Thoth is the god of words and numbers and the patron of scribes. He presides over the heart ceremony during burial rituals—where one’s heart is weighed against the feather of truth to determine the weight of its sins.

Thoth records the final verdict: whether the soul will ascend to eternity or be devoured by the waiting beast, Aman.

Thoth is the god of words and numbers and the patron of scribes

I was the most unlikely woman in Egypt in the winter of 1999. Unlikely, unprepared, and underfunded. I didn’t even have a hotel room when I arrived. The frenzied city of Cairo hit me like a jackhammer.

With ten places I had to see, two weeks of time, and not enough money to spend, I would call on Egypt. In her turn – with her demands and her offerings – Egypt would call on me.

Wide-eyed, I walked the streets of Cairo by myself: the chaotic downtown core, the enormous, open-air bazaar of Khan-el-Khalili, the Christian museum in Coptic Cairo, and the mosques where Muslims go five times a day to pray in gratitude to God. Then I left on a bus and a prayer to the rural regions of Sinai, to climb the mountain of Moses on my own personal pilgrimage.

There was no mistaking me for a savvy traveler. At any given moment I would be lost, frightened, exhausted, or looking desperately for a place to pee.

I had the time of my life.

Traveling alone is different than living alone. Living in solitude, as I had for many years, like my grandfather and father before me, can harden a person. As can sameness. Loneliness had closed me up, like darkness and chill will cause a lily to fold in upon itself. At dawn, though, that same flower stretches herself toward the sun, recreating herself. Travel can be like that: the promise of dawn. The promise of change.

Excerpted from “Lost & Found in Egypt: A Most Unlikely Journey Through the Shifting Sands of Love and Loss.”