Auja and the Jordan Valley

Trip Start Jan 03, 2011
Trip End Mar 26, 2011

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Flag of Palestinian Territory  ,
Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ok, we are back in Bethlehem after the past few days in Auja/al-Auja/Wadi Uja. (Arabic is a phonetic language, so spelling is all over the place because people just spell it as they hear it, it’s tricky) Sorry for the lack of blog postings while we were there, at first the internet showed up as a full signal, but no one was able to get on. Then it just disappeared all together, so we had zero internet there and now everyone is on here in Bethlehem, so it’s still slow going…
I know now that Auja is in the Jordan valley, just a bit north of Jericho, which is already a bit north of the Dead Sea. Anyway, the first day we actually spent most of the day in a Jewish settlement in the Jordan valley before heading to Auja. WOW. It was SO beautiful! They are an environmental community right on top of a mountain (they’re really hills but here they call them mountains. If you’ve ever been to the Rockies, nothing is a mountain unless it’s that big) So we got there for lunch and sat outside overlooking the entire Jordan valley, and of course it’s warmer here but not too hot yet so it was just delightful. It just feels like spring, although it did get a little toasty the next day when we were hiking into a canyon, but I’m getting ahead of myself. So we went to this settlement, and toured around and they are dong some really cool stuff! One house looks like it’s made of bee hives, I think they’re called ecodomes or something. Apparently it’s very sustainable and energy-efficient. Then we went and helped this adorable little man build mud bricks for building his house. This guy was so cute, he was born and raised in Israel, but it sounded like he had kind of a French/European accent. He was so full of life and loved the land so much, he was just a doll. So we helped him make mud bricks for about an hour or so, which was SO FUN!!! It was so cool to be making our own building materials from the land itself, and to be doing it together. Talk about community building, LITERALLY! So that was the last thing we did, and honestly I was sad to go because it was just SO gorgeous. Then we came to Auja, had dinner, and went to bed. All that brick making made us tired. 
The next day we started by hiking into a canyon where Christian monks used to hide from the Persians. It was a VERY steep canyon, and you could see caves all over the place! Then there was a monastery at the bottom, which was built around the cave where Elijah supposedly hid from Ahab. The monastery was beautiful, and the canyon was pretty darn cool as well. It was starting to get kinda hot, but it really didn’t feel that bad to me. Maybe the 80s or something? I guess when you’re from St. Louis heat and humidity, 80s in the desert doesn’t feel too terrible. The people from Colorado and Alaska however were not too happy :) 
In the afternoon, we passed through Jericho and did another short hike up Mount Temptation, where Jesus was tempted by the devil. There was another monastery here, but it’s not actually at the top of the mountain, it’s kind of perched on the side. Apparently you can’t go to the top because there’s an Israeli military base or something up there. Either way, the church was really cool and the view of Jericho was incredible. We then drove into the city and looked around the ruins of the old city of Jericho, the oldest city in the world. Our guide said that 3 months ago they celebrated their 10,000 YEAR anniversary!!! WOAH!! We saw the ruins of the old city tower, which is dated to the Pre-Pottery period! I didn’t even know there was a Pre-Pottery period! So that was pretty coo. Also, I know understand that gospel song that says “go down to Jericho,” because you actually to go DOWN to Jericho! It’s at the bottom of the Jordan valley, right next to the Dead Sea which is the lowest spot on earth! 420 meters below sea level, which is about 1370 feet! Apparently in the summer it gets unfathomably hot here, I’ve heard 50 degrees celsius, which some said was like 120, but this was at the Jewish settlement on top of the mountains where there’s probably a breeze. Down in Jericho I bet it gets much hotter than that! It was hot when we were there and it’s only February, I can’t even imagine what it must be like in the middle of summer. Miserable, that’s what. 
The third day, we went to the Dead Sea!! We’ve all been really excited about it, and we finally saw it! First we toured around it a little bit, learning about the environmental aspects and how the Dead Sea is dying (no pun intended). Since water is SO scarce here, many of the surrounding countries, including Israel and the West Bank, will redirect parts of the jordan river and the rivers that lead into it, so hardly any water is getting to the Dead Sea to help replenish it. Actually, zero water from the Sea of Galilee actually gets to the Dead Sea, it’s entirely untreated sewage water that runs through the Jordan river into the Dead Sea. So there are a variety of plans on how to fix the problem, but at this point none are being implemented. Also, our guide was telling us that most people don’t care if the Dead Sea is in trouble because they consider it dead anyway. But millions and millions of birds migrate through the valley between Europe and Africa twice a year, and this is the spot they both recover from and prepare for flying through the Sahara. So if there’s not water and rest for them here anymore, they might die out, which would then lead to major changes in Europe and Africa. So anyway, it was really interesting to see how everything is so connected, and while there may not be many human reasons for worrying about the Dead Sea, there are many reasons for the natural world. Then in the afternoon we got to go swimming in the southern area of the Dead Sea that is actually in Israel Proper. SO COOL!! Before getting in, I wasn’t really all that excited about it. I mean it’s supposed to be super duper salty, we were told  not to put our face in just because it’s so salty, you don’t want to swallow it and it’s really painful if it gets in your eyes. I’m someone who loves to get my face under water (usually, if it’s not too cold:)) so I thought, why would I want to go into a insanely salty lake and just stand there? AU CONTRAIRE my friends!!!!!! COOLEST THING EVER!! (ok aside from Jerusalem…) I’ve seen people floating in the Dead Sea before, but I never really understood what it’s like. You literally HAVE to float. It’s the strangest and most awesome feeling ever. We tried to “stand” straight up and down in the water, and it will actually pop you onto your back or your front automatically. You have to tread water to stay up and down, it’s so weird! But when you do float, either on your stomach or you back, it’s so easy!!! I wish we had our camp swimming test here! When swimming, you just glide on top of the water, and it seems like it would be impossible to sink. It was SO fun!! When I first got in, I think everyone was kinda weirded out because I was acting like I was 6 years old. I couldn’t stop laughing and I was just rolling around in the water and squealing with delight. It was seriously awesome. Also, the water feels really cool. It’s not slimy necessarily, it’s just kind of a smooth layer between your fingers. We also went over to where there was some clay on the beach and covered ourselves in it, which was fun too. The water and clay here is supposed to be full of good minerals and stuff, and there were a bunch of people covering themselves in the clay. So naturally we wanted to do it too. :) So anyway, enough of that. You catch my drift.
Our last day, we headed out to a farm that I think was owned by a Palestinian man (we didn’t get any background information except that we were going to a farm and volunteer for some unknown period of time, fortunately we had to be back for lunch…) and we spent the whole morning weeding this guy’s squash fields...THAT was a blast. I mean granted, it was pretty cool to be working on a farm in the middle of the Jordan valley, but that was the extent of the coolness. There were this young kids there working with us also, they were probably between the ages of 7 and 9, and they were putting us to shame. They worked SO FAST!!! I was impressed...Also I got a ridiculous farmer’s sunburn. But the upside? I got a farmer’s tan FARMING!!! How awesome is that?! Usually I get a farmer’s tan doing something random outside, but to be farming whilst getting a farmer’s tan made the work even better :) Then, after lunch we pack up and went back to the Jericho area to visit a tiny community that is the only community in the whole region where Israelis and Palestinians are living together! It’s a testing community at this point, so they all live in tents and work together to try and live ecologically and sustainably. It was a really cool idea and we met some pretty cool people. Definitely a great idea and I’m interested to see how it turn out because they’ve only been living there for two months. 
So, back in Bethlehem it is cold!!!! The desert was so nice and warm, yes a little hot at times, but mostly downright balmy. Now I have my fleece and down vest on….bummer. So this week, we’ll spend our last few days in Bethlehem forever working on our volunteer project reports (we will finally be done with those on Wednesday! HURRAY!) and thenw e head to Arava, which is a kibbutz down in the Negev desert in southern Israel. Should be cool!  
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