U.S. first lady Melania Trump arrived Saturday in Cairo, Egypt, where she was greeted at an arrival ceremony by President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi and his wife, Entissar Mohameed Amer.
After a visit to the presidential palace and a stop at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, the first lady visited the Pyramids and the Great Sphinx. Egypt is Melania Trump’s last stop on a four-nation tour of Africa that also included a visit to Kenya, where she visited two orphanages, one for children and the other for elephants.
Trump stopped by the elephant orphanage on a visit to Nairobi National Park, a nature preserve located just a few kilometers south of the Kenyan capital.
Park rangers told the first lady about steps Kenya is taking to conserve the elephant and rhino populations, which have been decimated by poachers. Another 11 rhinos died in July from drinking salty water after a transfer to a new Kenyan sanctuary.
A new Chinese-built railroad running through the park also has been a source of controversy. The project, which split the park in two, was backed by the government over the objections of conservationists who complained of inadequate environmental impact studies.
On Friday, Trump fed a baby elephant using a giant bottle, then got a small bump from another pachyderm as she tried to administer another feeding
During a 90-minute tour of the park, where she caught glimpses of hippos, a giraffe and other animals, Trump got out of the car to look at an ivory burn site, where the material has been destroyed to discourage the trade in elephant tusks.
After the visit to the park, Trump visited a Nairobi orphanage known as The Nest, which cares mainly for children whose parents have been incarcerated.
Trump’s first-ever visit to Africa and her first extended solo international trip as first lady have included visits to Ghana and Malawi.
She will depart Egypt for the U.S. later Saturday, capping a tour to highlight child welfare, education, tourism and conservation.
Trump’s visit includes promoting the work of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the funding of which President Donald Trump has twice proposed slashing by nearly a third. Lawmakers, however, have not approved those requests. (VOA)
Back in the day, when the “grandmas and grandpas” of the Native American Church (NAC) needed peyote, they would make a 2,000-kilometer pilgrimage from the reservations of South Dakota to the tiny town of Mirando City, Texas, close to the U.S. border with Mexico. That’s where they could find Amada Cardenas, a Mexican-American woman who at the time was the only peyote dealer in Texas.
Cardenas was not Native American, nor was she a member of the NAC. But she understood how sacred the medicine was to church members and defended its use as a religious sacrament to those who sought to ban it.
“After Amada’s passing, the peyote distribution system lost heart and seemed to be about monetary compensation,” said Iron Rope, former chairman of the Native American Church of North America (NACNA) and today chairman of the NAC of South Dakota. He is concerned that the remaining three or four peyote dealers in Texas — all non-Native — don’t give “the medicine” the reverence they should.
“They don’t make prayerful offerings when they harvest,” Iron Rope said. “We’ve heard reports about intoxicated harvesters. Sometimes, the medicine that comes to us was mushy or small, and the harvesting technique was not one that would allow regrowth.”
Careless and sometimes illegal harvesting, along with increased land and resource development in Texas, has led to a decline in peyote’s quality and availability. Prices have gone up, and church members worry the cactus, now listed as a vulnerable species, could become endangered.
In 2013, NACNA began researching ways to conserve peyote and its natural habitat.
Peyote, or Lophophora williamsii, is a succulent that contains psychoactive alkaloids and only grows in southern Texas and a handful of states in northern Mexico.
Indigenous people have used it ceremonially and medicinally for centuries, as noted by 16th century Spanish missionaries, who condemned it as an evil. Peyote use persisted, however, and by the late 1800s, had spread to present-day Oklahoma, where tribes adapted it to suit their individual spiritual traditions.
In the face of government efforts to ban peyote, peyotists in the early 20th century sought to incorporate as a formal religion. In 1918, an intertribal group established the NAC, which has evolved to include tens of thousands of members across dozens of tribal nations. Members view the church as an important component of healing from historic trauma and reconnecting to tradition.
Peyote was banned in the United States in 1970, but the law was later amended to allow peyote to be used in “bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American Church.”
Texas allows several peyoteros registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to harvest and sell peyote, but only to card-carrying NAC members with proven Native American ancestry.
‘A beautiful ceremony’
Unlike other religious denominations, said Iron Rope, the NAC is not a unified theology.
“Different variations of the ceremony have come into play,” he said. “There are Christian aspects to the NAC today and traditional aspects, as well.”
Wynema Morris, a member of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and an NAC member, grew up with an understanding of the sacredness of peyote and the religious etiquette surrounding its use.
“It was my own grandfather, Samuel Thomas Gilpin, who actually received peyote early on from the Winnebagos, a neighboring tribe, and passed it on to his sons, my uncles,” she said.
Peyote is much misunderstood and maligned, she said, viewed by many anthropologists through the lens of colonial prejudice.
“I don’t like their use of the word ‘hallucinations,’” she said. “You don’t use peyote to get high. You use it to pray and communicate with God — the same God everyone else talks to.”
She described all-night services of prayer, song and meditation.
“The ceremony is beautiful,” she said. “The extraordinary and the phenomenon are not necessarily unexpected, but they are definitely not precluded.”
In 2013, NACNA began looking at ways to conserve and sustain peyote for future generations of indigenous Americans, Mexicans and Canadians.
“It was our intent to eventually have our own land and be able to have our own peyote dealer who could understand our concerns as the Native American Church,” said Iron Rope.
In 2017, NACNA and partner organizations formally launched the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative (IPCI). With funding from the Riverstyx Foundation, a nonprofit that supports research of medicinal uses of psychoactive plants, IPCI purchased 245 hectares (605 acres) of land in Thompsonville, Texas, to serve as “Sacred Peyote Gardens.”