In the Shadow of the Golan Heights

There’s a Palestine sunbird flitting about amongst the branches below, a dusky little thing with an emerald sheen on each shoulder. What difference does it make to her that there’s a tall iron fence all the way along the length of the cliff on the opposite bank? One little flutter of her tiny wings and she’s over. It seems a little ridiculous that a bird no bigger than my thumb can do things a human can’t.

I’ve found a shaded spot for myself in a makeshift bathhouse on the south side of the River Jordan, just a few miles to the north of Umm Qays, and closer still to Israel itself. The Golan Heights tower high above me, shining a brilliant gold in the midday sun. Down below is an offshoot of the Jordan, rushing westwards to its mother before the Sea of Galilee. A night heron flapped lazily past a little while back, and there’s a couple of geese paddling about downstream. The bulbuls aren’t exactly making themselves inconspicuous and all the while the hardy little sunbird is keeping herself busy hurrying to and from a crevice in the cliff. I guess she has a nest in there somewhere.

The others are frolicking about in one of the swimming pools under the lazy eye of the locals. I just had to get away. It’s so quiet here. Who’d have thought that I’m looking at a former war zone, just a few decades back? Legend tells that this is supposedly the place where Jesus drove the Gadarene swine into the river, but the landscape looks decidedly more Ethiopian than one of those colour drawings of Israel from an illustrated Bible. There’s even a laughing dove calling from a fig tree down in the valley. Ho-woo-hoo-hoo. A little slice of Africa in the Middle East. This is my idea of money well spent. If only there were places this idyllic nearer Amman.

And I’m now even more hungry for Israel; I’ve spent two days looking at its green hills and cool lakes from the dry Jordanian side. It’s enough to drive a man mad. Now more than ever I begin to understand why this place has seen so much conflict. Who would not fight to hold on to a home in a land like this, Arab or Hebrew? If there is a heaven-born hand guiding us all, let it lead me to Israel, just once, VIATOR or no VIATOR. I feel a strange pull to the place like never before, as though I have wanted nothing more my whole life. This, surely, is the stuff that wars are born from. Wars and jaded dreams.

The wind’s picking up a little. I expect we’ll be leaving for Jerash soon. Another sunset in an idyllic setting, and still holding true to a promise I made three years ago. I’ll paint this valley onto the backs of my eyes to keep me going over the next five days.

A flash of brilliant purple and the sunbird’s back. It’s the male this time. He clings to a vine hanging over the roof and looks my way before flitting off in the direction of the nest. If there are moments like this to wait for at the end of every week, I have strength enough to last out here. BB x

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