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1 June 2012

Postcard from Sinai, Egypt

by Leading Writer Monique Jellick

 

Kia ora Navy whanau. I’m nearing the end of my time here in Sinai and I thought I’d write home to let you know what I’ve been up to in the last six months.  My tour of duty has introduced me to different cultures and different ways of working, and has enabled me to realise a long-cherished dream to visit Jerusalem.

They look after the troops here and organise weekend tours around Egypt and Israel. I’ve been so lucky to see the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Sphinx, the Valley of the Kings (a valley in Egypt where tombs were constructed for the pharaohs and powerful nobles from the 16th to the 11th century B.C.) and Sharm el-Sheikh (a city on the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula where a large number of international peace conferences have been held).

 

Leading Writer Monique Jellick receives the Force Commander's Award from Major General Warren Whiting, Commander of the Multinational Force and Observers in Sinai, Egypt

 

Our celebrations to mark Waitangi Day greatly impressed our multinational guests, who included members of the Multinational Force and Observers from Canada, Australia, Norway and the United States. The new rotation of Kiwis had just arrived then and had to quickly learn our haka and waiata. For dinner, the men prepared hangi while the women made fried bread.

The highlight of my tour was the day I spent on board ITS SENTINELLA, the Italian Navy’s Offshore Patrol Vessel, when it was berthed in Sharm el-Sheikh. Being a Navy personnel, I was given a private tour.

Another highlight was the visit to Jerusalem. It is a long-cherished dream of mine to visit the old city. We saw the star inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which marks the traditional spot where the cross of Jesus was planted.  We blessed our rosaries on the Stone of Anointing, which is believed to be the spot where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial. We also saw his tomb. We chomped on a shawarma sandwich as we wandered round the quarters and shops of the old city.

At the Western Wall (or the Wailing Wall), I placed a note into a crevice in the wall (“hope springs eternal,” as you may well know). We took care to observe local customs when we visited the Western Wall. The men wore kippas to cover their heads and we walked backwards away from the wall when we departed. On the way home, we stopped at McDonald’s for lunch and learnt a lesson on Jewish food culture – meat and dairy products are not mixed in meals. If you want a cheeseburger, you have to order cheese separately.

Working with the Army required some initial adjustments but I adapted quickly. We have compulsory ANZAC Physical Training (PT) three times a week with Australian PT instructors. One of the most challenging is what we call the “battle PT”, which involves doing a leopard crawl (or crawling on your chest) through the sand, swimming and tyre running while wearing our DPMs or camouflage field uniform.

All in all, I’ve had an amazing tour, seen so many wonderful places and met loads of awesome people from different countries. I’m excited to come home but I will be very sad to leave this place and all my Sinai friends.

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