Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A List of Things (Funny and Otherwise) I've Learned In the Last Month*

- I will always look like I need a taxi
- There is a difference between a "friendly" honk and a "move" honk
- Arab cabs go fast. I know how to tell the driver to slow down, but I generally don't. Life on the edge is just too invigorating.
- The desert is hot. 75 degrees now feels cold to me.
- I have no reason to complain about the hills in the valley at AU. I climb real hills now.
- Solar heated water is great...until it's cloudy.
- Falafel is a lifestyle. My love for falafel may soon rival my love for pizza. Gasp!
- The hijab is truly a comfort. If it wasn't so hot I would wear one!
- I miss Mac-n-cheese and freezer pizza.
- Ramen is an international diet staple, not just an American one.
- Hummus will never be the same again.
- Every person has their own story and it deserves to be told.
- I don't speak Arabic (yet), but I can ask how much something costs and understand the response!
- There are a million Jewish holidays.
- Street food is my jam. (No pun intended.)
- There is a pizza place 5 minutes walk from my apartment AND they deliver. PTL.
- Arab hospitality puts everyone else to shame.
- Some teenage boys have a tendency to say "Welcome to Egypt/Jordan/Lebanon." No clue why.
- Everything is cheaper in Bethlehem than in Jerusalem.
- I will frequently be mistaken for Canadian because of my "accent." (Thanks, Michigan.)
- I can spot a tourist from a mile away.
- I don't consider myself a tourist.
- My landlord will walk into the apartment unannounced.
- I am capable of navigating the Old City on my own.
- The rooftop provides the best solitude.
- Being a lefty is awesome for writing in Arabic.
- The Holy Sights aren't the holiest thing I have ever experienced, but still amazing.
- Olive groves are beautiful.
- Prolonged eye contact with anyone can have extremely different meaning than I realize.
- Having a limited wardrobe is awesome for laundry, but not for variety.
- Conflict is not black and white.
- I get nervous and anxious, but I feel safe and secure and at home here.
- I want to live here one day.

That, friends, is just the surface of everything I feel I have learned in the past month. I could have written a separate blog post about each one of these things filled with funny, confusing, heartwarming, heartbreaking stories. Especially the food. Obviously I have a lot to say about that! Seriously, don't get me started on falafel. Yummmm. But, if any of you lovely people would like to know some of these stories just let me know! Each one of the pictures below has a certain story, but trying to tell each one would take far too long. So let your imagination run wild.

The grave of Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism

Sometimes you just have to find a place with iced coffee so you can be productive. 

*Over-generalized and exaggerated in some cases. And should be read with a grain of salt. ;)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Yom Kippur and Barbecue

Most of you know that I'm just a white girl from Michigan who managed to make it halfway down Indiana for school. I haven't really had many opportunities to get outside of my comfort zone. So it's pretty wild to be continually a minority. Not just in ethnicity, but in faith as well. I'm living Jerusalem, a city highly regarded as one of the holiest in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Being in this amazing city, surrounded by so many Jews and Muslims makes me question my own faith. Let me explain that a little more clearly. Every morning I wake up to the Call to Prayer coming from the nearby mosque. I see the intense dedication of the Jews as they prepare for their religious holidays. And what do I do? I pray. I go to church. I read my bible, but not as often as I should. I can quote basic scripture, but my memorization is lacking. How am I going to let my time in this city effect me? How is this experience going to shape my faith and beliefs? I guess I wasn't really expecting to be so impressed with the devotion that I'm seeing in all of the communities around me. It's so amazing! 

Here's an example of this devotion with a little comedic relief, taken from my journal on Yom Kippur:

"Happy Yom Kippur! What an odd day this is! I've never seen a usually bustling city so utterly still. On the average day you can hear the constant traffic and honking from every direction. But as I sit on the roof right now the only thing I can hear are the voices of children as they run and bike in the empty streets. There is no way to capture this stillness on camera. The Jews spend this holiday, the Day of Atonement, in synagogue and fasting. In return the majority of the Arab population in the city chooses to barbecue. I can imagine that the savory smell would be torturous when fasting."

That excerpt may need a little bit of context to make more sense. On Yom Kippur that entire country basically shuts down. Some of you may cringe at this but I'm just going to copy and paste a little bit from the Wikipedia page about observance of Yom Kippur in Israel. Don't hate me! 

"Yom Kippur is a legal holiday in the modern state of Israel. There are no radio or television broadcasts, airports are shut down, there is no public transportation, and all shops and businesses are closed. 

It is considered impolite to eat in public on Yom Kippur or to sound music or drive a motor vehicle. There is no legal prohibition on any of these, but in practice such actions are universally avoided in Israel during Yom Kippur, except for emergency services. 

Over the last few decades, bicycle-riding and inline skating on the empty streets have become common among secular Israeli youngsters, especially on the eve of Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv." 

That description is so accurate! It's one of the most bizarre things that I've ever experienced. Wikipedia says that there is no legal prohibition, but I did observe some...let's call them "legal suggestions." The road to the Jewish neighborhood up the hill from my apartment was blocked off with police gates. 

One of the best things I have experienced in the last week is meeting some of the coolest people! I have been part of some of the most interesting conversations. I love spending time in cafes and just talking to the people. Granted, I do much more listening than I do talking, but that's just another part of the culture here. I think that listening to people and hearing different stories about how individuals have been effected by the Intifadas is so incredible. As I said in my last post, I'm trying not to make this conflict my own. I'm finding that I need to learn what the conflict is to these people. I can't wait to continue to try to discover what it means to these people to be Palestinian, to be Jewish, to be Israeli. 

Kapparot is a Jewish ritual practiced by some Ultra-Orthodox on the eve of Yom Kippur. A live chicken is swung over the heads of family members, symbolically transferring one's sins to the chicken. The chicken is then slaughtered and donated to the poor for consumption at the pre-fast meal. Some of the other students and I woke up before sunrise to catch the first bus into the city to see this fascinating ritual. Worth it.

I spend a lot of time on the roof of our apartment building. (Yes, Mom, it is very safe!) It's a great place to take in the fact that I am in Israel. I've also decided it's my favorite place to write! 

I am so glad that I am here! Already I have encountered so many hard questions and I know they're just going to keep coming. I'm embracing it. The hard questions aren't all going to have answers or the answers that I want, but they deserve my attention. Luckily I'm not facing any of these questions alone. I am so thankful to be dealing with these issues surrounded by a community of love. And I'm not just talking about the students here, I mean everyone. Thank you all so much for supporting me and helping me with hard questions. I wouldn't be able to do it without any of you. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Learning to Love

"If you're going to pick a side, then leave. We don't need more problems here." 

This is a paraphrase of something I heard during discussion today and it's really caused me to stop and think. My opinion on the conflict surrounding the microcosm that is Israel/Palestine has been something that I've struggled with understanding. In classes and discussions with family and friends I have had a hard time articulating my feelings about the "special relationship" of the US and Israel, the refugee issues of the region, and the neighborhoods/settlements. But I definitely had an opinion. Two weeks into the program I'm beginning to realize something...I need to get rid of the opinion. And that's not because I'm realizing that I was wrong and I've come here and suddenly seen the light, but it's something much deeper. 

I am living here. I am part of this community now. I did not sign up for this semester so I could spend time passing judgement and only seeing the side of this narrative that I choose. So why am I here? I've been spending a lot of time trying to answer this question. I'm discovering that maybe I haven't had the best intentions, and that can be a tough pill to swallow. 

As my dad and I were driving to the airport two weeks ago we were talking about some of the things I thought would be a struggle for me. I told him that I wanted  to be more compassionate towards both sides of the conflict. Until today I don't think I had realized that in order to have compassion for all of these people I need to be willing to listen to all of their stories. Listening means more than just hearing about each narrative, but also trying to understand the identity of the individuals I interact with and the culture they identify with. I have to be willing to listen when what I'm hearing isn't always objective. The issues here are not just political; they are personal to these people.  It's easy for us (Westerners, Christians, Americans, however you choose to identify yourself) to pass a judgement from what we assume is an objective point of view. But how can we expect these people, whose entire history is written into this land, to separate their personal experience from what they see as true? It's impossible! Yes, I have heard speakers who have found a way to offer an objective point of view, but for the first time today I felt like I was listening to someone who was angry and bitter and impassioned. I can't lie to you, it did make my blood boil a little bit. But after processing it more and realizing that I am in no position to judge his beliefs, it hit me that this speaker actually had a right to these feelings. 

I realize this post doesn't make me seem as articulate as I could be, but I really want to be candid about the way I'm experiencing life here. And I'm human. So life isn't always going to appear eloquent and simple; it is messy and complicated and political and emotional. But stick with me over the next couple months and maybe I'll come up with something profound to say...but more than likely I'll just end up with far more questions than answers. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Overwhelmed, Under-appreciating, and Finding My Way

Today officially marks one week of being in Jerusalem...which is strange because it feels like I've already been here a month. Time is so strange. 

As the title of this post indicates things are still feeling a little strange for me. If I only take one thing away from this semester it will probably be the importance of communication, both verbal and written. We've started taking our Arabic class, which will last for about a month and be extremely intense. We've had two sessions with out teacher and I already feel like I'm floundering. 

Here are some snippets from my journal so you can get a taste of my reality (a lot of it tastes like falafel!): 

Sunday, 9.1 "After four days of constantly being around people I'm feeling really worn out. I love these people already and I love spending time with them, but it's really hard. I wouldn't always classify myself as an introvert but I'm feeling very introverted right now. I need some time to myself to process and rest. We toured the Jewish Quarter of the Old City today. So much information was thrown at us, and don't get me wrong, all of it was super interesting...but right now I'm too tired to appreciate most of it. We visited the Western Wall today. It was hot. I was miserable. I can't wait to go back and enjoy it for everything that it is when I'm rested." 

Monday, 9.2 "We started the day with a speaker at the Center. Our speaker was a professor at BYU in Jerusalem. He told us all about the different levels (I think that's the right word?) of Judaism. It's really pretty crazy how all of the different groups are so distinct and easily identifiable when you know what you're looking for. He also taught us about the different Jewish holidays that are coming up this month. I'm stoked to be in Jerusalem during all the festivities. After the speaker we went grocery shopping for the first time. Talk about a new experience! I get stressed out enough trying to shop at Kroger, so a Jewish market made it a little hard for me to breathe. But I did manage to find some Ramen and cereal. So I guess you could say I'm just living the college dream over here."

Tuesday, 9.3 "Service project day! One of the awesome things about MESP is that we are so immersed in the culture. Instead of having class on Tuesdays we all have been assigned to different projects with nonprofits and schools around Bethlehem and Jerusalem. I'm volunteering at an organization called Musalaha in East Jerusalem. Musalaha is a nonprofit that focuses on educating women and youth about the importance of  reconciliation from a biblical perspective. They often host speakers and hold seminars and conferences. I'm not sure what I'll typically be doing while at Musalaha, but today I spent the morning editing a chapter of youth curriculum. It's not something I've ever thought about doing before but it was really cool! Later, Donald and Spenser and I trekked back into the Old City. I'm seriously in love with that place already! We had an awesome night wandering around and trying to find a cool spot to make our usual. However, we found out the hard way that the buses stop running back to Tantur from the Old City before 9pm, which is when we tried to find one. So basically we all ended up paying 3 or 4 times more for a taxi than we would have for the bus. Lesson learned." 

 View of the Plaza from the Jewish Quarter 

Holy Books to read prayers at the Western Wall

Damascus Gate to the Old City

All of my cat lover friends would appreciate the number of cats!

New moonstone ring!

So, I think this post makes it pretty clear that my feeling in the past couple of days have been just as hard to understand everything else in the Middle East. But I promise I still have no doubts that I'm in the right place. It's just that adjusting to life in another country is difficult! For now I'm just going to focus on Arabic...easier said than done when I just want to explore.