Forgive me…I made a mistake in my last blog. The Samaritans are not just Palestinian, they hold three passports, A Palestinian, an Israeli and a Jordanian passport. I have also been picked up on the fact that I never mentioned that there is another small group of them that live near Tel Aviv. As I never visited them, I can not comment on how life works with them.
Anyway…onto Sebastia or Samaria. This was a place that was founded by King Omri in 880BC and had been captured over time by Alexander the Great, the Macedonians, the Macaabees and the Romans. It was fully destroyed in about 66AD and was rebuilt by Septimius Severus in approx 200AD. It acquired a reputation as a holy place as it was also reputed to contain the grave of John the Baptist.
Our driver dropped off Ala, who had called ahead to one of his friends who worked in Sebastia and off our taxi sped through Nablus and back out again into the sparse, arid countryside. Soon we were going uphill through the small town of Sebastia and at the top we pulled into a car park, surrounded by forlorn looking shops and restaurants and a few Roman columns thrown in for good measure.
We were met by Mohammed who ushered us into his shop and showed us where the toilets were. He handed us a book about the site and said he had sorted out a guide for us. We were happy to walk on our own around the site, so declined him. However, we didn’t get too far as, when we passed by the next restaurant, the owner came out and started to tell us about the site and what to see and then sent his son to take us around. Let’s just say the boy didn’t look too happy about taking two fat, middle-aged women around a bunch of old ruins, but lead us he did…..we, however wanted to do it in our own time.
Soon we came to the Church of the finding of the head of John the Baptist. (Obviously, where it was reputed to have been buried)
Our ‘guide’ had had enough and led us back to the car park, of course, holding out his hand first for a few shekles for his ‘expert’ knowledge. We headed back to Mohammed who handed us two very cold bottles of water and told us to sit as food was on its way. This we didn’t expect…we did want to eat here, but wanted to choose what to eat. Mohammed told us he has meat and rice and salads. We said we only really wanted a sandwich or something…..Mohammed’s face dropped. He rushed off into the kitchen, then reappeared. “You eat what you want, what you no want, you leave.”
Plate upon plate appeared of hummous, Tahini, olives, gurkins and salads, then came the vegetable soup and then meat and rice and of course bread. Each and every morsel was delicious, but there was far too much for the two of us there would have been too much for six! Mohammed bought us more bottled water and cans of Sprite and kept topping up our plates until we could eat no more. Then he bought us home grown grapes and coffee and had to go. I pulled out my purse to pay.”No, no, this is my hospitality, you are welcome.” He refused a penny and even gave us more water when we decided to find the Roman road which led out of the site and into town. (Everyone there thought we were mad walking in the heat …and boy is it hot….and for a distance!)
We entered the town of Sebastia and headed for the church of John the Baptist which allegedly holds his tomb (in the mosque part, which was off limits to us as it was Friday!) We were greeted by a jolly fellow who was sitting under an umbrella next to two big drink containers. He ushered us to the church disappeared, then quick as a flash reappeared with a guitar! Which he randomly strummed as we walked around the church. He kept mentioning his fruit juice so we decided to pop to his stall when he has finished looking around the church.
He poured us a tamarind drink and a strawberry and Banana squash, both were actually well welcomed in the heat. Then he pulled a harmonica and randomly played a silly tune. Jo tried to keep a straight face, I couldn’t help but giggle, which started him giggling too, which led to a massive coughing fit where I had to bang him on his back to help him breathe.
He gave us figs from his garden and told us we were welcomed at any time. We bid goodbye to this crazy man who could play neither the guitar or harmonica and he waved us off. I rang Mohammed who ordered us a taxi which miraculously appeared within minutes. The driver was extremely helpful and asked us if we needed any help to get in touch with him and we were welcome into Palestine…and he didn’t overcharge us for the fare either.
We arrived back at our hostel, tired and sunkissed (burnt). Today was a day where we met some wonderful people who offered their hospitality from their hearts, which in my eyes, makes them really good Samaritans.
If ever you find yourself in Nablus, please go and visit Sebastia and seek out Mohammed and his Holy Land Sun Restaurant (he also sells souvenirs)…you won’t regret it…oh and you MUST be serenaded by the man under the umbrella (I forget his name, but really you can’t miss him!)