A nomad in the Middle East

Ruth Hartley StorytellingLeave a Comment

Gone away travelling

COP27 advert that greeted us in Cairo airport

I intended to write two blogs to cover the time I was away travelling. I didn’t. Packing and organising were more essential before I left. One option was to repost older blog posts that had become relevant again to cover that period. I didn’t. There wasn’t even time for that. Readers, I apologise. You are always in my thoughts!

Homesick and a nomad life

When I leave the safety of my home I  briefly experience the same agony I’ve felt since my boarding school days, but once I’m on the road, I don’t feel homeless and I didn’t spare a thought for my blog posts either. The nomad life is again enough for me and travelling through the Middle East was where I needed to be – blog posts will now follow – here I explain why this journey was so important to me. Let me also tell you that we travelled with Intrepid Travel and that our guides were from Egypt and Palestine. Intrepid is a brilliant way to travel and learn and is the least damaging way to be a tourist.

The strangeness of arriving back home

On my return, I didn’t recognize my home and I didn’t feel the need to either. Instead, I spent my first night home crying for a missing suitcase of dirty washing and small inexpensive souvenirs and stones collected from the Nile, the Pyramids, a beach, the desert of Wadi Rum and a Castle used by Crusaders, Muslims and Jews. The Middle East seemed to be my ‘home’ in cultural, religious and historic ways. Perhaps that is true for most people who grew up inside what we think of as western civilisation, even if we’ve each made that uniquely into our own. Here is the moment to point out that the roots of our religions and culture come from Semitic and Arabic tribes who were not white-skinned. The Middle East owes nothing to the mistaken concept of white supremacy except, perhaps, in the problems of its confused and confusing borders – a problem shared with Africa and not yet resolved in Europe. We, however, owe so much of our science and culture and religion to the Middle East.

School, religion and history taught and lived

I belong to a generation who had to study Religious Education at school at a time when Britain and its colonies were Christian countries. We learned in history class that Christianity’s dominance and direction were right for all humanity, even though there is a universality to ‘don’t kill and love your neighbour’ in all religions. World War Two and its outcomes, however, were busily changing British history forever. My school and university friends included displaced refugees who were mostly Jewish. We were only beginning to hear their stories and Israel was not even a decade old, but the progressive and radical socialism of the Jewish communities would dramatically impact apartheid South Africa, the liberation wars and my personal life forever.

Freedom in a changing world

Wazir plays the oud.

In South Africa I had studied Marxism, demonstrated against apartheid, made friends in the ‘non-white’ communities of Cape Town and fallen in love with a young Muslim the same age as me. I had to run away to London where I met and married a Jew.  My children all come from this complicated and diverse world I found myself in – it’s a world that never gets easier to live in or simpler to understand, though we have no choice but to try. These concepts and beliefs are the backgrounds to my life, my writing, and the reasons I tell the stories I do.

Old histories and emerging and developing histories

The dove of peace opposite a watch tower in the wall around Palestine

Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Marxism and human rights have all been woven into the tangled web of my life. Visiting Petra in Jordan, the Valley of the Kings in Egypt and Herod’s Palace in Masada, Israel, was a fascinating discovery of the past but Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and Israel are evolving as we breathe. Climate change is happening and COP27 took place while we were in the Middle East. I was afraid to visit Israel because it matters so much to my family and me and it always has, but every moment of my trip was worthwhile and significant for me. I’m a cynical atheist who prays for peace every night so let me end with Shalom Aleichem and Salaam AlaikumPeace be with you.

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