Sunday, August 22, 2010
Going back a little bit: Recount of the Dead Sea, Jericho and the Unholy city.... July 16-17
On the weekend, after an intense week working at the summer camp, and despite the really hot weather, we decided to explore Jericho, Ariha in Arabic. The city is believed to be the world’s oldest city and at 250 m below the sea level, it is also the lowest city in the world. It is located in the middle of the Jordan desert. As we moved south from Bethlehem, we saw the landscape changing from the white limestone rock, to the golden mountains. It is brutally hot. This is the city that at the blast of Joshua’s trumpet, its walls tumbled down. The taxi left us at the city center, the new city, and we took another taxi to the old city, 4 km away. Despite of Paolo’s insistence on walking, I manage to negotiate with him to climb the Mount of Temptations to the monastery. We climbed to the monastery that now lies on the edge of the cliff, where is believed that is where the devil tempted Jesus. I hiked the hill at mid-morning, when it was very hot. I stopped a couple of times to take a rest. After almost one hour, and once up there, at the entrance of the monastery, there were two Muslim women that told us that the monastery was closed. They started laughing and so we did! There was a man that opened the gate and we entered in a group of 7 people. The monk there gave each of us a glass of cold water and showed us around the monastery. We went into a room full of beautiful icons and upstairs a small chapel with a balcony that overlooked the whole city of Jericho. I stayed there quiet and prayerfully for a couple of minutes, then the monk started to make a sign that it was time to move on and finish our visit because of the other visitors that were waiting outside. On the way down, we lost the way for some time but we were able to find it again. A small road that led into a water spring. We finally got down and back into the new city for a snack and we met Abu Omar, a taxi driver that offered some help since he had met some of the other student interns from our program that had come the day before. He was very friendly and offered to take us to the Dead Sea. He also showed us a cheap hotel and even went with us to take a look at the place. After taking some supplies, mostly water, we headed to the Dead Sea. The weather was really hot as we drove there. We got into Kalia beach in the West Bank side of the Dead Sea. There, we paid 40 NIS to get into the beach. The view of the Dead Sea and the mountains on the Jordan side was amazing. A very colorful landscape, taking into consideration that we were in the desert, water, mountains and a well place infrastructure with showers, gazebos and even music and a shop. I noticed that all visitors were foreigners. At he beach entrance, there were instructions on how to get into the sea and the do’s and don’ts to getting into the water. Showers with a high water pressure made me think about the water tanks on top of Palestinian houses. I think I saw one single Palestinian family in this private beach complex.
So, I was there by the Dead Sea, eight times the concentration of regular sea water. People walking around with dark green mud all over their bodies, they looked like aliens. So, I went into the sea, just to have the experience. I was very hesitant because all the things I leaned about how contaminated the Jordan River is, which is the water supply to the Dead Sea. It was really hard to walk in since the bottom of the sea is mud and it is uneven, you immediately sink, it feels as if you were about to be swallowed by it. SO I decided to sit and I felt the effect, almost immediately you are floating. You really sit and float. The water feels slippery over your body and kind of oily. The sensation is amazing, but is nothing like swimming on the Caribbean. After a couple of minutes, I had enough. At one point I got water into my mouth and the taste is awful, is like a mixture of salt and oil and is bitter. You cannot really stay that much, is hot and oily and not so refreshing. The cool thing is the floating. I went out and had my body washed of all this salt. Feeling guilty of spending that much water, that was anyway taken away from the Palestinians, which I guess are not allowed in, I’m not sure if we are in Area C (under Israeli military control).
Besides us in the gazebo, there was a couple from Kazakhstan. They asked me to look up after their stuff while they went on the water. On the speakers, they were playing some meringue music from a Puerto Rican singer, Elvis Crespo. Suddenly, I had a thought of how we are exploiting the Palestinian resources, specifically, the water. How much water is spent for tourist to take a bath on the Dead Sea. The lady from Kazakhstan said something that I didn’t understand only after she smiled. She said good bye Casto Rico. I smiled and said good bye. Later, I went one more time into the water, and got some of the mud over my face. Abu Omar picked us up and took us to a near by town called Azariya to take the bus back to Jerusalem. We bought some cactus fruits from a boy selling them in the street. He peeled one and showed me how to eat them without getting the thorns, eventually I did get them all over my fingers anyway. So, we took bus 36 to Jerusalem and stopped at a checkpoint, where we had to get of f and show our passports. They asked Paolo what he was doing and he surprised replied; I’m on holidays the soldier then asked him if it was a nice country!!!! He took my passport and started to pass the pages without looking for anything specifically and then he gave it back to me and we went into th bus again and went to the Damascus Gate. We slept on the roof of the Petra Hostel. It was the best sleep I had since I been here, together with Ramallah!
We woke up around 07:30 to the sound of the church bells. It felt just right to be in Jerusalem. Being here, and doing what I’m doing, even though sometimes I think I’m crazy. Just leaving everything, deferring my semester and living in a Palestinian farm with no water, or electricity, even though we do have solar panels which produce the necessary electricity to run the farm. Well, back to being in Jerusalem; we just walked down the alleys of the Christian quarter, on our way to the church of the Holy Sepulcher, looking for a mass. We eventually found an Italian one, at 10 am, which inside the church is 09:00, I’m not sure exactly why it is one hour before. After mass, we went walked around the holy city for the afternoon and we climbed into the Mount of Olives and on the top we had a beautiful view of the Old city on the one side, and a view of the Separation wall on the other side. This are the kind of things that make you wonder, if it is a Holy City, when you have this wonderful views and you feel you are in a really holy place, and when you look to the side, you see soldiers and the clear signs of occupation right before your eyes, civilian men talking on walkie-talkies in Hebrew mingled with the tourist in the streets in the old city. Jewish men with the kippas entering a house with the Israeli flag, in the middle of the Muslim quarter. On top of the Mount of Olives if you look well, you can see the wall a few kilometers from the old city. It really hurts to see all this things at once, it is confusing, and it bothers me that people walk the way of Jesus and not even stop to ask the right questions, they visit the places they feel comfortable visiting and don’t see the reality of the “Holy Land”. How can a place with so much injustice, segregation and racism can be called a Holy land. How come in the name of religion could we justify such atrocities as house demolitions, whole families being evicted and sleeping in front of their houses? Let’s call it what it is, Inequality and injustice land, unholy land???.