Y’all are gonna have to suffer from an abbreviated post because WordPress DELETED my beautiful, long, and thoughtful one by randomly signing me out. CURSE YOU.
So. Yesterday I finished the reading for my final project (i.e. 120-page Arabic sci-fi novella) around 4PM, after a 7-hour marathon session. It was epic. But my brain is still dead.
Today we went on our last CIEE-organized (and paid for!) tour, entitled “Biblical Jordan.” We met up at the good old U of J main gate at 8 and headed to Jesus’ baptism site.
First, a few words about the Jordan River Valley: IT IS THE HOTTEST PLACE I HAVE EVER BEEN. I have no idea how there is so much humidity there, given that what I am sure was once a mighty river is now a dirty little stream, but it is HOT.
We visited the site where the archaeological and historical evidence says that Jesus was baptized and I tried to feel some emotion about it, but I didn’t. Part of it was probably the fact that there was a swarm of Asian tourists. Part of it was that the river doesn’t even flow there anymore; it’s just a bunch of steps leading down from the (long destroyed and unimpressive) basilica down to a shallow pool of gross-looking green water.
Mostly, though, I think it was what I kept thinking as I was walking through the site: “Christianity has become abstract.” I realize that is a wild generalization and fairly useless sort of statement, but there it is. Yalies, we can argue about it later when my brain is actually functioning.
Seeing the actual Jordan River was much more interesting. Not religiously, really (apparently people come here to baptize themselves, but considering that raw sewage pours into the river a few miles upstream, I didn’t touch it), but in terms of realizing how freaking small the Jordan is now. As in, “just-a-hop-and-an-enthusiastic-skip-to-Israel” small. I joked that if you took a water bottle full of water from the river, you could cause an international incident by shrinking the border. The armed Jordanian soldiers probably would not have thought that was a funny joke. Nor, I imagine, would the IDF soldiers who would presumably be on the spot in less than a minute if they saw someone take the jump on any of their security cameras.
There is another “Jesus’ baptismal site” in Israel, directly across from the one in Jordan. Of course, both vehemently deny that the other side has the requisite archaeological evidence. Apparently on the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land he planned to just visit the Jordanian side, but the Israelis threw a hissy fit so he visited both. (I wonder if he’d be allowed to just hop across?) It was interesting to see the difference between tourist facilities on either side of the border: Israel had nice white stone steps and buildings, and Jordan had some sort of rickety wood pavilion. Still, it had its charm.
Visiting Mount Nebo for the second time was interesting, since it has all sorts of holy significance that I didn’t care about at all last summer. It was a hazy day so the view was awful, but just walking around on the mountaintop where Moses spent his last days and looked out onto the Promised Land he was destined never to enter was worth the trip.
In Madaba, I saw the oldest surviving map of the Middle East on a mosaic floor in a Greek Orthodox Church! For the third time. But it’s a nice church, so whatever. We also ate in the exact same restaurant we ate in last year. The tourist track is pretty small in Jordan. Which is probably why our tour guides seem to know all of the people they meet.
Our last stop of the day was Mukawir, the site of Herod Antipas’ palace where Salome danced for the head of John the Baptist. I say “the site of” because all that remains of the palace is three (and a half) pillars. The climb was so steep that I actually hyperventilated. I swear, I don’t have an irrational fear of heights. I can stand on the top of the Empire State Building and look down with no problem! I do, however, have what I think is a rational (if irrationally pronounced) fear of FALLING TO MY DEATH on ANCIENT STONE PATHS with absurd grades and THE STONES KEPT SLIPPING FROM BENEATH MY FEET AGGGHK. If anyone was ever going to fall off of that path and die, I just know it would be me. Shiver.
The view was not that impressive, because it was hazy, but whatever. The climb was character-building! For, in the words of the nationalist poem we had to read in Arabic (loosely translated): “He who does not love to climb mountains will live eternally between ditches and holes.” Or something to that effect.
So, anyway, back in Amman now. One more week left of class to push through. I actually have accommodations for the first leg of my journey in Syria, so that’s exciting! Now all I need to do is figure out the best (and by “best” I mean “cheapest”) way to get to Damascus…