Saturday, March 22, 2008

Catsup, Ketchup, Catch Up.... Whatever...

That last post took half a week to write, so I already have an update on life. Finals are over and it feels good. I'm still coming back to life (I've been a zombie by the way). This week definitely was the "best of times and the worst of times". The "worst": finals and all the studying that profited me nothing. The "best": Palm Sunday and Bethlehem, Easter weekend, and the studying that did pay off in the end. The first final I don't even want to talk about, and the other two were fine. I actually rocked the last one, it was satisfying. Oh, another part of the worst: we lost our last soccer game, so we are out of the tournament. We only lost by one point. It was sad.

This weekend was the Jewish feast of Purim. We had our own little Purim party here. The Jews dress up in costumes for it, similar to Halloween. We have limited resources here at the JC, so we all got creative with our costumes. We had a bonfire, made banana boats, reenacted the story of Esther, and burned the manuals of the classes we just finished. It was fun and definitely a great way to relieve the stress of the week.

Spring is here and trees are budding everywhere and flowers are springing up all over. Even a few roses have bloomed around the center. Today was Easter Sabbath for us. Lots of students went down to the Garden of Gethsemane between church and dinner. It seemed appropriate. We leave for Galilee in the morning, but before we do, our departure was pushed back so we can go to the sunrise service at the Garden Tomb (enough students protested that they were being deprived of Easter in Jerusalem!). The Galilee field trip is our longest one and spans 11 days, so you'll get a break from these updates for a while. We are all really excited, especially since the weather is nice and warm for good now! It may still be winter where you are, but it's not where I am!

I updated my pictures and added another album, so check 'em out. I really crave Mexican food. Just throwing that out there.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Palm Sunday and Bethlehem

Things are winding down. Papers are done, and only one more final to go. We leave for Galilee on Sunday. Unfortunately, we will not get to spend Easter here in Jerusalem because it is a travel day for us.

Despite the mass hysteria that always accompanies high levels of stress in confined spaces, we have been able to do a couple of fun things this last week that gave us a break from the grind. Last Sunday was Palm Sunday and it is my new favorite holiday (as long as I can celebrate it in Jerusalem). Here in Jerusalem pilgrims come from literally all over the world to walk from Bethphage to St. Anne's, a French Catholic church not far inside the walls through Lions Gate, in Jerusalem. We all walked over to the starting point together where there were lots of little boys selling palms and olive branches. The tradition is the pilgrims carry the branches along the walk in commemoration of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem the week before he was crucified. It was so much fun to be with so many Christians! There were people from all walks of life: tourists, nuns, monks, youth groups, students and locals. There were thousands of people! We all walked along together singing hymns. There were even some mobile musical groups complete with accordions, tambourines, microphones and speakers they carried along. The walk ends at St. Anne's because that is where the Pool of Bethesda is. On the grounds they had more music and we all continued to celebrate together. Some of our students even initiated a conga line at one point. Not all the nuns appreciated it, but what can I say? We have a dance party wherever we go, do we not?

We went to Bethlehem a couple days later. Our Palestinian teacher lives and works there, so he was in charge of the tour. We heard a lecture by the director of an institute that does research about Palestine. He was a former political prisoner so that's cool. He was understandably very passionate. We then went to Bethlehem University where we had a tour of part of campus, then had a question and answer session with 4 students. It was really interesting to ask them questions about what their lives are like in the West Bank. It is good for us to hear the story from both sides, something Americans never get in the states I now know.

Next we went to Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity. It is built over the grotto that Christ was traditionally born in. We got to go down in it and sing Christmas carols. There is nothing like singing "Away in a Manger" in the stable where it happened (maybe)! We had some free time to do some shopping in town and then left for "shepherd's field" for our last stop. We just went out to an open field outside the city to eat our sack dinners and then had a devotional and lecture on the birth of Christ under the stars. It was cool... and by that I mean freezing. We had to huddle for warmth but it was worth it! It was a neat experience.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Odds and Ends

Tuesday they finally let us go out into the city again. Things seemed to have calmed down a bit and we are keeping our fingers crossed that it stays that way. It was a bittersweet privledge because we had to study for our Old Testament final, so we really didn't have much time to go anywhere. Most everyone did anyway and it was great because the weather was beautiful all week. We have three more finals and a 14-page paper due next week in addition to all the regular work for other classes, so we have plenty to keep us busy. We started our New Testament class today, and we'll have only that and our Ancient Near East class the rest of the semester. NT will be intense since we are cramming it into a month, but we are all excited. We are going to spend 11 days in Galilee soon where we will get to travel around and see places like Nazareth and Megiddo (of Armageddon fame).

So, I've instituted an exercise regime for myself so that I ensure that all my clothes will still fit when I get home. As part of it I am participating in the JC soccer tournement. Our team lost the first time, but we won the second. We are tied for 2nd place in our bracket so we have a playoff next Wednesday to see who will play against the 2nd place team of the other bracket. The winner of that game plays the winner between the 1st places for the win over all. That sounds confusing, but that's how it is workis. We play 4 on 4 and my team has 2 boys and 2 girls. Two have played before and two haven't, including me, but we do pretty well. I have found that I have a natural talent as a goalie, and I have the bruises to prove it.

Don't forget to check out my pictures! I have them updated through the Eilat trip and our tour through the Kotel Tunnel (Kotel=Western Wall, they have excavated along it under the Islamic neighborhood).

Monday, March 10, 2008

Eilat of Fun in the Sun!

The Friday after we got back form Jordan was a free day, so our out-of-Jerusalem committee organized a trip down to the resort city of Eilat (pronounced eh-LOT) to go snorkeling in the Gulf of Aqaba. It was a perfect day. The place we snorkeled was part of a preserve, so we had to stay within certain boundaries but it was worth it because the coral has been so well preserved. Of all the places I've been snorkeling this place had the best coral by far. There were tons of fish too, but they were mostly small fish in large schools. The water felt kind of chilly initially and it took me several minutes to convince myself to jump it. Each time I was better though. We had lots of fun swimming and just laying out on the beach and being lazy. Lots of people got badly burned, but not yours truly. I've had lots of practice in how not to. In the evening we went into the town to find dinner before heading back home. The sunshine followed us back and every day since has been warmer and warmer in Jerusalem. I think spring may finally be upon us!

Security Update

I'm sure many of you were curious (and worried) about me and what is going on at this end with regards to the shooting last week. If you didn't know, a Hamas-affiliated man from East Jerusalem walked into a yeshiva Thursday evening and opened fire on the students. Eight young students died and many more were wounded. The incident happened on the west side of the Old City near Jaffa Gate (you can find the area on one of the maps to the left). We had been in Jordan all week but came home on Thursday afternoon so we were in Jerusalem when it happened, but we live in the East City on the outskirts of town and weren't allowed out that evening, so we were nowhere near the action. Most of us found out what happened early the next morning. Most everyone, including me, was gone all day Friday in Eilat in southern Israel, so we weren't around to see the immediate aftermath. Currently we have been on lockdown in the center all weekend through today (Monday) and can only leave for organized, approved group activities like Eilat was. Our security guys are taking the days one at a time as they contact their sources around the city and gauge the tension in the city. The shooting was an isolated incident and seemed to have intentionally occurred during Secretary Rice's visit. We are basically waiting to see if it escalates or blows over. Don't worry- we aren't being sent home. The situation is not as serious as that, it is just tense.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


I'm home! And surprised that so many people have checked this blog even though I was out of town (there is a counter at the bottom of the page if you didn't know). It's validating, knowing people actually come read this.

Jordan was awesome! Definitely one of my favorite field trips thus far. It was only a 4 day trip, but it feels like we have been gone for a long time. The first day we crossed over the boarder and security conditions were such that we first went to the traditional location of Jesus' baptism at Bethany beyond Jordan (as opposed to the Bethany next to Jerusalem). The location is within a military zone, so we have to get clearance when we go. The Jordan is a little, dirty river that meanders through the lowlands. There are some ruins of an old church that used to be over the site (note*= whenever people claimed a place to be a holy site in antiquity, they built a church over it) and some other Byzantine ruins in the area. It was a cool spot.

Next we went to Madaba where we got to see this mosaic map of the Holy Land from the Byzantine era. The church it was in originally was ruined in an earthquake, but a new one has since been built over it to preserve it. The map has been valuable to archaeologists as they piece together the Holy Land as it existed in the Bible. To end the day we made the long drive down to Petra to spend the night. We usually are in rooms of two with one group of three girls and I was in the group of three this time, so we had a bigger room. It was a suite actually and we had private access to the roof. We felt cool and people were jealous.

Day two was all about Petra, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Remember that place they go in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade to find the Holy Grail? Yeah, saw that. It was amazing. This whole civilization of the Nabateans carved tons of caves and facades for tombs and temples out of the sandstone in this narrow canyon in the desert. Lots of us took donkeys up to the ''Monastery" up on one of the nearby mountains. It's not really a monastery but the people who found it called it that. It was a temple and the most impressive facade in the valley. I forgot my inhaler on the bus, so I also took a mule while most everyone else hiked up to the High Place, a site where the people performed their animal sacrifices atop a different mountain. That was cool too because the altar was still up there. The whole site was amazing and you can spend all day exploring, but alas we had only until 2pm. People were late though and cost us a visit to the site of Moses' Spring because we had to drive back north to Amman, the capital of Jordan. In our free time that night we all took a trip down the street to a shop that sells cheap pirated DVDs and we cleaned the place out. Don't worry, it's legal over here and the teachers were even endorsing the activity! We even got a few movies that aren't even out on video in the states yet! We are all excited to try them out and make sure they work.

The next day we went first to the Jabbok River where Jacob wrestled with an angel. It really pretty if you didn't look too close at the water (super polluted- we were advised to not even touch it). The site actually kind of reminded me of the St. Joe River back at home. Then we went to Jerash, which is a well-preserved Roman city. There is a beautiful Roman theater where some musicians were playing bagpipes and drums for the tourists. We had another dance party like we usually do each trip. I loved Jerash because there were all these temples and columns and things that I had learned about in art history 201. It was very validating to know and understand the significance what I was looking at. After our tour we got to go to a show they put on in the hippodrome about what the Roman legions were like, how gladiators fought, and a chariot demonstration. It was very instructive. After Jerash we had lunch at this super-good restaurant that had the best humus ever. Next we went to where the local branch of our church meets in Amman. The area president and the branch president talked to us about what it was like living there and the sorts of activities the church is involved in, like humanitarian aid. Outside the building I saw a couple that I met at church in Jerusalem last week. They have been serving a humanitarian aid mission in Lebanon and were touring around Israel and Jordan before heading home to the states. It was fun to see some familiar faces! The rest of the day was free time and I really wanted to go to the art museum, but then none of the taxi drivers knew what we were talking about, so my group ended up getting more DVD's and some ice cream and hanging out around the hotel since we were exhausted anyway.

The last day (today) we went to the citadel of Amman where there are more Roman ruins and a museum of lots of world-class antiquities. We saw some of the Dead Sea Scrolls including the Copper Scroll, some neolithic skeletons, and other really cool things that if I were to list, you would get bored because you don't know why they are so cool. That was our last stop before heading back over the boarder. Now we are back at home and I even unpacked already. It was such a fun trip and if anyone wants to travel to the Middle East, Jordan is the place to go. Clean, organized, good drivers (I mean this comparatively, all drivers in the Mid east are crazy; Jordanians are just less crazy), friendly people, and cool things to see. I'll post pictures in a day or two, so don't forget to come back and check 'em out.
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