Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

The Holy Land

on November 29, 2013

From Beirut, Lebanon, Papa then flew us to Amman, the capital of Jordan. This was the gateway to a tour of the Holy Land. In 1964, prior to the 1967 war, it was an easy drive. The embassy staff in Amman helped Papa get us tour tickets and off we went.

reading paper in dead sea

First stop, the Dead Sea. It did not look particularly pretty, not like the Mediterranean, but Papa told us that this was a very special sea. It was so salty that you could float in it and have your breakfast coffee and read the newspaper, all this without sinking. I wondered whether we were going to try it, but no. We took pictures and went on.

Then, on to Jerusalem. We visited the Dome of the Rock and now, for the first time in my life, I saw my father pray. I was mesmerized. I saw other people scattered throughout the mosque doing the same movements, standing, bowing, kneeling, prostrating… I pulled Mama’s sleeve. “Mama, Mama, what is Papa doing?” Mama tried to shush me, but I would not. “What is Papa doing?” Finally, Mama gave in, and in a whisper, she said, “He is praying.”

Praying? In all my books, which were French and described Catholic life, people knelt down by their bedside, joined their hands together, and talked to God. Was this then praying too? How? My whole world was turning upside down.

Mama had mentioned to us once before, in Paris, very solemnly, that we were Muslims. “What does that mean?” I asked. “You just need to know that you are a Muslim, that’s all.” Well, that certainly did not help at all. I mulled the statement in my head. “Is Francoise a Muslim? — No.” All right, so maybe that meant something like a Chinese. “Is Amy a Muslim? — No.”  That narrowed the field down considerably. So maybe it meant something like a family or a tribe. “Is Aunt Lily a Muslim? — No.”  I could not anymore fathom what that could possibly mean, then.

Now, in Jerusalem, the whole matter resurfaced. “This is how Muslims pray,” stated Mama. I am not sure what it was I felt then. I had just discovered that I belonged to a group of alien beings, and that we prayed in a very strange way.

dome of the rock

In Bethlehem, we followed the trail of Jesus’ life, with a tour guide. We walked on a street –known as the Via Dolorosa —  that climbed up a small hill, and was bordered with shops, hawkers, foods, smells, smoke, talk, and noise. A regular market place. We would stop now and then and the guide would describe what happened there. Thinking back, he must have been speaking in French, because I understood what he was saying. “Here, Jesus fell for the first time… Here, Jesus fell for the second time…”  He was a big guy with a fat belly. And somehow, he mistook me for Jesus. He would stick my head in a stone niche in the wall, and pretend to spank me on the behind. “Here, this is what they did to Jesus, this way.” After a while, I had enough of being beaten, dragged, whipped, etc. Not for real, but it wasn’t a pleasant thought.

via dolorosa in jerusalem

Then we reached the top of a hill. Inside a building, he showed us a cemented square on the floor, in which there was some vague pattern. The guide said this was the foot print of Jesus as he was raised to Heaven. Really? It looked much too small to be an adult footprint! I hovered my foot above it, to gauge its size. Swish! The guide sharply pulled me away, with an angry shout. Such a holy relic. How dare I put my foot where Jesus’ foot trod! Now, all of a sudden, I was not used as a model of Jesus any more. Anyway, I was not going to step on it, just hover above it… But, as usual, as a good little girl, I kept quiet.



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