We are in Jerusalem in time for the Jewish New Year. It’s a very tame holiday – there’ve been no fireworks, passed out drunks or speeding hooligans.
Everything was closed, including museums, so today we spent a lot of time in the Old City (run by Palestinians) working on our bargaining skills. Husbandsiu and I had decided that where possible, we would shop with Palestinians and this has been suprisingly easy. In fact, outside of the vendors in hotels and the Hassidic Jews on the street, everybody we have crossed seems to be Palestinian. We’ve had some good conversations with a few of them, and they have continued to thank us that “Australia stands with Palestine.”
We are visiting the “Holy Land”. It has been overwhelming at times – we’ve done so many things, seen so many places, and hear so many historical facts – it’s really just a case of information overload. But lots of it has felt almost completely underwhelming, and I’ve been a slightly surprised at my inability to connect emotionally with many of the sites.
We first visited the Dome of the Rock, and while I enjoyed the scenery and taking in the history around us, I didn’t really feel anything on the inside – except for maybe the nerves as I expected the Muslims and Jews around us to break into battle (apparently that only happens on TV – everything seemed fine).
And then we walked through the Old City and I was a bit entranced by the sparkling jewellery, beautiful patchworks and cheap religious paraphernalia that were for sale – even as we walked the Via Dolorosa (traditionally the route that Jesus took as he walked led to his crucifixion) I could not think of Jesus – but rather was fascinated by the sights of the Orthodox Jews, the beautiful smells of the spices in the market place, and the textures of the fabrics and beads.
When we arrived at the Church of the Resurrection (Holy Sepulchre), I was blown away by the cheapness of it all. The Holy Sepulchre is likely to be the site of the resurrection (and the burial of Jesus) – a hugely significant site for Christians and one, that I would have hoped, would move some emotion in me – but it was just so tacky, with plenty of gold and silver on the walls, tacky baubles and pushy, noisy, Eastern European in too-tight dresses. I was angry and frustrated at what was going on around me – it was so, so far removed from Christ Jesus, it was so far removed from any thing He had ever taught, it was so far removed from His plan for His people.
And from there, we went to the Western (Wailing) Wall – the only remaining wall of the ancient, Jewish temple, a site that we know Jesus definitely would have visited, and again I was left…bemused. In the women’s section, there were women weeping as they recited the Psalms, praying to and pleading with God and all I wanted to do was hug them, and comfort them, so that they too would know there is no longer a need for the temple…
It all seemed futile. Not visiting these places – the history here is amazing, and I have loved seeing the ancient stones, the towering mountains and the well endowed museums. It is the “holy places” that I have found futile – they have not connected me to God in any way – they have only placed obstacles in my relating to Him. And I wonder what Jesus would do if He came here – I am reminded of Him overturning tables in the temple courts and that response would be completely appropriate here.
And I am drawn to Him more – His righteousness, His humility and His glory – and I want to proclaim it from the mountaintop. I am blown away by His faithfulness to His Word, to His people, and the overarching story He has written throughout history, revealing Himself to the world.
And so it’s not really futile, is it? It’s been unusually helpful, for which I am so grateful.
Sunday morning, at about 2am, we started the ascend of (what we think is) Mount Sinai. It was a long walk – almost 4 hours to the top (I took a camel a third of the way, ’cause my knee was a bit too sore) – but definitely worth it.
We had some lovely Bedouin boys guiding us – they couldn’t have been older than 16 or 17 – and they often ran ahead with only thongs on their feet. After 2 1/2 hours of walking we climbed the 750 or so steps (I lost count at 115 or so), and sat together on the crevice watching the sun rise. It was amazing.
Of course, husbandsylv thinks I’m beautiful – he’s good like that – but as long as we’ve been in Sydney, he has never had any reason to think that other man might find me attractive (at least, men don’t seem to voice that attraction). Unfortunately, in Egypt (and, we’ve discovered, in Israel and Palestine), men seem to think I’m beautiful, and want to let me know.
It’s a little bit awkward – particularly because we have been travelling around in a group of almost 50 – and as a person who is not typically “attractive”, our classmates are noticing – and questioning – the attention I’m getting.
I don’t think husbandsylv noticed until a few others pointed it out to him – since then I have felt his protective hand guiding me through streets and steering me away from leering men.
I’ve been learning to drop in the fact that I’m married, which often ends the amusing but awkward conversations rather suddenly. Today, as we walked through Palestine, a man told me he thought I was beautiful, and would always have a guide in Palestine if I ever visited again. I thanked him, as he walked alongside me and asked if I have facebook. “Yes”, I responded, “I also have a husband”. He turned and looked at the guys around me and said “which one?” When I pointed at husbandsylv, he said “ahhh, he is a very lucky man”.
We went to the pyramids. It was so exciting seeing them with husbandsylv – every time I see the pyramids I am overcome by a sense of pride that my ancestors created these huge, beautiful structures.
husbandsylv even got in the spirit of things and wore a man-scarf.
It was sad that we could, so clearly, see the effects of the revolution at a site like the Pyramids. Every other time I’ve visited, it’s been bustling with people, we’ve hardly had room to walk. This time, unfortunately, there were more vendors than tourists, and that seemed to install in them a sense of desperation. We were torn because we wanted to support them but didn’t want to overload our luggage with tacky tourist things.
All in all, we had a great day out in the sun with some good friends, praising God for His creation, and for creating us in His image – as imaginative creators; and praying for the people of Egypt – for peace in the land, for a restoration of the economy and freedom for the people.
Aside from family, the best thing about Egypt was the amazing food. We had stuffed pigeons, molikhaya, samak mashwi (charcoal fish), macarona beschamel; kebab and kofta, fetir and of course, fool and ta3meya. We also enjoyed some amazing 3aseer Asab (Sugar Cane juice) and mango juice, and the sweetest watermelon and dates.
With all that in mind, one of the worst things about Egypt is the food. And although all the food is amazing, the water is pretty toxic and gets in everywhere. I was prepared for it, and warned husbandsylv, but he didn’t seem to think there would be any problems. Until, of course he came down with a pretty serious bout of the stomach bug himself.
Diarrhea, stomach cramps, headaches and a fever kept him in bed for almost 24 hours (he dragged himself out a few times to say hello to visiting family). Everyone seemed to have their own quick fixes which they recommended – chewing hommous; Turkish coffee with a pinch of lime juice; hibiscus tea, and the one he did try (and I guess, worked), mint tea.
husbandsylv kept apologising to me for “wrecking our holiday” as he tried different positions to manage the cramps, and apologising to the family for being in bed most of the day. Of course, the most common response was “welcome to Egypt!”
The four days we spent in Cairo were chocker-bock with family visits. husbandsylv got to meet almost all of the family (both sides!) that are in Cairo – I think it was a little overwhelming for both of us.
The challenge for me was definitely translation. My understanding of the Arabic language is not bad – I’d say about 70% thanks to all those years of listening to sermons in Arabic translated into English. My command of the Arabic language is bad, I’d say, because I almost always respond in English when people speak to me in Arabic. So, there I was, at times surrounded by at least 10 people, trying to maintain a conversation with them, include husbandsylv, and translate to and for him. A little stressful at times, but I think we got through it okay. husbandsylv was most relieved when he met the cousins who are fluent in English – I think it was the first time all week he was able to have a conversation without me present.
Everyone walked away telling me that my husband was “tayeb” – gentle, (or kind hearted, like I said, not the best translator) – and “hady” – calm; I guess a sign that he was accepted into the family.
I almost always forgot to take photographs when we were with the family (because I was working so hard at translating), but it was a wonderful few days, and we both felt completely at home living in Shubra. Uncle M & Aunty R, in particular, were amazing hosts and really affirmed that as a new family unit, husbandsylv and I are always welcome in their house.