Since absolutely nothing happened in entire the Kingdom today, I thought I’d share with you the reason I am in Jordan and not, as was originally intended, in Palestine. I have skipped the parts where I was interrogated for seven hours at the airport, and jumped straight to the fun stuff:
Scribbled in notebook on November 2nd, 2008: Once in the cell, I take a deep breath – and regret it immediately, detecting that there is a gut-wrenching smell coming from the fuzzy, gray quilts lying on top of the bunk beds. The cell is about 10 square meters (feels like 2 square meters and shrinking) and my quick round-tour renders a bathroom (well, a toilet with crushed, decomposing bugs and a floater); a shower with three soaps, oddly enough, pressed stuck to the tiling neck high. There’s one chair next to a small wooden table. Very Spartan, as one might expect. Those are my surroundings for the night.
After I have gotten my new bearings, I go to the lone window, a small, steal barred opening facing a road, noise from airplanes, and a windless and warm November night. I don’t look at the stars, though – I smile to myself as I consciously don’t look to the stars pondering freedom and a quick escape. In the movies, the guy (or the occasional woman) who looks up towards the stars from a prison window, is without exception the hero. Perhaps he has shot the local war lord in a bar brawl and now the town sheriff wants to set an example of framing the recently arrived loner. Big mistake. Always a capital mistake that serves as an endless pit of nourishment for the lone ranger. This loner, especially in a cowboy movie, always has the quickest gun in the final scene, always the most trustworthy horse that in the end rides off with him on its back towards the horizon, to the desert – to the Wild West.
I am not, however, a lone gun man. I am rather innocent anthropologist from the cold north who tried to embark on his field work. In jail we all ended up anyhow. I tell myself that it is only the beginning though. My Wild West is the Middle East (sorry for the pun), and my field has just been altered, since I find myself still in this cell, alone. And even though some distant noise creeps in through the window, I feel like the last man on earth. I drag myself to the bed, lie down and start reading the scribbling on the wall. Here is a selection of what it read:
“I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me”
(Philipias 4:13 [?])
“GOD’S TIME IS THE BEST”
“If Jesus says yes, who can say no”
And perhaps the most disturbing:
“I am covered with the blood of Jesus Christ”
At the same time as I am lying in the bunk bed reading this, my bones shiver when my eye fix on a murky, red stain on the steel railing of the bed over me. Perhaps the guy really tried to commit suicide here. Right here – in this bed. Who knows. All I know is that my addition to the wall scribbling was more profane: “Free Palestine”.
Enter Antawn. The cell door opens and led inside by a police officer, is Antawn, a black man with rugged clothes. At the time, I am lying down on one of the filthy bunk beds trying to sleep. He sits down on one of the other beds. Our greetings are almost undistinguishable head nods. I ask him (I always wanted to ask somebody this): “So what are you in for?”
“I don’t really know,” he says “Maybe ‘cause it ain’t allowed to spread the word of Gawd [God] in this country. Maybe ‘cause they don’t agree with the teachings of our lord Jesus.” Even as the first syllables left his mouth, I knew he was American. He had a poor man’s dialect. And after a few moments of silence where both of us secretly study each other, he asks me what I am doing here. I tell him the brief version. And I ask him where he is from and all other vital questions we ask people to make a good impression pretending we care. He was from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (although, when I mentioned the Three Mile Island nuclear accident of 1979, he looked like he wasn’t sure of what I was talking about); 51-years old, unmarried. The reason he constantly kept mentioning Jesus, is explained by the following story: He had just served four years out of a five-year prison sentence for armed robbery, when he responded to the calling of Jesus, mediated by an older inmate. It changed his life – drastically. He swore off drugs, drinking and cigarettes –all bad things, he told me. Only the voice of God through his son Jesus counted nowadays, and ever since he got out of prison, he had been traveling throughout the United States, and then crossed the ocean – to Europe and Africa. His choice of proselytism is rather odd: he recites the King James Bible onto old tape cassettes. Now, since the holy book is a fairly large piece of text, the whole procedure is captured by no less than forty-eight tapes. And to the present destination, Israel, he had brought two filled suitcases, totaling six volumes (almost 300 tapes). His plan with this myriad of tapes, was to strategically place them, one by one, in different public locations, such as phone booths, or perhaps half-tucked away in the backseat of a bus. A public bathroom, right inside the metal toilet paper holder, was his favorite spot, he said. In such a place, people don’t expect to find anything, he continued. They are alone. They have the time to think, to ponder their existence, or whatever they do in there. They are vulnerable. Jesus can reach them there.
“The thing is”, he concluded, now sitting on the edge of the bed: “you never know when Jesus will talk to you. First time he spoke to me, I waddn’t ready to listen. Now I am.”
Here I am, in an Israeli airport jail, getting my ears filled with messianic messages by a fellow cellmate. He was just about to describe how Jesus would punish all the sinners of the Day of Judgment, when the iron door is opened, and a guard tells us to get our stuffs: we are being moved to another cell, a sleeping cell. In this dark 5 times 5 meters room, bunk beds are piled against the walls. I pick one of the few empty ones, and lay down. Except for some snoring, there is utter silence.
Two hours later – I hadn’t been able to sleep – the door is opened and my name is called. A plane is waiting for me to leave. After driving me to the plane, they literally put me on it, and exchange courteous greetings with the pilot. The plane takes off at 5.30 am, November 3rd 2008: I had just spent 14 unofficial hours in Israel.