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Monday 21 October: ARAB TIME … AND TIME TO GO

Our Sabbatical Group at NETS

I am woken up at 6.30 a.m. by Salim knocking on the doors of a new group that arrived to stay last night. The leader of this group insisted that everyone have a wake up call at 6.30 a.m. and since there are no phones in our rooms Salim has to literally go and knock on about 25 doors. Why can’t these new people set their alarms like the rest of us? Why wasn’t the leader of this new group more considerate of Salim and his staff who work so hard as it is?

I was talking to some members of this new group last night. One of them pointed to the clock. It said 6.50 p.m. although the actual time was 10.00 p.m. ‘Oh! That’s Arab time!’ I said, ‘You will get used to it once you have been here for a bit!?’ As we are sitting down to our own breakfast, about 8.00 a.m. the leader of the new group rushes in. Their Arab driver is siting in the corner, enjoying his breakfast and a second cup of coffee. ‘Come along! Come along!’ says the officious leader to the Arab driver. ‘Why are you still here? We are all on the bus waiting for you!’ I could have told him why? The driver is on Arab time! The driver reluctantly leaves his half finished breakfast and saunters to his bus …

This morning we are all going to NETS for a final debriefing and information sharing session. We are leaving Nazareth tomorrow and going to Jerusalem via another baptismal site on the River Jordan on the border between Israel and Jordan, Masada, and the Dead Sea. After breakfast Julia and I leave before the rest of our group. Julia wants to go back to the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation for a final look. We pass it whenever we walk from Saint Margaret’s up to the Seminary so it is easy to just stop off on the way. We have been here several times before but we notice new things yet again and are even able to peep behind some curtains and see frescoes we haven’t seen before. We see Alex in the restaurant we went to for dinner the other Sunday when we were staying at Villa Nazareth. He is drinking coffee and reading a theology book … typical Alex we think. We bump into Bishara as well as we are walking up to the college. We have a chat and promise to continue praying for him as he begins his new ministry as Pastor at Yaffa Baptist Church. Eventually we manage to get up to the Seminary …needless to say we are the last to arrive … I am exhausted and glad that I won’t have to do this walk and climb again, but a couple of glasses of ice cold water and a couple of cups of Arabic coffee and I am fully recovered.

Azar leads us in our devotions this morning. He talks about survival in the desert and ties this in with Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. It is very helpful and I love the way these Arab Christians talk intelligently and uncompromisingly about suffering as something we must both expect and accept as Christians, but something that with Christ’s help we can come through and grow spiritually and as human beings. May then enlightens us as to what will be happening of the next few days as Phil takes us on the Jerusalem leg of our time over here in Israel-Palestine. It all sounds very interesting and exciting. May also gets us all to complete a questionnaire providing feedback for NETS regarding our thoughts on the sabbatical – what was good about it and what was not so good. I hate filling in these sort of forms – I have loved all of it and say so. I refuse to become one of those sort of people that has to find something to moan about. The teaching sessions have been brilliant and I have learned so much. We have managed to see all that we wanted to see more or less. And even the fun and games of having to change hotels periodically, or put up with various noisy parties, have provided us with endless humour for me to blog about! When you consider the poverty of so many of the Arab people in Israel-Palestine we really have nothing to complain about. After we have completed our forms we enjoy the most wonderful barbecue. We have some amazing salad dishes, and all kinds of meat – everything except chicken!

We say our farewells to the staff. We will miss their friendship and fellowship. We take lots of photos of each other and a couple of group photos. Julia and I eventually leave them all to it and head down to Nazareth market for some last minute shopping. We want to buy some presents for the grandchildren and a couple of tee shirts for ourselves. We go back to the scarf shop opposite the Old Synagogue to see our friend Berg again. ‘Hello’ he says when he sees us, ‘is it Tuesday?’ We all laugh and tell him what we are after. We get everything we want from him … and a free cup of Arabic coffee! If you are ever in Nazareth do go to his shop and tell him Jim and Julia sent you … and he will give you a discount! Berg sends us to his friend Azar (not our Azar but another Azar) where we buy some Arabic coffee to take home, and we also buy an Arabic coffee pot, and some lovely small cups, so we can continue to make Arabic coffee back home. After a successful shop we slowly climb the hill back to Saint Margaret’s. There is the sound of thunder rolling around the hills surrounding Nazareth, and the heat is very oppressive, so we wonder if we are going to be in for a storm. The rain is needed here and should have come by now. After three weeks of wall-to-wall sunshine we can’t complain if it comes.

We arrive back at Saint Margaret’s to have a bit of a rest before starting our packing so that we can be away early tomorrow. We go down to dinner around 7.00 p.m. Salim has prepared a lovely last supper for us … and we have hamburgers and not chicken! I think he has discovered I am on Facebook and has been reading my blog?! The new group that arrived yesterday are also in the dining room. The officious leader demanded dinner at 6.30 p.m. prompt! Despite their demands they are served more or less at the same time as us … Arab time of course!

Jim Binney

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