Holy Moses, Mosaic and another border incident? Yay israel! – 04 November

Wow, that Mariott hotel in Amman was wonderful.  Well, I slept well, but something Dayna ate didn’t agree with her and she was up a few times.  But it was so comfortable that I am pretty sure she did better there than she would have anywhere else, with the same issues…

But the Amman Mariott was so, so nice, I need to get some business dealings going so can get back here!

The Lobby of the Amman Mariott Hotel

This morning, we had to pack and get rolling once again.  This afternoon we cross over into Israel!  But first…

We visited Mount Nebo, where Moses looked across at the promised land before dying.  He had been advised by God that he could see the promised land but could not lead his people into it; that would be for his successor to do. 

What’s really interesting about this site is that from the summit, you can see well into Israel, and off into the distance in Jordan as well.  You can see to Jerusalem if the conditions are right!

On a clear day, you could see Jerusalem.  Today you can’t see squat.

Dean at summit of Mount Nebo.

Dayna at summit of Mount Nebo.

Unfortunately, today it was very windy – yikes, almost gale force winds!  A veritable desert sandstorm.  Our guide had to cover his eyes as he spoke to us, the sand was whipping around so fiercely.  Because of the sand, we couldn’t see much of anything from up there, so sad.  But it was interesting anyway.  There are portions of ancient mosaics rescued from old churches on this site.  There are commemorative monuments and buildings (under construction) from a visit by Pope John Paul II in 2000.

Ancient Mosaics from the ruins on Mount Nebo
Dayna is going to have to work out more to move that rock.  It was actually used as a door at one time.  Yikes, hope it wasn’t an emergency exit!

We then visited the Madaba Mosaic Workshop, just down the road.  The mosaics that they make are amazing!  Starting with relatively consistent slivers of twenty five different colours of stone, they snip various shapes and sizes of pieces off, then apply them to a base to make an elaborate image.  These images range from small (maybe 6″ on a side) to huge (6 ft on a side).  There are two techniques used:
– the “old” technique where flour & water is used to stick the stones together on a cloth backing which has the pattern drawn on it, then apply an adhesive solid plate to the face and wash away the flour & water, taking away the cloth to expose the image.  Then apply grout to the face to permanently fix the stones in place.
– the “new” technique where the stones are stuck directly to a flexible cloth mesh with embedded adhesive.  The “new” technique yields a flexible image that can be rolled for shipping.

One of the interesting aspects of the school is that they employ 153 artists, of which 75% of them are folks who are special needs, giving them meaningful work with a real wage.

Which, in a roundabout way, brings me to something that you may not know about Jordan, and Islamic country – it has an impressive social safety net.  Apparently when Saladin (re crusades) took over, he recognized the concept of mercy & social responsibility.  He gave the conquered soldiers the choice of going home or staying, and many converted to Islam, they were so impressed.  He instituted a tax on the young which paid a pension to the old who could no longer work.  And, he had a system of support for widows and orphans.

So in Jordan today, they have similar rules and are quite happy with them.  The Islamic faith has in its code a responsibility to widows, orphans, and those otherwise not able to fully care for themselves.  Progressive, huh?

I didn’t think I would be all that impressed with the mosaics, but when I saw the workers doing the images, I was astounded!  We purchased a circular 18″ image of loaves & fishes in the new style, cost about US$120.  But little did I know what pain this little rolled up mosaic would cause me!  I don’t want to get ahead of my story though.  I stuffed the rolled up mosaic in my suitcase, because Lord knows I have enough stuff to carry already, didn’t figure I could handle one more thing to carry.

Then, off down the side of Mount Nebo to the traditional baptismal site on the Jordan where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.  George had asked me to read a selection from Matthew before the baptism, and a little background from that new Archaeological Study Bible – New International Version – that I have. What I wasn’t expecting was for him to call on me to do it on the bus, as we drove down the mountain side to the site.  [ my excuse: I was hoping the site itself would inspire me ]  But he did, and in response, I read all of Matthew chapter 3 to the group, along with a very short editorial culled from the page opposite in said study Bible – that in the ancient Jewish tradition, baptism was performed to, among other things, signify a change in station for the recipient.  Since Jesus was beginning his ministry from that point, it was entirely appropriate for John to baptize him then.

Of course the baptism site is elaborate and full.  There are three churches constructed within a couple hundred feet of the place, and more under construction; in fact, the land on the Jordan side has been donated by the government for churches to be built.

This site has been considered sacred since the beginning of Christianity; so we saw the ruins of churches of old as well.  Right at the site where the baptism took place, there are steps leading down to the spot, steps that may well have been there in Jesus’ day, and square stones to on the four sides of the spot, such that the water would form a cross there.  Unfortunately, this is actually a tributary feeding the Jordan River, and it only flows in the spring, so right now it is dry to the bottom, oh well.

The place where Jesus was baptized (between the square stones) – dry right now because the season doesn’t provide water to this tributary of the Jordan

On the banks of the Jordan River itself, there is a small shelter and a platform with steps on either side, leading into the water.  In the centre of the shelter is a full font of Jordan water that can be used for baptism, or collected to take home.  George likes to baptize folks back home with River Jordan water, so Donna collected up 2 litres to take back.

The group sets out on the long walk from the parking lot to the baptism site.

Baptism font under the shelter at the River Jordan.

Dean gets re-baptized in by Col. (ret) Rev. George Davidson in the River Jordan.

Dayna gets re-baptized in by Col. (ret) Rev. George Davidson in the River Jordan.

George re-baptizes his daughter Laurie in the River Jordan.

Laurie thanks her dad George, he is her hero!

It turns out that George was wearing two piece pants, that old sly army corporal guy, so he just took off his socks & shoes, unzipped the bottom half, and strode down the steps into the water.  We then took off our socks & shoes, rolled up our pants, and followed.  George said a few words, did the baptism that I’ve seen and participated in many times back home (as chair of council, I have to present the baptism certificates and candles to the parents), and shook our hand.

But here’s where it got interesting.  George isn’t as steady as he used to be, and we were all concerned that he was going a bit too deep.  Well, the steps go right into the water, so he was able to keep his feet, but he was indeed too deep.  He got his pants a bit wet, and his ceremonial stole got soaked!  Yikes, the Jordan is very murky, and that stole looks like pretty fine fabric with a very nice pattern, not sure it will come out.  We may be buying him a new one!

George did a few people before me, and that was fine.  When it was my turn, he called me “Dale”.  Oops, do I have to change my name now?  I told Dayna that this was just the Islamic pronunciation of my name, ha ha.

Then I hovered around as the baptisms went on.  I was concerned that he was looking a bit unsteady.  I haven’t done a rescue & tow in 20 years, and I wasn’t relishing the thought of doing it today!  Finally I figured that enough folks were around that I could put my shoes back on; besides, that river looks shallow enough that I could probably walk out to do a rescue anyway.

Here is something else interesting about this site: the River Jordan forms the political border between Jordan and Israel at this point.  So, right opposite us, about 15 feet away, is a much nicer, much larger, concrete platform with wide concrete steps, and a nice marked baptism area.  There were dozens of folks on the other side doing the same thing, singing hymns (in German methinks) and doing their thing.  All under the watchful eye of an 18 yr old soldier with an automatic weapon.  Hmm.

So the re-baptism was a success.  Onward to the border crossing into Israel, the “Jordan Valley” crossing point.  It took about 1-1/2 hours to get there, so we got there about 3 PM.  Little did we know…

Well OK so a border guard comes right onto the bus and checks each and every passport, fine.  Then our guide takes all passports to get the exit visas.  No dice, we have to do it in person.  Well OK, we file into the passport control office, and wait about 3/4 hour to get us all cleared through.  Of that 3/4 hour, about 1/2 hour was just for one person!  Not sure what he said wrong, but he’s Anglican clergy, so maybe it’s just him paying for being part of the wrong denomination, heh heh. 

The nice part about this border crossing is that the bus will drive us across the bridge to the Israeli side.  Before we get out of Jordan, the bus gets boarded again by a guard who takes the exit visas and checks every passport again, yikes.  Then the real fun begins.

We crossed the bridge to Israel, only to be stopped as soon as we are off the bridge.  We sit for about twenty minutes, then security personnel do an external examination of the bus (including a mirror view under the bus).  We sit for another twenty minutes, then they finally let us into the customs area.

In the customs area, we see one line, but they force us to queue up about five abreast, more of a holding pen than a lineup.  Then about fifty more Israelis pile in behind us, and there’s a lot of shouting, nobody from our group knows what they are saying.  They seem to be insulting us, somebody hears the word “American” in their speech, Donna takes umbrage and chews out one of the young Israelis.  Well they finally come to terms, but I’ll tell you with only one inspection person it was mighty slow.  But the best was yet to come!

Finally Dayna and I get up to the inspection person.  No problem, go into that scanner over there.  We run our bags, but as I go to put it on the belt, the tow handle won’t collapse.  The X-ray inspector tells me to put the handle in, but i can’t.  Well finally she puts up with that, and it all goes through.  All but my suitcase comes out the other side.  The belt goes backward, forward, backward, forward, for what seemed like five minutes.  Then I get the stern warning – do not touch that bag.  They take away my passport, put it on the bag, and set the bag aside for full inspection.  Then they seem to forget about me as they try to push all the other passengers through. 

I stood around for about half an hour, staring at my suitcase, trying not to look nervous (ever notice how that does not work?).  Now the terminal is empty, except for one or two other miscreants.  The young lady asks me for help to lift the bag onto the inspection table (I thought that I wasn’t supposed to touch it, but hey).  She opens it up, looks at the mosaic, asks what it is, admires it for a bit, then removes it.  We zip the bag back up, run it through the scanner, and now it’s fine!  It was the mosaic all along, yikes.  I wonder what it looks like in the X-ray machine?  I shudder to think what hundreds of pieces of rock look like in there.

So I was the last person out by about 20 minutes.  The new guide (we get new guide, driver and bus each time we change countries) even knows my name and shouts as I exit the controlled area.  He seems relieved, because he promised Dayna that he’d find her a new husband if I didn’t come out.  I’m thankful he didn’t have to live up to his promise!  Like our other tour guides, this guy, Lazarus, seems like a very good guy.  We’re thankful, because we’ve heard horror stories of guides in times past that weren’t so good.

Well we finally got the kibbutz at about 6:30 PM, very late.  We missed our afternoon stop here, but we’re going to get up very, very early and do it all tomorrow, oh boy oh boy.

We aren’t actually on the kibbutz commune itself, but at the Nof Ginosar Hotel, owned by the kibbutz.  Although Spartan in appearance, it’s actually quite nice.  It looks like a whole suite outfitted in the Ikea style!

Intrepid blog writer getting sleepy and feeling the effects of wine – having trouble keeping his eye open!

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