Monuments and ruins are very cool.
But most fun I had today was in the few chances that I got to interact with the local people. Maybe it’s just me, but people are much more interesting than old stones piled up.
Our first meeting – driving through a town along the way, there was suddenly a herd of sheep and goats coming down the sidewalk. We persuaded our driver to stop, then got out and started taking pictures while the guide talked with the shephers and his sons. I gave one of the boys an american quarter, just for fun, and he tried to give it back, thinking I was paying him for something. That’s when I learned my funnest Arabic word yet – “hadee”, which means “gift.”
Then we arrived at Umm Quais, near the Sea of Gallilee at about 10am. As our bus pulled into the parking lot, a large crowd of vendors wheeled their carts over to us at top speed. In a way, it reminded me of ancient Roman Chariot race, only these chariots were chock-full of swinging pots of coffee, bottled water, fruit and other goodies.
With the vendors came about fifty young boys, most about nine years old. They swarmed around us like we were celebrities, all shouting at once. Some spoke a tiny bit of english, and they were very eager to try it out on us. I flipped one of them a quarter just for fun, and it was like I had dropped a hamburger into a school of phirana. Oops. What was I thinking! Now I was like the pied piper of Umm Quais, and had a herd of boys following me around for about ten minutes. They all wanted to hold my hand, which is common in Jordan. Actually, we’ve seen burly, gruff, manly men all over walking arm in arm. One of the boys had a kind of drum with him, and he was playing away on it, while the boys staged an impromptu street party, dancing, clapping and singing. It looked like the traditional celebrations you see on CNN whenever something good happens in the middle east, except (thankfully) no one was firing AK-47’s in the air.
Anyway, the only thing that got the boys’ attention off of me was when the ladies in our group came by. Suddenly, the boys didn’t care about me and my measly quarters any more. I guess boys are the same everywhere. One thing that the girls mentioned, though, is that they felt self-conscious at times because apparently staring isn’t considered rude here. And the boys, well…. they aren’t very tall.
Anyway, soon we were standing on a defunct army bunker overlooking the Golan heights. The sea of Gallilee was in the distance. That was really cool, and Strong Bad and Strong Mad liked it as well.
But it got even better when we reached the spot where it is believed that Jesus met the demoniac and cast out his legion of tormentors – the man who lived in the tombs. We saw what is believed to be the actual tombs, because there is an ancient (4th century) Christian church built directly on top of it, with a hole in the floor that reaches into the tombs.
I don’t know if it was the actual spot (the sea of Gallilee seemed a bit too far off for pigs to run down and jump in), but it was really cool – literally – in the man-made caverns that we explored there. I think we sort of freaked out our guide Kamel, who didn’t expect me to be diving into every hole we passed by. I love spelunking, though, and since this IS the “Holy land” I figured it would be memorable to explore as many of them as possible.
Then we headed back to the bus and drove back south to Jerash. When we got there, the first thing we did is stop for lunch. Dean can’t get over how wonderful the food is here. Dean was made for Middle-Eastern fare, like I was made for spider holes. Lunch consisted of some wonderful hummus, tabouli, stuffed chicken, and more. For dessert there was a pile of what I thought were small fruits, but which were actually some kind of doughnut holes dripping with honey. Yum.
Then it was on to the ruins of Jerash. At the entrance to the restaurant, we were greeted by a little boy selling postcards. He was calling out in perfect english “Postcards, one dollar! Welcome to Jerash!” I got on one knee and complimented him on his english, then asked how old he was. “Five” he answered. I was astonished. My eighteen-month-old is almost as big as he was. I’d heard that malnutrition can stunt the growth of babies, and this was proof.
Then, his older brother came over and commanded him, “French!” and the boy rattled off “Hello, welcome to Jerash. Postcards, one dollar” in perfect french. He then proceeded to do the same in Spanish, German and English. I was dumbstruck.
Or maybe I was just dumb. I bought two packs of cards from the boy, and later was told that doing so only encourages the little urchins to skip school. Then I sort of felt bad about it.
Upon entering the ruined city of a thousand columns, we first went to the amphitheater, which is in great shape considering it’s almost 2000 years old. We were admiring it from the stands when Dean stepped to the stage, dropped his pack, and calling up his former profession – launched into an aria that sounded like it was made for this place. Everyone there – including other tourists, stopped and stared, amazed. The ovation when he finished was thunderous. These are the kinds of experiences that make a trip – people losing their normal inhibitions and joyfully getting about the task of making memories.
We toured the rest of the city, – columns everywhere. Some were still standing after 2000 years. Kamel showed us at the base of one how it swayed in the wind – amazing for a 33-foot stone tower. But this is exactly why the things are still standing.
Then we headed for home. When we arrived back at the hotel, Brad, Trevor and I went right to Mark & Sherie’s house – Baltimorians who are here studying – and delivered the two suitcases full of gifts. They were beyond grateful. They were stunned.
From there, we piled into Mark’s car and headed to the meeting of the local Christian school’s youth group, to which Mark’s kids belong. I was blessed to be able to meet and deliver a devotional to these kids – but they taught me far more than I taught them. They were all amazingly spiritually mature for kids their age, probably because they live as a religious minority. Many of the kids had never been to the states, which was surprising to me, since I thought they’d all be American kids.
After an hour or so, we returned to Mark & Cherie’s house for dessert, then made our way back to the hotel to start blogging!
Tomorrow, we’re off to Medaba and Mount Nebo.by