Friday, December 21, 2012

Egypt to Israel: Day 1- Jerusalem

I apologize for spelling and grammar errors...iPad typing and an unhelpful browser are only getting the ideas online. For pictures, please visit: Egypt to Israel Day 1- Jerusalem

Last night at 6:00 p.m., 18 people boarded a bus in Ma'adi, hoping to be in Israel in less than 7 hours. Unfortunately, it would be more than 13 long hours in a bus before they saw the country's border.

Military and police rules change regularly in a part of the world where rules are often ignored and countries are often at war. Art, our tour leader and a coworker, anticipated this issue which is why we left Egypt early that evening. By the time we reached the Sinai peninsula, our security guard on the bus was told we were not allowed to cross via normal route. Instead of using the "middle road" to cut across the desert into Israel, we were forced to follow the peninsula's perimeter, adding several hours to our already long trip. This winding road was riddled with police and military checkpoints. At one time, we waited over an hour because we could not proceed without a police escort. Finally, 12 hours later, we pulled into Taba, the Israel/Egypt border. We walked our bags through both country's security and customs and finally arrived in the beautiful country of Israel.

Our guide, Suzanne, gave us each 20 shekels so we could get coffee and pastries at Yellow, a local quick stop. We then headed to the River Jordan, a little spot where some famous dude was baptized a long time ago. We also passed Lot's wife on the way, which I feel is a great rendering of what might happen to you if you don't follow directions the first time.

The River Jordan is neither wide nor deep at Jesus's baptism spot, and you could easily wade across into the country of Jordan. It was strongly discouraged, though, by our guides and by the soldiers with machine guns on each side. Several tour busses from South Africa were there baptizing people into the church. The main pastor gave a short sermon and there was spontaneous song and dance. It was so joyful and perfect, that even in the rain and cold, pilgrims come to be welcomed into the Christian family.

Our bus proceeded to Jericho, which is in Palestinian territory. We ate lunch at an oversized gift shop with an amazing view of the city ruins next door. I decided I would sing a fitting song for each stop in our journey, which is funny now, but your just wait. "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" sounded nice from the rooftop into the city's former glory.

As the bus ascended to Jerusalem, Psalms were read on the bus. The Psalms of ascension, 120-134, were chosen by various travelers and spoken or sung over the microphone. I even got to sing Psalm 121, music composed by my college friends Rachael and Andy.

Jerusalem is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. It feels like a Middle Eastern Europe, with narrow stone streets and ruins and walls protecting the quarters. Our hotel is in the middle of the Old City Jerusalem and we can easily walk to all the quarters (neighborhoods). After settling in, we headed through the Armenian and Jewish quarters to the Western Wall (The Wailing Wall) to experience Shabbat.

As we came upon an overlook we could see the wall and the maze-like protecting walls leading to Palestine. We could hear the mosque's call to prayer and see the dome from the other side and at the same time, heard singing and saw joyous celebrating at the wall on the Israeli side. It was a beautiful, sad melding of harmonies as prayers were sung and boundaries ignited in song.

We went down to the wall to experience the crowd firsthand. There were separate parts of the wall for males and females to pray, sing or gather. I wrote prayers down one piece of paper and placed them folded up into the wall as people have done for so many years. Krista and I shared a prayer before maneuvering our way home I the cold rain with Chris and Justine. After a delicious dinner and a hot shower, we are ready for bed.

I will make many references to faith here, and many jokes and just as many frustrations. Some who knew me a while back may not be surprised that I'm enjoying such intensely religious experience. Others may be turned off by my jaded disbelief of most religious practice. But what I'm finding more and more, after living in a Muslim country and visiting this wonderful place, is that what is beautiful about religion and faith is not whether or not it is true. It does not particularly matter if I believe it fully, just that others do and that this is meaningful to them and me in some way. I cannot wait to discern this experiences for the next 9 days.

Friday, December 14, 2012

"...I Didn't Do Camping"


I didn't do camping. “In my previous life…” I begin my sentences. “…I hated the sun,” “…I never exercised,” “…I kept my apartment cold and dark,” “…I disliked the outdoors,” and “…I didn't do camping.” One time my father suggested a family camping trip. My mother and I shared a sarcastic glance and she replied, “Sure! Where’s the nearest Hilton?”

When I was 13, I saw the ocean for the first time. And given that I had waited thirteen years for that moment, The Great Barrier Reef provided quite the pay-off. As camping experiences go, the Sahara Desert felt like a similar reward. In a way, it was like reliving my first ocean sighting. The same overwhelming vastness, the same humbling sense of smallness, the same fascinating calmness, where, for a moment, it could have been any point in history that I was standing in that spot, looking at that beauty. A desert today, an ocean millions of years ago.

On our second night, I laid on the sand, alone, under the stars. I have never seen so many stars, and I could not decide if they proved or denied the existence of God. Was I experiencing a justified religious connection or intense scientific evidence? Or was it some combination of the two? But the mesmerizing confusion of it all was comforting, because I felt sure of one thing: I am a different person now than I was four months ago. I am healthier, more daring, and deeply invested in new experiences. I dive in the Red Sea and sand-board along the dunes of the Sahara. And it doesn’t bother me that I haven’t had a shower in two days.

As my patience is tested, my feminism is diminished, my teaching is weathered, and my faith is confused, I have been strengthened in a type of faith that has been so difficult for me in the past—a faith that I can and will be a better, healthier person tomorrow than I was yesterday.

And I laid in the desert, considering my blessings…wondering what new, amazing first-time awaits me next.
This is how we slept each night. Bedouin-style camping with our amazing bedouin guides.
The white desert almost looks like snow drifts.

Climbing a cliff in the black desert.
Softest sand we ever felt!
Our transportation!
The "new" me. :-)
Rabbit rock formation. Kill the bunny!
This is Egypt.
For more desert pictures, Click Here.

Thanks to Ahmed, our amazing guide. http://www.safari-oasis.com/