Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Spirit of the Backpacker...

The Spirit of the Backpacker...


You are in your wide, purple, shabby but comfy cotton pants, leather
brown hiking sandals, a dull grayish jacket is rapped around your
waist, and an orange scarf his hanging around your neck. A waist pack with your passport inside, touches the camera strapped across your shoulder, while every little thing you own in this country is stuffed inside the Backpack with ur sleeping bag attached.

You definitely look weird by normal standards, but right there and
then..there's so many of you that you could never stick out.
Around you the scarf might be green instead of orange, the pants shorter or longer, the sleeves rolled up, or torn off, the backpack
"Katmandu" instead of "The North Face", the camera is a "Canon" and not a "Sony", the old hiking sandals are flip flops but worn out all the same, the colorful thread anklet is a coppery oriental bracelet, an eye brow ring or, or a funky pendant….

You look around you and absorb the mess of colors and shapes and you give a relaxed smile.

At the border a long line of those outrageous eccentric looking
creatures extends to your horizon, all dragging their heavy luggage
waiting for the immigration stamp. It takes an hour and half till
your turn  comes, and people start taking out thick books, and they
start reading them. Standing in line with a book in your hand ??
….how "nerdy" is that? Yet these people are not exactly what you
call the nerdy type, having all those tattoos and body piercing
done all over the place….

You look at your passport and you notice other peoples'
passports: red, burgundy, green, navy blue, that go with all those
skewed foreign accents, polite gestures of the philippinoes, the
noisy chatter of the Scots, or the outrageous laughter of the
Italians…

In the bus after the "holy" stamp has been granted to you, you see
them reading all those different genres of books. Books about
Isaac Newton, The future of the universe, the structure of the
Cambodian society, political change in eastern Europe, artificial
intelligence, Zen Buddhism, comic books, the sacred architecture of
Angkor Wat, the art of foot massage, Armageddon…or a love novel.

In the night train, you sit across from a person, a couple, or a
group, and you start talking. They tell you they had been traveling
for 2 months, 3 months, and 9 months. Been to this and that place,…
are going to the same island as you,… thought Lao people to be
the most peaceful, loved Cambodian folklore dance, enjoyed the
waterfall, thought the elephant show sucked, or just hated Vietnamese
seafood.

When the waiter comes with food while you are sleeping, a stranger,
but a fellow backpacker makes sure to wake you up or keep your food
for you. They share their stories, impressions, tips and anecdotes
with you and are eager to hear your own. People from two rows behind
are interested in the conversation and come over to join a night of
chatter before everybody goes to their bunks for sleep.

On the night train you meet different people with different accents,
different social and ethnic, religious and educational backgrounds,
but they all hold on to the same "traveler's bible" in different
editions, versions and languages… reciting it, agreeing or
disagreeing with it…but still the "the lonely planet or the rough guide" remain the main references for everybody.

The nice memories and flash backs come alive when you chat, and the
thrill and excitement of the coming adventure or destination set the
common ambiance…you all share one thing…a deep desire to take in
more of this world, of its people and to have your soul
break or broken free in the process…this is what I call the common
spirit, "the Spirit of the Backpacker" shared among total strangers…yet, you never feel they are strangers. They are just like you…a backpacker roaming the lands!




Noha El Shoky

Jan 23, 2005 










The Quail and the Exodus


On a day in March 2004 I was watching the sunset on a boat in the Nile going to backto our hotel in Aswan. We saw many fleets of those small birds flying
north. We were watching their flying patterns and how a leader was
always appointed to lead the entire group. They all kept the same
distance from one another in that long line.

At that time we thought of ducks, doves and quails, as those
intelligent birds that recognize the earth magnetic fields to
determine direction, as if using a compass.

I was told that the phenomena was until now not quite understood
(although I remember something like a metal particle being embedded
inside skulls of migrating birds). Any feedback!?

But then I was also told that migrating birds sometimes follow basins
of rivers as their guide and source of their pray of fish along the
way.

Watching those -to me- tiny birds fluttering their wings, all at the
same time, with the same rhythm, I thought to myself….."those strokes
must make the birds LOSE SO MUCH ENERGY until they reach their
destination.."

A week later I was having dinner with South African friends when one
of them saw QUAIL on the menu, and showed extreme interest.

I knew that in some European cultures pigeons / quails are not eaten
at all, and if you happen to find a place that serves them, then you
would be ordering yourself the ultimate delicacy.

So, the idea of trying out a quail seemed extremely exotic to him and
he asked me if they tasted good. He said he was interested in tasting
the quail since it had been MENTIONED IN THE BIBLE. He talked about a
MIRACLE caused by God for the Jews as they were hungry.

The story and miracle is about the Israelites having craved eating
flesh for a long time roaming the deserts, when God sent quails
FALLING on them from the sky. They were happy and ate a lot of quail.
But then God's anger caused many of them to die. It was an EPIDEMIC
DEATH, where they dropped dead with the flesh still in their mouths.


The story and miracle is about the Israelites having craved eating
flesh for a long time roaming the deserts, when God sent quails
FALLING on them from the sky. They were happy and ate a lot of quail.
But then God's anger caused many of them to die. It was an EPIDEMIC
DEATH, where they dropped dead with the flesh still in their mouths.

So, why was the (scientific / historic) investigation of this miracle
mentioned in the Bible so important? It was important for some people
since this incident if dated properly would help in determining when
the Exodus took place.

Well, investigating quails they found out that quails:

- migrate southwards from Europe in the fall and northwards in
spring time.

- stuff themselves with food before migration as a preparation
for their journey, which makes them put on up to 50% more of their
initial weight, they get plump.

- The body structure of quails (especially after getting plump)
is not aerodynamic, this is why they rely a lot on winds to push them
in their way to their destination.

- By the time the birds pass by El Arish they would be
extremely tired and let them selves pushed down to the ground by the
east wind. There and then many of them are usually caught in nests /
or shot down at El Massaeed village. (An explanation for God having
quails FALLING down from the sky on the Israelites)

- Reading in the internet some people say (or want to prove)
that this miracle and epidemic had happened near Mount Sinai, Sheikh
Awad and Baqb El Hawa. The assume that the people who died there
were buried in the area on the spot. 

- Some quails when eaten have proven to be poisonous. Reason
has been unclear for some tine but one theory suggests that in the
spring time when the birds make their way from Central Africa back to
Europe they would have eaten a certain grain in Central Africa, that
is not poisonous to the bird itself but to some people who eat the
bird itself according to the person's physiology. (An explanation for
the epidemic death of Israelites).

That day after having read those things on the net I went back home
to find out of all days of the year mum had grilled some quail for
usJ So, I immediatly asked her where she had gotten them from. She
said there are some quail farms (so I knew at least they did not eat
that grain from Central AfricaJ.

But then I thought about those domesticated quails, whose breasts I
assure you were plumber than those of pigeonsJ

Mon 8 March 2004






A message from Cambodia

By all means...this is not the right time for her to travel. The 
plane should take off exactly one week from now to this other part 
of the world.
Right now, she has no money for this kind of thing. She would be 
unemployed in a few weeks time with no other new contracts in the 
horizon. It was a gloomy period, her being worried about covering 
her expenses until she finds a new job, in that very specific field. 
She was desperately hopeless and depressed. 

She didnt have any days off left for an annual leave, and her boss 
was out of town to be able to even ask him for the favor of letting 
her travel before contract end.

It is high season and all plane seats had been booked 3 months in 
advance. No seats on international flights free. For that country 
all train tickets were sold out for internal transport, internal 
flights were also out. Her friend who lives there and had arranged 
for the very tight schedule of the trip to share with a third friend 
was out of town and couldnt help solving any problems. She had to 
find transportation for the exact timing otherwise she wouldnt be 
able to spend the vacation with them.

Her passport has been missing for two years. She has no time to have 
a visa issued

Yet, they kept telling her to try and join. She just decided that 
within that week she should try her best and see what comes out of 
it.

For some reason, she gets a good job offer to shut up all the 
worries about future, career, independence and stuff.

The other day she finds her passport. Apparently it had been moved 
to the balcony with the old books as they were decorating their 
house.

She sends an email to her boss without any hope, yet he miraculously 
agrees to let her travel. He also gives her an unexpected 
compensation to travel with.

She manages to get herself internal flights from Cairo instead of 
the fully booked trains. And gets the extra open end plane 
reservation her friend had for contingency.

She manages to get a visa, and one day before departure she asks 
them to make it a multiple entry and she succeeds.

And, one week from that date, looking at the clouds from the planes 
window she cant believe she could actually make it. Many of her 
friends were all I disbelief. Many thought she would never make it.

She has the nicest time with her two friends, only interrupted by 
her parents getting worried about her cuz she was at one of those 
countries where the Tsunami hit.

She spends new years on the shore of a beach, three nicely dressed 
girls sitting there watching Chinese lamp shades being blown out in 
the air to shine, chatting, legs wiggling down the wall to the 
beach, only struggling with the international phone card to wish 
their families a happy new years.

She has been asking everybody from the locals about a fortune teller 
without any success. She forgets all about it. But then on her way 
to the airway office she bumps into this Sikh guy with a large 
turban, who tells her her mothers name. He tells her intimate 
details about herself. He gives her the advice of life and tells her 
to pray as her own religion dictates together with meditation. He 
tells her its faith. The secret is to have the real faith in God. 
With that you can withstand anything cruel life might throw at you.

She crosses the border overland and alone. She visits a major dream 
of her life and dwells in the amazing rich history combined with 
exciting beauty of the place. She counts her blessings once more for 
being able to do that in this life time.

After having done all the sight seeing, mingling with the locals and 
breathing in the culture of the place she takes a walk. She walks 
along this never ending street, her lonely planet guide tucked in 
her Rucksack, she has no idea where this street leads to.

She strides forward watching the people in their homes, the plants, 
the Buddhist temples, the children on bikes. It must have been 3 
hours or so since she been walking aimlessly when she bumps into a 
sign saying "institute for revival of traditional khmer silk". She 
of course goes inside.

She meets this Japanese volunteer who shows her around. He tells her 
that out of 1700 original patterns only 300 survived the war. And 
now they are barely trying to save those 300 left. She watches the 
golden pure silk died using only natural dies, spun, dried, woven, 
by older women who show younger ones. She takes a lot of pictures 
and talks with the women.

The Japanese volunteer asks her to go up to have a look at the 
products. She tells him she had no money to buy things now, he 
insists.

He leads her to a big piece hung on the wall and tells her to come 
forward for him to explain the designs on their most precious piece. 
He points to a structure and tells her they believe it to be either 
a temple or a mosque. She sounds very surprised! Mosque? How come in 
this Buddhist country? He says wait, and points to two blank stripes 
framing the piece, and says: we think this is a mosque, because we 
think those blank lines used to be Arabic writing but we 
unfortunately have lost them, we do not know how to make them so we 
produce the piece as it is and leave these two lines blank.

She is very surprised of what she is hearing and asks him, weather 
he has a picture of the original design somewhere. He says: yes, and 
gets out so many old books flips through their pages, page by page, 
the dust flying out with the motion of paper, until he finally 
exhales. Here it is. he says, and hands her the picture in the old 
ruffled book.

She takes a look at the picture and to her shock, those first and 
only words in Arabic that shock her eyes are: La lllaha Illa Allah, 
Mohamad Rasoul Allah.

She is not excited anymore, she is in shock thinking what was it 
that brought her, the all time skeptic, to this part if the world, 
to walk down this particular unkown street, have her find this 
unadvertised institute, only to read those words after being away 
from anything Islamic for one month living a totally different 
culture.???

How come it was her, who neatly wrote out those exact words again 
for the older women to reproduce in the lands of Buddha...It must 
have been a conspiracy, such things do not happen just like that. 
They happen for a reason, we sometimes just need to listen

Noha El Shoky
12-06-05