We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed and that changes everything. – Jonah Lehrer.
It was my third time arranging for what I considered, the trip of my lifetime. After Germany, going to Israel is one of my bucket list, so imagine when I managed to cajole my clients to follow me on my trip, I was elated. It was May. That’s when the testing comes.
As my company (now ex company) was undergoing restructuring, I had to apply for permission before they issue my air-tickets. No response. Yes, yes, I believe they will approve, that’s what the manager chirped. As the date drew nearer, no response came. The date I was scheduled to fly passed and yet, I received no response from either the boss or the manager. All they could do was grin. It was annoying.
Being the optimistic me, I scheduled myself to fly again in June. Again, radio silence. This time it irked me. Just tell me the truth, I flared. All I had gotten was a grin. I heId back my temper. I had really wanted to slap that smug grin off their faces.
Then Ataturk airport got bombed. I was supposed to fly to Israel that day.
I sat down in front of my TV, stunned, while trying to settle the tourists who was already in the air trying to fly into the airport that went up in smoke. I stayed on my phone, trying to assure my clients, heart pounding while eyes were glued to the TV. Reality slowly sank in. I was supposed to fly that day, but because my company hadn’t issued my tickets, I stayed at home. I felt lucky. It was like a sign from above. I resigned from my company one month later.
After my resignation, I decided to rest a bit and bought my tickets to fly out to Cappadocia to visit my friends instead.
This time, the coup happened and Ataturk airport closed down. Again. I was supposed to fly that day. Bummer.
When I told my friends my little (mis)adventure with the airport, I couldn’t help but be amused. However, when my clients once again asked me about the long awaited trip, I figured third try could be my lucky charm and decided to try again. The day I made my reservations, I sat down once again at the pewter, praying, let 3 be my lucky charm, let me fly to the Holyland if this is God’s Will.
Exactly four months later, on 10 September 2016 at 14:25, I was on the plane on my way to Amman, Jordan. Looks like third is indeed my lucky charm.
Welcome to Amman, Jordan
McDonald’s in Amman. And the streets are so empty during Eid.
Amman, the city of white, is the capital of Jordan. Situated in north-central Jordan, the city has a population of 4,007,526 and a land area of 1,680 square kilometres. Amman is considered to be among the most liberal and westernized Arab cities. I even saw tourists wearing shorts strolling around. But my experience on the plane was so different: my clients and I were the only passenger who didn’t wear the hijab and I had absent-mindedly put on my sleeveless t-shirt. I had almost wanted to dug myself a whole in the ground. However, the other passengers were very kind and friendly. One even tried to smile at me even though she was covered from head to toe (I thought I noticed her squinting as if she was smiling at me). No one judged me based on my (poor) choice of clothing. It was a relief.
I was surprised to find biblical places in Jordan. Jordan gives me the impression of a sandy wilderness located in the middle of the scorching desert, where ancient civilization resides. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to be walking on the land which I used to read in the bible. It was like bible coming alive.
Mount Nebo, located in Madaba, southwest of Amman, is an elevated ridge in Jordan, about 817 metre above sea level. It was here where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land (currently Israel). The mount provides a panorama view of the Jordan Valley and Moses Spring.
Next, we travelled a short distance away to the Crusader castle of Kerak. It is one of the largest crusader castle, which was built in the 1140s. The Crusaders called it Crac des Moabites or “Karak in Moab”, as it is frequently referred to in history books. The view from the top was phenomenal.
The next day we went to Petra, a famous archaeological site in Jordan’s southwestern desert, famous for their rock-cut architecture and water conduit system. Petra was the capital of the Arab Nabatean Kingdom, established possibly as early as 312 BC. The Nabateans were nomadic Arabs who benefited from the proximity of Petra to the regional trade routes, in becoming a major trading hub, thus enabling them to gather wealth. The Nabateans are also known for their great ability in constructing efficient water collecting methods in the barren deserts and their talent in carving structures into solid rocks. It is magnificent site, to cover the whole area would take 13 hours, tunneling through canyon which provide the much needed shade from the sun.
We went there as early as 8am to avoid the crowds and the sun. The walk was long and we covered less than half of the whole site (we could only go as far as the Royal Tombs) in a total four hours. On our way back, we had to brace the scorching sun. There were a few times I had doubted if I would be able to make it out alive since I had forgotten to bring my hat along and we had to walk under the very harsh elements of the sun and the sand. My son was so exhausted he couldn’t even muster the energy to complain. As we described our experience in Chinese, we “had left half our lives inside Petra”. But it was worth every pain.
Jerash is an ancient city in Jordan, inhabited since the Bronze Age, it’s known for the ruins of the walled Greco-Roman settlement of Gerasa just outside the modern city.
According to Wikipedia, a strong earthquake destroyed in 749 AD large parts of Jerash, while subsequent earthquakes along with wars and turmoil contributed to additional destruction. The ruins remained buried in the soil for hundreds of years until they were discovered by German Orientalist Ulrich Jasper Seetzen in 1806. In addition to the role of the people of old villages near Jerash, the process of building the modern city of Jerash was mainly done by the resettlement of Circassian Muslims by the Ottoman authorities; the Circassians came to Transjordan from the Caucasus after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78. Subsequently a community of people from Syria came to the area at the beginning of the 20th century.
What I enjoyed most was the auditorium. It was built in such a way, no modern system could beat its natural surround system. If you had the chance to visit, get a friend to stand on the other side of the auditorium and whisper your secrets into one of the round hollowed out structures you find along the auditorium, your voice is so crystal clear, it was as if you are just sitting besides your friend whispering.
Next stop, the Holyland
After lunch, we had to embark on a 2 hour journey to one of the three borders connecting Jordan to Israel. We took Sheikh Hussein bridge, 90km north of Amman. I was stunned to find out that I had to pay 10 Jordanian Dollars (14 USD) to get out of Jordan. Pay to get out? This is the first in my life. In addition, I had to pay an additional 1.50 Jordanian Dollars (2.30 USD) to take a 5 minutes bus ride across the border to Israel. There we ran into a Dutch group waiting in line to get into Israel.
And we got stuck.
Apparently, my wonderful business partner in Israel applied for a group visa (of 10 people) for my two beloved clients. So where are the rest of the people? The border officer asked. We don’t know (but seriously, these people don’t even exist). So we were stuck at the border for the next three hours while my partner frantically made phonecalls to the foreign affairs to rectify the matters. (I was given my slip of paper, which is equivalent to a stamp in my passport, since some countries will create problems for the passports with stamps from Israel). And the waiting game began. Others have been telling my clients, no, they couldn’t enter Israel with the visa my partner applied for them. But what the heck, we are all in an experimental mood, so here we are, stuck at the border.
Indeed, after three hours of waiting and the possibility of the Jordanian borders closing, an elderly Jewish man came out (with his Jewish cap on his head), to tell me that my clients had to return to Jordan because they were denied entry. I flipped. After three hours of waiting and this is the result? Maybe I look demure, maybe he was expecting me to take in whatever he dished out. But I am not who I look like. Upon hearing the news, I turned into the hot-tempered demon. Since we couldn’t go back to Jordan and couldn’t enter Israel, I demanded them to escort us to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv so we could change our tickets and forever forget Israel. In addition, I even threatened to not promote Israel to my clients. He was so stunned at my requests and temper, he cocked his head sideways as if apologetic for putting us in such a situation and whispered, “sign these papers and I will issue your friends their visa. No need to change your tickets.” I shot back, “are your sure?” This time, he looked frustrated and bewildered, “I am the border senior office, of course, I am sure.” He looked slightly pissed at my retorts. Here is this foreign crazy girl, travelling with her son and two friends, stuck at the border, who according to my friends was bordering on being rude towards a police officer. My friends were so afraid he would simply throw me into jail.
Miracles, they were issued a week’s visa and we quickly scrambled out of his way, in case he changed his mind. Holyland, here we come!
Mount Zion is a hill in Jerusalem just outside the walls of the Old City.
We stayed the rest of our journey in Jerusalem but we drove to Bethlehem the next day. Apparently Bethlehem is a Palestinian town south of Jerusalem in the West Bank. The biblical birthplace of Jesus, it’s a major Christian pilgrimage destination. The birth is marked by an inlaid silver star in a grotto under the 6th-century Church of the Nativity, which shares Manger Square with the 15th-century Church of St. Catherine and the 1860 Mosque of Omar. Even though it is a Palestinian town, it was controlled by the Israeli army so sometimes you might get checks just like a border control checks.
West Jerusalem is where the Jews live (above) and the East Jerusalem is where the Arabs Palestinians live (below). Look at the contrast, the street where the Jews roam is so clean and tidy while the area where the Palestinians live is so filthy and unkempt. And the street is just next to each other. That’s the thing that blows my mind: we are all humans with the same set of features – 2 eyes, 2 ears, 1 nose and 1 mouth, and yet we are forever divided according to our birthright and our skin. It’s shameful. This reminded me of the people who had once shut me out of their lives just because they felt that I was below their status and told me that they shouldn’t hang out with me anymore. It was the most humiliating but humbling experience I had to endure. At the same time, it comforted me to know that God welcomes us all with open arms at the end of our journey, rich or poor. It forever changed my life.