by Vicki Fourie (South Africa)

I didn't expect to find South Africa


The tour guide’s voice booms loud and clear through the bus's intercom, but I can’t concentrate. I know I shouldn’t have come. The blue scarf that’s wrapped around my neck makes me claustrophobic. I don't belong here; I’m struggling to breathe. I try to get the scarf loose, but to no avail. I begin to panic. ‘Breathe; deep breaths,' I say softly. In and out, in and out. In… and out again. Finally, I get the scarf off, and I can feel my body relax. This trip to Israel was not a good idea. It is not yet peak season, but there are already masses of crowds at each historical site. The tour buses are packed like Lego cars at each and every parking lot. Russian, Chinese, Italian and Greek are but some of the Babylonian sounds surrounding me everywhere I go. It’s hard for me to hear clearly amongst all the noises, the voices. And why are there so many churches? It's overwhelming. Roman Catholic buildings, Greek Orthodox churches, Jewish synagogues, Muslim mosques. The buildings are magical, gigantic, impressive. At first, it is breath-taking. But soon it all looks the same. I am looking for peace. I'm on a tour through Israel, the Holy Land, but I'm actually searching within. Today is our last day. Our bus gets off early at the Pool of Bethesda, which is also called the House of Mercy. As soon as my feet touches the cobbled ground, I realize something’s different. There are no tour buses, no other tourists here. There’s a sense of calmness surrounding this place. I can hear myself breathe. I separate myself from the group, and I quickly wander off on my own. Once I go down the steep steps, I realize just how colossal and enormous this place really is. It is an uncharacteristically warm morning, and the sun’s rays’ bounces off the grey rock walls. As I walk further, I go around a corner. To my surprise, I enter an empty room. The atmosphere is cool, calm and collected. When I look down, I see a pool of fresh water. I bend down, and touch the water. Then I touch my ears. But nothing happens. Legend has it that a large number of disabled people would wait by this pool. An angel would come and hover over the water, stirring it. The first person to the touch the water would be instantly healed. It is also said that Jesus once visited this pool and healed a 38-year-old paralyzed man. I think of one of our first trips on this tour, our visit to the Mount of Beatitudes. We held communion there and a woman shared a brief testimony of how, when she was eighteen years of age, her eyes went blind. Then she radically got ‘born again’, gave her life to Jesus, and had her first communion. The next morning, she could see again. When I heard this story, a question within me had awakened. Do I want to be healed? Here I am, at the Pool of Bethesda. Time have stood still. From a far-off distance, I can hear the chatter of my tour group’s voices, but for once, I am removed from society. Then something beckons me to touch my ears again. I do that, and I can feel my hearing aids. Then I am compelled to touch on both sides of my head with my hands. There, firmly planted underneath my skin, is my cochlear implants. Yes, I can hear. But I don’t hear the way I had thought I would. My heart begins to beat faster. I have found an answer to my question. Yes, I am healed. But the healing just looks a little bit different. But I know how I feel. There is silence within me. I feel light, as if I am myself hovering over the water. Something within me shifts. I can see myself clearer. There is a silence within me, a peace, a quiet stirring. And then... In-and-out, in-and-out. I can breathe again.