Heather in Cairo

Heather is a senior majoring in history and medieval studies in Dedman College, with a minor in art history in Meadows School of the Arts, and a recipient of the Gilman International Scholarship to Egypt. In Fall 2009, she will continue her studies in Arabic and Egyptology in her second semester at the American University in Cairo. Learn more about the SMU-in-Cairo program.

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Pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Day 1)

rooftop-1.jpg 24 hours ago I was at the Turcoman bus station in Cairo boarding a bus to the Taba border, which is the border between Egypt and Israel. My initial intention was to cross the border between Egypt and Israel to get to Jordan. Although I did not want to cross the border, due to the Israeli passport stamp, I wanted to take the shortest route possible. I decided to take the hit with the stamp, since I have plenty of time to get a new passport before my second Eid break from school. The bus ride took approximately eight hours.

As the bus approached the Taba bus station, I mentally prepared myself as I knew I would be making my way across what many guide books and online forums call “no man’s land.” I got out at the bus station, and instead of making the trek across no man’s land, I got tricked into taking a cab for 10LE. The ride was literally 30 seconds. I felt like such a fool. IMG_0529-1.jpg

The next step was getting through the Egyptian and Israeli border patrols. The reason I keep bringing up the issues at the border, specifically the Israeli passport stamp, is because with the Israeli stamp, travel to Lebanon and Syria is forbidden. It is generally better to travel to Lebanon and Syria before going to Israel. Fortunately, I was blessed enough to get border agents who were not in terrible moods because both border agents stamped the exit and entry visas on cards instead of my passport! This is when I knew I must make my pilgrimage to Jerusalem. I literally felt as though I had seen a sign directing me toward the city on a hill. I said masalama to my friends from AUC and made my way through the Israeli border checkpoint.

Two girls approached me at the border and asked if I would like to join them on their trek. I readily agreed. The three of us began our journey to the holiest city on earth. As we made our first steps onto Israeli soil, we quickly learned that the Jewish New Year had just started, so we had to take a private car from the border to Jerusalem, instead of a bus. Fortunately, the drive was super nice.

On our journey to Jerusalem we took a break at the Dead Sea, which was a nice break from the long trip from Cairo. Unlike my previous thoughts about the sea, it is actually very blue. After our relaxing trip to the Dead Sea, we continued on our journey to Jerusalem. I felt like a child. I had butterflies in my stomach as I could not wait to see the old gates of the city. The final descent into the city is much like that of New York City. You pass through a long tunnel, and when you exit the tunnel you are in the old city.IMG_0535-1.jpg

I could not stop smiling, as I was finally in the city which I have spent so much time studying over the past three years. Upon our arrival, the driver took us to the Hebrew University lookout point, where we could see a panoramic view of the entire city. I quickly began pointing out various sites around the city to my new friends. We then proceeded to the Damascus Gate, where the driver let us out. We then said goodbye to the outside world and made our way into the gates of the old city of Jerusalem.

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I have studied the city and various architectural elements around the city, but I was unaware of the complex labyrinth-style layout of the grounds. After about an hour of roaming the city in search of a place to stay, we found a hotel that suited our needs. The Imperial Hotel, which is right by the Jaffa Gate in the old city, is a perfect place to stay. The location is excellent and the staff is super nice. The rest of the afternoon included wandering around the old city.

Three years after my first class about the Crusades and Pilgrimage, I finally made my own journey to the center of the world.

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