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 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.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

More Family, More Love

Hi all! What a crazy couple weeks it has been! Remember how overwhelmed I felt by the insane amount of speakers and tours we packed into our first three days at MESP? Well, it hasn't changed. We're still crazy busy and always on the move. Sheesh!

For the past week I have been living with a wonderful Palestinian family in Bethlehem. I am so, so, so thankful for the opportunity! I literally have a second family now. It was so great to Day to day life can be monotonous, but living in a new culture is so exciting. I can't lie, I was extremely nervous going into the week. Would my family speak English? Would they understand my (not even) elementary Arabic? Would they force me to eat meat? Would I have sisters? Brothers? As with every experience here, I was full of questions.

My host family spoke WONDERFUL English (sigh of relief on my part!). My host mom is actually an English teacher at one of the Catholic schools. The family thought it was hilarious when I tried to use my Arabic (good ol' comedic relief) and they taught me some new words. They did try to force me to eat meat...just kidding. They totally didn't. But it was ALWAYS offered to me, followed by an incredible amount of laughter. Apparently it's hilarious to offer meat to a vegetarian in every culture. And I was lucky enough to end up with three beautiful sisters! My sisters were 17, 14, and 9. And very mischievous. They love MTV, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus (before she got weird), and Arabs Got Talent. My host dad is a funny and loving father. I loved seeing the way my sisters loved their Papa! Made me miss mine!

I think my favorite time of the week was when we went to a barbecue for my host aunt's birthday! This family knows how to party! So much dancing. So much food. So much laughter. So much joy. I can't even begin to explain what an awesome one it was.

It's crazy to me how much I love this family after only one week. I'm so glad that I will be close to them for the next two months. The relationships we formed over this week are the kind that I know will last a lifetime. I so appreciated their candid, open nature. There was no question that was off-limits. I learned so much about what it's like to have lived in their shoes. I'm so excited to continue learning about them and from them.