Before travelling to Jordan last week, three of my four near-death experiences had happened in the Holy Lands. Almost thirty years ago, I spent five weeks on a kibbutz in northern Galilee, where I nearly dehydrated, nearly drowned, and once accidentally wandered into the no-man’s land between the Israeli and Lebanese borders. Oops.
If you’re going to die (and I’d say there’s a fair chance that each of us will at least once in our lives), there are worse places to do it than on holy ground. Jesus died in Jerusalem; Moses on Mount Nebo; John the Baptist lost his head at Herod’s fortress palace in the hills; Elijah, ever the fiery prophet, skipped the formalities and went straight to heaven
Last week in the Holy Land of Jordan, my fellow pilgrims and I came up with various unfulfilled obituaries for ourselves: killed by a stampede of donkeys in Petra; falling asleep in the Dead Sea and floating into oblivion (or a border patrol boat); falling from the back of a flatbed truck sand-duning through the desert; careening off a cliff in a big bus on the narrow mountain roads to Mukawir …
When concerned individuals asked me before I set off whether I would be safe in Jordan, these were not the scenarios they had in mind. I assured them that the situation in this country remains very good, which proved true on the ground. Security is certainly not taken for granted; hotels employ scanners and metal detectors, and screening at the airport is thorough, as it should be. But the atmosphere is not one of fear, but of a determined and firm welcome. And at every destination, there is a Tourism Police kiosk, waiting to offer travellers advice and assistance.
One of our fellow pilgrims, Kerry Connelly, wrote as Jerseygirl, JESUS of her meeting with a Royal Jordanian airlines employee who was harrassed on the streets of New York for calling home, speaking Arabic on her cell phone. She didn’t even dare wear her hijab.
So define safe.
The people of Jordan we met know that their practice of peaceful living is at odds with the world around them. They believe, oddly enough, that the best solution would be for others to adopt the habit of living together peacefully as brothers and sisters, rather than for them to become more suspicious and isolated from one another. Their passion for a way of life that promotes hospitality over self-involvement and peace over power is one worth protecting, and promoting.
As for me, despite flights of fancy and our unwritten obituaries, the only morsel of fear I tasted on this new journey to the Holy Land happened in the capital city of Amman, at rush hour on a Sunday afternoon (which equates to Monday in a major city in America). Crossing the crowded street, even ten feet away from the traffic police, felt like an exercise in faith. But the overwhelming ethos here is of welcome; I trusted that the Jordanians around me would not run over their guest, and my faith was rewarded with safe passage to the other side.