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!