By Ellie Davis
I’ve wanted to visit outdoor markets of the Middle East for as long as I’ve known not to be afraid of what people tell me to be afraid of, which is a pretty long time.
However, before I was aware that I had a choice about my fears, I had religion. Born and schooled Catholic (with a smattering of Evangelical Holy Roller at a church with a neon sign that said ”Jesus Saves” crossword puzzle style for a strange short time), I left the Church after my first Accidental Pilgrimage and seeing the ostentatious display of the opposite of the Good Shepherd’s message at the Vatican. A few years later, still convinced someone else could save me from my fears, I came across the Baha’i Faith while hitchhiking, which was apparently not one of the fears I needed to be saved from. A few years in, after getting kicked out for questioning some questionable actions by the Chief Religious Guy, I began facing my fear of Eternal Damnation For Not Believing the Right Thing.
Since that epoch, I have become a big fan of finding my fears and beliefs, which may or mayn’t be the same thing, and shaking them to the surface for examination, then hopefully right on out of my system. Travel has been a helpful tool in this. Straight up moving to Sweden, a country I do not enjoy, has been monumentally helpful in shaking what I’m afraid of in myself to the surface to be dealt with. Lucky for me,this gives me the freedom and two passports to move around and see what I want to see in the world.
As fervently as I’ve wanted to see the Middle East, since I started being aware of politics and human rights and religion’s dark role in the world, I have pretty equally fervently not wanted to visit Israel, it being the co-capitol (shared with my own country of origin) of everything I have fought.
Lo, the power of dance! After my dad died, I was raw and open and spending time with a dear friend who mentioned in passing this ”Gaga Dance” she had gone to in the desert. It was one of those perfectly timed passing mentions, whispers even, that a person can’t turn away from, no matter how soft the voice or outlandish the message. It sat with me without my knowing it. Soon after, on one of those days where every appointment gets cancelled and there was nothing to do about it, I took a chance turn into the Gothenburg City library, and, by another chance, of course, there was a copy of the film ”Mr Gaga”, not buried on the shelf, but standing alone on display. I took it home, watched it, and 20 minutes in thought, ”I’m going.” I couldn’t not. I emailed for registration, it was full, they emailed me back a couple of weeks later, I had a spot, I was on my way to Tel Aviv and the dance in the desert. I didn’t even know, really, what the workshop I had just committed myself to was, only that it was imperative for me to get there.
So, I got there.
I booked my trip to have a couple of days to explore before going to the desert. I’m one of those people who doesn’t read the guide books before diving in, so I didn’t have any idea what I was going to spend those 2.5 non-workshop days in Tel Aviv doing. I had no desire for going to Jerusalem leading up to the trip, but on the first morning I woke up in the Middle East, I thought, ”I’m going to Jerusalem today.”
I figured out how to make the less than an hour by bus trip (donkey would have taken longer) and got to the birthplace of so much catastrophic ideology by noon. I wandered in the marketplace and let myself simmer in the smells of exotic spice mixes, fresh produce, incense and leather, and the sound of sellers hawking their wares and their customers arguing the price. It took hours to get through because I would stop and have long conversations about life, philosphy, religion with people working in the market stalls.
I started making my way towards the Old City because, you know, I was in Jerusalem, unwittingly making a pilgrimage.
It was a cold day and I was wearing a dress, so I stopped in a cheap hippie tourist shop to get something to cover my legs. As I was leaving with my new harem pants, the R.E.M. song ”Losing My Religion” came on. Seriously, that particular song being played on the radio at that particular confluence of unplanned activities in the birthplace of 3 of the world’s major religions? Another Inadvertant Pilgrimage.
I got to the Old City and was greeted by the Swedish flag (no escaping destiny) and a host of seekers from all the regular paths, a great mix of traditions I recognized and didn’t, all looking for the answers in our lives in one way or another.
The Old City is a huge maze, easy to get lost in in more ways than one. Apparently, it’s the most dangerous place in the country, so, of course I went with a strange man when he said he could show me a view I wouldn’t find on my own.
My new friend took me to the place you see in the picture. It’s on the rooftops of the Old City. In the distance you can see the Dome of the Rock, which means you can see the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian quarters all nestled next to each other, looking to all the world a peaceful scene. What you can’t experience in this twilit vision is the Muezzin, the Muslim call to prayer sounding softly in the background.
This gave me the peace of my Unintentional Pilgrimage.
Before that moment, I was going to never say the name ”Israel”. I was only going to refer to Palestine or the cities I was visiting. I wanted to keep the fight alive in me. I realized in this moment that I wasn’t helping end the wars by hating what I thought was the obvious wrong way or thinking I’m the one who knows the Truth. I realized that even with all the facts I’ve gathered that are congruent, I was ignoring the complexity that goes far beyond facts. I realized that if I want peace, the only way to it is in me, in realizing that all these disparate entities and people are their own and they can’t take away from me and I can’t actually take away from them, I had to look at what I have preached and what I have practiced.
This moment gave me pause to reflect. I know about the violence on all sides, I think. But maybe I had made my new religion my own opinion after I left the age old religions I believed in once? Sure, I won’t sit back and justify or ignore any group or government’s infliction of horror on another group of people, but can I look at the situation with clarity on both or all sides and still see the humans involved? Can I question what I think I know and then test it even futher against the judgement I give based on the war in me? How does my view of you change when I drop the war in me?
I see the atrocities visited on a group not backed by money, political, and fire power and the occupying government that openly declares its wish to destroy that ”weaker” country. I also met people from the side with the power, people I feel genuine affection and warmth for. I am so grateful to have the chance to make human in my heart and mind those I believed I had the right to hate. To see that they are not their government and that they see the problem and feel helpless, too.
In the end, what I think I can say I learned is that if I can look unflinchingly at what’s presented to me without needing to be right or be God’s Favorite or have something to be superior to, maybe I will know the Truth one day.
Ellie Davis, World Shaker, (to quote Cool Hand Luke) calls Carbondale, CO home but lives in Gothenburg, Sweden. She practices a healing work called Chi Nei Tsang, which helps the recipient look at what is asking for healing in her system by accessing what’s happening in her belly. www.bloomingbeing.com