Monday, March 3, 2014

Yet another catch up...

It's been almost 3 weeks since I've been able to sit down and even think about what I want to record here. So much is always happening here that spare moments to myself are few and far between. And to be completely honest, I've been caught up in the Divergent trilogy craze. Even half way across the world I can't help myself from devouring those books. Mom, I don't think you'd like them... it's super similar to the Hunger Games story line... it's just a nice break from the Jerusalem Center life here. 

I'm going to go backwards in these past couple weeks to try and get everything in. 

Yesterday 10 of us went up to Haifa, a port town close to Lebanon. I've been spending the past couple weekends with this group because they like doing weekends in small groups, packing lots into one day at the cheapest cost possible, even if that means we walk... a lot! And they like doing things that no one else in the center is doing. Love it! So Haifa, we left at 5:45 am... that was a major struggle for me, 1. Because, while I am a morning person, I hate getting up before 6 and 2. because I was up until around 2 the night before finishing all my homework so I could go. But, let's be honest, I can sleep the rest of my life, and I only get to be here in Israel once! So we ride the train up to Haifa, and when we get there, it's pretty overcast, McKay kept saying that it felt like home (San Francisco). I was a bit worried though, it didn't seem like a morning fog that would burn off... more like a kinda nasty day. McKay and I even made a bet... spoiler alert - I won! 

So we started off the day hiking up to Elijah's caves where Elijah supposedly stayed on his way to destroy the priests of Ba'al. It was kinda a let down... just a small cave with a Jewish synagogue inside (and yes I do realize how snobbish I've become, back at home that would be the highlight of me week to see something like that). After the cave we hiked up to the Monastery on top of the mountain, but since it was Sunday we hit Mass and couldn't go into the Monastery. Funny story... we walked into Mass right as they were beginning communion. A few of our group jumped right into line, and received communion from the priest. Jon and I watched almost in disbelief that they were actually doing it. 

Seriously... look how perfect these flower beds are! So BEAUTIFUL!
Incredible view of the upper terraces that we had already climbed down. This
was about half way through the Garden. 
The highlight of the day for me though was going to the Ba'ai gardens. Ba'ai we learned is a religion very similar to Islam except they don't believe that Muhammed was the last prophet and that there is a chain (though not continuous) of prophets still to come. I'd never heard of another faith that believes in modern day prophets... very interesting! Anyways, these gardens were 18 levels of exquisite manicured lawns and flower beds, with lots of colors, designs and themes. And there was an ornate shrine there to the last prophet that had been on Earth. They were beautiful and the architectures from balconies to the replica Roman temples just added to the peaceful feeling there. Although in all honesty, I still prefer Temple Square! 

After the gardens we went straight to the beach (Mediterranean Sea nbd!) Sadly, my prediction of the weather turned out to be all to accurate. It was freezing!  The crazy boys that I was with were determined to go swimming though. So we walked along the beach looking for a lifeguard. Even on a cloudy day, there is not a lot that can walking barefoot in the sand along the beach! And this was super cool for me because tons of huge Jellyfish had washed up on shore. I'm talking massive as in maybe 2 feet across. Even if it was warm, after seeing all those stinging creatures on shore, I'm not sure I could have talked myself into swimming where I knew they were! After a while, we gave up looking for a life guard and a few of us decided to look for a place to have lunch/dinner. Once we were done, it was way to cold and I was so tired... I decided it was time for a nap. Almost the minute I laid down I was out and didn't wake up again until a really cold burst of wind woke me up and I realized just how cold I was. Jon woke up a few minutes later and put his coat on me. I decided to be a girl and let him and honestly I was really thankful for it! Finally, we were all cold and couldn't think of anything else to do so we caught the train home.
This was some kind of tomb complex/ruined church. Eric went
up on the roof and took a picture of us from above!

On Friday, Jon, Richie, Eric and I went exploring. Jon knew about a monastery that he wanted to explore and I was up for an adventure. We walked through back neighborhoods and up a breathtaking hill just to find that the monastery was only open Tuesdays and Thursdays. Perfect. Thankfully, the monastery is nestled into the hill that has the field of blood (where Judah hung himself) on top. Up we went. I didn't realize that we would be hiking that day so I was in a skirt and sandals. It proved to be a bit difficult but I made it! We crawled into promising holes in the mountain discovering tomb complexes and more than one giant spider.

While we were up on the hill we heard some kind of crazy party going on at the foot hill. When we were done exploring we decided to walk by to see what it was. We saw from a distance a bunch of men flocking to this tent that had music blasting out of it. The boys all wanted to go check it out, but I didn't see any other women and I got really nervous. Finally we agreed to at least walk across the street to see if we could tell what was going on. When we got there, we realized it was some kind of celebration, and little kids were crawling all over the tent! But I still didn't feel easy about going in. One of the younger guys saw us and motioned us in, we tried to wave him away but he came over and tried to talk to us. Sadly there was a pretty significant language barrier. Richie pulled out his phone and between google translate, hand gestures, and another guy... we figured out that it was something like a 5 year as a neighborhood block party. We had about 15 minutes before we had to head home so we went in for a few minutes. Our friend found us chairs (turns out all the women were sitting in the middle of the tent that's why we could only see men), and pretty quick we had made friends with the little kids who swarmed us, and I chatted as best I could with the women next to me. Speeches were made in Arabic and then a group came out and did a traditional dance. We did Arab dancing at our culture night a few weeks ago, but these kids were fantastic! We were clapping and laughing and I did NOT want to leave! But we finally pulled ourselves away after much hand shaking and waving and started to run home. We got a little bit lost and turned down what we thought was a shortcut road... we were right... except we ran straight into the jaws of a ticked of rabid dog! When the dog started coming after us the boys took off running as fast as they could, remember I'm in a skirt and sandals and it takes about a half a second for me to realize there is no way I can out run it so I freeze. The dog stares me down and bares it's teeth. I tried not to show fear while my mind is racing with ways to get out of this! Eric thankfully came to my rescue, pushed me behind him and I backed away. A local man saw our plight and came and chased the dog away from us.  5:30 hit and we weren't even to the old city so we flagged down a taxi and hopped in. Our driver was a Palestinian refugee. He started telling us his story, and quite honestly... it was fascinating! I feel like I've done a good job getting to know the Jewish culture here but Palestinian culture is a bit harder to get to know. But that night was one of the best experiences I've had with the Arab culture!

One goal I've made here lately is to expand the circle of people I do things with, so I decided to go to the mall with a bunch of the girls here. So right after lunch I ran upstairs to meet up with them, only to find out they had ditched me. Not gonna lie...I was kind of hurt. But I pushed it off and went to search out a different group to go out with. There was a group going to the Dome of the Rock so I jumped in on that opportunity. We got there just as the temple mount closed to visitors. Lame. But we decided to go explore the sights of the Jewish quarter that many hadn't seen. We kept striking out though. Nea Church - school wasn't out so we couldn't go in, John the Baptist Church - only open MWF, and then we met up with another group. We were to large, so we split up half going shopping and half going to a church that Eric, Matt and I had discovered on a wander/jog through the city. I was with Nate Bridgewater (Mom, he's your friend's nephew), Bob, and Mike. None of them had done much exploring in the Christian quarter, so I lead them up to the roof by the cisterns. They were blown away and we obviously had to stop quite a bit, but I hadn't been there in a while so it was fun. While in the cisterns, Nate started singing. We sang lots of hymns. They asked me to do the alto and I did fine until Mike started singing the melody... a half a step flat, consistantly. Then I lost it, I started giggling and I couldn't sing much after.  Nate finished up singing Where Can I Turn for Peace and it was almost haunting hearing it echo around the cistern.
We finished out the day at the Patriarch Chapel - where the second in command to the Pope lives and reigns. It was a beautiful church and the guard seemed to love chatting with us.

The field trip of the week was a trip to a Biblical lands and plants reserve. It honestly sounded kind of lame to me... and it wasn't my favorite one. But the day had a few highlights - hearding sheep and goats, drawing water from an ancient cistern, and seeing different herbs that are talked about all the time in the Bible. The highlight of the day for me came at the end when we got to try and make lunch - pita bread and lentil stew. I jumped right in! I've missed cooking!! By the end of the afternoon I was half way decent at making Pita bread and I can't wait to try it when I get home!

Sunset over the Sea
A week ago, my little group went to Tel Aviv. Almost all the center went to En Gedi where we had been the week before (I'll get there... promise). Our bus driver decided to be DJ for us and we had club music at 8 am on the way there. By the time we were dropped off... we were so hyped up, there was no way the day wasn't going to be great! We rented bikes and took off! I was wearing a skirt that day and it made riding a bike fairly tricky, but for the most part, I think I did alright. I kinda felt like I was in the Sound of Music as we rode! We rode up and down the boardwalk along the beach, oh what a perfect day huh? We split up into small groups so everyone got to do what they wanted. I was with Katie Dahl, Jon and Tabor. I honestly can't even remember where we were trying to get to all day, but after we had explored the beach for a couple hours, we rode into the city, turning down roads that looked promising and at one point accidentally turning on to an on-ramp to the highway. Right as we got to the center of the city (really, we were right in the middle park like a block away from town hall), the chain on Tabor's bike broke. As we waited for the replacement to be brought to us, we laid in the sun and chatted for what turned into almost 2 hours. Thankfully they gave us extra time on our rental so it was just an extra hour we gained to explore on the bikes. We went to the mall and I got some much needed items, and we tried to get our way onto the 50th floor to the look out but with no luck. When we left, we passed City Hall that was swarmed with what I'm guessing were refugees looking for settlement. Very interesting to observe. Finally at the end of the day we found a life guard and Jon jumped in the water for a swim, while the rest of us watched the sun set over the Sea. Such a perfect day!

The famous dome that encapsulates the supposed Tomb of Christ

On top of the Church
I can really only remember one adventure from the week before... and that was finding our way onto the roof of the Church of the Holy Seplechure. One of hte shopkeepers here offered to take us up one afternoon and how can you say no to that chance!?! We wove through Jerusalem and he spoke to the guards, they teased us as we passed - "Only because you are with the best man in Jerusalem!" Once on top of the church the view was breathtaking. We could look down on the courtyard of the church and all the pilgrims that flock there, see the legendary dome up close, and see the formation of the church. I feel so lucky to have all these adventures!

Ok, last adventure for the day. En Gedi. Wow wow wow!!! It was honestly one of my favorite days besides Petra. This was my first out of Jerusalem adventure without the teachers. I went with a fairly active group so I was ready to spend the day hiking. En Gedi is the oasis right next to the Dead Sea where Jacob hid from Esau. I would hide there too if I had to pick somewhere here to hide. It was beautiful!! So many waterfalls and gorgeous views.... ah I fell in love almost immediately. The other thing we did almost immediately was put the swim suits on so we could wade around the pools! It felt so good to be in something other than baggy shirts and skirts... and to be away from the view of the center! Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for the watch they keep on us... but sometimes I wish they would treat us more like the adults we are. Anyways, we had a wonderful time wading and splashing and hiking all over the mountains. We took a trail off the beaten path towards the "caves". At the top of the caves however, we got side tracked by the large pools that slid down into each other. The boys went crazy sliding down the natural water slides into the pools and all of us had fun wading/swimming through the pools.

Finally when we had hiked all we could (we actually got kicked out cuz the trails were closing), we decided to check out the Dead Sea. We knew we weren't allowed to swim without a life guard... but as luck would have it... the beach we checked out had not one but two life guards! We jumped in faster than you would believe! It was the craziest feeling! You couldn't drown there if you tried! Swimming was the weirdest feeling...the water was almost thick, slimy is the word that comes to mind...just odd. We tested our strength against the salt water for a while - trying to dunk one another, standing vertical in the water and running through it, and finally building a raft of legs and having people climb up on us... finally we had to leave. I can't wait to go back, but I'm going to be a bit smarter next time - not shave and bring soap to rinse off with! Still it was such a wonderful crazy day!!! This group has developed a bit of a trend. We check out a site one week and the next week the rest of center goes there. I love being the pioneers discovering the wonders of Israel.

Some other highlights of these past 3 weeks that I will just highlight:

Elias Kindelberg - a holocaust survivor came and spoke to us. He was such a sweet, and energetic man
Even at 97, he wanted us to hear his story and know that the only thing that will change the world
is when people are kind and good people to each other. It was such a humbling experience to hear him.

  • We went to Yad Vashim - the Holocaust museum. It was a very interesting experience for me, and not nearly as hard as I was expecting. Maybe because I had spent all of the previous week dealing with untimely death, but as I walked through, I couldn't help but feel hope. Hope that all those who lost their lives in this horror, will have found peace and rest in accepting the gospel on the other side. Don't get me wrong, I was really horrified by the scenes I saw and testimonies I heard... but that hope was always there
  • We had a Passover dinner. It was quite the experience and a very touching one. I remember reading Number the Stars as a little girl and that was my first exposure to Passover. So many questions were answered and such a cool feeling was there, as our Israel history teacher lead us through the rituals explaining their significance to his people. We ended the night by lifting him on a chair singing and clapping. 
  • The drama here at the center is driving me crazy! So many couples! So much tension! 
  • I was paid one of the nicest compliments I've ever received a few weeks ago by Tanner. One of the guys here assembled a team of us to brainstorm his business idea. We argued and discussed the different angles and at the end, Tanner turned to me and said "You should really consider consulting! You have the right mind for it!" Wow, that was such a compliment!

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