As I floated like a lifeless object on the Dead Sea and tried hard to maintain my balance, it was hard to imagine that more than 2000 years ago Jesus Christ walked on this very sea. I shivered at the thought not out fear but in sheer awe of this truth. Slowly, scenes from the Bible that I was taught as a little girl in my Sunday school classes unfolded before my eyes. I was drowned and completely consumed by the divinity of the moment. I looked around and saw fellow tourists happily basking in the moment’s glory. Some have mastered the art of floating and seated themselves comfortably on water as if on a chair and read their books. Some tried hard to capture the stillness of the moment in their cameras. I emulated those who have found balance and struggled until I attained that moment of stillness in the saline water. Sometimes the wind blew and caused ripples. The rippling water splashed into my mouth, I have never tasted such salty water in all my life. The lifeguards strategically positioned all along the shore did warn us of eventualities like swallowing water or accidentally slipping into the water. The trick if one ever lost balance in water and felt dehydrated was to immediately wash one’s face with fresh water and drink milk. No wonder, the lifeguards had bottled water in stock by the shore all day long. I did witness an overconfident fellow tourist walked into the sea only to lost balance in no time and fell headlong. A sight that was rather amusing. Upon being rescued, the lifeguard splashed her head with fresh water. She became alright immediately and thus ended the drama which, selfishly, could have continued for absolute entertainment for silly viewers like me.
What waited at the end of the dip was somewhat like a beauty treatment for everyone who was willing. There were buckets full of mud that was extracted from the southern shores of the Dead Sea and meant to heal and cure one from any ailment. I generously smeared all over myself and left it to semi-dry and washed it off. It worked perfect like a mud pack. Thankfully, I had no aliment except to have a glow on my skin. And, did I feel better after smearing mud all over me? It was more of the mind than the body. My skin, for sure, felt smoother and softer. I must have acquired that instant glow, now long gone.
But the deeper implication of the dip was to heal anyone who needed one. The Jordan tourism office did inform that they have hundreds of tourists who come every year with various ailments. Tourists from all over would check into hotels nearby for days and weeks and regularly dipped themselves until they were cured of their ailments. That I attained my sense of calm in the sea was more than enough for me.
Since Jordan is so deeply rooted in history, it was impossible not be transported back in that Biblical era. The olive trees planted all along the streets in some stretches of the drive felt like living through some eras of the Old Testament. And later at the Jordan River or Bethany beyond the Jordan which is the site where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, I tried hard to imagine which side of the river the baptism must have taken place. The exact site, we were told, has been identified on the east bank of the Jordan River in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Now this river is but a small stream that flows between Israel and Jordan. Now, both the neighboring countries have built an approach from both their sides for tourist to access the river. The Jordan side from which I approached had wooden and bamboo plank, stairs and shades. While the Israeli side had a better one in smooth cements and marble. Tourists from both the countries only exchanged glances over the stream that divided them. In the knee-deep river I only wadded my feet and regretted to this day why I had not dipped myself for that long awaited miracle to happen in my life.
Quite on the other side in another part of Jordan as I walked through a barren desert which is now called the Wadi Musa or Valley of Moses, it felt unreal to be there simply because of the stories one has heard of Moses. Moses was a revered prophet whose story I grew up on as a child. Few houses in thick mud walls and small windows painted blue made up for the village with hardly any sight of people. The village is perched at the entrance of an ancient city of Petra which was teeming with tourists. Could there be a way to trace where the prophet lived? In the end, I only had silent tears that welled up my eyes as I wondered alone as if looking for a lost relative or something. That I walked the very soil where an ancient prophet walked years and years ago was enough. Wadi Musa is also the very spot where Moses passed through when he struck water from the rock for his thirsty followers. From among the many rocks formations that now merged with the surrounding, I tried hard to figure which of the rock could be the one that sprang water? All sorts of questions ran through my head. It was the most unlikely place to ponder over existential questions and ask myself of the purpose of my existence on this earth. So, those silent tears were only an expression of the unfathomable depth of truth that I witnessed. It was hard to explain the overwhelming sense of emotion that stirred me from within. Pilgrimages are meant to be just so, I told myself.
My journey wasn’t complete yet. Not until I saw the hidden treasure or an ancient sight of that spectacular tomb. And Wadi Musa which is also home to Petra promised that at the end of a long trek. To discover the site one must be ready to walk. And I walked through very long passage of different formations of mighty rocks that stood the test of time and history. Sometimes the way was often winding and felt like a maze. I stopped many times in between to catch my breath. Horse chariots passed me by and tempted me to hitch a ride. But I resisted and counted on my poor feet. I could not let the purpose of trying to discover something by myself be defeated by accepting a ride. So I trudged. Finally at the end of the long passage in between solid rocks I saw a flickering sight of something spectacular that drew me closer and closer. I found myself in front or a 40 meter high façade of a mighty kingdom that has been artistically carved out from a living rock. It was indeed the Nabatean tomb that reflected an all-time architectural marvel.
Silence ruled. The structure made me small and insignificant. History has a strange way of communicating. It touches you to the core without saying a word. Just by its mere existence, it talks and stirs. I remember it was a similar feeling that I encountered in Egypt years ago. At the Cairo Egyptian Museum in the Tutankhamun section what stirred me weren’t the treasures of gold and alabaster jars of the young Pharaoh. Rather, I stood still and ran my eyes through all the remains of his childhood: baby cot, baby ropes, foot wears and many more items that once belonged to him. They spoke a thousand words. Yes, history will always humble and teach us the deeper implications of what we call life.
First published in: The Northeast Today