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Q&A: Your questions to Aleem

Aleem Maqbool with donkey
Aleem Maqbool feeds his donkey
BBC correspondent Aleem Maqbool answers BBC news website readers' questions about his journey on foot from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

He is retracing a journey made by Joseph and Mary in the Christmas story told by Luke the Evangelist.

Q: We would like to ask you if you are going to get another donkey, after donkey number two was turned back at the checkpoint. Perhaps you could get a local donkey, like Jesus did on Palm Sunday? Good luck! We will be following you all the way!
Class 4S (8-9 years old) Frith Manor Primary School, North Finchley, London

Dear Class 4S, Thanks for your suggestion! As you can see, I have already got myself a new donkey. She was from a village called Yabad, and in her normal life she works on a farm there. It seems she's pretty special. I am told that she gets loaded up with fruit and vegetables at her farm, and then walks half an hour to the market all by herself, and when she gets there and all the produce is taken off her back, she walks back to the farm alone again! Hopefully she will get all the way to Bethlehem with me - let's see!

Q: As a Muslim (I think, looking at your name apologies if wrong) what does Christmas mean to you?
Mo, Luton, UK

Hi Mo, Christmas has always been celebrated in my family. Tree, turkey, gifts (including santa socks) etc. Of course, Jesus is a pivotal figure in Islam. I read your question out to Nedal, my (Muslim) host this evening in Al Far'a Refugee Camp. He said, for him, Christmas was about remembering a message of peace and the things we have in common.

Q: About how many miles a day are you travelling?
Susan, West Midlands, UK

Hi Susan, It varies, but I generally plan to walk about 10-13 miles (16-21km) each day. On the first day, I got a bit carried away and did about 17 miles (over 27km), and regretted it the next day. Fortunately, the aches did not last too long, and all is well now. I am determined to walk (and very occasionally donkey-ride) every step, even if I need pain-killing injections on Christmas Eve!

Q: Are people being kind to you? Or do you feel hostile vibes anywhere?
Ryan Paul, Kenora, Canada

Hello Ryan, On the whole, people along the way have been fantastic. Going through some of the very small villages, where foreign visitors are rare, I have had some curious looks, but people have generally been very welcoming once we get chatting. There was an isolated incident in Jenin where a man shouted at me, thinking it was my intention to portray his city as backward (because I had a donkey with me!). We also had a run-in with Israeli officials ahead of crossing into the West Bank which led to our donkey having to be left behind.

Q: Would Joseph and Mary recognise anything along the route in 2008?
Sally Dando, Norfolk, UK

Hi Sally, That question has crossed my mind many times a day during the trek. In terms of man-made structures, the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth contains what are believed to be the ruins of Mary's home, and the Church of St Joseph, the ruins of Joseph's carpentry workshop. Other than that, the Church in Burqin houses the cave where the Bible story of Jesus curing the lepers is thought to have taken place. The cave is said to have been totally enclosed except for a shaft down which food was lowered to the lepers, which you can still see today. Many here believe Jesus passed that way, and perhaps Mary and Joseph.

However, for me, it's the landscapes that perhaps offer the most tangible connection to history. The walk on Day Four, across rolling hills and olive groves from the Christian village of Zababdeh to a place called Al Far'a (when several hours passed without me seeing a car, or even a road), has been the best example, and a great experience.

Q: Can you see the stars at night? This is key to recreating that night with the Bethlehem Star, don't you think?
Jorge Enrique Telles Mosquera, Jauja, Perú (from BBC Mundo)

Hi Jorge, I have been very lucky. The skies have been cloudless every night, and the stars clearly visible. You are absolutely right, it definitely adds to the experience. My astronomy is not great though, so I have no idea what I am looking at! Promise to find out.

Q: What are you most looking forward to? Afterwards please tell me what was most interesting.
Tom Rimmer, Virginia Water, UK

Hi Tom, I was undoubtedly most looking forward to the two treks through the hills from Zababdeh to Nablus, via Al Far'a and the small villages in between - no big towns or cities, no heavy traffic, no particular political obstacles to expect. The first didn't let me down, and I hope the second one doesn't. The walks get a bit more "scrappy" after Nablus. Hope to let you know about the second part of your question soon.



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