I am so, so proud of this small piece of paper that I prepared before setting off to As-Salt. The name of the Biblical figures that are allegedly buried in the town are all written here in Arabic – the product of my pestering of the hostel manager and his of phone calls to find out the Arab-equivalent of the English names. It had been my sole means of communication/navigation in As-Salt where practically nobody could speak English.
I take out this carefully folded paper and show it to Auntie and her girls, and they grab passers-by and ask for me. They look and think for a while, and grab some other passers-by and show them the paper. This repeats for a while and soon a handful of men and women are hurdled together in a circle, heads bent down for a better view and fingers pointing towards the paper in the middle – the paper that is the nucleus of their debates and exchange of ideas.
After 10 minutes or so, they spot a taxi and put me in the car. I had imagined the tombs would be in the town, as obscurely located they may be – but the taxi drives up and down a couple of hills and we are soon out of As-Salt. There was no way I could have found these places by myself let alone reach there – they are all at least 15 minutes away from each other by a car and most of them are kept in mosques hidden away from the general public.
Yes, they were in mosques. Not tombstones in a graveyard in an open field, but Muslim mosques. Apparently, Joshua and Jethro are considered as holy prophets in Islam, but I had not known that. I stand at the gate of the first mosque we reach, blushing at my inappropriate attire revealing my bare arms and calf. Thankfully, the taxi driver fetches me two pieces of women’s garment from inside and gestures me to put them on. They are simple cotton with flower patterns all over, with elastic band around its hem so that they can fit on the waist or around the face.
I am entering a mosque for the first time in my life, wrapped around in these makeshift covers. The elastic band pulls the fabric and makes them puffy, and I feel like a decorated potato sack. Covering my entire body immediately affects my posture, making me walk more discretely and quietly. It’s interesting how a simple covering can shift how I feel about myself and how I interact with the surroundings. Each tombs are a couple of metres long, covered with decorative cloaks. There’s always someone praying at the holy shrine, or a preacher teaching to a group of people.
On our way to each mosques, we talk with gestures. Simple words accompany the hand signs but they do not add much significance to our communication as neither of us hardly speak a word of each other’s language. Naturally, it takes on average of 10 minutes to understand the meaning of a single sentence.
Driver: Ayyub, Yusha, Shuayb – Muslim. (Job, Joshua, Jethro are Muslim prophets)
Me: You, Muslim. I, Christian.
The driver looks puzzled at the word ‘Christian’ so I try again.
Me: (With the gesture of praying) You, Allah. Me, Jesus.
Driver: Me, Muslim. You Messihi.
Messihi. I instantly like the word which I understand it to mean ‘a Christian’. Perhaps it derives from the word Messiah (meaning ‘saviour’) and ‘Messihi’ feels like a word that beautifully summarises what we Christians are: the follower of our saviour.
After we have seen the tomb of Joshua (he succeeded the role of Moses and led the Israelites to the Promised Land in the Bible), the driver lets me drink water in the mosque which seems to be the spring water from the ground. I smile broadly and take another refreshing sip, as the he gaily tells me that I am drinking the very water Joshua have drunk.
After we have seen all the tombs on the paper, the driver takes me to another tomb and tells me it’s not a Muslim tomb but a Messihi one, of a prophet called ‘Hazeer’. The tomb was hidden under ground, not in a mosque – the most humble one out of all other’s I’ve seen so far and my favourite. I asked him to write down the name of the prophet so I could google it later, but I still couldn’t not find any information on this prophet. If anyone has any information, do please let me know.
DAY 4: 21 September 2013, As-Salt