lost in the sand
I went to Egypt looking for adventure. I got far more than what I bargained for…
A group of 25 something friends from all around the globe, all eager to find the truth, we headed into the desert on a moonless night to gaze at the stars and dwell on the mysteries of Egypt. It was magical to say the least, until a few hours later someone looked around and we had a feeling one of our friends was missing. We called her name into the pitch darkness but nothing returned other than the eerie stillness of the desert night. It was the kind of darkness where you could not see your own hand, let alone another person lost in the sand. We desperately came up with a plan to separate into groups of 2 and walk around looking and feeling for our friend. We spent about an hour of very high emotional distress and thoughts going all over the place and expectations of the worst possible. We were each running the risk of getting lost ourselves, if not for a far away light that we left as a marker and a place to meet at the end of our search. Our local friend and guide who was with us walked finally to the nearest road and managed to call the hotel in Cairo only to discover that our friend was showered and in bed after having been lost, finding the road and hitchhiking to the hotel while we were busy searching for her.
That night, people of different religions, backgrounds, nationalities and ages worked together while faced with a crisis, an Arab with a German, a christian with a jew, a European with an American, all towards one purpose, the safety of another human being. Amazing how a real life situation can cause all the ‘stuff’ that does not belong to being human, to be shed away, dropped for the sake of our shared humanity. A great lesson was learned by all that night, as the deserts of the planet can do that to us.
At about age 5 or 6, my sister and I used to love playing house games with the neighborhood children in our village. We had an unfinished floor in our home that was still cement walls and bricks and we created our own pretend little world there. We had a basket tied to a rope from the kitchen window on the top floor and we snuck food ingredients down in it to create our own breads, coffee and other pretty disgusting recipes that we ate with total pride. We also found there an old discarded yellow closet that we declared to be our very own church. We acquired all sorts of iconic pictures, crosses and religious signs and hung them inside the walls of the yellow closet. We would go inside it with complete reverence and pray daily for miracles. One day a miracle finally happened. We heard a big bang on the walls of our little yellow church that made it vibrate miraculously! We ran yelling in awe and in great fear with shaking knees declaring our religious status and direct connection to all that is holy. It was only a couple of years later that our neighbor Nabiha, the very same one who offered us the yummy bread from her ‘saj’, gigglingly confessed to have thrown rocks at us to make believers out of us.
photo taken: My daughter visiting a favorite church or ours in the mountain in Lebanon.
veiled~ muslim girl in Tripoli
In a geographically small country like Lebanon, people of different religions live side by side. It is so difficult to explain how religions, tradition, cultural norms, rules, and social order organize themselves there. Within each religion are sects, groups, different belief systems, different dress codes and different tolerances.
Having been born to a christian family, the only veils I saw in my village were worn by older aunts and grandmothers who wore them in the church out of respect or from self imposed reverence. With some of our muslim neighbors, the veil was imposed on girls as they reached puberty and it was mandatory.
The veil has become a very hot global issue in the last decade and attached to it is the idea of freedom of choice or the lack of, feminism or living in the shadow of men, a religious statement or a political one and it goes on even to the courts of Europe that had to deal with the issue outside of the muslim world.
The veil originally was only worn by the wives of the prophet Mohammed, and was only much later introduced as a symbol of conformity to a strict religious belief.
veils are not work by muslim girls until puberty
valley of the saints
“Kadisha”, the name given to this valley and to the river that runs in its belly. Kadisha is ancient Aramaic for ‘holy’. This gorge has been used for burials and shelter as far back as the Paleolithic time. In its walls are thousands of caves that house monasteries, churches, thousands of meters high up in the cliffs and extremely difficult to reach. These served as a place of hiding for early Christian communities like the Jacobites, Melchites, Maronites, Armenians, Nestorians and Ethiopans who were escaping campaigns aiming to persecute and destroy them in the 13th Century by the Mameluks and other Sultans. Later it even became a place of meditation to the Sufis, historians, artists and clergy who settled in the valley. On its shoulders lies the village of Gibran Khalil Gibran.
One of my favorite churches as a child was a in the middle of a cliff facing our village in the valley and I remember the excitement every time a pilgrimage was planned to the church with family members and friends. The journey involved a very long walk down one side of the valley, pausing to have a meal at the cold fresh river to then hike up the other side on a tiny, steep, red soil track with the occasional olive tree, all the way up to the church, now a monastery. We all believed as children that the church was a place of miracles and we swore to seeing lights, visions and all sorts of magical things along the way.
The valley was and still is an enchanting memory that has a special place in the archives of my heart. I try to pass this to my daughter by taking her there whenever we can and telling her stories of what was, hoping that the spirit of the holy valley will choose to live with her too.
the face of history
With history lives mystery, the unknown, the unexplained, the unanswered questions, the missing pieces of the puzzle, and it is fascinating to an inquisitive mind and to a fertile imagination. We are drawn magnetically to ancient sites, even as small children, we dream about the builders of the pyramids and picture them walking sideways as they do on the walls of hieroglyphs in Giza, we daydream about what it would be like to live as a Japanese Samurai, or to have been a soldier in the times of ancient Rome…
It was compelling for me to stand in front of the remaining facade of the ruins of St Paul’s cathedral in Macau, built in the 16th century by exiled Japanese Christians, commissioned by the Jesuits and destroyed almost completely by a fire during the typhoon of 1835. I wondered who walked through these great doors, what happened inside the imposing cathedral walls and did they ever foresee the rising of the modern casinos and buildings that are swallowing Macau today?