A Shared Sunrise
Waiting for the sun to rise, it’s supposed to symbolize the realization of a truth, the new life that is beginning in the early morning light. But the sun rises every day, without fail so while it is a thing of beauty, the world continues to go on as before. The world doesn’t need us at all and that is why we struggle to make our mark in any way we can. This struggle is our hunger; whether it’s a hunger for food, hunger for acceptance, hunger for adventure, hunger for accomplishment. There are many times one can ignore one hunger for another, a stronger one, one that if not completed will haunt you for the rest of your life.
In the dead of night is when we can tend to feel to most alone. But sometimes the dark is cut short; during the celebration of Ramadan, the celebration of a collective culture comes to light. It brings people from all walks of life together and fills their hunger in several ways. But even if you may be invited to the table to feed your body, does it still take more to truly feel that you belong. I personally have been searching for that acceptance my entire life and that hunger has, perhaps, inhibited my ability to fulfill all of my other hunger. Though, this is not a story of it getting the best of me. No. This is about pushing past it and sharing that moment with others, breathing a sigh of knowing relief while we lived to see another sunrise.
I have body issues, as we all do: severe, minor, or to some degree in between. This is a problem in and of itself, but then if you add on that hunger for adventure, the drive to have an active lifestyle it can be a bit more dangerous. During the religious celebration of Ramadan people will only eat before the sun rises and after the sunsets. While I don’t follow any religious practice I tend to follow the idea of not eating for extended periods of time. During this trip, especially this 48-hour day, I didn’t really take any time to stop and eat. It was an early rise to go on a snorkel/scuba diving tour of the northwestern Red Sea, followed by an hour or so of relaxation only to jump in a van to drive from Sharm El Sheik to the famous Mount Sinai (about 3-4 hours). Arriving around 12:30 or 00:30, depending on which clock you follow, my mother and I met our guide and started hiking the pitch-black trail of the mountain.
As the hike up became increasing laborious my mother had to keep taking breaks to catch her breath. Being a young 24 year old, I didn’t want to wait, I wanted to make it to the top already, sure I was a bit tired, but that wouldn’t slow me down. While my mother slowly followed the guide and I talked about our favorite languages, learning easy, general Arabic for me, how he learned English, and other general small talk conversational topics which tend to be a base for most travelers in a different country or even just meeting new people. We are superficial, we talk ourselves up and don’t tend to reveal our faults because then we worry that the acceptance and belonging that we are striving for is gone and we starve to death before we even believe we had a chance to live.
About 20 to 30 minutes into the hike my mother finally had to admit defeat, she was not going to make it up to the peak before sunrise at her slowing pace, so the guide went back down asking for a camel to take her the rest of the way to the stairs, the final climb. While he was gone I looked up at the stars, it’s a clique to say how bright they were, but things are cliqued for a reason. While I lay out on a short stone fence and looked up, the stars seemed to rotate (or the Earth underneath, as we do) around my central location, but after I blinked there they were, back in the exact same spot they had always been. This seemed beautiful and depressing to me, no matter how much they long for, tried, struggled, fought, they would always end up back where they were before. Their hunger seemed to do nothing for them, so why bother?
As our guide came back with another man and his camel, I almost wished that I requested one as well, but nothing was going to stop me from reaching that peak on my own. I watched my mother climb up on it’s back, and ride ahead, while I walked, at a slightly quicker along with the original guide. Time moved quicker, my heart beat faster, my breaths got shorter, my leg muscles were pulsing with a dull, tired sort of pain, but I wouldn’t even pause. I just kept the conversation flowing to distract myself from how weak I felt inside. For two early 20-year-olds, the conversation flowed from family to religion, respect, relationships, how relationships and mistakes drove our lives, to what we want out of life. It may seem obvious, talking about it now, but at the time it seemed remarkable that two different people, from two COMPLETELY different backgrounds, had the same ideas for the basic principles in life. We were still shrouded in darkness, but warmth, some sort of light, radiated from this person standing next to me. And for a while I felt like I was full.
As time moved forward, we climbed higher and higher, only once taking a break before meeting my mother by the steps. The guide was generous and offered me any drink or snack I would like. I was climbing, food would way me down and since I was working so hard I couldn’t ruin my progress by eating things. So I just asked for some green tea, and then a bottle of water to carry. While attempting to enjoy the stop my guide started talking to the café owner. Since the guide not only worked but also grew up in that area, he would know all the people along the route. This was more of a wake-up call; I don’t know Arabic, so when they spoke it to each other I was left out in the cold. Though logically I knew that, ‘of course they are going to speak their language in their country’ I just felt excluded, so I was happy when we ended the tea break and continued our walk and our talk.
The next stop was to collect my mom, who was waiting for us at the camel depot. There the animals could go no further because of the 750 large, uneven stone steps heading up to the temple. As we walked our guide knew that my mom still needed assistance getting to the tip, so slowly but surely we took the steps one by one. I carried the flashlight that my mother originally held and one of the blankets we would sit on. Though I didn’t show it, I was so relieved when we were climbing the stairs slowly, even though I hated it at the same time. I wanted it over with; I wanted my hunger to reach this accomplishment quenched. In the back of my mind, however, I could feel the clawing of a different hunger. Food. Sleep. The ache of my entire body as I made each step. But I couldn’t listen to that now, I constantly swept the light around the ground, looked around at where we had been, jumped up from one step to another, and watched the dog that followed us since the beginning, hoping for the love, attention, and generosity of tourists.
Closer and closer we came, I didn’t care how exhausted I was I ran up the final steps and the steep slope that lead to the best (according to our guide) viewing spot. We did it. I beat everything that told me I couldn’t do it. The blanket was laid down and we sat down on the edge of our little kingdom. That was when the exhaustion set in; even with the wind chill I was able to fall asleep for a short time by curling up next to a higher rock that slightly protected me. While drifting off I became afraid that if I were to fall asleep I would miss the sunrise, all I had struggled to see, but while my desire was strong, the hunger my body had for sleep was too strong. It’s possible that if I had eaten I wouldn’t have been so tired, but then I would be feeling uncomfortable in another sense the entire way, no matter how much I worked out. I wouldn’t feel like I belonged up there like I cheated. I saw people from other countries sitting around; we were all waiting for the same thing. I felt that I wasn’t one of them for some reason, even though I made it all the way on my own two feet; it didn’t count, or that for some reason they were better. But when we stopped being different people and looked out to the East we saw something, we experienced something. Something that brings us all together as citizens of the planet Earth. At that point, for that brief moment in time, I no longer cared whether I was tired, whether I was hungry, whether I felt alone, weak, or like I would never belong. Because a different sort of hunger was stronger. The hunger to see a new day begin. I looked at the others who made it, who wouldn’t let weakness get the best of them and we all watched the sun rise, together.