An extraordinary place

This is an extraordinary place. To the east across the Jordan Valley the hills of Jordan are outlined by lights at night. Down in the wide valley towns and villages are lit up along both sides of the river. Jericho lies south of here. I think I can make out where the Allenby Bridge is, east of Jericho. The bridge is the crossing point between the occupied West Bank and Jordan.

Six of us, participants in a Quaker Voluntary Action project, wanted to walk to the Allenby Bridge this afternoon, but the road to the bridge was closed because it is Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath).

Earlier we had visited the site on the bank of the River Jordan where Jesus is said to have been baptised by John the Baptist. There we saw a large number of people being baptised in white robes. Three members of our group found a quieter spot nearby and began paddling in the cool but muddy river. Next to them a French priest or minister began quietly baptising members of his flock one by one. I felt moved by this, in spite of my rational mind telling me that baptism with water is totally unnecessary.

As we were leaving the baptism site Sasha, who is from Moscow, began a conversation in Russian with an Israeli soldier who was patrolling the site. It turned out that the soldier was from Azerbaijan and had come to Israel with his parents when he was one year old. He intends to train to become an officer in the Israeli Defence Force when he has completed his two years of compulsory military service. He is very dubious about any peace agreement, because the Palestinians would only use it as an opportunity to fire more rockets into Israel.

After this interesting conversation we set off to walk to the Allenby Bridge, which meant walking back up to the main north-south road and then turning north. But we didn’t get that far. There were signs on the fence along both sides of the road warning us about landmines, so we could only go on up the road. But as we approached a military installation overlooking the road we were told that we could go no further. We decided to try to thumb a lift. We were lucky: a coach full of American tourists soon stopped for us. There were enough spare seats on the coach. I found myself next to a Methodist from Texas who told me that they had visited the Sea of Galilee in the morning and were heading for the Dead Sea before returning to Jerusalem. I’m thankful that we are taking things at a slower pace.

The coach driver dropped the six of us off when we reached the main road. We proceeded to walk north to where the road turns off to the Allenby Bridge. A little way down the road there was a checkpoint which was obviously closed and deserted. We hung around for a while taking photos until a military vehicle came down a dirt road towards us. The vehicle stopped and there was a conversation which I was unable to hear because I had gone some way from the others with my camera. After a while the vehicle drove back whence it had come. One of the soldiers waved cheerily as they left. We had to return to the main road and wait for “our” taxi driver to come from the village where we are staying to pick us up.

We are staying for just two nights at an Eco Centre in the village of Auja. This morning we helped with making “bricks” out of crushed rock, straw and water. We shovelled crushed rock, which was like cement, into a large trough. Four of us would then stand in the trough and mix the crushed rock with straw and water using our feet. The resulting mixture was shovelled into buckets and poured into moulds which were left to dry in the hot sun.

Our next task was to plaster the outside wall of a new building. Using some netting the crushed rock was sieved to remove stones. The resulting cement was mixed with finely chopped straw and water to make plaster, which we applied to the wall using our hands.

The third and final task of the morning was to plant two rows of spinach and radishes. I used a hoe to break up the earth for one row. After only five or ten minutes I had a blister, so I willingly accepted Jeff’s offer to take over. I then helped with laying a hosepipe along the two rows. There were small, evenly-spaced holes in the hosepipe. When the water was turned on for a few minutes, it was easy to see where the holes were. Seeds were then sown around each of the holes. With sufficient irrigation and heat from the sun the seeds will grow rapidly.

I pray that the seeds of peace and justice may grow rapidly in this extraordinary land.

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