Here is part 2 of Mony’s story who went from being a Microsoft sales executive to completing a pilgrimage on the world-famous Camino de Santiago, which made her decide to complete a 5000 km long Walk for Peace for 13 months through 13 countries. Click here to access part I of her fascinating story.
8. From Italy you continued on into the Balkan countries. Please comment on your pilgrim experience there. I believe that Croatia was a particularly unforgettable experience for you. Please tell us about your experience in the other Balkan countries.
We walked through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia/Hercigovina, and Serbia/Montenegro. Our experience in Croatia was the most intense. The people here embraced us totally. We were in the newspapers and on television. Their hospitality and desire to help us was incredible. Our message seemed to resonate especially strongly here, in a country recovering from their own war. It was also there that Alberto and I separated. He walked ahead to Medugorje, in Bosnia/Hercigovina with the agreement that I would only be a few days behind him. Medugorje is a village in Bosnia/Hercigovina where it is said that the Virgin Mary appeared to five young children about twenty years ago offering messages of peace at a time when the country was strife with war. The messages of peace continue to this day with a new message announced every month. Alberto wanted to arrive for the next message while I couldn’t walk that fast. We ended up being separated for over a month with no way of contacting the other. We only managed to speak twice during that entire time. He called me once to let me know that he had arrived safely. And I managed to finally contact him, after days of failed attempts, the evening before I was about to arrive in Medugorje.
Circumstances seemed to conspire to keep us apart. I fell ill a few days after we separated with an infection of the lymph nodes under my arms. I was told I may need surgery to drain them since they were badly infected and the doctor didn’t know if the antibiotics would be strong enough. In the end, they did work but I needed over two weeks to recover from it and to regain the strength to walk again. I was taken care of and welcomed by an incredible community in Brodarica where the priest of the local church took me into his home, brought me to doctors and medicine, and where the nuns there oversaw every step of my recovery. They appeared as angels in my way to help me at a time when I was alone.
Money in Albania
That experience of being looked after and protected on my way gave me the confidence to continue walking alone. For Alberto as well, it was important for him to know that he can walk without me. We always felt more confident together knowing that a couple would be accepted easily and given accommodations. It was more difficult for people to trust in a young man walking alone and give him accommodations. His experiences were not always easy but he found angels along his way, just as I did, who stepped in and helped him when he needed it most. It was a valuable lesson for us being apart and one that reminded us that we enjoyed walking together but we didn’t need to do it. We would always be taken care of.
9. After the Balkan countries you went through Greece to Turkey. Please comment on this portion of the trip. What made the Turkey portion unique and different?
The Turkey portion was unique for several reasons. Physically, we were walking in Turkey in the summer, in temperatures of well over 40 degrees Celsius every day. We started walking at 5:00 in the morning so that we could finish by 10:00 at the latest, before it became too hot. The heat sapped all our energy and left us feeling drained most of the time. Emotionally, we had also started our romantic relationship. It had started at the end of Greece but intensified in Turkey. As in every new relationship, it brought out the best and worst in both of us. Culturally, we had left the Christian world and entered fully into the Muslim one. All of these factors combined made us turn more inwards, to focus more on ourselves and to only see only the negative in our situation. As a result, we attracted more negative experiences that directly reflected our beliefs. Because of judgments that we had about the Muslim world being more conservative and un-accepting of two single people walking together, we didn’t seek help in mosques, nor did we try to engage people as we did earlier in our walk. We were walking along the touristy Turkish coast, and felt that people saw us more as tourists than as pilgrims, and didn’t really care about our message or what we were doing. We felt they were more interested in our dollar value than in our true intentions. So of course, we attracted exactly the situations that reinforced those beliefs. It was an incredible lesson in watching how our thoughts and beliefs directly influenced what we attracting into our lives. It was exactly as we had been saying all along – we had the power to change the world through our thoughts and intentions. Once we saw what was happening, we could step away from it and try to heal the prejudices and misconceptions that we had about this world. It was when we did this that our experiences totally turned around and we were finally able to see the true heart of the Turkish people.
10. Please comment on the final portion of your route. How did you get to Jerusalem? You also referred to a unique coincidence (that maybe wasn’t so coincidental at all) related to the 12 gates of Jerusalem. Please comment on some of the other “coincidences” you experienced on this trip.
The final portion of our trip was into the Arab world. We walked through Syria, Lebanon and Israel. The Lebanese-Israeli border was the only border we could not cross on foot. It was physically closed with land mines and barbed wire blocking our way. We had to take a plane from Beirut to Cyprus, then to Tel Aviv. From there, we took the train north to Haifa to begin our walk again. We were deeply frustrated by this because we really felt the message of peace needed to cross at this specific border, site of so many hostilities and conflicts. But it wasn’t meant to be. From Haifa, we continued along the coast, then cut inland towards Jerusalem.
Mony and Alberto in Jerusalem
Our entire pilgrimage was a series of synchronicities, coincidences, and people arriving when we needed help. We do not believe in coincidences, but that all has a Higher Purpose which often eludes us, but that is always for the greatest good of all involved. We arrived in Jerusalem on December 24, 2003, Christmas Eve, completely unplanned. We walked to the old part of the city, which is surrounded by high ancient walls. We knew there were twelve gates, not all open, and decided to simply follow the road that led to the first gate on the way. We found ourselves in front of a huge arch called Bab Al Khalil, the Gate of Khalil. An Arab friend we had met during our walk had told us that the name Khalil meant Albert in English (or Alberto in Spanish). So after thirteen months of walking, we entered the Old City of Jerusalem through Alberto’s Gate! We were also fortunate enough to be able to go to Bethlehem that very evening and to be in the city where it all started. In a way, we were coming back to the beginning.
We also had another unusual coincidence during the last leg of our pilgrimage. During the entire walk, we always carried signs announcing what we were doing. In Israel, our signs said the word Peace in English, Arabic (Salam) and Hebrew (Shalom). The very day that we put on the signs, the letters started to fall off as we were walking. We tried to paste them on again, but it didn’t work. It was as if we weren’t meant to carry this sign to its final destination. It was a difficult thing to accept because for me especially, I felt this was where the sign was most needed. But upon later reflection, we realized that the outward message of peace had served its purpose. It had touched those who needed it. But now it was time for us to go inward, to focus on the inner journey of peace, to bring that energy into Jerusalem with us. We realized that the only way to bring peace into such a troubled area was not to shout it from the rooftops, but to live it in our everyday lives, in our actions towards the people who are like us and unlike us. The work of peace is an inner journey, people changing themselves and their attitudes and beliefs about their neighbors and the world they live in. They can then come to the world from this place of peace, acceptance, tolerance and openness. When they can be that peace that they wish to see, is when they can affect the most incredible change. When they can see the other point of view, when they can forgive themselves and their neighbors for their mutual acts of atrocity, when they can truly listen and have compassion for the other, that’s when true peace can be created.
11. Please tell us about your experience once in Israel. What places did you visit, what thoughts went through your head?
We really didn’t venture very much outside Jerusalem itself. We were only able to enter Bethlehem on Christmas Eve because the Israeli government had given permission to allow tourists and pilgrims to enter on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Normally, the city is barricaded and access is limited or completely restricted. We felt very fortunate to have been able to enter. Likewise with the West Bank and Gaza. There was no way to enter. We also wanted to experience first-hand what life was like here. In Bethlehem, we had the Palestinian experience. In Jerusalem (and on our walk from Haifa to Jerusalem), we lived the Israeli experience. It’s easier to understand the Palestinian experience because it’s what we’re most exposed to in the media.
Mony and Alberto