-sharing reflections on what I've heard and am hearing, learned and am learning,
from voices in the Holy Land, the USA, and Rwanda-

Monday, September 13, 2010

an 11 hour lesson for life

Food. Family. Friends. This is the perfect combination for any social gathering, especially in Palestine. Every function I have been to has included these main components, and the joy and laughter that proceeds lasts for hours.

Just this past Sunday, there was food spread before me for approximately 11 hours straight. From the brunch celebration of the installation of Pastor Fred Strickert as the Pastor to Redeemer's English speaking congregation in Jerusalem, on to a family gathering taking place at our landlady's (Shadia's) home, and finally sharing in a small gathering over in Beit Jala with one of the English teachers, I enjoyed a day of non-stop visiting, eating, and chatting.

Now, there are a few things that I must note about such a food-filled day. Here is a sneakpeak (and possibly the only peak...) into "Eating for 11 hours?: Tips by Janelle."

Before we begin, it is imperative that you do not know that you may possibly... hmm, no... will be eating for such a period of time. If you have any inkling about the liklihood of such a smorgasbord, then just pretend you aren't aware of this possibility and proceed as directed.

1) Take small portions of everything. While normally this is in order to ensure that you don't take too much of something you won't like, I find it is beneficial just so you can make sure to fit some of everything on your plate. Now, eat slowly and savor each bite. Need something salty? Go for an olive--just make sure not to chomp down on the pit! Need something to mellow out the flavors and give a little sour zip? Yogurt is your answer--it is almost the ketchup of my Palestinian diet. You can put it on just about anything! For a sweet kick, check out the fresh fruits--especially pomegranate. D to the E to the Licious.

2) Most of the time you don't even have time to think about getting seconds before someone asks you if you'd like some more. Everyone is so giving and generous--take what you can eat if food is offered for you to grab, but it is also okay to politely mention that you might wait a little bit before diving in for more. You will eventually find yourself chomping away again soon enough! (Though I must make sure to say that no one is overbearing or pushy when they offer more food--the hospitality is simply such that people want to ensure you are feeling at home enough to grab more should you still happen to be hungry. They are looking out for each other (including you) all the time.)

3) Be trusting and bold--your hosts may chuckle and say, "Eat it first, then we'll tell you what it is," when bringing you a sample of food off of the grill, giving you and uneasy feeling of, "Oh my, what am I about to eat?" But of course they would never harm you! You can palate one bite (and maybe more!) of anything that at least looks like something you'd normally eat.

4) Wary of using your hands? Don't be. Make sure to follow suit with the people around of course, but normally picking away with your fingers is a-okay. The process of eating the food should be just as enjoyable as the process of tasting the food, and who wants to wrestle a chicken-wing with a fork before eating it? Save the forks for the salads. Dig in!

5) Know that you will almost always be offered tea and/or coffee whenever you visit with someone, no matter whether it's a quick visit or a long gathering. I cannot tell you the number of cups of tea or coffee you will drink in such an epic day. Just know that when enjoying a number of gatherings, you should be prepared to enjoy a caffeine surge, and a delicoius one at that!

6) Most important of all, know that as much as the food is a part of the day, it is simply a medium by which people come together. My biggest tip--make sure to enjoy and join in on conversations (especially when your rudimentary Arabic allows). It is the people that make the 11 hours great. The food, while delicious, is truly just icing on the cake. The jokes, stories, games, traditions, experiences, conversations, celebrations... these are the things that make a day "lived" rather than "survived." Food sustains the body, human relationships sustain the soul. (And, boy is a soul sustained after 11 hours). Make sure you hop into bed thankful for what you experienced because the truth of the matter is that, at the fundamental core, you experienced 11 solid hours of being loved and cared for. Now here's the trick--share that same spirit of love and care with the world for... I don't know... for forever? Yeah? Yeah.

Man, my guidebook makes that sound so easy, right? Well, a day like that definitely made me think about how I can share that same unending hospitality with others around me. Having been given so much, where and how am I now called to give? And the reflecting continues...

Before wrapping up this post (which only touches on a few experiences and reflections of the past week... no worries, more posts to come) I want to share a quick observation about the family bbq I attended with Shadia's family. Back home, it is usual that either my dad or my brother will man the grill on such an occasion. The pleasure (or burden?) of cooking all of the food is on their shoulders for the most part. Now, in the five hours that I spent sitting outside and enjoying the company of Shadia's extended family, I think I saw almost every member of the family mosey on over to the grill at one point or another to make sure things were running smoothly. Flip a kebab here, put some chicken on a plate there, sear a little fat for Janelle and Sarah to try... everyone took turns preparing parts of the meal. Though I couldn't understand most of what was being said, it didn't seem like people were being told to go and check on the grub. It just seemed so natural for the family to share in that task. Neato!

I'm sure there's something more to be said about what that means, or why I even happened to notice that dynamic, but I'll leave room for reflection...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

the thing about time is...

Tomorrow marks two weeks in Israel/Palestine. With a week and a half of orientation under our belts, the other five YAGM and I began volunteering at our placement sites this past Monday.

As James Taylor sings, "the thing about time is that time isn't really real." These words seem quite true now-a-days. While it feels like we have been in the country for so long, it also still feels like we have just arrived. Already we are saying, "there is time...," yet realizing that regardless of the ten and a half months left, time is surely slipping by fast. Two weeks!? Can't be....

Inspired by that "facebook note" frenzy that I took part in two years ago, here are 25 random things about my time here so far... hopefully this will help to sum up all the joy and laughter as well as the reflection and contemplation that has made up these past two weeks.

1. Public Transportation? Not a problem. Just make sure you're getting in the right cab that's going to the right spot for the right price. Normally a shared taxi ride (in a yellow and black cab for 2 1/2 NIS per person) will be your best bet to get to the main centers of Beit Jala, Bethlehem, and Beit Sahour. But beware--sometimes you need to take one or two of these to get to the place you're going. The blue buses? They only go short distances, but paying 1 1/2 NIS to get up the hill to Manger Square from Beit Sahour is well worth it. Need to get some place further away in a hurry? ...Say, the Bethlehem check-point from Beit Sahour? Get ready to dish out 15-20 NIS for a private taxi. Sound a little steep? Not really--$1 = 4 NIS. Some Arabic helps, too!

2. My love of falafels will only continue to grow throughout the year. I will never be sick of them. What's the saying? A falafel a day keeps the doctor away?

3. We have been flipped (denied entrance) at check-points into Jerusalem twice when driving in for programming. While we've never had a problem walking through a check-point (once even with just a photo-copy of a passport), we have witnessed a Palestinian being flipped despite the fact that all his paperwork was in hand. Security?

4. We have successfully navigated through and out of Old City Jerusalem and on to the 21 bus (6 1/2 NIS) to get back into Bethlehem.

5. I've "chewed" icecream. Some ice-cream here has Arabic gum in it (an edible gum) that makes it kinda gummy. Imagine that! Gum making something gummy...

6. On an ICAHD tour (Israeli Coalition Against Housing Demolition), we learned about, witnessed, and reflected upon the conflict that divides Israel and Palestine. The situation must improve. Inshallah, one day soon it will begin to do just that. (...now how do we join hands and help? This is a question I'm sure to ponder for more than just this year.)

7. My confidence in speaking Spanish has improved. I forgot what it was like to learn an entirely new language. Our lessons in Arabic are fun, but it is a difficult language to catch on to. Still, one day I hope to know enough to converse casually with my landlady's mother (who reminds me a lot of my mom's mom, Baba). For now, I find solace in the fact that I have in fact studied and somewhat retained another language already. It gives me hope for this coming year of Arabic! Thank you 6 years of Spanish! This is the most you've ever done for me...

8. I've discovered the beauty of Nescafe instant coffee. It ties me over in the morning until I arrive at school where I am able to grab a small (smaller than a tea-cup!) sized Arabic coffee during the short recess after 3rd period.

9. My landlady's (Shadia's) mom has graciously read my coffee grounds for me (which settle to the bottom of any/all cups of Arabic coffee), combining my admiration for her and my newly-found love of Arabic coffee. Oh, and my fortune is looking good for now!

10. I learned how to make a snack (out of a roasted egg (like a hard-boiled egg), smushed on sesame bread, and topped with Za'atar (a Palestinian spice)) at midnight with Shadia's extended family last Friday night... I may or may not have eaten three of these assembled delicacies. Delicious.

11. I've rekindled my appreciation for journaling. While I still practically have to force myself to sit down and start writing, I find that I could reflect for days on what is going on around me here. Life goes on as normal. But there is a wall. Where does peace and justice fit into this world?

12. I've learned the answer to that question isn't as clear cut as we all hope it would be...

13. "Love your neighbor" is the only answer I have right now.

14. I realize I agree with some parts of the wall--I mean, I agree with some of the graffiti messages found on parts of the wall. For instance, I agree with whoever wrote, "I think God hates this wall."

15. Community is at the core of life here. Having spent an evening with Shadia's extended family (including participating in one of the most intense pick-up soccer game of my life--Shadia and her sisters' sons and me vs. all of the brothers' children in a 5v5 show-down), I now know how important a simple gathering can be. What joy, what life, what vibrancy that family shares with each other by simply being together! So glad Sarah (my flatmate) and I were invited to join!

16. Proximity: While I expected that the 16 inch personal bubble I'm used to enjoying at all times in the United States might be disrupted by people I met here (which I don't mind at all), I failed to understand that that idea of this bubble of safe proximity might be disrupted by other things... like cars. Let me rephrase. I'm used to cars giving plenty of space when passing, sneaking through, maneuvering around anything. This is not the case here. With confidence, drivers pass by, through, and around people, parked/moving cars, buildings, walls, and the occasional cliff coming within an inch or so of what I would consider shear doom. Still, I have yet to see anyone even scrape another car. How do they do it? Magic. Must be.

17. Want a fig snack? Pick it fresh off the tree from my neighbors yard. Just make sure it's a little brown--means it's ripe. In other yards you can find pomegranates, olives, limes, and lemons. Sadly we missed apples :(

18. Pita, pita everywhere. Brilliant, really. Parents don't have to worry about cutting off crusts! (Not that mine ever did... ;)

19. Word association time: My thought process when put on the spot to sing a song for a couple members of Shadia's family--song, sing in shower, shower at home, home in Beit Sahour, Beit Sahour near Bethlehem, Christmas, winter, snow, uh... "jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way..."

20. Considering water to the West Bank is delivered from Israel (I believe once a month?), and everyone stores their water in water tanks/cisterns on top of their houses, the car game "water tower" (where the first person to spot water tower in the distance gets a point) has taken on new meaning.

21. Pick a clear day, walk up the Mount of Olives, and look to the east. The Dead Sea and the Jordanian mountains are right before your eyes.

22. Handala, a cartoon sketch of a Palestinian boy, is everywhere. Though life goes on as normal, Handala is a constant reminder of a land in conflict.

23. Regardless of how much English they know or don't know, most everyone makes sure to let us know we are "Welcome!"

24. "Simon Says" surpasses language barriers... for the most part. As does jump-rope.

25. While the Holy Land doesn't seem all that Holy sometimes, God is in this place. May God's peace be with us all. May we find that peace with one another. May we find that peace within ourselves. Inshallah, one day we'll all walk humbly with God.

Friday, September 3, 2010

two months, one post

Camp flew by. After I returned to Caroline Furnace from my week off, I took off running on many adventures of all sorts. From carp and bald-eagle filled canoe trips to coordinating a week of camp at Hungry Mother Lutheran Camp, to tenting on camp with younger campers and backpacking up Duncan's Knob with older campers, I was happy and content but utterly worn out by the end of the summer. Despite the exhaustion, I would not have changed the summer for anything. While camp always provides certain challenges to overcome, camp also provides a support network of true friends who will pick you up when you're down. Shout out to my Caroline Furnace people. You all are why camp was/is such a special place.

Camp being donzo, I trekked back to MD in the early hours of August 14th to spend a day at Hershey Park, PA with my mom, brother, and nephew. One quick highlight from this laughter-filled day: We all decided to ride the Howler together, five-year-old nephew included. The Howler is like the favorite board-walk ride "tea-cups" to the max. You can spin yourself as fast as you'd like while the ride spins you up and down in the air with your feet dangling. My nephew jumped into a harnessed seat with no fear and stated, "I'm going to "moo" the entire ride!" Sure enough, as my mom screamed, I howled, and my brother laughed, my nephew "moo-ed" the whole time. Priceless.

For the next three days, I was shopping, packing, and hanging out with family before departing for Chicago to start my year volunteering with a week of orientation. (Let me pause here to thank my family and friends for all of their support those hectic three days of transition from camp to YAGM. You made me laugh when I needed it, helped me focus when I had to, and gave me confidence to go into the unknown of this year with an open heart and mind!)

Orientation in Chicago:
Held at the Lutheran School of Theology in Hyde Park, Chicago, orientation served as a week of devotion and reflection while providing tons of information to help us through the year. From discussions of inward reflection and spirituality to issues of religious pluralism followed by navigating public transportation in an unknown city, orientation helped prepare us for the broader concepts of what it means to be a missionary serving through the model of accompaniment. Essentially, orientation provided us the means by which we could depart being fully prepared for more country/placement intensive orientation. In one week, we grew close as we shared our faiths with each other, struggled with concepts of "being" and letting go of our expectations and control, and joined together in the knowledge that the next time we all met together, we would find ourselves changed. At 11:30am on August 25th, the five other Jerusalem/West Bank volunteers and I loaded up our bags, and departed for O'Hare to start our epic journey of faith and accompaniment.

This was a summer for the books, as I'm sure this year will be. With our intensive in-country orientation almost complete--and now that I am all settled into my flat in Beit Sahour--be on the lookout for my reflections and anecdotes as I dive into the life and culture of Palestine by walking alongside my neighbors.

Now for the real blog to begin...