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

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.


  1. Thanks for 25 wonderful thoughts to ponder as we pray for you, your mission, and those who surround you in your new home. I imagine you someday playing "water tower" with Nathan and launching into a lesson about life in a far away land.

  2. Janelle, this is amazing. I'm so proud and excited for you. Please keep us all up to date and stay safe. I know you will do so many meaningful things while you are there, and I always enjoy your writing. The other day, I pulled out the poem you wrote for me just to read it. Beautiful, just like you. xoxo

  3. Hey Sister. Just wanted you to know how much I've been appreciating your blog posts. "'Love your neighbor' is the only answer I have right now." Seems that that's answer enough for now. Praying for you.