I had a Christmas vision. Only it wasn’t at Christmas, but in the middle of Ramadan one hot summer. The place was the desert village of Sheik Ali on the east bank of the Nile, about 100 miles south of Cairo.
Thirty people labored in the shadows at three o’clock in the morning under a brilliant canopy of stars and a giant moon. The searing heat of the desert summer day was forgotten as cool breezes blew over limestone outcroppings still barely warm from the earlier heat. We were working at this strange night hour because it was summer, and because it was the Islamic season of Ramadan. Our task: lift a hundred thousand gallon tank from a rickety truck to it’s mounting of limestone and cement. This tank was to become the water tank for the village of Sheik Ali. For the previous five thousand years people living at this place had drunk the untreated water of the River Nile. Now they would drink pure waters from a well. But first the tank had to be lifted in place.
I stood aside, feeling superfluous amidst the energetic villagers. My small role in mobilizing these villagers was done, and now they would complete the work. I found myself experiencing a moment of profound consciousness. The people before me were an unusual mixture for rural Egypt: Muslims and Christians from Sheik Ali and the neighboring village of Bayad. They were working side by side, united by the vision of clean, cool water.
I looked up at the stars and the moon, and felt the breeze. If the awe I experienced had a voice, it might have said: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2)
My reverie was interrupted by the shout of “Kholloss! Mabrook!” (Finished! Congratulations!) The tank was mounted—success! A strong hand grabbed my shoulder, and pointed to the just-beginning glow in the east. At daybreak the Ramadan fast would begin. Now for the feast, there was no time to waste! We ran to the village, and were ushered into a modest room with a clay floor and a low wood table decked with rice and stew. We ate exuberantly.
I know I was forever changed by that starry night. I remember it whenever I am tempted to despair. The memory buoys me up, and pushes me to reengage. The vision has that power.
- 03 Jun 2006
- Bayad Water Tank On Ground: