Sunday, January 15, 2006

A Long Walk Across a Short Bridge

Another rambling, narrative-lite post written hastily from a rented terminal is in order, I think. I'm in a graffiti-covered Byzantine stone grotto of an internet cafe in the Muslim quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem, around the corner from the souq where real people buy sneakers and gadgets and spices by the shovelful. The keyboard is cluttered with Hebrew, Arabic, and Roman letters, and my fingers are a bit numb because it's cold here. We just returned from a postcard-buying trip along the Via Dolorosa and through the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where there was a boisterous candle-lighting session going on (it's Sunday night).

Today we ended our short visit to Jordan, although it did not end the way we wanted it to. At seven this morning we got a taxi from Amman to the King Hussein / Allenby Bridge, which connects Jordan with the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The plan was to go to Jericho (possibly the oldest city in the world), look around, get a bus or shared taxi to Bethelehem, and eventually return to Jerusalem by night. These places are all quite close together, at least by North American standards, but travel in the West Bank is far from a sure thing these days, and our plans were changed for us. A few days ago when we entered Jordan at Aqaba on the Red Sea, we made a point of asking whether we would be able to cross back at the Allenby Bridge. It has been hard to get reliable info on things like that because 1) the rules seem to change often, sometimes on the spot, and 2) a lot of people seem to think they know the rules but their views are coloured by political prejudices and paranoia. In other words, many (not all) of the Israeli Jews we talked to told us we couldn't pass through the West Bank, while the Palestinians and Jordanians we talked to mostly told us it was no problem. Some Israeli soldiers we talked to at the Egyptian border said it was fine. And the people at the Aqaba crossing, whom presumably should know, told us, "Sure. Why not?" So did the very friendly and helpful hotel owner / tour operator Fayez in Amman. Nevertheless, when we got to the border, the laconic mustachioed Jordanian border guard would not let us out of his country because Karen had entered Jordan on her Israeli passport, and he said that Israelis could not use that crossing. As an American it would have been no problem for her to go through, nor for me as a Canadian, but Israelis are given a hard time, for obvious reasons. So instead we had to take another taxi for another hour-long drive to the north, to the next crossing which connects directly with Israel. The crossing took a couple of hours, for no good reason. From there we took a bus (filled about 80% with rifle-toting soldiers) which went through the West Bank anyway, and right by Jericho, although we were not able to get out there. So here we are in Jerusalem, and tomorrow or the next day I will make another attempt at visiting Bethelehem at least.

In the Negev I was attacked by a goose, and was embarassingly winded and shaken by the time I had fought it off.

I have to correct an earlier post in which I said that I had been to all of Israel's ports after visiting Akko, Haifa, and Jaffa. I had forgotten about Eilat, which is on a different sea, and which we visited on Thursday. NOW I've seen them all. Eilat was really the least interesting to me, I have to say, although Israelis seem to love it: lots of expensive hotels, some mediocre beaches, shopping malls, and less-than-sensibly-dressed people on vacation busily convincing themselves that they're having a ball.

A favourite conversational tactic in Jordan is to inquire as to which country the interlocuter hails from, and once a reply is given, to respond with "You're welcome." (As in, "Welcome to Jordan", but sounding more like the phrase used after "Thank you".) During one conversation in a taxi in Wadi Musa, virtually everything we said and every question we answered was greeted with this response. It made me feel, in fact, very welcome, although a bit unnerved. I think that Jordan earns a nomination at least for Friendliest, Most Helpful Country I've Visited. However, when we finally exited from the border on the Israeli side this afternoon, we met a man who didn't just give us a free ride to the nearest town; he also, upon realizing that we had no Israeli money with us, insisted on putting 100 shekels in Karen's hand.

At the Amman Archeological Museum, between the Ummayad jewelry and the Dead Sea Scrolls, we saw a bronze Nabatean coin that looked remarkably like the coin that Karen paid a Bedouin 5 dinar for in Petra (somewhat gullibly, I thought at the time), which went a fair way towards convincing me that the small round green-black nubbin we got is, in fact, a Nabatean coin found in the desert.

Also: I have live footage on digital video cassette of the birth of a calf next to an irrigation ditch in the Galilee, if anyone is interested.


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