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Archive for August, 2009

From: Richard

To: Mikey

Date: Sat, Aug 29

The border crossing went pretty well, Mikey. Nahanael got through like a breeze while I was questioned on many things, and stopped and re-questioned. It wasn’t too bad though, and they never took my stuff or left me waiting. We were then forced to get a bus a couple of miles to drop us off outside the gates of the border area (if we’d attempted to walk out, we’d have been shot, apparently). Then we walked a few miles that night and slept in open desert near the road. The following day was really hot, and we spent a large chunk of it in an Israeli haven restaurant in the middle of nowhere, but got a goodly amount of walking done in the morning and evening. Then we approached some Bedouins, telling them we were looking for a place to sleep, and they had us sit round their fire, made us sugary tea, chatted, then we slept in two bug-ridden mattresses which resulted in insane itching all night long and virtually no sleep. Then this morning we pushed on to Jerusalem. All in all we’ve done a lot of hard walking in the heat, and Nathanael’s foot is really bad but my leg has healed. I’ve already had a look at the Holy Sepulchre, but I haven’t prayed or lit candles for your gypsies yet, and there are a lot of other things I want to do here over the next 2 days. But the pilgrimage is essentially complete now. So, here’s to that.

Oh and also, we bumped into that Luke guy in the street in Jerusalem. He and that Brazilian girl were apparently kept for 8 hours at the border. Nathanael and me are clearly liked by jews. Also, we’ve seen a lot of orthodox jews, and one told Nathanel off for using a camera on the sabbath, and many jewish schoolchildren here also throw things at cars driving on the sabbath.

How was your hitch back?
Richard

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When the Israeli embassy told me I could wait for three weeks for a maybe, me and Richard made a plan. I abandoned the old plan of “either I come with you to Jerusalem or I head for home via Egypt” and came up with “I walk with you both to the border, then you carry on to Jerusalem and I go back to Amman to do some more waiting. Then maybe I go to Jerusalem later”, which we put into action at the nearest opportunity. When I say “you both” that means Richard and Nathaneal, the latter being another couchsurfer without fixed agenda who we persuaded to come with us for the final leg of the pilgrimage.
Passport Hilarity
On Wednesday afternoon (not quite the early morning we’d planned – faffing time goes up considerably with more people) we headed for the King Hussein bridge again, back down the 30km hill I’d climbed up a few weeks ago. Some way down the hill Richard noticed that the jacket which had been resting on top of his rucksack wasn’t there. While me and Nathanael were thinking to ourselves “I hope he can’t be bothered to go and look for it”, Richard made the further discovery that his passport had been in the pocket of the jacket. As far as he was concerned, that was a clincher and he resolved to find it. We set off back up the hill, retracing our steps and carefully examining the ground in case the jacket had got hidden under a pile of leaves or something. It hadn’t, in fact. It was just lying on the pavement, not far away from Kyle’s house where we’d started and very far from the spot down the hill where we’d walked to. So, a certain amount of extra walking was added and the only bonus was that Nathanael sensibly took a photo of Richard looking glum standing next to me holding my passport and looking happy.
Animal Welfare
Then on Thursday (after spending a cheerful night in a church – Nathanael hadn’t got a sleeping bag and none of us had a tent) we covered the remaining ground to the border which was, in an unlikely manner, open. I spoke to Richard before about him possibly becoming a vegetarian. He had some old-fashioned idea that by eating meat you were in some way partly responsible for them being killed and he didn’t like the thought of that, but then he didn’t like the thought of not eating meat either so he was in a bit of conflict. While we were walking down a hill we saw a sight that was, for Richard, life-changing. That sight was the ordinary workings of a small halal slaughter house which bizarrely had its door open to the road and consequently, to us.

We stopped and stared for a bit at the various processes they were using to fleece, gut, hang, clean and butcher about 20 lambs. Having seen an artisan lamb slaughter, I was fairly unimpressed. Pneumatic syringes were used to inflate the sheep so the fleece would come off more easily where I’d seen the Bulgarian master peel it off with his fingers; the guts were bundled together and shipped off to somewhere else whereas the Bulgarian had had an intimate knowledge of every organ; the workers had the slouch of the man who is paid by the hour and who doesn’t mind if blood gets on the wool and all in all it just seemed a little dreary. However they told us that if we waited for five minutes we’d get to see the actual killing of a cow and although Richard probably would have voted for moving on, me and Nathaneal felt we could spare the time and we stayed. It was pretty horrific.

Maybe most people know what a cow being killed looks like but I didn’t so I’m going to describe it for the benefit of anyone else who might be as ignorant as me. After dragging it in, which they didn’t find easy (R and N both later claimed that they could see the fear in the bull’s eyes – personally I thought it was behaving like bulls always do, which is stupidly), they knocked its feet from under it so it was lying down and cut its throat. Up till then the bulls resistance had been mostly practical – it was trying to get away from the people who were pushing it around – and for a few moments as the blood filled the floor it carried on in this manner which was silent. Then it started mooing out of desparation. Only after a decent amount of blood had gone, but once it started mooing it didn’t stop for a while. And when I say mooing, I don’t mean mooing in the traditional sense because that requires that the throat is attached to the mouth. This mooing was coming through the voice box so it was loud and recognisably a moo, but then out of the throat so it was a sort of coarse and hollow bray, the sort which doesn’t occur in nature but does occur in horror films probably.

It started mooing after its throat had been cut and I thought “That’s the sound of agony. Kill it properly. Kill it now, it’s horrible” but they didn’t need me to think that because they were going to do it anyway. After the blood was all on the floor they carried on cutting the neck until the head was off. The braying continued. The bull could take a full breath and then groan it all out several times without a head. The legs were flailing away as well. A minute went by without pause in the kicking or mooing. Another minute and there was a pause. The head, which had been set on the stump of its neck, open its mouth slowly while its dislocated eyes gave away nothing of what it was trying to say. Then it closed its mouth and that was about two minutes after decapitation. The legs started up again. More groaning, the kicking became more sporadic, the groaning got a little quieter and then suddenly back to full volume. After five minutes there was little enough movement for them to start work on the body, although even as they pulled it round I saw a muscle contract.

Afterwards I asked Richard if he really thought five minutes of fairly gruesome death was worth giving up meat for and he said “I’m a vegetarian.” I asked him “You mean, you’re not going to eat beef now?” and he said grimly “That’s it. I’m a vegetarian”. Later I offered him some bread and he asked me if it had any gelatine in it.

Vigil
I’m now back in Amman and continuing my vigil. Is it a vigil when you just wait around for ages for no reason? That’s what I’m continuing anyway. Hopefully Richard and Nathanael will reach Jerusalem tomorrow, but for all I know they got rejected by the Israelis and are on their way back here. Richard is armed with my stick, the candle from Romania and a list of people I said I’d pray for in Jerusalem. His return flight is from Amman so hopefully I’ll see him before he goes back home.

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An email

 

I left you thinking “What a massive loser, you can pretend you are ‘finishing’ the pilgrimage with the help of Richard if you like, but we all know that you’ve walked 5000km only to fail at the last moment.” Which was a reasonably fair assessment, but what you didn’t bank on was me getting this email:

 

From:    Amit the Israeli

To:    Mikey Lear

Date: Aug 20, 10:10

 

Michael Lear,

 

Please arrive at embassy at Tuesday morning at 8 a.m.

 

Amit,

 

The Israeli embassy – Amman

 

 

Yes, that’s right, I have friends on the inside and those friends have other friends and the result is that after a couple of weeks of waiting I have been actively summoned to the inner realms, the very place I was banned from until recently. The very place, in fact, where the people who could overturn the decision that was made against me were hiding. Summoned. Why would they summon me, right, unless they definitely wanted me to come into their country? What I naturally imagined and I’m sure you’re imagining too, is a humble and penitent delegation of Israelis holding flowers and chocolates and novelty oversized cards saying “We’re sowwy” and the president or perhaps a stand-in assuring me of an armed escort to take me to Jerusalem.

 

And all I had to do was wait for another couple of days. If you are the type of person who knows the day you’ll possibly be aware that Tuesday is today and that by now I should be on my way to Israel. So let me tell you what happened.

 

Richard

Richard arrived on the 20th which is the same time I got that email, so instead of us setting off straight away, we decided to wait for the fruit hampers because that way I could go to Jerusalem with him instead of ditching him at the border. While waiting we have done a lot of important things like walking around, attempting to go on the roof of a hotel and getting rejected by a friendly security officer (by the way, that was the answer to last week’s quiz – I violated a hotel by walking into a courtyard and up an outdoor fire escape through an open employees’ door – clearly not a crime), making pancakes, meeting another guy who’s staying with Kyle called Nathaneal, frying bread and eating it with sugar, reading Noam Chomsky books and improving the world generally. Our plan was – get to the embassy at 8am on Tuesday, leave for Jerusalem at 8.45am with written apology and fresh visa in pocket.

 

Israeli Embassy

The police at the embassy, totally out of character, let me in without asking any questions. They didn’t even get to my two red lines. The first stage was over with minimal difficulty by 9.30. Then I met some real Israelis which was quite exciting who said “You need to go to the British embassy” which is a pretty standard lie, so I wasn’t bothered by it and I showed them the print out of my email from Amit. They let me into the inner zone where a whole load of real Israelis dwelt. A small cluster of hours and one “I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do, the Ministry of the Interior won’t budge on this very serious issue” later and I was eyeball to eyeball with Amit. He obviously recognised that since he’d invited me there it would have been a bit rich to say the same thing, so instead he said “Well we’re going to have to write a letter to the Ministry of the Interior about your case, and they may change their minds. But it’ll take a couple of weeks, maybe three.” Delightedly I said “Great! Only three weeks of waiting! Joy! So, do you think they’ll let me in then?” and he said “Maybe.” On further pushing he admitted that it would be a minimum of one week and there was a 50% chance that they’d change their minds.

 

50%

50%. That’s not a huge % to risk a three week (estimated) wait on. Plus it was a prediction made by someone who is an expert in getting people to leave his building but I saw how he dealt with this Jewish guy in front of me in the queue (British and thinking of moving to Israel), and it was much less friendly. My conclusion is that I still have a smouldering ember of hope left. In the meantime I’m going to give my stick, candle and list of people to pray for to Richard, walk with him (and Nathaneal, who seems to have some spare time) to the border and then come back and chill out for a while. And I feel great about that – doing nothing for no reason is something I haven’t done for a while. To clarify, for the natively non-English, that last sentence was ironical. To be explicit, my exact feeling about waiting here indefinitely to be told eventually that I still can’t come to Israel is: GHAAArgh!

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Dead Sea
There’s no question in my mind that you must be on tenterhooks. I can’t think of a more appropriate use of the word in fact. And the reason you’re on tenterhooks is because you want to know how I’m going to end up definitely getting to Jerusalem against all the odds in a miraculous manner. I’ll tell you, but you’re going to have to read an account of my holiday first. Since I was doing so much waiting around and since I didn’t have any money, I thought I’d go on holiday to Petra and Aqaba. Aqaba’s 300km away from Amman so I couldn’t do it by walking, but who walks when they’re on holiday? No one. So I set off by foot and decided that if anyone stopped and asked me if I wanted a lift, I’d accept. On the first day I got to the outskirts of Amman and stayed with a very interesting person who, among other things, had rejected Islam and tried to built a Green City and had studied all 300 or so religions and had experienced astral projection. He took me to the Dead Sea and told me that if you parked there for more than 15 minutes, the Israelis on the other side spot you from their satellites and they phone up the Jordanian police and tell them your coordinates and then they come along and hassle you. A point I mentally noted as relevant to my plan to swim across the Dead Sea.
 
Police Hospitality
In Petra I spent the night with the police because I was being arrested, I think. Well they never said I was being arrested but they certainly behaved like I was and they even tried to claim I’d broken some law. I discovered that Jordanian hospitality reaches its lowest ebb in the hands of the police. They gave me bread a few hours after I asked for it (I was on holiday so I didn’t mind asking for food) and a fallafel in the morning and let me sleep at 5.30 in the morning on the concrete yard outside the police station. They kept saying that it wasn’t safe to sleep outside at night and after a while I came to the conclusion that their solution was to just keep me awake until it was day again.
Petra
Petra, maybe you’ve never heard of it, is a town which is made entirely of caves. It’s totally incredible. These wingnut oldentimes guys must have arrived in this rocky desert and thought: If we just dig huge holes in these rocks then we can live in them! It’s genius!
And then it sort of became fashionable and the kings and such dug absolutely huge holes in the rocks. You can pay to get in and be among the tourists or you can go to a place called Little Petra which is effectively the suburbs and then you’re all by yourself except for a couple of Bedouins who have sneaked into the caves to live there.
 
Bedouins
Speaking of which, I later met some Bedouins who are totally rad. They live in tents, that’s part of the rules. But since tents are kind of a drag, lots of them have houses as well and some even live in the city, but the put a tent round the edge as a reminder. Anyway, these Bedouins I met, they were selling trinkets by the side of the road to tourists and they invited me in for tea,meal,bed except when I say ‘in’ I mean into an open tent. One of them told me that in the winter they go down into the valley where it’s warmer and they do a bit of farming. Also drug smuggling. Apparently there’s a market for drugs in Israel and Egypt and it’s hard to get across the border so the Bedouins, who like dangerous work, rise to the challenge. It involves waiting till the wind gets up and “if there is an Israeli soldier 3m from you, he can’t see you” because of all the dust in the air. And they know the area pretty well so mostly it goes well for them, but sometimes one of them gets shot or has to shoot the Israeli soldiers. He had friends who were in jail for 15, 20 years and he made it sound as if it wasn’t the kind of jail where you get a pool table and library. I asked how much it would be if you didn’t have any drugs and he said “mmm… maybe 3 months”.
That’s a relevant story actually because, combined with the other one about Israelis spying on me with satellites, it made me think that I’m just not up to the illegal crossing. I’m no Bedouin I suppose.
 
Aqaba
I went to Aqaba, that’s a town I would happily not go to again but might end up in quite soon. Full of tourists and such. Someone pointed at a port and a bunch of houses and said “They’re knocking all this down. A sheik from the United Arab Emirates is building a complex here and they’re moving the port down the coast”. It’s that kind of place. Small investigations led to the discovery that I can go to Egypt from there, which might be my only way home.
On the way back to Amman (where I am now) I decided to hitch-hike for the first time in ages, with a sign and all. I got picked up by a truck driver who bought me a shawarma (actually three shawarmas, which is what you get if you order a “Sooba”) and bananas and orange juice… round here if you’re given a lift you’re normally given at least a drink as well, but I suppose since this was a really long lift he had to up the trimmings as well. They have lots of conversations with each other while driving round here, conducted through the limited vocal range of the car horn, and the fruit of one of these conversations was that the truck who was driving past us stopped in front of us. We stopped too. They got out and lowered the ramps at the back so we could drive on. I was in a truck and we were being picked up by another truck. It was totally awesome except that the ramp was too steep or something so it didn’t work.
 
Triumphal Entry
Now you know about my holiday, roughly speaking. I may have mentioned that Kath’s sister’s friend’s friend’s dad is the Israeli ambassador in Jordan and that she’d asked her to ask her to ask her to ask him to ask him if he could help and that it was possible that he would be able to. Get me legitimised or something, get rid of the red lines in my passport, or maybe downgrade them to blue. Well I haven’t heard from him yet and honestly my hopes are fading. I cryptically mentioned that I might go back to Aqaba and I’ll be more frank about it now: I think I might not ever get to Jerusalem. Soon I’m going to admit defeat, try to get to Egypt and then, I don’t know, get on a boat or something back to Europe and hitch home.
But it’s not quite defeat. Some mean people have suggested that I change the name of my blog to Mikey’s Pilgrimage which I never had any intention of doing. Richard was solely responsible for the inspiration and initiation of this pilgrimage and consequently for a change of the course of my life and I don’t want to make it seem like that was less essential than the middle bit that I’ve done by myself. But now it seems he might play another role as last-minute saviour. Here are some emails:

From: Richard [almost whole email]
Date: Aug 11, 10:38pm
I read your latest blog entry. I want to help you get across the border. … Because I could make my way down there on trains within a week. I want to do this. So say the word, and I will.

From: Mikey [snippet]
Date: Aug 13, 3:15am

you could basically do the whole conclusion in the same way that you did the whole introduction. I’m suddenly quite excited by the idea. Then, ideally, we’d meet up somehow and get back to Blighty together. What do you think?

From: Richard [snippet]
Date: Aug 13, 1:02pm
Alright. That’s a very interesting offer. I would feel bad about being the one to do the last stretch, considering I let you down by bailing out so early. But if you’d rather me do it than no-one do it, I’d like to do it, because I owe you a lot, and I agree it would in a sense be you, or us, completing our pilgrimage, in a sort of relay fashion, even though you did all the hard work.

I’m confident I’m going to get there, about 90% confident. I’m going to try and get everything sorted as quickly as possible, and I’ll make it my target to be there about 10 days from now, and certainly no later than 2 weeks from today. I hope you can wait that long, and if you do get to Jerusalem by then, I’ll meet up with you in Jerusalem.

Richard

From: Richard [snippet]
Date: Aug 14, 12:13am

OK. I’m going to be arriving at Queen Alia airport at 15:00 hours on Thursday the 20th August. It’s all booked. Where do you want to meet? We have all week to decide.

I’m really looking forward to it now, I’ve never been anywhere near that part of the world. I have all week to prepare. I think it’s fair to say I’m definitely coming now, unless the airline (Austrian Airlines) screws up.

See you soon,
Richard

If you couldn’t be bothered to read all that, the gist is that Richard’s going to fly out here and hopefully take the baton for me and get to Jerusalem. Obviously he has to get past the Israeli border but I have accumulated a lot of border wisdom recently and I feel like I could tell Osama how to get through by now. First, shave that beard.

In the meantime, I’m doing some more waiting. If you like you can entertain yourself by guessing the “crime” I committed which meant I had to write a statement for the police in Petra.

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Route

  • From Dara’a in Syria I crossed the Jordanian border successfully to
  • Ramtha
  • what Googlemaps called Neaime though I never saw it spelt like that anywhere else
  • Ajloun up a hill
  • Down the 20 to Al Gore
  • Down Al Gore to the King Hussein Bridge, or in Israeli, the Allenby crossing
  • Backwards, up a huge hill to Salt
  • Amman where I have been staying for almost a week, visiting Rabiya and Abdoun where the Israeli and British embassies are.

More Loafing

I haven’t got any more news to tell you really. A friend of a friend of a friend of a friend turns out to be the Israeli ambassador in Jordan or something and it seems just possible that this tenuous connection might be enough to get me a hearing or something where I can perhaps clear my name and my passport. A girl called Alex, who I haven’t ever met or heard of, has written to people for me and started something moving though I don’t know what. Now, entirely on the basis of this pretty small hope, I’m staying in Amman because it seems like the most useful place to be if I suddenly need to have an interview or something. I’m staying here and doing nothing, walking around, exploring some hotels, talking to Kyle. Not quite nothing but it’s on the borders of nothing.

However my spirits are high. I’ve quite recovered from the misery of a week ago and I’ve even done a couple of solids to celebrate. It’s been particularly comforting to find that a whole bunch of my friends and family (by which I mean you, unless you’re one of the people who found my blog by searching for “pretty feet” on google, and there are a surprisingly large number of you) have been writing to me and offering useless advice and such. If you don’t read the comments on this blog, you should read Lil’s. She’s put a link to a site which she thought might be useful, and I reckon she probably wins the competition so far for most useless advice. By all means see if you can challenge her.

Now for some more waiting.

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Al Gore
Did I mention that when I was in Al Gore, the hottest place in the world, I met someone who insisted that I come and meet his friend who “spoke English”. I grudgingly said Ok but that I’d walk and he said No Way, you have to drive, it’s uphill. I thought maybe that if I insisted on walking enough, the whole trip would get cancelled, but instead he drove next to me in his car and I walked up a very steep hill and he kept saying “Come on, get in” to me. Eventually we got to his friend’s house, very sweaty, and his friend had two portraits of Saddam Hussein on the wall. He said “You love Saddam Hussein?” and I had to confess that I didn’t.
 
To Amman
Well that was a while ago. Here’s a recap of my position a few days ago: Israel had turfed me out and drawn two big lines across my passport and told me that if I wanted a reason or to get a visa or anything I had to go to Amman to talk to the Ministry of the Interior, since it was their decision. Amman, luckily, is 500m further towards heaven than Al Gore, so it stopped being so insanely hot after a day of walking (after half a day I passed a sign saying “Sea Level”), but it took me two days to get there and when I did get there I had nowhere to stay. The first thing I did was to go to the Israeli embassy which, being 5pm on a Thursday, was closed. The police who were guarding it told me that it would open again on Monday, a casual four days later. I’m afraid I swore at them, but they seemed to understand why and I apologised when I had regained my cool. My next plan was to find a place to sleep, so I hastily wrote to loads of people from couchsurfing saying I needed a bed tonight, and luckily one of them said I could stay with him. That was Kyle who I’ve been staying with since then.
 
Killing Time
I found out that the British Embassy opens on Sunday so I thought I’d go there and see if they can do anything for me while I was waiting, but basically I’ve spent three days just killing time. I’ve explored in a lot of hotels which is quite a good way of entertaining yourself for free, and if the hotel is laid out right it can come with a bunch of free food as well. Yesterday I went up a 24 story hotel onto the roof via the emergency exit stairwell. Because it’s stairs and not a lift, no one uses it and because no one uses it, there seems to be no security at all. So although the lift doesn’t stop at several floors, like the 12th which is just a maze of ventilation shafts and such, the stairs have free access to everywhere. Even better, the stairs are next to the service lifts, so if you stop at every floor and pop your head through the first door, there’s a bunch of leftovers sitting there, waiting to be thrown away. I had a weird meal of fishfingers, cold chips, fruit, croissants, nuts, Arabic sweets, two egg yolks and cheese, all shoved into my mouth really fast in case someone turned up, and then I got onto the roof and looked across the whole city. It’s not that pretty, but I felt naughty and that makes it better.
 
Israeli Friendliness
On Sunday I walked three hours to the British Embassy and over a four minute chat they said “I wish you well, but there’s nothing we can do. We don’t interfere in other countries’ immigration policies”, then I walked back. Today, Monday, I went to the Israeli embassy. There was a hoard of Palestinians or similar all being treated like cattle in the manner of the Israeli border, and a policeman shouting at them. I asked him where I should go and he looked at my passport and said “Not here. British embassy. Go now.” I stayed. Later, when he had a little more time, he said “Go British embassy. No help you here.” I stayed. Later I managed to speak to someone with slightly less time pressure who explained it like this: “You have two lines in your passport. They don’t want you in the border, they don’t want you in the consulate. We can’t help you, they tell us if you have two lines… what colour are the lines?” I said “Red.” He snorted with laughter “Ha! Yes, there’s no chance. They won’t see you. We can’t let you in.” I pointed out that they had told me in the border to come to the embassy for an explanation. He said “They always say that. Whenever we have people with two red lines, there’s nothing you can do. Go to your British embassy.”
 
I’m At a Loss
I think if I was one of those people who insisted on stuff and kicked up a fuss that there might have been a way of seeing someone there, or even of just getting through the border in the first place. But officials and beaurocracy and such drain me very fast and if it’s a choice between raising my voice or putting my tail between my legs and sitting under the table, I take the table option. So my two possible hopes in Amman have been tried and have failed. I don’t know what to do now. I think I should try to get across the border illegally, but I’m probably too much of a wuss. Auntie Joyce is saying she’ll get some media friend of hers to help, but I can’t see these Israelis buckling much in the face of a newspaper. Actually I have another problem – I don’t even know how to get home. I suspect that Syria won’t let me back in because of the Hebrew in my passport, apart from the fact that I’d have to pay them loads again. If I’m right about that, I’m trapped between Israel who think I’m a Muslim and a load of Arab countries who’ll think I’m a Jew. I’ll sleep on it.

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Jordan
You might be wondering what Jordanians are like but when I tell you that the last four days have been probably the roughest of the whole trip I’m sure you’ll instantly stop caring and want to know about my suffering instead. So to briefly summarise so as to get more quickly onto the main attraction, they’re super friendly like Syrians but without so much of the craziness and intrusiveness, so an improvement. If I had much of an appetite at the moment I’m sure I’d be eating well but as it is I’m eating adequately.
 
A Tough Day
After rolling cheerfully through Jordan for a couple of days I met a couple of young guys who spoke good English and liked walking. I stayed with them for a night and the plan was for them to walk with me the next day. In the night I contracted some sort of illness and by morning I was fevery and had done several watery poos in the night. Not wishing to lose copilgrims or inflict myself on them for too long, we set out at about 3 in the afternoon when I was feeling better but still pretty bad. One of them took my bag but even then I was dizzy and weak all day and it was all uphill. As soon as they left I found a place for my tent and deleriously set it up and then slept for 12 hours or something. I felt a bit better in the morning specially after I’d had a lie down for a few hours and then the walking was downhill so that helped. Later I felt completely fine only now my bowels have reverted to the good old Several-A-Day programme that I was beginning to miss.
 
Insane Heat
After all that going downhill I arrived in Jordan Valley which in Arabic is called Al Gore, weirdly. It is insanely hot. They say 40 degrees if that means anything to you. I’d say it like this – when I breathed in through my nose I sometimes got that burning feeling in my nostrils that you get in a sauna and I also drank a ginormous quantity of water which went directly from my stomach to my back. I walked through this valley for a day and a half before I got to the King Hussein Bridge which goes into Israel. When I got there it was closed. What on earth? You don’t close a border. Or a bridge. They said it would open again at 8 in the morning so I slept on some cardboard boxes by the road. Way too hot for the tent, and way too hot for sleeping outside, but I found that if I woke up sweating then I could sit up for a bit and cool down enough to go back to sleep. As soon as the sun came up the flies, of which there are billions, swarmed in and tried to crawl into my mouth and such. That night I wasn’t given any food so I ate a spoonful of marmalade for dinner. Not totally satisfactory, but the combination of heat and convalescing meant I wasn’t very hungry.
 
Spilt Milk
In the morning I tried the bridge again. Five pound leaving tax! That is such a massive scam. A friendly guy paid for me. Then I wasn’t allowed to walk across the bridge but had to take a bus instead, and that cost four pounds. Another massive scam. A friendly girl paid for me. Two hours later I was in Israel and shuffling bewildered through the uselessly organised Israeli border. I had to check my bag in for some reason and at every opportunity they took my passport and disappeared with it and gave it back haphazzardly later. By 11 I had got passed the preliminary screening and been marked as suspicious and I had to sit in a pen for suspicious people so they could interrogate me later. I don’t know what it was exactly that made her think I was dodgy, our conversation went like this:
  • Where are you going?
  • Jerusalem
  • Are you going to Palestine?
  • Um, maybe. I don’t know.
  • You don’t know. Are you going to the West Bank? To Gaza?
  • Huh? Um, I don’t know. I might tour around after Jerusalem. Gaza? I can go to Gaza?
  • Hm. Where are you staying?
  • With a friend in Jerusalem.
  • Address?
  • Urr, don’t know. I have it in my bag, but my bag has been whisked away somewhere.
  • How much money do you have?
  • None.
  • Dollars? Euros?
  • None.
  • How are you going to get to Jerusalem?
  • Walking. It’s free!
  • Hm. How are you going to leave?
  • I have money waiting for me in Jerusalem. Insh’Allah.
  • Hm. Please go and sit in that pen over there for suspicious people.
Both of my new friends were also marked as suspicious as well as a Japanese guy. They also seemed to have no money either because we were all hungry all day. We waited. Other people joined the pen and left again a little later. We waited. I did some begging for food and got given a Snickers and a packet of biscuits so we all had a quarter each. We waited. After a few hours Kisar was taken away for interrogation, and he came back very rattled. After 5 hours Rita and Uki were called up to a desk where they were given a visa without any further question. Kisar had another interrogation and another, the last of which involved a strip search. He came back shaky and unable to talk. Rita and Uki were going to walk with me to Jerusalem so they waited for me. Nothing, nothing, then a girl with ringlets gave me a quick interview.
– What is your religion?
– Christian
– When you were in Syria did anyone try to convert you to Islam?
– Yes, all the time.
– Did you convert?
– Not exactly. You know that thing you say – Lar Illih Illah Il’Allah, Muhammedan resull’allah? Well I said that, and they seemed happy.
– You’re a Muslim then.
– Not really, no.
– What books do you have in your bag?
– Bible, Koran, Turkish dictionary…
– You have a Koran in your bag?
– Yes. It was a present.
– You brought it with you from England.
– Huh? No, someone gave it to me in Syria.
– Do you have a prayer mat?
– What? No. Look, I’m not a…
– How many times a day do you pray?
– Well I don’t, it depends…
– You don’t pray?
– Um, no, I do. Ur, once. I say a rosary, you know, the Catholic…
– What’s your Muslim name?
– Abdullah! Someone I met on the street…
– Abdullah. Sit in the pen, I’ll examine your piece of paper.
Baffled, I sat back down. A little later, at 5pm, she took me to my bag so she could go through my stuff and take my address book and books away to look at them. Rita and Uki said they’d wait till 5.30. I managed to cadge a loaf of bread and a croissant and I shared it with Rita but by this time I was battered by aggressive questioning, too little food and too much time sitting and staring. Ringlets gave my books back and said “Did you bring the Koran from England?” I said No, it was a present. She said “It is in English, you brought it from England with you.” I couldn’t understand why she was trying to prove that I was a Muslim or why I was becoming defencive about not being one. I still can’t understand it, I watched Muslims come into Israel all day, it’s not a problem. But she stated it as a fact – I had brought a Koran with me and I had lied about it. So strange. She also said it wouldn’t be long before I got my passport. I was certainly pleased, but too exhausted to do a jig or anything.
One hour, two hours. I asked ringlets if she thought I would get into Israel and she said “No, I don’t think so.” My anxiety level rocketed upwards to Very Anxious. I did some pacing and some fidgeting.
At 7.30 in the evening I was told I wasn’t allowed into Israel and would I please come this way. I said I wanted to speak to someone for an explanation. A surly police woman emerged from her office and in front of a queue of Palestinians said “You have to leave Israel”
– Why?
– The Ministry of the Interior says you can’t come in.
– Why?
– I can’t tell you that.
– Can I speak to someone who can tell me?
– There’s no one here who can tell you.
– No one? Wha?
– I’m sorry, this is not my decision.
– I’ve walked from Belgium to go to Jerusalem. 6 months.
– I understand. But you have to leave. You can go to the Ministry of the Interior in Amman and ask them.
– And they’ll tell me why I can’t come in?
– I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do for you.
– Will they let me have a visa?
– Maybe.
– Amman’s a… like a two day walk from here.
– You have to follow this man now.
– Gulp.
So I shakily put my finger on a fingerprint taker and blankly posed for a photo which presumably went onto their “Probable Muslims” list and I followed the security guy outside. He said Sit there, so I sat down next to another massive bunch of jostling Palestinians and I cried. Not the kind of manly crying that you do when you watch Life Is Beautiful to prove you have emotions, but the childish kind of pure self-pity. I was at a Pilgrimage-wide cheerfulness low of maybe 25% cheer. What in the heck do I do now?
 
Amman
My passport has a big red stamp in it which says in English “Entery Denied”, and in Hebrew “Filthy Pig”, so I think trying another border will not be worth my while, specially since I’ll have to pay another fiver to get out again. So I decided to go to Amman to see if I can find the Ministry of the Interior. I anticipate a few days of zero fun, but I’m half way there already and since I’ve never done anything anti-Israeli in my life I reckon they’ve got to change their minds and let me in. Haven’t they? If they don’t, I won’t know what to do. I have a candle I’ve brought from Romania to light in the Orthodox church for the Gypsies. I have to pray for the baker family from Germany and that guy who gave me and Richard a loaf of sweetbread in Belgium. I have to go to Jerusalem. I was 30km away, one day’s walk. They’ll understand all that and they’ll give me a visa, probably.

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