Ohio Valley Woman’s Egyptian Internship is a Life Changer

Victoria VanDyne is from Dilles Bottom and attends Bethany College, both far removed from the violence and political upheaval occurring in the Middle Eastern nation of Egypt. But her love of that country and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity closed the gap and took VanDyne on an educational odyssey last summer during a spur-of-the-moment stint as an antiquities intern in Cairo.

Egypt has endured a tumultuous year following its January 2011 revolution to oust long-time leader Hosni Mubarek, who officially resigned one year ago tomorrow, on Feb. 11. The country is now under military rule, and it roils with unrest as citizen protestors clash daily with police and soldiers, including a bloody riot that killed 74 at a soccer match in Cairo last week.

But it was ancient history not current events that drew VanDyne to that city last June, only days after hearing its minister of national antiquities speak in Cincinnati.

VanDyne became enamored of Egypt as a girl growing up in Moundsville.

“I’ve wanted to be an Egyptologist since I was 13 years old,” said the 20-year-old Bethany senior and John Marshall High School graduate. Egyptology is the study of ancient Egypt. “The oldest thing I remember is watching Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra and just loving it!”

Her interest grew upon learning her maternal grandfather, whom she never knew, was from the nearby country of Jordan.

Fast-forward seven years and VanDyne is a history major with a minor in international relations. She took a road trip to Cincinnati last June to hear renowned Egyptologist Dr. Zahi Hawass speak at the Cincinnati Museum Center’s installation of the traveling Cleopatra exhibit. Hawass – known as “the Indiana Jones of Egypt” – talked about recent underwater discoveries of Cleopatra artifacts.

But he also had a message for America: His country was safe and he encouraged visitors. VanDyne needed no further enticement. When Hawass finished his speech, she handed him her resume.

Within a week, she received a call to start as an intern immediately.

VanDyne’s parents, Jay and Michele VanDyne of Dilles Bottom, were concerned for her safety, but VanDyne reassured them with Hawass’s words. As it turned out, safety indeed was an issue.

The next thing VanDyne knew, she was hailing a cab in Cairo, headed to an apartment she had found through an online network.

Her first night, “I was terrified.” The young woman with whom she’d made arrangements to stay had changed her mind, and VanDyne had to lug her two suitcases back out onto the dark city streets in search of the youth hostel.

Eventually, she found a place to stay in Zamalek, a nice section of Cairo on a Nile River island.

“It’s like Manhattan. We walked around without any problem. There were embassies everywhere. The streets were clean. You have trees,” VanDyne said.

She worked nearby in the Ministry of State for Antiquities building, helping gather all of Hawass’s research papers to be published in a book. Hawass is a prolific writer but didn’t always keep copies of his work, VanDyne said. Most of the friends she made were British and most already had Egyptology degrees. She met and conversed with Hawass only briefly.

The first week, “everything was fine.” But soon the city’s present caught up with its past, and VanDyne began to hear chanting and shouting outside. Rioters were on the doorstep, protesting Hawass because of his ties to Mubarek’s regime.

“There were three riots outside his building while I was there. The third being the worst, that being toward the end (of my stay). I left in the middle of it,” VanDyne said. She said Hawass’s personal chauffeur escorted her through a side door and down an alley. The next day, Hawass hosted an international conference about stolen Egyptian antiquities. The event was moved to a hotel after rumors circulated of a raid on the building. VanDyne and two other female employees were taken to a safe house.

“The next day, the whole ministry was disbanded” by the military, she said. Hawass was out of a job and VanDyne “didn’t feel particularly safe.”

Her six-week trip was only half over, but “my parents at that point said maybe it was time to come home,” she said. She agreed, but not before visiting one of the Seven Wonders of the World: the Pyramids of Giza.

Van Dyne said her impression of Egypt is that people want their country to “be fixed so they can start their economy, so they can get more jobs.”

VanDyne will earn her degree after three years this May, but she no longer considers Egyptology her best option.

“I am now distinctly aware of how difficult that will be. … It’s the fact that I might not be able to go into Egypt for awhile without knowing how this (revolution) will end. They are going to be trying to re-establish jobs, and they don’t want foreigners there taking them away.”

She is considering a career in international politics. Her Egyptian stint taught her a lesson she can take with her anywhere: “I think I’ve proved to myself that I can handle it. If I can handle Cairo by myself, I think I can handle someplace in America by myself.”

The trip “has changed everything,” she said. “But it hasn’t changed the fact I love Egypt.”