SHERIDAN — For nine years, climber and National Geographic contributing writer Mark Jenkins has shared stories of his global adventures and experiences with audiences around the state. Jenkins’ most recent expedition found him and three other Wyoming climbers in the ancient lands of Sinai in Egypt. While his experience surely tells the story of adventure and discovery, Jenkins came back to his home state with a deeper story on tolerance.
“It’s an adventure story, certainly, but it’s also a story about Bedouin culture and a story about how we view ourselves and how we view other countries,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins and his three traveling comrades spent a month surrounded in Bedouin culture. Bedouin’s are Arabic-speaking nomadic peoples of the Middle Eastern deserts, especially of North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Israel, Iraq, Syria and Jordan, according to Britannica.
Jenkins confronted the common American myths of the danger plaguing the Bedouin lands head-on before even leaving his home soil. When planning his trip abroad, he received responses warning him of the terrorism and danger of traveling to the Middle East. Jenkins said everyone just assumes the area is a big mess and impossible and nothing works.
“That’s just an overgeneralization,” Jenkins said. “There are little oases of peace where people from different religions and different ethnicities are living in harmony together.”
Jenkins, the three Wyoming climbers and their travel crew in Egypt forged a new path along large granite walls gracing the dry desert in Sinai. While in the area, the group hiked to the top of Mount Sinai, where the Old Testament in the Bible states Moses received the Ten Commandments. When the group reached the top, they found both a Christian church and a Muslim mosque.
The pilgrim hiking partners of the Americans derived from all three Abrahamic religions — Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Those pilgrims showed no signs of conflict, but lived in harmony with one another. The experience encouraged Jenkins, but also left him discouraged about America, Wyoming and the myths that remained at home.
In sharing the stories of his experience, Jenkins’ goal is to shed light on the truth of life in the Middle East.
“We have all these myths, right, that we live by here in America,” Jenkins said. “One of my jobs as a journalist…is to dispel myths that have no evidence. The way you do that is to provide evidence.”
He realized tolerance in Egypt was successfully carried out through a willingness to listen and refusal to demonize people with differing traditions.
“It can be done,” Jenkins said. “You just have to have greater tolerance for other people’s ideas, other people’s religions and their traditions.
“The only way to move forward in the country, and we better get with it, is to make evidence-based decisions and to have evidence-based opinions,” Jenkins added. “It’s fine to have an opinion, but the next step is why do you believe that?”
Sheridan College will host Jenkins at the Whitney Center for the Arts Concert Hall at 7 p.m. March 6. The event is free and open to the public.