Posts Tagged ‘trip’

what i miss about India

May 22, 2009

Well this was meant to be a post entitled “What I will miss about India” but I never got round to writing it while I was still there. So now that I’ve been back in South Africa for 2.5 weeks, I’m no longer predicting what I think I will miss but can report on what it is that I actually miss, and I’m limiting myself to five things…

1. Autos (as in auto rickshaws). They are loud, dangerous and the most convenient thing ever for getting to wherever you want to go whenever you want to go (as long as you have a fairly good sense of humour about having to argue for a fair fee often which is fun in and of itself). Some of my best memories of India are in autos. Staring out quietly from a speeding auto with the wind gushing though one open end to other. Late night rides in pimped out autos with blingy disco lights, piled four people in a three-man auto laughing our heads off and mimicking the honking of all the cars around us. Surprisingly coherent conversations yelled from one person to another through the engine din and swirling hair. And of drivers, some stoic, some downright sneaky buggers and other ready to show you pictures of their family kept under seats.

2. Flowers everywhere: garlanded every day fresh as offerings. Used as decor, floating in bowls of water and strung up in ladies’ hair. The smell of jasmin and the deep pinks and yellows. Watching people riding around motorcycles delivering flowers and garlands.

3. Temples everywhere: I don’t buy Hinduism but I respect how many temples there were and how many opportunities there are for worship in everyday life. I walked past a temple everyday on the way to work and found it had a calming influence and reminded me that starting out the day with a fleeting prayer was pretty good.

4. Food: Dosas made from a batter of fermented lentils and rice, gluten-free and delicious with coconut chutney. Fresh green coconuts with their tops hacked off with a machete and with straw dunked inside for drinking. Crazy sweet sweets made from nuts, ghee and milk, hello Mysore Gold! Fresh fruit juice made entirely of fruit especially the litchi juice from Cool Joint in JP Nagar and Malleswaram’s mango and sugar cane juice. Outdoor food markets which their piles weird never-before-seen-by-me fruits and veg and pyramids of eye-searingly colourful spices.

5. People: What lovely folks I was lucky enough to get to hang out with. I miss the many dinners, chats, charts (snacks) and enlightenments. People in India are friendly and lovely – even though, at first glance, there’s an unfriendly demeanour they are super welcoming.

Delivery

Delivery

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my first week in India

March 20, 2009

I am, again, going to rely on e-mail conversations I’ve had for a blog post. Cara mailed me asked me this:

How are you? What is India and where you are living like? How are the people and what are they making you do? to which I responded:

I am fine. India is loud and crowded and colourful, the place where I’m living is sparse and spacious. The people at first glance seem kind of unfriendly in their mannerisms but in actuality turn out to be extremely friendly. The are making me sit in an air conditioned office with free coffee and read lots of papers while I come up with a research project to do.

In general I have had an up and down time settling here and at first was feeling pathetic and lonely. When I arrived I had a weird impression of the place I’m staying as being not that nice. In actuality it is pretty fancy in that it is clean and spacious and has hot water and is also in what is considered a swanky area which is quite boring quiet but just a short walk down the street and you start to reach very alive over crowed streets teaming with auto rickshaws, shops, people, cars and motorbikes. It turns out that someone extended their stay in the place I was supposed to be in so I got put somewhere that is bigger and slightly closer to the office – its a big apartment with three rooms and I’m in one of the rooms. It has its oddities like peeling paint and weird plugs and switches that don’t seem to do anything. For my first two nights there was one other guy staying in one of the other rooms who helped me to order dinner walked me to the office on my first day since I had no idea where it was. But then he moved out and I’ve had the place to myself which has been a bit lonely. At the same time work has been a matter of “Here are all these people doing cool work with access to such and such under-privileged community, read up on their work and come up with project”. The food is *all* spicy *all* the time and I, at first, I was eating that much because there was only so much I could handle. But now I’m getting really into it and, actually, eating vegetarian here is awesome because vegetarian is the rule rather than the exception and they have a huge variety of veggie dishes.

lonely apartment

lonely apartment

Towards the end of the week things got better, the other interns (who have all been here for a while already) are actually very friendly despite seeming a bit unapproachable at first. So where I was holed up alone in my huge apartment in the evenings at first (because I’ve been advised not to walk around along after dark), the latter part of the week was way more social. I was invited to watch the cricket (where I had to shamefully fess up to not following cricket much to the horror, and I do mean horror, of the MSR director) and then I went out to explore a nearby Malleswaram complete with open air market and temples and noise with two new friends from the office. Today I went out with my mentor, Ed, and his wife, Page, who recenly arrived here, we explored the streets some more and got most excellent food. And finally over the weekend I discovered that I had a new roommate. Also I went out to meet with an NGO I might work with and afterward went to CTR (Central Tiffin Room) which is reputed to have the best butter dosa in Bangalore.

flower emporium

flower emporium

saturday garlanding

saturday garlanding

All in all an interesting week!

A Relaxing Blitz

February 27, 2009

After spending almost two months blogging my 11 day pilgrimage to the Holy Land in full, glorious painstaking detail, I take some delight in posting about my trip to Redmond/Seattle in a one normal sized post…

I had fun. I got to hang out with Dave, Fabian and my bunnies a lot. I drank coffee a lot.

 

Victors Coffee, Redmond
Victors Coffee, Redmond

mediative koko

I worked of my PhD a lot but still didn’t finish everything I wanted to. It was autumny when I arrived…

red, red, red

yellows

…but then it snowed a lot in time for Christmas (and in time to just about bring public services to a halt and keep people holed up at home). I bought a pair of awesome boots and gloves which served me very well.

it started gently...

best boots evah

 

back yard blizzard

Dave learned to drive and we got lost many times on the freeways, byways and parkways. We went hunting for cupcakes and home-roasted coffee beans and found some fine specimens in neighbourhoods such as Ballard and Kent.

Cupcake Royale, Ballard

We bought strange, exciting mushrooms, chard and cheese from Pike Place Market. I found the supermarkets totally intimidating at first with all the unfamiliar and super enthusiastic branding and sheer amount of corn based products. People were generally disarmingly friendly. I watched more bad reality TV than I should have and had a seriously bad nightmare that I was one of the Real Housewives of Atlanta. I learned a whole new vocabulary where a “biscuit” is more like a muffin, “pancakes” are more like flap jacks and “crepes” are more like pancakes. I miss it muchly am looking forward to the Seattle summer 🙂

a lazy winter

 

pilgrimage day 11 – did I mention that Cairo is the overwhelming city?

January 28, 2009

It is. We had a very touristy day which started with a Mass (ok not so touristy) at a Catholic Church run by priests from the Camboni order (mentioned in day 9.5’s post) – the same order Fr. Chico is in. That was a special last Mass to have as the last since Fr. Chico got to really give us an insight into his life and calling and we got to know this charming man better and understand his no-nonsense, pragmatic, this-is-just-my-path approach to priesthood.

its all a blur

its all a blur

Comboni Order

Comboni Order

Next we went to a Coptic Orthodox church which contains a crypt where the Holy Family are believed to have hid during their flight into Egypt. Coptic  Orthodox is the Christian church started in Egypt by St. Mark, who converted thousands of Egyptians and endured horrific torture at the hands of the Romans eventually ending with him being dragged through the streets until his head came off. Coptic Christians were persecuted mercilessly yet the more they were persecuted the more the numbers converting to Christianity became. Today it is Coptic custom to tattoo a Coptic cross (derived from the ankh, which typically represented the “key of life” in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics) on your wrist as a way of showing a lack of fear in openly being Christian. Our guide, Max, is a Coptic Christian and has one of these tattoos. Max also points out that there are a few differences between Coptic and Catholic, one of the big ones being that where Catholics believe in Purgatory, Copts don’t.

where the Holy Family lived for some times

where the Holy Family lived for some times

We are taken to a shop and given lots of time to peruse the touristy wares, in fact a lot of the day centered around us being given lots of opportunity to shop. Next we drove to the pyramid complex of Giza, the streets were jam packed with people celebrating Eid – children running around, riding small Ferris wheels and camels and such. At the pyramids, Max warned us about the persistent hawkers and warned us not to engage them at all and how to say ‘No Thank-you’ in Arabic. We had a very short time at the pyramids, which were amazing but slightly underwhelming (Luisa thought they would be bigger). The hawkers were every bit as insistent as we had been told, sometimes resorting to forcing ‘gifts’ into your hands and then demanding that you pay for them. Despite the warnings, people from our group still got into trouble; I witnessed the amazing sight of Isabel rescuing H and Aunty B by throwing the ‘gifts’ they were given on the floor and leading them firmly away, one at each hand. We saw many ‘amusement camels’ – dressed up to the nines and hired to tourists for short rides and then we drove to the Sphinx which was even more crowded and featured two more pyramids.

slant

slant

pyramid + camela

pyramid + camela

storytelling

storytelling

After this began the shopping part of our day wherein we were taken to various shops all with a hands on approach to turning tourism in tangible economic gain. It was almost like Cairo knew we were only there for a day and knew it had to get as much money out of us as possible! We were taken to a perfume shop, then a papyrus shop and, finally, an Egyptian cotton shop. Of all these, the perfume shop left a lasting impression. I walked in there thinking that there was no way they would get me to smack down money on their counter – I don’t even wear perfume usually! But there I witnessed the most polished, charming and persuasive selling of my life. The place was filled with dainty glass bottles and we were invited to sit in a large wing of the shop by a friendly Armenian lady who took drink orders from us.  Next we were each given pieces of paper with the names of the perfumes she would be showing us and spaces for us to write down how much of each we wanted. “Yeah right” I thought. She then proceeded to tell us that the shop didn’t sell perfumes but rather essences, which perfume companies used. We got to smell pure flower essences such as the Lotus flower essence found in Tutankhamen’s tomb, and Yellow Lavender which was totally different and sweeter than the Purple Lavender. Under the unassuming heading of ‘Blends’ on our pieces of paper were popular blends of the pure flower essences which are completely identical to well-known commercial perfumes like Chanels Chance, and CK’s Eternity. When people starting raising their hands and asking about their personal favourite scents the woman would quickly present a bottle that smelled *exactly* like their perfume, even ones that are not longer being manufactured. She showed an unbelievable knoweledge of the perfume market down to which design houses, bottle design and the years that the perfumes were launched. We learnt that the difference between essences and perfumes is that perfume companies add alcohol to the blends, ensuring that perfume’s scent travels further, dissolving off your skin and making its way into other potential customers’ nostrils and that the perfume expires as some stage whereas pure essence never loses its scent. Next came the spicy essences like sandalwood (good for arthritis), frankincense (good for hay fever), eucalyptus (which literally clears your sinuses amazingly), narwatsu (a sweet vanilla scent) and sweet almond oil (good for moisturising skin and hair). Even the most hardened, tight purse string loosened after all the convincing whiffs and demos. Even Mae, who fell asleep during the demo, bought some for her arthritis. Between the Ladeira women we bought 6 bottles, 2 of which were for me (so very unlike me!).

a row of Portuguese ladies in the essence store

a row of Portuguese ladies in the essence store

just a touch of charm

just a touch of charm

view to another sale

view to another sale

cha-ching

cha-ching

With our  hedonistic detour behind us, we visited one more church – the Church of the Floating Bible which has a bit of a creepy story. It is built on a spot where a Bible was found floating and open at a passage stating “Oh weep children of Egypt”. By now it was dark and we were told that we should add whatever we had bought to our luggage now. So there we were in the dark street, lots of pedestrians walking past and an air of rush and panic. It was not good, even sweet A cracking and making some peeved comments. Then to finish the day we were taken to a yummy dinner cruise on the Nile which featured entertainment by a scary Bollywood-esque man who dragged unsuspecting guests on the dance floor to do weird synchronised dances with him, a belly dancer and man who spun continously for like 10 mintues while performing visual illusion type tricks. I have a tendency towards car sickeness, so riding on a bus all day, then eating dinner on a boat while watching the dizzying spinning man right before boarding a 7 hour flight was quite a test of my unfortunately delicate system! We ended up at the airport where some of us had a bathroom break in restrooms with no sinks and shared some calming cups of tea. Eventually we boarded our late night flight to Johannesburg looking forward to a tour bus-less existence at home and contemplating our experiences. At Johannesburg we still stuck together drinking coffees until eventually parting with new friends in Cape Town.

spinning man

spinning man

de Nile

de Nile

Tally for the day: 3 churches, 4 shop shop excursions, 5 pyramids, the sphinx, 1 Nile cruise, 1 flight home

pilgrimage day 10 – i don’t understand this day

January 25, 2009

Today we left Israel early in the morning. Frank and Jono drove with us to the Jordan border. Everyone was a bit nervous about this border crossing after V made an announcement that Israeli officials can be blunt and rude with us but we should be compliant – and no smiling. It did dredge up imaginings of being cast out into the desert passport-less and I swear one mama was literally wringing her wrists as we stood in the queue at the plane-less airport-type building at Allenby Bridge. After making it through we stood around in the sun with our bus waiting for a new Jordanian bus and guide. We chatted and discovered from Frank that his sister-in-law had landed in hospital the day before which is why he was pacing around on his phone and didn’t come to dinner with us. We all have a very camaraderie-filled goodbye with Frank and Jono and load onto our new bus, which much less luxurious. Our new guide is named Ammar and he is very apologetic for the bus’ lateness. He then collects all our passports (I really hated this mass collecting and processing of our passports) and went to some other office before returning and handing them back again. At this point a very young, armed Jordanian policeman joined us, apparently standard issue for every tour bus in Jordan, these guys don’t want nothing messing with their fledgling tourism trade. We started by driving out to the Jordan river, there was a bit of a walk to get there. It was very hot and the terrain was beautiful and open. We walk down to the river, which is not nearly as pretty as you might imagine – all green and stagnant looking. Each of us were baptised by Fr. on a pier at the river’s edge, very special. So special actually that some folks started emptying their water bottled to gather some Jordan water as a momento. We also visited a luxe chuch dedicated to the descent of the Holy Spirit during Jesus’ baptism.

*sploosh*

Baptism off the pier at the Jordan River

Jordan River Church

Jordan River Church

Next we visited Mount Nebo from which Moses and Israelites first saw the Promised Land, but where God told Moses that he would die on the mountain before being able to enter. Very bitter-sweet. We had a Mass here and I did the reading which, of course, was filled to a healthy proportion of those hard-to-pronounce Hebrew place names. But at least it was in English, at first it look the monk a while to find the reading in English for me! Looking it up now, I see there was lots we didn’t see at Mount Nebo, such as the amazing modern sculpture of Mose’s staff and the Memorial Church of Moses and, most awesome, the view of the Promised Land. Unfortunately, instead of visiting these we were taken to a shop where disabled people make and sell mosaics. I’m all for supporting this kind of thing but, in retrospect, I am bummed that we missed out on the cool things on Mount Nebo, especially that Promised Land view. We were given a demo on how the mosaics are made and given ample time to wander around their shop (where everything was very expensive but I did buy a wooden doll and a blue/silver ring).

remembering Moses

remembering Moses

Next on the adenga we drive to Madaba were we are taken to a restaurant for a pretty decent lunch. We hear that we are supposed to see a church in Madaba but there is a funeral taking place there so we will come back later.

madaba

madaba

friendly boys

friendly boys

What followed was a lot of driving around the Jordanian countryside with very little indication of where we were going. The lanscape was very different to Israel, instead of lots of small square houses cluttering hills, there were large tracts open land dotted with lavish mansions and a few smaller settlements. I got very hiccupy and car sick and caught only tidbits of Ammar’s discursions such as 75% of Jordan’s population are young, they have no natural resources, they have been trying to grow tourism since 2000 and they see people as their best resource. The bus was getting to me, in fact the 10 days of bus was getting to me; I remember tunring to Isabel and saying “It feels like this is our life now, everyday will be like this: We wake up at 6 or ealier, get loaded onto a bus and driven around and see too many places to remember”. Eventually, the bus stopped at a look out point from which you can see the Dead Sea in the distance and some mountain. I have no idea what was special about the mountain or why we had stopped to look at it. After we spent a couple of minutes checking out the mystery mountain we got back into the bus and drove all the way back through the countryside to Madaba.

dotted with masions

dotted with mansions

mystery mountain

mystery mountain

The bus stopped again and I had a little sit down to recuperate from the bus ride before all of us got led at a great speed through these interesting streets, past shops with lots of gypsy/bohemian style wares to St. George’s church. This was actually interesting, The church was built over an early Byzantine church and a mosaic map covers a large part of the church’s floor. The Madaba map has big chunks missing and which is widely believed to be the earliest map of the Holy Land, you can see Jerusalem, Galilee and the Jordan River on it. We got 5 minutes inside the church which was a bummer because the map was really detailed and fun to look at. Then we were rushed back through the intersting streets and hustled onto the bus. This day made very little sense to me, we spent hours driving, seemingly, with lots of time to kill around the countryside and when we were actually off the bus we were still rushing everywhere and couldn’t look at things properlly. When I got back on the bus people were cranky about this. I muttered to myself “I don’t understand this day” and V #2 turned around to me and said “I dont’ understand this day either” which led to some secretive giggling. I had resorted to sitting at the back of the bus today because of my car sickness and there were lots of laughs 🙂

Arabis want peace / Carpet Land

Arabis want peace / Carpet Land

madaba map showing the Jordan river

madaba map showing the Jordan river

Next, we found ourselves at Jordan airport where the Ladeira’s had to do some frantic repacking before boarding a flight to Egypt. I got to sit next to H and Aunty A, who told me a ponderous and hilarious joke about three old sisters. We arrived in Cairo late at night, all our luggage was mounted onto a mega mountain cart and we were loaded onto a new bus with a fresh, friendly guide named Max who made lots of references to Bafana and the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Max tells us the “Cairo” translates into “the overwhelming city”, which turned out the be a most fitting name. He also spouts off other facts like there are 20 million people living in Cairo and 2 million cars, Giza is actually pronounced “Gee-zaa”, Egypt has 117 pyramids and 94% of its land is uninhabitable. Interesting but folks were way to tired for more learning and were falling asleep left, right and centre, including Mae who was next to me. Cairo was busy, people were preparing for Eid which was the next day and it took us a whole hour to drive to our hotel. Once we got there we had to id our luggage by putting stickers on them and get our room keys. Becuase it was so later we were told we could sleep all the way until 8 the next day – a huge treat! Inside the hotel was overkill with bright lights, live music and middle-aged tourist dancing the waltz (I think). T&W promptly put down their bags and took the the floor without missing a beat, it was like something out of a deoderant ad. After a good while of waiting we finally got to our very fancy rooms where I missed the obvious cue to tip the porter, Luisa felt very ill from the plane food and I had a bath with pursed lips (for fear of drinking any to the hectic Egypt water). *snore*

oh clever, pyramid shaped lamps in a hotel overlooking Giza

oh clever, pyramid shaped lamps in a hotel overlooking Giza

Tally for the day: 2 border crossings, 3 churches, 1 river baptism, 2 mountains – 1 known and 1 mystery, lots of countryside bus, 1 short flight, 1 hotel change

pilgrimage day 9.5 – destination, Jerusalem

January 21, 2009

…After a welcome rest at the Maronite nunnery we had an unusual stop at the Notre Dame hostel, a hotel specifically for pilgrims, which V had mentioned several times. Despite V’s every effort she could not get us a booking there and it was the first time one of her groups was staying only at secular hotels. But we were still going to visit, and were met by a very grand, dignified priest and led into the hostel’s own chapel featuring a very pink Mary statue.  As we entered the chapel, Fr. Chico whispers to me that we were now among the most conservative of priests. In the chapel the dignified priest welcomed us and said how sad it made him that there was no space for one of V’s groups in his hostel. After a short talk we left, climbing the stairs out Fr. Chico whispered to me again that the order of priests here are called the Legionnaires  but a he calls them the Millionaires because they are very rich and feel it is their calling to convert the wealthy. I ask him is he is impressed with them and he said “No, we are not impressed with them” . I ask Fr. Chico about his order; he is from the Cambionnaires which started in Portugal and are dedicated to practicing in Africa and other war-torn and poverty-stricken places. Fr. Chico has no parish but lives in a remote, rural part of Mpumalanga. Next we hauled uphill to a Shroud of Turin museum where we were met by a very lively Irish priest who took us through the museum briefly and told us about some of the shroud’s oddnesses and some of the very convincing evidence from physics, pollen analysis and photography, which suggest that the shroud and its image are not simple cloth and imprint. One of the weirdest things about the shroud is that when photographed you get a negative image and a you get a positive image when you look at the photograph’s negative. There was even a 3D reconstruction of the figure depicted in the shroud using some fancy CG technique, and it really looked like what we think of when we picture Jesus.

Shroud of Turin weirdness

Shroud of Turin weirdness

We loaded onto a bus and were driven somewhere but weren’t told where … oh look we’re at the foot of the Mount of Olives and oh we are taking part in another procession – a Palm Sunday procession. At this point H and Aunty B decided to stay in the bus, they were struggling with bad knees and swollen ankles and it was a good choice. Cynthia would not be held back though, but she really struggled on the walk up. Mae, Tia and I almost lost the group because Mae went back to the bus to fetch her jersey. We had a moment of panic (during which there were some harsh words from me *blush*) as we watched the bus drive away and had no idea where our group was. But, holy-thank-goodness we found the group at an teeny grey dome-shaped building. It was the Dome of the Ascension, which is actually mosque, but is built over the spot where people think Jesus ascended into Heaven. After this we went to Pater Noster (eh? isn’t that a town on South Africa’s coast? No actually it is also the “Our Father…” prayer) the traditional spot where Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer. There is a church there among very pretty gardens complete with rose bushes. All around the gardens and the church are tiled plaques with the Our Father in all different languages – even found Zulu and Afrikaans!

in the Dome of the Acsension

in the Dome of the Acsension

Our Father in Sotho, Portuguese, Zulu, Creole, Siswati, Afrikaans

Our Father in Sotho, Portuguese, Zulu, Creole, Siswati, Afrikaans

Then we walked up a steep hill where Clive and I took turns kind of pushing Cynthia up the hill. We walked a steep road up to a look out point where we could see Jerusalem and look down the Mount of Olives over the vast cemetaries. The Mount of Olives is hot cemetary property since it’s believed that those buried there will be the first taken up to Heaven. Plots there are very expensive and there are a number of famous people buried there.

Mount of Olives cemetaries

Mount of Olives cemeteries

cemetary ritual

cemetary ritual

Next we properly began the Palm Sunday procession walking a sharp downhill to Dominus Flevit (translated: Jesus wept), a church built over the spot where Jesus wept anticipating his Father’s will. The church was built to resemble a tear drop and on the altar there is a mosaic of a chicken sheltering chicks in its wings (symbolic of Jesus wanting to shelter Jerusalem). And behind the altar was a big window overlooking Jerusalem.

Dominus Flevit

Dominus Flevit

sheltering wings

sheltering wings

After walking around the gardens surrounding the church for a while (and me falling on my butt while walking down the wheelchair ramp) we carried on downhill to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives. We saw veeeeery old, chunky olive trees and the Church of all Nations, which we were told has 12 domes, one for each nation that funded its building. But looking it up it seems like more than 12: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Italy, France, Spain, UK, Belguim, Canada, Germany, USA and Australia, each country funding different parts of the church. The church is built on the site of a 12th century Crusader chapel which was later a Byzantine basilica which was detroyed by an earthquake. Now it is an amazing Franciscan church, vast and full of mosaics of complex garden scenes and in tones of deep blue, golds and browns. At this stage there was some confusion, and people didn’t know if they should be in the church or wait outside. Frank disappeared and could be glimpsed once or twice pacing up and down talking in a very concerned way on his phone. After the waiting around, a bit of whinging and some how-the-church-should-operate debate, Frank reappeared and we were led to another part of the garden where a Franciscan monk greeted us. We got to do one of the best things of the whole day – we sat for an hour of silence to pray and meditate on peace for Israel and the world. This was very special thinking about Jesus being in the garden and feeling like one of his disciples trying to focus on prayer and tune out distraction and tireness like they were trying to on the night Jesus was arrested. It was also the perfect rest and calm down after a long day.

Church of All Nations

Church of All Nations

devotion

devotion

Garden of Gethsemane

Garden of Gethsemane

We thought after this long day we would go rest, but instead of going for dinner and resting at our hotel we went for a special farewell dinner at a different hotel. The farewell was out last day with Frank and Jono who we had all grown fond of (although their fondness for us was debatable). The farewell dinner was a bit strange though since neither Frank nor Jono attended so it seemed a bit…er pointless in terms of bidding them farewell. Another notable feature of the dinner was that Tia got a big birthday cake due to a misunderstanding wherein V believed it was a her birthday when, in fact, it was only her birthday 3 days time. Eventually we were taken back to our hotel, people were tired and ratty but the Portuguese contingency was very dedicated – we still got together for a makeshift Portuguese Mass in honour of Tia in one of their hotel rooms complete with hotel table wine and rolls for the Eucharist. And then it was time to pack in preparation for going to Jordan and then Cairo – we did not get enough sleep …

Tally for the day: 8 chuches, 2 sacred sites, 3 mosques, 1 set of ruins, 2 processions, 2 gardens, 1 nunnery, 1 museum, 1 dinner out  (whoa!)

pilgrimage day 9.0 – destination, Jerusalem

January 15, 2009

It’s a well known adage that life is not about the destination, but the journey. This pilgrimage was about Jesus’ journey, but the destination, where Jesus fulfilled his mission, had equal gravity. Even though we had been in Jerusalem a few days already, day 9 we ‘arrived’, everything after this day felt like a winding down of the pilgrimage. Day 9 was also, fittingly, the harshest single day of the whole trip, but, somehow, I felt full of energy and verve. The day was so ridiculously long that I’m splitting it into two posts (which is saying something becuase the posts so far have been way-too-long-for-blog). Anyways, we woke at 5am and left for a 6am Mass at the Holy Sepulcher. We got our Mass in early at the overbooked Christian epicentre, during its Catholic time-slice. We walked a windy, complicated path through the Old City during a grey pre-dawn to get there. The streets were weirdly quiet compared to their regular buzz and clutter. Once we got inside the empty, echoey church we gathered at it’s focus: the enclosure built around Jesus’ tomb. After a while we entered through a narrow entry to a teeny room, the size of a large elevator, for a Mass which contemplated Jesus’ resurrection from the very spot where we were standing. At the end of Mass, one at a time, we walk-crawled through a low arch into an even teenier room at the middle of the enclosure where there was only a large altar built over the rocks of the tomb. Here we knelt and reached into a hole to touch those scared rocks. By the time we emerged from the enclosure, there were already more pilgrims starting to gather.

early morning at the Holy Sepulchre

early morning at the Holy Sepulchre

a glimpse into the sepulchre

a glimpse into the sepulchre

After a quick breakfast nip back to the hotel, we drove off to the Western Wall (a.k.a. Wailing Wall or Kotel), that site of contentiousness between the Jewish and Muslim. The wall’s history is obviously interesting and the fact that Jews are able to pray there freely is a big deal as it is the only part of the Temple that remains. At the commission in which the Jewish sought free worship at the wall, the following argument was made which I think sums up the wall’s meaning and the Jews desperation to hold onto it:

“Being judged before you today stands a nation that has been deprived of everything that is dear and sacred to it from its emergence in its own land – the graves of its patriarchs, the graves of its great kings, the graves of its holy prophets and, above all, the site of its glorious Temple. Everything has been taken from it and of all the witnesses to its sanctity, only one vestige remains – one side of a tiny portion of a wall, which, on one side, borders the place of its former Temple. In front of this bare stone wall, that nation stands under the open sky, in the heat of summer and in the rains of winter, and pours out its heart to its God in heaven.”

There are seperate queues for men and women to enter the site of the wall and very strict rules around maintaining its sanctity. There’s also a seperation at the wall such that there is a part for the tourists  and another for devout (I think Hasidic) Jews. Something else you notice is that, since the wall is so sacred, people do not turn their back on is, so as you leave you walk backwards facing the wall at all times.We got 5 minuts to walk around, and I didn’t walk all the way up and touch wall becuase I thought there wouldn’t be enough time. As we left I instantly regretted it, but Angie, who did touch the wall, did something which really moved me; she saw I was upset, picked up my hand and rubbed it against hers saying ‘Now we both touched the wall’.

rules of sanctity

rules of sanctity

the holiest place

the holiest place

Next we moved onto an even more contested site, the same space is, for Jews, the Temple Mount, where the Temple once stood and, for Muslims, it is where Mohammed ascended into heaven and where he will again appear at final judgement. It is the most holy place for Jews and the third most holy place for Muslims. One thing both agree on is that it is where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac. The space is occupied by two important Islamic places of worship the  Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, (as in the rock on which Abraham prepared Isaac for sacrifice). We walked through a make-shift tunnel with heavily armed soldiers posted along it to get to the Temple Mount.

Temple Mount arch

Temple Mount arch

Dome of the Rock

Dome of the Rock

We left the Temple Mount and walked through the Muslim quarter to see two things: St. Anne’s which is considered the birthplace of Mary and the Pools of Bethesda, where Jesus restored a blind man’s vision. Bizarrely and unexpectedly we were shuffled into a choir formation in St. Annes to sing a hymn becuase the acoustics there are really good. It was odd becuase there was an air of rush, we had to do this thing we didn’t know we were going to do *fast* bacuase there were other groups chomping at the bit for their choral moment. So, it seems, that’s what you do at St. Anne’s, you’re expected to sing; if you ever go, be prepared. At the pools there there was lots of talking by Frank (which I didn’t really process since I was still thinking about the Temple Mount) and a very quick looksee before we had to move onto to the Via Dolorosa.

one of many altars in St. Annes

one of many altars in St. Anne's

We got to do something very special and follow the Via Dolorosa, the way Jesus walked after his condemnation to his cruxifiction. We walked this path carrying a large wooden cross in turns and stopping at each station of the cross to read from the Bible and pray. The streets were narrow and filled with nonplussed shopkeepers who looked like they’ve seen thousands of Via Dolorosa processions. Ultimately we reached a little green door which turned out to be a wierd back entrance to the Holy Sepulchre, where we completed the last five stations and wandered around among the throngs of people. This time we also got to go to the altar above the rock of Calvary and touch that rock.

via dolorossa - the stations

via dolorossa - the stations

walking the via dolorosa

walking the via dolorosa

oddities through the back entrance of the Holy Sepulchre

oddities through the back entrance of the Holy Sepulchre

After that people got to rest for a while in the plaza outside the church before walking a good while through the shop-filled lanes to get to a Maronite nunnery where Frank had organised a lunch for us. The nuns there knew him well since he had grown up near the nunnery and spent lots of time there as a boy getting up to mischief such as hiding from his parents in their bell tower. We were led up a long flight of stairs which has very hard on the older folk. We ended up on a rooftop where we got an awesome view of rooftops used as backyards, statellites, domes, churches. Frank dissected the view, pointing out the different religious quarters and landmarks. Lunch was simple, homey and delicious and our table was filled with rollicking good table mates like Tia, Mae, Luisa, Fr. Chico, Caroline and Veronica.

lots of folk needed helping hands during all the walking

lots of folk needed helping hands during all the walking

rooftop backyard

rooftop backyard

look at this ladys apron

look at this lady's apron

Next, what we did after chilling at the Maronite nunnery…

pilgrimage day 7 – a change does us good

December 22, 2008

Everyone was really on their toes today almost literally falling over themselves to not upset V or Frank and not lag behind. We were all on the bus before Frank even got there, walking from home since he lives in Jerusalem and had gotten to spend some time at home after being away with us in Nazareth. We started off, as usual, with prayer on the bus while driving to Mount Zion on the outskirts of Jerusalem. We visited St. Peter in Gallicantu which roughly to translates to have something to do with St. Peter and chickens singing. The church commemorates Peter denying Jesus “three times before the cock crowed” and is built over Caiaphas’ house (proven by a rock found with his name on it). This was the first stop for Jesus after being arrested and here he was held in a dungeon and questioned before being handed to Pontius Pilate. We had the very creepy priviledge of walking down into one of the dungeons and reading a passage about what happened there. As we left H, one of the older, slower and most adorable members of the group, fell trying to be the first out. The effects of V’s Faster Faster decree was taking effect already, later he tells me that he got the impression that he one of the laggers in the group and was trying to step faster. We also get to see the steps that Jesus would have walked up from the house – this is one of those sites that has been proven and is not held by tradition only.

the view up from the sacred pit where Jesus was held

the view up from the sacred pit where Jesus was held

After a short break, we are all loaded onto the bus and driven ONE WHOLE meter to the next church and told to get out – this was very weird and confusing. We waited around for a while for a monk to open the doors to a Franciscan church dedicated to the Last Supper. During this time Frank tells us that we will be having the second half to the day free which was a very welcome surprise! At the church we have a Mass during which we remember the Last Supper. After this we, fittingly, visit the traditional site of the Last Supper – The Cenacle or Upper Room, it is also the place where the disciples are believed to have received the Holy Spirit for the first time so it’s kind of big deal place (see a picture of last Pope John Paul in prayer there here). This place was also a mosque at some stage and bears some mosaic evidence of this. Currently it is in the hands of the Jewish since they believe that David’s tomb is somewhere under it, but Christian pilgrims are allowed to visit it and also celebrate Pentecost there (which is awfully nice of them). The ceilings were really high and there was a lot of echo so people didn’t notice when Frank started talking. This led to Frank getting visibly annoyed that people weren’t listening and people prodding each other to get everyone to listen. It was kind of uncomfortable, especially with the Portuguese ladies pretending to listen very attentively to the explanations they couldn’t understand properly.

remembering the Last Supper

remembering the Last Supper

the ceiling from which the Holy Spirit descended as tongues of flame

the ceiling from which the Holy Spirit descended as tongues of flame

The last place on our list to visit for the day (only four sites in a day – woo hoo!) was Dormition Abbey, dedicated to the Assupmtion of Mary alive into the Heaven. As you enter, there is a large grand church, with many huge stained glass windows. Down some stairs there is a cavernous cyprt were you will find a statue of a sleeping Mary in, what looks like, a big well hole. Above the statue is a stunning gold-coloured mosaic  of Jesus surrounded with depictions of women from the Old Testament such as Rachel and Delilah. Another notable piece in the crypt is a big fresco showing Jesus holding Mary as a baby wrapped in white cloths in Heaven. This is the only place in the world where Jesus and Mary are depicted like this. Here we are given a decent amount of time to explore and visit the souvenir shop. Most of us sat around outside resting while Frank had an animated discussion with another guide. At one stage I walked past him right as he was flinging his arms out wildly and he accidentally punched me in the eye (honestly I wasn’t surprised,  this kind thing tends to happen to me). He spun round and grabbed me apologised up a storm, it was amusing.

a shout out to the OT ladies

a shout out to the OT ladies

the only place in the world where Jesus and Mary are portrayed like this

the only place in the world where Jesus and Mary are portrayed like this

After being driven back the hotel, a group of eight of us decided to spend the rest of our free day exploring the Old City together. Walking there we got rained on unexpectedly and we discovered that if Luisa, Isabel and I had just pushed past the construction that blocked our path the day before we would have found our way to the Old City. We walked through a labyrinth of alleys bloated with shops and people. There was touristy clothing, scarves, jewelry (ranging from wooden to pure gold), bags, fruits vegetables, butcheries with whole hanging pigs, colourful spice and incense shops.

spices, colours, freedom!

spices, colours, freedom!

Eventually we reached the centre of the Old City – the Holy Sepulcher. Of all the places we visited I’m chuffed that we got to see this one twice and explore it at our leisure – it is breathtaking and fascinating. I got to find quiet corners to pray and take photos to my heart’s content. Sepulcher is basically a fancy name for ‘tomb’, so it is believed that this Greek Orthodox church is built over the place where Jesus was crucified and laid to rest. The church is kind of contentius as a number of different Christian churches share it with the Greek Orthodox’s having the lion’s share. It so happened that on this day the Greek Orthodox’ were celebrating their Feast of the Cross and there was a long procession out of the church. Once inside we discovered that there were masses of tourists wondering around, it was a bit sad to see the priests trying to maintain an air of quiet and meditation in the midst of tourists clogging up the place with loud talking and cheesy photo ops (but then we were adding to the distracting mass I guess). As you enter the church there is a large stone slab under an amazing painting of Jesus being taken off the cross and carried to the tomb. This stone is believed to be where Jesus was embalmed and people kneel at it and place objects on it for blessing. Walking further you enter a large space with the biggest dome I had seen yet above a big round structure surrounded with many candles and multiple entrances. Inside this are the rocks believed to be from Jesus’ tomb so this is actually the Sepulcher itself, later in the tour we would have Mass right inside it. Up a flight of stairs is another significant rock – where Jesus’ cross is believed to have stood. Here there is a very intricate altar and a Greek Orthodox priest controls a queue of people who kneel under the altar to touch the rock. It was very crowded up there and, at one stage, the priest got flustered and hushed everyone reminding them that this was a holy place and they should be silent and meditative. But that didn’t help much.The rest of the church was filled with more upstairs parts, downstairs parts and a number of altars, caves and passages.

Feast of the Cross procession at the Holy Sepulchre

Feast of the Cross procession at the Holy Sepulchre

Holy Sepulchre dome

Holy Sepulchre dome

praying around the Holy Sepulchre

praying around the Holy Sepulchre

cavernous

cavernous

inside the Holy Sepulchre

inside the Holy Sepulchre

After leaving the church we explored the markets again in search of food and found to sweet yummy pancakes prepared by these young boys and their father. We also entered an alley that had only butcheries and the smell eek’ed out some people.  Luisa found hand stitched pillow covers she loved; she and I managed to haggle the seller down from $80 for two to $50. Though I must admit I didn’t really realise we were haggling, Luisa is the one with the 1ee7 haggling skillz. We also tracked down a Franciscan bookstore in search of Jerusalem Bibles, but sadly they were out of stock and suggested a different store near the Jaffa Gate. I did manage to find a great book about the Holy Sites and their accompanying Gospels for only $4. We rounded off our exploration in a charming coffee shop were we drank local beers and coffee and chatted to the owner about the hardships of living in multi-religious Jerusalem. The independent exploring was totally fun and soul restoring. Back at the hotel we reunited with Mae and Tia for a fun dinner at which V was mysteriously M.I.A.

sweet pancake stall

sweet pancake stall

coffee is good

coffee is good

Tally for the day: 4 churches, 1 upper room, 1 soul restoring exploration with new friends

pilgrimage day 5 – there are a lot of churches in Galilee…

December 13, 2008

… I guess that makes sense since that is where Jesus really got going with his teaching and where he dropped his most memorable revelations on God’s kingdom and “How To’s” for Christians – Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes etc. We drove for a long time out of Nazareth, past many green and brown landscapes dotted with black basalt rocks. Eventually we reached the Mount of the Beatitudes – well not *the* mount, the Franciscans own a 3km stretch of the mountains where Jesus preached and in one particular spot built the Church of the Beatitudes:

1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
2. Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
3. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
4. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
5. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
6. Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
7. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
8. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

In the church you will find eight of lots of things to represent the eight Beatitudes: eight windows, eight pillars etc. It was a really pretty church with lots of airy whites, blues and golds and surrounded by gardens lovingly tended by the Franciscan sisters. You were not allowed into the church if you were not ‘appropriately’ dressed which meant covered shoulders and there was a basket of shawls and watchful sister at the entrance to keep the sacredness in tact. We are given a generous TEN minutes to walk around the gardens, explore the church and get back to the bus.

Church of the Beatitudes

Church of the Beatitudes

Next the bus unloaded us in Tabgha where there are two churches: the Church of the Multiplication and the Chapel of the Primacy of St. Peter. The first church is built where Jesus performed the miracle of multiplication – feeding five thousand men (and an unknown number of women of children) with 2 fish and 5 bread loaves. Here we passed by the church onto a simple basalt altar near the Sea of Galilee shore. We sat on big logs under dried banana leaf shades for Mass, where we read about the multiplication and sat in silence for the first time on the pilgrimage. It was very peaceful being on the land where Jesus taught and feeling God in the silence. At the end of the tour many people would come to describe this place as their favourite in the tour. After this we visited the Church of the Multiplication where the altar is placed over the rock on which Jesus is believed to have performed the multiplication miracle. And sticking with the fish theme, there was a nice Koi pond and animal mosaics.

Simple is good

simple is good

Multiplication altar

Multiplication altar

We got back on the bus for a short hop to the Chapel of the Primacy of St. Peter, where Jesus appeared to the disciples for the third time after he had risen and ate breakfast with them and where he gave Peter the command to “Feed my Sheep” (hence conferring the primacy of his Church to him). In memory of the latter there is a statue of Jesus blessing a genuflected Peter. Here Frank read from his heavily post-it’ed Bible and people took the opportunity to wade in the waters of the Sea of Galilee. There was also a bathroom stop here but you had to pay a couple of shekels. One mama in our tour was not impressed and declared that she was going to go in the bushes. This startled Frank such that he shoved enough shekels for two bathroom trips into her hands and gasped something along the lines of ‘No, no! Please, it’s on me!’.

me + Sea of Galilee

me + Sea of Galilee

Next we were onto church #4 at Capharnaum, where Peter lived and Jesus taught in the synagogue. This place was archaeologically interesting since there were many preserved ruins and one set of ruins used to be Peter’s house. Over these hovers a *whole* church held in place with only three or four metal bars, inside the church has a glass floor at its center so you can look down into the ruins. The other set of ruins is a synagogue that still has whole tall pillars intact. But if you look along the outer edge of it you can see a line of black basalt rock below the khaki coloured rock. The black rock is what’s left of the original temple that Jesus taught in at Capharnaum – rocks that Jesus walked on, wow.

Two layers - black basalt and other whiter rock

Two layers - black basalt and other whiter rock

After Capharnaum we were rushed off to a restaurant where we were going to have a very special lunch called Peter’s Fish. This was special because it consisted of the same kind of fish that Peter caught in the Sea of Galilee. It was so special in fact that it cost $17. In the end the older folk went for the lunch but a few of the younger folks decided to wander around outside. There wasn’t much to see besides a shop and a petrol station, but just beyond these we found a lone food stall where there was a woman making some kind of flat bread for $6.  Isabel, Luisa, A, E, the another young doctor, L, and I ordered one and watched her make it. She started by rolling out a dough, then pulling it out into a circular shape over a big cushion and then frying it on a big dome shaped gas cooker. When it was finished cooking she slathered it with creamy goat’s milk cheese, salt and herbs and then folded it up and cut it into six pieces. This was served with a bowl of olives and we ordered two breads so that was lunch for $2 each! It was a very relaxed lunch, we sat at a table the woman had set out while she played with her baby who was lying on a bed near the back of her stall. She was very shy but friendly and her and A bonded over her baby and she ended up giving us a branch full of fresh dates that she had hanging up.

over a cushion

over a cushion

lunch to share

lunch to share

After lunch we were taken for a ride in a boat which was a replica of the so-called Jesus Boat on the Sea of Galilee. There was a DJ-type set up on the boat and there was much merriment with the hoisting of the South African flag, singing of national anthems and dancing. When we got back to the shore we got to have a bathroom break in a museum where Isabel and I bought ice-cream. By this stage I was still carrying my money in an ever-disintegrating paper envelope inside a traveller’s belt strapped across my tummy. The charming guy behind the counter leaned over to me and said “You know they have this invention, is a wonderful theeng – is called a walleet’. I responded by looking up from my flakey envelope and said “What? A wallleeettt?? I must see if I can find one! What’s it called again a, a?” “-Walleet” he replied, “A- a wallleeeeettt?” I said “Thank you so much!” and then we all had a good nudge-nudge-wink-wink laugh (especially Isabel!).

singing the portuguese anthem on the Jesus Boat

singing the portuguese anthem on the Jesus Boat

in Cana

in Cana

By this stage we were all pretty pooped but we still had *another* stop in small charming and cobbled Cana, . We went to the Wedding Church built over a likely place for the wedding feast where Jesus performed his first miracle and probably a very popular place for weddings. Here people renewed wedding vows, remembered spouses that had passed and prayed over single us folk (which I tried to not to find condescending). There were also more ruins of a Jesus-era house complete with pots that wine would have been stored in. Finally we head back to Nazareth were we had a very early dinner and Luisa and I spoilt ourselves with outrageously expensive cappuccinos. While we were sipping , Frank joined us and we had a long chat. Frank turned out to be an interesting character with some kind of checkered past who is disillusioned with religion and the hypocritical priests in Jerusalem who have rich lifestyles while little money finds its way to poor Christian families. We also discovered that Frank had been mysteriously absent from our Masses because, while he loves the churches he visits deeply, he feels that he defiles them because of his past. We also learn that he is very into academic reading and theology. He also tells us that the mama in our group really shocked him when she declared that she was going to forgo the paid bathrooms at Tabgha and how he had never experienced a group whose schedule was as difficult as ours to maintain and who moved as slowly, mmmm.

Tomorrow we were to leave Nazareth and head to Jerusalem – which was fitting since Jesus left the towns near the Sea of Galilee where things were kind of cushy for him and headed for Jerusalem towards his ultimate destiny…

Tally for the day: 6 churches, 2 sets of ruins, 1 boat ride

pilgrimage day 3 – the holy triangle

November 18, 2008

After the airport-heavy first two days, people woke up acting and feeling much more civilised on the third day. Breakfast featured lots of hummus which was something we would come to eat in dollops with just about every meal. We were told that there was a lot on the schedule and we should not stop to shop as we would be taken to a nice shop with all the souvenirs we could possibly want at a set time in the day. After that preface, we drove to Ein Kerem, which is where Elizabeth, Mary’s sister, and her husband Zachariah lived. These fine folk were also John the Baptist’s parents. We started by walking up a steep hill (which caused lots of huffing and puffing) to the Church of the Visitation a really beautiful Franciscan church with an awesome view and two towers and some striking artwork fo the visitation between Mary and Elizabeth and of John the Baptist escaping death by Herod’s soldiers (who were killing all the boys in Israel at the time to try and off Jesus). There was even a rock which John the B supposedly hid behind to escape the soldiers (but I was kind of sceptical about that). In the entrance courtyard of the place there are many plaques with the Magnificat (a.k.a. Mary’s Song) prayer in different languages. This prayer is made up of the words of Mary when she visited Elizabeth, then barren and old, and Elizabeth realised that she was pregnant (with ‘ol John the B). This is a pretty important prayer said by priests every single day. We had mass in a very light and airy chapel of the church with amazing artwork and a floor of mosaics of fierce and docile animals. This was supposed to represent the coming together of meekness and power at the visitation and, to boot, there was a bunny mosaic which made my morning 😉 After Mass we walked back down the hill, where Isabel and I grabbed some freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. We walked to a church built over the place where tradition holds that John the B himself was born. The Church was very blue and full of mosaics and remnants of Byzantine and Crusader churches that used to stand at that spot. The church also has some nice traditions around it; apparently it is where pregnant women go with their friends to discuss their coming baby and choose his/her name – kind of a baby shower church if you will!

Church of the Visitation

Church of the Visitation

Mary floats above the music

Mary floats above the music

bunny mosaic!

bunny mosaic!

Next we went to Jerusalem, Frank also tells us that Bethlehem, Ein Kerem and Jerusalem are all 7km’s apart and, therefore, form what’s known as the Holy Triangle. We don’t go into Jerusalem but stop off at the Israel Museum which houses two famous exhibits: the Shrine of the Book which houses the Dead Sea scrolls and a large model of Jerusalem during the time of the Second Temple (which was when Jesus was around). That temple was eventually destroyed (by the dastardly Romans) and today that place in occupied by a mosque known as the Dome of the Rock which is the third most holy place in the world for Muslims. All that remains of the Temple is its wall – a.k.a. The Wailing Wall, which is the most holy of all places in the world for Jews. It really was striking to me how all these different religions deem the same place so holy – there’s got to be something to it. Anyway, the model was in this open air amphitheater and it took us about 20 minutes to walk around it while Frank pointed out different significant parts of it. It was incredibly detailed and well made – you can take a virtual tour of this model here. Sadly were was no time to see any other parts of the museum, there was barely time to go to the bathroom and Cynthia got herself in an absolute panic trying to buy a map of the model in the bookstore and get back to the bus on time. I had to help her count out money because it seemed she might faint from the stress of it all.

 

Israel Museum

Israel Museum

Next we drove back to Bethlehem, back through the Palestinian checkpoint and through town to a place called the Shepherd’s Fields. This involved another short uphill walk to a small, beautiful church. The church was built by an Italian master architect who designed a number of important churches in the Holy Land (I can’t remember his name tho!). The Shepherd’s Field church has a tent shape since the shepherds stayed in tents while tending flocks at night. It was one of my favourite churches of the trip, full of blue light and beautiful paintings showing the angels appearing to the shepherds to announced Jesus’ birth and the shepherd’s fear and. later, happiness at the event. We didn’t hang around for very long before going to a nearby cave which seemed to have little significance besides having a genuine Byzantine era mosaic on its floor. At this stage I started wonder what all the Byzantine stuff was about since we kept hearing about it (yep colour me a dumb pilgrim). Basically, the way I understand it, the Byzantine Era refers to the time when the Emperor Constantine started to promote the worship of a Christian monotheistic God and there were Crusades and lots of building of churches, particularly on sites believed to be holy or related to Jesus. Even though many Byzantine churches were destroyed there are still lots of remains of them visible even in places were other churches were built over them. After the Shepherd’s field area we were taken to a mom ‘n pop joint for falafels which were delicious. These were followed by tiny cups of Turkish coffee which we all found to be utterly vile.

Oh Holy Night

Oh Holy Night

Next we drove to a place close to Bethlehem whose name I can’t remember but I think it was pronounced something like Beth-she-ahn. There was no holy site here but we went to a Salesian monastery where a very charming man, who looked like Geri from Pixar’s short film Geri’s Game, told us about the beginnings of the Salesian order and their missions throughout world and, especially, Africa (which Tia found very interesting since she is always keeping her ears open for more funding for her school in Nampula, MZ). The monastery we were visiting has taken to producing wine as a way of sustaining themselves. We a wine tasting (the port was really good) and some people bought stuff. Then off we went to…. mmm hard to remember… ah yes back to Bethlehem. When we thought we couldn’t go to anymore places we were driven back to the centre of town and walked some more, past the Church of the Nativity that we had already visited the milk grotto which was a visual treat of beige stone and red. This place were apparently where Mary had the idea to flee to Egypt with Jesus and Joseph and also… well this bit I don’t know about, but apparently Mary was breastfeeding Jesus there and a drop of her breast milk fell to the ground and turned the while grotto white. I don’t know about that – there is nothing in the Bible remotely mentioning it and that rock looked pretty much just like all the other light coloured rock in Bethlehem.

Milk Grotto

Milk Grotto

We felt finished after this but the last stop was one that lots of people had been looking forward – the big souvenir shop! All day people had been resisting the many peddlers selling rosaries, singing camel teddies, shepherd flutes and embroidered bags. As we drove, Frank told up there Christians are in an extreme minority in Israel (in Jerusalem there are something like 1.8% Christians) and its tough going if you’re Christian. He also told us that the shop we were going to visit supports 16 Christian families and that he feels that if you are going to buy stuff in Israel you should try and buy from Christians. So we arrive at the shop and really, it was hardly the last Christian outpost that Frank had described. It was more like a Christian knick-knack emporium and wow were the shopkeepers slick. We first were herded around a main counter with about 4 shopkeepers behind it, one of whom introduced himself and showed us some of the things the shop had on offer. He pointed out the quality difference between machine-made and hand-carved statues, showed us the three different types of rosaries varying in quality and laid out an astounding variety of religious bling. At one stage he showed us a necklace with a very sparkly diamond Jerusalem cross which is swooshed into the air in one swift motion to reveal that the cross could be unfolded to look a bit like a triangular skyline. People milled around for a long time and they spent a lot of money under the assumption that this was the only tour-approved shop we would be taken to. I bought some wooden jewelery and rosaries. But Cynthia, she went large, she kind of accidentally bought that slick Jerusalem cross/skyline necklace not realising that the price was in dollars and not Rands making for an impulse splurge of over R10 000! This was *the* tragic event of the trip – she only realised what she had done when the credit card had been swiped and she was too shy to go back and undo the transaction even though we urged her to. Finally we went back the hotel where we were told that we would be leaving Bethlehem the next day for Nazareth and would have to get up extra early. Also we would not be staying for breakfast but would have breakfast on the road packed into boxes. Amazingly this caused a fair amount of dissent among some folks, which I thought was just silly. Later I managed to find some Internet and chat to Dave, which was very exciting because I had no idea if he and the bunnies had arrived so I slept very happy.

Tally for the day: 3 churches, 1 museum, 1 monastery, 2 cave/grottos, and 1 tourist trap