Bound for the Promised Land

by Aaron Bird, sophomore

Aaron and Professor Lee wade in the Dead Sea while waiting for their ride.

It is a strange feeling to have your flip-flops nearly lifted off your feet from the buoyancy of salt water.  Already buoyant by themselves, the flip-flops are aided by the salt to throw your feet off the floor of the sea. At times like this I know that God has a sense of humor and snickers at our feeble attempts to resist this anti-gravity. Only with undivided concentration and a little luck was I spared the splashing result that comes from wading in the Dead Sea.

I found myself pushing on this salty phenomenon during a warm late morning two weeks ago on the virgin voyage of our Around-the-World Semester for Concordia. We were just finishing our fifth country and looking forward to entering the Promised Land. Literally coming out of Egypt, we wandered through the deserts of Jordan and were finally being led to Jerusalem. Of course with our Bedouin guides, we were able to avoid the unfortunate 40-year detour that the Israelites endured.

After getting a few photos with one of my instructors on the trip, Professor Adam Lee, we were hastily drawn back to the road where we were abandoned to our Dead Sea adventure. Although our driver spoke very limited English, I was able to understand his laborious arm waving while yelling, “Hurry!”

It passed through my mind that we had not entirely asked permission to climb down to the rocky shores of the Dead Sea. Feeling slightly guilty at my dismissal of our driver, I made it a personal effort to make my way to the top as fast as possible. This goal was, of course, a limited one equipped with my aging Reef flip flops, and I was quickly overtaken by my travel-stained professor.

In my guilt and my haste I was surprised with a visitor to my esophagus. Breathing in I sucked in a scrumptious and protein-filled Jordanian fly. It reminded me of the times in which I would inhale water while swimming. For the non-swimmers, it is similar to having a drink go down the “wrong tube” and not your esophagus. This time, however, I was disgusted even more by the fact that a filthy fly had just defiled my mouth. I started dry heaving, with a false hope that I could dispel this unwelcome guest. Professor Lee turned and asked if I was alright. Conveying the situation, he continued on his way with a small laugh. I was disappointed at my failure to rid myself of the fly. I do not think I have ever actually wanted to vomit before this incident. I guess that is what happens when a fly gets too overzealous.

In retrospect, I suppose I came on this trip to get out of my comfort zone. This is just another “exotic” food that I have tried. If this was someone’s choice of food, there is no doubt in my mind that they would never go hungry in the Middle East. The plague of flies from the biblical Exodus has a new meaning to me now. I am completely convinced that this plague never actually left but was spread through these unfortunate countries. I have never seen so many flies!

Finally making it to the top, I was floored at the sight in front of me. Our escort was hooked up to a large red tractor. “Are we being towed all the way to Jerusalem,” I thought to myself. When our car had overheated, I had assumed that it would be a quick fix. A little water in the radiator works wonders. I would learn later that these things are never as simple as they appear.

Complications started in Petra at our quaint Cleo-“petra” Hotel. Professor Lee, two other students and I were chosen to travel apart from the rest of the group. Having a 26 seat bus with 30 passengers typically causes adjustments to be made. This October morn I was delighted to find myself in forest green BMW trekking at 100 mph through the Jordanian desert. I knew for sure that my companions and I would reach the Israeli border before the rest of the group, stuck in the sluggish bus.

Climbing in our broken luxury sedan, we were again plagued by Moses’ flies. If anyone has stumbled upon a hornets’ nest knows the crawling feeling of insects covering your body. It took all of my self-restraint to not writhe crazily to rid myself of these flies. Slowly we made our way up the highway with our tractor friend. At a glance, this situation would seem somewhat ordinary, but the closer look shows a truly peculiar situation. Attaching our BMW to the tractor was not a cable. It was not a rope. It was a piece of fabric. I am still unsure what kind it was, but this “cable” of ours was definitely a towel or head scarf. What else could you hope for as speeding cars rush past at 90 mph?

Being towed along the Dead Sea by a tractor.

After about ten minutes our Good Samaritan dropped us off at a place to get some water to cool the engine. Quickly our driver jumped out and ran off with some bottles to fill them up. “Is he filling those with salt water?” The questions lingered a while after Professor Lee had inquired. “I hope not,” I replied.

I was desperately hoping that this trip would not end in the explosion of our beautiful BMW. We had decided to stay in the car to avoid creating any more trouble than had already become. Again we battled the ruthless flies. We all laughed as Professor Lee started what seemed like a tribal dance with his Palestinian scarf. The key to keep the flies in the air and off your body was movement. After a while, our driver came back to our rescue. Pouring the water into the radiator, we all secretly crossed our fingers in hope for fresh water. As long as we all made it to Israel, everything was going to be good.

It was time for our final act of heroism. Although the water worked to cool the engine off. The dry Jordanian desert was not going to give up without a fight. Skillfully, our driver took on the obstacle. As our temperature gauge continually rose, our driver would speed up to 120 km/h and then turn off the engine to give it a cooling rest. I wish I could have helped but my limited…non-existent knowledge of cars was a serious gap in my ability to fight off this heat.

It was only a matter of time. We again came to a stop, only thirty minutes outside of Israel. We were out of water and this thirty minute gap seemed like an eternity. Trudging out of the car to find some shade, we pulled out some food to keep us sane. Although our last act of heroism ended, the true hero came slowly around the corner. Through all of our break downs, the slug of a bus was now right behind — a savior!  With arms outstretched I welcomed my friends. It was time to rejoin. I grabbed my things and hopped onto the bus ready for another adventure.

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