Thursday, October 20, 2016

Walking for Peace Photo-story 25 (Arriving in Jerusalem)

On a rainy December 24, 2002, we arrived at the old city walls of Jerusalem, bringing to an end our unforgettable 5000-kilometre walk for peace. 

As with all great journeys, it was never about the destination but the way there; and that way was marvelous, revealing many truths and wisdoms, and leaving us with profound questions to ponder. 

On that magical night, we would learn that the blockade on Bethlehem was lifted, and so we joined the multitudes of pilgrims from around the world celebrating Christmas there. 

Walking for Peace Photo-story 24 (Transit through Lebanon)

We entered Lebanon, country of my origins, about to celebrate one year of walking. We stayed in the home of my family, where it was tempting to give in to their pleas to stay longer and celebrate the upcoming Christmas holidays with them. 

But we continued, following the beautiful Lebanese coastline, passing historically-drenched cities such as Byblos (home of the original alphabet) and infamous ones such as Beirut, rising as a cosmopolitan phoenix after being ravaged by 25 years of civil war. 

The further south we traveled, however, the more anxious we began to feel, passing ever-increasing numbers of posters from Hezbollah calling for armed struggle. The angry, mistrustful looks we received as we walked past only added to our tension, making me question even more strongly this message of peace I had been carrying and if it was - in this centuries-old land of conflict and bloodshed - truly naïve. How could I possibly reconcile their outer reality with our message of inner peace?
We were relieved to finally arrive at the Lebanese-Israeli border, and what would be our last crossing; but it was not to be. The border was physically closed with landmines and barbed wire. The officials at the border were extremely helpful, giving us the names of individuals working at the UN and our home embassies who could help us receive the permission we needed to cross. They even provided us with a lift back to the nearest city, and asked us to pray for them in Jerusalem, a place most will never see. 

Our efforts in the end were in vain, and after fifteen days of frustrating attempts, we had to make a difficult decision: find other ways of walking into Israel and delay by possible months our arrival in Jerusalem; or simply take a plane, an option which made us feel as if we were betraying the Way of Peace.

Walking for Peace Photo-story 23 (Crossing into Syria)

Our footsteps were now clearly directed south, as we glimpsed Jerusalem in the distance - a mere 700 kilometres away. We had already walked over 4,000 kilometres, and to us, it felt as if we were in the home stretch. We walked with purpose, closing the gap to our destination. 

In those last days in Turkey, away from the tourist areas, we experienced the magnificent heart and generosity of the Turkish people. I was glad to be leaving on that note, after what was an arduous and emotionally draining four-month trek through the country. 

My trepidation in entering Syria, however, surprised me. I was after all in the Arab world, in a culture and language that I knew well; but the terrible stories that I had heard growing up about the hard-handedness of the regime now haunted my memories. It also didn’t help getting persistent warnings the closer that we got to the Syrian border.

The Syrian hospitality, however, was beyond compare, and took us by surprise, with daily invitations to meals and places to stay from people who didn’t even ask why we were walking but who wanted to welcome the two strangers in their land. Our transit through Syria was brief, but most memorable. 

In this collage, you see our signs in Turkish and Arabic, and us enjoying the typical Arab “meze” foods and the traditional “argileh” or water pipe.

Walking for Peace Photo-story 22 (Sanli Urfa, Land of Prophets)

Şanli Urfa, City of Prophets
 “From our hotel room, we had an unobstructed view of Halil-ul-Ruhman, the city’s holiest site and destination of all pilgrims. It was a lush oasis of gardens and ponds, accentuated by two beautiful mosques; one venerating the cave where the prophet Abraham was allegedly born, the other the stuff of legend. 

It was told that the ruling pagan King Nemrud ordered Abraham to renounce his God, but when he wouldn’t, the King commanded that Abraham be catapulted into a raging fire at the bottom of a tall cliff. In the spot where Abraham landed, the fire was transformed into water, and the firewood into fish. A mosque was built on that site. The fish are considered sacred, and the waters holy. It is here that pilgrims come to be renewed, and where we intended to join them.” (Excerpt taken from our book “Walking for Peace, an inner journey”.)

Walking for Peace Photo-story 21 (Physically and Emotionally Depleted in Turkey)

Our first decision in Turkey was to walk along the coastline, rather than cut through the centre of the country, as we learned that this more tourist-oriented area would offer greater possibilities for shelter. 

The July heat was making air conditioning a necessity. We were now waking at 4:00am to begin a day's walk that would hopefully end before 10:00am, when the heat would become unbearable. Skin rashes caused by sweat, and repeated bouts of diarrhea plagued us and slowed us down at a time when we should have been making faster progress. 

These challenging walking conditions were made more so by nagging arguments that now erupted between Alberto and I. I witnessed my once-confident partner become all too-human, as insecurities I never would have suspected in him, surfaced. They depleted us emotionally, while the heat depleted us physically. 

The Walk took a back seat to the struggles of two ordinary individuals trying to hold on to their integrity on all levels.

Walking for Peace Photo-story 20 (Romance in Turkey)

Our beginnings in Turkey augured well, with our sublime romance continuing to blossom in ways unexpected. 

In this photo, we are forced to make a short ferry crossing; and if you look closely at our hands, you will see two silver objects, purchased from a silversmith in an open-air Turkish bazaar, that would symbolize the union that, with each passing day, appeared to be more permanent.

Walking for Peace Photo-story 19 (Love flourishes in Greece)

Amigos, amici, priateli, fíloi, miqtë… these were the many ways in which we learned to say the word “friends”. 

From the very beginning, no one would believe that Alberto and I were merely friends, and so we found ourselves having to explain our relationship more often than we would have liked. 

I saw him as my walking companion – an annoying one sometimes – and like a brother. I am certain that he saw me as his annoying sister. We had our disagreements and arguments, all of which we committed to resolving because, after all, we were walking for peace. 

After an especially hurtful argument in Macedonia, the veil of appearances finally lifted, and each could see the other as they truly were. Perhaps it was Greece in springtime, but the feelings between us would deepen, and evolve into a more intimate, romantic relationship, five months from the start of our journey together.

This picture was taken in Greece, where we were assured that people could understand English.