A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it... We are too ready to retaliate, rather than forgive... And yet we could hurt no man that we believe loves us. Let us try then what love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us. Force may subdue, but Love gains: and he that forgives first, wins the laurel.
William Penn

Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone...
George Fox

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Final Post

I want to thank everyone who has supported me for the past 20 months. When I left Portugal in November 2011 with 235 euros, I never really expected to get to Egypt. Your contributions amounted to well over 3000 euros; your offers of hospitality along the way probably double that amount. So here I am.
Though I reached the pyramids, walking for Masterpeace, I was unable to deliver my peace petitions. Nevertheless, the subject of peace in the Middle East was discussed and argued from Portugal to Egypt, and awareness of the problem in Israel and Palestine is the first step to a solution.
I may have inspired a few people as I walked, and they may become better peacemakers than I have been.
In any case, I hope I have achieved something for the good of humanity. Most certainly, those of you who supported me have done some good for humanity, not because you supported me, but because you supported someone in need, and because you shared a belief in the possibility of world peace.
My Buddhist friends would call that good karma.

I would say to anyone who is led by God to do something, or to anyone who feels compelled to live authentically-- whether that leading or compulsion is to walk for peace, or to cycle to China, or to volunteer at a homeless shelter, or to devote oneself to raising a family in a peaceful and loving environment-- I would say to that person to follow that leading. If work gets in the way, find another job. If cynical people get in the way, go around them. If fear gets in the way, face that fear. Whatever the obstacles, try to overcome them, or put them aside to live your life abundantly.

I am taking a car to Sharm al Sheik in a few hours, then flying to Milan in the morning.
I hope to find work in Italy; possibly picking  fruit, as suggested by Italian freediving friend Crista.
With what I earn I hope to buy a second hand touring bike, and to cycle from Germany to Syria to raise money for Syrian refugees. When I was in Antakya, Turkey, near the Syrian border, I felt I had unfinished business there. This fundraiser will probably be done through International Rescue Committee. www.rescue.org
My new blog, which is under construction, is cyclingtosyria.blogspot.com.

Finally, St. Francis' Prayer, which I picked up in a church in the French Alps.

Lord, make me your instrument of peace.
Where there is hatred, may I bring love.
Where there is offense, may I bring forgiveness.
Where there is dissension, may I bring union.
Where there is error, may I bring Truth.
Where there is doubt, may I bring faith.
Where there is despair, may I bring hope.
Where there is darkness, may I bring light.
Where there is sadness, may I bring joy.

Lord, may I not seek comfort, but give comfort;
try, not to be understood, but to understand;
try, not to be loved, but to love.

For it is in giving, that we receive;
in forgetting ourselves that we find ourselves;
in forgiving, that we obtain forgiveness;
and in dying, that we live for eternal life.

Thank you again, friends.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Healing in Dahab

Being in the sleepy town of Dahab, Sinai, on the Gulf of Aqaba, has been a healing experience.
I've been here almost a month, though I've had to check the calendar to confirm that fact,  as time loses significance here. The other day I was lounging around with some free diving friends, and when someone asked what day it was, we were all at a loss for an answer.
I stayed for some time with Couchsurfing hosts, my last on this journey for peace. I'm not sure for how long I stayed with them. The rest of the time I've spent at Sindbad Camp, living in a cabana by the sea. At times I sleep outside, under the stars. Bedouins are employed at the camp, which is sleepier than Dahab itself, and I've made some friends among them. The people who stay at the camp are varied; a few SCUBA divers, quite a few free divers, several travelers; some taking a low budget, relaxing holiday, others passing through on their perpetual world journeys.
One Japanese woman has been traveling for five years, and lived in Nepal for a time. An Austrian woman, Karin Gebauer, is here for a free diving competition at Blue Hole. She's Austria's leading female free diver. A Catalan man is here for his free diving instructor's certificate. He got most of his free diving experience before he knew what free diving was, as a spear fisherman. None of them are what I would call tourists.

While walking with Inge from Slovenia to Turkey, she talked a lot about free diving. She had been in Bali a few years before, overcoming her fear of the water by learning to free dive. This is something like overcoming a fear of heights by learning to skydive.
In Serbia we had a host who was a free diving instructor, and the two of them talked. In Bulgaria we had another free diving host, and they talked about free diving as well. At the time I wasn't very interested.
Now for the past three or four weeks I've been in Dahab, almost by accident, and surrounded by free divers.
Edward and Andreas stop by Sinbad Camp on occasion for something to eat, or to talk about free diving. They're sometimes accompanied by other free divers. They're all from the 'non-competitive' school of free diving, which seems a bit zen, without the negative, New Age connotation. Andreas, a free diving instructor, had offered me an introductory course at a discount, but not having the money for this, his friend, Edward, offered to get me in the water with a few pointers.
A Bedouin has loaned me his extra long free diving fins and mask, and I've been making elementary free dives ever since. I haven't gone very deep, but even at 10 meters, it's nice to glide past the SCUBA divers, who like herds of camels seem to plod along with their humps. "Eat your heart out!" I'm thinking, as I dolphin kick past them on my back.
So after all that free diving talk from Inge-- through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Turkey-- three and a half months-- "Blah, blah, blah, free diving, blah, blah, blah" -- I am by accident experiencing in the warm, cerulean sea what she had related to me in the cold, landlocked Balkans. And now it's my turn to "Blah" about free diving.
Here's something nice to watch about free diving in Dahab, so I won't have to "blah" about it anymore. 

I said, "by accident", because Dahab was a last thought; an alternative to Cairo should I be refused entry again in Israel. I wasn't looking for Dahab, I just wanted anything but that hellhole Cairo. And Dahab was the nearest place to retreat to from Taba Border crossing. And Dahab turns out to be a bit of a paradise.

There is a German woman here who has heard the story of my walk for peace, about it's highs and lows, and about the final disappointment in not being able to deliver the petitions, or even being able to get into Israel. She believes the peace process on this journey is only now beginning for me, right here in Dahab.

While waiting for the final donations to fly me back to Europe, I looked for work. I worked with a metal smith for a day, but we mostly drank tea and philosophized about life. He didn't really need a helper, but was trying to make his friend, Barbara, happy. She'd asked him to give me a job. She also asked a carpenter to give me a job, but we drank tea as well. He didn't need any help either.
Though I am a Quaker, I looked for work as a bartender. I haven't seen anyone drunk here; you'll find the heavy drinkers down the coast at Sharm al Sheik, which is a resort for tourists, and not travelers. The drug of choice here is hashish rather than alcohol, so I feel tending bar in Dahab would be akin to hosting a quiet gathering of friends. But the bars weren't hiring; business has been slow for a few years.
The rest of the world believes Egypt in general, and Sinai in particular to be dangerous places. We all laugh about that here, at least regarding Dahab. Two bombs went off here in 2006, but bombs seem to be going off everywhere at one time or another these days. A few people have been kidnapped by Bedouins recently-- the bad Bedouins, my Bedouin friends tell me-- but even they were treated as guests rather than as hostages.
Free diving friend Edward has come down with typhoid fever, probably from the water, but it's treatable. He should be fine in a week. But the drinking water may be the most dangerous thing here.
I also answered advertisements to volunteer at a couple of small hotels-- I would be paid with room and board-- but they said no. I imagine I may not be young or pretty enough.
And there are no English schools in Dahab open in the summer, so my EFL experience was of no use.

Thanks to some very generous donations, however, I now have my ticket out of here. In Cairo, a ticket out would have filled me with joy, but in Dahab I am filled with trepidation at the prospect of stepping off the plane in Milan. The pace will be double or triple what it is here. There will be rules to follow everywhere I go. I'll have some hosts waiting to take me in for a day or for a few weeks, but I am literally homeless now, and the money that goes so far in Dahab will go quickly there. It will be intimidating.

But I am confident I'll find work to earn the money I need for my next 'mission'.
I'll talk about that on my next, and final "Down to Egypt' blog post.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Making Wishes in the Desert

Eline and Wilhelm come from Holland every year to spend their holiday in Dahab. They enter their sanctuary, a five star hotel on the sea, and they never leave it. They go from their room to the swimming pool to the restaurant. Eline also visits Barbara on the hotel grounds to watch her make her ceramic pottery. Eline envies Barbara in a way; Barbara is an artist, and a permanent resident of Dahab, something Eline imagines she would like to be. But Barbara goes to her small home every day, located in the Bedouin part of Dahab, and she routinely deals with that part of being an expat here that Eline probably wouldn't like so much. For example, water is supposed to come once a week, through a hose, when Barbara fills her water tanks and 5 liter water bottles to water the plants. At times, though, the water never arrives, and the plants go dry, and a shower becomes a matter of great concern.
This year Eline and Wilhelm have decided to venture out of the hotel for the first time. It is Eline's birthday, and she has invited Barbara and I to go for a Bedouin meal in the desert mountains. Selim arrives in a pick-up truck to take the four of us out of Dahab. After a fifteen minute ride, we're turning onto a sandy road leading into a wide ravine between cliffs. But for a few, sparse desert plants, there is nothing but rock and sand. The pickup truck moves slowly around boulders and nearly gets stuck in the sand once or twice before we arrive at a palm grove in a narrow ravine. There are other Bedouins there, sitting barefoot on blankets, and we stop for tea before helping to load the truck with everything we'll need for the meal. Selim's helper joins him in the front seat, Wilhelm and I sit in the back seat, and Eline and Barbara sit on stools in the pick-up's bed.
"This is a great experience," says Wilhelm. "I'm glad to be sharing it with you." He pats my shoulder firmly while saying this.
"I'm glad to be sharing it with you too, Wilhelm," I say. He offers his hand and I shake it.
"Thanks for inviting me, " I say.
"Thanks for being here with us," he replies.
Selim drives us deeper into the ravine, which he tells us can become a raging, torrential river when it rains here, three or four times a year. At our destination, at the farthest part of the ravine navigable by a pick-up truck, we stop and unload. I am excited to be out here; Wilhelm and Eline are trying to be excited, but they seem a little uncomfortable; Barbara is nonchalant about the whole thing. She's lived in Sinai for a long time.
When Selim tells us to keep an eye out for snakes and scorpions, Wilhelm and Eline get a little more nervous.
They scan the sandy ground.
After the blankets have been spread we're served more tea by Selim's helper, who remains silent and detached. The two of them squat to start a fire with wood and charcoal they've brought along, then they begin cooking. Barbara has brought candles, and she places them among the cliffs, more for ambiance than for lighting.
"It's so quiet out here," says Wilhelm. He's right, when no one is speaking, the silence is absolute.
"It's so beautiful," says Eline.
There's a bit of chatting, and Eline explains to us that she has burned all her metaphors. There's some silence after this, then I ask her what that means. She doesn't know how to answer, other than to say that burning her metaphors has helped to free her.
"Cool," I say, nodding.
After a bit we're all lying on our backs on the blanket, waiting for the first stars to come out.
"It's so quiet out here," says Wilhelm.
When the food is served, the four of us eat quietly. It doesn't seem right to make noise out here. Selim and his helper hang back, and Wilhelm and Eline invite them to eat with us.
"Later'" says Selim.
The food is fantastic; roast chicken, rice, vegetables, and flat bread baked on the fire, but I am the only one who is eating ravenously. I check myself and force myself to slow down.
Eventually Selim joins us on the opposite side of the low table, but his helper still hangs back, smoking.
While Eline and Wilhelm sit quietly, and Barbara lies on her back looking for shooting stars, I talk with Selim. I tell him about my journey, and he says I'm a Bedouin. He tells me all about life in Sinai in the time of his father and grandfather, when there were no cars or roads, and when camel caravans were common. He tells me all about camels, how they are spirited in the winter, and lazy in the summer. He tells me about the weak camels that populate Sinai now. They come from Sudan, and hang around doing nothing all day. The Sinai camel, which he says was far more robust, is almost extinct now. I think of  Nietzsche's criticism of Darwin's theory, in which Nietzsche says the fat and lazy survive, and not the fittest. Selim talks also about how the Bedouins import their Toyota pick-up trucks. They're cut in half, just behind the cab, at the exporting port, then welded together again in Sinai. This is to avoid paying taxes for a vehicle. They're shipped as junk.
I ask Selim about the time of Israel's occupation of Sinai. He says his mother took him and his brothers and sisters to hide in the mountains, but then he surprises me by saying it was an awakening for the Bedouins. They had cars and TV's for the first time when the Israelis came. Now the Israelis are gone, and business is bad. He also explains how the Bedouins are not Egyptians, but of Saudi descent. Before the establishment of the state of Israel, their camel caravans regularly traded with the Saudis via Aqaba. I tell him I'd wanted to walk, or at least hitchhike through Sinai, but the Egyptian military at the Sinai border would have prevented me from doing this.
"F***ing Egyptians," he says. But I know he has many Egyptian friends.
Barbara has brought a paper, hot air 'wish balloon' for Eline's birthday, and she opens it while Wilhelm lights the wick under it. After a few minutes, it inflates, and rises tentatively into the black, starry sky like a cosmic fire ship.
"Happy birthday," we say to Eline, quietly. We watch, making our wishes as the illuminated balloon wavers, then rises higher. On reaching the height of the surrounding mountain's summits, the wind catches it and it sails away for a bit before descending behind another mountain.
"So beautiful," Wilhelm says.
When Selim and I begin talking again in low voices so as not to disturb the desert, Wilhelm says it's time to leave, but that I can stay with the Bedouins if I like. He's joking, but I know I'll be back out here for a night or two in my tent. I reveal my thoughts to Selim.
"You don't need tent," he says. "Bedouins sleep outside in summer. Just look for snakes and scorpions."
It's very dark, so I can only imagine our Dutch friends straining to see the ground at this reminder.
Afterwards we silently pack everything into the truck, and Selim drives it at a swaying crawl through the dark ravine. On the way the headlights catch a small owl perched on a rock. It rotates its head to have a look before flying away into the darkness. Then we're back on the sand covered road to the hotel, where we say our goodbyes, and where Eline and Wilhelm return to their refuge before flying back to Holland. But having had this wonderful experience in the desert, and having made their wishes, when they come back next year I am sure they will see Sinai, and not just the hotel.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Denied entry... sigh... again

Getting off the ramshackle bus from Dahab, an Italian man and his girlfriend asked if I'd like to share a taxi to the Israeli border. I told them the border crossing was only 800 meters away, but I would take the number 15 bus with them to Eilat once we were through.
As we walked the 800 meters together, we chatted a bit. They had recently come from Jordan, which they had enjoyed much more than Egypt. I told them about the incredible hospitality I'd enjoyed when in the north of Italy, where they were from, and like all the Italians I'd met from the north, they couldn't believe it; only the south of Italy was able to produce real hospitality, they said.
Then I told them I'd been denied entry into Israel once before, in Haifa. I explained what I thought were the reasons why. I suggested that maybe we should go through the border crossing separately, so no one would think we were going to be together in Israel.
After getting through the Egyptian side of the crossing, they took my advice by speeding ahead of a large Korean tourist group. I fell behind, and that was the last I saw of them.

Getting into Israel through Taba seemed like it would be a pleasant experience, compared to the shipboard experience I had in Haifa. The security people at Taba all seem to have been selected for their appearance and social skills. There were lots of smiles as I was asked to show my passport or have my bag x-rayed. The border control building was cool, air conditioned perhaps, and I drank water from a cold water fountain, which is something I haven't done in ages.
My passport had already been stamped to enter Israel when I had one more desk to check in at. The same question I'd answered several times was asked by a somewhat less pleasant woman.
"Why are you coming to Israel?"
I gave the same answer.
"To work for an NGO in Negev, and to visit Eilat and Be'er Sheva."
But this time, instead of being moved on, the woman picked up a phone and called her superior. Her superior turned out to be a very pleasant woman. She had a look at my e-mailed letter of invitation from the NGO, then did a little searching on the computer.
"What happened in Haifa?" she asked.
"Here we go," I thought.
"It was implied that I didn't have enough money," I said.
"How much did you have?"
"About 300 dollars."
"How much do you have now?"
"A little less than 300 dollars."
We both laughed.
"But," I added, "last time I wanted to stay for three months. This time only for three weeks and I'm being hosted the entire time by this NGO."
Surely she would accept this.
"Please sit down here," she said, not accepting it, and indicating a chair near a closed door. But she smiled, the way a mother smiles at a naughty child. I took this as a good sign. Sympathy.
As I waited I watched as the last of the Korean group passed through the last obstacle and through the gate into Israel. I was so close. A security man near the gate told me I could go get something to eat if I liked, or go have a smoke in the smoking area on the balcony. With so much hospitality, I didn't mind waiting for the interrogation soon to come. At the balcony a sliding glass door opened automatically, and I stepped on to a deck overlooking the Gulf of Aqaba. A catamaran full of tourists glided by. I almost expected a waiter to step out for my order. Then the supervisor came to fetch me. It was time.
The questioning was a pleasant affair, despite the denial that I felt was coming. Only the man sitting behind the supervisor was unpleasant. He stared with cold, blue eyes.
Most of the questioning had to do with my lack of money, but I was asked about my walk for peace.
"And how will helping to renovate a Bedouin children's center make peace?" I was asked.
I explained as if to a child.
"Helping those at the bottom of a social structure is the foundation for peacemaking..."
Then, a pause, and the supervisor gently began to tell me the bad news.
"If I came into your country without any money, they wouldn't like it, would they?"
"But I'm only staying three weeks, and being hosted by this NGO..."
The man with the glaring eyes interjected. "You can't just wander around Israel for three months without money," he said.
"But, I have hosts, and this NGO, and only three weeks..."
"I'll check with my supervisor, but don't expect much," said the pleasant lady. She gazed at me sorrowfuly.
"Okay," I said, pouting.
While waiting in my chair outside the office, the pleasant supervisor came out to ask another question.
"How long have you spent in Egypt?"
"About two months."
Back into  the office she went. A few minutes later she called me back in.
"I'm sorry, " she said. "I have to refuse you."
She was very apologetic, and while escorting me back through the building, she explained that because of Haifa, she couldn't let me into Israel. As she opened the blue iron gate, she wished me the best of luck, again with the sorrowful face, or perhaps with the face of a kind woman who's putting the puppy outdoors after it's pooed on the rug. I could have hugged her. Then she slammed the gate. Ahead of me was a sign, "Welcome to Egypt."
I sighed heavily and plodded forward.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

At the Sinai Border; Dahab; Plans; Thanks; Reaching the Pyramids

At the Sinai border, the East Delta bus I was on came to a halt. We were ordered off,  told to remove our luggage, and to place our bags in a line. Our passports were checked by a plain clothes policeman, and a German shepherd was brought in to sniff the bags. Soldiers in desert camouflage stood around, some of them in bulletproof vests. When the policeman saw my American passport, he shook his head and asked me my name. I gave him the short version. I thought there might be a problem-- I'd heard of an American being refused a ticket for a bus through Sinai recently-- but in the end he handed the passport back, and I was again on the bus to Dahab.
The Sinai border was a military zone, and I don't think I could have walked or hitchhiked through Sinai, even if I'd had logistical support to get through the desert. There have been too many kidnappings at the expense of the Egyptian government, and Westerners are prohibited from traveling the peninsula on their own.

Meanwhile, Dahab is a sleepy Bedouin village turned tourist town on the Gulf of Aqaba. It's famous for it's diving and backpacker atmosphere. Dive shops, restaurants, bungalows and shops line the shore. Across the Gulf of Aqaba, Saudi Arabia's desert mountains are visible some 25 kilometers away. The gulf itself is cerulean blue, and Dahab's backdrop is like Saudi on the other side of the gulf; more tan desert mountains. Tourists here confine themselves to the shoreline; go just one block inland and the town belongs to the Bedouins.
My two hosts here are expats, both living in the Bedouin districts. They've been very hospitable and helpful in showing me around. I've been enjoying the peace and quiet here after six trying weeks in chaotic Cairo.

 On the 28th I'll take a bus to Taba, then enter Israel. I have an invitation from an NGO near Beer Sheva which, among other things, helps Bedouins in Israel's Negev Desert. I'll be living with a Bedouin family in an unofficial village, helping to renovate a children's center. Before getting there I'll visit Kibbutz Samar for a day or two.

I'd like to thank some people in Cairo. First of all Shanna, from New Zealand, who was supposed to host me for two days but hosted me instead for six weeks. Without Shanna I don't know what I would have done. Triona, her friend, was also of great help. They were both incredibly hospitable, they bought me some clothes, and before I left they and another friend, Sarah, made a donation.
Masterpeace also made a donation, and I am very grateful for the help of Raghda, in particular, who also helped to organize my stay with the NGO near Beer Sheva.
A former host of mine, Jose, in Gandia, Spain, and an old friend, Salome, also sent me some money while I was in Cairo.
Without these contributions I couldn't have survived there, and I'd be in trouble now. I am very grateful for this help.

While my journey for peace continues, my walk 'down to Egypt' has come to an end. I walked the final distance from Tahrir Square to the pyramids a week ago. I'd always imagined my arrival at the Giza pyramids would be an emotional moment. Instead, still outside the gates, I had a smoke, then walked back the other way.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Engulfed in a Burst of Violence in Tahrir Square, or, "I had it Coming to Me!"

After reading about demonstrations planned to protest President Mursi today, I take the metro to Tahrir Square. At 5pm the demonstration is well underway, and though it is by far the largest demonstration I've seen here, it hasn't yet reached the 'mass demonstration' proportion the news had reported it would be. Nevertheless, traffic has been completely cut off, and there is great tension in the crowd, which is a mixture of anti-Mursi demonstrators and Mursi supporters. As with all the demonstrations I've observed here, there isn't a policeman in sight.

At the edge of the crowd I talk briefly to a man carrying a large Egyptian flag with a cross and crescent perched on its pole. He confirms that it is a symbol of peace between Coptic Christians and Muslims. Another man, Mohammed, approaches to ask lots of questions about me. He wants to know where I am from and what I'm doing here. I explain I am an American, and that I am walking for peace. He seems incredulous that an American could be walking for peace. The conversation turns to Israel and Palestine, and though he says he believes in peace, he also believes the Palestinians have no choice but to offer armed resistance against Israel. I explain my belief in non-violent resistance, as I have done so many times here, but he shakes his head.

"Who do you hate?" he asks. "Israel or Palestine?"
I tell him that though I believe the Palestinians are suffering injustice at the hands of the Israeli government, I don't hate either. Mohammed shakes his head again.
The subject turns to God, and now Mohammed wants to know which book I believe comes from God. I respond that they have all been inspired by God, but one has to know God; the books aren't the ultimate authority. Again, he is incredulous.
When I ask what Mohammed is doing here, he says he is an anti-Mursi demonstrator. I ask him if he thinks there will be any violence today.
"I don't think there will be violence," he says.
 I ask if the anti-Mursi demonstrators will react with violence if Mursi supporters use violence against them.
"There will be no violence, " he responds.
A few people have gathered around us to hear the conversation, and as I walk away, a man holds my arm.
"Be careful," he says.

Tahrir Square is actually an enormous traffic circle, and I move to the center of the circle, which is elevated above the greatest part of the crowd, to take some photos and videos. The crowd has grown to occupy half of the circle, and there is growing tension as Mursi supporters yell angrily at the demonstrators. I photograph a man straddling the horizontal part of a lamp post draped with a banner high above. I switch my camera to video mode and pan the crowd below: large banners with the faces of people killed last January are being waved, as well as dozens of large Egyptian flags. Demonstrators are shaking their fists in the air, and Mursi supporters next to me yell at them and angrily flick their hands to dismiss them. Some Mursi supporters close to the stage begin to throw things at the demonstration's leaders, and some scuffling breaks out. I decide to move in closer. As I push my way forward I want to catch the anger in the crowd on video, and I notice some of that anger seems directed at me, especially on the part of Salafist Mursi supporters. Nevertheless, I keep filming and pushing my way closer to the stage. An isolated fight breaks out; a young demonstrator pursues a Mursi supporter through the crowd. His friends are trying to stop him. The chanting becomes angrier, inciting the crowd and prompting counter chanting by Mursi supporters. A few more isolated fights break out around me, then in an instant, the whole crowd is fighting; a sudden, violent squall on a sea of angry, shouting faces. As I'm being jostled, I'm focused on getting this all on my camera, with one hand held high to film, while I use the other to fend off blows. I'm doing all I can to keep from being knocked over; the rioting crowd is now moving like a slow but powerful current, and I'm being swept along with it. One man has pulled out what looks like a riding crop to beat someone with. Another man goes to the ground a few meters away. I want to help, but I'm occupied with keeping myself from going to the ground, and with this strange compulsion to film it all. While I'm scared, I keep my Nokia above me in video mode, trying to keep it aimed on the crowd while I'm being knocked around.

Then my camera is snatched out of my hand. Because I'm trying to keep from being punched or knocked down, I don't see who has taken it. I react by grabbing the shoulder of the man in front of me. The look on his face tells me I've got the wrong guy, and now I notice men who appear to be salafists  giving me hard looks. One of them is yelling at me. I release the man's shoulder and see another man clicking away at me with his mobile phone camera. Though he's also being shoved around, he's smiling; perhaps the only smiling face in the mob. He apparently senses the irony in the situation. I then push my way towards where I'd seen the man on the ground, but he's gone. At this point I decide I've had enough, and I wrestle myself out of the crowd. By the time I've reached the edge of the thickest part of it, the fighting has stopped. The squall has gone as quickly as it appeared.

I get back to the elevated center circle, dazed by the party atmosphere here. The people who are watching the crowd seem only mildly interested in what seemed like a major riot to me. A group is gathered, beating on traditional drums, singing,  and having a good time. I walk to the farthest part of the circle to smoke a cigarette. I notice I am shaking.
Before I leave, another group sets an American flag on fire, chanting in Arabic. I'm trying to determine whether they are Mursi supporters or anti-Mursi demonstrators. Maybe both are involved. Maybe this is one thing they can do together peacefully. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

If You Sit, You do not Proceed

Last summer, near Aix en Provence in the south of France, I was walking through a village to get some food before finding a place to camp for the night. I was called over by a man at a cafe, who subsequently invited me to stay at his house for a couple of days. The man had been a pilgrim himself, once walking to Rome. He and the friends who lived with him treated me like a king while I was there, then loaded me up with gifts when I left, one of which was a pilgrim's staff. This staff had many ancient symbols and palindromes burnt into it; most of them from the 'Alchemy Gate' of Piazza Vittorio in Rome. I wasn't very interested in the symbols or most of the palindromes, but one in particular I thought to be a practical motto for any pilgrim: SI SEDES NON IS, or, in reverse, SI NON SEDES IS. In Latin this means, IF YOU SIT YOU DO NOT PROCEED, or, in reverse, IF YOU DO NOT SIT YOU PROCEED. This may have some hidden meaning, as it came from a mystical medieval group called the Rosicrucian Order, but it's obvious meaning is simple and encouraging: 'Start walking, and you'll get to where you're going.'
I proceeded through the Alps with that staff, then left it with a host (and friend) in Torino as it had worn down from a staff to a very short stick. But I carried the words with me, proceeding to Bosnia where I carved that same palindrome onto a new staff.
That staff was left behind in Sarajevo, but again, the words remained, and I proceeded to Istanbul. However, by the time I'd reached Istanbul, the words had been left behind as well. I sat there without proceeding for a long time.
Now in Cairo, I'm again sitting without proceeding, trying to get what I think I need to proceed but without many results. The end result I'm hoping for is to get across Sinai, into Israel and Palestine to deliver my 'peace books', then out to reestablish a 'normal' life for a while. What I think I need to accomplish this is money for day to day living, new shoes, logistical help across Sinai, and an exit plan that will also require money.  I've already got hosts in Israel, and an NGO in Negev, AJEEC-NISPED  http://www.nisped.org.il/, has invited me to help Bedouins renovate a childhood center near Beer Sheva (thanks to a connection to Masterpeace in Cairo). But crossing the desert and getting out of Israel and Palestine will require help.

However, if I sit, I will not proceed. So I'll stop sitting and proceed eastward on the 27th of May, come what may. If the help I'm hoping for doesn't arrive by then, I'll find it as I go. Inshallah.


Saturday, May 4, 2013

On Forgetting the Burden of Clarity

I visited Maadi Community Church yesterday. The minister, Amy, spoke about vision; about the necessity of vision to continue in our lives. What was most interesting though, was how she contrasted this necessity for vision with our supposed necessity for 'clarity'. Many in her congregation come to her to help them find clarity. But Amy believes clarity is too much to ask for: even Mother Teresa lacked clarity. But she didn't lack vision.
Vision is faith, the stand on hope I spoke of before. I've also wanted clarity these past 18 months, not only for myself but to answer the cynics, but I have never found clarity. I've never had a clearly defined reason for doing this. I've only ever had vision, faith, a stand on hope. I was close to losing vision at one point, but I've found it again.
What is this vision? This Faith? This stand on hope?
It is the Kingdom of God, here and now. And what is the Kingdom of God? A world in which we live in simplicity, peace, a strong sense of community, and equality; not enforced, but desired and acted out with integrity. It's a world in which love and kindness are not exclusive, but all inclusive.  It is a world of compassion and empathy.
Clarity? Quakers have said the same to me, in different words; 'Just follow the Leading', but maybe it's only now sunk in with Amy's words, 'Forget about clarity, just keep the vision.'

Thursday, May 2, 2013

"Hope is a Stand", My Plans Now, the Help I'll Need, and Thanks again

I saw on the news this morning an Italian Jesuit priest named Paolo Dall' Aglio. He's been trying to stop the violence in Syria. On the topic of hope, he said, 'Hope is a stand.' It isn't wishful thinking, or delusion, but a commitment. This kind of hope, which is the only real hope, can change the world for the better.
I tried to convey my stand on hope to the children of a school last week. My host, Shanna, and her friend Triona, both teachers at the school, organized a full day of speaking for me. I talked to six classes of English-speaking kids, and I tried to emphasize to them that the world isn't as bad as it looks on the news. I am in Egypt after 18 months on the road because of the generosity and kindness of strangers, for the most part. Depending on strangers to walk across a continent requires a stand on hope. I also wanted them to see photos of life on the road; the hard photos, of living in abandoned houses, or in a tent in freezing weather, or in the rain, and I wanted to make it clear to them that this kind of life isn't a trekking adventure for a weekend, only to return to the comforts of home. It's often a life of exposure to the elements, 24 hours a day, often for many days before finding temporary shelter. Then you move on again. You often feel that you are utterly alone, and doing what you are doing in vain. I wanted to emphasize to them that I am homeless... by choice, but homeless. Literally everything I own is in my backpack. I wanted to emphasize that a walk for peace is not always  'la dulce vita' people imagine it to be. There have been many days on this journey when a 'stand on Hope' was the only thing that has kept me going.
And now a firm stand on hope will be required to deliver these petitions I'm carrying. Echoing the cynics, I often ask myself what the point is in delivering them. Surely nothing will change even if I can deliver them! But my Faith, my Hope, is that something will change for the better. I know that some things have already changed for the better because of this walk, and I know that some things, and at least one terrible thing, has changed for the worse. But even that one, terrible thing strengthens, rather than weakens my stand on Hope. So I'll deliver the petitions.

Masterpeace is organizing the walk from Tahrir Square, where I left off, to the pyramids for May 15th. Again, the pyramids were originally the end of the road for me. But I'll be setting off to cross Sinai just a few days afterwards, and I'll try to get into Israel and Palestine again. Depending on the route I take, I may need some logistical help along the way, so if anyone would like to help me on a ten to fifteen day walk across the desert, let me know. I'll also need money. I've got a little less than 50 US dollars now, so if anyone would like to contribute to this leg of my journey, you can e-mail me at: la_peripherie@yahoo.com. Type in as the subject, 'Donation', and I'll let you know how to get your contribution to me. As always, I am careful with the money you send; I get by on about 200 US dollars a month now to pay for the bare essentials. There is an exception, however; I smoke, so some of that money goes for tobacco.

Meanwhile, after 18 months on the road for peace, I have to thank the hundreds of people who have helped me along the way.  That help has come in the form of money, food, lodging, guidance, encouragement and companionship. Clearly there has been a commitment to Hope among all of you, and this stand has made my own commitment all the stronger. I thank you again and again. Salaam, shalom, peace.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Good Samaritans, May Day Demonstration, Mutilation for Thieves, and the Walk to Tahrir Square

I heard a story from a friend here in Cairo.

In a very poor neighborhood here, three Salafist Muslim men were riding in a small three-wheeled taxi called a 'tuck-tuck'. The tuck-tuck passed by a Christian woman whose hair was uncovered, and one of the men shouted, 'Atheist!', and grabbed her by the hair. The woman was dragged down the street until a group of  veiled Muslim women held her and pulled her away from the men in the tuck-tuck.

Three Muslim men claiming to know God were, at that moment anyway, the atheists. The Muslim women who rescued the victim, on the other hand, knew the will of God. They were the 'Good Samaritans'. They helped who they saw as a fellow human being. They were able to transcend the tension here between Muslims and Coptic Christians.

As for you Muslims and Coptic Christians who commit acts of violence on one another, quit dragging others into your hell. You can still pull yourselves out of hell by finding God within yourselves, and in everybody else.

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I'm presently in an internet cafe near Tahrir Square, which became world famous with the recent revolution here. I came here to see if there was a May Day demonstration, but saw only two middle-aged men holding flimsy signs in Arabic. A bystander explained that the signs demanded justice for people imprisoned by the current regime, calling for non-violent resistance to free them. I admire these two men, who were being ridiculed by some bystanders, for protesting on their own.

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I met a young man from Cairo recently, a recent law school graduate, who believed not only in the death penalty for those who have committed murder, but in mutilation for those who repeatedly steal. I asked him if stealing included the theft by government officials through corruption, or the theft by deceit that seems to be prevalent here. Who would cut off the hands of those thieves?  I asked him if there was some similar punishment for those who refuse to help those in poverty, which condition, fueled by a sense of hopelessness, creates an incentive to steal. After all, half the population of Egypt lives on 2 US dollars a day. A friend I was with added that dismembering those who steal would hinder, rather than help to create a productive society.  Of course. While our friend conceded that social change was necessary  he also said that social change would take too long.
In the end he was not convinced by our arguments.
He was a really nice guy otherwise. I hope he doesn't get his way.

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Last week I did the walk from where I left off at the outskirts of Cairo to Tahrir Square. I walked with Taqwa, Olfat and Shehab, who were good walking companions and guides. We stopped at a mosque where Taqwa and Olfat prayed, and where Shehab and I took refuge from the heat and traffic. Later, as we approached Tahrir Square I had a conversation with Shehab about the revolution. He conceded that there was some violence on the part of the demonstrators in reaction to the much greater level of violence on the part of Mubarak's people.
"So the demonstrators weren't fully committed to non-violent resistance?"
"They were," he said. "Whatever violence was on the part of the demonstrators was only self-defense. They came to demonstrate peacefully."
"But if they reacted with any sort of violence, they weren't really committed to non-violent resistance."
I explained Martin Luther King's precepts for non-violent resistance: first, to ascertain that there is real injustice, second, to address that injustice through conventional legal channels, third, when that fails, purification, and finally, non-violent resistance.
"An important step in this is purification; the individual's inner preparation not to react with violence in any way."
"Like Gandhi?"
"Like Gandhi."
"Our culture isn't prepared for that," he said.
"Yeah, maybe I'm not prepared for that either. But if I have the opportunity to take part in a planned act of non-violent resistance, I'd better try to purify myself. Otherwise I just become part of an angry, violent mob."
We also talked about the one-sided loss of life that can result from non-violent resistance.
"It's not a quick fix," I said. "Anyone who's committed to non-violent resistance has to be prepared to take a beating over and over. But it's more effective than violent resistance in the long run. Syria began as non-violent resistance, and some 5000 people were killed. Then the rebels took up arms. Now over 60 000 people have been killed. In the long run there is far more death and suffering in violent resistance. And non-violent resistance is more likely to convert your enemies."
I pointed out the building that Mubarak's political party used to be housed in. It is now burnt and abandoned. I asked Shehab what the story was. Some anti-Mubarak people had set fire to the building, but many more had formed a human circle around it, and around the Egyptian museum to protect the buildings. That was truly non-violent resistance.
We also spoke about the situation in Israel and Palestine, and how the IDF knows exactly how to respond to violence, but is afraid of non-violent resistance. A small violent reaction on the part of Palestinians gives the Israeli military the justification it needs to respond with tanks and airstrikes, at least in the eyes of many in the world. Non-violent resistance gives no such justification.
Shehab agreed, but mentioned that maybe I shouldn't refer to Israel in Cairo. The word, 'Israel', seems to be taboo. Better just to say 'Palestine.'
"They're both here to stay," I said. "Trying to delete one or the other, even if only by avoiding any reference to them, helps to perpetuate the conflict there."
Once we'd reached Tahrir Square, there was a small demonstration going on by the socialist party. Shehab had said there was no longer any unity among demonstrators anymore; that every party or interest group acts on its own. The week before there had been a demonstration in Tahrir Square where gunshots had been fired, so my three companions didn't relish the thought of hanging around.
But the demonstration remained peaceful, and I left satisfied that it had been a good day.