‘You will see, there is a party on the other side,’ huffed Essam, our Jordanian guide as we reached Bethany, the baptism point. We took the dry dusty labyrinth of roads that meandered through trees and bushes, leading up to what was left of the Jordan River. A tinge of envy, a pinch of resentment, a sprinkling of amusement- all within that huff that came with the exasperated query of why the Israeli bank of the Jordan attracted more international visitors than the Jordanian side.
It was a sunny day in May and our last in Jordan, at the end of a week-long trip that had seen culture, adventure, history- all that Jordan could possibly offer. This day was going to be more spiritual as we tried to think of the Biblical significance of the piece of land we stood on. Remnants of old churches and reservoirs marked our way until we reached the bank of a very frail and milk chocolate coloured Jordan River.
Steps led into the water and the landing was circled by protective netting that stopped one from swimming into the depths. Suicide would be very easy, just step out of the net and invisible rifles from border security on both sides would roar into life. A shy but friendly looking Jordanian soldier stood awkwardly as our tiny group of seven people (including our guides) broke the lonely monotony. It certainly did not look like tourists were flocking to Jordanian Bethany. I picked up the courage to ask the soldier if he would pose for a photograph with us. ‘You won’t put it on Facebook?’ ‘I am not on Facebook!’ That seemed to reassure him as he posed with the family, however strategically positioned so that his face remained in the shadows.
Across the water, a few metres away, stood another country. Israel certainly looked more popular. A festive group of Ethiopians, dressed in long white cotton robes, drummed, danced and sang while dipping their squealing naked babies into the holy waters thrice. A lively baptism party indeed.
On the other side we stood clicking our cameras- two families, two guides and a friendly soldier with his face in the shadows.