Feature: The Doctor of Mount Sinai
by Judie Fein (5/11/2001)
No one argues about where Mt. Everest is, or, for that matter, Fujiyama or McKinley. But Mt. Sinai is a whole other ball of boulders. In the Old Testament, it was called Mount Horeb, but no one included a map to say exactly where it was located. Last year, in Israel, a fearless jeep racer with military maps drove me through barren desert and land mines to visit Har Kakom, which is where some people think Moses got the Ten Commandments. No one was around, and we made the steep ascent in total silence, except for the churning of my mind. I kept wondering how Moses managed to be in such excellent aerobic condition.
Now, a year later, I arrive at the place the Egyptians insist is Mt. Sinai, where St. Catherine's picturesque, stone monastery has been standing since the 3rd century.
This time, I'm not alone. I'm bumping fanny packs with multitudes from around the globe who have come here to walk where Moses walked. In the courtyard of the monastery is a huge hanging vine which is - you'll never guess this - the original Burning Bush. Today, the only thing that burns is the Sinai desert sun, and the bush is hooked up to a computerized system that waters it every day. Across from the bush is the stone well where Moses is said to have quenched his thirst. And then, in the surrounding hills, he's supposed to have met the Lord to get the famous stone tablets.
This Mount Sinai is as steep as the other one, and once again I find myself gasping and thinking about Moses. How did he keep himself so fit that he kept climbing for 40 days? When we come back down, without Revelation but with a little sunburn, we do what any good pilgrim would do and head for the souvenir stands. At least at the Egyptian Mt. Sinai you can buy t-shirts and mugs and - what's that in the last booth? There are rows of wooden boxes filled with dried herbs. The booth belongs to Dr. Achmed, who is known as "the doctor of Mt. Sinai."
Translator: "That's for rheumatism...for the spinal pain...headache...nausea...for the skin cracks of the foot, when it's so dry it's cracking......Skin eczema...white spots on the skin...he can cure with these herbal medicines..."Tour buses roar by, and none of the tourists even stop at Dr. Achmed's booth. The doctor's clientele is primarily Egyptian. The prices here are cheaper than your local pharmacy. The doctor's herbs start at $l.50 and the most expensive is only five dollars. The doc points to a bottle of precious oil.
Translator: "This is for rheumatism..the most expensive..it's 20 Egyptian pounds...it looks like a honeydew melon and he gets the oil out of it."I am about to leave, when I think of one last question...where do these miraculous herbs come from?
Translator: "All of them grow in Sinai...just the St. Catherine area..."The herbs all come from this very spot. And the doctor learned his medicine from his father who learned it from his father who learned it from his father. My mind kicks into overdrive and I ply the doctor with questions.
Judie: "How long does this date back? Since the ancient ones? Do you mean during Moses' time?"
Translator: "Of course, when Moses was here, what was the medication they used? It must have been like this!"Suddenly I have the revelation I've been looking for. Maybe these herbs, that are right under my nose, are what empowered Moses with his aerobic stamina. And what about his legendary longevity? According to the Old Testament, Moses lived to the very, very ripe old age of 120. Could it have been these very herbs that made him a centenarian? Of course, my entire theory rests on this being the real Mt. Sinai. And since no one has the map, who's to say it isn't?
From the doctor's office at Mt. Sinai, this is Judie Fein for the Savvy Traveler.
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