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
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
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
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
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
Bapakaye I. Dibi