Lost in translation pilgrimage

There was a gaggle of us on tour who had booked to Egypt. As a last minute add-on we decided we should take a day trip to Jerusalem. Naturally, we were enthusiastic as the trip included a float in the infamous Dead Sea, panoramic views from the Mount of Olives, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and a visit to the Wailing Wall. I knew there would be a lot to take in and I was looking forward to our guide giving me a refresher course on my rudimentary knowledge of religious education dating back to my school days.

So, we clambered onto the bus and set off. A well groomed lady held the microphone looking confident, professional and well-healed about to perform her tour guide speech. Our small English speaking group listened all bright eyed and bushy tailed as she began her discourse in Russian. I turned to my friends imploringly knowing that none of us were versed in Russian. My Puss in Boots wide eyes did not save the situation. Did I mention we didn't have an itinerary? Well, of course not that would have been a sensible thing for the tour company to offer us.

It was dark and the journey was long. Some slept and I listened to Arcade Fire’s ‘Wake Up’ on my friend’s iPod and I was reminded that I shouldn't cry and to just adjust.

It was time to get off the bus. It was pitch black in the early hours of the morning. We guessed we were at the Dead Sea. We were escorted to the gift shop where we had no suitable currency to purchase any of the Dead Sea related lotions and potions or the rather tasty looking overpriced breakfast next door on offer. I had a rumbling belly, I was half asleep and I wasn't too keen on flinging myself into the sea in the dark.

After much deliberation and a bit of moaning we decided we should take the plunge and get in the Dead Sea as it would be foolish not to. I donned my swimsuit, waded in and bobbed along like a frozen Popsicle watching the sunrise emerge. It was December after all!

The rest of the tour in Jerusalem was much of the same. Some poor young Russian lady was recruited by us to perform the task of trying to explain what it was we were feasting our eyes on. We were merely playing charades.

We were frogmarched around the sites. The English speakers continued to follow sheep like at the back end of the Russian group. Some of the Russians ladies executed strange modelling poses in front of some buildings. I can only assume they were important; the buildings that is.

Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre tourists jostled for position and the flashes of cameras blinded my eyes. I joined a queue to touch where Jesus was born. I felt like at any moment the familiar beep noise would be heard as my hand scanned the glass. I suspected that at this self check out I would have to bag up my own deflated conceptions of the occasion and take them back home with me if customs would permit. Opposite this event was a lamp lit baby doll, representing the Messiah, preserved basely behind wire mesh curtain. I wondered to myself if Jesus would have wanted to be remembered as a doll in a cage and his birthplace continuously poked at by strangers.

Our surreal pilgrimage was over. I sighed. I had learned something; it was Russian, goodbye or Doh-svee-dah-nee-yah.

K Sourbi

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