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Monday, October 29, 2012

No water at Jesus baptism place; must be climate change!


By Esther Nakkazi

The journey to Jordan, the baptism place of Jesus by John the Baptist, started aboard Egypt Air. We arrived at 19.15 hours in Amman to find a long, winding queue through immigration, which could have lasted for more than three hours since we got visas on arrival.

My mission was to witness the graduation of 60 science journalists from Africa and the Arab world, who had been trained for two years by the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ) in the SjCOOP, a peer-to-peer mentoring at a distance project, which aimed to help journalists make a career in reporting complex and science related issues.

The good news is that, the graduation at Madaba city, ‘The City of Mosaics’ was fantastic. We did not see much of anything on the two-hour ride from the Dead Sea Spa hotel where we were residing to the restaurant in Madaba, because the country is essentially a desert and dark, but at least we were in the comfort of knowing that underneath almost every house here, lies a fine Byzantine mosaic.

The interesting news was that we got to go see the place where Jesus was baptized but it was as dry as climate change could dry it. 

Not a drop of water. 

Not even water that can be pumped to the site -River Jordan- because Jordan imports almost 70 percent of its water and recycles 60 percent of this for the 6 million people.

Getting into Amman was not that exciting to me, but residing at the Dead Sea Spa hotel, in proximity to the Dead Sea - the said lowest point on earth- was the catch because it meant that for the first time in my life I would float on water. 

Many ask if you can walk on it. No, you cannot walk on the Dead Sea. It’s essentially dead with no living life in it but you can't sink.

Diligently, for a week every morning, I would wake up at 6.00 o’clock, to float on the sea for half an hour after doing the dead sea mud-smear, which is known for improving skin's natural processes, easing rheumatic pains, relaxing muscles and providing inner calmness.
The Dead Sea mud smear
I would scoop mud from the bottom, which is really swallow at that point and then smear it and wait for 30 minutes. It felt so good for the first time, but I made now mistake, I splashed water on my face and in the next 3 minutes I could not see. My eyes hurt.

But the comfort was that my face felt smooth and was glowing every day until I heard the shocking news in one of the conference sessions. 

"Jordan was in a $10 billion plan, ‘Two Seas Canal Project’ to desalinate the Dead Sea. The idea was to use reverse osmosis technology or hyper filtration, which reduces salts and other impurities to give high quality tasting water."

According to reports the Dead Sea water would be mixed with the Red Sea water using this technology, but the results of the mix were unknown, and although a reaction was anticipated, as both seas have chemicals and minerals, Jordan wanted to take the risk as had Israel.

This was a water security project for Jordan, shelved for a while still awaiting results from a feasibility study and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) supported initially by the World Bank.

“It is the best solution for us and we do not have an alternative solution. It is a humanitarian and economic mission,” said Mr. Khaled Irani, President of Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature. Jordan imports both water and oil, items, which throw its budget over the roof. 

The alternative would be to use the River Jordan waters to desalinate the Dead Sea but much of its waters have been grabbed by Israel, which has built a dam and also has a desalination project while Syria has built reservoirs.

The skeptics of the ‘Two seas canal project’ said it could not happen, unless Israel concurs with it, but environmentally it would be a catastrophe, said Dr. Samir Mahmoud, a mentor in the SjCOOP project and a media expert in Egypt.

This was the historical Jordan, which in the bible is a scene of many miracles, had priests carrying the Ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in its middle, it parted, and his people crossed it on dry ground, (Joshua 3; 15-17). Elisha healed Naaman, a commander of the army, of leprosy, by having him bathe in its waters, but its almost gone.

Reports showed that its flow had declined from more than 1.3 billion cubic meters to 30 million cubic meters per year. Mr. Batir Wardam, an environment expert thinks the project would improve water security and revive the biodiversity in the region.

As journalists, River Jordan was also one of our ambitious site visits.When African journalists attending a conference in a country like Jordan, dig into their pockets and organize for a visit, you know how important it is to them.
So was this excursion to see the Baptism place of Jesus. 

Maybe the gravity of the damage to the River, explained earlier in the session, was underestimated but each of us, all from Africa boarded into two Matatu-like vans and proceeded to the baptism place.

We all had empty mineral water bottles. I had forgotten my big one on the conference table and I run back, break-neck speed to pick it. Each one of us paid 10 Jordanian dinars, which exchange for exactly 10 British pounds.

In the van, we could see Jericho, very near but on the Israelite side, which Biblically, fell flat on the ground, after men in the command of prophet Joshua, marched around it for six days blowing trumpets and carrying the Ark.

It was exciting but we were in high spirits for the Jordan. Walking along the track that Jesus and many prophets had walked was even more thrilling. However, along the way the van stopped. The tour guide pointed to River Jordan.

Disappointment, disbelief, doubts is what I saw on people's faces. In front of us was River Jordan, the water was with a lime greenish, brownish color and was still, the bank of the river ground was cracked and the vegetation along it was bamboo like. You could walk across it in 3 minutes.
The River Jordan banks (the highest point of our disappointment on the trip.
The guide advised that we continue on the track. Everybody was quite, emotional and I choose to tap into people's feelings.  These were some of the words I heard; spiritual disappointed, it feels dry’, historical, spiritual. “There is no feeling-oooo”, Leocadia Bongben from Cameroon said angrily. 

The next site was the real place. There was a wooden shelter; significant of the three early churches of Basilica built by John the Baptist. Below it were three blocks of steps in descending order.
At this point also the heavens opened twice; Elijah was taken to heaven and again the heavens opened and a voice recognized Jesus as his beloved son, Matthew 3.17.
The first block and then the second and third, which leads to lower ground and shapes like a cross, which is the supposed real place, where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. It is also aligned with the city of Jericho, which is symbolic. But there was not a drop of water.
The Baptism place of Jesus in Jordan
Water once did flow here but the Jordan changed its course or flow, and in a country with nine months of intensive heat, evaporation levels are high. 

But about 5 minutes away, from this site is the Jordan again, separating two nations, Jordan and Israel.

It is here that that empty water bottles we carried were filled.

“I will use the water to wash my kids faces’, ‘I will keep it for 10 years in a special bottle’, ‘I will give it to my Pastor to use it on the sick for healing’, were the many uses echoed out. “I will give it to my mum, she is a Reverend,” said Violet Otindo, a television producer and reporter with Citizen TV. My own bottle did not carry back any water from River Jordan.

Ends-

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