Tag Archives: Travel

Tel Aviv… and Gaza?

“If you could say, with truth, to your own solitary heart, tonight, ‘I have secured to myself the love and attachment, the gratitude or respect, of no human creature; I have won myself a tender place in no regard; I have done nothing good or serviceable to be remembered by!’ your seventy-eight years would be seventy-eight heavy curses; would they not?” A Tale of Two Cities

Well, there have been some adventures lately! Very unexpectedly, we got an invite to spend the night on the beach in Tel Aviv Thursday night, which of course sounded like so much fun. So we got to the beach around 2am on Friday morning. Thank goodness we had a car and someone to drive us – though we did have trouble getting through Qalandia checkpoint on our way. The soldiers picked two people out of our car and made them go walk through the checkpoint, though they were changing shifts and it would have meant waiting another at least half hour. So we turned around and went through the Hizme checkpoint, a little bit out of the way, but not too shabby. When we finalllllly made it there, it was so much fun!¬†It was so crazy, the beach is just open for everyone to sit, drink, sleep, play in the ocean, all night long! So we swam – it was kind of cold… – and sat and had fun, and even though it felt like it was a bazillion hours that we were there probably because we didn’t sleep at all, we actually left Tel Aviv around 7am to drive to Ashqelon, a city just north of Gaza, where our friend’s brothers live.

Tel Aviv sunrise!

Ashqelon was beautiful – the beach was wonderful, really calm, beautifully clear water. And crazily enough, it was so surreal, you look down the shoreline, maybe a mile – it seemed really close – you can see the buildings of Gaza City. Not unclearly, not just the outline, not hazy, you can actually see the buildings of Gaza City. It’s so unbelievable that we’re hanging out in the ocean and you look to your left and you see the blockaded water stuff, you see military aircraft overhead almost continuously, and you hear the sirens going off every now and then.

We only stayed at the beach for two hours or so, and then went back to our friend’s brothers’ house and they cooked us the most delicious meal, and perfect food for not-having-slept-for-36-hours! Local fish, rice, homemade sauces, olives, bread… absolutely mouth-watering.

We finally got back to Ramallah around 4pm on Friday, after which I had about an hour to get ready for my friend’s going away party, but our cold water was not working! So I couldn’t take a shower without scalding burning water… which meant I took my first ever bucket shower. My roommate was very amused. It’s a very difficult thing to do! Plus, you all know I’m not the most coordinated person in the world, so it was a struggle. But our water is back on now, so hopefully that’ll be the first and last time!

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7 weeks in…

It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy: to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self – never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold, never to have our consciousness rapturously transformed into the vividness of a thought, the ardor of a passion, the energy of an action, but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dim-sighted.” Middlemarch

It’s so crazy to think that we’re halfway through the semester of classes already! Most of the kids in my classes will go back to the States in about 7 weeks. It makes me think of all the things I still want to do and all that I’ve already done in my first 7 weeks here.

A condensed list of what I’ve done/learned:

– How to buy bananas and tomatoes from the market
– How to withdraw money from the Arab Bank
– How to walk down the street without freaking out at every group of young guys
– How to go through a checkpoint
– How to cook (basic) meals without an oven
– How to go to the dentist (you might mock, but this was difficult!)
– How to live without my family and friends nearby (still difficult!)
– Met some fascinating people, Palestinian and foreign alike
– Visited: Jerusalem, Hebron, Haifa, Akka, Nazareth, Jenin, Qalqilya, Masada
– Felt more like Ramallah is home

A short list of what I still want to do/learn:

– How to buy more than bananas and tomatoes at the market (in progress)
– Try to speak more Arabic
– Oh, right, my research
– Make Arabic coffee at home
– Cook more (hopefully with the more ingredients that I learn to buy!)
– Learn the names of all the different flavors of argila so I can try them!
– Meet more fascinating people (or just regular people too, that’s ok)
– Taybeh OKTOBERFEST (October 2-3!!!!!!!!)
– Visit: the Dead Sea, the Golan Heights, Bethlehem, Nablus, Jericho, the Negev, Petra (Jordan), the Sinai (Egypt)

I really like more and more of this country the more time I spend here. Ramallah can sometimes be a bit much, a little bubble of fun and carefree attitudes. It can sometimes feel a little too much like DC. This is no third-world country, I live quite a life of luxury here with a beautiful apartment and these wonderful cafes to escape to. And it’s good to enjoy it and have fun! I probably learn more Arabic when I’m out at a cafe with new friends and I listen to conversations (creepy eavesdropper!), or I learn new words on the streets, than I do in my classrooms. So while I might feel guilty for going out this past weekend (ok… twice), especially when I have two tests in exactly a week, I tell myself that, technically, I was also “studying” Arabic. Enjoying myself and studying don’t have to be mutually exclusive!

Home sweet home

“Madness in great ones must not unwatch’d go.” Hamlet

It feels great to be back in Ramallah after a solid 4 days on the road. And yet, catching up on news makes me as confused as I felt during my time traveling around Israel. First alerted by Nicolas Kristof of the NYT to this blog post written by Martin Peretz, the editor-in-chief of The New Republic, where he states, “But, frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.”

It makes me really sad to read statements like this made by influential, and not even politically right-leaning, Americans. I’ll leave you to your own opinion but I think it’s important to read.

And it ties in with my confusion of traveling to Haifa, Akka, and Nazareth in Israel and finally to Jenin and back to Ramallah in the West Bank. It is such a beautiful country, with so much to offer, and it’s so hard to reconcile the present-day with the ongoing tension and conflict over the land. I saw places over this past weekend that most Palestinians are not allowed to travel and see.

Haifa, view of the Mediterranean Sea from the Baha'i Gardens

But, like everything here, there’s no use in planning, really, because nothing will ever turn out like you plan it! This time off for Eid was perfect for a weekend of traveling… if it hadn’t also been Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year! This meant that all public transportation in Israel, as well as all shops, car rental agencies, and pretty much EVERYTHING was closed. For Thursday-Sunday. As we left Thursday morning for Haifa, we realized that we were somewhat screwed. A rather surreal situation ensued, where we wandered the streets of West Jerusalem trying to find transportation to Haifa, without much luck. We finally found a cab driver who would take all 5 of us (another problem, as most cabs only seat 4 people!) straight to Haifa for a decent price. Our cabbie turned out to be a wonderfully nice Arab, who spoke to us in Arabic most of the time (I was so happy to pretty much understand about 85% of what he said!). He drove us straight to our hostel (thank God, since everything on the streets was closed for Rosh Hashana!).

I’ll give a little recap of our cities:

Haifa: port city on the north coast of Israel, a really big, sprawling city and very cute old neighborhoods. Home to the Baha’i Gardens a staircase of 19 terraces extending all the way up the northern slope of Mount Carmel. The classic golden-dome Shrine of the Bab was covered for renovation, so I think our pictures are more subdued than usual.

Looking up at the Baha'i Gardens from the street below

Haifa also has beaches!! I spent a lot of time at the beach, forgoing other sightseeing activities in Haifa, for some mental rejuvenation. Very much worth it. We went to two beaches, one was much better than the other, but I only took pictures of the first, less good, beach.

Beach!

Other fun things ensued, but really the city was pretty much shut down for Rosh Hashana and then Shabbat. There’s a significant Arab population, though, so we found many cafes on the streets on Thursday night for drinks and nargila. And we were in Haifa for the first night of Eid, which was lots of fireworks and noise on the streets!

Akka: A beautiful, old, Arab city just north of Haifa. We were only there for about 4 hours to meet up for dinner and walk around a bit, but I really loved the charm of this walled-in city. It was also the second night of Eid, so really crowded and busy with everyone in the streets, eating, and laughing, with camels and horses and all parading around or being raced with young little boys bouncing along on top!

Akka!

We had dinner at this fantastic restaurant situated on top of the wall that surrounds the Old City, looking out over the sea. It was glorious to have good, local seafood.

Not the restaurant but looking out over the wall of the Old City

Nazareth: I loved this old city. We stayed at this fantastic hostel (shameless plug for Alatabeh Hotel), went to the Basilica of the Anunciation (where the angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary she was pregnant with Jesus), walked around the Arab market in the Old City, and had a delicious dinner in an old Ottoman mansion. But, the majority of our time was spent at our guesthouse courtyard, drinking and smoking nargila and talking politics with the owner and employee and other guests. Another post will come after I’ve thought through what I’ve heard this weekend, but needless to say it was a fascinating experience.

The guesthouse courtyard!

Statue depicting the angel Gabriel telling Mary she will carry Jesus

Then, the last day of our trip we needed to get to Jenin, in the West Bank. Yikes. Needless to say we walked a lot, were confused a lot, unsure of which bus to take, unsure of how to really get there, as Israeli transportation will not go into the West Bank. It even consisted of an Israeli shop owner in Afula (yes, we had to travel to a third Israeli city just to find a cab to take us to the border) telling two of my traveling companions that, “You will get shot in Jenin! They will kill you!” Uhh, I feel more uncomfortable walking around Afula, which is a big bus depot city, with a billion Israeli teenage soldiers and their guns, than I would ever feel in Jenin from the Palestinians.

Jenin: Needless to say we made it, though the biggest trouble I’ve ever had at a a checkpoint to cross back into the West Bank, including about 30 minutes without our passports after the Israeli authorities took them. Jenin is the third-largest Palestinian city in the West Bank. It’s interesting to begin to comprehend the differences in the West Bank cities. Ramallah is such a bubble. You can see the more hardcore spirit in the northern West Bank. It’s hard to describe. Jenin is known to Palestinians as “the martyr’s capital.” We walked through the Jenin refugee camp, which has about 13,000 residents.

A quick side note on refugee camps. I know most people back home think of Haitian or Sudanese refugee camps when I say that. The term here is political. These official UN-refugee camps look almost like the rest of Jenin – concrete buildings, schools, streets, etc. But, Palestinians continue to call them refugee camps because it connotes a need to return the residents to their rightful homes. Most of the residents are descendants of Palestinian refugees from ’48 (the 1948 Arab-Israeli War), mostly from Haifa.

Jenin - much greener than Ramallah, though not as green as before, according to our friend who grew up there

Jenin refugee camp

It was a great city, and really nice to be back in the West Bank. For a couple different reasons we ended up coming back to Ramallah last night, which meant sleeping in my own room (pure joy!) and being able to decompress.

Sorry for the long post, and there was so much more that happened, which I’m sure I’ll post about in the coming days. More pictures posted on facebook!

Life

“I didn’t go to the moon, I went much further — for time is the longest distance between two places.” The Glass Menagerie

Today, my dad’s birthday, the wedding of a friend of mine in Charlottesville, has me thinking about the fact that it’s been a week since I’ve arrived in Ramallah. It seems forever ago.

Last night we went out to one of the many outdoor restaurant-cafe-bars here in Ramallah. It’s ridiculous, these places are like little oases in the middle of the big crowded city! There are comfortable tables and chairs, or lounging couches, the girls are dressed much more “Western-style” – tighter jeans, tank tops. Everyone is smoking, either nargila (water pipe) or cigarettes [well, men smoke cigarettes all day long all over the place here!], and drinking, usually Taybeh beer (brewed in a town just a few kilometres north of Ramallah – tastes just like Miller Lite, really…), and eating, and chatting. As much as there are usually a few tables of internationals, there are just as many, if not more, Palestinians there too. And as much as I’ve complained about the heat, when the sun goes down and you’re sitting outside in a little garden of a restaurant, the breeze starts blowing… it’s one of the best feelings in the world. The place we went to last night also has an outdoor pool, which was really just amazing to me to see.

It’s really bizarre (and fun!) to find these restaurants around town. During the day, mainly I think because the younger/more progressive women are all at work, I find women walking around in very traditional dress. Even the guys, though, all wear jeans also, so at least everyone suffers together through the heat. Then at night, it’s a completely different world. But you still don’t see these women walking around in these outfits. For me, having to walk around everywhere, I find it sometimes difficult to walk down the street. I’m never worried about my safety, I’m never worried that something will happen to me (besides getting hit by a car, but that’s a worry anywhere in the world!), but it’s disconcerting to see only groups of young guys hanging around on street corners and staring you down the entire time you’re walking. Maybe in a few weeks, after I’ve had some Arabic classes and had the lay of the land down, I’ll be able to handle it more, but it’s definitely disconcerting. A couple of us were talking about this last week, speculating how these Palestinian women must get to these restaurants at night dressed like they are, since we never see this walking around ourselves, and we came to the conclusion that they all must drive to these locations and park as close as possible. Last night, the place we went to is further away and really only easily accessible by car, and the place was packed, so I think that’s how it happens. Once you’re inside, everything is fine, relaxed, there’s no judgment about how you’re dressed (except perhaps to me, as I’m dressed in the pretty casual, easy to pack/travel/be conservative in clothes that I brought with me…).

Last night was also the last weekend night before Ramadan starts on Wednesday, (which should be interesting to see how it is here in Ramallah!). Ramadan is the month in which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset (including no drinking water!) and then have these huge breaking-fast dinners at sunset called iftar. Things pretty much shut down in the city for the entire month – this is when most internationals take their vacations, most shops/offices/etc have much more limited hours during the day, because they know their employees won’t be functioning at their optimal without any food or drink. So it should be interesting! I’ve heard Cairo is crazy during Ramadan, but I haven’t talked yet to anyone who’s been in Ramallah for it before. Seeing how the nightlife is already, I can only imagine that it’ll be pretty fun when the sun sets!

And happy birthday to my dad!!

Ramallah!

“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive – it’s such an interesting world.” Anne of Green Gables

I am so tired, so I won’t post much today, but I wanted to let everyone know that I made it to Ramallah safely and am in my new apartment now (with fast internet!)! Today’s travels included: a sherut (shared taxi) in Tel Aviv, an Egged bus to Jerusalem (full of teenage Israeli soldiers with AK-47s), a taxi from West to East Jerusalem (to the Arab side), a bus to Ramallah (through the checkpoint), and a hellish walk from the city center to the apartment in blazing heat and two huge suitcases.

The sherut: Tel Aviv was pretty good about having major signs with Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Except for their public transportation which is completely in Hebrew. So these shared taxis, or sheruts, some travel up and down the same bus lines, are a little more expensive than the bus (one flat rate, a couple shekels more than the bus), but hold 13 passengers. I figured it’d be easier to shove my two huge suitcases onto a sherut instead of a bus, plus with fewer passengers to make mad by my lack of Hebrew. Well, that was a great idea, except the hotel concierge only told me that I could pick it up on the street over, but not where along that street… apparently because it picks up anywhere. So I’m walking along, trying to be inconspicuous but probably failing miserably, as it felt like it was already a 100*F, and I’m wearing clothes that I thought would be appropriate for Jerusalem – so pretty conservative. Because it was Tel Aviv, I was wearing a short sleeve t-shirt, but I had a button-down shirt to put on for Jerusalem and Ramallah. I find two older ladies standing on the side of the street under a tree, next to a bus stop, so I figured they must be waiting for a sherut. So I hesitantly ask, “sherut?” which earns me two blank stares. Finally one of them takes pity on me and tells me in English, “sometimes they stop here but you’d be better waiting over there” and points at the bus stop. I say, “to get to the central bus station?” She sort of nods and says “take the 4.” Now I’m confused – take the 4 bus? I wanted the sherut! (Add to this that besides it kind of looking like a minivan, I have NO idea what a sherut looks like) Finally, I see a red/yellow/white minivan with a 4 on the front of it, and one woman in front of me waves her hand to flag it down. It passes by, as does the next one. The woman in front of me starts yelling at the second one that passes, just as another one stops. So I run (well, run as best I can with two suitcases and my huge purse) to get in line after her. The sherut driver curtly nods yes as I ask if he stops at the central bus station. So I get on. I have no idea how much he says it costs, so I just pass forward a 20NIS. (That seems to be my forte – I never know how much they say it is, so I hand over the 20NIS which seems to be a small enough bill that I can get change for and no one gets mad that I’m handing them more than necessary). There’s no rhyme or reason to the sherut stopping – if there are seats, the driver stops to pick up a passenger. If there are no seats, he keeps driving. He stops when someone asks him to. Of course I had no idea where to ask him to stop, and some nice young girl took pity on me and told me where to get off and asked the driver to stop when he needed to.

Then, the Egged: The Egged is Israel’s national public bus transportation system, and also what Israeli soldiers take to and from their weekends off from their posts. This means it’s reliable, cheap, and easy… with lots of really young kids with machine guns. It is disconcerting to say the least. I’m used to, being in DC, security, police, secret service, a decent number of people with weapons, but this is another story. There are no superiors around – these are kids between like 19-23, hanging around the bus station, eating, talking, kissing their significant others, all with an ak-47 slung over their shoulder. When I got on the bus to go to Jerusalem, I would say a little over half the bus were soldiers with guns, placed in front of them, on the seat next to them, wherever. Perfectly nice – one guy helped me put my suitcases in the bus’s luggage compartment – but kind of scary nonetheless.

the bus to Ramallah: I had read in my guidebook that the buses to the northern portion of the West Bank took off across the street from the Jerusalem Hotel. Yes, these are the completely ambiguous directions that I’ve been following the past 2 days. Everything is “oh, just a block from that pharmacy” or “across from the hotel.” So I had my taxi driver (who I picked up after I got off the Egged bus at the depot in West Jerusalem) drop me off at the Jerusalem Hotel, then asked a waiter in the outside restaurant portion of the Jerusalem hotel where the buses to Ramallah were – and he waved across the street and said, “you want number 18.” I’ve felt incompetent all day long, really, so I figured, ok, I can figure this out. Across the street is this huge parking lot, with easily dozens of “buses” which are really just white minivans, holding about 15 passengers (very similar to the sherut in Tel Aviv). There’s no ticket place, though there was a building that said “police” and I debated about going over there to see, but there were these guys just hanging around and I didn’t feel like battling that without some Arabic language prep. So I go over to one of the drivers and ask for the bus to Ramallah and he says “Number 18.” So I wander about the parking lot, lugging these suitcases around, mind you, and sweating like a pig, and find like 10 of these vans that have the number 18. I finally find one that has some people mulling about, and an older guy asks me “ila Ramallah?” and after I nod, he pops the trunk on one of the vans and helps me put my suitcase in. When I enter the “bus” the driver says in Arabic what I think is 19NIS, so I had him a 20 (ha!) and he gives me change. Of course, I have no idea if it’s correct change because I don’t know what all these coins count for, and I also am not positive on my Arabic numbers to know what he said originally. But I take it – it’s still really cheap!

Anyway, I’ll wrap up here, just to say that the bus trip was quick, we weren’t stopped at the Qalandia checkpoint (apparently you’re only stopped on your way back to Jerusalem), but it was creepy to drive through. I sat next to a very nice man from the Old City in Jerusalem, who pointed out Mount Scopus and some other interesting sites on the drive. Then, as I was struggling with my bags on the crowded and not-well-paved sidewalks of Ramallah city center, some very nice guy took pity on me (seems to be a theme) and actually walked with me pulling along one of my suitcases for 15 minutes until I got to the supermarket where I was meeting my new roommate. Which, I am so grateful he did because I had only a vague idea of how to get there and there was no way I could have pulled those along myself, though I would have just called a cab, I suppose.

It’s been a whirlwind of the past 2 days! But I’m here safe and sound! Posted some pictures on facebook, so check it out.

Shalom!

It is vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. – Jane Eyre

I’m in Tel Aviv! After a draining experience at Dulles (thank you United Airlines), and a transfer in Philly, and screaming babies next to me on the flight to Ben Gurion, I am at the hotel. It’s been a whirlwind so far. I haven’t quite gotten my bearings yet, especially not in Tel Aviv, so my descriptions right now might be poor.

I was so surprised, when I arrived in Philly, and walked to the US Airways International terminal, I had about 1.5 hours before boarding began for my flight to Tel Aviv. I walked over to the gate, just to be sure I knew where it was and make sure it was the right gate (thank you, Dad, for teaching us that), and the gate was like any other normal gate, except completely screened off. Like floor-to-ceiling walled off, except for a separate metal detector and bag x-ray thing. There was secondary security to go through just to sit at the gate, separated from the rest of the terminal, just for the flight to Tel Aviv. I was so intrigued! I was trying to imagine what other country (that still flies commercially from the US) would have that type of security at a US airport. And then, what that must feel like to be a citizen of that country – I felt a little special, yes, but also a more heightened sense of danger? I wonder if other airports that have flights to Israel have the same double security standard for that specific gate.

The TSA also were not screening people to go through to sit at the gate until just 30 minutes before boarding, so I sat around to see if I could figure out who else was going to take the flight. It seemed like an interesting mix of Americans and what I think would be dual-citizenship families. The parents would speak fluent (well it sounded fluent to me!) Hebrew and their children would answer in non-accented English. Some Americans traveling alone (not very many), a couple pairs of older women (how I imagine me and booboo traveling when we’re older, two crazy women going to crazy locales), and then a couple families (standard American 2 parents, 2 children). The, well I’ll call them, Israeli families seemed to be traveling in much larger groups – 2 or 3 full families together, maybe the parents are related to each other somehow, or they were just friends traveling together, lots of children all playing together, the parents all working together to keep the kids in line. Once I got on the flight, a guy sitting near me was explaining how he works for HP and travels to Tel Aviv a lot (like 4 times in the past 3 months!), which I thought was interesting and made me wonder how many other people were on the flight for business reasons.

After we landed, and walked through the Ben Gurion airport to get to passport control, it was really very modern, very minimal, very clean. Signs in Hebrew and Arabic, most signs had English as well, or a picture (of luggage for baggage pickup, etc). So it was easy to find the huge lines for passport control. The passport guard I had was curt, but polite enough. She asked me a few questions to get more information on the research I’m doing, and after asking how long I’m staying, I told her 3 months this trip, and she smirked and stamped my passport for a 3-month visit. So I’m in!

I walked outside of the airport to a pretty humid 85*F, which threw me for a loop, considering I’ve been freezing for the past 17 hours (at both airports and on both flights). The taxis were waiting at a dispatch center, like they do at National or Dulles, so I hopped into one, and my driver had no idea where my hotel was. He called his friend and made me talk to his friend in English, then pulled out a GPS (all of this while driving at 120 km/hr, crazy swerving in and out of lanes… it was fun). We circled around Tel Aviv streets for a bit, which gave me some time to look out the window (which was none too clean, thereby making it difficult to really see). But Tel Aviv looks really big and bustling! Skyscrapers, but also really tiny shops on the ground level, I saw a shop for Hungarian blitzes, and then a shop for Scottish wine and spirits. Nothing really seems up-to-date – buildings seem old from the ground level, there’s a decent amount of graffiti on buildings. Most signs have Hebrew and English and Arabic, so it’s decently easy to figure out where you are. Except I never once noticed a street sign.

We did drive by the beach, since my hotel is close. The beach looked PACKED – tons of people there, seemed very European (like I know what a European beach looks like??), but very casual, people walking around in bathing suits, bikinis, etc. The view from my hotel room:

Tel Aviv from my hotel

Tel Aviv from my hotel!

So those are my travels so far. I know I’m missing stuff, so I’ll look through notes that I jotted down in my journal (yayy for friends who gave me journals!!), and post more if I can think of it.

Tomorrow should be interesting… as I attempt to get to the West Bank. Stay tuned, as hopefully I will have an apartment and internet tomorrow night to update everyone!

Miss everyone dearly.

Some background

“Nothing is ever quiet, except for fools.” Cry, the Beloved Country.

I have 9 days left before I leave DC, so I’ll use this time to try to calm the fears of most of my friends who ask me if I’ll get stoned for not wearing a burqa. Part of my goal in writing this blog is to keep my friends informed about “that poli sci stuff” (yes, you know who you are) – so I’ll do my best to post information that’s as objective as possible, or as objective as I can find!

Here are some news articles on where I’m headed:

NY Times on Ramallah

World Factbook on the West Bank

Foreign Policy “The Slow Death of Palestinian Democracy”

The Jerusalem Post “Israel is the world’s most isolated country”

(for boo boo) Haaretz “Environmentalists urge closure of Jordan River baptism site over poor water quality”