Ramallah, January 27, 2013
This trip would never have been possible without my companion Gerd Rieso, friend from days way back in Krefeld. He was the calm pole during the time of planning and he was the patient, never complaining companion on many roads, neighbor in the not always luxurious sleep camps, co-owner of sometimes only sparingly existing towels, test engineer for the use of unconventional showers, food taster at many tables where we were guests.
And that all was albeit the fact that within his person, or rather, within one of his entries in the passport, there was a hidden risk that only a few insiders knew before we went on to travel: his birth year is listed there as 1934. Yes, I hiked with a man through this country who will be 79 years old in a few months! Admittedly my own age, 64, seemed to me near to a limit beyond which walks like this, with a week of living out of a backpack, with nights on thin mattresses and other hardships are simply not advisable.
And on the first day it looked for a few hours as if age would rudely dissuade Gerd from his faith in his infinite walking ability (which he trains over the year weekly in the forests of the Rhineland, along with other sporty men in their 70s). Halfway through the first 20-km stage he stumbled and apparently dislocated a vertebra in his spine. Walking hunched and groaning under his backpack he had to abbreviate the day’s lap by a third and take a taxi to our destination. I went on with our guide Nedal, a little depressed and saw in my mind already our Plan B at work: seven days full board in a hotel near the Dead Sea, salt water and mud applications, dozing in the sun.
But on the next day everything was fine again, and apart from the usual foot problems that we both had in common our walking ability from then on never was put into question.
We did not only walk together we of course talked a lot with each other, long hours without getting tired. We did not always agree, but that made it all the more interesting. In the mornings, if time and opportunity was there we would read a verse from the Bible and pray together. Our faith has always been a strong connection.
Together we have practiced the Arabic language. In the end we were able to say “thank you” in an appropriate way ("schukran"), ask for water (the Hebrew "mayim" is understood everywhere, the Arabic word sounds similar), refer to our character as wanderers, not automobilists (also here is the Hebrew "regell" - "leg" similar to the Arabic word, it was nevertheless helpful if at the same time you would slap your thigh) and could, in the frequent encounters with locals bring out the abbreviated, slightly mumbled greeting "S-am-al-kum" fluently. To the children who wanted to know how we were called we have, after some experience always given Gerd’s full name Gerhard. "Gerd" no one here can pronounce.
On lonely stretches Gerd would often train the throaty Arabic double-L by suddenly shouting out the word "Ramallah" into the blue sky. That has scared me sometimes, but that is the way I will keep him in mind, my Ramallah-Gerd.