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Bethany Beyond Jordan

Rounding off Day 2: Handful of yellow beans, a rejected shwarma and the self conscious white pudding.

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It is nearly 6 pm when I come back to Madaba after visiting Bethany Beyond Jordan. A young man from the Peace souvenir shop had offered to take me back to Amman in his car when I was having lunch there earlier on, but I ask the taxi driver to drive me to the bus station directly. I’m not sure whether his invitation was out of friendliness or hoping for something more, but either way I didn’t want to get into a car with someone I have known for 30 minutes.

The sun sets as the bus makes its way from Madaba to Amman’s North Bus station. In my fatigue, everything seems to be slowly moving through an invisible jelly – the bus, the traffic, people getting on the bus….. Half awake, half dozing off, I watch the sky turn from grey blue to jet black, and how city lights grow brighter and busier as we approach Amman.

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Madaba bus station

It’s late in the evening, so the North Bus station is empty when we finally arrive. When I am about to call a taxi to take me back to the hostel, four or five men surround me. ‘Where are you going? No taxi, no taxi. Bus. Free. Come! Bus!’ They put me back in the bus I just got off.

As the bus drives away, the men ask me a few questions in broken English, give me a handful of sour tasting yellow beans (I think) to eat, and just as quickly as I was whisked onto the bus at the station, they drop me off in the middle of a busy roundabout and drive off. I have no idea where I am.

Assuming they dropped me off somewhere closer to the Amman downtown, I get a taxi from there. The driver is an old man, who finds it very amusing that I am travelling by myself without a male company. ‘Do you want to eat dinner with me? I pay for you. You like shwarma?’ On and on he keeps asking.

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Bus to Amman

 

After quick dinner at my hostel, I take a walk to the street food shop that the Crazy Girl recommended. The small square shop is tiled everywhere, and has nothing in it apart from a stainless steel table, giving it a very cold clinical look under the bright fluorescent light.  It is outside the shop that they have set up a counter to sell two things: white drink and white pudding. A kid at the counter scoop up a big ladle of the white stuff into a glass bowl, sprinkle some honey and dessicated coconut on top and hands it to me. I wanted it in a paper cup to take back to hostel, but now I’m stuck with this on the busiest street in Amman with nowhere to sit.  So I just stand there and eat.

A group of teenagers stop by the shop and order a couple of bowls as well. They stand a few steps away from me and stare at me with curiosity peppered with occasional giggles. People in the car peer out the window and some even honk their horn. Another group of men appear and keeps calling out ‘Hey, China!’.  None of the stares are nothing close to an unpleasant leer – just pure curiosity.  Nonetheless I become intensely self conscious and the T-shirt and over-the-knee skirt I am wearing feels way too skimpy. Forget savouring the exotic Jordanian street food. I gulp down the whole lot and rush back to the familiarity of my hostel.

 

DAY 2: Thursday, 19 Sept 2013

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Bethany Beyond Jordan

View of the promised land seen from Mt. Nebo

We had to drive up and down a small mountain to get to Bethany-Beyond-Jordan from Mt. Nebo. It was all desert, without much to see but rocks, sand, and more rocks. I never knew barren land could be so beautiful, and the experience was made much more surreal when the taxi driver played PSY’s Gangnam style from his MP3 Player. What a strange juxtaposition.

We got to the Bethany-Beyond-Jordan, only to find it closed 7 minutes ago.  Apparently you would have to take a shuttle bus for 10 minutes from the ticket office, and need a guide accompanying you in the site. Unfortunately all the drivers have now gone home – the ticket officer tells me.

The taxi driver steps in and has a slightly heated conversation with the ticket officer in Arabic. The only words I can understand is ‘Korea! Korea!’. I guess he’s telling him that I’m all the way from Korea. I actually live in the UK but keep my mouth shut.

Finally the ticket officer gives in and makes a phone call to make a special arrangement with the security soldiers to let our taxi into the site (security is tight near the Bethany Beyond Jordan because it is right next to the border with Israel), and a tall man comes with us to show me around the site.  I smile and thank him for his time, but he just walks past me without making any eye contact. At  that time I thought he was angry at me for the trouble I caused, but now I think he was being a little shy.

I was expecting the site to be a small shrine near the River Jordan, taking about 10 minutes to have a look. It turns it is quite a trek, following a little foot path amidst dried up trees and grass. The guide doesn’t speak much English so our conversations were made up of short simple words. ‘Church, Catholic’. He points to one church. ‘Church, Orthodox’. He points to another church.

The site has a number of significant places such as Tell Elias (where Elijah is said to have ascended to heaven) and a hermit cave, but they all seem to be closed and I couldn’t ask him to take me to those places, as I was feeling already too bad for taking up his time.  The actual baptism site is also made up of several ruins, and my Lonely Planet book wasn’t very clear which ruin was which. It was slightly disappointing that I only get a brief glimpse of the place that holds such a personal significance, but at the same time I was grateful that I got to have a look at the site at all.

The guide teaches me a few Arabic words, and that’s what we keep on saying throughout our 45 minute walk around the site.

‘Yallah (Come)’. ‘Tamam! (Good!)’. ‘Shukran (Thank you)’.

After the tour, we get into our taxi to come back to where the information centre is. The taxi guide gets out the car with a brief goodbye, without even hinting for a tip. I hurriedly follow after him and shake his hand with a very sincere ‘Shukran’.

DAY 2: Thursday, 19 Sept 2013

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