Saturday, October 4, 2008

Thou shalt dodge a Dromedary

It's 3:30 in the morning, and I dimly spot a large object lumbering towards me on the gravely path.

"Jimal! Left!," someone calls out, and I duck to my right to avoid being run over by a camel. These creatures seem as heavy as horses, and getting stepped on by one would be an ugly injury.

I wonder why camels are allowed on such narrow winding paths in pitch-black dark. Surely my headlight can't spot them coming from above.

But our paths cross, the camel and I, and he continues a steady saunter downward while I push on toward the summit.

I've been walking since 2 a.m., and I need to reach the top by 5 a.m., in time to see daybreak over the mountains.

I have no trouble doing so, and I find a narrow stone ledge at the summit of Mt. Sinai.

It's here where (according to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike) Moses recieved the 10 Commandments from God. I had read about this mountain millions of times in Catholic school, but never did I imagine it to be so desolate.

Life is impossible in these mountains for plants, trees -- for anyone other than camels and box-lunch tourists on air-conditioned buses.

I try to imagine 40 days of solitude on this mountaintop, as Moses spent when he talked to God. Once the sun rises on these mountains, they become scorching hot and unbearably dry. Anyone would start hearing voices, it seems.

As the sun rises, the only voices I hear are hymns in German, in Korean, in languages I can't identify. They're sung by the pilgrims sharing the crowded summit with me.

As I start my descent back down, I hear the gurgles and groans of camels. 40 years from now, the camels will still be on Mt. Sinai.