Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Moonlight Circle

Today I got up super early and boarded the pilgrim bus to 'Akka (or Akko, or Acre, depending on who's transliterating it). The bus company is called Egged Tours. Sounds lovely, eh.

'Akka used to be a prison city, kind of like Australia was a prison continent, except 'Akka is a lot smaller. You can walk around the old city in less than a day. Actually, if you didn't stop, you'd probably walk all the way around the perimeter in an hour.

Baha'u'llah and his family were incarcerated in this prison for a lot of years, like so many that people died, married, and had kids during that time. The story behind this imprisonment is beyond the scope of this blog, but if you want to know, the internet oracle or myself will tell you upon being questioned.

We went into the city through the Land Gate and made our way to the prison. The entire old city is encircled by a wall, clearly designed to keep people in, not out, and within these walls, there are prison buildings. I'm not sure how the whole system worked exactly, but it was something like that. People could come visit the city, but prisoners couldn't leave, even though they could rent property and stuff. I'll have to brush up on my history for this one.

The prison has been turned into a museum, with the focus almost exclusively on Jewish prisoners during the pre-Israel days of 'Akka. However, one section has been cordoned off for the Baha'is only, with the cell where Baha'u'llah stayed, as well as the place where his 22-year-old son, while reciting his father's writings, fell through a skylight to his death. He was only a year younger than me! And I'm only starting out my life, really. Tragic.

I knew the story, of course, but seeing the actual skylight and the place where he landed, with the original floor at that spot, somehow made it a lot more immediate.

Baha'u'llah's cell was opened for about forty-five minutes for us. It was a lot bigger than I'd imagined. Not that the size of your cage makes much difference when you're a prisoner, plus it was filthy and dark. They've modified the windows by putting in glass, and cleaned up the floor with nice, flat marble. They've also completely or partially removed some of the doors and other barriers, so the overall impression is a lot different from what it was like 143 years ago. Still, it was quite the experience.

When we were finished in the cell and the place where the family was, we could look at some of the other stuff nearby. The courtyard has been excavated in one spot, so you can see a part of the city beneath the city. Apparently, 'Akka was destroyed or covered twice, so there are three layers of city, one built on top of the other. Archeology is cool, and I'd like to go back and learn more about this aspect of this city. It was pretty cool!

I also saw the prison clinic, called "hospital" by the prisoners. It's in the same area as Baha'u'llah's cell, interestingly enough. Also, beneath and a little ways off is the death row and the gallows. A bit morbid, to be sure, but I have a morbid streak, so I found it fascinating. The only prisoners listed as having been executed were a handful of Jewish people with whom I was unfamiliar. Some sort of rebels, "Defenders of Jerusalem" or somesuch. Again, more time, different trip, more learning.

Following the visit to the prison, we went to the House of Abbud, which Baha'u'llah's son 'Abdu'l-Baha rented for the family after a couple of years. They all lived in a cramped three-bedroom apartment for a while, where Baha'u'llah wrote the Kitab-i-Aqdas, which is considered by Baha'is to be the Most Holy Book. It contains the laws that Baha'is must follow.

Eventually, they had the whole house at their disposal, starting when 'Abdu'l-Baha wanted to get married. Abbud, the owner, gave them another room so he and his fiance could wed and have a space for themselves. It's really a mansion, so they would've been much more comfortable, in spite of their continued imprisonment.

When we went into the house at first, a couple of volunteers served us tea and cookies (a Baha'i tradition if ever there was one... which there isn't). It was like being welcomed by Baha'u'llah or 'Abdu'l-Baha. They used to have pilgrims stay at the house when they were there.

The rooms as they are now were furnished by 'Abdu'l-Baha's grandson Shoghi Effendi, called the Guardian, in the mid-twentieth century. It's more like a museum than a holy spot, in most ways, although seeing Baha'u'llah's actual hat in his room was pretty amazing. People said prayers in both of his rooms, the one in the smaller apartment and the one he occupied later on.

I also wandered through his wife's, his daughter's, and his son's room. At any given time, other people would be staying in these rooms as well, and there were a couple rooms that our guide didn't know the purpose of. A lot of pictures and maps were placed on the walls, not all of which had to do with the House of Abbud itself (e.g. a city map of Washington, D.C ca.1950, or photos of the Illinois House of Worship).

Our guide told us that a festival was on in the city, so our buses couldn't reach the house. We had the option of staying behind to look around the city some more, going to Bahji (see previous post), or going back to Haifa. I stayed behind with four other people, Astrid, Glennys from Australia, and a couple from the US whose names I didn't catch.

Was there ever a festival on! It's the last day of Eid, today, the commemoration of Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son (Ishmael in the Islamic version, Isaac in the Christian telling) and how God allowed him to keep him. They seem to celebrate with a lot of horse and donkey rides, as well as the bazaar, which may or may not be there regularly. Bouncy castles and these giant transparent balls floating in water, with kids scampering in them (pictures will follow) seemed to provide fun for the younger crowd, and a lot of different foods and music filled the area.

We became tourists, for the most part, and I took a million pictures, which I will sort through and post tomorrow. We went to the mosque and paid 10 shekels to get in. I wanted to go into the prayer part, but it was only for men and I couldn't figure out where the women's room was. One of the women that was with us seemed really uncomfortable wearing a cloth wrapped around her legs to cover the bare part. I was asked to cover my shoulders as well, so I put on my hoodie, even though I was wearing a tshirt. I guess not enough of my arms were covered.

Astrid and I looked around there a bit. They had a couple graves with no explanation other than names, and a place for ablutions, where men and at least one boy were washing their hands and face. It also looked like some sort of bathhouse rimmed the compound. (Everything has walls around it in Israel that I've seen so far. Just assume that.)

We considered visiting the Turkish baths, where Baha'u'llah and the others used to go, but you had to go off somewhere else to get a ticket, and we had to make sure we got back in time to catch the last pilgrim bus from the House of Abbud. We'd already lost some time eating lunch on the wall looking over the sea. Okay, maybe "lost" isn't exactly the best word.

There were these rocky outcrops in the water near the wall, and some people were standing on them fishing. Fun fact.

We bought some tourist-price candy. I got some sort of white nougat with nuts in it. I've had it before, but I don't know what it's called. He definitely overcharged us. Mine came to 15 shekels. To be fair, it was a big chunk, but that still doesn't seem right.

They had a camel in one booth. It was lying down and you could get your picture taken sitting on it. A lot of the local Arabs were doing exactly that. So much for Israel=desert=camels. They'd probably never seen one before in their lives.

It was all Arabs, probably come from miles around. Some of the hijabs are so pretty. Regardless of what you might think about their symbolic meaning, good or bad, they are definitely a nice stylistic addition to an outfit. And some of the patterns and sparkly beads and colours are gorgeous. Some of the dresses are too.

Men's clothing is boring. Except for in West Africa. But I digress.

We passed by the Sea Gate, by which Baha'u'llah and his family and followers arrived from Haifa. They took a boat to Haifa, but the sea is too shallow across the bay for a large ship, so they sailed across. Apparently, the wind was so weak that it took them about eight hours to make the crossing, even though you can see the other city from the shore.

The Sea Gate is now the entrance to Abu Christo, a seafood restaurant that's apparently pretty good. A bit incongruous if you're trying to build a mental image of what the city used to look like, but that's the reality of change in an anciently inhabited area.

We caught the bus home. On the bus, a nice middle-aged lady from California, though born in Canada, sat beside me. First she called me a Newfie, then she told me I should read Erik Erikson's Childhood and Society because I'm studying anthropology. She said it was about how children develop in "primitive societies". I told her it sounded interesting, but he's a psychologist, not an anthropologist, and anthropology has sort of abandoned the racism of the concept of "primitive".

She responded that it wasn't a psychology book (fair enough), and that he didn't use that word. He called them "pure societies", apparently, which is supposed to be better. It's just as racist, implying not only that the society is simple, but also that our own society is some sort of complicated deviation from these other societies.

Anyway, I didn't argue the point, and we had a grand ol' (mostly one-sided) chat about taking pride in your children's intellect, when it has nothing to do with you. She believes that you can only take pride in helping your children reach their potential, whatever that may be. If you're proud that they're smart, it might mean you would be ashamed if they were less apt. Interesting food for thought.

The sunset was pretty. Smog in all its glory. Pollution always makes the sunset better.

Back at the hotel, Glennys, Astrid, and I headed out for a bite to eat. The guy tried to rip us off, but luckily Astrid was paying attention. She questioned his total and asked to see the menu again, and he had to admit it was wrong. Then he gave me back 3 shekels; I'm still not completely sure why, because the total on mine seemed right to me, although I never did get my salad. Hmm...

In the evening, there was a reception with the members of the International Teaching Center. Joan Lincoln, one of them, greeted us and introduced the institution and its current members. Then we were invited out row by row to meet them individually. While we were waiting, some people started singing, mostly Baha'i songs from my childhood, including "We Are Soldiers" and "I Think You're Wonderful" (except in Persian, with an English chorus). Also classics like "Look at me, Follow me" and "We are Drops".

At this reception, I met a Veterans for Peace chapter president who's been camping out at Occupy Nashville and Occupy Washington. He's a social worker (maybe now retired, not sure) who mostly focused on homeless people, so we talked about Maslow's hierarchy of needs and how the movement changed the lives of the homeless. According to him, while they were in the camps, a lot of them - not all - stopped drinking and doing drugs, and some even became leaders in organizing security, hygiene, food, and other elements of the occupation.

It's amazing what community and respect can do for a person.

He gave me his card and I gave him mine. I'll definitely be in touch with him. Too bad I can't interview him for my thesis! Maybe for my post-graduation project. It's a secret.

We had tea and cookies, surprise, surprise, and I chatted with a bunch of other Canadians. I didn't mean to; it just kind of turned out that way at the table. One guy went to the Archives Building today, so he was telling us a bit about that. You can see pictures of the Bab and Baha'u'llah (the only place where you can, in order to avoid a cult of personality or idol worship), as well as artifacts from the early days of the Faith. One of them is a sword and another is a cannonball. Apparently.

I'm going tomorrow morning, and I'm very excited. It's definitely one of the highlights of the pilgrimage, for me.

I walked back to the hotel with Astrid and Glennys. I had a chat with Joe, my New Zealand friend. He and his brother and father are leaving tomorrow, in all likelihood, so we exchanged contact info. They seem like very interesting people, and if I ever make it out to New Zealand, which I hope to, I'll definitely look them up. You always meet so many people when you travel, and most of them you never see again, no matter what your intentions are. It's too bad, in some ways, but from another perspective, that's one of the beauties of travel. Twenty-four hour friends and brief moments of contact. It's a different dimension of human interaction.

I sat outside with Eric and Julie (remember them? from group L?) for a bit. Eric and I did a test to determine our "psychic type" and we both came up as mental psychics. Julie said she was an emotional psychic, as were two others she knows. She wondered if it was a generational thing, since Eric and I are about the same age, and the three of them are as well. That would be an interesting thing to explore, to see how the zeitgeist of the time influences your psychic type... or well, maybe not. But how it influences your way of thinking and your attitudes.

Now it's time for bed. I used real shampoo instead of soap in my hair tonight, so I may have less of a mat in the morning. I need to get up to hike up the mountain to the archives. If the terraces are open, I might go that way. But I also might just take the bus. That's a lot more likely, since I don't want to be late! On the other hand, I have no idea when the bus goes either... Hmmm... I'll have to check my schedule to see when the terraces open up in the morning. I think it's nine.

Anyway, I'll figure it out, and I'll let you know tomorrow.

I've been adopted by a little girl named Malena who speaks very little English. She's from Greenland and her parents told me they speak Greenlandic, which is about seven syllables long in Greenlandic. She's the only kid in our group. You'll see her in the pictures if you check them out on Facebook. After I put them up tomorrow.

I haven't gotten enough hours of sleep since this thing started, but I guess that's not the point. Besides, Friday is a free day except for the evening presentation. I might go to the Baha'i cemetery here in Haifa, as well as some of the museums. Also of course, the terraces. Gotta walk them all the way up and/or down at least once, and that seems like a good day to do it.

The moon did something cool tonight. It's almost full, in case you live in Newfoundland and haven't seen it since August. The sky is very clear here, and the moon cast a ring of light around and away from itself. It's not easy to describe, but it was basically a very large circle on of luminescence in the night sky, with the moon at its center, and a bright star or planet slightly off from the moon. I've never seen that before, but Eric said he has. It's caused by refraction and something. That was the gist of his explanation.

Good night!

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