Day 13

This morning began late, because we didn’t need to leave the hotel until 9 a.m.

So, after a late breakfast, we got on the bus and discussed last night’s heavy
rainfall which included one or two claps of thunder. This was the first rain in a month; no one knows how much rain fell. Our bus driver is Josef again today, and he and our guide indicated how rain feels like a blessing in this season around here…after such a hot summer.

Elias outlined our morning for us, and told us that the Muslim community is now preparing for the Al Aphah holiday, in which they will sacrifice sheep. We took the Hebron Road south past the Dehaishe Refugee Camp, with 15000 people per square km.

Arriving at the Solomon Pool National Park, Elias summarized the history of water in the near east, and its importance. King Herod the Great built two pools which sent water via aqueducts to Jerusalem, which is lower than this area on Ephrata. It also sent water to the Herodion, also lower. Pontius Pilate built a third pool. Tradition says Solomon built them, but all the archaeological evidence says Herod and Pontius Pilate.

The pools were kept full and used for drinking water until 1967, and emptied in 2007 after several children drowned in them because they didn’t know how to swim. So they were drained, and the first pool with its terraces and stairways and open bottoms used for occasional concerts in the summer. The entire time we viewed these pools, we were escorted, from a distance by two security guards, who are hired by the Palestinian government.

We returned to the new museum in Bethlehem, where we could see a portion of the Roman aqueduct through the windows. Then Elias took leave of us, because today is his daughter’s birthday, and he has a wedding to attend this evening as well, so he took his own car. And then we changed buses, because the 56-passenger bus was too long to maneuver the narrow streets on the way to our next stop, the Elderly Care Center in Beit Sahour.

The Beit Sahour Elderly Center is a United Methodist Advance Special. We were met by Elen Qassis, the Director, who filled us in on the day care center for elderly. It has up to 160 persons in attendance per day, ages 65 to 90+. It was founded in 1984. A typical day begins at 7:30 with coffee and visiting, the women on one floor and the men on another. Then they play cards or do other activities until a 10 a.m. lecture. At 11:30 they play, exercise, dance, sing, until lunch at noon, which costs NIS 5 (about $1.50). After lunch they visit the sick, do various projects, etc. Its day ends at 3:30 p.m., when the participants return to their own homes.

Our lunch at the Elderly Center consisted of chicken, rice, salad, yogurt, cauliflower, and soda. During lunch the Director told us that her son is in the States, attending university, and cannot return to Palestine because of his involvement in the Infitada.

We next stopped at a grocery store to pick up spices for our Forum presentation at FUMC…and it was quite a project for the male guide and store keeper to translate the meanings of the labels on the spice containers…neither having cooking expertise.

Again we changed buses, and dropped 12 people off at the Manger Square to shop, sightsee, and then walk back to the hotel. We had the rest of the afternoon to nap or pack…squeezing in those purchases into already full suitcases.

At 5:45 we left to have our farewell dinner at the Grotto Restaurant, a Middle Eastern restaurant. Dinner consisted of yogurts and hummus with corn or peas embedded, then ground lamb meet balls and chicken, then dessert. Issa and Elias gave each person in the group a memento of carved olive wood manger scene. They announced that they would match the group’s gift of $200 for carpet for the Kindergarten. Betty presented our card and gift to Janet, and we left the restaurant at 8 p.m., saying our goodbyes to Adel, Janet, Jan and Tina, as well as both Issa and Elias. We’ll say our good-byes to Josef in the morning. Some of us will ride his bus to the Tel Aviv airport…and some of us will hop on a different bus and head north to the northern border crossing into Jordan.

Our VIM experience is concluded, however we’ll have more to share with you in the weeks to come as we process this powerful journey. There may be some posts from Jordan depending on our computer access. More to come…

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