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

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.