Margaret got her wish and we went to see Bethlehem. Here is her version of events:
“Jesus’ cribby. It’s not a cribby, it’s a star. That’s OK because Jesus isn’t a baby anymore. He is in heaven.” Not bad for 3 years, 3 weeks.
This kind of family outing is getting easier, though there are still many freak outs (and only some of them are the kids’). Terence figured out that we could flag down Arab bus 21 on Hebron Road instead of going north to Damascus Gate then south to Bethlehem. This cut the trip time in half, only we accidentally ended up on bus 24, which terminates at the checkpoint. This gave us the interesting experience of walking through the checkpoint to a huge bank of cab drivers, jousting for business. (This is the one “hard sell” situation we have faced since being here).
Most people in the US don’t seem to know that Bethlehem is in the West Bank. Before you get anywhere near Manger Square, you deal with West Bank visuals, like Jewish settlements (if it’s big, blocky and on a hilltop, it’s a settlement) and the Separation Wall:
Our taxi driver said that tourism is way down because of the wall and uncertainty over the outcome of Palestine’s UN bid (next week). That may be true for independent travelers (we saw few) but oh, boy were the tour groups out in force. I had a touch of that smug “we not just touring, we actually live here!” reaction (though of course we don’t really).
The Church of the Nativity is not an organized place. We waited in a long, long line of tour groups to see the grotto where Jesus supposedly was born. We gave the kids plenty of “outs” to bail, but they were determined to see the spot. Eventually we were rescued from the line by a PA police officer, and allowed to go the back route down to the grotto.
And much to my surprise, when we got there it really did feel holy. For me, holiness comes from watching the (more devout) worshippers — people from all over the world, all colors and styles, going to huge effort to pay homage to this spot. But it was also really cool to see Hannah and Margaret. They stopped whining, sat silent and wide-eyed, and then asked if they could do as the pilgrims do: kneel, kiss and touch the star. I may or may not have offended people by saying “sure!” but it was a beautiful thing to see. (No photos, sadly).
We also went to the far more peaceful Shepherd’s Field, in Beit Sahour, the next town over. A couple of beautiful Biblical events happened here: Ruth gleaned barley from the fields of Boaz, and the Angel of the Lord visited the shepherds to tell of the birth of Christ. Veterans of several St. Andrew’s Sunday School pageants, the girls know this story well and the whole day put them in (relatively) reflective moods: