Our final stop in Jordan before approaching the border crossing at Allenby Bridge was Mount Nebo, a delightful Franciscan church that houses numerous floor mosaics and other archeological artifacts.
A recording of Gregorian chant played softly in the background as our tour group rambled up metal staircases to metal platforms for a better overall view of the mosaics. I recalled the mass Tim and I had participated there five years ago. No chance of that now with this group of mostly non-Catholics1 and our tight schedule. I lit a candle as the next best spiritual thing to do, conscious that I was not able to leave enough money to actually cover it.
Earlier in the day, our tour bus broke down. Fortunately, we were fairly centrally located, in the capital of Jordan, Amman. We had just visited the Citadel (Wiki) and were promptly back to the bus. Yet, the bus lingered, its engine running rough. The day before the bus had stalled as we climbed a country road in the south. Ultimately, a repairman was able to fix the bus but it ate up 90 minutes of our morning.
As this tour included reading sessions in the biblical languages, while the bus was being repaired, those of us with interest stepped off with our reading materials and worked through a passage of St. John's Gospel (1:19-34). The heat of the late morning as well as evidence that the bus would soon be ready to go meant we covered about half the pericope's verses. I myself read aloud and translated verse 20. It didn't hit me until I'd already arrived back home that there are places in the world where one cannot read from the Bible in public. Jordan isn't one of those places.
Our plans rearranged then, we went directly to lunch. It was a lovely restaurant with courtyard seating completely covered by leafy trees! Food came family style, and the initial dishes were fresh vegetables. We'd been warned to not eat anything uncooked while in Jordan because of the water. Yet, in setting down a coke with ice for the man next to me, the waiter said that the water is filtered. I was very conflicted, watching the staff happily bring platter after platter which we didn't dare touch!
Eventually, though, the cooked food was presented and it was exquisite. But our rushed schedule forced us to press on. There was a brief stop at a craft store to see a replica of the Madaba Map (Wiki) because we lacked the time to head for the church which houses the real one. I missed that presentation entirely, however, because the airline, El Al, had texted me about my flight home being delayed.
Via text message over the bus's WiFi, I communicated with Jeff who was also aware that my flight was delayed. He was seeking to get me on a slightly later flight that evening rather than the delayed flight next morning, but he wasn't able to get me on it. So, he moved me to the delayed flight in the morning. That's when things began to unravel.
We made for the border, arriving a bit before 4pm. As with coming into Jordan, we again turned over our passports to the tour guide who ran into the building for us to process our exit. As before, we remained on the bus. We were traveling with another tour bus and we stuck together as we approached the border. As far as I know, leaving Jordan was no problem, but after some time, we became aware that the Israeli border was not allowing anyone in. Saying we were in "no man's land" seems a bit extreme but technically that's what it was.
As we sat before the gate, one of our party suggested that we pray. So they did, and I went along in my thoughts with their sentiment. Suddenly, the closed gate lifted and we drove through. Then the next one lifted and we continued. I watched through the bus window as our tour guide engaged the Israeli customs agent, intensely yet without anger, petitioning him to let our buses through. As I've only ever crossed the border on one other occasion, this looked a bit different to me, not yet knowing the full story. I remember thinking, "They love to argue, don't they?" Later, she told us that she played the "Americans on board" card.
But we all breathed a sigh of relief for only a moment because the time was now 7:20pm and folks had an 8:00pm shuttle to the airport for their midnight and 1am flights. We were in Jericho about 40 minutes from Jerusalem. I was no longer in that group of travelers anxious to make a midnight flight as mine had now moved to 7 am the next day. But for their sakes, I was prepared to travel to the airport on this bus. That would not be the solution, however, because protests at the airport over the ultra conservative Israeli government had created a two mile traffic jam. No airport shuttle was going to get there in time. The only alternative was the train and right away!
After getting through Israeli customs, and as we moved our luggage from one bus to the next, I pulled out my Apple Watch charger because I was preparing to still make the 8:00pm shuttle that I was originally booked on, if necessary. I thought I could charge my near-dead watch battery on the bus. But there were no charging ports! Just like the Jordan bus had had none. Suddenly, our guide asked if anyone had an Apple Watch charger because our driver needed to charge his watch as he had more driving to do that night! I ran my charger up to the front for him.
My airport shuttle reservation was switched from 8:00pm to 2:00am, thankfully, during that drive from the border at Jericho to Jerusalem, and thus, the handful of people that I had originally intended to ride the shuttle with - Jimmy and Jack and Doug and Ignatio and Jeff and Rob and Anabelle and Karen and others - were teaming up for a mad dash to the taxi to the train to the airport with all their belongings! I wouldn't wish that on my worse enemy. From what I understand, they all made their flights. Glory Be.
Myself, I got dinner! Albeit at 8:30pm. And I ate the raw vegetables! I had a room, so I showered, and repacked sensibly! I waited up until 1:30am when I went to the hotel lobby, checked out of the Gloria Hotel, hopped on the 2:00am airport shuttle (which swung inside the Jaffe Gate at 1:35!). I wore my seatbelt! So many people walking the streets at 2am! A bride in white wedding gown with her fiancé in his tux were posing for pictures just inside Jaffe Gate - the only (relatively) quiet time! I got through airport security and to the gate before 4am. The most difficult hour was 6am to 7am -- I could not hold my eyes straight. I fell asleep after breakfast around 9am and had a most comfortable flight home.
1 Our tour guide referred to the Franciscans as the "Holy Land guards", but his thick Jordanian accent sounded like "Holy Land gods". So one of the Protestants muttered, "I don't think I'd refer to myself as a 'Holy Land god' but ok." So I tried to set her straight on the whole custodian role that the Franciscans have taken for the past 800 yrs in the Holy Land. Like, their presence allows and has allowed Christians to visit these sites through the centuries. Amen?