2 days, 30 hours to be exact, 200 women, 50 Jeeps and the one and only Jordan Valley.
I had the privilege to attend a two-day, all women’s Jeep Excursion called “Princess of the East” (referring to the geographical location of the excursion on the easternmost border of Israel).
We arrived at the “Springs of Fazta-el” at 8 am, to find 200 women divided into 13 teams, dressed in color coordinated outfits (according to their team theme), hugging, singing or getting to know one another. My team, team 2 – “Radiant on the Road” – was made up of 4 jeeps, 2 jeeps of women from the Jordan Valley and 2 jeeps of women from other areas in Israel. Some religious, some not. Our common ground: women who want to have a good time!
At the starting point, before the opening ceremony, there was a meeting with all the team leaders (me included) to discuss the route for the day. We were given booklets which contained the route which we had to navigate on our own. Gili, the organizer of the excursion, explained the more difficult points and what to look out for, but he expressed that we are to be independent and rely on ourselves, and that is just what we did! After the opening ceremony, in which our Council head, Mr. David Elchayani, spoke a clear message that we will meet again for this jeep excursion in the Jordan Valley next year, we set off.
As the navigator I had to learn to trust myself, my instincts and to be confident that I know what I am doing. We missed the first turn because I did not trust myself. I told the driver to turn and others in the jeep said – no. I went along with the others to realize later that we missed the turn and had to go back to the point I knew was right. At that moment I knew I had to be confident and to trust myself.
So here we are, alone in the wilderness, nature and all its marvels. The most beautiful landscape, full of contrast. Hills and valleys. Trees and bareness. Water and scorched, thirsty land. Silence and tumult. Women and Jeeps… When women are out with jeeps in nature – nature calls. Being on an all women’s tour makes things easier but what can I say… when you gotta go – you gotta go! This is the only advantage men have over women on a jeep excursion. They don’t have to find ways to hide, they just go. One thing I learned from my more experiences friends is that you will never find the perfect spot, so just crouch and go.
After 7 hours of off-road driving, group missions, an omega and more off-road driving, we reached our final destination, Na’ama – the southernmost settlement in the Jordan Valley – just east of Jericho. Before we unload, we had one more group mission – to make a pesto spread. We arrive at the greenhouses of Na’ama and as we step out of our vehicles we are greeted by the most amazing aromas, the most dominant being the aroma of Basil. We enter the greenhouse and it’s amazing! The aroma is so strong and the green and purple basil leaves (yes, purple basil) are so rich and big. Around us are tables with all the needed ingredients and on the other side of the room are the factory employees. Mostly female, mostly Arab (I mean Palestinian). They welcomed us, we thanked them and we began making our pesto.
We then made our way to our camping grounds: the pool of Na’ama. Green grass spotted with tents. We got organized and prepared for the evening. Dinner was catered by my fabulous neighbor – Elie Moshe – who makes the best home-cooked food, especially after a log day out in the open and before a long night out in the open – a good hot meal hits the spot. The party begins! After dinner the DJ starts her engines and we begin to dance and jump and party! Forgetting that at this hour we are usually knee-deep in evening routine; dinner, baths, bedtime, homework, clean-up, sandwiches, dishes, laundry and the list goes on! Here we are, out in the open, loud music and good friends! We tired ourselves out good before our night outdoors and woke up to the murmur of 200 cackling women waking up…
Friday comes and instead of spending it in the kitchen we pack up our jeeps and set out to the border. We drove on the army road to the Mouth of the River Jordan – where the Jordan meets the Dead Sea. Magnificent. Breathtaking. Amazing. Powerful. Gorgeous. After a group picture we drive through the Land of the Monasteries – the Israeli side, abandoned and fenced in as it’s mined and dangerous; the Jordanian side marvels and glistens in the sun with grand monasteries and groomed gardens. Reality hits all religions.
Our last stop is the Qasr al Yahud Baptism Site. Israel on one side, Jordan on the other with the Jordan River in between. We were able to witness a baptism ceremony on the Jordanian side of a group of young women from Sri Lanka. It was festive and spiritual with songs and prayers. The women were fully dressed and modest, entering the water one by one to get baptized by their priest. While watching this ceremony we were distracted by a group of Russian Christians on the Israeli side who came to embrace the Holy Waters. They were wearing white linen robes and – what became apparent after their dip – that’s all they were wearing! The Jordanian guards lost their interest in the young modest women from Sri Lank and focused on the group on the Israeli side, pulling out their cell phones to take photos. I couldn’t help but think how degrading this ceremony is! As an Orthodox woman, I too go through a dipping ceremony once a month. But it is private and personal. Not public and degrading. I tried to ask some of these women about this ceremony but they did not speak English and I do not speak Russian.
We then continued to the closing ceremony of this excursion to be greeted once again by Mr. Elchayani who promised to greet us again next year in the Jordan Valley. The winners claimed their prizes and we said our goodbyes to our old and new friends. To sum up this incredible experience: Aside from giving a mother of 4 a short break – I learned a lot about myself, my abilities, nature, women, my home, my background and my future in this beautiful piece of land.
Where River meets Sea