Sunday, January 22, 2012

Day 115: The Edge of Tranquility

Visiting the ancient monasteries of Wadi Natrum has been the sought calm after the storm - the fact that it's the placename for the sodium's symbol of Na is just a passing bonus. Both the approach to and continuance from Alexandria have been noisy and chaotic un-pilgrimy settings. I seek tranquility and nature during my daily walks; not much of it is to be found within the over-populated delta. Within the 9th century stone walls of the 4th century hermitages and monastaries where the Coptic monks carved little cells into the rock... finally, peacefulness. Ahhhh.

The Coptics, lacking the concept of pilgrimage in their culture, have been wonderful to me. More than cordially listening to my pilgrim tales, there has been a lot of knowledgeable referencing to biblical citations and historical records making for lively discussions. Though many have urged me repeatedly to stay for days or weeks - even in the ancient monasteries of men that otherwise forbid women within the walls overnight... exception made for a pilgrim =) - I'm residing for a few days in the strangely serene noisy carved-in-a-quarry monkless modern monastery of Saint Samaan the Shoemaker while the little team of workers here help me prepare for the next stage of the adventure.

In order to arrive next at the first ever Christian monastery, that of St Anthony of the Desert, I must cross the desert. (Truthfully, I could take a significantly longer route alongside a major highway along the right bank of the Nile, but I prefer the shorter and quieter approach through the Egypt's Eastern Desert.) I've calculated 5 days, perhaps 6 on a route with no water and thereby no towns. A few Bedoin families, I'm told, but the roving type who live in tents and therefore not marked on the map. I'm looking forward to this stage and have been from the time I left Santiago. I agree with the advice of the cautious Coptics that walking out of Cairo will not only be urbanly unpleasant but rather dangerous through the suburbs on the fringe. I'll accept a ride therefore to the edge of tranquility - not fully into it out into the desert, just to the edge so that I can enjoy all of the serenity on foot.

Carrying water is a necessity; food advisable, though who eats much when they have to carry it? Earlier, I thought about using a donkey for this stage but have leaned against it lately. I know nothin' 'bout donkey husbandry, and for just a short duration, I think it may be more effort than it's worth. I'll either bond with the wee animal and not want to part with it or resent it and not want to endure it. The die would be cast. A camel's out - they prefer being part of a train rather than a lone beast of burden. So I'm having the boys fabricate a little sled of my design that I can leash to my hipbelt and tug across the sand. Very simple to anyone who was a four-year-old in the snow but oddly exotic here. They're all a-tither about the idea of a woman venturing off into the desert but they're all in awe that I've walked here from Spain, so this 150ish kilometers of effort pales in comparison. Lots of support, lots of companionship in this chaos that is very smoggy Cairo.

Please note that there will be no opportunity for me to update the website, so my faithful e-visitors, don't get your undies in a knot if a few weeks pass without a new post. I'll try at the earliest opportunity, really. The monks at the monastery are aware of my plan (no one, it seems, would consider walking there from here). Everything's fine fine fine! =)


ksam said... untwisted the knickers..and will simply light a candle...every day till we hear from you!

Sheila Phelan Wright said...

dither and awe? We're all in a dither and awe, ourselves, about your pilgrimage. Trust you that everything is ok.Be thinking of you and your sled.

Someday I'll be There - Mina said...

Simply wow! This is seriously amazing! I swear it if I had the time I would have joined you! But please be careful with the Bedouins you meet. Most of them would be nice and hospitable but not all of them :)

OHMV said...

I hope you have enough sun-screen, or at least a very wide brimmed hat. If you can get through New Mexico, you can make it anywhere! God bless you and please pray for me! from Sylvia Werner