can.

It’s hot.  It drains the battery on your phone more quickly than normal.  It’s wise to have a power pack.  I didn’t and my phone died late in the afternoon before I could call an Uber.  This also means no google maps or google translate.  I had to rely on the kindness of strangers to help make the hour trip from downtown Cairo back to Giza.  It’s only about 14 km but Cairo/Giza traffic is mad.

It’s hot.  Your laptop battery drains quickly when you are sitting on a rooftop looking at the pyramids while getting some work done.

Uber is easy to use and reliable.

Learn a few words in Arabic.  Shukran = thanks  La Shukran = no thanks

Don’t expect to find alcoholic beverages/cocktails.  Places are few are far between where you can get alcohol.

Try the local food.  Don’t be tempted to just duck into that KFC or Pizza Hut.  Local food is inexpensive and tasty, give it a try first.  If you don’t like it, there is always American fast food to be found.

Take your time.  Don’t rush to see as many things as you can cram into a day.  You will only end up, hot and exhausted and probably won’t recall half of what you saw. Take your time, read about what you are seeing, realize the magnitude of what you are seeing.  Some of these structures are over 4000 years old.

Don’t count on air conditioning.  May Ubers and taxis either have no air or don’t use it.  The Egyptian Museum didn’t have air-con.  Although, the newer museums do.  My guesthouse had ice-cold air and cold water always available.  This was a plus.  Just don’t assume everywhere will have air conditioning.

Finally, get caught up in the crazy, chaotic, colorful Cairo scene.

And remember, you’re never too old or too young to make your life a story worth telling!

 

 

One is Silver and the Other Gold

One is Silver and the Other Gold

Summer 2021 has found me in the seaside town of Kiten, Bulgaria situated on the Black Sea.

It is a resort town near the mouth of the Kiten river. It boasts two beaches, Atliman and Urdoviza.  So what has brought me from Warsaw, Poland to Kiten, Bulgaria?    Z Camp.

I was contacted by English Wizards and asked if I would be interested in working at an English Language and Sports Camp in Bulgaria. They had me at Bulgaria…

18 years ago, 4 young people from Gabrovo, Bulgaria came to Warren, Ohio USA, and the Trumbull County YMCA to spend one month working at the day camp.  I was privileged to host one of the teens in my home.  Of course, working at the YMCA and hosting, I got to know all 4 quite well and my partner and I even took them on a weekend excursion to Niagara Falls. Their time with us flew by and soon they returned to Bulgaria.  Despite promises of a visit and taking many trips to Europe, I never made it to Bulgaria.  However, one of the guys ended up coming to the states for university.  Here he met his future bride and is now living in Virginia, so I have seen Pavel in recent years.   Yani is currently living in Germany.  Hristian is in Bulgaria and will hopefully be able to visit.

Tony is married with a son and another on the way in August.  She is living in Gabrovo.  Her husband and 6-year-old son were attending a karate camp near where my camp is located.  When she found out it was the same weekend I was arriving, she made the 3.5-hour trip to spend the afternoon with me.  They picked me up at my camp and took me shopping for a few items I needed. Then we walked around town, had some pizza, and video chatted with another very special friend, Margie back in the states.  Her husband Steve made all the arrangements to bring the kids to the Trumbull County YMCA. We then returned to my hotel and spent some time sitting by the pool catching up.  I can’t tell you what it meant to me that she made this happen.  Our visit ended way too soon, and they had to get back to their camp and mine was starting the next day.

When this opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t say no.  So here I am…country number 39 of my travels and currently in week four of Z-Camp in Kiten, Bulgaria.

What could be better than spending part of your summer on the beautiful south coast of the Bulgarian Black Sea?  This year since we kicked our summer camp off on July 4th, which just happens to be American Independence Day, our first weekly theme was “The USA”.  As the campers arrived on Sunday, greeting old friends from prior camps, and meeting new friends who are experiencing Z Camp for the first time, the American Folk Song, “Make New Friends” came to mind.  “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold. A circle’s round it has no end that’s how long I’m gonna be your friend.”  Eyes lit up, and smiles formed as campers saw friends they hadn’t seen in a year. Shy glances and eyes filled with wonder from new campers as they looked around and saw their home for the next couple of weeks.  Luggage was stowed in assigned rooms, phones were turned in, money was put in the “bank” and kids were in swimsuits and jumping in the crystal waters of the camp pool. I should mention here that this isn’t a typical camp you think about in the USA. Camps in Bulgaria are housed in hotels and make use of the hotel facilities and grounds.

Soon it was dinnertime.  Everyone was famished because swimming can certainly make you hungry.  Old friends sitting together catching up, new campers getting accustomed to the routine and meeting other “newbies”, staff trying to make everyone feel welcome and laughter filled the air. After dinner, we gathered at the classroom area and everyone received their phone so they could call mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, or whoever they needed to let know that all was great at Z Camp.

Z-Campers turn their phones into staff at arrival and have access to them once a day, in the evening after dinner.  As the days went on, it was interesting to see that many didn’t even use their allotted time. They made their necessary calls, turned the phone back in, and got on with whatever activity they were engaged in.  Of course, there are some addicted to social media and had to post a daily tik tok or Instagram shot, but for the most part, I was surprised to see how easily they parted with their treasured smartphones.

The first evening activity was ice breakers.  This means time for fun!  Z Camp’s super-fabulous activity staff had plenty of great games planned.  We heard more laughter and saw more friendships being made. We even set off “sparklers” and shouted, “Happy 4th of July”.  However, the long day and excitement was catching up with our campers and yawns started becoming contagious.  Time for our first night’s sleep at camp.

Welcome to day one. Since Z Camp is an English and Sports Camp, one of the first things we did was test English levels.  Campers were split into four groups and one of the teaching staff administered the test.  Instructions were given in English and Bulgarian to make sure the campers all understand what they should do.

Everyone was happy when the testing was behind them because they knew that meant they would go to the beach in the afternoon. Lots of fun in the sun was followed by dinner and then evening activity which was a quiz night.  Time to see how much they knew about the USA.

We woke to rain on day 2 of camp.  By the way, wake up is 07:20 with breakfast at 07:50. After breakfast, it is usually beach time.  When it rains the itinerary is switched up a bit in hopes that the weather breaks and we can go to the beach or swim in the pool in the afternoon.  On a typical day, we have one English lesson in the morning and two after lunch.  This rainy day we had two lessons in the morning.  The testing the day before allowed the academic director to divide the kids into appropriate classrooms for their age and English level.  Also scheduled in a typical afternoon are sports activities, after all, Z Camp is a language and sports camp.

Anyways, you get the idea.  We get up…we have breakfast…we go to the beach…we have English lessons…we have lunch…we have two English lessons…we have an afternoon snack…we do sports…we have dinner…we have phone time…we have an evening activity…bedtime is 21:30 with lights out at 22:00.  There is a security person on duty overnight on the wings of the 2 floors boys on one, girls on the other) occupied by Z Camp and staff. Then on occasion, some of the staff sit at the outdoor pool bar and relaxes a bit after very active days.  As a side note, all staff isn’t present at all activities, we do have some needed downtime.

Since we have a rolling enrollment with some kids leaving on Saturday mornings and a new bunch arriving on Sunday afternoons, we have a new theme each week and switch up the activities as much as possible.  Kids stay two, three, or four weeks at a time so we do our best to keep it interesting.  Time certainly flies by at camp which is how I have arrived at week four in the blink of an eye.  We also take 2 off-site excursions each week.  I’ve taken you through a couple of typical days but now a little about some of our activities and excursions.

Did you know Bulgaria has a prehistoric rock formation just a few kilometers north of the city of Primorsko?  It is a natural rock formation consisting of megaliths of hardened magma that erupted from a Mesozoic era volcano.  If you don’t know what a megalith is, Z campers can tell you because they have been there.  A megalith is a large prehistoric stone that has been used to construct a structure or monument, either alone or together with other stones. … Most extant megaliths were erected between the Neolithic period. The site is an open-air museum maintained by the Burgas Historical Society. Beglik Tash is visited annually by 40,000 tourists and is affectionately called the Bulgarian Stonehenge by the locals.  It’s cool we could visit while at Z Camp.  It was great fun trying to squeeze through the crevices and climb around the rocks.

After leaving Beglik Tash we arrived at the Strandzha Nature Park, we had lunch, and then boarded a boat for an hour-long river cruise on the Veleka River. If you didn’t want to cruise you could paddle kayaks up and down the river. After the boat ride, we did some rifle shooting and then back in the boats for a water gun fight. Everyone returned to shore soaked to the skin. Veleka River is part of Sredna Gora Tectonic Zone in Strandzha Natural Park. It empties into the Black Sea.

During the week the campers can also choose from a variety of sports activities, including volleyball, windsurfing, football, tennis, horseback riding, and swimming.  Evening activities range from movie night, karaoke, board games, and quizzes to a murder mystery night.

Four weeks have flown by.  I started this blog with a story from 18 years ago.  I had just had a visit from one of the four “kids” who came from Gabrovo, Bulgaria to Warren, Ohio.  It seems fitting that I should end it today with a visit from another one of those kids.  Hristian and his girlfriend Dessi decided to take a holiday at the sea.  They were staying in the nearby town of Sozopol so Hristian would be able to visit.  We shed a few tears and shared a lot of laughs.  It is amazing and I am blessed that after 18 years it feels like yesterday.  We met up in Kiten and had lunch at the seaside. We then went for a cocktail and had a video chat with Margie back in the states.  I’m good at catching her just as she is waking, sorry Margie.  I think she forgives me.  We didn’t say goodbye but see you soon as we made plans for me to visit Veliko Tarnovo and stay with Hristian before going to Sofia to catch my flight to Cairo.

I am truly blessed to have met these young people 18 years ago.  I am fortunate to have traveled to 39 countries of this beautiful world and met people I may never see again but consider my friends. I have met people I consider family.  I never thought I would get to Bulgaria yet here I am at a summer camp teaching English.  I have great co-workers and have shared laughs and tears.  I think of my friends and family back in the states and sharing these moments with them.  As Nishan Panwar said, “Sometimes it’s not about the journey or the destination, but the people you meet along the way.”

 “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold. A circle’s round it has no end that’s how long I’m gonna be your friend.”