Dead Sea and Jericho

Trip Start Apr 01, 2013
Trip End Apr 11, 2013

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Flag of Palestinian Territory  ,
Monday, April 8, 2013

We got up before 7:00 and Atta took us outside to view his property. He owns 67 acres most of which is now across the road.  Some of it has settlements on it but some of it is still farmable.  The problem is getting enough time to work the land.  They have to have permission to be on their own land and then only for short periods of time, like two hours.  He showed us his vegetable garden and cistern.  While we were out there four of his nephews came by on their way to school and posed for us.  We had breakfast with the usual spread and with some really good apricot jam.

The taxis showed up about 8:30 and stopped at the bottom of Atta's driveway so we had to carry our luggage down the hill.  We headed to Jericho.  On the way we decided to stop at the Dead Sea as Jericho is only 2 km from there. The landscape got increasingly desert.   On the way down we stopped at a pull off at Sea Level.  We got drinks and mine was a passion flower slushy and delicious.  There was a Palestinian or Bedouin there with his camel both all decked out in traditional dress.  Many of us paid 5 sheckels to have our pictures taken sitting on the camel.  That is less than $2.  As we proceeded we saw the signs for 150 m, 350m and 450 meters below sea level.  We stopped at the extreme north end of the Dead Sea.  We were so glad to see very nice toilets that flush.  It was evident that the level of the Dead Sea has gone down in recent years.  This is because of all the water being taken from the Jordan River for irrigation and settlements.  The settlers use about 10 times as much water as the Palestinians.  They even have water parks and swimming pools.  We could see Jordan which is on the east side of the Dead Sea.

We stayed only a few minutes and then headed for Good Shepherd Parish in Jericho.  When we arrived we were greeted by Brother Anthony who is a Franciscan from New Jersey.  We unloaded our luggage and went around the back to the covered patio for drinks.  We were joined by Theresa who was born in Egypt but she lives in California and spends a lot of time in Jericho as a volunteer translator.  Anthony told us his experiences in Jericho and other places in the Holy Land.  We were soon joined by Father Mario who is a Franciscan from Lebanon.  His English isn’t as good so Theresa did some translating for us.  He told us more about the parish.

Then we went into the convent (friary) dining room for a feast!  There was beer and wine.  Larry and Rich were happy to have a beer.  We had many courses:  salad, what looked like little eggrolls with chicken in them and triangular pastries with spinach inside, spaghetti with meat sauce, French fries, sesame coated chicken tenders, and then a fruit bowl.  We were stuffed!  We had lots of good conversation and shared some laughs.

 They have a school with 600 students who are mostly Muslim.  They have built a new school which is ready for next school year.  The only problem is that there is no furniture and the furniture in the old school looks like it has been there since the school was built in 1929.  We asked him what he needs most and he said, "A good English teacher."  The children are taught English from the earliest grades.  We toured the school and there were some students being tutored after school.  When I told Fr. Mario that I had been a teacher, he invited me to visit the classroom where tutoring in English was taking place.  I went in and asked each of the students at least one question.  When I was finished the students asked me how old I am and what my name is.  Then they asked me to ask their teacher a question.   Next we toured the new school which will hold 900 students and since they always have a waiting list there will be no problem filling the school.  It is a beautiful building with four floors, wide hallways, and many stairs but no elevator.  They have a technology lab and chemistry lab. 

When we got back we got on a bus to go to St. George’s Monastery built on the Mount of the Temptation of Christ.  First the driver stopped at the 2010 year old sycamore tree, supposedly where Zaccheus climbed up to get a view of Jesus.  Many vendors were there trying to sell us stuff.  One of them put an Arab scarf on Matt and tried to get him to buy it, but he didn’t.  To get to the Monastery we had to take a tram.  Unfortunately it was a day of the yellow dust which blows in from Egypt, so the view was hazy but still spectacular.  We had to walk up stone steps carved into the side of the mountain and then we went into the Monastery which is still active with a few monks.  Josie, Larry and I went into this one little cave through an open gate.  We got yelled at because we weren’t supposed to be there.  At the end of the hallway was the chapel with beautiful paintings and frescoes.  Larry and I and several other people went out on a balcony that has a sheer drop to the base of the mountain.  From there we had a great view of the caves further up the mountain and the valley below.  When we left the monastery we stopped for drinks and to enjoy the view.  We rode the tram back down and waited a few minutes for the bus to come and pick us up.  We were with a couple of young men from Sri Lanka and had a good conversation.  They asked us to come visit Sri Lanka.

The bus took us back to the parish to pick up our luggage.  Our bus to Jerusalem was not there yet so we went in and had drinks, cookies and Jericho dates (the best dates in the world according to Fr. Mario.)  While we were there some other priests came in.  They were from Malaga, Spain and one of them was actually the Bishop.  We enjoyed their company until it was time to leave.  We had a terrific air conditioned bus with lots of room.  Our driver, Tarik, spoke very good English and was our driver in Jerusalem on Tuesday as well.  When we came out the tunnel in East Jerusalem we could see the Dome of the Rock and knew we were close.  Tarik dropped us off near the Damascus Gate and we made our way back to the Golden Gate Inn and Hostel.  After the experiences of the last several days, it looked like a luxury hotel to us.  We got settled in our rooms and decided we would get a light supper.  First we took a short walk along the Via Dolorosa, the way Jesus travelled carrying his cross.  We only did the first few stations.  When we got to the end of the road we went to a restaurant right across from the entrance to Via Dolorosa.  The menu was very diverse: some got pizza, others got falafel, and others got Greek salad.  Then we all went back to the Hostel and got ready for bed.

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