Friday,24 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1367, (2 - 8 November 2017)
Friday,24 November, 2017
Issue 1367, (2 - 8 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Dina: A story of love

I met Dina for the first time when she was eight years old. She is an Egyptian-American born in Los Angeles and came to Egypt to meet her aunt Lamia Mekheimar who is now our consul-general at our consulate in San Francisco. Dina is now a young lady more than 20 years old. Her story has been written in my book The Curse of the Pharaohs: My Adventures with Mummies, with a photo of Dina and I when we were on an adventure with mummies. She was astonished as a young girl to open a sarcophagus with a mummy inside it.

Dina came to Cairo for a short visit, and she was lucky because at the time of her arrival we were planning to open an intact coffin at Saqqara. I sent my Jeep to pick her up and bring her to Saqqara. The discovery which Dina was going to witness came to light through the routine clearing of the Late Period levels near the mastaba of Akhethetep, to the north of the causeway of the Pyramid of Unas at Saqqara. The French archaeological mission of the Louvre Museum under the direction of Christiane Ziegler had unearthed three burial shafts leading to several intact tombs.

Before Dina arrived, I examined the site and observed three shafts descending about 60 feet each. First I took Dina to visit the smallest of the three. I held her hand and we went down to where we faced a limestone sarcophagus. I explained to Dina the date and the history of the sarcophagus, and showed her that it was sealed some 2,500 years ago. I also told her that we could expect to find a mummy inside it. She looked at me with a smile and asked, “Can we open it now?” “Wait,” I said. “Let’s see the rest.” We descended for another 10 feet under the ground and saw another sealed and decorated coffin. I explained to Dina that the coffin dated to the 26th Dynasty, and that we knew this because of the name of the deceased, the style of the wooden coffin and the names of the gods and goddesses that the deceased would meet in the Netherworld. His name was Iah-Ahmose, son of Psamtik, and the coffin contained the hieroglyphic inscription from the Book of the Dead that helps the deceased travel to the afterlife.

I told Dina that I had a surprise for her and that we were going to move to another shaft.

We entered the shaft with Madame Ziegler, and saw a coffin made of wood with an anthropoid face. We began to prepare the opening of the coffin which had been completely sealed for 2,600 years. I explained to Dina what would happen. “Now, we are going to open the coffin.” Dina asked, “What’s inside?” I told her we would have to wait and see what secrets were hidden inside this coffin. I could see the fear in her eyes. What Dina did not know was that times like these are the most important moments in my life. I was filled with excitement and anticipation, and I became very quiet and could hear my heart beating as we began slowly to open the coffin. We found that the wood was interlocked, and we had to open it from all four sides. Carefully we began to lift the lid to reveal what was inside, and finally we saw a mummy. Dina screamed, “Mummy... Mummy!” The mummy was covered with linen and the face was not visible. We were all silent and I started to see a smile slowly appear on Dina’s face. She sat beside me, looking at the mummy as if she knew her, and began to ask me about what was inside. I explained that everywhere between the body and the linen covering the Egyptians hid amulets, such as scarabs and the djed-pillar of Osiris, and that they covered every open area of the mummy with gold. I told her that we would see all of these treasures through a scanning machine.

Following this, I went to another shaft. It descended for about 30 metres and it was impossible for Dina to come with me. I told her, “We will put you in a basket and lower you down slowly with ropes,” but she was scared. I went down with a rope and saw that the shaft held hundreds of mummies stacked on top of one another. This was a sight that I shall never forget. I then left the shaft to explain to Dina about the magic of mummies. I told her, “Let us go now because I will take you to see the oldest mummy found in Egypt, inside the tomb of Nefer.” We went to the south, to the other side of the causeway of Unas, and especially for Dina we opened the tomb of Nefer, who was the overseer of singers in the reign of the Pharaoh Niuserre of the Fifth Dynasty. This tomb is beautifully decorated with scenes of daily life. Dina was very impressed by the vibrant colours which are still so clear they appear to have been painted yesterday. I took Dina down about 10 feet into a shaft and showed her a mummy that was about 4,200 years old. She could see the body and the face. I saw Dina looking at the mummy; she wanted to scream but she put her hand over her mouth and closed her eyes and asked, “Is this the same mummy that I saw in the movie The Mummy?” I said, “What you see now is a real mummy, and it is the oldest complete mummy to be discovered in Egypt.” Dina slowly opened her eyes and looked at the face of the mummy and smiled in fear and wonder.

More than 15 years later, Dina wrote to me this letter:

“April 13, 2017

Dear Zahi,

This letter is long overdue. However, I could not find a more timely moment for it to reach you as you are acclaimed by the whole world as the Cultural Heritage Ambassador to the UN, a most prestigious and well-deserved global recognition. Not long ago, I realized that I have never really thanked you; I never told you how much you mean to me, or how big a part of my childhood you really were, therefore how big a part of who I am today. 

Being that you were one of the first people I had met in Egypt, you had a lasting impact on my impression of the country. After that tour you gave me of the Great Pyramids of Giza, you gave life to a piece of me that I had not known existed. I was awestruck by our rich history, incredible civilization, but most importantly by you. I was amazed at your expertise and I truly felt as if I was in the presence of an Egyptian king. You moved through each excavation site with such grace and when you entered an area or a room, your energy and charisma sparked motivation in everyone.

Not only did you make me love my beautiful country, Zahi, but also you boosted my confidence. After that particular trip I returned to school with a newfound sense of confidence and self worth. Thanks to you, I had experienced sites, touched mummies, seen artifacts and pyramids, and other precious sights that my schoolmates would never even dream of experiencing. For the first time I had felt unique, and I was proud of it. Not only did I get to see these fascinating things, but I got to experience the most stunning and incredible sites all while being right next to you, listening to your lively stories about the Pharaohs, the queens, the wars, and the ancient Egyptians’ daily lives. Your words spoke to my heart and touched every emotion in me. You made me feel as if I traveled back in time and I could imagine the scenes you so vividly painted in my head. 

My most memorable experience was being lowered down into a hole in the ground, where at the bottom was a mummy whose cover had not been opened yet. You told me to sit right in front of you as you so carefully and effectively opened the sarcophagus and released thousands and thousands of years of beautiful history in that small and crammed space. It was the most breathtaking moment I had ever experienced in my life because you made me a part of history, a part of the most marvelous civilization mankind has ever known.

You have inspired me countless amount of times and you will forever hold a special place in my heart. At your events you still speak of our adventures together in front of audiences, as if it was just yesterday. To this day, when I see you, I feel the same exhilaration as I did when I was walking through the museum in Cairo holding your hand, eager to hear more stories.

I have had the honor and privilege not only to see you in action at work, but also to get to know you on a personal level. You have a beautiful soul and your charm captivates the hearts of everyone you meet. You deserve only the best in life, Zahi and I truly appreciate everything you have done for me, and from the bottom of my heart I thank you.

All my love,

Dina Abdel Mooti”

And I wrote her back:

“Dear Dina,

It took me a long time to think about your letter, I did read your mail many times and I didn’t know what kind of words can I write to you because your story is amazing. I still remember every minute when you came to see me in Saqqara and I took you down 20 m when you were 8 years old and I opened the coffins with mummies in front of you. I will never forget the look that I saw on your face. Also, I will never forget the time when I was at the Egyptian Museum and shouting and yelling at people and then I saw you coming and taking hold of my hand. This is why I dedicated the very first children’s book to you. Now that you are a big girl and studying at the university I remember these things. Your email touched my heart and I hope you continue asking for advice and please don’t ever be shy to stay in touch, and I expect a great future for you because you have passion in your heart. I am sorry I was late in replying to your email, I was thinking what to write until today when I sat down and wrote this email to you.

Love,

Zahi”

I think this story can show the meaning of passion about which we need to teach our children, and Dina is an excellent example.

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