After 10 great days of touring with people from TLUMC and others from my friend Chris Howlett’s church in Lebanon, KY, Chris and I said goodbye to the group last night and today headed for Nazareth and the start of the Jesus Trail. We’ll be hiking the 40 miles between here and Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee, following in the footsteps of Jesus during his ministry in the region.
We began this morning with a little more time in Jerusalem and began with the Ramparts Walk, which takes you up on the walls of the Old City and allows you to circumnavigate most of the top of the defensive wall built by Suleiman the Magnificent, the 16th century Ottoman emperor. One of the things you learn quickly here is that everything historical consists of layers that go from the present day on the surface all the way down to some of the original walls built in the Old Testament period, like the walls we saw in the Jewish Quarter that were built by King Hezekiah of Judah. You have to look down through a hole in the street to see them. It’s helpful to keep in mind how each successive period in the city’s history builds one upon the other–same stones, different day and arrangement.
The Ramparts Walk allows you to see the city from a different angle and lets you peer down into the lives of the people who live there. The hot water tanks on the roofs, the courtyards and playgrounds of schools run by Christian or Muslim religious orders, and even a random astroturf soccer field give you a sense that no matter where you are in the world, people are largely the same. We’re all trying to live life the best we can with what we have.
We lunched in the Jewish Quarter next to one of the few open spaces in the Old City, where we paid tourist prices for a couple of slices of pizza (not bad) and a couple of Cokes for $15. Grumbling aside, we enjoyed a nice conversation with a Jewish man from New York and then were treated to a series of bar mitzvah parties that traversed the square with lots of singing and dancing to the sounds of hand drums, clarinets, trumpets, and even the occasional shofar. The young boys being bar-mitzvahed also reminded me of every other 13 year-old I have known–they looked completely embarrassed and bored by all the fuss as they walked slowly under the huppa canopy held by family members.
The scene brought to mind something that Don Joy, one of my favorite professors at Asbury used to say–that we Americans don’t really have a ritual to mark the transition from childhood to adulthood. I mean, if you’re at Disneyland you pay adult prices at age 2 (or something like that) while others think you’re an adult when you can drive (16), vote (18), or drink (21). Of course, there are some who think adulthood begins when the young person finally leaves home, be it at 18 or 38. Adolesence, as we know it, is really an American invention–a product of post-World War II prosperity and the Baby Boom. It’s interesting to observe a culture that, like many, marks the transition well with equal amounts of celebration and assignment of responsibility. Dr. Joy was an advocate for bringing such a ritual to American culture and while many have tried, I guess we’re stuck with the ambiguity of never knowing when we’ve actually grown up.
After a brief respite back at the hotel, we shouldered our packs and headed to the Jerusalem Central Bus Station to catch our bus for Nazareth. Here’s where culture shock really set in. In America, we expect to be spoon fed every piece of information we could possibly need to get where we’re going: clear signage, readily available rest rooms, an electronic scheduling board with clear information about arrivals and departures, ample seating while you wait, and an orderly line in which to queue up for boarding. The Jerusalem Central Bus Station is incredibly busy and it manages to have none of these things. Everyone else but the two Americans seemed to know what was what, including the most advantageous position for getting a good spot in line, which involves crowding to the front and jumping in front of anyone in your path. Imagine a herd of cattle trying to jam through a gate and you get the idea–that is, if cattle had suitcases. Women and children first? Not a chance. “After you, by all means?” No way. I’m not complaining, mind you. This is how they do it here and we’re the ones who have to adjust.
The ride was long and made longer by heavy traffic. We could see construction along with way that indicated Israel is building more rail systems to move people from place to place, which is good. I struck up a conversation with a young woman next to me and found out she is from a village near Nazareth and is a university student in Jerusalem studying to be a pharmacist. She is Muslim but was educated at a Catholic school here in the city. She was wonderful to chat with during the trip and gave us some insight into life here. She also reassured us that we wouldn’t miss our stop–a concern given that the driver stopped for approximately 12.5 seconds at each one.
We pulled into Nazareth “feeling about half past dead,” as the old song by The Band goes, and wove past the Church of the Anunciation, which we had visited with the group earlier in the tour, and through the closed up market or “souk” to find the Fauzi Azar Inn tucked in an alleyway. It’s a funky old Arab inn now converted into a hostel/guest house/hotel. We were directed to our spartan but comfortable room and then headed out to satiate our ravenous hunger when we were greeted by, yes, the Golden Arches of McDonald’s. Short on time and feeling a little homesick, I wolfed down a Big Mac which I would probably never do in the States but tonight it tasted wonderful after 10 days of healthy-ish Mediterranean food. We’ll go back to that tomorrow (and, yes, a Big Mac in Nazareth tastes the same as a Big Mac in Monument, minus the cheese. Jewish and Islamic law–I least I think it applies to Muslims as well–cannot eat meat and cheese together. Truth is that we probably shouldn’t eat meat and cheese together either, but as the Steve Miller Band sang, “somebody give me a cheeseburger!”
We wiled away the evening banging on our iPads and chatted with some students from the US and Canada who are hiking part of the trail. Tomorrow we’ll spend the day in Nazareth, including a visit to the living history Nazareth Village which offers a glimpse into life in a first century Jewish village. As a former reenactor, I’m looking forward to it.
We pulled into Nazareth feeling about half past dead, but looking forward to following the life of the one who brings life!