I'm going to talk about the highlights of today, instead of giving you a play-by-play account, like yesterday. I can hear the cheering already.
This morning we took the Carmelit subway up to
the Pilgrim Reception Centre (PRC). We were a little late, but we had
to meet our guides before we left on the bus to Akka, so it was all
good. By we, I mean Astrid from Ireland, and Julie and her nephew Eric
from the US. They're in a different group from me and Astrid, so we
split up and took different buses, but we went to the same place, the
Shrine of Baha'u'llah in Bahji.
After "refreshments" at
the Bahji Visitors Centre, which consisted of cookies and coffee,
juice, or tea, we filed into the shrine, taking off our shoes before
going in, as is customary. The ground is covered in lush Persian
carpets, as are the two shrines I visited yesterday (and again this
evening). We managed to get the whole group inside, which is unusual.
Usually there are three groups, so we circumambulate as a group and then
go in as individuals, but for some reason, we were only two groups. So
that was cool.
One of the guides (not ours) chanted the
Tablet of Visitation, a special prayer read at the Shrine. He was
really good! And this is coming from someone who's heard a lot of
Persian chanting in her life. Trust me.
people sat or stood in silent prayer, with some going into the side
rooms behind curtains to do this privately. I sat on the carpet. People
took turns approaching the actual door where you could see the inner
sanctum, for lack of a better term, where Baha'u'llah is actually
buried. It contains some decorative and commemorative items, like
candles and flowers. The flowers and other plants in the whole shrine
gave off a very attractive scent, though I still think the Shrine of
Abdu'l-Baha smells the best. It's amazing. Too bad blogs and photos
don't capture smell.
I learned that you shouldn't drink
tea before going into a shrine, so I had to leave relatively soon to
empty my bladder. But I went back afterward. I had to fight my way
through a throng of teenagers doing a tour of the surrounding gardens.
All the girls' hair was cut exactly the same way, and the guys matched
pretty well too. Now I know what the fashion is here. I'll need to grow
mine longer and cut the bottom in a sort of uneven curve.
interesting being able to go to places at times when others are not
allowed, just by showing my nametag. I also really understand why
religious groups keep visitors out of some areas permanently. There's a
certain lack of respect apparent in most tourists. Nothing against them,
but it's clear that they have come to see, not to respect. Even if you
don't believe in something, you should give the people who do the space
to immerse themselves in their experience. Or so I think.
didn't see much of Akka this time around, but we're going back three
more times to visit some of the other Baha'i sites. For those of you who
don't know, Baha'u'llah (the Founder of the Baha'i Faith) was
imprisoned in that city for years with his family and some of his
followers. We're going to see the restored prison cell where he was, as
well as a few other sites. I'll fill you in when I've actually been
Around one o'clock, we returned to Haifa and had lunch. I met a woman who is friends with an anthropologist and author, Joseph Sheppard. He wrote The Island of the Same Name, which is a pretty cool book if you're into sci-fi, culture, humanity, linguistics, anthropology, archeology, or Indiana Jones.
After lunch, I thought I'd take a power nap in the "resting room"
in the PRC's annex building. At 3:15, I was supposed to be up at the
International Teaching Centre, up the mountain a short distance from the
PRC through the Monument Gardens (lots of gardens around here). I
startled myself awake, surprised by the fact that I'd actually fallen
asleep. My headache was gone, which was a blessing, but when I went
upstairs, I saw that it wa 3:45. Half an hour late. To meet the members
of the Universal House of Justice, the international administrative body
for the Baha'is.
In a panic, I rushed up the mountain, through the Monument
Garden. It was a bit weird to rush past the monuments themselves, since I
haven't given them a proper look yet, but I was horrified at being so
late. I wondered if they would even let me in, but tried to calm myself
down by assuring myself that these were the Baha'is, not some sort of
tour group. They are much more human than some humans about these
When I got to the steps of the Seat of the House of Justice,
which looks a little like the Parthenon, a woman was sitting outside
with a young child. I asked her if she thought I could still go in, and
she smiled. "Oh yes. They should be starting in another ten minutes."
I was kind of glad I didn't get there on time. Forty minutes is a pretty long wait.
Six of the members came in and everyone stood up for them, which I
found interesting. I understand it's a sign of respect, but in the
Baha'i Faith, the elected individuals have no power; it's only when they
act as the institution, i.e. together, that they exercise any
authority. I suppose they were technically acting as the House, but it
was sort of murky. They said a prayer and welcomed us, and then came
down from the stage and individually greeted us all.
Meanwhile, staff members sped our chairs away so that the members
of the House would have room to file between us. They were pretty
expedient about it and the chairs disappeared in no time. I was quite
Supper consisted of shawarma and a pastry for desert. I met a
lady who is here with a helper because last year she was unable to
complete her pilgrimage. She's a bit older, and apparently on the second
day (today), at the meeting of the UHJ, she tripped over one of the
column bases and broke her knee and shoulder. She was in the hospital
here in Israel for a week, before Blue Cross flew her home to Canada,
where she spent another two months in the hospital there. Two months. So
she asked if she could finish her pilgrimage with a helper, and once
the letter was received from her doctor, they invited her back.
No wonder they make us all buy health insurance now.
I met a guy, Sebastien, who was one of the key organizers of the
Youth Congress I went to in Quebec in 2001. He was actually the one who
invited me and the others to supper at this shawarma and falafel place
higher up Mount Carmel. Everyone except him, Astrid, and me took a taxi
back down; we braved the bus and made it down very quickly. Sebastien
and I went to the Shrine of the Bab again, while Astrid went for a nap
at the PRC.
Then there was a presentation at the International Teaching
Centre by a member of the same. Several people fell asleep during it,
mostly from heat and a long day, but it was still amusing.
Afterwards, I wanted to check out this open mic down the road
from the hostel. I chatted with Joe and Dino (Dean), two brothers from
New Zealand who brought their 70-something dad here because it's been a
dream of his to visit Israel. He suffered three bouts of cancer, one
that led to the removal of his eye, so Joe was happy to see him excited
about being here. I didn't meet him, but hopefully tomorrow.
They were brought up in a Christian sect/denomination (Joe called
it a sect) called Christadelphia. All I know is that it's very strict
and doesn't allow its members to play sports, but I'd love to learn
more. It's intriguing. There's so many versions of Christianity out
We didn't make it to the open mic because a rock cover band was playing right on the street. We went down to check them out.
They were pretty cool. One band member, originally from the US in a previous life but now from Israel, told us they played there every Tuesday, and have been for seven years. They pass the hat during the show to get paid. Not a bad gig.
Joe and I talked politics, economics, and religion (obviously), while the Swiss girl who came with us and whose name I didn't get talked to Dino about drunk people. And banks. Or something.
I also learned the correct way to nail together corrugated metal sheets to make a roof, and what layers of stuff go underneath it. I now have one useful piece of knowledge.
On that note, I have to get up at 6:30 tomorrow (gack-aahh-thud) to go back to Bahji. At least they're picking us up close to the hotel this time. And Bahji is really nice. Like, really nice. Like, totally.