On a pilgrimage to the Holy Land: our long, uncomfortable, overnight flight; and then the testy, eight-hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany (we couldn’t leave the airport), before another four-hour flight to Amman, Jordan—24 hours in all—wasn’t really that bad. Pilgrims used to walk, ride horses/camels, through deserts and sand storms, taking months, even years, to reach the Holy Land. Are we pilgrims, or on vacation—a sight-seeing, educational adventure to the Holy Land of Jordan, Palestine and Israel—or are we tourists? I pondered the question.
Our Jordanian tour guide, Murad Ali Ni (“Mo”) said, “Iowa means ‘yes’ in Arabic. Learning is through traveling.” I made barely legible notes of those statements, and many other tidbits of information, as our tour bus rumbled through the narrow streets of Amman, Jordan, population: four million. I whispered to Ginnie, “This is bigger than Des Moines!” She shushed me.
The First Presbyterian Church of Mt. Pleasant hooked up with the First Presbyterian Church of Muscatine, for a trip to the Holy Land—a trip of a lifetime for Ginnie and me. I always wanted to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, to see where He was born, baptized and crucified; the Mount where He gave “The Sermon” and His tomb. We pulled out all the stops, put Buddy in a kennel, and away we went—trains, plains and automobiles.
The first thing I noticed is that all the buildings in Amman are concrete or stone—for earthquakes, I reckoned. Optimistically, most of them have re-rods sticking up through the walls for upward additions. Huge plastic containers on the roofs are for water storage during the hot months. “Jordan is the land of love,” Mo said. “All immigrants are welcome.”
Where are the homeless?” someone asked.
“There are none,” Mo stated. “We are family oriented. The state does not support the homeless. We take care of each other, even neighbors, friends and strangers.”
We contemplated this.
There were kids everywhere—beautiful dark haired, brown eyed children. Was abduction a problem? Mo was asked. “For organs, maybe,” he said. “But not abuse.”
There was plastic trash everywhere, drifts of it in ditches—fences full of flapping, ugly, plastic. If the wind was from a certain direction, Mo pointed out, he would reroute the tour bus because of the sight of blowing trash from a landfill. My thought: with all these people and immigrants, why not put them to work cleaning up this ancient, historic land? But who am I?
At the Jordan River, we visited the probable site, “Bethany beyond the Jordan,” where John baptized Jesus. There was a palpable spiritual feeling about the place, with scrub willow branches hanging low in the water. We renewed our baptisms. I picked up three small rocks, and Ginnie collected several small bottles of Jordan River water. We will use the water to sprinkle on the foreheads of sick and dying people we pray for.
Then it was on to the Dead Sea. Ginnie and I, along with most of our group, went for a float—which is easy, of course, because of the high salt content. The ritual after the “swim” is to cover yourself with Dead Sea mud. It’s supposed to be good for the skin. You let yourself bake for ten minutes in the sun (it was 70 degrees), then it’s back in to rinse off. I made the mistake of leaving my watch on. It’s a runners watch, and waterproof. However, there was a crack in the lens. Scratch one runners watch! I’m naked without my watch. Mo helped me find another for $15. It’s loose on my wrist, but I feel better.
Petra: one of the seven wonders of the Modern World. You approach the “Treasury” of Petra through a crevice in the canyon, called a “siq.” We were awestruck. I bought Ginnie a “kufiya,” (head scarf). Then we climbed the 1,000 steps to the “Monastery.” If I thought the climb up was strenuous, going down was murder! At the bottom I gave in and bought camel rides for both of us. It’s a good thing, because I don’t think my 71-year old bod would have made it. It was the first camel ride ever for us, but it was so much fun, and not as hard or uncomfortable as it looks. At the end of the day, Ginnie’s Fitbit showed 23,000 steps. Maybe the bump-bump of the camel was a step?
The next morning, as I said my daily prayers, I could hear the Muslim, First Call for Prayers, playing through the streets of Amman. Chills ran up and down my spine. My prayers were being answered!
With regret, we said goodbye to our tour guide, Mo, as we entered Israel. He is a Jordanian Muslim and cannot enter. In Palestine, we met our new tour guide, Claudia. She is an Arabic Christian from Migdah.
Security is somewhat of an issue. In Jordan, a policeman rode the tour bus with us. Upon entering Palestine, a rock hit our bus from a group of young protesters. What they were protesting, I could only guess. I thought, “God will protect us on our pilgrimage.”
There was little to no plastic trash in Palestine.
Next week: Palestine and Israel.