07 February 2019, The Tablet

For the first time in my life I experienced the peace and loveliness of submission


For the first time in my life I experienced the peace and loveliness of submission
 

I have recently spent 40 days on a solo trek – a sort of retreat, really – in the Sinai desert. I suspect you will be getting to hear lots more about it over the coming months – because, for me, it was very beautiful, very exciting and very strange. And, obviously, very silent. But first I want to talk about the strangest thing that happened while I was there: for the first time in my life I experienced the peace and loveliness of submission, of obedience.

My first evening was merry – I reconnected with some old friends, sat round a live fire, laughed a good deal, and taught Josef, who is 10 and the son of Suleyman my guide, how to “high five”. And then, in the morning everyone else went away and Suleyman, I and Anama and Jadouha, our heavily loaded camels, headed out into the desert.

We rode and walked under the blue sky and I saw again how the sandstone of the Sinai, which used to be under the sea, has been carved by wind and water into ornate filigree patterns. We had a picnic lunch in the not-very-dense shade of an acacia tree. Then we settled down for a nap. And when I woke up Suleyman was not there.

As it swiftly transpired he was only a little way away engaged in the everlasting – and at times apparently miraculous – forage for fuel. But in one brief sleepy moment I recognised my total vulnerability. I had a couple of inches of water in my flask – all the rest of the drinking water was somewhere but I didn’t know where; and the first desert rule is “keep drinking”.

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