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Thursday, June 30, 2016

In Cairo, soaking up the simple pleasures and the wild, beautiful Sinai Desert - The Washington Post


https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/in-cairo-soaking-up-the-simple-pleasures/2016/06/29/8a17ce46-3a3b-11e6-8f7c-d4c723a2becb_story.html

In Cairo, soaking up the simple pleasures and the wild, beautiful Sinai Desert

Our readers share tales of their ramblings around the world.

Who: Regina Goetze Roman of Alexandria.

Where, when, why: For many years, I organized and guided groups for pilgrimages to Egypt, especially Cairo and the South Sinai. My last group was in 2010, and I had not been back since then. I had missed the wild and beautiful landscape of the Sinai Desert, the living history of Cairo and, most of all, the genuine hospitality of the Egyptian people. Although I went for only eight days, I could have easily stayed longer.

Highlights and high points: The sight that always takes my breath away is sunrise from the peak of Mount Sinai, the “Mountain of Moses.” As I began the 3 a.m. ascent with my guide, Khalid, I was surprised that we were the only ones on the trail. Usually, there are thousands of tourists from around the world making the climb. Without the other flashlights lighting the way, I was mesmerized by the brilliance of the Milky Way. There was almost enough light to guide us.

About three quarters of the way up, we stopped at a Bedouin hut for a cup of hot mint tea to regain a bit of stamina before the final push up 750 irregular stone steps. There were only a few other tourists at the peak, but I could sense the collective thrill of awe and wonder when the first, orange glow hit the rounded mountain tops.

At the base of the mountain is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of St. Catherine’s Monastery, built in the 6th century. I stayed at the monastery, which has simple, but comfortable accommodations and meals for guests.

Cultural connection or disconnect: The greatest connection was the people I met, whether it was in the lively Khan el-Khalili bazaar in Cairo or the quiet desert with the Bedouin children. In the village of St. Catherine, I met Nadia, who designs and makes her own beaded bags. In the midst of buying several gifts for friends and drinking tea, she showed me her 10-year-old son’s English notebook. With her broken English and my “universal” language of using gestures, we talked about the joys and frustrations of being a mother and showed each other photos of our children. We laughed, hugged and exchanged gifts — a small beaded bag and a tube of Nivea cream.

Biggest laugh or cry: I delivered some sample tubes of toothpaste and toothbrushes to the children in the south Sinai. When I asked to take a photo of them with the toothbrushes, they held up the lollipops I also had given them. Their big, toothy grins let me know they were anxious to eat their sweets — the toothbrushes would have to wait!

How unexpected: What captured my attention is the joy of the Bedouin children of the Sinai. While Rabia, my host, was visiting with his friends and conversing in Arabic, I sat and watched the children play. They had no toys, just the sand and stones around them, and yet they played tic-tac-toe, touch tag and other games. I played “guess which hand the stone is in” with two of the 8-year-old girls. I made funny faces or pretended to throw the stone away. Each time, they laughed, giggled, hugged one another and found pleasure in the simplest games.

Fondest memento or memory: I loved being in the desert — disconnected from all electronics, wearing no watch and having no traditional sources of entertainment. I felt joy in conversations and storytelling, watching the campfire glow and seeing the Milky Way clearly. The silence of the desert was refreshing and the stillness was nourishing to my soul. Simple food tasted delicious and water never tasted so good. I brought back the desire to simplify my life and find joy in even the smallest of gifts. Rumi, the 13th-century Sufi poet, wrote that journeys bring power and love back into us. That it did, indeed!

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