(Part 2 from Steve’s time from Cairo below:)
Nazereth, Bethlehem, Egypt, Gulf of Aqaba 2008:
What an amazing year!
The Christmas cards pile through the door. Nazereth, Belthlehem, Jerusalem, Egypt.. “Yep been there, done that”… could easily be the reaction! To have walked in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary does however add depth to the days ahead. For those who are interested, click on the links below and see how new paths are being opened up through the journey we have taken. Nice to know that we are ahead of the BBC!
Below is Paul’s report from the second of the two weeks – the week that turned our faces east again after finding incredible grace in the global gateway of Cairo. Do take a read; it makes enjoyable reading.
Paul Wood writes:
Cairo to the Gulf of Aqaba, 4-10 Dec., 2008
Team: Chris Swan, Hannah Swan, Steve Hallett, Steve Lowton, Nancy Mina, Paul Wood, Penguin and Monkey.
Our last week’s walking this year was unique in many ways. After the climax of reaching the Nile a few days earlier, we turned our faces east towards Arabia and headed out on the long desert motorway from Cairo to the city of Suez. With just one day’s walking done, the trusted rhythm and expected timing of our journey was suddenly taken out of our control. Given security restrictions in Egypt it was a miracle that we had walked unhindered all the way across North Sinai and into Cairo, but at the end of that day I was hauled off the road by a waiting police patrol.
“Where are you going?” the very large and self-important chief policeman asked (In Egypt important people are always large). With the sun going down and with absolutely nothing for 60km ahead there were not really any convincing answers. I just needed a friendly support car to come and claim me before my captors decided I was lost, or alien, and needed alternative accommodation.
“My friends are just coming in the car”, I explained, “I’ll call them…” I reached into my pocket for the mobile phone we agree to always carry with us when walking. No phone! Only the plastic monkey I had bought at MacDonalds a few days before, along with a plastic penguin I gave to Steve. My credibility took a downturn, but innate Egyptian hospitality and humour was on my side and I persuaded them to let me wait by the road. Eventually I was picked up…and Monkey was reunited with Penguin.
Not wanting to give up too easily, the next day we thought we’d try again a bit further on, but the police must have been following us. As Chris and Hannah got out of the car for the first stint of the day, an all too familiar blue truck pulled up in front of us.
“I think we saw you yesterday…”
We got a second yellow card – and were not released until we promised not to walk on motorways again.
“It’s not safe, there are no good people here, you can walk inside city limits.”
Frustrated? Well, at first, but over the next twenty-four hours we realised we were being caught up in a dramatic Passover narrative. Even the Egyptian police were only actors grafted in to play the part of Pharaoh’s pursuing chariots and horsemen. At dawn the following morning the great sacrifice that marks the climax of the Islamic pilgrimage season took place; the Eid el Adhar; the ritual slaughtering of sheep and cattle to commemorate the deliverance of Ishmael.
In our Suez hotel we woke to massed chanting of “Allah-ul-Akbar, Allah-ul-Akbar” that continued for an hour and rose to fevered intensity. After breakfast we walked out of Suez through streets running with blood, bloody hand-prints on doors and cars, blood-smeared faces. We headed for the tunnel that would take us under the Suez canal, through the sea on dry land, out of Egypt and into Sinai. At the edge of the city a police truck put in an appearance, we hurried into the car and drove the last few km of our exodus.
And in case you were wondering, that’s why monkey and penguin joined the team; to help our heads and hearts through the toxic religious carnage. A tiny band of prayer-walkers cannot take on things so dark and so heavy by matching intensity for intensity. It does your head in. We can only run to the finished work of Jesus, rediscover child-likeness, get our muddled adult heads up into the heavenly play-room.
Out in Sinai you realise you are in Egypt only by name. In every other respect this is Arabia, and, banned from walking, we were there with spare days. The vast and dreadful wilderness is incredibly beautiful in places, but offers zero accommodation, so we headed over to the Aqaba coast.
In Dahab we gazed through the early morning haze at the arid mountains of Saudi Arabia, snorkelled in warm coral sea and bought handmade jewellery from young Bedouin girls. Dahab was once a Bedouin town, commandeered by Egyptians who have turned it into an artificial hedonistic paradise to milk the tourists who flock there to dive the Red Sea’s renowned coral reefs. A paradise with Jesus shut out, and it has a darker side, as a resort built on three converging sea serpents. But it’s name means ‘gold’ and unexplained money turned up in pockets – a hint of gifting to be unlocked perhaps.
If Arabia is a Laodicean region then we found ourselves appropriately on the doorstep, knocking, waiting, learning. Turning back from an early morning walk along the beach I glanced at the time, it was 07:07. Meditating on the seventh of seven letters, we counted this was also Steve’s 14th walking trip out of the UK. It was also the adoption day for Zhen, Steve’s Chinese daughter, marking the beginnning of her 7th year in his family. On the seventh day God rested from his labours.
So after a couple of day’s rest we returned home, leaving our journey plans messed up, accelerated, and now safely beyond the limit of our capability.
Back to Steve
Have a great Christmas everyone.
Thanks hugely for all the interest, prayer and care.
Maranatha.. come quickly Jesus.