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

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Desert Highway from Ismailia to Cairo

I'm on my way again down the desert highway from Ismailia to Cairo. It's hot, but not as hot as the south of France was last summer, so I am a bit fooled by the sun.  By the next day I am trying to cover my arms and face to keep from getting any more sunburned.
I am walking on the shoulder of the highway against traffic, and I frequently have to move onto the desert sand as the shoulder is often used as a lane. I also have to be careful of cars coming up from behind, as the shoulder is also sometimes used as a lane to drive against the flow of traffic. There are no rules here.
Up ahead I see a group of soldiers trying to wave someone down. Their jeep has broken down . Two cars pull over at the same time to help them, and sideswipe each other. They careen a bit, both cars out of control, and my eyes widen as I am in their path. I jump off of the road, just in case, but I am a good 20 meters away from where the cars come to a stop. The car owners exit their vehicles and yell and scream at each other while the soldiers run to them. I saunter past the scene, turn back when I see a fight is about to break out, then continue again down the highway. The soldiers are doing a good job of holding back the two drivers without me.

After camping in an olive grove by the highway, my plan of the day is to cover 25 or 30 kilometers, find a place to get food and water, to recharge my phone battery, and to find tea. Later in the day, I find some shade in an orchard. When I get to my tree, I notice there are people in the shade of many of the trees, sleeping, smoking, chatting, and drinking tea from a little roadside tea stand. I've only been sitting for a few seconds when a kid yells from a neighboring tree. I yell back. Then the man he is with beckons me over. I move my bags to the blanket they're sitting on. The man, Mohammed, offers tea, and I accept. He sends the kid to fetch it. Mohammed's friend comes over, and we try to communicate. I manage to communicate that I am walking for peace to Cairo. They're happy to hear it and give me their phone numbers, and I give them mine.

Later in the day I finally find a 'supermarket' at the end of a long line of factories, which, other than army bases, are the only buildings out here on this stretch of desert highway.  The supermarket is dusty, and nearly empty. Its two workers are sleepily sitting on the steps, swatting flies. I've already been given water from a guy on a motorbike, and from a soldier who filled my bottle from an earthen jar, but I'm empty again so I buy more. I also buy a can of beans, a little cake, and what I think is a bag of peanuts but is a bag of dried beans. (The next day I'll give this to a woman rummaging through the rubbish along the highway.) I find an outlet to recharge the battery of my phone, and as I wait I buy some potato chips to eat as there isn't much else in this supermarket. I find a spot of shade and sit in the dust with my back to the wall, eating potato chips on a desert highway. It isn't what I had imagined it would be.

By the end of the day I'm camped in the desert sand. Looking in one direction, it's endless North African desert, but it's not the desert camping that tourists sign up for. There's also a factory a kilometer away, and the highway just half a kilometer away. I'm hoping for a call from Selda, but instead get a call from Mohammed, the man in the orchard who'd invited me for tea.
"Ken!" he says.
Mohammed then chats away in Arabic for a few seconds.
"I don't understand!"
"Goodbye!" shouts Mohammed.
Just before I fall asleep I hear footsteps approaching the tent. The footsteps slow down, then speed up, then break into a run. No telling who could be in that tent in the desert!

 The next morning I walk past more factories with roadside food stands. The food stands are filthy, but so am I, and I'm hungry. In any case, 'filthy' doesn't bother me.  I stop at two of them, having breakfast twice. I eat:  lots of pita bread, something like refried beans, lettuce and tomato, onions, hard boiled egg and fries along with tea. I take my shoes off and sit on a blanket with factory workers, who are all very friendly. The food is good, and I feel better. The two breakfasts together cost me something like one euro.
Later in the day, Arda calls. He's been calling regularly since I left Ismailia to know exactly where I am on the highway, and to make sure I'm all right. But today he calls because I'm near his factory, in 10th of Ramadan City. He picks me up off the highway to take me to lunch, then to a machine shop where he's doing business. While there I get some time on the internet to communicate with friends and my extended family from Montana to Iran. Then Arda drops me off where he picked me up. It's nice to have Arda looking after me.
That night I'm camped again in a desert olive grove, but the trees don't seem to be doing very well here. Selda calls all the way from Turkey. It's nice to have Selda looking after me too.

The next day the plan is to get to Heliopolis, a part of Cairo not far from the airport to stay with a Couchsurfing host there. As I get to the outskirts of the city I walk through chaotic markets set up under the highway. Then I find the internet cafe where I get Inge's heartwrenching message about Sofia , and the world stops turning.  

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