Friday, September 19, 2014

What No One Told Me About Coming Home

Exactly one year ago yesterday I posted my fourth blog entry from Jerusalem. Exactly zero percent of me can believe that an entire year has passed.

I've been back in the States for over nine months now and not a day goes by that I don't miss the sights, sounds, smells, and confusion of living in another country. I listen to Arab pop* Pandora stations and crave cheap, street falafel regularly. But my life has been changed beyond my taste in music and food. When I came home in December I thought that was going to be the hardest part. But, boy, was I wrong. So very wrong.

No one warned me that by exposing myself to (and falling in love with) a different culture I was also opening myself up to a new kind of pain and feeling of loss.

I've lived with Arabs, Christians, Muslims, Israelis, Jews, People. And that's how I see them, as People. The lessons I learned from my host sisters in Bethlehem are just as valuable to me as the ones I learned from Robi Damelin. I learned about love and forgiveness from a Sufi sheikh and a Jewish rabbi. I've had the thickest coffee and the sweetest tea with beautiful, broken, hopeful people. I witnessed and participated in collective worship in some of the most unlikely places. But I'm not in that place anymore. And that breaks my heart.

It's hard for me to put into words why this hurts me so badly. I would love to still be in all of those places continuing to learn from these People I willingly call my brothers and sisters, but if I'm completely honest that isn't the reason my heart is so heavy. What really weighs me down is the unwillingness of others, mainly Americans in my experience, to be educated. In the past month American news sources have been flooded with reports of the atrocities committed by Daesh (more commonly known here as ISIS, ISIL, or the Islamic State). As with any hot-button issue, this has caused my Facebook news feed to be full of posts from people who seem to be experts on the issue. All of the lessons I learned from my time abroad can be summed up in saying this: Nothing is as simple as it seems and every story deserves to be told. But what I see around me, mostly on social media, are people who only hear the stories they want to hear. They frame issues in a way that only points to the answers they want to see. That, friends, is why I have a pit in my stomach that won't seem to go away. Don't misunderstand all of that to mean that I support a terrorist organization, but know that what I'm really saying is that I refuse to let Daesh steal the love I have for Muslims. I refuse to group all of these people together. I refuse to stop loving any fellow human being.

When I came home at the beginning of December, I felt suffocated. I thought that was the hardest part of re-entry. The re-adjusting. The navigating relationships differently. Being away from the people who I had spent every waking minute with for three months. But that isn't the hardest part. The hardest part is nine months later when you still feel like your heart is somewhere else and your toes are itching to feel the uneven limestone streets again. The hardest part is knowing the things you've seen and the stories you've heard and wanting everyone around you to have at least a fraction of the sliver of understanding you feel like you've gained. The hardest part is knowing that you have been given one of the greatest gifts you will ever receive and not knowing how you are supposed to share it with others. That's what no one told me about coming home.

*currently listening to Amr Diab




Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Overwhelmed, Under-appreciating, and Finding My Way Part II

Hello from Michigan! I've been home for a week and a half now and once again it seems that time is flying by. How is that I was waking up in the beauty of Jerusalem only two weeks ago?

I've been thinking about a good way to wrap up this experience for all of my faithful readers...but it's so hard! How do I explain everything that I've been feeling? Where should I start? I guess I'll start with "frequently asked questions."

When I see people for the first time I'm often greeted with a warm smile followed by "Did you have a fun trip?!" And this causes my heart to stop for a second because I want to say, "No." But that doesn't seem very appropriate. It's not that I didn't have a wonderful time, as I'm sure you all know from my previous posts, but it's that I wouldn't call what I've experienced a "trip" and I wouldn't describe it as "fun."

Instead of trip I would I would lean more towards calling it a journey or experience. This was more than just three months of my life. This was the beginning of something so much greater for me. I'm not sure what that means yet, or how it will look in my life, but I know that this journey is nowhere near to being over. I am still experiencing. I wake up and think about the new things I've learned and the love I have experienced. When I go to the grocery store I think about how strange it is that I'm just going about normal life like I never left. I drive down the highway and wonder what it would be like if everyone's eyes were opened to more of what happens in the world. I walk around the mall and wonder why I'm so consumed by consumerism and try to figure out how stop it. It's hard, friends. It's very hard.

So if I wouldn't call my experience fun then what would I say? There are so many great adjectives so much more accurate than fun. Educational works. Confusing fits. Life-changing is spot on. Let's start with educational. This was a semester abroad. I had a full class load. And I learned invaluable lessons from each class. But I learned from more than just books. I learned from people. The other students on MESP were all so unique and the lessons I learned from them blew me away. I love each of them dearly and miss everyone like crazy. The locals I met taught me about life in ways that I cannot explain. Life is lived so differently there and living it with these people opened my eyes to things I didn't know I needed to see. Dr. Doug and Patti taught me so very much. I learned about Godly love, grace, acceptance, vulnerability, the list could go on and on. MESP is so lucky to have such loving leaders. And on to confusing. This is hard to explain. The things I studied left me with infinitely more questions than answers, which isn't actually a bad thing. Like I said, my eyes have been opened to things I didn't know I needed to see. Seeing these things has caused me to question the way I've seen other things. It's been quite the domino effect. The Middle East is a very complex region and I knew that going into the semester, but what I didn't know was that none of the complexities have simple answers. I'm still coming to grips with the confusion I'm experiencing and I'm not naive to the fact that I may be living with this confusion for the rest of my life while I continue to look for answers. As for life-changing. I'm not sure how to explain this at all, mostly because I don't know how my life has changed yet. I know I'm a different person, but I don't know for sure what different about me. I'm still trying to figure all that out. My thoughts on religion are different. I feel differently about gender equality and what that looks like. The way I see the role of the United States government in international affairs is changing. But that's all I can tell you. I have different feelings and ideas but I don't even know what they are yet. The only thing I know for sure is that I am drastically and forever changed by the past three months of my life.

So...that's why I don't really know how to respond when someone asks me if I've had a fun trip. I wrote in one of my first posts of the semester that I was overwhelmed and under-appreciating and I'm feeling much like that again right now. Being back home is very overwhelming. When you hear about someone spending an extended period of time in a different culture it's obvious that culture shock is probably going to happen. But how often do we think about reverse culture shock? I know it wasn't really something that was on my radar, but I'm experiencing it first hand. I've found myself questioning much of my current reality. Along with these questions I'm feeling some guilt. I am so blessed. I am surrounded by friends and family who love me and have missed me just as much as I've missed them. How do I reconcile all that I've experienced with the life that felt so normal to me four months ago? It's hard to appreciate the simplicity of life for me while I'm constantly thinking of how hard life can be for other people. I don't have the answers yet. Life has a funny way of stretching us in ways we don't realize we need. I am stretched and it's painful, but if I'm being completely honest, I wouldn't have it any other way. I don't want to be comfortable. What I want is to be challenged. Each day waking up on the other side of the world challenged me in some way, so why did I think that coming home should be any different?

I'm not mad at people who have asked me if I had a fun trip, I've probably used the exact same words with other people. It's hard to know how to welcome someone home and what words to say to them. That's why I'm writing this post. These are things that are hard to say to people in the entry way at church or the checkout line at the grocery. But I needed to say them. So no, my trip wasn't fun. My experience was educational, confusing, and life-changing. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Tough Feet, Soft Heart

Just a fair warning here, friends...this post is going to seem a bit scatter-brained. Because that's how I'm feeling at the moment. 

As I told you all in my last post, I spent a week in Jordan. What a grand adventure it was! I don't know about all of you, but I love spending time outdoors and I generally feel more refreshed after spending time in open air, so the time we had in Jordan was great for me. We started our week with a couple days in Amman. Starbucks, Caribou, Coffee Republic, froyo, and several malls all within walking distance. I had no complaints about any of this. How I've missed over-priced coffee! After our time in Amman we headed out for our great desert adventure. We took a bus to Wadi Rum where we spent an entire day riding around in back of 4x4's taking in the fresh air, big skies, and beautiful, mountainous rock formations. There really isn't any way to describe the vastness of the Sahara and the enormity of these rock outcroppings. A picture is worth a thousand words, but I couldn't capture it with a picture either! Though I did try. Not only did we get to spend the entire day out in the beautiful sun, but we SLEPT OUTSIDE! In the middle of the desert. This has probably been one of my favorite parts of the semester. It was so incredible to sleep out on a sand dune under the stars with my fellow MESPers. And let me tell you, all the times you've heard about how cold it gets in the desert at night? Yeah, that's true. The temperature drops so dramatically. But it was worth every second. I'll probably be in a nursing home some day talking about the night in college when I slept in the desert. But wait, there's more! Instead of taking the 4x4's out of the desert in the morning we rode camels! What is life?! 

But that was last week. This week has been catching up on sleep and writing papers and trying to soak up as much falafel and hummus as I can before leaving. T-minus 10 days until I'm back on the other side of the world. It feels strange to think about going home after three months in a completely different culture. It was almost exactly three months ago that I was crying in my bedroom in Michigan while my dad tried to explain voltage adapters to me. (Go ahead, judge me! I was frustrated and confused.) I don't even feel like that was me! So much about me has changed in the past semester. It's hard for me to understand myself, let alone explain to other people. This is the best way I can think to begin to articulate it:

With the exception of a few too-chilly days in Istanbul and the hikes that have required tennis shoes, I have only worn one pair of shoes since being here. My Birkenstocks. I love them. They're the most comfortable shoes I own. One of the reasons that I love them so much is that my feet still get covered in dust when I'm walking around the streets here. That might seem odd, but when I get back to my apartment after trekking around Jerusalem or Bethlehem for the day I like to look down at my feet and see the dirt on my toes. It makes me feel like I belong here, and part of me thinks that I do. Another reason I love my sandals is because, even though they protect me, my feet have become extremely calloused this semester. I've always been the type that prefers to be barefoot (this may be a family thing, i.e. my brother!) and callouses are nothing new to my feet, but it feels different this time. These callouses mean more than just a summer spent running around the yard and days at the beach. This time I've spent hours wandering new streets, the very streets that I've been reading about for quite a long time. You have to have a certain toughness to live here (I mean that in the best way possible, I promise) and I think I've demonstrated to myself that I can do it. 

My feet aren't the only thing that have changed since I've been here, my heart has too. This is harder to explain, but I think my heart is softer. My heart has been opened to so many new points of view. I've experienced love in a new way while I've been here. The realizations that have managed to sneak up on me when I least expect have left me breathless and heart-achy at times and more joyful than I've ever been at times. Maybe all of this is only making me sound like a rambling fool, but it's the closest I can come right now to telling you how I have changed. I've been welcomed into new families here and realized how important my own family is to me. How in the world am I ever going to wrap my heart around all the love I feel for people all over the world? 

Stick with me friends. I know this is only the beginning of so many things for me. With less than two weeks left in the place I have come to think of as a second home I plan to cherish every second as fully as I can. Thank you so much for all the continued prayer and support! 

























Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Taste of Fall in Istanbul

Hello from Istanbul, friends! 

I'm writing this from our hotel rooftop with the most wonderful view. Seriously breathtaking. I seem to have a knack for finding rooftops where I can enjoy some quiet time. Il humdillallah! I wish every one of you could enjoy it with me. 

I've been in Istanbul a week already and it has flown by before I even realized what was happening. It's been strange to spend time in a big city and feel so...European. More than anything in the past week I've been asked if I'm German. I've also very much enjoyed the abundance of Starbucks in the city. How I've missed my iced coffee! 

I'm sure a lot of you know that I'm th kind of girl who lives for summertime (and if you didn't, now you do!), so spending so much time in the desert heat and sunshine has left me with no complaints. But I've very much enjoyed the fall like weather in Istanbul this week. The first morning I woke up in Istanbul to a gloomy view of the sea and it was beautiful! I was so excited to spend the day wandering the streets in the dreary, damp air. Thankfully it didn't continue to rain all day and we were able to enjoy a sunny boat tour on the Bosphorus. It's been great to take in so many historic sights this week. I've spent most I the semester vision places I've only read about in textbooks, but the grandeur of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque brought it to a whole new level. It was all incredible. 

I think my favorite part of this week was going to see whirling dervishes. Talk about an experience! One of the greatest lessons I have learned so far is how I communicate with God. I don't think I've been going about worship in a way that truly allows me to experience the fullness of God that He has created me to be capable of. Experiencing worship with people of other religions has showed me just how big God is. I'm still figuring out how this is going to translate into my life back in the States, but when I get a better grasp on it I'll be sure to let you all know. All I can say right now is that God is bigger than I realized and I'm not talking to Him as well as I could. 

On a different note, I was hit with my first real wave of homesickness this week. Exhaustion seems to be getting the best of me. I'm loving every second of this trip, but it's hard to not be in your own bed. I'm excited to be back with all my family and friends in just a few more weeks. That being said, I'm already realizing how hard it will be for me to leave the new home I've created in Jerusalem. It's crazy to think that in only a few months I feel so intimately connected to the people and the place. I'm already preparing for a tearful goodbye. But that's still not for a couple weeks so I'm trying not to think about it too much. 

















What a delicious taste of fall this week has been! But now it's off to the desert for this traveler. Our flight for Jordan leaves in a few hours. We'll be spending the next week in Amman before heading back to Jerusalem for our last weeks together. I'll update you all soon! All my love! 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Musings from Morocco

How quickly reality can change. I'm writing this at the end of a very long day spent on the bus from Marrakech to Fez, Morocco. What a crazy ride life can be! 

While in Jerusalem checkpoints and security barriers became a part of my every day life. I didn't realize how quickly I had accepted this as fact. Now that I'm in Morocco it seems strange to think about. I walked through the Bethlehem checkpoint regularly and was frequently on buses when they were stopped and papers were checked. But that doesn't happen in Morocco. After a very long day of traveling from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv to Istanbul to Casablanca we hopped on our bus to Marrakech. I had been dozing and felt the bus stop. When I opened my eyes I saw a gate-looking structure and automatically reached for my passport, assuming that our bus would be checked. But we weren't at a checkpoint, it was a toll booth. It only took a few seconds for me to figure out what actually happened, but I've been thinking about it for several days already. How am I going to feel when I get back to the States? How am I going to carry this experience with me? What questions am I going to continue thinking about for years to come? Am I being dramatic? I probably am being slightly dramatic, but I'm also being honest. It's occurring to me more every day that this semester is really just the beginning of a lot of things for me. And that's terrifying and exhilarating all at once. 

On a different note: I'M IN AFRICA! This keeps blowing my mind. It's seems so surreal that I'm on another continent again! This country is beautiful. I'm loving every second of this new adventure. We've spent the past couple days in Marrakech, which is a stunning city! It's so incredible to me to see the blends of different cultures in Morocco. Because of the French influence here there are a lot of Western tourist. But at the same time Morocco is a much more conservative place than Jerusalem. I've seen more veiled women and women in hijabs than I'm used to. It's awesome to see that even though there is so much Western influence the authentic culture of this place has been preserved, at least in my opinion. 

Our "We're in Africa!" face...



















The next couple weeks are going to be a whirlwind of bus rides and sightseeing and bargaining with shopkeepers. I'm feeling so blessed to be on this great adventure. I can't wait to update you all again soon. All my love! 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Hiking and Harvesting

So my mom told me I needed to post another blog. Crazy that she is still managing to tell me what to do when I'm on a different continent, right?

I know it's been a bit since I've posted, but don't let that trick you into thinking I haven't been writing. Because I have. But not the fun kind of writing that I enjoy; I'm talking about writing papers. It's the middle of the semester and it's definitely feeling like it.

As expected life is only getting more complicated for me. It seems that every day brings a new set of questions or a new "solution." How is any one ever supposed to understand what's happening here if every individual has a different experience? Seriously so complicated. Each speaker we hear from allows time for questions and discussion and today seemed a little quieter than usual. When we were getting ready to leave after our afternoon session one of my friends said, "I don't have any questions because everything is a question." I couldn't have said it better myself if I tried. When your mind is constantly mulling over the kind of questions we are faced with in the region it can be quite...to put it lightly, exhausting.

Thankfully, we had a much needed break from school work this past weekend. I say it was a break from schoolwork because there was no time to physically rest. Our weekend was spend hiking and exploring a couple different spots south of Jerusalem.

On Friday we headed to Masada. Masada holds a rather significant place in Jewish history. It is a plateau in the Judaean Desert where Herod built palaces for himself. This was also the sight of the Siege of Masada by the Roman Empire that ended in the mass suicide of 960 Jewish rebels. I'm definitely not in the best shape of my life and this was a hike. In direct sunlight. Up hill both ways. Okay, that part isn't true, but it was tough. So worth it though. By the time I reached the top and enjoyed all of the ancient history that greeted me there I felt invigorated. After Masada we went to the Dead Sea. Talk about AMAZING! The Dead Sea was one of those things I'd heard people talk about, but never really thought about what it would be like to experience it for myself. I'm so glad that I did. The whole concept of floating on top of the water is so strange. It was one of those things that I just want everyone to experience. And the mud! I did completely cover myself in Dead Sea mud. Everyone turns into a child for a few minutes when you're rubbing mud all over yourself.

Saturday was spent doing more hiking. This time at Ein Gedi. Ein Gedi is a desert oasis and the only way to describe it is breathtaking. Already exhausted from hiking the day before, the idea of exploring the mountainous nature reserve didn't immediately appeal to me. But this time there was the promise of waterfalls and places to cool off. I had so much fun. A couple of us even had an off-trail hiking experience in search of a better view. The result was a bruised ankle and a nice chunk of skin missing from the palm of my hand. Despite it all it was the perfect opportunity to "channel my inner ibex" as I was told repeatedly and the adventure was worth it. Exhausting, but worth it.

As if two days of being out in the sun wasn't enough, we volunteered with Rabbis for Human Rights on Sunday and helped Palestinian families near Nablus harvest their olives. I think a lot of us were dreading spending another day working in the sun, but it turned out to be such a great day. I have a new appreciation for olives! I love interacting with the people here while they go about their normal lives. Getting to help them harvest just felt like we were really experiencing what it is truly like to be a part of the culture. Plus we were carted around behind a tractor and it was just cool enough that I could close my eyes and pretend I was really on a hayride through an apple orchard. I'm missing those crisp, Michigan apples!







 This is what Masada looks like from the bottom of the hike.

A hazy view of the Dead Sea.



Mineral Beach at the Dead Sea. 

The view of part of Ein Gedi from our hostel. 

Ibex are rather fearless at Ein Gedi.





Some kids just can't hang.



Harvesting doesn't lend itself well to perfectly manicured hands.



I'm not necessarily the most "outdoorsy" kind of person, but spending the weekend outside was so refreshing! I loved every grueling, hot, beautiful second.