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.