As I began my 3,000-stair descent down Mount Sinai I was a bit uneasy. No one else could be found on my route and I wondered if I were suddenly lost amidst the handful of shriveled shrubs, massive boulders, and sands far beyond counting which covered the Egyptian Peninsula. I could not be too lost though, right? I was on Mount Sinai, God was surely here at least. I hoped.
As I continued my quick pace down the stones and across the sand I heard a voice from somewhere behind and above me. A Bedouin man was calling out to me. So startled I didn’t even really think about the fact that he was speaking English. At this point I admit I was a little scared. I was by myself and not sure of the cultural dynamic between Bedouin men and foreign women. I finally understood he was asking if I had seen any of the people from the Indonesian group I had spoken with earlier walking in front of me because they seemed to have gotten separated from their leader. I informed him I had not and went on my way. Only five or so minutes later the same man was running up behind me. Really on guard now I kept up my pace and did not even look at him. But, then he asked me where my group was, knowing it was strange for me to be there alone. I told him I had stayed at the top of the mountain after them to enjoy some time alone and now was very eager to meet up with them again.
Musa, as I learned was his name, then asked if I would like any help down the mountain? Hesitant, but more concerned about my time constraint I inquired if he could help me get down any faster? He assured me he could since he had traveled up and down these rocks multiple times a day for many, many years of his life. I agreed. He put out his hand, I handed him mine and off we went. His pace far faster than mine I soon became grateful he had appeared. Down, down, down we went, his trackless-rubber-sandaled-feet knowing just where to step. It was like dancing. I just had to relax and trust my leader. His guidance not only quickened my pace but kept me from stopping to take pictures, something I was all to likely to get distracted doing and the last thing I needed to get caught up in on my tight schedule.
My mind was a blur with a swarm of thoughts. I asked myself, “Is he safe? Was this wise?” “Yes, yes, he’s safe,” I confirmed for myself, “He has been sincere, kind, and helpful.” Then I thought, “Is he expecting a tip?” “Yeah, I’ll give a tip,” I determined, “That seems appropriate. It is cultural.” Once I got over my worry I was able to enjoy the irony and awesomeness in the fact that I, Katherine, was now being led down Mount Sinai to St. Catherine’s by Musa—Moses. I just smiled at God.
After making great progress, but with still a ways to go Musa stopped, turned to me and asked if I would be okay making it down the rest of the way by myself because he had somewhere to be. Yes, surely I was fine. Then, before I could even ask if I could offer him any gratuity he whisked back around, down the mountain and out of sight. What a surprise. It was an encounter I had not expected at all and ended far differently than I envisioned. I was so astonished and so refreshed! He truly only wanted to be helpful.
I came to learn Musa’s character was simply a reflection of the Bedouin culture. They are known to be a hospitable people. I was later informed that during the recent crimes against the Christians in Cairo the monks at Saint Catherine’s were concerned about their own safety and uncertain if they too would be made victims of such violent persecution. I was so moved to find out the Bedouins took shifts guarding the monastery for periods of time out of respect and care for their neighbors with whom they shared the land. One of my leaders also shared with us the Bedouins show great hospitality to the archeologists by bringing them tea while out digging in the desert heat. If only the rest of the world could share the land so well.
-Reflections from my journey to the Middle East May-June, 2011