Today was a day to get oriented to Jerusalem and St. George’s College. Our program starts tonight with a welcome dinner. Today we were on our own.
After breakfast in the college dining room, Connie and I explored the cathedral and the neighborhood around us. The cathedral complex (which includes the cathdral, college, diocesan offices, bishop’s residence, and a guest house which also hosts groups but is separate from the college) is quite large and has beautiful gardens. We ventured as far as the walls of the old city about 3 blocks away from St. George’s, and poked our heads into the old city as both Damascus Gate and Herod’s Gate. We didn’t go too far as one of the diocesan staff members told us there was a disturbance at a mosque this morning and tensions are a bit high. We couldn’t tell that from our explorations, though – plenty of people on the street were going about their business as usual and it seemed as safe as any other urban center. Here at St. George’s, we are quite safe inside a gated complex with a 24 hour guard.
At the Damascus Gate we could see the walls of the old city and could pick out the Herodian era blocks at the bottom of the wall from their distinctive border. We realized – those were here when Jesus was here. Wow.
Today is our day to get acclimated, so I’ve been noticing things. Here are some things I noticed. It’s just day one, though, so I may learn better as we go on.
1. Being in a major urban area is bringing out the New Yorker in me. Connie says I’m doing my “New York walk” and need to be less aggressive at street crossings. Apart from the fact that nearly all buildings are stone, and there are palm trees, this part of the city reminds me a lot of New York with small shops, honking cars, many people, and a gritty urban feel.
2. Since we are in a Palestinian Muslim neighborhood, the majority of women have head coverings. However, not all of them do. Maybe 1 in 15 doesn’t. Women here wear a basic headscarf just over their hair much like you’d seen in Boston – no long black hijabs or anything like that.
3. The vast majority of men wear blue jeans.
4. Because of #2and #3, it’s very easy to pick out tourists. We stick out like sore thumbs. Everyone we encountered immediately spoke English with us.
5. Things seem slightly cheaper here. We bought lunch for 7 NIS which is about $2.50 for a sandwich. A quart of milk and a soda was 15 NIS, about $5.
6. People live in segregated neighborhoods. This one is all Palestinian: no Jewish residents in this area.
7. Nearly everyone we encountered speaks English (all shopkeepers). Signs are sometimes just in Hebrew, sometimes in Hebrew and Arabic, and sometimes in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. The same goes for soda can labels and candy wrappers. (The milk label was all Hebrew, but fortunately had a picture of a cow.)
8. The crows who live in the cathedral courtyard are not like American crows. They are about the same size (maybe larger) and have the same “caw” but they are two-toned – they have black head, wings, and tail with a grey body.
9. Everything here is gated, especially the hotels which have fences around their parking lots. I get the feeling there is a high possibility of car break ins or other theft. Again, it reminds me of New York City.
10. However, unlike New York, cars actually stop for you at crosswalks. I’m having a hard time getting used to this.
11. The cathedral gardens are beautiful. We were excited to find an olive tree with olives on it, and a lime tree with many limes. The most exciting was the pomegranate, which his apparently not a tree but a bush.
12. The cathedral has many legacies of the British Mandate (when Great Britain controlled Israel from 1917-1948, a very tumultuous time) including memorials to those who died and a royal crest that was moved to the Cathedral from the British headquarters the day the Mandate officially ended. It made me curious how the cathedral, or the people who worshipped there, were involved in that crucial period of Jerusalem’s history.
13. We have not yet been served a meal that did not include pita bread and olives. That includes breakfast.