The Day I Surprised My Mom with a Trip to Jerusalem
“Ma, we’re traveling in December. Pack for two weeks. Bring warm clothes, and a pair of swimwear.”
That was in September 2015, and that was all I told her, despite her repeated plea for hints about our destination. Truth is, I didn’t want to tell her anything at all until much closer to the flight, but it wouldn’t have been fair to not be considerate of her schedule and plans, so I thought a heads up was in order.
I was quite anxious as I only had a little over two months to plan our itinerary. I was gifting my mom (and myself, who am I kidding) with a trip to Jerusalem, her ultimate dream destination, as is many of the Filipino mothers of her generation and older, I suppose; but the tours offered by agencies were way beyond what I could afford, so I decided we’ll do it independently instead. And so Project Stalking Jesus was born.
This is probably the most difficult itinerary I ever had to make. Most of the pilgrimages were done on agency-organized tours and little is written about public transportation and independent travel. Even travel books, being non-secular, offered little in the way of Christian pilgrimages. Israel is holy to many religions, in particular the three big monotheistic ones – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; while to the non-religious – Israel’s history and character are enough to pique their interest – hence going through the online literature required sifting among non-religious, Catholic pilgrimage, and non-Catholic pilgrimage itineraries. But I took up the challenge. Many nights after work, I’d spend an hour or two shaping up our trip and itinerary – oh but how quickly those hours passed! Some nights I found myself already sleepy without having made any significant progress to our plan! But I plowed on. I also started reading the Bible (again). I wanted to understand the Jesus narrative better, and be able to map the events both geographically and sequentially – key factors that I incorporated in the planning process. Finally, the day came when it definitely looked like it’s all systems go!
AND THEN THE STABBINGS HAPPENED. No, that’s not actually right. The more correct thing to say is: the stabbings got more frequent. I am referring, of course, to the escalating Israeli-Palestinian tension, where Palestinians have started resorting to the use of knives to hurt and/or kill the Israelis in their frustration over sovereignty and territorial issues (obviously there’s a myriad other issues here but won’t even attempt to go into details – very sensitive topic). International reports on safety weren’t encouraging, and some countries started issuing travel warnings. My heart was shattered! I had already paid for the flight and that was non-refundable and non-rebookable! Most importantly – by then I knew I had to consult my mom, but how do I do it without having to spoil the surprise?
“Ma, there’s a little glitch in the plan,” I started, and proceeded to explain that there was an ongoing conflict where we were going, and that it was getting worse by the day. “Do you still want to go?” A brief pause, and then, with a little hesitation: “Of course. We will just have to pray harder for our safety.” And then: “So where are we actually going?”
For the succeeding weeks, I kept an eye on Israeli-Palestinian news. I read the reports. I read the travel warnings. I followed (on social media) travelers who were then in the area, and asked about the safety situation. This was my daily routine for most of October to early December. I also regularly consulted my mom – but she was resolute: we were going to wherever it was we were going. Also, “where are we going again?”
December 21. My mom had been relentless in her questions since we started packing the day before, occasionally resorting to guilt-inducing tactics, while I repeatedly answered her with: “It’s just a few hours more!” Or “I told you, I’ll let you know once we are in the plane!”
2:30 AM. Airport. As we queued for check-in, she realized our flight was bound for Hong Kong. My mom isn’t travel-savvy, so I was taken aback when she asked, “Hong Kong? (sad face… and then, suddenly beaming…) Is this a layover?” What! When did she learn about layovers? I kept a poker face and told her that, again, I would tell her in the plane. Not during check-in, not during boarding, but once we are actually taking off (I snuck that last one in, you couldn’t imagine her protest!)
5:30 AM. Inside the plane. “Nope. Let’s wait for take off.” (I know, I’m borderline heartless by this time).
5:45 AM. Mid-air. “Before I tell you, could you hazard a guess?” And without missing a beat, she said “Holy Land!” How was I going to respond to that? I didn’t speak for a few seconds; my mom held her breath. And then, slowly, I said, “Yes, we are going to the Holy Land.” Her eyes became the size of Margaret Keane’s Big Eyes portraits, then she let out a twitterpated squeal – almost like the way she always does when I surprise her with something – only thrice as intense, coupled with an effort to muffle herself seeing we are in the plane with other passengers; she was a giddy little girl. And then she hugged me and smothered me with kisses.
I knew then it was going to be worth it. I spent the entire flight explaining to her our itinerary, filling her in on the plan, explaining to her the history of the Holy Land as much as I knew and could, illustrating to her the map of Israel and Palestine (on a tissue paper) and how this has influenced the ongoing tensions, emphasizing the need for caution especially when we cross borders in Bethlehem, discussing with her the Jewish traditions that we must respect if not observe (I was keen on us joining a Shabbat dinner), and a million things more. The rest, as they say, is history. Kidding – will write about it in subsequent blog posts (fingers crossed).
Hurrah! Surprised my mom with a trip to Jerusalem! Project Stalking Jesus a success!
Note: To some who are probably thinking why I had to wait for take off when I could have told her earlier – I could have even told her in September! Well, you know how some mothers are ultra-braggarts when it comes to their kids? That’s kinda how my mom is. Had I told her earlier – she would’ve announced it to all her friends and anyone who’d care to listen – “My daughter is taking me to Jerusalem! lem! lem!” – it would have echoed like that to the entire parish! Noooo. Haha.
*Happy Mother’s Day to my mom! HMD as well to my lovely aunties from both sides, my siblings, cousins, friends and kumares, single moms, uncles, single dads, spinster aunties, big sisters, and to anyone who’s ever had to be a mother one way or another!*