From the Desert, I called my WIJITS…
The WIJITs take a week of adventure, reflection, and rest
[As the crew takes off on planes and hugs our heartfelt goodbyes, heres a late post about our week of adventure in the desert durning the week of April 17th. Also apologizes for spelling mistakes…we’ve been awake for over 36 hrs]
In the Shadows of Ancients
A desert week of Camels, Death Bridges, and Four-by-Fours
I’m not usually one for early mornings — in fact, I’ve called my classmates hell spawn-for waking me up earlier then 8 — but I none-the-less rose with the sun on Sunday to attend an Easter service at the Garden Tomb with the majority of my classmates. It was for Jesus after all. A British Baptist preacher presided over a service that contained more contemporary Christian rock then any of us expected. Despite my drowsiness, the beauty of watching the sunrise over the (possible) location of the Jesus’s empty tomb and celebrating the victory of Christ surrounded peoples from all nations, did take my breath away.
Having celebrate the resurrection, we turned back the clock and reenacted the flight of the holy family, packing our bags and booking it out of Jerusalem before our Israeli visa’s expired. A hike at Miz Beg Ramman [spelled wrong…but Bruce couldn’t be found to correct] provided a break in a day of bus travel and students took selfies with the local Ibex (Mountain Goat/Antelope creatures). Aside from severely freaking out and confusing an Israeli toddler at one of the stops when I wrapped my head and face with a Palestinian Kafea for sun protection, the day passed more or less without incident. The bus reached the “Bedouin Grand Cannon” (as Bruce calls it) around 10PM and the sleepy crew walked a couple of minutes to a Bedouin camp that rested in the shadow of the desert’s rock formations.
Donning my new hiking hat in the best Indiana Jones impression a 5’4’’ geeky San Franciscan can muster, I rose and joined the group as we set off for our Hike to the mythical land of Petra. While Abu Yasezn (our phenomenal guide) provided little direction in my quest to find the Holy Grail that “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade” had assured me lay within Petra, Abu Yasezn did reveal his skill as a cosmetologist and used local sandstone to provide Heidi Pullman with some quite excellent eyeshadow.
As lovely as Heidi looked done up like a desert princess, nothing could compare with the seer awe inspiring beauty and size of the Monastery and Treasury of Petra. Like a children who just saw their first sky scrapper, most of us paused and gawked up at the massive stone edifices. As we stared and took selfies, our ever-patient guide explained the history of Petra and its role as the center of the Nabuetan Kingdom, the realm that once thrived on its control of the local silk road trade roots but eventually became a vassal of Roman during the later Imperial period. Globalization rules the modern world but Greek columns carved in the side of a Jordanian desert cannon reminded us of the lasting legacy of Alexander the Great and the long history of exchange of goods and culture across world history.
In a different attempt of cross border exchange, Courtney D. and Allie W. seriously considered becoming animal traffickers and attempting to smuggler one of the local dogs home to the US. I took on the annoying and unnecessary role of lecturer on the difficulties involved such attempt. I’m happy to report both they have since forgiven me and that we do not have any live animal to declare each time we go through customs. Eventually, our group made its way back to the bus, all the while dodging horse drawn carts doing their best to recreate the Indi 500 in the narrow passages of the canyon.
The man, the myth, the legend, Abu Yasenz claims to have played on the Jordanian Men’s national team in his youth. Wither on not his tale can be believed (and I am inclined to believe him), the middle aged father dominated the camp’s pick up football game, scoring one goal and an assist. WIJIT’sDrew and Morgan demonstrated their commitment to the Beautiful Game, leaving the pitch with a badly sprained ankle and a bleeding leg respectively. It should be noted Drew’s injury came from a failed high-five…Oh the beauty of sports.
Our time in the camp concluded with a late Easter Vespers and sharing of poems and songs that reflected on our time in Jerusalem. Heidi, Sam, Lucas, and I all shared works. The poem I shared: “Wrestling Jerusalem…With My Misfits” can be found in an earlier blog post, for those of you curious. Shout out to Lucas’s excellent rendition of “Three Brothers” by David Wilcox as well as his unfailing worship leadership with his backpacker guitar.
Have you ever seen a stair case whose steepness made the whole exercise of building it counterproductive? You think to yourself I think just bare rock would be safer than what you have created here. This was the kind of stair case we found ourselves descending in a controlled slide the on Tuesday. The stairs had served as an ancient escape tunnel and cistern in a mountain fortress used by both Crusaders and Islamic leaders. I can only describe the experience as sliding down a mountain while actually inside said mountain. Quite the cool experience but sand plus slick rock plus only flashlight light made for a delicate exercise. However, all but my pride emerged unscathed, as I had taken a tumble while video taping and monologueing about the stairs steepness. After our castle hike, the group continued our bus ride to the Wadi Rum desert.
Ya know what just feels like adventure? The riding in the back of a pick up across the open sand of the desert, the whoops of your friends mixing with the roar of the engine and the whipping of the wind. To get to our camp in the Wadi Rum desert the intrepid crew mounted up in the backs of four by four’s and raced through the cannons and sand, passing under the shadows of titanic red and yellow sandstone monoliths. While it would not meet my mother’s standards for safety and my back remained sore for days…10/10 would do again.
The camp in which we would spend the next four days lay about 20 minutes into the desert from border of the park and stood nestled in open valley, pressed up again on of the slumbering rock giants that dotted the land scape. Although a minority of the student actually slept in the tents each night, the little encampment quickly become a beautiful retreat and welcome home. Unwired but with running the water, the camp had a collection of propane and gas lamps that provided light in the evening. Woven mats of red and black provided a makeshift floor for the common area and tent. Most crew members slept under the stars either in the common area or on one of the nearby rock formations.
I have never been overly found of heights, both out of fear and some scarring experiences high school with some friends in dark place, and thus our ascent up to the top of one of the stone monoliths became an exercise in will power. It’s also a little known fact that the Bedouin people have some mountain goat blood in their lines. This is the only reasonable explanation for their ability to scramble up sheer rock faces and ledges to secure the ropes for us non-goat blooded mortals. Our crew spend much of Wednesday making our way up to (and down) from a giant sky bridge formed by one of the rock formations. Our accent required at some points rope assisted cliff scaling and a section of our decent literally was literally a 20 minute controlled blunt slide down a trench at a 60–70 degree angle from the ground. Everyone made it home okay, and those without an inflated fear of failing to their untimely death seemed to enjoy themselves most heartily.
The desert has always served as a place for quite meditation and the crew leaned in the reflective aspects of the wasteland with a morning of isolated reflection on Thursday. Most returned with poems, journals and thoughts, some of which later shared with the group. As we sat in the shade of the tent, talking about memories and our appreciation of one another, one could feel the closeness that had sprung between our diverse cast. Lucas V. words of affirmation for his teammates started a water works or two and I sat and marveled at the bond I felt for these young men and women, gems that had been strangers not all that long ago.
After hugs, tears and kind words, came an afternoon of rest and exploration. Jack, Natalie, Jordan, and I grew slightly wild, salvaging dried bones from a camel skeleton to take back as souvenirs. [Fun fact: they all made it through several security checkpoints and airport terminals]. A section of the group set up a sleeping spot on a hill top about ten minutes from camp, having bucket lined their mats up the side of the monolith.
The next day came the part of the trip everyone had been waiting for: Camels! Yes, with the upmost grace and giggles the WIJ crew mounted our ships of the desert and lumbered off in a bumper car pack. Our herd stretched four camels abreast and five camels long for a good majority of the time of our ride. I had to personally explain to my camel the concept of personal space and the distance his teeth should remain from my neither regions. My classmates found his advances most amusing. My possible future grandchildren did not.
Our meandering herd eventually made it to a camp nearer the edge of the park where the crew would stay the night. A feast had been prepared for us and the other guests and those not already in a food coma celebrated our adventures in the hotel wide dance circle that formed post-meal. Bruce honored us with a summary of his life story and struggles, reinforcing our respect for his humility as well as his strength. The sunburnt crew then crashed in our tents (or made use of the showers in the rooms, such luxury was not to be wasted).
The crew rose and board the bus for a tropical bug bite vacation (see entry titled “Borders, Bugs and Bungalows”)