Saturday, December 31, 2011

Jordan Challenge #23: Cross the Border with Chris

Before the year ends, I wanted to post one last challenge that I completed with Chris while he was visiting in November.  This one turned out to take some doing, mainly because of forces beyond our control.  When I asked Chris what he wanted to see before he got here, he suggested Israel and the West Bank, and Jerusalem in particular.  On a map, that looks like a fairly simple undertaking. The distance from Amman, where I live, to Jerusalem is only 44 miles.  But it requires a bus or cab from Amman to the border (known as the King Hussein Bridge on the Jordan side and the Allenby Bridge on the Palestinian/Israeli side), a different bus that goes through the no-man's land between the Jordanian and Israeli border stations, a third bus or cab once processed on the Palestinian/Israeli side, multiple checkpoints on both sides, and searching of luggage and passport handling on both sides.  So, though the distance is short, the process is not.

And everything gets more complicated still when you're in the position I was at the time, of applying for my residence permit and fearing that my passport might get called for at any moment by the immigration people here for processing.  But as always, Fulbright staffer and miracle worker Iman came through, made many calls to various offices on my behalf, and determined that I'd be able to make my way over without endangering my application process here.  So, on Thanksgiving Day (the morning after our stuff-ourselves-silly Fulbright Thanksgiving Dinner), Chris and I packed our backpacks and headed over.

Once we arrived we set ourselves at the very spartan but awesomely-located Palm Hostel in East Jerusalem almost directly across from Damascus Gate.  For those who have never visited the city, a huge proportion of what draws tourists and religious pilgrims of all persuasions lies behind the walls of the Old City, which is famously divided into Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Armenian quarters.  Most of the Gates (and there are 11 total, though only 7 are open) enter into very complicated narrow streets that feel more like tunnels in parts, lined with shops, restaurants and holy sites.  Inside the Walls are, among other attractions, the Temple Mount (Sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims as the place where Abraham offered his son Isaac in sacrifice (though God did not make him go through with it) including the Dome of the Rock where the sacrifice was prepared and also where Muslims believe that Mohammad ascended into Heaven), the Western Wall (also known as the Wailing Wall -- where Jews go to mourn that destruction of the sacred Second Temple), the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows) where Christians believe Jesus carried the cross to his crucifixion, and several churches, including the gigantic Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the spot where Christians believe Jesus was crucified.  One of the most interesting bits for me about this church is that parts of it are claimed by, among others, Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian and Egyptian Coptic Christians, and so the keys have been entrusted to a Muslim family to keep the peace among all the sects. For a direction-challenged person like myself, it's all crammed confusingly close together and it's incredibly easy to get lost in the narrow passageways.
Approaching the Old City from the West Jerusalem side.

Chris standing in front of the Western Wall.  Though we visited it at night, there were hundreds of people there.

Standing within the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.

One of the cool things you can do inside the Old City is climb up on the rooftops near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and look at the Dome of the Rock.  That's how this picture was taken.
Monks chanting a prayer inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The view of East Jerusalem as you exit from Damascus Gate.

While we were up on the rooftops, Chris made a friend.  She made him sit there for about an hour, and if she'd had her way, we'd still be sitting there.

As it turns out, getting lost was actually a good thing, because it opened the way to a thoroughly wonderful experience.  On our first night, I managed to get totally disoriented and a man passing by had a fun time watching Chris and I disagree about where to turn next.  When we finally made our way out through Damascus Gate, he approached us and fave me a good-natured ribbing about my mistakes.  This led to a longer conversation, which in turn led to what I have found to be a typically Palestinian response to strangers, a sincere and hospitable offer to come over to dinner.  We accepted, and spent the evening at the home of Mohammad and his wife Yusra, after Mohammad gave us a tour of his community, the homes of his extended family, and the difficult changes that had occurred there since he was a child. Both Mohammad and Yusra had lived large chunks of their lives in the United States with other spouses, and had many interesting stories from those experiences.  Mohammad had gone to college in the US and created a successful business there, while Yusra had married as a teenager and accompanied her husband to the US, where her husband died and she found herself suddenly coping with the challenge of raising four children as a single parent in a foreign country.  However, both Mohammad and Yusra have deep family ties in East Jerusalem, and returned in part to help resist the shrinking of Palestinian control and ownership of land in East Jerusalem that has steadily eroded the community there. It was an amazing experience to share the lives of two of such wonderfully generous people who decided on a whim to open up their home to us.

Yusra and I (with the very few of the fabulous stuffed grape leaves we couldn't  eat sitting on the table behind us)

Among other things, Mohammad and Yusra served us clementines off their own tree.  We were raving about how good they were, so they sent us home with some that Chris and Mohammad picked.

From Jerusalem, we took a bus to Tel Aviv which is situated right on the Mediterranean Ocean.  Our timing was less-than-perfect, however.  It was November, and too cold for swimming (unless you were a surfer or diver with a wet suit and we saw quite a few). We also arrived on a Friday afternoon, and at sundown, the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, the outdoor market where we were haggling over dried fruit suddenly shut down in a hurry.  We wound up staying a few kilometers down the coast in the lovely seaside town of Jaffa and spent a day or so exploring both places.
A view of Tel Aviv from the beach...

..and at night.

And a night-time shot of Jaffa, just a couple pleasant kilometer's walk along the seashore.

Then we headed back to Jerusalem, and ultimately, across the River Jordan (which is not, as the bible hymn says, "deep and wide", but actually has been overused to the point that it now most resembles a muddy ditch) to seek out a few more sights for Chris to see before he headed back to Vermont.

1 comment:

  1. I love this post, Trish! I've been all over the area and still find Jerusalem to be the most beautiful/intriguing/maddening place I know. The rivalries in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are pretty zany. Once, a ladder was stuck on the roof for like a hundred years because all the Christian factions could agree about who would be able to cross each other's zone to get it. Take care and best wishes! David