We've been having incredible weather, but it's not great for the people of Israel. It's been sunny with almost completely blue skies since I got here. Too bad that means it's a drought and the country's running out of water.
Today was the celebration of the Birth of Baha'u'llah. Normally, the Baha'i World Center commemorates Holy Days according to the lunar calendar, so it would not have been today. But for some reason, this year is special, so we ended up celebrating it during our pilgrimage, which is good, because it was one of the reasons I picked these dates. Someone said something about the Ascension of 'Abdu'l-Baha and the Birth of Baha'u'llah falling on the same day in the lunar calendar, so they wanted to be able to keep the two days separate.
By the way, I don't understand the lunar calendar. I'm just glad it worked out.
In the morning, my Port Inn-mates (see what I did there?) planned to take a sherut out to the Junayn Gardens, which I'd never even heard of before this trip. Apparently, that's where Baha'u'llah and his family used to go for picnics and meetings with officials and stuff. Also, and I'm not sure this is correct, I think this is the place where 'Abdu'l-Baha took the officials of 'Akka to negotiate Baha'u'llah's release from the prison city.
The Junayn Gardens were completely destroyed at some point, so they only opened them up to the pilgrims this year. Since we're the second group of pilgrims for this year, we're also only the second group of pilgrims to set foot in these gardens. So that's kinda cool. Like, totally.
It also means they are very young. All the plants are small and there's a lot of sand in between. It still looks very desertic, not quite like a garden. In some of the old photos, you can see big trees and streams, so I was a little disappointed. It was still interesting to go there though.
Erik (with a "k", as I learned today) and I walked around outside the gardens a bit, just up and down the streets. It looks like a new subdivision, with construction all around. I took some pictures, which you can see on Facebook, with the rest of my photos.
I saw a synagogue, only the second one since I got to Israel. However, I'm not sure synagogues have specific architectural features, so they may not always be recognizable to people who can't read. Like me. For all I know, I've seen hundreds of synagogues.
Our sherut came back at twelve to take us to Bahji, where the Holy Day celebration was going to be. It didn't start until two, officially, but tea and cookies were served outdoors at around twelve thirty. At that time, I was somewhere in the gardens around the Mansion of Bahji, or possibly behind the original Pilgrim House. I didn't realize last time how extensive these gardens are!
I caught the tail end of the refreshments, though all the cake was gone. They told me it was really good too...
Then we went to take our seats in the "Most Holy Precincts", the area of the garden where the Shrine is. I heard that about a thousand people attended, including all the staff, pilgrims, and visiting Baha'is. Most of the pilgrims are over thirty, so it was a different vibe with all the youth volunteers around. Also, they all knew each other well, whereas the pilgrims obviously don't have the same kind of long-term relationships with one another, for the most part.
Prayers were read and chanted in English, Farsi, and Arabic. One guy who chanted had a beautiful voice. I could've listened to him all day. Unfortunately, I was exhausted and nearly fell asleep during the hour-long prayers. I was sitting next to my Veterans for Peace friend, so I hope he didn't notice. I felt bad, but I really couldn't help it; the atmosphere was so relaxing.
It was supposed to rain, but didn't. We did see a thunderhead somewhere over Galillee, so I guess it rained there. That's good, because apparently that's where they're hit the hardest with this drought.
After prayers, a thousand people circumambulated the shrine. That was a site to see. I can't even describe it, and my pictures don't capture the silent movement of that many people. People were heading back to the Visitors Center, while others hadn't even started their circumambulation yet. So many people in one spot.
And a lot of them were crying. There's been a lot of that on this pilgrimage. Emotions run high and everyone's tired. A lot of the holy places have tissues outside them to bring in with you.
I went back to the Mansion of Bahji, but it was starting to fill up with people. I went into Baha'u'llah's room, the one with his taj and shoes, and also an original oil lamp from when he lived there. (Everything else was taken away by the side of the family that didn't follow him.)
I also went into the Shrine for a bit, but it was overcrowded, so I didn't stay long. I hopped on one of the buses to take us back in to Haifa, and it filled up completely. Some guy, possibly from the Universal House of Justice, or maybe the custodian of Bahji, got on and told the staff members that the buses were for pilgrims and they needed to get off if pilgrims wanted the seats. I'm pretty sure it filled up with pilgrims.
A woman from Uzbekistan sat beside me, and we had a grand ol' chat on the way back. She hardly spoke any English, but it was more than my Russian. Still, we managed to talk about our families and she told me that her husband really doesn't like that she's Baha'i. I'm not sure, but she seemed to be saying that he fights with her about it; I don't know if she meant physically or verbally.
She got carsick on the way back, though luckily not enough to throw up. She pulled out a piece of orange peel and held it to her nose on the way back, because she was feeling ill because of the stale air on the bus. I can relate, and this is the first time in my life that I've connected my strong sense of smell to my proneness to carsickness.
When we got back into town, I asked the driver to let me off near the Port Inn, which he did, though not where they usually drop us off. I walked back to the hostel, and then Erik and Jordan, this guy from New Zealand, invited me to go hang out with them. We went back to the same place where I went with Abby a few days ago, where we ended up never paying.
You meet a lot of interesting people when you travel. Jordan says he's "a disciple of Jesus" and he's trying to learn as much as he can about him. He's travelling around to all the Christian lands now, but he doesn't belong to a church. It's more of a personal thing. He listens to Bob Marley and seems to live a compatible lifestyle. And yes, we discussed whether Jesus would have listened to Bob Marley.
Back home at the hostel, I went to the common room to write this blog. A guy sitting there greeted me, and we started talking. He's the first actual Israeli that I've had a chat with. The receptionists and cab drivers et al. don't count.
He's from Tel Aviv and teaches computer stuff to office workers around the area. His name is Itzrat. We talked about what I was doing here, and Glennys and Astrid joined us. We told him about the various gardens around, and he was surprised because he thought there were only two. I said he's going to think that all Baha'is do is make and visit gardens.
That's probably what you think to, judging by the activities I've described in this blog.
We also talked about the various places we've each been to. Quite a few between us all. Itzrat had only been to Los Angeles and New York, other than places in Israel, but Astrid and Glennys have been all over. I guess when you're a traveler and you meet other travelers, they will have been around too, because they're travelers. That was a convoluted sentence.
Time for bed now, methinks. Full day again tomorrow. This trip is wearing me out. I'm also dismayed because my camera battery seems to have completely given up the ghost. I may not be able to take any more pictures. I'm hoping it'll magically fix itself. Sometimes that happens.
I may be able to use my phone, as one of my friends suggested, but I think it charges me roaming fees whenever it's on, even if it's not in use. So I don't really want to risk that.
Sigh. Well, other people have cameras, so I can get some shots if I really need to, I s'pose.