Written 10 November 2012
(Sorry, no pictures. I didn't bring my camera)
My second week at AUM was short, just Monday through Wednesday. We had the Eid Al-Adha holiday off. Eid Adha is one of the two most important feasts of the Muslim year, the other being the Eid that ends the month of Ramadan. Eid Adha commemorates the patriarch Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael. Much like the Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac, but with the substitution of his other son (the one that he drove out along with his other wife, Ishmael's mother. That pair became important in the Muslim story, though I do not remember all the details at the moment.). In any case, we had off from the end of the day Wednesday until the next Tuesday, a 5-day weekend! When I found out about it you can bet that I began making preparations to visit my sweetie in Jerusalem.
Travel between Jordan and Israel is not easy or simple or quick, but it is infinitely easier for me carrying an American passport than it is for others. Hatem, a Jordanian citizen all his life, told me afterwards, "I am jealous when I hear you talking about going to Jerusalem so easily. I would like, once in my life, to be able to go, but the governments do not make it easy."
Ramzi K arranged a taxi for me to the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge border crossing of the Jordan River with his cousin, the taxi driver. With my bags all packed I got picked up just before 8:00 am and took a 20 JD, 45-minute cab ride to the crossing. Once at the crossing, you visit with the Jordanian authorities, show your passport, pay your 10 JD exit tax, and buy a bus ticket for the ride to the Israeli side. The slightly unnerving part is that they keep your passport for a while and give it back to you once you are on the bus. Once on the bus you take the 6Km ride across the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge (same bridge, different names from different countries) and get dropped off .
The ride took at least an hour because we had to stop at three separate checkpoints, each with its own passport check. At one of them we all had to get out of the bus and all of the men on the bus had to show their documents to the Israelis. Ok, so you get to the Israeli immigration place and one of the first things you do is hand over your luggage which goes through its own separate scan. You queue up and go through the metal detectors. Once through there you line up for passport inspection and questioning. Once your passport is stamped, you emerge into a large hall and first find and reclaim your luggage. After a short visit at currency exchange to change some JD to NIS(New Israeli Shekel) so that I could pay for a bus ticket.
I went outside and found the kiosk for getting a bus ticket. 42 NIS later, I was on a small 10-person bus and headed for Jerusalem. The ride only took 30-40 minutes to get to the Damascus Gate in the Old City. I got there at about noon. Israel and Jordan are 1 hour off, with Israel being 1 hour earlier, so the 100Km (60 mile) trip took 5 hours.
If you are in a hurry, or appear to be impatient, this is not the kind of travel to do. At any point there are people who can pick up on that emotion and will generally do their best to see that you get more, rather than less, frustrated. I've found it's best to just relax, realize it's going to take however long it's going to take, drop it into low gear, and just enjoy the travel. The people watching is always great as there is such a wide range of human beings moving across the borders.
Diane, Kate, my neice, and Olivia Bee (a young woman studying abroad at Jordan University in Amman who has known the Franciscan community since grade school days, and was visiting the Franciscans for her Eid holiday) picked me up a little while later. It was so great to be with Diane again, this time after only a 5 hour, 100 Km trip instead of 36 hours and 7,000 miles. As we were so close to the Old City, we parked the car, walked in to The Well, did some shopping and had lunch. Kate and I had a competition to see who could find the most outrageous ring. Believe me, it was a close race, but I think that Kate won with a knuckle-buster that she would have had to have a wrist support for if she were to actually wear it! The men at the Well fed us lunch while we did our shopping. After getting gifts for several women in the family, the men gave a scarf to Kate and Olivia as gifts. There are benefits to be accrued when you are a good customer, and Diane is the very definition of that.
We spent the rest of Thursday hanging out at the apartment which was fine with me. I had brought all of my dirty laundry from Jordan because I don't have a washer and dryer and Diane does. We got the first load washed that day and the second the next.
On Friday we hung them all out on the drying lines on the roof and went for a drive, first to IKEA and then on to Caesarea for lunch with Rachel and Uri. At IKEA we bought a ton of stuff to make my apartment more livable; a set of silverware, good sharp knives, a knife sharpener, a dozen glass jars for spices, two sets of bath towels, two light fixtures to enhance the bare bulbs in my kitchen and bedroom, some scented candles, and tea light holders for them.
Once out of IKEA, we headed north for Caearea. We got there just about noon, perfect for our lunch with Rachel and Uri. We met them at Rachel's shop complex and sat in the sun and talked for a while. One of the shops is full of specialty products for cats, and, of course, there are a whole passle of cats around the shops (and Caesarea in general). One of the newly-adopted ones was a young male that Rachel named Pig-Pig. He crawled up into my lap, so I gave him the deluxe head scratching. His little purr motor was going! Up until that time, I hadn't really realized just how much I missed Prince and Thor, my two black brother cats at home in Lake Forest Park. Well, we came back to the shops after lunch for coffee and Pig-Pig was in my lap in a flash, so I got my fix, but I do miss 'the boys'.
The six of us (Diane, Kate, Olivia, Rachel, Uri, and I) had lunch at Helene's, a very good restaurant right on the water of Caesarea harbor. Lunch was fabulous. It seems that Uri and I have similar tastes as we had the same appetizer (lightly fried whole anchovies on a bed of roasted vegetables)and desert (tahini ice cream with halvah threads and chocolate over it).
After lunch the girls headed off for a tour of the ruins of Caesarea and the four of us went back to the shops for coffee, a chat, and a bit of shopping, of course. Uri is a fascinating man. He's worked on desalination plants all over the world and is a very interesting man to talk with. Humble, but if you listen carefully, you realize just how advanced and well regarded he must be in his field.
The girls scored for the second day in a row, each coming out with a gift from Rachel. We had taken a long time at lunch and lingered long over coffee and talk, so it was almost dusk by the time we left Caesarea. We took the girls by the old Roman aqueduct and beach area, but didn't get out as it was getting dark. We drove home to Jerusalem in the dark, getting home around 7:00. None of us was hungry for supper after such a lunch, so we made do on two meals. That pattern would hold for the next two days as well.
On Saturday we finished my laundry up and then got ready for lunch at George and Elianor's. Elianor was making emshaken, a dish for which she is justly famous. Emshaken is basically roast chicken on flatbread, but that hardly does it justice. The flatbread, taboon, is like pita, but a bit bigger and much fluffier. This is spread with a mixture of onions, spices, and almonds and then the grilled chicken half is placed atop that. It is, without a doubt in my mind, one of the most delicious meals imaginable. This is not the first time I've had emshaken at Elianor's and I hope it will not be the last.
On Sunday, Diane and I went to Mass at the Poor Clare's Monastery and then went off to the Jerusalem Mall for another shop-a-thon. This time we bought a coffee grinder (the one I brought from the US was not functioning well on Jordanian current), an excellent frying pan, two nice covered cooking pans, and some smaller cooking implements. Between the IKEA and JMall trips, it took two extra suitcases to get everything back to Madaba!
After returning home from shopping we picked up Kate and headed to Shorooq's for lunch. Shorooq made maqluba (sp?), which means upside down. It is basically a one pot dish of chicken and rice. Once it's all cooked it is turned over onto a large platter and you dig in. Shorooq said it was the first time she had made maqluba and it was excellent. She claims not to be a good cook, but I am here to tell you that is not the truth. She is quite good.
Shortly after lunch, her husband's uncle stopped by for a visit. What a fascinating and cultured gentleman. He spoke five languages fluently including English, Spanish, French and Italian. He and Diane had quite a conversation together.
After lunch we headed back home and began packing up all my loot. In addition to all the purchased stuff, Diane gave me two sets of really nice sheets from her supply (she is a connoisseur of fine linens, so I got one set of flannels and one set of smooth cotton) as well as a comforter still in its original (small) packaging. She also filled all of the dozen glass jars with a dozen different spices and threw in 4 liters of high quality olive oil (quality ingredients make all the difference in cooking, especially spices and oil). As I said earlier, Diane had to lend me two suitcases to get it all back to Madaba, which made it interesting keeping the baggage train together!
Monday, we left the apartment around 9:00 am and Diane dropped Olivia and I off for our return to Jordan; she to Amman, me to Madaba. The return voyage was quite similar in structure and timing to the arrival with a couple of high priced surprises. The taxi ride to the Allenby Bridge was 200 NIS (about $50)! and the exit tax from Israel was 175 NIS ( almost $44)! But, if you want to travel, you pay the freight. If you don't want to, you don't get to leave!
Olivia and I traveled together to the Jordan side and then parted ways. I got a 20JD taxi ride back to Madaba and ferried my three bags up the three flights of stairs one flight at a time. It took quite some time to get it all unpacked and organized, but the apartment is much more liveable as a result.
I'm so glad Diane and I got to spend almost 4 full days together (short about 3 hours). We had a great time together. Even if we had done nothing but hang out together, it would have been worth the time and travel. The stuff we got to do was a bonus.