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Lessons From Israel

By: Bapakaye I. Dibi  

 Published January, 13th, 2010

I have just returned from a pilgrimage to Israel. The experience is sobering. I propose, herein, to look at what we saw and what we heard, about 48 of us in my group; the effect of what we saw and heard on some of us, and how this effect could change our life.

The Nigerian is capable of not throwing refuse anywhere and everywhere. We are capable of taking bits of paper, tooth pick, banana peel, and the like to designated places and disposing of them properly. Nigerians could conduct them selves in an orderly manner. We queued for our food without being whipped into line. All that is required to make Nigerians behave so civilly is re-orientation into accepting the values implied here and being prepared, each person, to correct our fellows politely when they err and to accept correction ourselves. So the pilgrimage taught me. But there must be an enabling environment to support this desired behavior model.

In Israel all public places have litter bins “everywhere” and water closet or toilet enough to serve several people and the water closets remained open and flowed forcefully with water all the time. Though Israel is a desert country of hard stones and mountains, there was portable water everywhere to irrigate their fruit and vegetable and flower gardens. And the farms occupied, practically, every inch of land not built-up, not only but especially in the Galilee area. During hard times they pumped their water from the Mediterranean Sea, several kilometers inland and had the water desalinated.

For years I have been crying out fruitlessly for pipe borne water in the New Layout Area of Port Harcourt where I live. And Port Harcourt is surrounded by water. Upon my return from Israel I observed, very painfully, that the taps still do not run.

On the part of the Israeli, I have already mentioned what they do for water in their rocky and mountainous desert country. Hardworking people, they have learned to construct roads around the mountains, to crush rocks and mould them into desired shapes, to glue them together, to cut or scoop them, and to polish and colour them. The houses are not painted on the exterior; they assume and retain the colour of the stones of which they were built. The houses are not fenced off after the style in Port Harcourt before the arrival of Governor Amaechi. That is a testimony to efficient security, I presume.

And every where in Israel you can see simplicity and self-sufficiency in the individual including the Bedouin. The Bedouin are ancient normadic desert dwellers in Israel and neighbouring countries. They build and live in what we call “batcher” in Port Harcourt. They shun modern city life and technology, preferring to walk for miles in the desert in search of water and grass for their camels. They live on the meat and milk of their camels and on some wild fruits. We saw dwarf concrete houses the size of the Bedouin’s “batcher”. They were built by the government beside the batchers in a few places and served with solar powered electricity and pipe-borne water. The government’s idea of how to make life easier for the Bedouin, but they would not touch those “modern” houses.

On the road, we did not see many people walking beside the motorway despite well kept pedestrian walkway by the roads. No car carcasses on the roadside and no cars calling for the panel beater and the spray painter. Remember we traveled thru 3000 kilometers. In the bus we could shout our prayers and our songs all we wanted and no one next to us on the road saw or heard us. Only the driver and the guide, out there toward the front of the bus could be seen from outside.

The roads in Israel looked as if they were resurfaced just before the arrival of our group of pilgrims. It is not so. For ten days, 48 of us rode in a bus each day from Ben Gurion Airport on arrival in Tel-Aviv to Galilee, to Jericho, to the Egyptian border back again to Galilee and to Eilat and to a hotel, the Blue Bay Hotel at Netanya, remember Prime Minister Netannyahu? Netanya is a suburb of Tel-Aviv and the Blue Bay Hotel is within 150 metres of the Mediterranean Sea. From there we drove to Ben Gurion at the end of our stay for our return flight.

My estimation is that we must have covered some 3,000 kilometers of road. There was no port hole anywhere. The white and yellow road markings were everywhere. No, the roads were not resurfaced for us. The Israeli have a good public works maintenance culture which put new life into their roads before they get, as we say in Nigeria, “dilapidated”. Moreover the roads in Israel are built on rock existing naturally and they have scarce rainfall; so the roads could endure for a long time.

I have spoken of water and of attitude to the environment. I could proceed to the people’s sense of time and duty but that will abide another discourse. I wish to speak now of the pilgrimage proper.

We visited the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth; we went to Bethlehem where the Lord Christ was born; we saw what represents the manger today. We went to Jericho and saw the Sycamore Tree; it was said to be the same tree that stood there from the time of Christ on earth. We saw and tasted the Dead Sea, enjoyed its ability to hold you afloat without some effort on your part. We were at Jordan where John the Baptist baptized the Christ and others. We were at the Mount of Olives; at Mount Sinai in Egypt where a voice in the Burning Bush talked to Moses and he went up the mountain and obtained the Decalogue. We saw Peter’s Place in Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee. Peter’s Place is preserved beneath a structure that seems to defy gravity, no pillar in the center lest it should destroy further what was left of the Holy Place. This does not exhaust by half the list of places we visited.

Except for the Sycamore Tree and a joke about a pillar of salt representing Lot’s Wife, no one pretended that the Holy Places we visited were as they were in Christ’s time. Rather what remained of the Holy Places were preserved by building over the remains or strengthening what remained when the thought of so preserving the sacred places occurred to some devout Christians as early as 600 AD up to and as late as late as the 1960s, without prejudice to maintenance.

As an individual Christian pilgrim I was moved to reverential awe for the Lord and a deep sense of respect for the Christians who embarked on the preservation of the Holy places as aforesaid. I saw and sometimes perceived in the mosaics on the church floor, the marble works, and the sheer creativity in the design of the churches, including creativity in acoustic design of the churches, the terraces on the grounds of the churches; all these inspired in me a sense of deep respect for the Lord, and suggested an earnest desire in those who built the memorials to make an indelible impact on humanity by the expression of their sense of devotion to the cause.

Talking about the churches, they seem to be built for 20 to 30 persons to worship at a time; the largest of them, like the church at Nazareth seems built to hold no more than 150 to 200 persons during worship. The grounds of the churches seemed designed for quiet communion of the individual with his Maker. There were concrete garden seats by a tree or among flowers near or by a running brook or within view of the sea.

But there were the Coptic Churches which, in my humble opinion do not measure up to the beauty, magnificence and creativity of the largely Roman Catholic Churches described above. The Coptic churches give you the impression that you had entered a huge magician’s alcove. There were abnormally numerous hangings from the lofty internal roof of the Coptic churches, hangings that appeared to be incense burners or dispensers or simply decorative gold or brass object of fairly uniform conical shape. There were too many. I presume that that made cleaning difficult and rendered the entire church dark and dirty with what seemed to be sooth of sorts.

We went to Golgotha too. Golgotha is the place of skulls. Here some of my sisters in the group were so moved, they spoke in tongues, they quivered physically from their agitation and some cried out loud incoherently.

In so far as religion seeks to inculcate in its adherents, peace, harmony among men and some understanding of creation and the Creator, there is a basic religious value in these pilgrimages. I remember someone saying at some point that the criminal elements in our prisons should be exposed to the experiences we had on our pilgrimage in Israel so as to turn them away from a life of crime. I endorse this view.

“The strength of a man consists in finding out the way in which God is going, and going in that way too.” – Henry Ward Beecher, (1887).

Bapakaye I. Dibi
Humanity Chambers
Port Harcourt

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