Finally! Connected to the Internet in Jordan

For all photos for 16th and 17th November, click here to view them on my dropbox site. If you don’t have Dropbox, use this link to sign up and you and I will both get a bonus amount of free storage space.

I am finally connected to the internet in Jordan – it is just after midnight on the morning of Sunday 18th November here, and I am going to upload my notes from the last few days. Stick with me guys, and be patient! We are heading to Mt Nebo and then down to Petra tomorrow, so I don’t know what the situation with the internet connections will be down there. Also, things are not looking good for Bethlehem and Jericho visits due to the local “situation” – again, keep us in your prayers!

CTC Bible Lands Study Tour Travel Diary

2pm 16th November, 2012, Amman, Jordan

I have just lit up my pipe in the lobby of the Regency Palace, Amman. Pure tobacco for the first time in about four months. $3 a packet at Dubai, duty free. Luxury.

A curious thing. When I first travelled overseas in Turkey, it was following in the footsteps of Pope Benedict XVI. When we arrived at the hotel, we noticed in the display cabinet pictures and menus recording the fact that both John Paul II (in 2000) and Benedict XVI (in 2009) were received here for their reception luncheons. So it seems that once again, I am travelling “in the footsteps of the Pope”!

We are meeting for Mass at 6pm this evening before drinks and dinner. A sensible person would get some sleep, after the 20 flight and additional hours before and after in the airport. According to the clock, we left last night on Emirates at 10:45 from Melbourne, and arrived here in Jordan at 10:30 in the morning. But, flying west, we effectively extended our night by 8 hours – it was dawn when we changed planes at Dubai. I did get a little sleep on the plane, but also watched a couple of movies recommended by my daughters: Brave and Madagascar 3.

Our tour group was travelling together, so I was seated next to Fr Ian of the Laverton parish on the flight from Melbourne to Dubai, but I also had the opportunity of meeting other interesting people travelling along with us.

In Melbourne, before we left, I found an electrical outlet to plug in my iphone to get it charged up for the journey. A young woman came and sat on the floor next to me and asked if she could share the other outlet for the same purpose. We fell into conversation, and it turns out that she was quite a globetrotter, spending every holiday at some new overseas destination, sometimes living for whole years in other locations such as China or South America. This time she was off for a year’s “deployment” as an OzAid worker in Kenya. My daughter, of late, has been speaking of her dreams of travelling and working overseas (specifically in England) when she is old enough, and I could see a bit of her in this young woman.

On the plane, the spare seat next to Fr Ian and I was taken by a young Muslim woman from Abu Dubai, travelling home after 9 months in Melbourne studying IT at Monash University. Her English was flawless, and so we had many conversations during the journey about cultural and religious matters. The plane had power connections for recharging the phone and tablet, so no worries there.

Then, on the shorter final leg to Jordan, I sat next to a young man of Dutch origin who had lived in Indonesia since he was 5 years old when his parents shifted there for business. He is now the pastor of a Pentecostal church in Jakarta (“The Church of God”) and was leading a tour group of 35 of his church members on a 9 day pilgrimage in the Holy Land. We talked of Scripture and tradition, the Book of Revelation, the Anti-Christ and the Rapture. I had fun. He was rather nervous, because there was some mix up with the time. It seems that Jordan is on Daylight Savings time and the local time was actually an hour later than he thought. He had only an hour and a half to get his tour group off the plane when it landed to the border crossing into Israel before it closed for the Sabbath.
There was the usual mess around with customs when we arrived, but we were met by our guide and the transfer bus and brought into Amman. It is mild here, but windy and there is a fair bit of dust about. On the road here, we did spy some riot police standing in a line along a street, but we have no idea why they were there. We had a security guard with us on the bus. It seems this is fairly normal.

The room is very comfortable. It had a bath in it, so I washed myself and then my clothes, had a glass of duty free whisky, plugged in all the electronics. The wifi here is about $8 an hour, so I elected just to write up my diary – I will post it later when I can find a cheaper alternative. Cathy had left a voicemail message for me so I phoned home and had a conversation with the whole family (about $7 for ten or twelve minutes on the TravelSIM phone).

Amman is a big city, but still developing. Although it is an area that has been settled since about 7000BC, it really was only just a village in the 19th Century. Once it was established as the capital of the new Kingdom however, it started growing exponentially. It is now about 2 million, and is expected to grow to 6 million by 2025. Beside a few high rise buildings, most of the buildings appear relatively new and built of the pale cream coloured stone in a fairly “cubist” architecture. Flying here from Dubai over the Arabian Desert, the first signs of inhabitation were the crop circles where irrigation was being used. It looked like some kind of abstract green art on the background of the sand. Then homesteads/complexes started to appear – cubic houses surrounded by orchards and gardens within a perimeter wall.

I have determined that one thing I will do while in this part of the world is learn the Arab alphabet and practice identifying letters and words. Arabic has many words that are similar to Hebrew. I would like to learn the language properly one day, but starting with the letters seems an achievable goal.

Over all, I am glad to be here finally. The pilgrimage will begin in earnest for me when we visit Mount Nebo on Sunday. Tomorrow, the only thing scheduled as far as I can see is a visit to the local archeological museum. If you haven’t already picked it, Amman is the city of the ancient Ammonites. We will be travelling down through the areas of Moab and Edom in the next few days, all the way down to Petra and Aqaba, also visiting Mount Nebo.

Well, that’s about all for now. I will go up to my room and rest for a while before Mass.

9:30pm, 16th November, 2012
Amman, Jordan

Well, a bit of excitement outside the hotel this evening! Was this the Arab Spring come to Jordan? Probably not. It was a noisy but fairly peaceful demonstration (the police were in evidence – probably what we saw them preparing for earlier) involving lots of cars and honking of horns down in the street below our hotel. I gather it is in fact something to do with a protest over rising fuel costs here in Jordan. Whatever. It was my first Middle Eastern demonstration, and I saw it happen!

I received bit of a surprise tonight. Earlier when the keys were being handed out, I was surprised that, despite having enrolled as a “twin share” I was given a double room to my own. These things happen, I thought. Maybe there were an odd number of twin-sharers. But tonight I received quite a surprise when I entered my room to find someone else knocking about in the bathroom. At first I was confused – had I entered someone else’s room by mistake? (I was feeling a bit befuddled after a few hours sleep, no food etc.) No, it turns out I am sharing with Fr Peter from the Sale diocese. He had come up separately from Nigeria, where he had been visiting a fellow priest, and had joined us late. Nice to have the company, but I wish I had received some warning!

Great dinner tonight down in the restaurant. The food was one of things I was looking forward to about coming on this journey. Then we had our first “debriefing” session (with each contributing various duty free offerings) with Rosemary. Time for bed now. According to my watch, it has been just on 23 hours since leaving Melbourne, but of course, it has been closer to 32.

Saturday, 17th November, 2012
Amman and Jerash, Jordan

The room was too warm overnight, and the only bed covering a thick doona. Neither Peter nor I slept very well. The demonstrations about the fuel increases continued into the early morning. The issue is the increase in domestic gas as well as car fuel prices. Jordan does not have any domestic fuel source and imports all its energy needs.

I was awake at 5:30pm and spent the time reading and praying. Peter was up by 6am so we both went down for breakfast at 6:30am. Others were already there. A nice leisurely breakfast. The topic of the conversation was mainly about trying to work out the pay system for the in house internet. There was some rumour that free internet was available in the lobby, but as Fr Bhin said, “A place which charges for water at dinner isn’t very likely to provide free internet.” The charge is about $8 for an hour or $20 for a day. It seems that the first place to have free internet will be at Ma’agan in a week’s time.

We left the hotel at 8:30am to drive up to the “citadel” of Amman, the ancient hilltop city. It was an amazing precinct, with a temple to Hercules, a byzantine church, an Umayyad palace, and ending at the Jordan Archaeological Museum. The hilltop covered therefore about 8000 years of history, including the Biblical period (mentioned in 2 Samuel and elsewhere where David attacks the Ammonites), the Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic periods. During the Roman and Byzantine period, the citadel was known as “Philadelphia” – not to be confused with the Philadelphia in Asia Minor which was one of the 7 churches of the Revelation. While walking around the site, a local worker looked at me and said “Abu-Shannab!” He repeated it and then explained to me in English: “You are the ‘Father of Moustaches’!” An apt name indeed! As we were leaving the Museum, Versi drew my attention to a little window in the wall that was selling a beautiful concoction of Turkish style coffee infused with Cardamom seeds. She was kind enough to buy me a cup (50 Jordanian cents – less than a dollar), and it was very refreshing.

We then did a coach tour of Amman, both the old city and the “Beverley Hills” of Amman, the high real estate section. We travelled north then to Jerash, or ancient Gerasa – which both Mark and Luke name as the site of the miracle of casting out the demon into the flock of pigs – the only problem being that it is no where near the Sea of Galilee. Matthew is probably more correct when he names Gadera as the site. There are two other possibilities: 1) Mark and Luke are referring to the area under the governorship of the Gerasa, or 2) there is yet another location which has not been identified by the archeologists – possibly somewhere called “Gergesa” (which is an alternative reading of the texts). In any case, Gerasa/Jerash provides a very good idea of the contemporary “vibe” of the region as a background to the biblical stories.

We had lunch as the “Artemis Restaurant” just outside Jerash, a very nice buffet for about $15. I ate too much but had plenty of opportunity to wear of the meal at the ancient city of Jerash/Gerasa. This is an astounding and breathtaking site in every respect. You enter through the South Gate, and there is a hippodrome on one side where they re-enact the chariot races (not today as it was Saturday, the equivalent of our Sunday in Jordan). The two main foci of the town are the temple of Zeus and the temple of Athens – joined by the main street running north and south. There is an oval square surrounded by columns that looks very much like Berlini’s elliptical square in the Vatican. There is a very large theatre (where I was able to perform a few songs – O what a beautiful morning and Praise to the Lord the Almighty – singing in these Roman theatres is a great experience. It makes you feel like you are one of the Three Tenors). There are ruins of as many as 25 churches in the old city area as well, from the Byzantine period. The Arab Muslims seem not to have used the city as a centre, although they have discovered ruins of an ancient mosque. But the Roman/Byzantine ruins are simply breathtaking. The only thing I could compare it with in my experience would be Ephesus, and in fact I think this place is far beyond Ephesus for overall effect.

We have a very good guide, Fadi. He is a Catholic and a local of the area, and knows both the book of the Scriptures and the book of the Land very well. He is writing a book at the moment on the Byzantine Church ruins in the area, and usually has a good answer for any historical question one may ask. He said that he doesn’t have a degree in history (he is an engineer by trade), but has done a lot of his own study, and has been a guide for 17 years. As a Christian, he has an interest in the Christian sites and the churches which we wouldn’t get from a non-Christian guide.

We have covered a lot of ground on foot today, and I have to admit that I have probably covered more ground than most of the group as I have been clambering up and down trying to get the best photos of the sites/sights. After five weeks of this, I should be very fit, but I desperately needed to have some exercise after our long journey yesterday.

I wasn’t expecting today to be as interesting – no, amazing – as it turned out to be. While none of the places we visited had a very direct connection to the story of Jesus (although both Philadelphia and Gerasa were cities of the Decapolis, a region which Jesus did visit – probably further north than here), both sites give one a deep insight into the Biblical period and the importance of this region during the period.

We returned to our hotel (crossing the river Jabok where Jacob wrestled with God!), and celebrated vigil mass for Sunday before dinner. We have an early leaving time in the morning for Mt Nebo and the baptismal site at the River Jordan before travelling on to Petra. I have spent an interminable time trying to connect to the internet, and it is now after midnight and I should get to bed.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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