I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself: How
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a stone?
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?Darwish, Mahmoud. “In Jerusalem.” Translated by Fady Joudah, The Butterfly’s Burden, Copper Canyon Press, 2008.
Ma’a salama is a way of saying goodbye in Arabic. It literally means “with peace.” As my time in Jordan draws to a close, I would like to end with peace.
It’s no secret that the Levant region has seen a lot of conflict. I am writing this on the May 15th, which is the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, or catastrophe: the day when the state of Israel declared independence and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were violently expelled from their homeland. Seventy-five years later, the conflict is ongoing, and no end to the violence is in sight.
Living in Jordan, the Palestinian issue is impossible to avoid. A majority of Jordan’s population is of Palestinian descent, and the West Bank is just a few hours away. I looked over the border into Palestine and Israel several times this semester. What made this especially unsettling was that the border often coincided with sites of religious significance: at the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized; in Um Quais, where Jesus cast demons into a herd of pigs and we could see into Syria, Israel, and the West Bank; at the Red Sea, which God parted for the children of Israel.
At the beginning of the semester, before our first excursion to the Jordan River baptism site, I read the story of Elijah and Elisha in 2 Kings. It talks about Elisha parting the water of the Jordan River:
He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.2 Kings 2:14, New International Version
“Where now is the God of Elijah?” I’ve found myself asking this question a lot this semester. The land on the East and West banks of the Jordan River is revered in the three Abrahamic religions. Is God still present in this land, thousands of years after the events of the Torah, the Bible, and the Quran? God parted the water of the Jordan River for Elisha; will God respond when the water of the Jordan dries up? When water becomes yet another casualty of the Arab-Israeli conflict? Does God still care about injustice and fight on behalf of the oppressed?
I’m not leaving Jordan with any answers, just a deep love and respect for this little country bearing the brunt of so much conflict.
And last but not least, Salaam.Darwish, Mahmoud. “To a Young Poet.” Translated by Fady Joudah, Poetry, March 2010.