High school did not prepare me for college, which was fine and good since no respectable college would have me. Instead, I packed a bag and aimed for Greece, although I somehow overshot and ended up working the fields on a kibbutz in Israel. I have nothing to say about the cafeteria food we stuffed ourselves with there, but we had some fantastic bananas. From there I headed south, joining my friend Janet on a trek through the Sinai led by a man who had served in the army near Dahab and never left. He was tight with the Bedouins, and they, with their camels, took us on a journey for nine days. This was the beginning of my year of figuring it out on my own.
The Bedouins had figured it out on their own a long, long time ago. They understood where they were and what the elements would provide. They brought almost no food on the trek. There were some tins of this and that, and a few bags of dry goods. If I hadn’t been reckless and out of touch, I would have been worried. In this case my ignorance kept me calm.
Sinai is a sacred land, and also it looks like Mars—red sandstone mesas cut with canyons and what Cecil B. DeMille described in his Ten Commandments as “granite sentinels of death” for as far as the eye can see. No sign of civilization. Nothing has changed in thousands of years. You could easily picture the Pharaoh sentencing Moses to wander the dry riverbeds with just a small skin of water. We would most certainly have been “beaten into the dust from which we came and ready for the maker’s hand” without our guides. Despite all the danger, it was quite pretty. After a full day of walking, gorging ourselves on the emptiness of the space, we were starving. The guides would park the camels and set up camp. They knew where to find water wells, they knew where small orchards grew with half a dozen plump red tomatoes. And they knew how to make dinner out of almost nothing.
Those Bedouins—with their goats and hidden water networks and acacia trees—had a particular kind of wealth. They didn’t have to stand impatiently in the express lane of Whole Foods with a basket of brie, flicking their credit cards against their fingernails when they wanted a good meal. I think they’d do well when the kalpas change over and Armageddon hits. Melting glaciers? They already live in 120-degree weather for half the year. Although I did read that the water table has since been sucked dry by the resorts in Sharm el-Sheik.
The Bedouins did something every night that totally delighted me. They made bread on the campfire. They mixed flour with water, rolled it out on a rock in the shape of a large pizza crust, and threw it on the fire just like that. About half an hour later they would extract a charcoal black disk and pry off the burnt shell. Inside was a wonderfully delicious bread that we would eat with some stewed black-eyed peas and tomato under a billion twinkling stars.
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