Timing may or may not be everything, but it meant a lot today. Last night, Jaakov was looking up the answer to my question: “When do buses for Jerusalem leave from Tiberius Central?” He was so attentive to my request that he almost forgot something more important: “Bus 962 for Yerushalayim stop just down street, 8:30 in the morning. Perfect for you.”
But it was the timing on lunch that meant the most. I thought I would eat at Jerusalem Central before asking about how to get to the Damascus Gate station. But Jerusalem Central is also a shopping mall, with lots of pretty dress boutiques, and no decent shuwarma that I could see. So I thought I would have lunch at Damascus Gate before boarding bus 21, which I had found out would take me right to Bethlehem. But just off the light rail from Central, I saw bus 21, nearly full and ready to go. So I planned on lunch in Bethlehem before taking a taxi to the hotel where I would meet the rest of our group from the Pacific SW Region. Alas, just off the bus in Bethlehem, I found myself very popular with three taxi drivers, all eager for my business. How could I say no? But how could I say yes? Not to all three! While they argued among themselves, a fourth driver swooped in, and took me to his cab.
I rode up front with him. “I apologize for my fellows,” he said. “Life is very hard here, to work, to support your family. The Wall, he kill everything.” I had seen a portion of The Wall on the way from Jerusalem–perhaps 20 feet high, with another 8 feet or so angling out at 45 degrees. Bethlehem, I have read, is particularly impacted. I know our group will get a closer look in the coming days.
Though my lunch suffered multiple delays, it was only 1:00 pm when we arrived at the hotel. The desk clerk directed me to Ruth’s, just up the street. “Good shuwarma,” she promised. I arrived there on the heels of a tour-bus group, and for a bit it was just the 13 of us. Thinking of the Last Supper, the superstitious warn against 13 at a meal, but I invited them to sit with me anyway. They were from a hand-full of churches in Platt County, in eastern Kentucky. “Appalachia?” I asked. “You know the Hatfields and the McCoys?” their leader answered, “That’s Platt County.”
Their group had arrived in Israel on the same day I had, and in that time had been to every corner of the country, for about fifteen minutes each. They were exhausted. They couldn’t remember half of what they’d allegedly seen. “Eleven hour days, every day,” moaned Norman. But had they met any of the local people? “No, just sights.” Some were leaving in the morning, others were going on to Jordan. All of them just wanted to be home.
Would I sound judgmental if I said the Kentuckians’ trip was exactly the kind of tour I did not want to have? Well then I’m judgmental – a tourist purist. I so treasure the sights and steps I have moved slowly through. More than that, I treasure the human encounters, planned and mostly unplanned, that have already been so much a part of my sojourn here. I look forward to seeing Nancy Fowler and the others from our region partly because I know this group experience is organized around seeing ancient stones, but also meeting what Elias Chacour calls “the living stones” of the living faith that continues in this place – the people who give life and breath to the holy sites here and now.
(Fair warning for anyone who’s been reading the blog – my time will not so much be my own from here on out, and the posts may be a little more bare bones. Thanks, by the way, for taking an interest.)
As it happens, Ruth’s shuwarma was not too bad. And she accepted payment in dollars. Perfect for me.