Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tour de Falafel Part Three: We Three Wise Men

So on to the Holy Land! After taking a bus with some child soldiers (they were supposed to be 18; I have my doubts) up to Jerusalem, I was ready to begin my religious pilgrimage. Traveling with two more or less Catholics in Pat and Ryan, I had a lot of catching up to do on religious history. My sense of monotheism has almost exclusively been shaped by a combination of Mark Twain (“God created man because he was disappointed in the monkey”) and Monty Python (“Blessed are the cheese makers”). But between Pat and Ryan they could usually figure out what we were looking at, and I touched some pretty cool things!

When we got off the bus I got yelled at for taking a picture of taking a picture of the Kosher McDonalds. Five minutes later I got yelled by our taxi driver for closing the door too hard. It’s hard going from a land of lawlessness like Cairo to somewhere so rigid. And every old man sounds like Jerry Stiller. I made the mistake of asking for the meter and the cab driver went on for ten minutes about how I was wasting money and could have gotten the ride for less without the meter. We were staying right in the Old City, in this room that looked like it might have housed a couple crusaders in the day. That first night we just walked around a little bit before hitting the nightlife area. It is pretty crazy, because more people carry handguns there than anywhere else I’ve been. Which must make for interesting bar fights!

The next day we were up bright and early for our tour of the city. We bought some man-sized bagels and headed out of the city, up Mt. Olives, and looked out over the city. It was pretty cool because you could see the Dome of the Rock and everything. There was some talk of perhaps the Garden of Eden being in the vicinity, but Mark Twain was pretty clear that the Garden was in Western New York. Already my worldview was changing. Then we went to the Old City, where we learned that it was divided into the Christian Quarter, Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter. Favorite quarter? Obviously the Muslim Quarter where the same falafel cost half as much. But we did visit the Church of Nativity where we did such everyday things as touch the rock Jesus was buried on and saw the cave (now a hut) he was buried in.

Then we went to the Jewish quarter where there was schnitzel aplenty and touched the Western Wall. Best part: free yarmulkes for everyone! I don’t know the technology involved, but it never once fell off my kurbiskopf. My day got even better when this couple on the tour with us, who bear an uncanny resemblance to Aunt Peggy and Uncle Bruce (that comment was for Ashley), bought the three of us lunch. Had I known they were buying, I would have got shawerma, but I’ve never been one to complain about a free falafel. Next we went to the Holocaust Museum, which was decidedly not funny. I would say it is more depressing than DC’s museum but it falls short of the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in Austria. Oh the sights I’ve seen!

That night we headed back downtown where we ran into the air force guys we know from AUC. We wanted to have kind of an early night because we wanted to go to mass in the Church of Nativity. But this one place looped us in, and you don’t walk away from 3 for 1 drink specials, and you definitely don’t walk away from a bottomless bowl of popcorn.

Long story short, we did not make it to mass the next morning. But we did rouse ourselves to go to Bethlehem, where I touched the spot Jesus was born. In order to do though I had to take part in a slow motion stampede, during which I took back everything nice I’ve ever said about Indians as a people (sorry Divya, Gayan, Meera, Cassie(?)). Ryan, Pat and I found ourselves stuck in the middle of their tour group, and while some of them were nice, others insisted on drinking my water and continuously pushing. My favorite part is when one of them accused Ryan of holding up the line, despite the hundred people in front of him who were not moving. We took some pretty epic pictures that will illuminate the experience better for you, as soon as I get my laptop back in shape.

After exiting the hell that was Jesus’s birthplace we quickly stopped by the place where the shepherds were informed of Jesus’s birth. It was a pretty cool field, but you didn’t get the sense that it couldn’t have been the field next to that one. I’m just glad they kept track all these years/had the presence of mind to remember where they were standing. But what was cool was driving along the wall that fences in Palestine. For reasons unknown to me it was all in English, and some of it was pretty funny like “I want my ball back!” Then we went through the checkpoint, and I don’t know what the Palestinians are complaining about, no one questioned my American passport at all.

That night we went out with Ryan’s predecessor Gabe (PKE president past and present? Like dining with royalty!), who is on his yeshiva, which is when Jewish men go study the Torah to get closer to the religion. We met up with his friends, and they weren’t radical, militant Jews! I guess that is what I’m taking away from the trip; everyone we met seems pretty reasonable (except for the Israeli falafel dealers; 20 shekels for a falafel, JOKES!). They did explain some questions I had about the whole sitch, but it was another one of those three for one drink nights, so you’ll just have to believe me it all made sense at the time.

Next morning we successfully made it to mass. My Latin is a little rusty, but overall I thought it was a pretty good sermon. Favorite part: obviously the free cookie. Ryan and Pat waited in line to get into the cave/hut Jesus was unsuccessfully buried in, and just when they got in one very angry priest decided it was time to clean it, but the bros joined a group of nuns in charging in. Obviously, this wasn’t the angry priests first rodeo, as he didn’t hesitate in squirting water on the on rushers. When that didn’t work, he collared Ryan like an experienced bartender and threw him out. Pat got an excellent shot of an angry priest hand coming down on his camera, which I’ll post here when Pat gets it up.

But alas it was time once more to return to the Land of Sand. We decided to cut out Tel Aviv for the simple reason that the bus we were planning to catch doesn’t run on Saturdays, which are the Jewish holiday. Added to the fact we had spent too many shekels on man sized bagels, outrageously priced falafel, and obligatory schnitzel, we knew it was time to return to whence we came. We left our hostel at 9 in the morning, but were too late to buy tickets for the 10 o’clock bus to the border. That meant another four hours of waiting at the bus station, a specialty of ours. It did give us occasion to try the Kosher Burger at McDonalds, which Pat claimed made him the most full he’s ever been at a Mickie D’s. Someone obviously missed Shrek week at that fine dining establishment this summer. After that it was just a five hour ride to the border, an exit tax from Israel, an hour to cross, an entry tax for Egypt, and a six hour ride home to Cairo. Plenty of time to get to know Pat and Ryan.

And so ended the journey of the life time. And now only six classes of Romantic Literature (three weeks) until I make my triumphant return to America. Halleluiah!

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