Journal

Border Crossing in the Middle East, Jordan to Jerusalem

Our cab driver, Hani, looked like George Clooney. He lit a cigarette, asked for 25JD up front, and came to a stop on the side of the road before ushering us into an unmarked car. There was a lot of hand waving and what seemed like friendly arabic, some money changing and then he left us. Damn him, he left us.

We were back in Amman, attempting to cross the border into Israel. We sat in somewhat distracted silence as our new, unelected and intense-looking driver abandoned the main road for a dirt one. We breathed a quiet sigh of relief when we finally arrived at the King Hussein bridge, and we were dropped at the Jordanian border without a word. We handed our passports to a Jordanian official and he passed them to another, and then another.

We paid 5JD to board a bus across no-man's land. We passed a checkpoint along the way, manned by what seemed to be three teenagers armed with assault rifles and designer sunglasses. Once at the border, it was more of the same. Young men and women, maybe as young as 18, holding rifles and directing travelers. Some of the girls wore heels and they all had long, gorgeous locks; fitted jackets and sweaters. It was an unexpected contrast: fashion and firearm. We made it through the second and third checks, walked to the bus stop, and boarded the yellow bus to Jerusalem. Then we waited. And waited. Two hours and fifteen minutes later, we made our way to Damascus Gate.

As the sun set, so did everything else. Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest, so everything is closed Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. The streets were deserted, and the tram wasn’t running. We wandered the old city for a while before making our way to Zion square and exploring some more. The next morning, we walked back to the walled city and found a hostel in the Christian quarter. We climbed to the rooftop to see the view, at exactly noon. From the Jewish quarter, prayer rose up from the wailing wall. From the mosque, the Islamic call to prayer. Shortly after, church bells began to chime.

Standing at the intersection of such fantastic cultural contradiction, we stood in awe until the last sound had echoed off the city walls. We then descended into the narrow cobblestone streets and made our way through as many winding threads of the market mazes as we could muster. We sampled sweets and explored the Armenian quarter, the Christian, Muslim and Jewish quarters. We kicked at soccer balls as we passed through courtyard games and wandered the rest of the day away. We could hardly help wondering, as we climbed to yet another rooftop overlooking the city, at the way people with such different beliefs coexist in two starkly contrasting environments; anarchy without, ceremony within.

We woke up the next morning as the first call to prayer began at the early hour of 4:30am. It was beautiful, but loud; echoing off the high stone walls and straight through our open bedroom window. The prayer went on for so long that I fell asleep to the loud lullaby, but only for a short time. In the space of what seemed like a few breaths, the Christian quarter came to life with an endless chorus of bell chiming. Morning, Jerusalem.