My last two weeks in Jordan have been packed to the brim to say the least. Last week I had a series of Arabic exams in both Modern Standard Arabic and Colloquial, and a final posttest in Arabic to gauge my improvement over the semester. I also finished two essays (in English thankfully) for my other classes. This past week I had another presentation and a final exam.
However, despite the magnitude of schoolwork that has inevitably accompanies the end of a semester, I have still been fortunate enough to get to do some final travelling in the region. Last week Saturday, I set up a tour of the desert castles in eastern Amman for my friends and me. We spent the day traveling to four different castles that were each beautiful and fun in their own way.
Then, this weekend, my friend and I headed over to Jerusalem for three days. It is difficult to describe this trip. I had a great time, got to see some incredible historic and religious sites, and was treated very well by everyone. But there were constant reminders that Israel and Palestine are people in conflict, not peace.
Early Friday morning, my friend and I headed over the border via bus. We were lucky and got through the border without any delays and got into Jerusalem earlier than expected. After depositing our bags at our hotel, we set out to explore the Old City, the historic part of Jerusalem. The Old City was a lot of fun to explore. The streets were fairly narrow, cobbled, and lined with merchants selling souvenirs, drinks, and food to tourists. It was easy (and fun) to get lost, since the city has so many streets packed into such a small area. We spent the better part of the morning winding our way to the Jewish Quarter, where we were finally able to buy some delicious bagels and donuts for breakfast. In the afternoon, we explored the other quarters (Armenian, Christian, and Muslim) of the Old City even more. We visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where it is believed that Jesus was crucified and buried, and the Western Wall, the most holy site of the Jewish faith. Both were very impressionable, and even more amazing since we were able to see Jews celebrating Hanukah and Christmas is right around the corner.
The next day, we headed to Bethlehem. It is only a few miles south of Jerusalem, but it is in the Palestinian West Bank, which meant that we had to go through a checkpoint to get there. After crossing through light security, we rented a taxi to take us to various Banksy graffiti artwork in the area, and then to the Church of the Nativity.
The Banksy artwork was amazing. If you aren’t familiar with him, he’s an anonymous British graffiti artist famous for his satirical pieces that are often social commentaries. Several of the pieces were on the wall built to separate Israel from the West Bank, while others were scattered throughout the city. Seeing the pieces, which mostly juxtaposed violent and peaceful images, was a reminder of the harsh difficulties the Palestinians face as they struggle for their own state.
Finally, we made our way to the Church of the Nativity. The church itself was not that impressive on the outside, but when we made our way in, there was some beautiful ceramics work and altars. The line to see the exact place where Jesus was believed to be born was quite long, but it was worth it in the end.
Afterward, we went to our driver’s uncle’s souvenir shop to get some handmade olive wood souvenirs to take home with us. We then went back to the border and crossed into Jerusalem.
On our third and final day, we went to the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary, where Jews believe the First and Second Temples were built and where Muslims believe the prophet Mohammad ascended to heaven. After we finally figured out the correct location for non-Muslims to enter, we saw some amazing views of the city and the two mosques on the campus.
Next we checked out of our hostel and went into West Jerusalem again. We stopped for bagels (again). After we went into the shop, a group of Israeli Defense Force troops came into the shop and ordered too. Throughout the trip, we saw numerous troops around the Old and New City, and it was strange seeing men and women, mostly younger than us, walking around carrying guns while talking and joking with each other. Mostly they seemed to be off duty. It was a sobering reminder that Israel is a country still in conflict.
After breakfast, we headed to the Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem. The museum was very well done, and I am glad we had the opportunity to go. It was a sad, solemn, and honest display of the horrors of the Holocaust. After winding through the museum, all visitors exited outside, to a beautiful view of Israel. This gorgeous view illustrated how the dark past could lead to a brighter future and how necessary it was for the Jewish people to have their own state of Israel.
Finally, we took a taxi back to the border and crossed back into Jordan. I really enjoyed the trip, and it definitely made me think a lot, but I was glad to be back home for my last week.