National Geographic : 2014 Dec
Out of Eden walk, part three 105 small piece can bring a whole section together.” Chlouveraki, a tenacious archaeological con- servator, has salvaged antiquities all over the Mid- dle East. There is so much history here—so much that needs to be preserved, documented, rescued. Chlouveraki is particularly fond of the neighbor- ing country of Syria. She has many friends in the old Syrian city of Hamah, a major cultural hub. She worries about them—about their safety. Much of that city has been destroyed by the Assad dictatorship in Syria’s brutal civil war. She doubts she will ever see Hamah again. Yet she is wrong. Because Hamah is all around her. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians shelter beneath UN canvas in Jordan. In the irrigated fields of As Safi, these refugees survive hand to mouth, picking tomatoes for $11 a day. We have been staying with them, Hamoudi and I, almost every night. It is remarkable. All are from Hamah. An entire metropolis has taken to its heels, walked away from apocalypse, spilled across borders, over mountain passes, to scat- ter in the Jordan Valley. The women bring out delicate tea sets saved from blown-up houses. They pin fine Syrian embroideries, called sarma, inside their dusty tents as reminders of home. Their faces, as they remember their dead, become sadly luminous. Such is the deeper mosaic of the Levant. Here, long ago, we invented cities. Here we scat- ter again from war, like broken tesserae, back into nomadism. The Holy Land is coveted. It is profoundly walled. Few outsiders realize to what extent. In Amman, at the banks of the Jordan River between Jordan and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, people gather for Epiphany. This is a New Year’s rite for Orthodox Christian believers. The faithful come to the sacred stream to sing hymns, to be rebaptized. They also exchange shouted greetings across five yards of sliding brown wa- ter: “How is Auntie?” “Hold up the baby!” And “Tell Mariam we will call her tonight!” These are Christian Arab families divided by the 1967 war between Israel and its Arab neigh- bors. A striped metal pole, almost within arm’s reach of each shoreline, juts mid-current above the water, delineating the border. Israeli soldiers in olive fatigues and Jordanian police in navy blue stand ready to halt anyone who might dare wade across it. A few days later I ford the Jordan River on a bus: Foot travel across Allenby Bridge checkpoint is strictly prohibited. “Checkpoints. Checkpoints. Checkpoints,” Bassam Almohor tells me. “We have checkpoints in our minds. We wouldn’t even know what to do with free movement.” Prayers fill the air along the 42-yard length of the men’s section of the Western Wall, in the prayer plaza in Jerusalem, the holiest site in Judaism. The stones are all that’s left of the Second Jewish Temple, destroyed by the Romans in A.D . 70.