Incredible Opportunities (Arabic Adventure)

27 Aug

My program in Jordan has been over for a little while, so I will cover things that have happened since then. After it ended I moved in with a native family in Amman. Homestays are great opportunities, and I am very excited to do this again in Morocco. There was another participant, Chris, who remained after the program ended, so we decided to take a trip to Jerusalem. The result: one of the best weeklong experiences ever. There is no doubt that the city of Jerusalem is important to the three major religions of the world, I think that is already stated enough. But when you actually come to this city, 20+ years of continual reference and emphasis on its significance (especially if you are religious) all of a sudden hits you in the face and leaves you with that “I am here right now, this is incredible” feeling.

We stayed in a hostel near one of the gates of the Old City of Jerusalem, which gave us access to both worlds. By worlds, I mean the Palestinian inhabited East Jerusalem and Old City, and the Israeli inhabited West Jerusalem. Throughout our week in Israel we were able to explore the major sites in and out of the Old City. The Old City itself is already a major attraction. As soon as you step out of the hostel in the morning, you are immediately thrown into a world of winding cobblestone streets and corridors, jam-packed with Jewish and Palestinian vendors and shops, and the thousands of people who make their way through the city every day. The Old City is full of energy, and can definitely leave you drained after a full day of exploring.  The City is divided into 4 quarters, Christian, Armenian, Muslim and Jewish. The Jewish quarter houses the Wailing Wall (or Western Wall of the Temple Mount). Hundreds of Ultra- Orthodox Jews conducting prayers and religious rites at the edge of the wall was quite an impressive sight indeed.

Throughout the week we explored the major religious sites in and out of the Old City, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (The Disputed location of the Crucifixion of the Savior), The Via Dolorosa (the road that Christ walked on the way to His crucifixion). We also explored the sites around the Mount of Olives, such as the Basilica of the Agony (Enshrining a section of rock where Christ prayed before being arrested) with the Garden of Gethsemane next to it (Where Christ was betrayed by Judas). The Tomb of the Virgin Mary and the Church of Mary Magdalene are next door and up the hill are many more important sites, such as the Church of the Ascension (believed to be the spot where The Savior ascended into Heaven after his resurrection), the tombs of Old Testament prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, and many beautiful chapels under the religious authorities of the Catholic, Greek, Russian and Armenian churches. The Top of the Mount of Olives hosts the famous and most gorgeous panoramic view of the Old City and West Jerusalem. It was an incredible opportunity to see the ancient city from the mount on which the Savior taught and prophesied.

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Chris and I got on a bus one day and went down to the Dead Sea, one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world, and the lowest elevation on earth. We swam around for a while, or tried to at least as it was fairly difficult, and as hard as you try, you will not sink, but don’t try too hard because you will get salt in your eye, rather painful. The water was also very hot and will leave you feeling dehydrated, but you also get to experience the therapeutic qualities of the world-famous Dead Sea mud, and maybe see a tourist float by in the water while reading a newspaper or book haha. On another day we went in to Bethlehem inside the West Bank. We managed to see the Birthplace of the Savior, preserved in the Church of the Nativity and the Shepard’s field. Getting in and out Bethlehem was an interesting ordeal. If you decide to visit the West Bank, be prepared to pass through a high security checkpoint at the West Bank wall. Expect a decent amount of chaos, especially on the Islamic Sabbath day when thousands of Palestinians are trying to get into Jerusalem to worship at the Temple Mount, with many being turned away because of the rejection of paperwork by the Israeli security force. Oh and do NOT forget to bring your passport.

Israel was a great experience, and there is too much here to see in one week. I feel like I had a decent background and understanding of religious history pertaining to city prior to coming here, but definitely now know what I need to brush up on for the next time, hopefully if there is a next time. Anyway, I am back in Amman, Jordan and am preparing for the next leg of the tour, Morocco! I will write one more entry prior to leaving. Thanks for reading!

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