• Families who came out their houses and across fields to see us cycling past
• Smiling children at the side of the roads, wanting ‘high fives’
• Women leaning over the balconies, smiling shyly holding babies in their arms
• Older men coming out the mosque to wave and smile at us as we went past ringing our cycle bell.
• Meeting Saudi women in the toilet in Jordan – and they laughed because they had never seen women in shorts before – “aren’t you cold?”. My thought: “aren’t you hot?”.
• The waves and smiles of people all across the route. The shepherd with his family living in a tent by the side of the road. His head wrapped up against the desert sand and wind, but smiling happy eyes saying “Hallein”, “Hallein” to the crazy international cycling women.
• As the roads cut through the hills of the landscape, the young men climbing up to get a better view, shouting encouragement. Nothing sounded insulting or aggressive. No bad feeling about women doing something so strange. Just laughs and waves and support.
• Most friendly and open people. Especially in Syria – so generous and sort of simple. What the situation must have done to change these characteristics into aggression?
• The Middle East is not one big country. The countries are separate, with different cultures and traditions. The people are different.
“Sahar” (Enjoy your meal)
• Huge buffet meals shared with dignitaries and powerful people. Including Mansaf – roasted lamb with scented rice.
• Queueing doesn’t seem to exist in the same function. There was a lot of fighting through the men at the meal to get to the food. After cycling 60 kilometres, it was difficult to be polite about people pushing in. To me it seemed wrong, especially as the project was called “follow the women”!
• I used to love humous and olives, but having them for nearly every meal means I’m having cheese and pickle sandwiches at work now!
Yazig al Laafia (Thanks for your job)
• Policemen at the sides of the roads, waiting for us during the whole day, saluting us as we passed. Many roads were closed off just for our cycle.
• Scouts in Beirut showing us the way, and telling us when there was a hill and offering bottles of water.
• Ladies cooking the traditional flat bread over the big metal discs, so we could have it hot with our meal (see olives and humous, above!).
Salam alecum (Peace be with you)
• Cycling through towns and cities, and past mosques and schools where crowds of people had come out. Shouting out ‘Salam alecum’ and hearing the en masse reply of ‘alecum salam’ from all the men.
• The real Middle East is nothing like the media portray. Beirut is a beautiful city by the sea, with good bars and restaurants and new complexes being built all the time. Damascus was stunning, with winding markets and magic souks that held tiny shops full of people. An old centre that was so full of atmosphere that watching the whirling dervishes didn’t even seem strange – it seemed to fit perfectly. I was the strange one that didn’t understand, not them.
• Being on a bike meant I was so much closer to the real earth, the real people of the place. The countryside of Syria and Jordan, full of sweeping desert hills, herds of goats and sheep. The silence of the fields, once you get off your bike for a toilet stop. The wind bringing whiffs of farming and strange smells of desert.
• We can change many things, but not sure how much power we have to bring Peace to the whole region. Already by changing 250 lives it’s going to have an effect in many countries. Hopefully we can build on the projects we discussed, and from acorns, oak trees do grow. My personal goal is to empower more women to have more control over their lives.
• A week like a roller coaster. So many highs – the giggling, the gossiping, the sights that made my jaw drop, the free-wheeling down the hills, the emotion of cycling into a town with the streets lined with thousands of people. So many lows – two Palestian refugee sisters who hadn’t seen each other for 15 years, tiredness of struggling against desert winds and hills, frustration of not being able to explore the places more completely as I would in England, a poem at dinner about the life of a Palestinian child…
Y’allah, y’allah (get a move on!)
• A country where people talk very loudly, and it seems that everything should be hurried, although no-one rushes to do things and efficiency or queues don’t exist.
• 300 people to organise takes some doing. A lot of herding of people from place to place, with such logistics – blocking roads, organising sandwiches, police, ambulances, making sure we are there on time to meet the First Lady or the Princess…
• So many women, from a large variety of cultures, backgrounds, careers, education and class. Yet all curious, patient, open…
• Projects that are going to be developed: to set up training courses to use sport as a tool with young women; to raise the confidence of young women so they can be more involved in decision making in their communities; to ship out old computers to communities in Syria and Palestine to develop technical skills of young women; to do more cycle rides (one is suggested between Greece and Turkey in a similar vein of pedalling for peace);
Shukran (thank you)
• To the little girl who had prepared a picture of peace to show us cyclists
• To the women who had prepared the rose petals to throw in our path
• To the traditional dancers from every town we stayed in, showing their culture, and showing how different the region is.
• To my fellow women cyclists who answered my thousands of questions – some stupid, some difficult.
• To the group of women who I felt such a close bond to, and we shared frustrations, laughter, jokes, sarcasm, bruises and deep discussions about the reality of the situation. Thanks Amparo, Pilar, Ania, Laura, Lucy, Basma, Dagna, and everyone else.