Trial and error while exploring a Middle Eastern city

My alarm woke me up at 9 a.m. after a night of what-notting that lasted until 3:30 a.m. I was meeting up with some friends to take a trip to the neighboring city of Madaba.

The first problem was that I woke up two hours late. So instead of traveling in a group of seven, my company included me and two other late sleepers.

Photo courtesy of Joey DeRosa

Photo courtesy of Joey DeRosa

We took the bus to Madaba and when we arrived, we struggled in vain to find our friends who we were supposed to meet that morning (the early bunch). We got off the bus earlier than we should have and were on the outskirts of town.

So I called my friends and we decided to meet at Saint George’s, an ancient Byzantine church that was still in use by the Christian population in Madaba. The only problem was no one living there seemed to know where it was located and we received conflicting instructions from different sources.

On our way, we stumbled upon some almost childlike graffiti. One had a boy praying with a check mark underneath it and the other had a boy and girl in love with an X underneath it. The message was hilariously simple. I posed for a photograph next to the mural. I debated whether that was sacrilegious for five or so minutes before determining that it wasn’t.

After that, we decided we really didn’t know where we were so we took a taxi which had aggressively beeped at us as we walked along the road (standard procedure here — annoying yet helpful).

I asked him where Saint George’s Church was and he responded in Arabic with a thick Bedouin accent and a little confusion in his voice. He ended up taking us to the Apostle’s Church (not Saint George’s). And somehow we finally met up with our friends.

We headed to a restaurant and then decided to go to the Church of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. I stopped to get coffee along the way and chatted with the Syrian man behind the counter while I waited for it to brew. When he finally handed it to me, I tried to pay for my coffee but he put his hand over his heart in a gesture of refusal. I thanked him and headed off again toward the church.

A service was going on at the Church of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist and we felt a little out of place. We toured the ancient Byzantine building, the earlier foundations underneath the building and climbed the bell tower, the highest point in town, which is unusual in a Muslim city. We looked at the mosque below us with gold domes and realized how beautiful it was, an ironic triumph for the mosque.

After that, we caught a cab to Mount Nebo and found ourselves in the Promised Land. Literally. The region was filled with loamy dark tilled soil and rows of green orchards until it abruptly dropped off into desert. I hadn’t seen so much green since I arrived here, and it was truly a sight for tired eyes. I understood why Moses and the rest of God’s friends held it in such high regard. Even for me, the experience was utterly spiritual. It was at this point that we realized it was worth making the trip.

Looking back on the day, I realize that our travels didn’t exactly go smoothly. If you’re being honest with yourself, traveling rarely does. These day-trips always involve long rides on (smelly) mass transit, which is occasionally confusing and always uncomfortable. I lost a bet, I lost my bearings, my friend lost his wallet (and his temper) — but I find that it’s these little hitches along the way that I tend to remember. And at least in that sense, the day was memorable.