This is exactly how I wanted to spend my 21st birthday.
Out in the desert you can see an incomprehensible number of stars. Nestled between two giant rock outcropping the Bedouin flute and drum echo around and up into the bowl of the sky. The bonfire lights up the line of color in the rocks, the stars stay bright.
On the 24th we had a lovely celebration here at the house. Gabor got a cake and brought it out after dinner with hoops and hollers. Then my lovely roommates and friends surprised me with snacks amounting to a small feast, cheesy plastic decorations all over our room, and too many people and too few cups to drink Egyptian whiskey from. Dancing followed. Enough said. True colors came out and Aaron asked "is this crunking?" while trying his best.
Then, last night we went out with Sami "the desart fox [sic]" for our Bedouin bonfire. True to custom they were forty minutes late picking us up from the house in two vans of questionable functionality. We got a little lost winding out of town and up a hill on the edge of the cultivated part of Mut. Moment of silence passing through the cemetery of small mud brick Sheik's tombs. To be honest everyone was a little apprehensive from this shaky start, but when we got to our destination and the bonfire and music began, it became clear the outing was totally legit. Sami had even written my name with rocks high up on one of the surrounding hills. We sat around the big stone fire ring on rugs and cushions and low wooden tables while listening to an old weathered man in a big scarf play the double flute, and a group of 4 others (including Sami) played drums, big tambourines, and sang. Took some warming up, but soon everyone was dancing in a circle around the fire, Sami leading the clapping -- and we hadn't even begun drinking ... just the setting and the music put everyone in a natural altered state. The fire was bright enough to cast a large circle of like outside the stone, but still had an otherworldly quality.
Dinner was a vegetable soup that was more vegetables and less soup and spiced to perfection. Cabbage wraps with rice inside and super-tender hunks of lamb (we think). Top it off with an Egyptian Stella and/or Bedouin tea, which is the sweetest drink you'll ever have. Everything (minus Stella) was heated in big metal pots over the fire. After we out they brought out hookah and used the coals from the fire to light them. The music continued and so, of course did the dancing. All our hosts immediately took a liking to Nate, who I introduces as Hassian (his Arabic name), which never fails to break the ice. All night "ya Hassian" rang out over the music.
Megan and I took a little break and walked over and up one of the big rises surrounding us. You could see the lights of the oasis stretching out for miles around, and we laid down in the sand to take in the sky. Stars, planets, the milky way. It's no wonder the night sky was so important to ancient religions, without artificial light it stretches for ever and has infinite depth. Counted shooting stars and made plenty of wishes.
We walked back down following the sound of the drums and singing. After dancing for a while and learning some "traditional" (who really knows) dances with scarves and a stick, Sami threw his scarf over my head and said "just for a minute"... a minute later I was unblindfolded to a beautiful two tiered birthday cake with matches for candles. I was so surprised and the whole thing was so beautiful I couldn't keep a huge grin off my face. Too impatient to wait for plates, the first piece made its way into my open hands.
We danced for maybe another hour or two and then decided to break camp and head home. After a little problem getting the cars started we headed back down into a completely different kind of civilization. When we got back to the dig-house James came over to invite us to the latter end of an Australia Day party. They really know how to do it up over there. By this time it was around midnight and they'd already been going for 5 hours... we apparently brought the second wind to the party. It seems, for the time being, the bad blood between the Americans and Australians might be cleansed (thanks in part to Megan's gracious attentions to head-hancho Colin Hope). Dancing with the Aussies too, though of a different sort. Not everyone came over, but Ellen made up for it with plenty of unexpected dance moves.
The night finally ended on its way to morning. Sitting outside our window with Aaron and Megan for a recap of the night and then sleep of the extremely deep variety. Woke up this morning just in time for lunch (it being our day off -- finally) and spent the day lazing around. I feel like we've been here long enough that the urge to constantly be out having an "experience" is starting to fade, and I'm mostly content to let them come to me. Thursday we might have dinner with Yousef, one of our new friends from town, at his house and get to meet his wife and kids. That experience found us totally on its own. I can only imagine how many more might be looking for me in the next 21 years. Rather exciting...