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

Saturday, June 18, 2011

right now's the only moment that matters

It's hard to believe how quickly my return to the States is approaching.  School officially ended this past Wednesday when the older students came to get their certificates and ever since then I have been moving from one place to the next saying the first goodbyes to students, colleagues, and friends.  Needless to say, I don't like it very much--I have never been one to move through transitional periods smoothly and this is no exception.  

My defense mechanism used in trasitions past?  Preparation.  If I prepare my mind enough for what's coming, I'm generally able to roll with the punches and do what I've gotta do for as smooth a transition as possible, and frankly, I thought I had the system figured out.  My quick transitions out of college and into camp last summer went much more smoothly than I had thought they would.  My time at W&M meant so much to me and my senior year was especially wonderful for a plethora of reasons, yet I left the College looking ahead with eagar anticipation for the next chapter of life.  Thankful for all W&M gave me, I rolled into camp with bucket loads of college memories and a readiness to tackle the great outdoors for another summer.  Throughout the summer, I likewise anticipated the quick transition into my YAGM year so that the four days between camp and in-country orientation in Chicago were filled just with family and friends, void of the typical emotional transition time moments.  I surprised myself with how smoothly all of those transitions played out.

Yet, as I look at my calender to find that I'll be heading back to the bustle of the Metro-DC so soon, I can't seem to put a finger on how to prepare my mind for this transition.  I cannot see myself leaving, but I also cannot see myself staying here past our departure date.  I want to be with family and friends back home, but I don't want to go from my community here.  I hope everyone will listen to what I have to say and understand everything I tell them, immediately sharing the same passion about what is going on in this area of the world.  Yet, recognizing how little I actually knew before I came here, I know it will be almost impossible to share every experience, relationship, and realization with people back home expecting them to "see" everything I've seen without ever having been here.  If you can't tell, I hit a wall in my scheme to "prepare" myself fully for this upcoming transition.  All I know is that time seems to have sped up. 

With two and a half weeks left between now and leaving the country, all I can do is take every moment I can to be in this place, with this community, among this family.  Maybe I cannot wrap my head around the upcoming transition because it is not time to leave quite yet--I'll take the hint and live in the moment.  Maybe the best preparation for the upcoming transition will be to simply prepare for whatever emotions come and embrace them when they do arrive.  Even as I smile to think of welcoming bear hugs from family and friends back home and tear-up to imagine the last moments spent with my family and friends here, I continue to rejoice in all I have experienced and for all those experiences still to come. 

"seems to me that right now's the only moment that matters...
come write your wisdom on my heart,
and teach me the power of a moment" 
-Chris Rice

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"rejoice with your family...

...in the beautiful land of life!"  -Albert Einstein

For the first 18 years of my life, my family gathered for a reunion in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. This was my favorite weekend of the year hands down. My brothers and I would get off from school every Friday before Memorial Day to drive the six hours into the mountains, spending the weekend with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins at Woodloch Pines. Each time I was there I would dread our impending Memorial Day smorgasbord, knowing that a few hours after we stuffed the last bites of Mud Pie into our mouths, it would be back to Maryland and away from my extended family and the fun I’d had with them.

After a few years away from the tradition of our Memorial Day Weekend reunion, my Grandpa decided to bring the family together again this year. Despite the fact that I knew I would not be able to join, I was ecstatic for my family to come together in this place once more—especially with the addition of a few family members who had yet to experience the intersection of the Neubauer clan and Woodloch at its finest. Yet, little did I know when I set off on my YAGM year that my Memorial Day Weekend would likewise be chock-full of special family gatherings.

The weekend kicked off with a concert. A student from my school invited me to the opening concert and album release for the band in which he played—the Momken Band. (Momken means “Possible” in Arabic.) Little did I know that the band was composed of 9 people including his sister and her husband, and a pair of brothers from another family. As the musicians took the stage, a little boy in the front row shouted out, “Mama!” to the main vocalist (the student from my school’s sister) to the amusement of the audience. Every once in a while throughout the concert she would catch a glimpse of her number #1 fan in the crowd and give a wide-eyed wink to him; at the performance’s end he trotted up on stage to present her with a huge bouquet of flowers in return. Seeing all of these family members interact on and off stage, I could easily sense of the love and appreciation they have for one another—a family bond that was confirmed again the following evening.

On Saturday, the Tawjihi students (12th grade class) graduated from the Evangelical Lutheran School in Beit Sahour; it was an event to be seen! Most schools don’t hold anything like a prom for their graduating students, so graduation itself is the big event and it includes the families of each student and the teachers from the school. Every student was dressed in their finest. All the girls arrived in brand new dresses with their hair intricately styled, and all the boys looked sharp in their suits. The families likewise came dressed for a party, and party they did! I have never seen a dance so packed; the Tawjihi students were hoisted up on shoulders and in chairs to dance above the crowded floor.

Yet, after these initial introductory dances, students were casually whisked into their family circles. Each family surrounded their student and took turns dancing traditional Palestinian Dabkeh with them (including the student and the members of his family I had just watched in concert the day before). This shift to the family click happened very subtly, yet it was such a profound public family celebration—the way each student stood and danced amongst family members as their friends did the same. In that room, on that night, I witnessed families stop, focus on each other, and celebrate their lives together as much as they were celebrating their accomplished student. With around 30 students and their accompanying families on the dance floor, you can only imagine the sense of “family” that was present.

On Sunday, the family celebrations continued. My roommate and I were invited to cook alongside our landlady and friend to prepare for a buffet meal to be served that evening. Why was there to be a buffet? Around 6:30pm, the most immediate relatives of two families would gather to formally inquire and agree on the relationship and soon-to-be engagement of her son and her son’s now official girlfriend. Afterwards, her and her husband were hosting the most immediate of family members from each family at their home—my roommate and I were invited to both of these events and all of the preparations involved.

The entire morning, as we cooked, our landlord kept repeating, “Inshallah, we will cook this food for you at your wedding!” As I rolled stuffed grape leaves my landlady continued repeating that when I come back to visit, I will stay with them because we are family! As we cleaned the kitchen, I was in charge of rinsing, drying and putting things away; having long ago become part of their family, I’ve learned where every specific item is to be placed. Finishing the food for the buffet, we proceeded to get dolled up for the festivities. If spending a day being immersed in one family isn’t enough, than joining in the celebrations of two families merging together does the trick. After joining the family motorcade to the hall where the meeting would take place and witnessing the families celebrate the relationship together, we returned to the house and enjoyed each-others’ company into the late evening hours.

Throughout this weekend I saw the same bonds I recognize within my family in the everyday lives of my friends here. Though I missed having that connection with the Neubauer troupe in Pennsylvania this year, I cannot say I wallowed this weekend away pitying myself for missing out on my favorite weekend family event. Even as my family members back state-side enjoyed each-others’ company, I was rejoicing in the company of those here whom I consider family; rejoicing for a weekend I will not soon forget. 

What greater thing is there for human souls than to feel that they are joined for life—to be with each other in silent unspeakable memories. ~George Eliot

A very quick public "thanks" to the Neubauer fam

Thank you Gramsey and Pop-Pop for making sure we recognized the value of taking the time to get together as a family over the many years of annual family reunions.  All my love.

A shout-out to my siblings and their children, and my cousins--
love you and look forward to keeping up family reunion tradition!
Mom and Dad--How can I thank you? 
You're the best parents I could've asked for--love, love, love you.
Aunts and Uncles, I love you and thank you for all you've done for us over the years.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

the rocks and stones themselves do sing

Today, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Beit Sahour sent out its second newsletter.  I was asked to write an article describing my time with this community over the past year and thought to share it with you all as well here on my blog.  If you are interested in seeing the rest of the newsletter, you should be able to find it on the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land's website.  If not, email me and I'll forward you a copy. 

"In the Holy Land: Teaching, Learning, Struggling, and Growing"

When I learned I would be coming to Jerusalem/West Bank as a member of the Young Adults in Global Mission volunteer program, I was ecstatic. While called to serve as a missionary volunteer here working in Lutheran Schools, I have to admit that after majoring in Religious Studies in university, the thought of arriving in the heart of the Holy Land thrilled my intellectual mind. How easily I could walk through the streets so sacred to Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. How amazing it would be to witness these three faiths up close and personal. How many stone churches and ruins I could visit and explore! Yet, I quickly learned that my religious experiences would have very little to do with the holy sites of Jerusalem or even Bethlehem. Rather, the faith I have witnessed and participated in has been with the people I live and serve alongside, not the stones that mark religious history. Within the space of relationships I have found the most holy ground.

Lutheran Scouts
I arrived in this land full of expectation—expecting to teach, expecting to learn, expecting to grow, and expecting to struggle. Little did I know how quickly and in what way I would find my expectations fulfilled. I was welcomed into the community of Beit Sahour as soon as I stepped foot into my flat. Beginning my volunteer placement at the Evangelical Lutheran School, I slowly immersed myself into a culture built upon this very sense of community. I soon found myself playing football with an emerging woman’s club team, marching alongside the youth of the Lutheran Scouts as a member of the brass band, and enjoying barbeques and meals with new friends and family. Within a matter of days, my expectations were replaced with actualizations of life in Palestine.

I soon found myself teaching, learning, growing, and struggling—but not as I expected. Yes, I began helping teach at the school, started learning Arabic, struggled finding my way around, and grew in relationship with my community, but as time went on, I experienced so much more. Instead of being independent, I had to teach myself how to rely on others to help guide me through the ins and outs of daily life here. Instead of just learning facts about the culture, I learned to take the time to listen to the pains and fears as well as the hopes and dreams of my colleagues, students, neighbors, and friends. I grew to realize that despite how vibrant Palestinian culture and life still is, my friends here suffer from injustices daily and find little outside support. I struggled to determine how I, myself, could have been so unaware of these struggles in Palestine prior to my staying here.

Where I had previously only known about the antiquities of the Holy Land—amazed by the structures scattered throughout the country marking thousands of years of history with stone facades and churches—until living here I had failed to consider the living stones that build the community of the Holy Land today, the very people I now call my friends. Beyond all expectation, I have witnessed a strength of spirit within this community that despite occupation attempts to live as we are called to live—loving one another.

As I continue my year with the YAGM program, walking alongside my brothers and sisters, I am especially grateful and blessed by the experiences that have opened my eyes to the here and now. The community of Beit Sahour, especially the Lutheran School and church, has greeted me with such genuine compassion. May we all as living stones continue to open our hearts and minds to greet each other with this same compassion. Together may we strive to build a greater community of hospitality, peace, and grace. In the Holy Land, as well as the rest of the world, we find in such a community the very thing we so often declare war over—holy ground. Lord, help let us let these living stones live.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

everybody loves bumper cars

"Everybody loves bumper cars," I commented to my friends as we stood in line waiting for our turn. 
We were on a school trip to a carnival theme park three hours north of our school for a day of fun and relaxation.  Despite the hot day, our spirits were high as we enjoyed such attractions as the "House of Horror", the "Crazy Dance", and the "Pirate Ship," taking occasional breaks to sit with other teachers and students who gathered to play cards or drum traditional rhythms on the tabla.  For students and teachers alike, this day was a welcome break to the routine of craziness that becomes the last month of school. 

For a few of us, our last stop before heading back to the buses was an undisputed classic: "Bumper Cars."  Waiting in line, I looked at the faces of everyone currently driving around--they were all so keen on plowing  into each other, throwing their heads back and laughing every time they were jeered off course.  The only ones who appeared unsatisfied were the people who got stuck for one reason or another and were losing precious time in their allotted rampage.  In line we were being pushed and prodded as people shoved to the front, hoping to get in on the next go of reckless driving.  Needless to say--everybody loves bumper cars.

Whether it's a stretch or not, I couldn't help but think how similar bumper cars are to human relationships.  Of course, the opening to the movie Crash came to mind--

"It's the sense of touch... Any real city, you walk, you know?  You brush past people.  People bump into you.  In L.A., nobody touches you.  We're always behind this metal and glass.  I think we miss that touch so much that we crash into each other just so we can feel something."  (Crash 2005)

Unlike this description of L.A., I can say that the sense of touch is very important to all cultures represented in Israel and Palestine.  Yet there is a sense of touch that is missing in the overlap of these cultures, partially because there is very little overlap.  For one reason or another, violent clashes are often considered (in the public's eye) the only interface that occurs.  To some extent, this is the case.  I have seen frustration and pain in the eyes of those who have been "stuck" behind different walls not having opportunities to build any kind of relationship with their neighbors because interface is restricted. 

I know that an important part of relationships is being willing and, more importantly, able to bump into each other, spring back, reflect, and enjoy the moment for what it's worth.  If we bump into each other--one-on-one, face-to-face, person-to-person--we have the chance to learn so many different stories and to tell our own.  I have not found many people who have disliked that chance to listen and share--I pray that people will find those constructive moments more and more.

Still, not all relationships are as simple as ramming into a friend to share a laugh during bumper cars.  In fact, many relationships are challenging--only sustained by a mutual willingness to honor the other person and yourself at the same time, even in the midst of disagreement.  Yet, we must continue to bump into each other as much as we can with open hearts and minds.  In these moments, even when they are uncomfortable or painful, we must be thankful and joyful that we have the opportunity to touch the soul of another person for however brief or extended a period of time.  Tough stuff, yes, but I realize more and more the importance of these moments, and am grieved that in this place those moments are few and far between across the cultural divide.  I pray that one day everyone will love bumping into each other just as much in personal relationships as in bumper cars--enjoying time together as seperate entities gathered into one joyful mess of reckless abandon.

As for now, I continue enjoying the moments when I get "bump" into my friends and neighbors within my community.  What was the most joyful "bumping into" experience?  Walking towards my volunteer site yesterday, I ran into my landlord's mother.  While she speaks almost no English, we have become friends over many meals and evenings together with her family.  She had been walking home after attending a mass for St. George's feastday.  After greeting her with two kisses on the cheeks and asking how she was, in which she replied, "Mabsuta! (Happy!)," her first instinct was to reach into her bag and break off a piece of bread to give to me.  I recognized immediately that it was the bread from her church--in the middle of the street, she shared with me what I could only consider a moment of holy communion.  Church tradition and institution forgotten, I thanked God for the brief moment where I got to 'bump' into someone and something so dear--a moment of pure and unspoken faith. 

Namaste--may the divine in me recognize, honor, (and bump into) the divine in you. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing

Here is an early Sunday morning look at the Old City of Al-Quds (Jerusalem).  Having arrived for service at the Redeemer Lutheran Church with an hour to spare, my friend Luke and I set out on an exploratory photoshoot.  

I took these pictures within the Christian and Muslim quarters of the city--you can only imagine the sounds and smells that accompany these images, as well as the thoughts that pop up.  You will see delicious freshly baked goods for sale, small street shops opening, the empty courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a woman on her way to pray, hidden entrances and doorways to homes, beautiful graffiti, clothes hung on the line to dry, the Dome of the Rock, and Jewish homes within the Muslim quarter.  A whole lot of beauty amidst of a whole lot of pain, surrounded by a whole lot of faith.

Let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Monday, April 4, 2011

all too familiar

The Lutheran schools of the ELCJHL are currently being swept up in a frenzy of new books--English books!  The brain child of two friends of mine, the "ELCJHL Libraries Project"* is in full swing.  This project allows people from around the world to buy brand-spanking new books (from ABCs all the way to classic novels) to help support the libraries of the Lutheran schools and programs in Jordan and the Holy Land.  In Beit Sahour, we are grateful to be phasing in our new books while weeding out the outdated, donated books that currently adorn the library's English section shelves. 

With a new delivery coming in just this week, I was asked to do one of my favorite tasks--organizing the books into categories on the shelves.  (For all of my friends who studied library science, let me take a second to give thanks for all you do!)  The next free period I had, I walked up to the library, stepped inside, and squealed in excitement.  Before my eyes were some of my favorite books from my childhood--books that I may or may not still read on occasion when I'm home: The Magic Tree House series, The Hungry Hungry Caterpillar, Love You Forever--I could name a handful more!  Though, as I started organizing the shelves, one book in particular caught my eye--The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss**.

I can't tell you how many times I read this book before going to bed as a child!  While I couldn't remember the whole story or even how it ended, I did remember how it was by far my favorite of Dr. Seuss's stories.  As soon as I noticed it among the other books, I determined I would read it again for kicks once I finished my work.  With the last books arranged in some kind of order on the shelves, I took a seat and began reading.

For those of you who haven't read it before, or have forgotten it's ending much like I did, here's a brief summary.  There are two villages separated by a wall.  In one village, the people proudly spread their bread with the butter side up, and in the second village the people enjoy spreading their bread with the butter side down.  Eventually, a small skiff between two men across the wall from each other triggers a "one-upping" match of weaponry and threats.  At the books end, the same two men stand facing each other on top of the wall, each with a weapon of atomic proportions in their hands while their villages (aside from one of the man's grandson who narrates the story) hide underground awaiting the fallout. 

This is how it ends...

 "'Grandpa!'  I shouted. 'Be careful!  Oh, gee!  Who's going to drop it?  Will you...? Or will he...?'
'Be patient,' said Grandpa.  'We'll see.  We will see...'"

I wasn't quite anticipating this reality check when I opened up my childhood bedtime story memories.  No wonder I couldn't remember the ending--there was no end.  Sadly, this story sounds all too familiar, especially living within sight of such a wall.  How easily we point out the differences between ourselves, creating the a sense of the 'other' and putting up walls to keep ourselves 'safe'.  We seek comfort in gathering allies against a common enemy.  We strike with violence and hatred to try to gain the upper hand.  We begin losing sight of what makes us similar; what makes us human.  

For now, I pray that the Butter Battle Book becomes a favorite of the students who read it.  I hope they gobble up every rhyming word, laughing at the goofy sketches and enjoying the silliness of the whole conflict.  Beyond all else, though, I hope in reading it they find hope.  The book itself ends with the hatred of the other, but the story is not complete.  While complete destruction is only seconds away as the last page is turned, it does not come.  There is still a chance for reconciliation and peace--a peace that I pray these students may eventually know and help to determine.  Amen.

*If you'd like to purchase books through Amazon Associates for the ELCJHL Libraries Project, you can find the site here! 

**If you'd like to read the Butter Battle Book, you can find it here.  Sadly, there aren't pictures, but the story is available. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

dig, plant, water, wait, grow?

The second grade class at the Evangelical Lutheran School in Beit Sahour recently studied a unit on gardening in their English class.  The story that accompanied the unit was about a boy named Sam and the plants he grew from the seeds his granny gave him.  Over and over again we tested the second grade's memory and mastery of this unit, asking the students the steps Sam took to plant his seeds and how we could likewise garden. 

"First, we dig the earth.  Second, we plant the seed. 
Then, we water the seed.  Then, we wait. 
Finally, the seed grows." 

Ironically, at the same time I was helping teach this unit I had the opportunity to join a day of olive tree planting in a nearby village.  As a tourist you often only see the importance of the olive tree to Palestine in the olive wood carvings of camels, magi, and manger scenes, but the olive tree represents much more.  Alive and thriving in groves hundreds of years old, the trees' annual produce is integral to many families' yearly salary, not to mention their own supply of precious olives and olive oil.  Sadly, many people have lost their land and olive trees.  The Palestinian farmer for whom we helped plant this new grove will soon lose around 80% of his land to the building of the Wall.  Hopefully, with these trees, now planted on the land that he will soon be cut off from, he will have more of an arguement by which he might possibly gain permission to access his land after the Wall is built.  

During this day of planting olive trees, I practiced hands on the same steps to gardening as the second graders at my school studied...  but in a slightly different order. 

1. First, we dig the earth.

2. Second, we plant the tree.

3. Then, we water the tree.

...(Eventually), the tree (will) grow.

4.  (But for now), we wait.
Pictured above is the owner of the land we planted on. 

For whatever comes next, he waits. 

It is with him that we wait in the hope that these trees will be allowed to take root and thrive.  It is with him that we wait in the hope that the Wall that will soon hide his trees will not claim them completely.  It is with him that we wait in the hope that one day the only waiting will be for the next olive harvest and not the decision regarding whether or not he will be able to join in the harvest. 

It is with him that we wait in the hope that the lesson these second graders have learned was not in vain--
that growth does in fact accompany such waiting.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


When I was younger, I was captivated by The World's Strongest Man competitions--participants coming from all around the globe to compete in events such as the Plane Pull, Fridge Carry, and Giant Log Lift (though my favorites were always the more ambiguously titled events like the Pillars of Hercules, Atlas Stones, or Giant Farmers Walk).  While Miss America always screams with joy when she receives her crown, these men screamed throughout the competition as they pushed their bodies to the limits, straining and snapping joints and ligaments in their quest to prove their outrageous strength (...come on, a Plane Pull!?) all for the title of World's Strongest Man (at least until the next year...).  I don't think anyone would argue that these men are not strong--but what of strength?

Despite the many World's Strongest Man competitions I've watched over the years, no muscle man's battle with a heavy object compares to the feat of strength I witnessed at school today.

This afternoon the Evangelical Lutheran School in Beit Sahour hosted the annual Arabic competition, held between the four Palestinian Lutheran Schools.  Students from the 5th, 6th, and 7th grades compete against each other in two areas; a dramatic poetry recitation and an individual presentation.  For the first half of the competition, the students were given a poem to memorize in advance and recite before the audience and judges.  As the recitation portion began, I was amazed by the students expressiveness, using gestures and intonation to emphasize the beauty and meanings of the first poem, recited by the 5th grade.  The only phrase I could completely understand was, "أنا فلسطيني," ('ana falistyeenee'--I am Palestinian) but I was completely entranced as each syllable dropped so powerfully out of the mouths of these 11 year olds.  As soon as one student was finished I couldn't wait to hear the next.

When the fourth student to recite came to the stage, she introduced herself and began her passionate recitation, but after two lines or so something happened.  Whether it was sudden stage fright or a crippling brain lapse, she promptly broke down on stage and was gently whisked into the arms of her teachers and supporters in the audience.  The competition continued as she took her seat.  Yet, as the master of ceremonies began introducing the poem to be recited by the 6th grade after all the 5th graders had finished, the teachers and parents surrounding her interrupted him so that she could take the stage once more.

With a look of fearful pain on her face, she peered out into the audience, introduced herself, and began to recite.  She again tumbled through the first verse and doubled over in embarrassment and despair.  My heart dropped in my chest: I could feel her fear and her disappointment. Her supporters, seeing her suffer and wishing it to end, soothingly called to her, telling her it was okay; she could stop; she should come down from the stage.  Yet, she did not move from her place.

Standing up straight once more, voice cracking and eyes barely holding back tears, she continued to recite.  With each line she spoke her voice became bolder--"I am Palestinian."  With each rising syllable her emphatic gestures became even more passionate--"I am Palestinian."  With each statement of her very identity, her fearful glaze disappeared and was replaced by a persevering gaze that itself declared, "I am Palestinian."

As I sat in the back of the room, watching this transformation take place, I could not help but feel that my heart was not just lifting back up from the bottom of my stomach, but growing in admiration for her genuine strength.  While the other students had stood up and presented their work in order to win, she was now reciting her heart out in order to overcome her fear and prove her equal abilities despite her now disadvantaged position.  Tears welled in my eyes as I listened to the inspiring defiance in her voice, watching her not only not give-in and give-up, but truly nail the end of her recitation.  When finished, she gracefully walked off the stage to the applause of the crowd with her head held high.

In this little girl I saw not only the statement, "I am Palestinian", but also, "I am Palestine."  Like this young student did in her Arabic competition, my friends wake up each day and face their struggles with great strength--at times pushing through tears--in the hopes that one day there will be peace in this land.  Forget The World's Strongest Man competitions.... When it comes to strength, this 5th grade girl is one of the strongest persons I know.

"Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength." -Arnold Schwarzenegger

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

what 1000 words do you see?

"A picture speaks a thousand words." 

It's practically a given that we've all heard this quote before--it's one of the oldest adages in the book.  Call it cliche, but these words sure are accurate.   Much of what we base our initial judgements, assumptions, decisions, and conclusions on are the things we see around us.  Our experiences shape the way we think.  Our minds are not unaffected by images put before us. 

For instance, what does this picture say to you?

Who is the soldier?  Who is the other man?  What are they doing.  Is the man mocking the solidier?  Is the soldier threatening the man?  Where is the gun pointed?  Are there more people around them?  What is going on here?  What happens next...?


....Would it surprise you if I said these two men were not even interacting?  The man, Ibrahim, was simply trying to sell my friends and me some of his souvenirs as we walked the streets of Old City Hebron.  He walked away from us shortly after the photo was taken.  The soldier was on duty securing a group of settlers/tourists as they toured the old Jewish homes in the Old City.  At that moment, these men were both peacefully doing their jobs.  Yet how easily this picture could be skewed to represent either side of the conflict that, as we see here, has become visible throughout everyday life and duties. 

How do we let pictures like this and what people have to say about them affect the way we think and imagine, or affect what we decidedly believe?  We have to challenge ourselves to determine the truth despite what we may be told by media sources.  We have to talk with people and hear about their experiences rather than merely experience people who talk a lot about things they might not really know or understand.  We need to recognize the significance of two men who are both doing their jobs, but will most likely never share a friendly conversation about their day at work.  Regardless of what we see from day to day, we should first and foremost recognize that whomever we see here are first and foremost people--people who all breathe the same air, and bleed the same blood, and share the same emotions.  

I have come into this world to see this:

the sword drop from men's hands
even at the height of
their arc of
because we have finally realized
there is just one flesh
we can wound.

-Hafiz of Persia

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

the art of being

One meditative yoga class, it appears, is all it takes to wake me up again and remind me how beautifully simple life can be. 

From the very first day of our training in Chicago for this YAGM year, we were told to work our hardest--yes, in our placements, but almost more so in our relationships with the communities around us.  We were told to put the greatest effort into--get this--"being."  Being present, being a member of the community, being aware of what's going on around us, being a friend, a neighbor, a confidant, a student, and where needed, a helper--this is what we are called to do in our time of service.  Accompaniment--walking not only beside other people, but actively walking with them, hand-in-hand. 

Let me tell you this--much easier said than done!  Coming from a culture of "doing" things--always having a schedule, constantly planning the next move, making sure our hands never cease movement--it has been a daily struggle to give up that want to see a physical product from a days work and rather embrace the productivity of a day spent building relationships of trust and love over, say, an ear of fresh corn or a cup of herbal tea... or even sharing a few hours with others in meditation and yoga. 

Thankfully, a recent yoga class reminded me of the importance of "being".  Just the other week, I had the opportunity to join a meditative yoga session outside of my regular class.  The focus of this yoga class was the breath, using it as a tool to root yourself to the earth in order to access your whole being.  I kid you not, the yoga teacher (from Italy no less, with English as a second language!) used the exact expressions we were taught at orientation as a reminder of how to intentionally care for ourselves, and thus, those around us.  She repeated over and over again these instructions: "Remember, do not force movement.  Let your breath move throughout your whole body, moving you without effort.  Accompany your body by simply Being.  Don't try to Do the movements.  Let them happen naturally." 

Wowzers.  What a put it right out there reminder about the important things in life.  That if we focus on being, both in a natural flow and an intention mindset, our breath (...hmmm, image of the Holy Spirit?) will spread through us, fill us, and move us the way we are to be moved.  If we only accompany, we will see more plentiful products than if we went on our merry way "doing" things all the time and missing all that is going on around us. 

As I walked out of that yoga class, I was so thankful of the reminder to "be."  To be intentional and relaxed.  To be aware and satisfied.  To be open and loving.  To be a part of a journey rather than on a quest.  What is more fruitful than being with people who understand that love and care is not shown in actions alone, but simply in the act of being friends.

In other words (or possibly words of wisdom in a slightly different context), seriously, "Let it Be."

Check out my new poetry page which will be coming to a blog near you (...my blog) soon.  ...Possibly right now!  Just a few poems'll pop up every once in a while.  Nothing too fancy, but hope you check it out and enjoy!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

"the streets is tricky in these parts here"

It's 4:30am, January 6th.  My phone alarm goes off and I half fall, half roll out of bed.  Quickly stuffing my pjs in my pack, still half asleep, I grab the last of my things and head down to the lobby of the Grand Hotel in Cairo.  Fellow YAGMs and travel buddies David and Luke are already waiting for me.  We've begun our journey back home to Palestine after a cluttered, crazy, and collectively awesome trip to Egypt. 

"Giza in sepia with dog" 
(proper name for the photo I think..)
  While our time roaming around the pyramids, museums, and metro stations of Cairo was an unbelieveable experience, the more eye-opening of our adventures was yet to come.  As you've probably noticed, I've gotten caught up in the concept of time, letting almost three months pass by without allowing you all the slightest insight into my growing love for and appreciation of my community here.  No fear--more blogs to come about what's been going on these past few months.  For now though, let me share my journey back home from my jaunt over to Egypt to give you a little hint into what at least one amazing and outrageous day in my life looked like.  So sit back, and enjoy my ride...

First leg: "Is there a bus back?"
That's right--we headed off that smoggy morning with the mere hope that there would in fact be a bus that would pick us up from outside the Cairo Sheraton Hotel.  We had clearly not planned our return nearly as well as we should have, researching online only the night before about buses back to the Taba border crossing.  The only info we had--"bus to Taba--pick up at Sheraton at 6:00am.  *unaffiliated with Sheraton Hotels.  Book tickets atleast a day in advance."  Whoops.

Coming up to the Taba Border
on the Sinai
 Well, we sure hadn't booked tickets, but we decided to give it a try.  Having arrived at the Sheraton at 5:00am and being reassured by a few hotel workers that a bus should coming (and they made sure we knew it was not affiliated with the hotel), we sat and waited.  Long part of the story short, turns out the bus was to come at 7:30am, meaning we had a full 2 1/2 hours full of anxiety before our trip to the border was secured.  Thankfully, the man in charge of boarding pitied us and we boarded our 8 hour ride across Egypt and Sinai.

Second Leg: "On the border of laughing and crying"
We made it to Taba.  Thankful to be so close to Eilat, Israel (where we knew we could catch a bus at 5:30pm back to Jerusalem), Luke, David, and I made our way to the border control.  Pleased with ourselves that our trans-Egyptian bus trip had gotten us to Taba by 3:00, we confidently stepped into line... at least what turned out to be the first line of many.  Between ill-explained protocal (+45 minutes), a routine passport "extra security check" confiscation (+5 minutes), and having acquired too much coinage in my bag (+15 minutes at screening station), we made it across the border only to arrive at the Eilat bus terminal at 5:35pm.  Yes, that's right--5 minutes after the last bus to Jerusalem headed off into the sunset. 

Third Leg: "Show me the way to go home"
Decisions, decisions.  Should we stay or should we go now?  If January 7th was any other day, an overnight in Eilat might have sounded like a better idea, but in Beit Sahour, January 7th is Orthodox Christmas and I had to make it back for the festivities!  Trudge on we did.  Route?  We bought tickets for the 8:00pm, five hour bus ride to Tel Aviv with little plan of what we'd do after that.  All we knew was Tel Aviv was only an hour away from our homes as opposed to Eilat's four hour distance.  Cramming our faces with bus terminal falafel, we filled our time up laughing at our own absurdity.  (Were we really in high hopes or was it the lack of sleep!?)  The bus pulled away on time, and finding our seats (the very last ones before we would've had to sit in the eisle for the whole trip, whew!) we moved into hour 17 of our journey.

David and Luke, utterly pooped,
but almost home.  (Forgive me guys,
the picture was just too great.)
 Fourth leg: "27, 20, 25 New Israeli Shekel"
Thank goodness we met a very friendly and kind woman on the bus to Tel Aviv.  Becky, who lived in Jaffa and was on her way home with her daughter, was very concerned about how we would get to Jerusalem so late at night.  She even asked the bus driver what our best option would be, walking all the way back to us right before her own stop to ensure we knew we could get a cheap "service"--and thank goodness for that!  We were ready to shell out 250 NIS (over $60) for a private taxi, but upon arrival to the bus terminal, we discovered Becky was correct!  Our hour long trip to Jerusalem turned out to be 27 NIS each.  With each of us paying the service driver 20 NIS more, we got a ride straight to the Bethlehem checkpoint.  Easy as pie, and much cheaper!  With a 25 NIS taxi ride to Beit Sahour (what is normally a 15 NIS trip, I was too tired to bicker...), I made it back in my own bed by 2:30am.  All-in-all, 22 hours on the journey of a life time.  Beat Moses' record at least!

This semi-spontaneous (aka, poorly planned) trip was definitely one for the record books.  Other than teaching me how to successfully navigate across a continental ledge, this trip gave me insight into much of what I've learned/experienced during my time here.  Thanks to trust, community, confidence, flexibility, patience, and having an open-mind, we made it back safe and sound with a lot of pictures to share and experiences to reflect upon.  More reflective blogs to come now that I'm back bloggin' action...

...As I finish up this blog in the midst of the turmoil currently going on in Egypt, I lift up all those living in the region in my prayers, as well as though in Tunesia, Yemen, Lebanon, and Jordan.  May there soon be justice, respect, and peace in these lands!  While my day long venture full of smalls trials and troubles makes for a good story, their struggles definitely put my 1 day of travel concerns into perspective.  May God's peace and love be with them all.