Sunday, November 15, 2009

Learning to love the locals-- a fabulous week

This week was something entirely different from the rest of this trip, but in a very good way. Let's start at the beginning shall we?

Sunday was our fieldtrip day, giving us Monday as an exam prep day for what many people feared would be the hardest of our exams. Since we're just now starting the New Testament, we are starting to have our fieldtrip emphasis on the period around the year 0. Therefore, our tour this week was on Herodian Jerusalem--pretty much everything that was in Jerusalem which we still have from the time of Herod the Great. When we left, pretty early in the morning, our first destination was the kotel tunnel. This tunnel goes along the length of the actual western wall--they started digging down there a few years ago, so now you can walk from one end of the Western side of the temple mount (which is huge by the way) to the other, mostly underground. The tunnel is hugely controversial, mostly because there are houses on top of it and people are afraid that the foundations of their house will be weakened, but also because some of the Jews who were originally digging it started to head UNDER the temple mount itself, something which was hugely taboo for the Muslims. It was a pretty big deal for a while. The wall was beautifully made, and as we walked along it, we were encouraged to touch as much as possible. Remember, for the Jews, the spirit of God left the Temple upon its destruction, and came to inhabit the wall. According to tradition, the holy of holies of the original Temple was exactly where the stone of the dome of the rock is now. So when we reached the point which was directly closest to the holy of holies, there were perhaps twenty women praying at the wall just like they do at the traditional parts of the western wall. They were all very traditional, rocking back and forth, and praying with their beautiful little books. I would have liked to have stayed and watched. We exited the tunnel on the opposite side of the city, and from there, headed to one of the few discovered homes of people from the time of the destruction of the temple in 70 a.d. It is deep underground, unsurprisingly, as Jerusalem is a tel after all, and there are only a few stones on top of each other dividing the rooms of the house. They found a spear head and right next to it the arm of young girl, detached from her body. It is striking evidence of what happened there 2000 years ago. They showed a very badly acted movie based on the people who lived in this house during the Jewish revolt and the Roman destruction. It was such a ridiculously crazy time--there were Jews trying to incite their fellow Jews to fight, and as the Romans besieged the city, these Jews (Zealots) went around and burned the food storage of the people. Many people ignored the problem, others ran to Alexandria, everywhere there was fear and chaos. When the temple itself was destroyed, no one could believe it. It had been one of the 7 wonders of the world, it, like the titanic, was unsinkable. We went to other houses from this period, all of them priestly, aristocratic (Sadducee) homes. They were full of beautiful mosaics, mikvahs (or ritual baths) and stone pots because stone does not transmit impurities. Every one of them had been burnt to the ground in the deluge. From there, we went back to the temple mount, and we went through the archeological museum there. It is ridiculous how many peoples of different periods have built things there-- from the Mamluks (Mongolian looking Muslims) to the Byzantines, to the crusaders and templar knights, and all the way back to Solomon. The most interesting there was the pile of stones from the original temple. They had been a part of the temple wall but had been pushed over by the Romans. There is a large stone which had been the very pinnacle of the mountain and which smashed the pavement of the road below it when it was pushed over. In Hebrew, it says "the place of the sounding of the trumpet" and it is where the priests would stand to blow the trumpet to announce the beginning of holidays or the Sabbath. We had a fabulous little talk about Christ's experiences on the temple mount before we finished. When we left, I went to an extremely interesting, and controversial, place. Called the third temple institute, it is the organization dedicated to recreating everything which was in the original temple exactly as it had been so when they were able to (as in, when the Dome of the Rock was gone) they could immediately step in and rebuild the temple. The people there could be alternately called fanatics or dedicated, depending on your perspective. It was fascinating--they showed us the priestly clothing, the recreated alters and menorahs and other things used in the temple and even offered their explanation for how they hoped to solve impossible situations; most prominently, the lack of the ark of the Covenant. According to them, the ark was hidden under the temple mount during the destruction of the temple, and it is there still. They just have to get to it. It was amazing meeting people working so diligently on such a thing as this. I don't know if I've ever met anyone so dedicated to something so incredibly controversial. Our tour guide was a girl who, instead of going into the army, was doing national service by working in the institute. She said she had come into it slightly skeptical, but she now saw this as one of the most important things anyone could be doing.

Monday was essentially dreadful--in theory I studied all day, in reality, I wandered around studying everything else and occasionally studying the right subject. Tuesday was dominated by preparing for the final in the evening. It went remarkably well, and then I was free of finals for another month and half! Woot! As nothing of any consequence occurred on Wednesday, I'll skip right to the good stuff on Thursday morning. After classes, a few of us had agreed to go do service in the old city with an organization called the Good Samaritan center. It is right in the middle of the Christian quarter. I'd noticed it before, but I'd never thought to go in. When we arrived, we were shuttled up a flight of steps in a building which was obviously built over a period of years and different needs and styles, so the whole place, much like the old city, was an amalgamation of haphazard walls and misaligned rooms. We were led into a nicely Middle Eastern room where we waited for a while before having an hour long introduction to the program from its saintly director and founder, Raja. He told us of all the troubles which plague the Christian quarter of the old city where he had grown up and where he hoped to spend the rest of his days. There was a lot of drug abuse, alcoholism, broken families who, though they lived in the same house, would never speak to each other, poverty, children who had free reign of the internet from a young age and who were consequently filling their minds with the dirt of the world, mistreated mentally retarded people, and 450 elderly who were frequently without family or, if they had them, were frequently neglected by them. It is all of these people who Raja tries to help in whatever way he can. He started by bringing meals to the elderly who were unable to cook for themselves and had no one to do it for them. He provides services for taking people to the hospital in wheelchairs when they need it. With the help of many volunteers, he assures that the elderly have a blood sugar and pressure check every week, and that those who live alone are visited by someone every day. He knows each of their needs and he will work to find a way to solve them, for example, one woman we visited had no bathroom she could use, even though her family had one upstairs, and so she had to go outside. Raja has been working on repairing the neighbor's bathroom on the condition that this woman would be allowed to use it. He knows everyone in the Christian quarter personally. He watches over the children to assure that those who have drug addict parents are looked after, and those whose parents simply don't care about their whereabouts are being safe. He is just about to start a program where he'll have volunteers teach the parents how to use a computer so they can monitor their child's doings. The organization has even adopted seven girls who are completely neglected, and he assures they have somewhere the live, food, friends, and he even goes to the school to assure that things are going well there. To teach the children the bible which most of them don't know, he has put signs up all over the quarter which are scriptures in English and Arabic, and has the children memorize them for prizes. Every year, people get Christmas presents from the organization of things like some chocolate, new toothbrushes, soap and towels (this year, we provided all of that for them). He even started putting trashcans in the street so the people would stop throwing their trash all over the road. It worked perfectly, and the Christian quarter is much cleaner than the majority of the rest of the city. I am astounded by this man, and I hope to emulate him in some way. He has completely transformed this part of the city from what it was before.
Anyway, to continue. We visited three different homes. In the first was the oldest man in the old city--he is 105! I've never met a person over 100 before and he was 105! He could easily have been 80 with how mobile he was. His wife and he spoke excellent English, though they had difficulty hearing. They're house could have been taken straight out of the 1920s. It was adorable. The next house was much more saddening. We went upstairs to a tiny apartment where the bedroom was also the sitting room and the only other rooms were the kitchen and bathroom. The old woman living there had a deep, gravelly voice and she hobbled around on swollen feet. Her daughter, I think, had a deformed arm and a prominent limp; though she insisted on giving us the good seats and even getting up to give us the culturally demanded chocolate. The horrible thing was that next-door, a new family had moved in and for three years they had been doing renovations during the day. It sounded like someone was using a jackhammer in the middle of the room. The woman looked like she was on the point of tears with all the noise, and she complained of pain in her head and the back of her neck. I could barely hear myself think and I'd only been there 20 minutes. Raja had tried several times to convince the people living there to do renovations for less time each day or at a different time of day, but nothing had made a difference. We sang them a couple songs, and by the time we were ready to leave, the old woman was smiling and clapping along. It felt good to make some good of her day. We then went to probably the most pitiful house we had been to yet, and the sweetest woman. Her name was Aida and she had been the seamstress for Queen Noor of Jordan. She lived in a single room, smaller than my bedroom at home, where she had a narrow bed covered in some of the bed sheets she had sewn, and a tiny couch we squeezed onto. Next to her half sized fridge, she had the smallest camping stove I had ever seen, where she was making coffee which she offered us. I was amazed by her face. She still puts on makeup every day, though she is probably over 80. Her hair was nicely died brown, and her eyes, surrounded by kohl, seemed to jump out at you. They were the image of sweetness. She was so tiny, I don't think I've ever seen someone that hunched and skinny before. Wearing all black, it was like her head was a little bobble on top of a stand. But she smiled so sweetly, and she refused to sit while we were there, though we are all young. We sang to her too, and she smiled pleasantly the whole time. Then she slowly shuffled over to the fridge and tried to find us some chocolates, even though she had hardly any food in there. She was unsuccessful, but we assured her it didn't matter. She insisted on telling us some of the stories of some of the things she had made through Raja acting as our interpreter. I didn't want to leave her there all by herself--she is the woman who I spoke of earlier who has no toilet, though her family lives right upstairs. This sort of thing should never happen. No one should be shoved into a hole because they're too difficult to take care of. We had to go so Raja could get back to his work, and we were returned to the center. Later that day, I was able to get out and meet some of the families across the street from the center. Though I speak only a little Arabic, and only a couple of them spoke English, we had a really fun time being together. I love the girls here, they're generally really sweet. They smile easily and laugh with sparkly eyes. I also learned about Islam from the father, Samir, who promised to try to take us to the Dome of the Rock. He read some of the Qu'aran to us.

The next day was fabulous. We went over to another family's home and stayed for a while, playing with their adorable children. The oldest girl, Aya, is good friends with a girl from our center who I admire hugely. She made us dinner while her parents were out to a concert (we would have gone if we had arrived when we said we would, but we had some hold ups) and they have a beautiful little girl and a five year old boy. They had SO much energy, it was astounding. We stayed with them for hours and went caroling at some of the houses of the people here. It is strange in their culture to do that, but they appreciated it. It is sometimes nice to be a foreigner because you can be as weird as you want and it's ok. We stayed at their house until ten--they kept feeding us! Oh, by the way, the 15 year old boy I forgot to mention (it was his birthday) played Runescape the entire time we were there. It is taking over the world!!!! AAACH!!! I loved getting to know those children. By the end of the evening, they had warmed up to me completely and pulled me all over the place to show me all their toys and all the stunts they could do. The older girl speaks English really well, but the two younger kids speak no English. It didn't seem to matter though, they rattled of descriptions of their day and the items in their rooms all the same. My Arabic came really in handy there. It was a fabulous evening. Today was another wonderful Sabbath--I went to the garden tomb again, which I always love doing. And tomorrow, we're going snorkeling in the red sea down at the southern tip of Israel, and then on Monday, we're off to Galilee for two weeks. Yay!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Petra, Amman, Jerash, and everything else you could ever want. :D

First day--Driving to Jordan.
This is what I wrote the evening after we arrived at the portal to Petra:
We left this morning at six o’clock, and it wasn’t long until we were crossing the checkpoints on the West Bank side of the Jordan/Israeli border. There were people with huge guns everywhere, as there is all throughout Jerusalem, so it wasn’t surprising. The border crossing into Jordan was quite easy; easier and quicker than going into Egypt—though I heard that it will not be that way coming back at all. We’ll see.

Once we were in, we had to take a different bus (because our bus for Jerusalem has Hebrew on it) and we met our tour guide. He’s a very tall man who speaks remarkable English, even for a tour guide. But, like all tour guides, he talks the entire time we’re driving so there is really no time to just think. Our next stop was at Mount Nebo, the place where Moses looked out over the Promised Land which he would never see and also where he “died.” Of course no one has found his tomb.

Unfortunately, the famous church there is closed for renovations, but the view from Mt. Nebo was stunning — overlooking the Dead Sea (which, by the way, I went swimming in a couple weeks ago), the Jordan river, and, if the day had been clearer, even the Mount of Olives where our Jerusalem Center is located. There was also this really cool stone with inscriptions in various languages about Moses on it which has a hole positioned so that on June sixth, in the morning of every year, the light shines through the hole and exactly onto a depiction of the sun they’ve carved into the rock on the ground. After Nebo, we drove for only a short while before stopping at a city named Madaba, which is surprisingly quaint for a Middle Eastern city. Not really comparable to Ein Karam, I visited yesterday, but still fabulous. There we saw the oldest map in the world of the Holy Land in a mosaic on the floor. It is mostly destroyed, but what is left depicts the Dead Sea and Jerusalem in tile as it was back in the first few centuries after Christ. A much needed lunch followed, and then we were off again. This time we drove for a while through the heart of the desert of Jordan. There was very little to see in any direction except for the occasional Bedouin on a horse or a donkey, herding goats or sheep. Yes, there are Bedouin and yes they still live in tents. Actually, the country of Jordan has a total of 70,000 Bedouin in the state among a total population of 6 million. There were Bedouin living in the caves of Petra until only recently when the government kicked them out so Petra could become the tourist destination it is now. But finally, we came to the coolest site of the day—a Crusader’s castle. Granted, most of it had been destroyed after the Crusaders left, and had been rebuilt by the famous Saladin who conquered all of the Holy Land and much of the Middle East in about the year 1000, but it was still an honest-to-goodness castle with many of the rooms completely undamaged. It sits on a lone bluff amongst the barren hills of the desert, and it had served Saladin as his main fortress from which to stage his attacks. I truly felt like a medieval princess running around in there. The only setback was that my camera died after Mount Nebo, so I could only get pictures of myself there from other people kind enough to take them. The sun was setting and the half moon just got brighter and brighter as the sky darkened. Jupiter was right next to it making for the perfect trio of the castle, the moon and the king of the planets. I honestly wished we could have stayed there all night mulling astronomy or the like, but, alas, Petra called. Though one really can’t complain when Petra is doing the calling…. It was only a half hour drive in the darkness to the city where we were to stay the night, Wadi Musa. The next day, at 5:45 a.m., we set out to see one of the modern Seven Wonders of the World. (It was actually built from 200 BC to 200 AD, but it is called a “modern wonder” because it was not appreciated until just recently).

After we arrived in Wadi Musa, I went with some friends down to the main street of the town. The entire place is devoted to tourists so all the shops were pretty much the same. But the people were nice, and I enjoyed speaking to them in Arabic. Afterwards, we got some ice cream from a Swiss hotel, we passed by a large number of our group dancing in the street to an Arab man beating a drum, and we finally meandered back to the hotel. I was psyched for the morning.
Morning. I went down to breakfast (on the coolest elevator in the world by the way--it has only three side so you can see the wall falling past on the door side) and was greeted by a very iffy set of eggs and the most ridiculously loud birds squawking in a tree outside. We rushed off, shoving our bags in the busses, and soon we were flying down the street on our way toward the extremely non-descript hills ahead of us. Seriously, from afar, you would never guess that a wonder like Petra was enclosed in their white, barren walls. No wonder it was only known to the Bedouins until the 18th century. We parked amid dozens of other tourist busses and jostled down the wide road which leads to the Siq. A Siq is about one of the coolest things in the world. Over thousands of years, the waters of the desert, what little there were, carved a knife-thin canyon through the bare rock hills of Petra. This was capitalized on by the Nabataeans (c. 100 BC) who carved it to be more consistent and then used it as the main (really only) thoroughfare into their city of tombs. I was anxious to go into this Siq because I had seen so many pictures of Petra’s famed Treasury building (remember Indiana Jones?).

At first it was unremarkable but for some of the huge, square-cut tombs along the side. There are also a lot of staircases which lead nowhere, carved by the Nabataeans. Apparently, they would build these staircases so the person who stood on the top of them was standing closer to heaven and therefore on holy ground to commune with the gods. That is one theory at least. For every random staircase, there is an equally random rectangular block carved out of the wall to represent the Nabataean's head god, Dushara. I thought the name was pretty fabulous myself.
Probably the coolest parts of the Siq were the water channels on either side which were built to carry the much needed water into Petra's heart. They are just little gutters dug into the side of the rock, with even the occasional curve to slow the water's movement. So, with all of these pieces in mind, you are now picturing the Siq of Petra but for one most important part: the rock which I said was just white, well as we walked, it went from plain white to gold, to orange, to red with streaks of silver and yellow and white and orange which swirled up and down the canyon sides and met in blobs or seemed to fall in streaks. The colors were astounding. I would have come all the way to Jordan just to see this! As it was early morning, the walk was cool and slightly dark. It was much longer than I thought it would be, but I was so overcome by the beauty of the Siq I wished it to continue even farther.

Eventually though, our guide stopped us, had us line up into five parallel lines to march forward with our heads down. I was too impatient to not look, so I tilted my camera up to look ahead of me and I peeked in its screen. There in front of me was the Treasury: huge, magnificent, orange, and framed by the Siq's walls. I gasped and put the camera down, now almost bursting out of my skin in excitement. When he told us to look up, there it was, stretching above us just as magnificent as you can imagine. Personally, I think the guide revels in the gasps of his group, and I'm sure he wasn't disappointed. After taking a few pictures, while half running to get closer of course, we left the thin Siq and stood in the huge plaza before the Treasury. If you've never seen a picture of it, go look it up. < > It is quite something to see.

Our guide explained exactly how it was designed and when, though I must confess I wasn't really listening. Instead, I took off up the Treasury steps and walked around examining the pillars which were wide enough that it would take several people holding hands to encompass them, as well as the colorful inside of the Treasury itself. Lest you might have believed that most abominable film, Transformers II, there is no life source thing behind the wall, and there certainly is no tunnel which leads to the Holy Grail. Unfortunately... : )
We found several other caves (all of which, unfortunately, smell like urine) and I took numerous pictures. The sun was just beginning to hit the rocks above the Treasury and turn them golden when we finished our group picture and continued down through the valley of Petra. There is so much to explain, there was so much to see, I could literally write dozens of pages about it. Seeing as I have so much else to write, I'll limit myself to a couple things.

There were tombs everywhere, some grand, some relatively small and most remarkably well preserved for sandstone. Really, I could almost imagine the people who had lived there when it was still a sacred place and when it had been filled with trees and flowers. There were Roman roads everywhere -- Rome made this a part of its empire -- and they were some of the best preserved in the world. There is also a huge stone-cut Roman theater just like the ones you see from pictures of ancient Greece and so forth. Amazingly, the theater was built in such a way that they even had to knock down a few of the tombs; something the non-Romanized Nabataeans would never have allowed. We ran around, looking at everything we had the time to see and following our guide as he steadily lead us down the valley.

Soon we stood at the end of it under the shade of one of the few trees in Petra, and he pointed to a narrow path of 1,000 stairs which leads up to the Monastery. Actually, I think it was more like 900 stairs but 1,000 sounds more epic. And that it certainly was. The first 200 were fine, but after that, I was certain I was going to faint. After I passed that stage, I knew my knees were going to give out, or my shoulders would suddenly fall out of their sockets, or my back was on fire, or I was simply going to die from exhaustion. But I didn't stop, and we kept pressing forward past all of the Bedouin vendors and up to the Monastery.

This place is well worth going to -- it is actually the largest rock cut structure in the world, therefore being even MORE epic than the Treasury. When we finally reached it, I stood for a moment in awe at seeing such a beautiful, symmetrical structure cut out of rock which was so rough and tumble right next to it. I soon became distracted by a little Bedouin girl with flies on her face whom I spoke to in Arabic for a while (but we mostly spoke in English...I think people become irritated trying to communicate with me when I understand so little). She promised to show me the spring where Moses had hit the rock and the water had come out. I had heard the spring was up there, but we weren't planning on going to it. I didn't really trust her, but she was only six and I kept good hold on my camera.

She led me down a short canyon to where there was a metal plate in the ground with a lock on it. She seemed pretty irritated that the lock was there because that was supposedly the spring, but she did show me that there was a stream coming from it, and that there was a jug of water nearby. There was also a flock of goats which she kept throwing rocks at when they got too close. It was rather entertaining the way they ran away bleating, even though the throws were far from the mark. After our little escapade, I walked up to a tall pinnacle which has a tent at the top which declares, in rather large letters, "View of the end of the world." The view was rather spectacular -- it was all desert, mountain and the inevitable rock stretched out as far as the eye could see. It was almost like being on the top of Mount Sinai again.
It seems I haven't written about Sinai yet. Brief description: it was a really, really hard walk, with its own 900 stairs, and at the top we watched the sun rise and sang church songs. I talked with the Bedouin for a while, we had a Testimony Meeting which was awesome, and I rode a camel down because my knees were killing me. I tried to get the beast to run, but a camel will be a camel and he lumbered on as contentedly as ever. Well, that is except for when he tried to bite me twice. At the bottom at St. Catherine's monastery, we saw what is supposed to be the descendent of the burning bush, and then left. It was awesome. Anyhow, back to Petra. When I came down from the end of the world, I climbed up into the large room of the Monastery -- so called because when it was discovered by the monks hundreds of years ago, it was temporarily used as a Monastery. Originally, it was a tomb like almost everywhere else. The entire room echoed a lot, so I started to sing a really haunting tune which reverberated off the walls. A friend of mine joined me, and, since we couldn't find any other song which we both knew, we sang Silent Night. A crowd gathered outside the Monastery and clapped when we finished, demanding an encore. I let my friend, who is a voice major, sing a beautiful Aria. After the descent, which was rather questionable on my highly protesting knees (I sound like an old lady...), we had a quick lunch in a pink restaurant (meaning, the walls, the seats, the table cloth and napkins were all different shades of pink). Then we had some free time. Most of the people climbed up to the "great high places" which is even higher than the Monastery and which really is only a flat rock where they used to sacrifice year old camels. I didn't go for fear of massacring my knees, so instead Tara, who is one of the most wonderful people I've met, and I wandered around several temples and ancient tombs. We soon found another group of our friends, and we were greeted by a little Bedouin boy who poked his head out from around a rock. He was only two years old. Soon two other little boys came and joined him and they played with our cameras, taking loads of pictures. Don't worry, I didn't take it off my wrist... which made for some very interesting pictures and a camera smeared with dirt. They were utterly adorable, and when we were leaving, they followed us. Some of the people in the group played a game where they would swing the little boys between them, and they were giggling so that they were almost doubled over. It was utterly adorable. I may have more pictures of them than of the tombs.... There are also some very awkward pictures of my shirt taken by the little boy who snapped pictures any direction he could. When we finally left, it was afternoon. I was loathe to go, but I was excited for the way of our escape--horses! If you know me, you may know that I have a fear of horseback riding, but this was different. After I waited my turn in line, I got on a beautiful gray horse and the Bedouin man who led me allowed me to trot. It was great fun, but for the life of me, I couldn't get the horse to go any faster. I guess camels and horses both really know when the person on their back have no clue what they're doing. That was one of the most fun moments of the day. When we left, we drove all the way to Amman, which is a huge city and capital of Jordan. We stayed there the night.

The next day was fun, mostly because we went to one of the best preserved roman cities in the world. Called Jerash, it was built at the time of Hadrian who built the famed wall that divides England and Scotland and a gate which still is visible in Jerusalem. The city is astonishing. Most of the roads and stones are still visible and many of the columns still stand making the entire place look like a field of Roman columns. There was a giant theater, larger than the one in Petra, where we heard a retired Royal Bagpipe Band play, and we sang some hymns. There was also a temple to Artemis and I think there was one to Athena, though don't quote me on that. There were also 3 Byzantine churches whose mosaics are still visible, and a wonderful fountain from the Roman era. Of course it doesn't work anymore. The entire city must have been quite something in its heyday. One of the best things by far was the show we saw in the ancient hippodrome. It was, quite honestly, a chariot race. That is right ladies and gentlemen; I sat in an ancient Roman Hippodrome and watched as Jordanian men drove three Roman chariots around in a circle as fast as the horses could go. It was spectacular. I am not at all surprised that chariot racing was the most popular race of all – the people had races five days a week with15,000 citizens attending every time. There were only a total of 30,000 people living in Jerash.
Oh, I got a little ahead of myself. Before we saw the chariot race, a legion of Roman soldiers came out and demonstrated the tactics, the orders given and the weapons and armor they used to fight. Did you know that Romans would march into battle in blocks and that the only person expected to fight was the person in front? He would fight for eight minutes, than he would fall back and the person behind him would take over and so forth. That way, every soldier spent most of the battle resting or getting their wounds looked to. I think that's pretty rad. And when you see the soldiers arrange their large, curved shields so that they're protected from the front and on top, it is pretty easy to tell why Rome was able to dominate most of the known world.
Anyway, after the chariot battle, the gladiators appeared. Most of them weren't that impressive, and their fights were slow enough to see that the defense came before the attack, but there were a few who were awesome, including one where the guy ran into the stands and had to be dragged back. Then we voted using our thumbs whether he should live or die. I'm not telling you my vote, but he died. The biggest and muscle-iest of the gladiators slit his throat and they used a gag where real looking blood spewed all over his shirt. A little gruesome, but effective. Then they dragged him away.

After that I was able to take pictures with some of the guards, and the guy on the chariot even took me for ride! It was INCREDIBLE. You would not believe how fast you feel like you're going and how easy it would be to fall off. I held on for dear life and laughed the entire time. Someone took pictures of me which I'm hoping they'll put on Facebook. In my chronic idiocy, I brought my camera but left the battery in my hotel room.

After Jerash, we went to Amman, to the LDS Branch Meeting House in Jordan where the Branch President discussed the progress of the church in the Middle East and so forth. I skipped dinner in favor of going with my professor and a few other kids to an ancient tomb, which was sacred to the Christians and, after the rise of Islam, became a Muslim shrine.

This was the first of two times I had to wear a full black dress over my clothes and a black hood on my head. I looked just like a death eater. It was amazing. Though rather hot. According to legend, there were seven people faithful to Allah who were being persecuted. To protect them, God put them to sleep in this tomb, a cave for 100 years and when they woke up they went outside and talked to the people who were there. They convinced them they were who they said they were with the coins in their pockets and so forth. Then they died the next day. The tomb was awesome because they had collected all of the bones found there and put them into one of the crypts which they put a glass window in. If you flashed you're camera, you could see the bleached bones inside. We went out that night to a mall which could have been plucked right out of a poorer part of the U.S. and got ice cream.

The next day we went to a beautiful mosque called the Blue Mosque where our tour guide taught us about Islam. I had to wear the black dress again and a scarf on my head. There are some pretty rad pictures of it online.

<> The mosque was the biggest in Amman until recently. Then we went to the ancient part of Amman which is now called the citadel. I, unfortunately, was sort of out of it and I didn't really comprehend a lot of the explanation.

The view of Amman was beautiful. It really is the white city -- everything is faced with white and all the buildings are similarly built -- rectangular and flat topped. There was a temple to Hercules on the top of the citadel. By the way, this was also the place where David sent Uriah, the husband of Bathsheeba, to be killed. The coolest thing there by far was a little museum. It had artifacts from every period in Amman, I took tons of pictures. But what made it so special was that they had the COPPER SCROLLS inside. If you're Mormon, you've heard of these scrolls because they discount the argument that Jews of ancient times did not write on metal plates. They are actually a part of the Dead Sea Scrolls and, even more incredibly, they're an honest-to- goodness treasure map. They give directions where to find several treasure troves of things from the temple. Unfortunately, the clues as to where to find them are worded like "turn left at the large tree" or, "go past Ugg's house." Of course, I'm not being accurate, but you get the idea. The clues are basically useless to the modern treasure hunter. After this, we had a while at the hotel where we stayed the night, and I went to a place called "Mecca mall." It was fabulous because it was probably the biggest mall I've ever been in except for the one in Provo -- it is five large stories tall! We wandered around and I got a Mrs. Fields cookie which was like a miracle. Minus the many veiled people and the Arabic over the loudspeakers, you would never have guessed it wasn't in the U.S.A. Most of the time, the stores’ names were even in English!
The next day we left to return to Israel. First though, we stopped at Bethany beyond Jordan where Christ was baptized in the River Jordan (at least they think it was here -- it is hard to tell). It was amazing, I stood in the water and got some of my own. We had a really neat meeting about baptism and John the Baptist. And I especially loved going through the Greek Orthodox churches located there.

Crossing back into Israel took most of the rest of the day because it seems the Minister of Tourism hadn't gotten the word down to the people stamping the passports that we could be allowed in! We had to sit there for hours and wait. It wasn't as bad as it could have been -- this border crossing into Israel from Jordan is said to be one of the most difficult in the world. As we left, clouds were gathering and I (recently) discovered that during the next day there were monsoon-like storms in Amman. This wasn’t the only reason the timing was good -- there was a lot of fighting in Jerusalem’s Old City the day after we left, including gas bombs which injured some Israeli soldiers, but by the time we returned, everything had calmed down. God is good.
This week has been ridiculous. All finals. I've studied enormously. Thankfully, I have only one final test left which I'm not too worried about. If I study as much as I need to, I'll be fine. But I did manage to go out twice this week anyway.

I went to a couple of churches on the Mount of Olives, and then on Friday, to Mary's tomb (which is amazing, by the way), the Grotto of Gethsemane where Christ was supposed to have been betrayed by Judas, and a whole bunch of tombs carved into the hillside of the Mount.
It was a good week in all, and today has been a wonderful Sabbath. Sabbaths are by far the best days here.