I am on the balcony of my room in the 4-star Mercure Hotel, overlooking a lake that links two parts of the Suez Canal. Below is an inviting swimming pool flanked by palm trees. In the distance, ships are passing northbound through the canal. I’ve had a long, hot shower to wash off the sweat and dust accumulated after my three day walk from Port Said. I feel a bit out of place, and I’m wondering whether I should have insisted on lesser accommodation when Sherio put me up here. Then I stretch out on the bed and decide to take advantage of a little luxury and privacy. Sherio has said he’ll return later to take me out somewhere, and I’m also waiting for a call from someone named Arda. It’s all a bit of a mystery to me, how I came to find myself in this hotel when I thought I’d be passing through Ismailia and sleeping in my tent again. But Selda has managed to arrange something for me from her home in Ankara. She has become like family for me, and I lie on the bed thinking about how grateful I am for her help.
Earlier in the day, as I approached Ismailia, I’d been in touch with Sherio after Arda had given me his number. I had no idea who either of these guys were. Sherio phoned me a few times to monitor my progress, then once I’d gotten into Ismailia, he picked me up in his car. He is an Egyptian lawyer, but he wanted to talk about the Blues and Rock and Roll and Nietzsche. He spoke a bit about politics, and about how he wanted to help me or anyone else walking for peace. He seemed far too kind to be a lawyer. Meanwhile, I still didn’t know what had been arranged.
“Will I have a place to stay here?”
“Yes, a nice place to stay,” he said.
Now in this nice place, Arda called to say he was on his way. I was to meet him in the lobby. I would recognize him because of his casual clothing and long hair.
Arda, as it turns out, is a Turkish businessman, though he in no way resembles one. He takes me to a restaurant for a Turkish kebab in his very modest, well used car. While we’re eating (and I’m doing most of the eating) he explains that the restaurant was almost burned down during the Arab Spring uprising.
“One guy had it in his head to burn the restaurant, so everybody else followed.”
I discover from Arda that he has a plastics factory near Cairo. His factory produces, among other things, plastic pieces for the batteries that power the little three wheeled taxis now prevalent in Egypt.
After dinner he takes me to a café where we smoke shisha pipes and have a long conversation about everything from politics to Egyptian versus Turkish culture to the ways he might be able to help me to deliver one of my petitions. He has a lot of connections.
He explains to me that everything belongs to God, and this is why he’s happy to help me out. Because he dresses as simply as I do, and drives a shabby old car, and lives with and takes care of his father, and comes across without the slightest trace of arrogance (though possessing a keen sense of business savvy), I realize Arda is a giver, not a taker. I believe Arda must give away most of what he makes from his factory.
The next day I check out of the Mercure despite Sherio’s having deposited enough money to keep me there another night. Arda says he’ll help me find someplace else to stay. He arrives in the early afternoon to pick me up for a car trip to Cairo. This gives me a chance to have a look at the desert highway I’ll be crossing. We meet two Turkish friends of his, who host us for lunch, then the four of us go into the center of Cairo for coffee or tea before taking a night boat ride on the Nile. On the way, Arda points out the burned building that had been Mubarak’s party headquarters.
On our dhow on the Nile, powered by a primitive lateen sail, I have a hard time believing I am here. ‘Down to Egypt’ has become reality, not just some distant, unattainable fantasy. I think about a tune I’d made up in the first months of the walk; a tune a few people have heard me sing over the months, whether they liked it or not. Of course, the written word is less invasive than music can be, so the reader may skip over the lyrics to this little tune. However, it does explain my peculiar Quaker perspective for making this 18 month journey...
I was sittin on a mountain, just lookin at the sky,
When God came down from heaven, and He looked me in the eye.
He said, “Time you started walkin, headin to the East,
Time you started walkin, and thinkin ‘bout makin peace.”
“Get on down to Egypt… now get on down to Egypt!”
I said, “Lordy, can’t it wait, just a little while,
Before I go to Egypt, and to the River Nile,
I got myself a wife, I got a daughter too,
We got ourselves a home, and a garden we just grew.”
“Get on down to Egypt… now get on down to Egypt!
“Lord, you bore the house of Jacob, on eagle’s wings,
You brought ‘em out of Egypt, with all of their things,
Now I’m walkin down to Egypt, when Moses walked away,
Lord, let me understand just what you’re tryin to say!”
“Get on down to Egypt… now get on down to Egypt!”
“Lord, I don’t want to leave it, leave it all behind,
And goin down to Egypt I don’t know what I will find.”
“It’s time you started walkin, headin to the east,
It’s time you started walkin, and thinkin ‘bout makin peace!”
“Get on down to Egypt… get on down to Egypt…”
So now I’m on the Nile and the wife and home and garden are gone, (Linda and I friends though) my dear daughter Olivia is in America (working, studying too hard), I’ve left it all behind (everything I own in my backpack), I’ve thought a lot about making peace (and I’m still not sure how to go about doing it), I’m in Egypt, having walked east (and every other direction), and here I am but I still don’t know what I’ll find.
Back in Spain, where I came up with the words to this song after I’d got a harmonica, I never really thought I’d make it here. Egypt? Was I nuts? But here I am.
That night back in Ismailia I meet some of Arda’s Egyptian friends, one of whom is Hishiim. Hishiim is an outspoken, but very friendly man who gives me lots of advice. He tells me to contact him if I ever need anything in Ismailia, as he has all the right connections. Arda then finds me a place to stay that night. I never do meet Sherio again.
The next morning I start walking down the desert highway towards Cairo.