Weeks 1 and 2 are already down!

My last entry was the night I arrived here in Nablus – already over 2 weeks ago!  Funny thing: not five minutes after I posted it, the power went out here – it was about midnight.  That’s been a somewhat regular occurrence since then.  As I scrambled around for my little bug-shaped light that I had brought, I heard a knock at the door.  My landlords from downstairs were at the door with two candles for me.  How sweet!  And that’s how it goes in Palestine.

I really haven’t come up for air until today, the first day of school (Sunday).  IMG_1021The first full day I was here Chloe and I stayed late revising the faculty handbook.  She is great to collaborate with — but almost too easy!  She keeps deferring to me!  Otherwise, the first week we (i.e. the foreign staff, 20+) spent taking care of basics like getting bank accounts, cell phones, groceries, and getting to know each other.  IMG_1028We had a lovely dinner at the principal’s house one night.  Another night we feasted at a restaurant with a spectacular view atop one of the two hills that frame the city of Nablus.  One afternoon we took a walking tour of the city – the school is definitely on the outskirts, but it’s only a 10-shekel ride or so to get downtown.  me and elyse and rachelIMG_1033

Another evening the teachers went bowling.  I passed on that.  Every spare moment I worked on my training sessions that were to start on Sunday.

My apartment is spacious and sparse.  Since it’s new construction, it’s furnished with the bare bones at this point.  We’re working on that ;).  It’s on the second floor of a building just a 5-minute walk from the school.  Downstairs are the landlords: a young family with two cute, energetic little boys – ages 4 and 7.  The night I came home from the hill-top restaurant they invited me in for Arabic coffee.  It seems like everything you drink here is caffeinated.  I’m going to have to get my resistance built up for that.  The wife studied English in college and was anxious to give it a try.  Really sweet!  It was great to make the connection, well worth the caffeine buzz at 10 pm!  (That’s when my stash of Benadryl comes in handy… thank you, Fran.)  The next day was Friday, the first day of the weekend.  Prayers are at noon.  There’s a mosque across the street, my other neighbor.  The first morning after I arrived when the call for prayer came over the loudspeaker, it nearly blasted me out of bed.  It’s pretty loud.  And the speaker is basically pointed at my windows!  The volume is probably designed to be heard quite far away, so for those of us who are close – well, there’s no missing it!  I do think I’ve slept through it twice now – miraculously enough!  Either that or the power was out those mornings.  I still can’t believe I slept through it!  Actually I overslept one morning this week and looked out.  Normally the mosque is lit up with green (someone will have to explain that to me…. Not sure why) – but it was all dark.  So I think my guess that the power was out might have been correct.

IMG_1054You may have read on Facebook how a young man came to my door that first Friday with a plate of warm pita bread and zatar.  He said the food was from his mother and wouldn’t I please come to their house for lunch at 3:00.  It just made me weep.  Here’s this family – to whom I am a complete stranger/foreigner/someone who represents a potentially adversarial country – and they’re bringing me food and inviting me to lunch!  I had to decline – I was heading over to the school for the afternoon.  I’m hoping I might get another chance though!  I am so humbled by the hospitality here.  I wish we could take on just a fraction of it!  Just a fraction.

So – our workweek is Sunday – Thursday and last Sunday was when I launched my training.  My charges are 12 lovely young teachers.  Some have teaching experience: Thailand, Cairo, Sudan.  2 are from the UK, 3 are locals here from Nablus, and 7 from the US.  I started with presenting second language acquisition, most of the material being from my UIC class, and soon realized that I needed to dial things back a bit.  It was all new to them and more than a tad overwhelming.

Nevertheless – we did workshops on classroom management, zone of proximal development and gradual release, what to do the first day/week of school, and more!  Poor things were beyond saturation point.  But!  There was a method to my madness. These first days, visiting classrooms and checking in with teachers– we have enough of a common language for me to refer to what we talked about during the workshop.  Not having a common language would render it hopeless.  So I’m glad – even though it was a lot.  It was a crash course in education!  In one week.

Two workshops we did with the whole staff.  Students at the school in grades 1-3 get 2 hours of English per day.  The rest of their day is with a teacher who teaches them core subjects in Arabic.  In grade 4 and up, they also get math in English, grades 6 and up, they also get science in English.  For all practical purposes, it’s a dual language program!  Seniors take 6 (I think!) SAT subject exams.  Sounds pretty rigorous. It was great to see the local Arabic staff and the English-speaking staff getting to know each other.

All the while parents were coming in throughout the week, buying uniforms for their kids, getting supply lists, the usual.  IMG_1071

Monday night the principal asked me to meet with her and the man who is the head of the board for the school.  How impressive!  They want students to get critical thinking which is something I was never able to convince anyone of last year at the Lutheran schools!  They want to expand.  “We want a manual so we can use it to open more schools.”  They are so happy to have me here.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so appreciated!  And I’ve hardly gotten started!!

Thursday evening we had a potluck at my place – just my team.  That was fun — though way too hot and the air circulation in here is not great.  Everyone was pouring sweat.  I’m told it got good reviews nonetheless.

That was one of the reasons that I requested a larger place.  As Connie says, I get to be the “den mother” to these wonderful young people.  I hope I can provide a space where they can come and enjoy an evening.  Lord knows I’m not a great cook – but I can make food happen.  Luckily one of our local English teachers convinced her mom to make Makloubeh, my all-time favorite Palestinian dish with rice, cauliflower, and chicken.  You can believe I was in heaven!  In addition we had brownies, stuffed dates, sautéed veggies, kofte, cucumber salad, Thai chicken, and I’m probably forgetting something!  It was yummy and fun to have this place filled up with laughter and conversation.

The administrative assistant who keeps everything running at the school took me shopping Wednesday afternoon.  It was like Dollar Store extravaganza!  Dishes, tea cups, coffee cups, 2 clocks to spruce up the walls, a plastic chest of drawers, serving dishes, utensils, etc. etc.

My kitchen has beautiful and somewhat dramatic woodwork.  That’s the only storage in the place at this point so I have all kinds of things stashed in those cupboards.  Granite countertops, a nice-sized fridge.  For a stove, I have two gas burners hooked up to a canister of gas.  For an oven there’s a contraption about the size of a microwave that is apparently an oven.  I’d love to get a batch of cookies baked in there at some point!  No microwave.  My favorite feature of the kitchen is an appliance I’ve always had to descend several flights of stairs to reach in my 30 years of living on my own.  A washing machine!!!!  No dryer – but a dryer rack.  Today the humidity here was 70% — I’m pretty sure it was 40 something one day.  Stuff dries in no time!  The floors are a beautiful shiny tile.  I have a blue bathroom and a orangey bathroom – both with really beautiful tile!  So if you Facetime with me and it sounds I’m calling from an echo chamber – I kind of am!

We had parent meetings on Wednesday and Saturday.  Ooh boy.  When you’re paying top shekel for your kid’s education, you want to know!  How are we going to attend to the whole child when we discipline?  How are we going to manage the loose paper better than last year?  We want hard homework!  We have too much homework!  My kid doesn’t have perfect pronunciation (of English!) in second grade!  How are you going to challenge my child?  How are you going to accommodate my child?   I gave them my 5 tips for a successful school year including getting 11 hours of sleep per night and 30 minutes of screen time per day.  They just laughed.  Oh well – you have to start somewhere!

Lana, the principal, knows everyone – kids and parents.  She is amazing.  She’s not an educator per se – but she has been the principal the whole ten years.   And now, this year, they –we — will graduate the first senior class!  It’s really quite a feat.  She was raised in the US but came here as a young adult and is by heritage Palestinian.  She’s the perfect example of a bilingual, bicultural person – equally comfortable in either language and culture.  Chloe, who was the person I had the Skype conversations with is equally amazing and is Lana’s right hand.  Chloe O’Conner speaks Arabic totally comfortably, knows every student, loves! every student.  I haven’t even seen her flustered once.  She’s totally low key and lives and dies for the school.  It’s all an amazing labor of love.

I had my first “office hours” for parents today from 10-12 (it’s Wednesday now) in my little office.  IMG_1126  One wanted to tell me about her daughter’s health issues, one was concerned because her daughter had been raised in Canada until first grade and is resisting Arabic here.  Such universal concerns.  And two really nice parents.  I needed a translator for one meeting.  One of the Arabic teachers at the school seemed happy to do that.  They were really positive experiences. (Eva, do you see your frog?!?!)

So school started on Monday.

I tried writing this Monday and fell dead asleep at my computer.  We have to be at school at 7:15 – yikes!  The morning assembly starts at 7:45.  Kids are picked up at 2:45.

It’s a pretty long day.  The good news is I’m woken up at 4:30ish anyway by the call to prayer across the street – so I can still squeeze in a little workout, breakfast, etc. before I walk the 5 minutes to school.  The one day – yesterday – that the mosque was dark I kept snoozing my phone til it gave up – thinking the call to prayer would save me.  Well – I need to start getting my tired behind out of bed and that means getting my tired behind into bed at the right time.  I don’t know if I’m still adjusting to the time zone at this point, but my body wants to go to bed at 11:30 and I should really be in bed latest 9:30.

We have one week next week of school, then a week’s break for Eid.  That’s a pretty sweet way to start a school year – at least from this vantage point!  I’m looking forward to heading to Ramallah and Bethlehem to catch up with my peeps down there!

And go to church!  I have not been to church in 4 weeks.  That hasn’t happened in decades.  But I just heard from the Episcopalian priest here in Nablus tonight – he sent his phone number.  So – we’ll get that pie spinning here pretty soon.

LOVE to you all in your respective corners of God’s beautiful earth!

Thanks for your love and prayers and good wishes.









Arrived in Nablus!

Well – as traveling always is… it was a day of tedium – but really, no complaints!

My flight from ORD was on time and totally uneventful!  The woman at Austrian Airlines didn’t even bat an eye at my overweight luggage.  All of that consternation for nothing!!  She even offered to check one of my carry-ons for free.  A good start to the trip to be sure!!!

On the Chicago to Vienna leg, I shared a 3-seat row with an elderly lady all dressed up in a suit – carrying a cane.  She smiled at me but communicated that she couldn’t communicate. Deutsch?  English?  Turns out later she was Czech. Nope – don’t speak Czech.  Nevertheless, she looked after me – cleared my plates and smiled and we went to the restroom at the same time.  I helped her each time.  She didn’t seem to know how to operate an airplane’s restroom.  Imagine traveling alone at that age when it’s all new!  She just sat and watched the people.  I sat and tried to sleep – all for naught since 5-year old twins were sitting behind me, kicking, screaming, and singing most of the trip.  Really annoying but what can you do.  They were cute.  I worked on my ppts and read a little.  Too restless to do much more.

We arrived in Vienna early.  I had time for a nice double espresso and some internet time at the café before boarding the next plane for Jordan.  There I shared a row with an older couple.  They soon fell asleep, as did I for a short time.  Before we knew it, we were landing in Amman.  In Amman I had to pay 40 JD (almost $40!) to enter Jordan – well, they do have to pay for all of those refugees somehow!  And as I exited – there was Dina’s/Hala’s cousin, Hana, waiting for me.  Hana and me at Amman airportWhat a relief to have a person you can trust to take care of you.  My first angel of the day!  All of my worry about the bags was for nothing.  All I had to do was lift them onto the trolley – he took care of the rest.  Yeah!!!  The drive from the Amman airport to the bridge that crosses the Jordan River takes about an hour.  It feels so crazy familiar to be here!!!  I can’t believe it.  Sheep, goats on the side of the road.  Dust, heat, the ubiquitous beige.  Wow.  Wow.

Hana was nice enough to come in to the Jordanian security to help me navigate that before he left.  Lots of shouting (well, that’s how it sounds to me!) – and back and forth.  Finally we determined the next bus left at 6 pm, so Hana left and I sat myself down to wait.  And wait.  I started talking with the family sitting next to me.  The wife’s family is originally from Nablus, she was born in London.  They have two boys and try to come here often so that the boys can connect their family’s culture.  Finally around 6:30 we boarded a bus and were taken to the Israeli security.  Bags through a scanner, two different officials checking my passport.  A soldier called me over and wanted to know what was in my shoulder bag.  Books, toiletries.  What else?  I shrugged my shoulders.  Too tired to think to be honest.  Then they went through my suitcase.  Pulled out a blank notebook with Arabic writing on the front (uh-oh!), a bible, Cotton’s phones (!).  Not a word – handed me back the suitcase to put back together.  I thought I was done.  Ha!  “You have to go through passport control!” the young man told me as I tried to leave.  All I could find was a window labeled “Diplomatic Passports and VIP” but I guess for this evening that was passport control.  There was a young woman behind the window that didn’t seem to like the idea of my going to Nablus.  Have I been here before.  Yes.  Where are you going.  Nablus.  How long will you be in Israel.  I’m going straight to Nablus, I won’t be staying in Israel.  A dismissive gesture and “it’s all the same to me!”  And “please wait over there.”  So I went over there and waited.  The family had been asked to wait too.  20 minutes later a young man in a soldier’s uniform came out to ask again where I was going.  Nablus, Pioneers School.  I have a visa. So I showed him the visa on my phone and he chuckled – said the person who signed it was a former student.  Cool! I said, thinking that should take care of it.  40 minutes later another man came out and called my name.  He gave me my passport and reminded me I was to stay only on the West Bank.  Yes.  Understood.  And I was (finally!!) on my way.  With my two 50+-pound suitcases, a small roller bag and my shoulder bag with my laptop and just a few books.

Outside was total chaos.  It was dark by now.  A man came up and grabbed my bags. I was told to be ready to tip if they did that.  NO problem!!!  He shooed people out of the way to get me to the bus to Jericho.  Slung my bags in the bottom of the bus, gladly accepted my two dinar, and I was on the bus to Jericho.  Now it was Palestinian control.  Everyone was elbowing their way to the front.  There was a window labeled “foreign passports” that had no one there so I went to one of the other windows.  Got there – and was told I needed to go to window 7.  But there’s no one there!  I went.  Someone came.  “Elisabeth, Welcome to Palestine.”  Yeah!!!!

Again, outside was more chaos.  But another helpful man grabbed my bags  — Nablus!!  I chimed — and he choo’ed choo’ed over to the public van transport that was going to Nablus.  The driver was totally tee’ed off about something, yelling at another man.  There were a lot of people.  Bags got in the back of the van, helper got tipped and I went to find the driver to ask if he could take me straight to the school.  No clear answer.  – a crabby driver to be sure.   A rather stern looking man with a long beard and a long white cloak asked me where I was going in crystal clear English. Pioneers School.  Oh yes!  He knew right where that is.  He approached the driver again to ask if he couldn’t take me there.  No, but he would drop me off where there are taxis.  More yelling, more chaos.  I climbed into the back of the un-air-conditioned van.  Not unfamiliar to me from last year!   The gentleman climbed in next and — not at all sternly — asked if he could sit next to me.  Sure!  And could we possibly use his phone to call the school?  Sure.  So we called Chloe – the first sign of life from me for 5 hours.  Don’t worry, he reassured me.  I will make sure you get a taxi that will take you to the school.  I must say.  It is the most incredibly humbling experience to put yourself in the hands of a stranger who assures you that he will take perfect care of you.  And of course he did!  After an hour of tearing through the dark hills of Palestine, he handled my paying the driver with Jordanian Dinar and called over a taxi.  They appeared to know each other – sure enough!  “Don’t worry, he’s my relative – he’ll take care of you.”  We drove straight through the largest refugee camp in Palestine which apparently is in Nablus – packed with people on a summer night, cars going right and left.  Honking all the while!!  I love it.  Turns out the gentleman is an English teacher at a boy’s school here.  He promised to call to invite me to an event at the school.  I told him he was my angel today.  What a blessing.

We finally landed at the school gates.  Chloe was there to meet me.  Yeah!!!  Big hugs.  The principal’s husband was driving — across the street to my abode.   They got me upstairs, connected to the wi-fi and they were on their way.  Oh my!!!  It is definitely new construction.  There’s just the very basics here – but as promised, air conditioning in the bedroom.  Two bathrooms, three bedrooms, one with a desk, one with a single, and one with a double.  They left some groceries for me – I ate a can of corn with tuna (!!) and a couple of cucumbers.  And here I am.  Chloe encouraged me to sleep in and nest tomorrow.  Bless her heart! We’ll see if I can sleep.

I hear a few dogs barking, and a few cars on the streets, but it’s pretty quiet.  There’s a cool breeze coming through the windows, but I’ll leave the air on in the bedroom.  And I believe a rooster just crowed.  It’s 12:30 – time to get some sleep!

Thanks to all of you who carried me here on your prayers and good wishes.

Tomorrow – after I get some rest and do a little nesting, will be my first visit to the Pioneers Baccalaureate School.  Yeah!!!

El hamda’allah.

“There are always things to miss, no matter where you are.”


“There are always things to miss, no matter where you are.”

If you were ever a 4th grade student of mine, you’ll recognize those words from Patricia MacLachlan’s well-worn book Sarah, Plain and Tall, a perineal favorite of my young immigrant students.

That’s the bitter and the sweet of being a traveler – and having lived in various places.  You have multiple homes, and then again maybe you don’t quite fit anywhere.

When I came back to Chicago in January, people often asked me if I would ever go back to Palestine.  Yes!  Without a doubt~ was always my answer.  Ensha’allah!  Someday.  Well, that day has come sooner than I thought.  Mid-August I will be heading to Nablus, Palestine to be the academic coordinator of grades 1-6 at the Pioneers Baccalaureate School there, supporting 14 teachers from the US and the UK who will be teaching in EngScreen Shot 2016-08-04 at 10.06.22 PM.pnglish.  The school was founded in 2007 by local business leaders with the hopes of “building a new generation of Palestinian leaders.”   You can read more at http://www.pioneers.ps  You can also like “Pioneers Baccalaureate School” on Facebook.  It is a private school, funded primarily by tuition, not religiously affiliated.

Nablus is where Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), about halfway between Nazareth and Jerusalem. Apparently there are still Samaritans living in the area.  As you might imagine, I’m nervous but also very excited to take on this opportunity to make a difference in this corner of the world that I’ve grown so fond of!  I will miss my Stateside (and especially Chicago) friends and colleagues terribly but I can’t wait to see the friends I said goodbye to last December when I left!  Keep in touch – you’ll see my adventures posted on FB as usual.  If you’re so inclined, say a prayer for me as I tackle yet another transition in my life.


Za’tari Refugee Camp in Jordan

Sunday was my third day in Amman.  I was already starting to figure out my way around – AND I made friends with the people at the hotel.  They were able to arrange a taxi for me.  That was super helpful.  I found the taxi drivers in Amman to not be as sweet and accommodating as the Palestinians drivers.

I made my way to the Good Shepherd Lutheran of Amman.  That’s where Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has their space. About 2½% of the population of Jordan is Christian.  Apparently a lot of the churches are ethnically divided (just like the Germans and the Swedes used to be in the U.S.) – like a Palestinian church vs. an Assyrian Church.  Pastor Samer says he likes to stress that Good Shepherd is a Lutheran church for all – even though he’s originally from Jerusalem.  He says he’s lived in Jordan for 20 years and never plans to return to Jerusalem.   He’s Jordanian now.

me by LWF signThere was lots of activity at the LWF office – meetings were taking place and all of us who were going needed ID badges.  They also needed to register the cars that they were going to use.  There was some mix-up with that.  We finally hit the road just in time to stop after a couple of miles in for snacks.  Seems that lunch was going to be unlikely, so we all got a candy bar.

We drove through the Jordan desert.  There’s not much to see but yellow/gold stone/rock, scattered with Bedouin camps.  I often see camels at the Bedouin camps on the way to Ramallah – but these seemed to just have donkeys in addition to lots of sheep.  The Bedouin “homes” are usually just corrugated metal shacks – sometimes with a tarp over the top – or some kind of metal roof.  It gets really cold out in the desert at night —  really cold.  Even here in my room – it’s 63 degrees right now.  I’m wearing my down jacket for warmth.  Heat?  I have a heater – it will take things up a couple of degrees.  I guess there’s not insulation in these cement walls.  Imagine when it’s just a piece of metal.  Even worse – imagine when it rains.

UNHCR sign at ZatariWe finally reached the camp – went though a security gate and pulled inside.  We saw some tents, but mostly kind of prefab shelters – again, thin metal rectangular “homes” – the size of a container you would find on the back of a semi-truck.  A cart and donkey rode past at one point.  You see people walking around.  But it’s pretty desolate.

LWF flag at zatariWe pulled into another gated area that had a big LWF flag hanging down:  “Uphold the rights of the poor and the oppressed” it read.  I had waited so long to finally be at this place – I was really overwhelmed.  Thank God for my generous scarf – I just held it up to my face, as I kept bursting into tears!  The deal with the Jordanian government and the UN is that the Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) hire (at least) 30% Jordanians.  LWF has hired almost exclusively Jordanians – except for Rachel, their fearless leader.  Rachel has an incredible CV: 6 years in Palestine, 2 years in Afghanistan, Sudan, and other countries along the way.  LWF has also hired several Muslim leaders  — apparently there was concern about proselytizing.  Christ is there – regardless of who’s doing the work.

circle of young women at zatariThe first “container” we visited had a circle of young women.  They were attending a sort of life coaching class – learning about making good decisions, etc.  Imagine – when you have just left everything behind but the clothes on your back – how easy it would be to make bad decisions.  LWF also offers classes on sewing, hairdressing (barbering), etc.  These are skills the refugees can take with them wherever they end up.

80,000+ Syrians live at Za’tari.  They told us that the inhabitants are mostly on the lower end of the socio-economic scale.  Apparently those with means are able to pay to get to Europe or are able to pay for “temporary” citizenship in Jordan so they don’t end up in a camp.  It sounds like a camp is the last place people want to be. If you look it up (Zaatari on Google) – you can read about unrest, and how people scramble for daily staples.

soccer field at zatariThe LWF folks showed us a soccer field that they had recently installed – complete with Astroturf.  Ain’t no grass growing around here!  A lively discussion ensued – apparently the ladies would like to play soccer too.  This would involve somehow having to have an enclosed field, since they would want to play in less modest clothing and that would not be comfortable if it were “public.”  The debate was whether to try to install a separate field, or see if they could enclose the current one and use the other space for something else.  It sounds like the LWF “oasis” has been expanding considerably in the past couple of years.

Another project is creating mural-type paintings.  A couple of these depict atrocities that the Syrians have experienced back home and their hope for the future (remember, they move from right to left).  It is wonderful to see what the LWF is doing – despite the harsh conditions of the camp.  (Though I was reminded a couple of times that this is a 5-star camp compared to most!)

I was told children do go to school (maybe just some).  A group of kids did pass us at one point with backpacks with American flags.  Apparently it’s kind of like the overcrowded schools in Chicago back 10 years ago when the kids used to go to school in shifts.  UN backpacks at Zatari

I was having a hard time standing around listening to all of this – I wanted to do something!  They had given us instructions not to wander away – but I just walked outside and tried to talk to a couple of the girls who walked by.  No luck.  They seemed really shy and hurried along.  Another group came, though, and one just ran up and jumped into Rachel’s arms!  I figured she must have known her before – turns out, no – just a friendly first encounter!  I was KICKING myself that I didn’t know more Arabic to engage them myself.   Every time I called the pastor over to translate, they would run away. Eventually, though, they warmed up.  I crouched down in the sand with them – we practiced counting my bracelets – first in English and then they “taught” me in Arabic.  Then one of the girls wanted to try on my sunglasses.  Then they all wanted to try on my sunglasses.  I showed them how they looked with my cell phone camera – and then we were really off and running!  Taking pictures — or just them looking in the camera and seeing themselves and smiling.  It made my heart sing.me & 3 girls at Zatari

I so badly wanted to see inside their homes.  There’s a real fine line with things like this though.  I want to be there – so that I can bear witness first hand and maybe bring a little joy.  But I also don’t want to intrude and make them feel like they’re on display.  It ended up not working out that we could visit a home.  That was disappointing – but still, I got a feel for the place.

It is so valuable to see where students are coming from.  I cannot imagine what it must be like for these children to be in a dusty, bare-bones camp one day and then the next day be whisked away on an airplane to America—to find themselves in a classroom where they’re expected to produce, produce, produce.  Immediately.

Several people here in Palestine have told me how exceptional the Syrians are – hard-working, honest, trustworthy.  Funny – that never seems to come up when you read Western press.

me and P SamerI ended the day at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Amman.  There were maybe 35-40 people in attendance.  They worship at 7 pm on Sunday evenings, since the Jordanian weekend is Friday-Saturday everyone works on Sunday.  The pastor asked me to say a few words at the end of the service, which I was not at all prepared for!  But I did say to them that the whole world should see the country of Jordan as a model.  They have taken in millions (up to 4 million according to some counts — almost doubling their population) – of refugees!  Though it hasn’t been easy, it certainly hasn’t been a disaster either. The US is looking at taking in 10,000. gee.  Now there’s a drop in the bucket.

It’s a good reminder in this coming season of Advent to look for Christ in the face of a stranger, and to welcome him and her.  “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” Jesus said -–Matthew 25: 35. These guys here – they’re naturals at that!!  We, on the other hand, might need some practice.

Love, peace, and gratitude from Beit Sahour!

This is the way we make our olives

Ceil, this is for you!IMG_1878 (1)

So — all of those olives on that back terrace?  Here’s what happened to them.  Hala or David or Elias, correct me if I’m wrong on any details!
Most are taken away to be pressed.  Elias, I understand, arrived at the pressing place at 6 am on Monday and still had to wait in line  for HIS olives to be pressed. Apparently you go there and wait and they will press your olives for you and you get the oil.  Beautiful, rich, golden olive oil!   The bigger, unblemished olives are kept to be eaten.  And I’m telling you — there’s a dish of olives at nearly every meal!
FullSizeRender (3)First they’re washed.  Then Hiam fills a plastic bag with a handful of olives.  IMG_1880Next she takes a flat stone and pounds on the bag to crush them firmly but gently.  FullSizeRender (4)IMG_1882When she gets a certain amount, she adds them to an enormous glass jar.  Every time she adds that amount, she also adds chunked lemons, slices of chili pepper, lots of salt and water.  It ends up looking like this.  These sit for several months and then, voila! you have rich, snappy, tasty olives to eat with practically every meal.  Apparently they can last up to two years.  IMG_1884IMG_1885olives brewing

It’s Olive Season!

IMG_1843Amidst the strife and consternation around here we had a glorious day on Friday at the olive grove!

I arrived in Ramallah Thursday morning.  There was a holiday that day and they said if I go early the road should be okay.  And it was – the driver even brought me straight to the Tannous house.  For double the price – a rip off according to David, but I was glad to avoid the hassle of finding another taxi in busy, crowded downtown Ramallah.  And I’m now able to describe where their house is!  Before I had to call David (Dina’s dad) and then hand my phone to the driver.  They don’t really use addresses here—just landmarks.  So I can say they’re close to the Movenpick Hotel between the Pesto Café and the Matariya Pharmacy.  Yeah!

IMG_1805Of course the first thing when I arrive was I had to be fed.  That pushes all of my “feel good” buttons – so we were off to a good start!  Pita bread, white squeaky, salty cheese, cucumber, tomato, red pepper, marmalade, hard boiled eggs, and salami.  And, of course, coffee!  After I was well fed I went to the garden where Hiam and David (both at least in their late 60s – not in the best of health) were already hard at work on the olive tree.

Hiem hard at work pruning the olive tree.
Hiem hard at work pruning the olive tree.

Hiam was wielding a saw – pruning branches that were packed with olives!  IMG_1812David was perched on a chair, picking olives off the branches.  In between felling branches, Hiam would take a special rake-like tool that you lift as high as you can and grab a branch with it and pull down – off come the olives.  “It’s raining olives” was what popped into my head!  It really was.  Hiam insisted I don one of her seersucker housecoats (which is why you see no pictures of me from Thursday :)) because of the dirt and dust that comes along with picking fruit (I think!) that has been hanging in dusty dry air for months!  She wasn’t kidding.  They use the discarded branches for firewood throughout the year – Elias and Hala who live upstairs, Dina’s brother and sister-in-law, have a fire pit out in the garden where they like to invite friends and hang out.  Imagine – an olive wood campfire. gorgeous

IMG_1843After a couple of hours we brought the plastic pans in – laden with beautiful green olives.  Little did I know that was only the beginning!FullSizeRender (2)

That evening Hala and Elias were invited to a party and took me along.  It was a gathering of some hoy paloy – Palestinian mover and shakers.  Kind of on the intellectual side of things.  Since Ramallah has become the de facto capital of Palestine, this is where things happen.  You see lots of governmental buildings – the Egyptian consulate general lives down the street from Dina’s family.  Anyway – people were smoking and drinking – and I was trying to smile and follow along a bit.  Being an American in that crowd wins you no points at all.  We’ve done nothing but make their lives miserable.  Anyway – a couple of hours into the evening, there was a hubbub and a curious contraption appeared that had just been pulled out from underground.

unveiling the zarpWe were about to eat zarp.  Zarp is rice and meat and sometimes vegetables that are buried underground with hot coals – that eventually cook the meat and the rice.  It’s what we had at the church last Sunday and then we had it Thursday night.  Really delicious.

zarp--roasted on coals underground
zarp–roasted on coals underground

I stuck to non-alcoholic drinks since I knew what the morning was about to bring – a whole day of olive picking!!  I didn’t want to be half awake for it.  We took off about 8:30 and drove out of town.  At one point the Mediterranean was in full view on the horizon.  I had no idea we were so close.  Acutally I think it was more that we were so high up!  The Tannous family bought this little plot of land that has maybe 9 olive trees on it – in the midst of an immense olive grove/valley!  They bought the land from the farmer next to them.  He’s a Christian and apparently wanted to sell to a Christian.  The 2% here (Christians) do stick together!  The road is so rough – they borrowed a cousin’s jeep last year to get there – and were regretting they hadn’t done that this time.  A couple of times you heard a crunch and wondered if it was real damage.  The terrain is just rock.  There are rocks everywhere, not only where the tires are, but there are rocks that stick up and could damage the underneath of the car.  On the way back – the car was so loaded down with olives, that Hala and I walked to the top of the hill and climbed in once the worse was over.

The foreign worker olive picker :)
The foreign worker olive picker 🙂

Anyway. We finally arrived and got straight to work.  The had enormous tarps that got laid down all around the tree.  Once those were down, we all started “raking the branches.”  It rained olives all over the place!  They said last year the harvest wasn’t that great.  One- because it just wasn’t a great year and two – since the land is pretty remote – it’s easy for olive snatchers to come in and pick someone’s tree clean and then disappear.  You get there for a day of olive picking and the tree is bare!  They didn’t want that to happen this year, so they decided to pick a little earlier than is ideal.  That just means there won’t be quite so much oil from the same quantity of olives.

IMG_1872We all – except Elias who just worked up and down the ladder all day – took turns.  Raking down for a while til you have a sore neck and arms.  Then sitting and sorting – putting the olives in buckets, sorting out branches, leaves, and bugs – until your back and behind ache.  Between not walking around because of the unrest and not working out because of the heat – I felt like I was not in the best of shape.  Also – I just struggled with the stamina necessary for the day!  We had two food breaks – but otherwise we worked from about 9-5:30!


Hala had prepared all the food so lovingly.  The breakfast was everything you might imagine in a Palestinian breakfast (see above) – the only thing missing was tea!  They had taken out a lighter from the car and forgotten to put it back.  Try as they might, they weren’t able to start a fire – despite the dryness and the heat.  Luckily, later the neighbors came– and they had a lighter.  Tea was cooked on a little camp fire – delish!!

We had lunch as well – Hala had whipped up in the morning – -rice and chicken thighs – fully spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, garlic, onions, salt, pepper.  Did I forget anything?

There were times when we chatted and told stories during the day.  They had worked all the previous day as well – along with their two kids, Maya, 13, and David, 17.  Around 3 – we all fell silent.  We were so tired but Elias was insisting (rightly so!) that we finish all the trees.  Funny thing – the last one was the smallest but produced the most beautiful, perfectly shaped, large olives.  They were thrilled.  Those are the ones you don’t send to be pressed – you pickle those.  At that point I was “fix und fertig” – not to mention sauer that I had worn sandals and this particular tree was surrounded by mean thistles and an ant nest that had been disturbed.  Ow!  Ow! Ow!

Maya and the road
Maya and the road

We kept dumping the olives into these large burlap bags all day.  I can’t imagine how much they weighed!  I could not have begun to lift one.  We had two full burlap bags, and then one tarp that was just pulled together and twisted at the top – full of olives.  I had huge doubts about how in the world that car was going to make it up that road full of rocks – now even lower to the ground.  Hala and I walked to the top of the hill – and we made it home no problem.  They poured the olives out on the back terrace of the parent’s place on the first floor – I swear, it was just olives galore.  On the way home –we stopped for ice cream and beer (to be consumed later of course!).IMG_1878


We all cleaned up and met upstairs at Hala’s and Elias – with the activity of the evening around here – tv on and everyone poking around on their phones.  Beer and chips!  By 9:30 I was downstairs in bed.  I hardly heard the rooster that’s been crowing around 4:50 every morning! It was by far the best night of sleep I’ve had so far!

Saturday was a school day – I was the only one of our little team of 3 there – there were skirmishes on Friday, so Salameh and Georgette didn’t come from Bethlehem.  That was fine with me – I’m getting to know these teachers and they’re (the ones in Ramallah) actually the most open when it comes to feedback.  I spend a period in a 3rd grade room and in an 11th grade room.  I had a great conversation with the lead English teacher who’s retiring this year.  She’s taught the middle-school grades for quite a number of years.  I was surprised at how progressive her thinking is.  We had a great conversation.  The principal was very concerned that I get lunch.  I wasn’t worried, I knew Dina’s mom would cook.  But they brought me a pita sandwich just cheese and tomatoes.  I swear, everything is sooo fresh – it just tastes heavenly!!

Sure enough – Hiam had made mloukhiyeh, a light stew made from greens that you eat with pita bread.   Quite delicious! And good for you!

Hala took me out shopping Saturday evening.  That was cool.  Shops here are typically quite small – more like little cubbies on the street.  But it was crowded and busy!  The funny thing – we went to 3 or 4 women’s clothing shops.  You’d think with the whole modesty thing – there would be no reason to have men there.  In fact, at each one – there was a man working.  Sometimes at the cash register, sometimes helping customers.  They have all of the size 2s on display – you find something you like (in my case I was looking for lighter weight pants – and tighter!  Cuz that’s how they wear them here!) – and then ask for your size to try on.  I ended up buying two pairs at different stores – one for 100 shekels (little over $25), and one for 60 shekels, around $18.  I feel like I fit in a little better.  I also bought a traditional Palestinian scarf.  It’s not a guarantee that wearing it shows my affinity toward the Palestinians – in case I’d get myself into a sticky situation on the street – there are Israeli undercover agents who wear it too.  But it is what Anna does for instance.

My ride back to Beit Sahour was not uneventful – but I survived.  We were stopped at one checkpoint – two 18 year-olds with machine guns opened the side of the van, peered inside, and then waved us on.  I noticed two young men soldiers with machine guns standing at the top of a hill overlooking the highway at one point.  There were cars turning around at the checkpoint – which makes me wonder if they weren’t not allowed through by the soldiers or just lost patience and were turning around.  It’s still 90 degrees here and with no air conditioning, any time the van stops, I just go into full sweat mode.  There was clearly something going on at the entrance to a settlement at one point too – there were multiple police cars and a car opened and a Palestinian standing on the side of the road.  I would have been home 20 minutes earlier – but the driver obviously didn’t know where the Mercedes dealership was that I had asked to be dropped off by.  I can understand enough that he was complaining to the van full of men that he didn’t know where it was.  Well, then don’t agree in the first place!  I probably added insult to injury when I gave him 15 shekels instead of 20.  Oops!  That was my bad.  I was glad to be home in my little bunker on the roof.

This week leads up to the workshop that I’m giving on Friday.  I hope it goes well!!

Love and peace from Beit Sahour!

She’s back!

I’ve been back since Wednesday night.  I can’t promise the most exciting post.  But here goes.

I arrived in Tel Aviv the eve of the Jewish Holiday, Sukkot.  As I stood waiting in line to be questioned by the Israeli security, I rehearsed my story: living in Jerusalem, here to see the holy sites, want to walk where Jesus walked, will visit Yad Vashem, helping out a bit with the Lutheran Church schools, goodness no, not living on the West Bank.  Well – all for naught.  I wasn’t asked one single question – just waved in!  I had done a little soul searching on how to make myself less conspicuous.  I heard how single women are considered suspect.  Well, how could I look least like a lefty peacenik who’s here to cause trouble?  Voila, my choice of blazer and white blouse.  Ceil commented when she took me to the airport that I looked like I was on my way to work at a hipster air gallery!  Ha!  That’s a stretch.  In any case, it worked- I guess!  I was back in Israel, no questions asked, no stories needing to be told – and on my way to Beit Sahour.  Halleluiah!

The ELCA pastors here have been so kind.  They offered to give me a ride to Beit Sahour if I could take a taxi to their neighborhood in Jerusalem.  The taxis are vans that hold 7 people.  The driver waits to fill up his van and then takes off, dropping off each person at their indicated location throughout Jerusalem.  I gave the driver my location – “Melek Schnitzel” — he offered to take me to dinner if my friends didn’t make it to pick me up 🙂  OK!  Little did I know getting there would entail almost a 3-hour ride through crazy traffic.  Apparently the Sukkot holiday spans a week.  Most people take it as an excuse to go for a vacation – and this was the evening to head out.  Anyone not on vacation must have been on the street – there were loads of people out and about.  The lady next to me was American – spent a great deal of time on her phone giving last minute orders to someone back home.  We struck up a conversation once she hung up – she told me a bit about Sukkot and how festive it is.  The orthodox Jews, easiest to recognize, were all dressed up – apparently in their best fur hats and obviously out to enjoy the evening.  We eventually got around to what I was doing and I told her I was volunteering with the Lutheran Schools in Palestine.  “Oh my, do they provide you with security?”  She must have gleaned from my puzzled expression how absurd the question seemed.  She seemed quite surprised.  There is just such a divide.

It felt quite familiar to be back to the roller coaster rides and the sweats – though the evening felt almost a tad cool.  My host family was so happy to see me back.  And I’m just as happy to be back!  Back in Beit Sahour with my host kidsThe daughter was making a special recipe for dinner – chunks of chicken breaded with pretzel crumbs and deep fried.  Hummus, ketchup and mustard were on the table along with sort of hot dog buns.  It was delicious – I was hungry!

The next day I called my favorite taxi driver.  He told me how he recently picked up a Jewish settler in his taxi.  Apparently the guy thought he, taxi driver, was an “international,” not a Palestinian.  Of course – they were besties by the end of the taxi ride and the guy offered to give taxi driver’s name to all of his settler friends.  My favorite taxi driver admitted that was a bit of a dangerous prospect – but he insisted he’s not afraid of anyone – which is why he likes to be a “little naughty” – “ok, maybe very naughty” and do things like take customers on his motorcycle that has no plates.  Apparently — according to him!–  the Israelis think he’s undercover Israeli Security and the Palestinians think he’s undercover Palestinian Authority!  Who else would ride around “without a label”????– “I give my respect to the people here  — I never lie and always pay my tickets — but in the end the only one I’m afraid of is the King of Kings.”  Shades of render to Ceaser crossed my mind!  (That’s in 3 gospels by the way….) He proceeded with a little mini-sermon on how there’s no need to be afraid when you have God on your side.  Hey — Romans 8: If God is for us, who can be against us?  “Come on, I told the guy, we’re Muslims and Jews – this is the promised land – there’s room here for everyone — It’s all about love!” Really, who can argue with that?!?  I told him he’s now famous in America.  As he barreled around a curve, he pulled out an American flag from his glove compartment and stuck it in the vent exclaiming, “I Love America!”  At the next corner there was an older lady in conservative dress at the bottom of a hill – she apparently told him she just needed a ride to the top.  All windows are always open and he greets someone every other block or so – so there’s plenty of on-going communication besides what’s going on INside the taxi.  He urged her to climb in, quietly rolled up his little flag and zoomed up the hill, dropping her off at the top.  No money exchanged there.  Just being helpful.  Hey, who needs money when you’ve got that much love?!?  But we don’t always need to advertise our love for America.

Friday I spent at  the principals’ meeting.  There were eight – including the assistant principals.  They meet quarterly with the Director of Education and my two colleagues who are the instructional leaders.  Wow.  Talk about intense!  I would have given anything to understand Arabic – but I needed no translation to get the intensity of the exchanges.  Six hours at fever pitch – that’s stamina.  There were eyes welled with tears, voices quavering, accusations of favoritism (I learned later)  – this was not a rubber-stamp, get ‘em done meeting.  One discussion that was so high intensity went on for over an hour.  Most Americans would have walked out or cut it off early on.  They were all in – up to their eyeballs.  I was really watching for who was “bowing out” – at least as far as not engaging.  There didn’t seem to be any shutting down.  At one point there was lunch – and we sat around together – had a beer! (We were at the German school – a Hefeweizen no less!) – and celebrated a birthday.  I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed that volume of discussion before.  Of course, someone commented later that it’s all talk.  That could be.  But there was obviously a lot to talk about!  They gave me 10 minutes to speak.  I’m trying to be diplomatic – while expressing my concern about the lack of student voice and how teacher-fronted the English teaching is.  I still am concerned about how this will go.  My main concern in the next couple of weeks is building alliances with teachers so they don’t see me as a threat.  They want me to do demonstration lessons – talk about putting your money where your mouth is!!  That ought to be quite interesting.

showing off diplomasSaturday was the “Mediator Graduation.”  I am so intrigued by this. The social workers and teachers at each school have spent the past year training students from 5-8 grade to be student mediators.  [Teachers here ini Palestine are paid about 1/5 of what Israeli teachers are paid and there’s no extra pay for extra projects… seems like everyone just pitches in.]  The idea with the mediators is that if/when there is a conflict on the playground (1-12 graders out at the same time – hundreds of students!) or elsewhere – students can go to mediators to help them resolve issues.  No adults necessary!  Apparently the process started with all students in these grades, and then they did “cuts” until they ended up with about 15 from each school.  These students completed 1½ hours per week of training the second semester last year in preparation for their role. In contrast to the rest of the students, they wear red polo shirts that say “mediator” on the back.  Part of the event today included a review of the basic rules of mediation: ensure confidentiality, have participants come up with solution after mediators have presented possibilities, etc.  There was such pride in the kids as well as the parents.  The kids recited poetry, acted out a mock mediation session, sang, played musical instructions, and then each received a “diploma.”  Darling!!!  Please check Facebook for a couple of awesome videos.

I feel more than ever – since my return – how much of a stranger I am in a strange land.  I get frustrated when there aren’t English words on the front of a store or on something I’m trying to buy.  This evening when I went to the store the yogurt I usually buy that has “yogurt” on it was sold out.  All were left were tubs with Arabic.  I had to find someone to tell me if it was yogurt.  I feel a palatable sense of relief when I see or hear English (or German – that happens sometimes.  People mostly think I’m German).  I’ve always said that an immigrant walks out the door with an extra dose of stress each day.  I have the luxury of choosing to be here – and, being a white – blond — westerner – there’s always privilege in that.  Maybe I can take away a little extra empathy and be able to speak to that with folks back home.  It blows my mind how resilient our immigrants are – who get no smiles for being a blondie – but probably more often a frown or just being ignored.  Like the little boy who was interviewed in Syria said, “We want to stay home.  Just stop the war.”

Do me a favor — smile at an immigrant today 🙂

Peace on earth!

Love from Beit Sahour…

Weekend Day #1

Today is Friday, weekend day #1 for me, the “Sunday” for Muslims and a day off for most Palestinians.  Some have Friday and Saturday off; some just Friday, some have Friday and Sunday off – complications are par for the course around here!  Despite my not wanting to move (the heat has totally worn me down) I couldn’t say no to a breakfast invitation in Jerusalem with Laurie, an American married to a Palestinian who’s lived here for 10 years and is good friend of Cotton’s!

I’m learning that everything gets easier the second time you do something – so today, heading off to Jerusalem for the first time by myself was a little daunting.  Anna said she’d let me know about any clashes if I’d let her know where I was headed.  That was comforting (!).  I called my buddy Obama Airlines and he agreed to pick me up to take me to Bethlehem so I could catch the bus from there.  There are no bus stations in Beit Sahour as far as I can tell.  The streets were quiet, so he took me through the back streets of Bethlehem- my own personal Raging Bull 😉 The busses here are charter bus-style, actually pretty nice. The destinations are listed on the signs at the bus stops in Hebrew (no help for me) but on the actual bus doors in Arabic and English.  I found one that said “check point” and “Jerusalem” and climbed aboard.  It was about 1/3 full; I paid the driver – they have little change-making dealies like in Germany so there’s no need to have a bus pass or correct change.  I’m learning that folks don’t like big bills.  100 Shekels is $20-25, depending how you calculate – not too popular with the taxi drivers.  I’ve been shooting for 20 Shekels a ride between Beit Sahour and Bethlehem.  Some of them ask for ILS 25 – I wag my finger Arabic style and say “no, 20 Shekels is what I pay.”  I feel a little guilty doing that.  I remember haggling in China and feeling bad about talking someone out of a couple of bucks at the market – who needs those bucks more?!?  But I know they’re trying to hustle me a bit – and I’m not here making money, so what the heck.  On my way home I ended up paying 25—the guy misunderstood my landmark for dropping my off and ended up going out of his way.  But I digress.

The bus driver and the guy selling Arabic coffee in a little stand next to the bus had a long conversation to finish before we headed out.  But I was so relieved to be in some air-conditioning and 2 seats to myself, so no worries.  About 20 minutes into the ride we arrived at the checkpoint.  I was assured that this was a “stay on the bus” checkpoint – not a walking through like the one I experienced on Wednesday.  I almost thought we weren’t going to be controlled.  It seemed like the bus was rolling through but, alas, it came to a halt and we waited.  For a while.  Finally two young soldiers came on board and started checking IDs.  They took their time and looked carefully at each one.  They spent quite a bit of time scrutinizing my passport.  The young woman asked me where I was from – I answered Chicago.  Then she said something I couldn’t understand.  I couldn’t tell if she was trying to engage me in conversation (there was a smile) – or more questions.  So I just said “I’m going to Jerusalem.”  That seemed to suffice for the moment, but then they came back and asked to see it again.  I have no idea what the interest was—they were only speaking Hebrew.  Some people did get off the bus and back on again.  I’ll have to ask about that.

Another 20 minutes – we arrived at the bus station by the Damascus Gate in the Old City.  I knew I had to go somewhere else to get the bus to visit Laurie – but wasn’t sure where.  I asked the bus driver and before he could answer, a young woman behind me said “Don’t worry, I’ll take you.  Come with me.”  The Lord doth provide!  We walked a couple of blocks together.  She’s studying Arabic literature and journalism.  She was really cute – pink top matching pink shoes. She made sure I got on the right bus to Beit Hanina – bless her heart.

It’s just a little disconcerting to be riding a bus in a strange place, not really knowing how far you have to go, or how it’s going to work, but it did!  I asked the bus driver to let me know when we reached the grocery store that was to be my landmark (street names and addresses here?  Forget it!).  We were in kind of a little mini-bus.  I wasn’t at all sure if I should greet him in Arabic – thinking he could be a Hebrew speaker.  I found out later that most buses are separate – Arabic drivers and buses for the Palestinians.  So next time I can use my Arabic I guess.  This bus was full.  I even got an elbow in the head at one point.  The driver turned on some Arabic music that soon became what sounded like a sermon – fitting, I guess, for a Friday.  I got off at the Jafar store stop and soon saw Laurie waving.  Yeah!  I’d made it!

Laurie is a mom of 3: from 9 months to 5.  Oh my!  There was lots of pent up energy for little ones stuck inside with the heat and pollution.   They’re super adorable kids growing up very bilingual.  They attend the Friends (Quaker) School in Ramallah – that’s where Dina’s nieces and nephew go.  So they’re speaking mostly English at home and doing school in Arabic.  Not unlike lots of our CPS kids – just in reverse!  Interestingly, Laurie remembers her Mexican friends growing up in a Chicago suburb were embarrassed because their parents didn’t speak English much or well.  She feels like her son is already doing that at 5 – embarrassed because she’s not a fluent Arabic speaker.  Soon she won’t be able to help him with his homework!  Her husband was on a trip abroad and called while I was there to say that he had landed.  The rest of the group he was traveling with were able to come home today.  But since he has a Jerusalem ID, he’s not allowed to enter at the same place and had to spend the night and will come home tomorrow.  Everything is difficult.

We had a fabulous breakfast of hummus, falafel, Sesame Bread (kaek! The 5-year old corrected me when I called it bread!) and delicious olive oil and thyme and veggies.  The kids played and we chatted – it’s so interesting to hear her experiences living here as a mom, daughter-in-law, professional, American, etc. etc.  Cabin fever was in full swing around 1 pm so we went to the park.  Since there are no playgrounds in the Arabic neighborhood that they live in, she has to drive about 20 minutes to a “Hebrew” neighborhood with a park – swings, a water fountain (!), slide, etc.

Laurie and her kids at the park on a sweltering day
Laurie and her kids at the park on a sweltering day

The playground is on a high ridge – overlooking a good swath of the wall and a checkpoint – not at all unlike Berlin in the 80s.  I took some pictures.  It was an oven – high of 100 today.  But the kids were oblivious.  It was Laurie who said it was time to go when she couldn’t stand the heat any longer.

The Wall separating Jerusalem
The Wall separating Jerusalem

Laurie drove me back to the bus station.  I’m so impressed with American people learning to drive around here– (women especially! driving does seem to be a man’s world, though you do see women driving).  It takes a whole different sense of driving.  It’s a dance of sorts – you really need to understand your fellow drivers.  I’d be a disaster!  She dropped me off at the bus station and I was on my way home. This time the bus was quite crowded.  I lined up to get on behind a group of men that were chatting.  When they saw me they urged me to move forward –basically past all of the men.  I felt a little weird “budging” as my kids used to call it – I hesitated, they urged, so I smiled and said thank you (a la Shirley Trost :)).  Another air-conditioned charter bus that dropped me off in Bethlehem. Thankfully you don’t have to worry about checkpoints on the way out.

Jerusalem checkpoint
Jerusalem checkpoint

The taxi driver back to Beit Sahour was quiet and not smiling.  At one point he turned on the radio and there was beautiful traditional Arabic music playing.  Um Kulsum, I asked?  She’s one of the famous classical Arabic singers that can go on for hours without seeming to take a breath. His eyes lit up.  “No! But she comes on at 5:00! This is ___!”   Fairuz is only in the morning, right?  Oh yes!  That lightened things up and I don’t think he was too upset when I realized we were headed in the wrong direction and he had to backtrack to get to my place.  Thanks, Paul, for enlightening me a bit on Arabic music.  Gives me a some cred in this part of the world!

I stopped by my host family when I got back.  Abeer had the whole house taken apart and was cleaning everything.  Here the floors are stone – so they just pour water on the floor and mop away.  I’m going to do some cleaning (cut the snickers you who know how I love to clean… not!!) once the skies are blue and temps are under 90 degrees.  Dina’s mom called tonight and invited me to Ramallah for tomorrow and Sunday – yeah!!  I’m pretty sure it’ll be cooler there.

Peace on earth!


Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem
Detail of the Dome of the Rock
Detail of the Dome of the Rock

My day started… all night, actually, when I couldn’t sleep for the heat and thinking of my papa in the hospital! and continued in the morning when I was trying to get ready in my little oven of an abode (yep, windows still closed… 89 in here when I woke up.. dusty as hell outside… sandstorm apparently originated in Saudi Arabia and should start letting up by the end of the week)  – but it really started when the taxi dropped me off at the checkpoint from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.  From what I’ve learned, Bethlehem has always been part of Jerusalem – two holy sites — that kind of ran into each other.  Each important to the other in a way.  But now separated by a wall.

coffee brewing before the checkpoint entrance
coffee brewing before the checkpoint entrance
Entrance to the checkpoint
Entrance to the checkpoint

And a checkpoint.  Apparently the checkpoint opens at 5 or 5:30 – whenever they get around to opening it.  The place, again, apparently at that time of the day, is swarming with people who have permission to enter Jerusalem who need to get to work.  It’s a mean place.  I can’t imagine having to endure that every day.  There’s a “cattle chute”–like structure that was littered with cigarette butts and Dixie cups that once held coffee (sold on the street) where people line up to enter the processing place.  By the time we got there it was empty.

the chute -- passage way to checkpoint
the chute — passage way to checkpoint

There there are more barriers inside where you line up and wait.  No one smiles.  The usual cajoling and banter were noticably missing, though maybe it’s different at 4 in the morning when they start lining up.  I doubt it.  I removed my watch and bracelets – my colleague even told me to remove my glasses – and the detector thing still beeped.  No one was there, so he gestured me to come on.  I kept my US passport in my bag as long as possible.  This is not the place to advertise you’re an American.  It’s only with our tacit (and direct) support that these things are allowed to take place.  I read recently that this place – Israel and Palestine – is more militarized than Nazi Germany was.  I’m sure the US military industrial complex appreciates that!  Many of the people were placing their finger on a print-detector in addition to showing their IDs to the soldiers.  It was quiet; long faces.  Sad.  My colleague told me to show my passport – but the soldier wanted to see it – so I passed it under the glass.  She took a look and passed it back – and we were in.  Jerusalem!

After a long bus ride we arrived at one of the gates of the old city (How many are there? Salameh quizzed me today.  7.  We saw – at least kind of — 4 of them)  – only to find Bishop Younan entering as well.  They struck up a quick conversation which allowed me to focus on walking.  I fell my second day here – scraped up the top of my foot pretty bad.  It’s ugly. Everything here is steep and slippery – maybe from millions of footsteps and lots of dust.  Wrong shoe choice today.  I didn’t really get that we were going to do so much walking.  I felt like I was walking on ice all day- And it was just the ancient well worn stones of the paths of Old City Jerusalem.  We made it to the Lutheran Church Headquarters and did a little meet and greet – Salameh answered some emails and we were off!  First to the Wailing Wall – so crowded with school groups, tour groups, etc, then to the Dome of the Rock.

Dome of the Rock... see the kitty?
Dome of the Rock… see the kitty?

The Israeli soldier at the first barrier questioned my going in.  The Dome of the Rock, built in the 7th C, is the site of Mohammed’s Night Journey.  It’s a mosque located on the Temple Mount where the second Jewish Temple was located until the Romans destroyed in in 70 CE.  See Google for more info on all of that!   My colleague told the soldier that I wanted to go because my husband was a Muslim and I wanted to see it.  ha! There was a lot of back and forth in Arabic but finally he let us through.  The place takes your breath away and brings tears to your eyes.  It is so beautiful.  When we got to the entrance, there was a glare directed at me and an exchange and a question.  Only if I say that I converted to Islam myself would they let me in.  Nope!  I’m not going there.  So we admired it from the outside.

I wore a shawl to cover my arms at the Dome of the Rock
I wore a shawl to cover my arms at the Dome of the Rock

Next was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher – built where Jesus is said to have been crucified, died, buried, and rose from the dead!  The only holy place that you just walk straight into.  No security.  Hmm! Again, it’s overwhelming to be there.  It’s hard to know what to do when you’re standing in a space where it all happened.  The crux of our faith.  We visited a catacomb way down a lot of stairs underneath that is probably one of the first churches ever.  The main areas were quite busy but I told Salameh I needed a little time and space to pray and he was happy to accommodate.  His father was a metal worker and did amazing work back in the 70s that you can see throughout the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  Salameh remembers coming there often as a boy when his father was working back when everything was open and Palestinians could travel without restriction to Jerusalem.

Metalwork done by Salameh's father in the 1970s.
Metalwork done by Salameh’s father in the 1970s.
HS Church -- there's a piece of Jesus' cross under that altar.
HS Church — there’s a piece of Jesus’ cross under that altar.

Next was the Via Dolorosa.  This is the path that Jesus walked from Pilot to his crucifixion.  There are nine stations of the cross here with five more inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  Again, I was watching my step – trying not to slip — and trying to keep up with Salameh and trying to take it all in at the same time.  It’s pretty mind blowing.  And how awesome to be shown around by a local!  For one – not one merchant (the whole old city is lined with tiny little booths of everything possible for sale) – even tried to engage me.  For two – he knows everything!  And the smells – despite the stifling heat, everything and everyone smells so good!  Too bad I can’t transport smell :)) A couple of times he quizzed me on something that I should have known and didn’t– who’s who, what’s what – in history, in the bible.  At least he didn’t rub it in.

Sesame Bread bakery (see the oven and the looooong-handled spatula thingy?)
Sesame Bread bakery (see the oven and the looooong-handled spatula thingy?)

Then there was bread.  This is special Jerusalem sesame bread.  At one point we peeled off into a bakery.  Glorious!  One of my favorite smells is roasted sesame – and here it was in spades!!!

Salameh -- my colleague and tour guide
Salameh — my colleague and guide

Of course there was lots of banter and we left with 3 round loaves tucked into a plastic bag. Then it was off to Salameh’s favorite falafel place.  HEAVEN!!!!  We had foul, so so yummy, hummus with lots of tahini (no cumin as far as I could tell…), some cut up veggies and the sesame bread.  The place was truly a hole in the wall – not bigger than maybe a couple of SUVs placed next to each other.

Jerusalem special: hummus, foul, and sesame bread -- zakki!!! delicious.
Jerusalem special: hummus, foul, and sesame bread — zakki!!! delicious.

We had a long talk today about Palestinian/Israeli engagement.  You hear a lot about groups coming together.  But I’ve heard several people speak against those efforts since I’ve been here.  That’s hard to hear – but I think it’s worth it to listen.  There’s a sense that when these engagements are happening – kids going to camp together, parents who’ve lost kids meeting, etc. – that it should “normalize” things and Palestinians are expected to be more accepting.  But what are they supposed to accept?  That their land is occupied – that more and more pieces of it are being confiscated every year– that their homes are demolished by the military – that the wall separates them from their family, friends, livelihoods, olive trees, etc. etc.  It seems that regardless of what Palestinians do to push back against the occupation– armed resistance, civil disobedience, whatever – that they’re blamed.  So engaging in dialogue while settlements continue to be built, land confiscated, etc. – seems pretty empty and meaningless from what I have learned so far.

Imagine this.  Salameh told me of a trip he took with a group of Palestinian and Israeli teenagers – a joint dance troupe that traveled to Germany.  At one point the kids were horsing around and Salameh put his foot down.  One of the Israeli boys didn’t like it and told Salameh that he would turn 18 and start his military service in a couple of years.  And that he’d be there at the checkpoint waiting for Salameh.  Ouch.

The Damascus gate, one of 7 of Old Jerusalem
The Damascus gate, one of 7 of Old Jerusalem, our exit point

There’s a very different feel to Jerusalem.  There are LOTS of soldiers around with very imposing guns.  It’s tense – and crowded with tourists.  Here in Beit Sahour, it feels safer and more normal.  It’s a relief to be back here in my little community.  I’m off to school on my own tomorrow – I started hanging out in the teachers’ lounge on Tuesday.  One of the teachers asked if I was a supervisor.  NO!  I’m just here to support.  I’ve gotta make that real.

I’ve been reading the gospels before I go to sleep.  Jesus spent an awful lot of time healing people.  This place needs healing.  And so does my papa!

Peace and love from Beit Sahour.