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Me and A Camel
by LaBreeska Hemphill
A brisk knock on the door of the motel room where Joel and I spent the night was our signal to dress for breakfast. It was one a.m., and it seemed I had just closed my eyes. My pillow had left a lot to be desired and kept me awake much of the night. I made the remark to Joel that I now know how the cowboys must have felt when they used their saddles for pillows.
Oh well, this was not the U.S.A.; we were in Egypt, and today was a day of great adventure. We were about to climb Mt. Sinai. Our group had a goal to reach the top of the mountain in time to watch the sunrise. There was no time to waste. A bus would transport us to the base of the mountain at St. Catherines, an ancient monastery that dates back to 385 A.D.
From there we were to rent camels that would take us two thirds of the way up, then without their assistance we would climb for another hour to the mountain peak.
My decision to make such a grueling journey was carefully weighed against the odds. If the opportunity ever presented itself again, I would be at least another year older and not as agile as I am today. I chose to go with my husband and climb the mountain of Moses.
As our caravan of camels (carrying twenty friends from Nashville) began its ascent, I knew I had made a wise choice. The stars and the moon lit up a pristine sky. The Milky Way, directly overhead, seemed just beyond our finger tips.
In the darkness, from time to time I could see our silhouettes on the mountain side as we snaked along. Joel was on the lead camel and began to sing every old gospel hymn that came to mind, and we all joined in:
Out of Egypt I have traveled
Through the darkness dreary
Over hills and valleys
And across the desert sand . . .
When we sang Camping In Canaan, time seemed to stand still.
Here we were on the same mountain, beneath the same stars, using the same type of travel as the Bedouin Nomads that have roamed the hillsides for thousands of years. And most of all, praising the same Almighty God. The God of Moses. As we slowly made our trek up the mountain I was moved to tears. It seemed that I could almost feel the breath of God in the early morning breeze that brushed against my cheeks.
That two-hour camel ride was an exhilarating experience, but after reaching a certain point, the camels could go no further and we had to proceed on foot. There were seven hundred crude steps now to climb before we reached the top. The steps were actually rocks placed by the monks from the monastery, through the centuries as acts of piety when they felt they needed to do penance. Some of the steps were loose, covered by pebbles and rock pieces that were likely to cause a trip or a fall, so every move had to be made with caution. The climb now became an endurance contest.
The air soon became thin, and ever so often, I just had to sit down and catch my breath. At that point I realized I was slowing Joel down, and neither of us might make it to the summit to see the sunrise. After coming this far I wanted at least one of us to have that experience, so at my insistence, Joel waved goodbye to me and continued on. I stayed behind with a couple of likewise winded companions, and our Egyptian guide, Isom, to move at our own pace. Before long Joel faded out of sight. When I could no longer look up and see him, my need to reach the top of that mountain on time became paramount. It ceased to be something I wanted to do and became something I had to do. I had to be there with Joel and share the moment. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I couldn’t afford to miss it.
Mustering every ounce of strength I had from within my almost depleted reservoir, I set my jaw with determination. I would make it to the top on time if it killed me. As I continued to climb without let up, my lungs felt like they would explode. My temples were pounding, and I felt nauseous but I steadily moved forward and upward.