27 September 2009

Mt Sinai and My First Birthday Abroad

So the morning of my birthday began day three of being quite ill. And I just prayed so hard I would be able to make it up and back safely so that I could participate in our devotional and testimony meeting we would have at the top. The one and only birthday I will ever spend awake for all 24 hours of it was overall a very good day if I focus on everything I learned, the beautiful view I had of God’s magnificent creations, and getting to talk with my mom and sleeping in my own bed. ☺ But hiking up that mountain at 2am was so hard for my sick little body to do. I did it though, and that is the most important part! Exodus 19:4 reads, “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.” I know that God truly did bare me up on eagles’ wings, because there was no way I could have made it up there without His help. And He did bring me up unto Himself, for His Spirit was poured out upon us during out meetings at the top. I had read a few verses the night before that ran through my mind as I made the ascent up the mountain. “Fear thou not: for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isaiah 41:10). This verse of course reminded me of our hymn “How Firm a Foundation” that was written off of this verse. And when I think of that song, I am reminded of my father. We sang this song at his funeral because it was one of his favorites. He was a living testimony of God fulfilling His promise to always be with us to strengthen and uphold us. Thinking of how brave my dad was to just keep on keeping on, despite how sick he was, gave me great courage in putting one foot in front of the other to get up that REALLY big mountain.

Despite being ill, the sunrise I experienced at the top made it all worth it. It was the most incredible and awe-inspiring view I have seen in a very long time. It was quiet and peaceful, which I greatly appreciated after 2½ hours of being hassled by Bedouins to ride a camel up the mountain (which in retrospect may have been more than a good idea… haha). Oh did I mention how I was almost trampled by camels? Yeah… that was a scary experience as I was pinned between three camels going up and three camels going down because their leaders were too thoughtless to notice there was a girl on a very narrow pass. But luckily I’m short enough that only my head was really pinned between the camels’ bodies. Haha
Our meeting at the top was also incredible. So many wonderful people who have such good insights and very pure, simple testimonies surround me here. I learned a lot from this meeting, and I hope I am able to really take these lessons to heart and apply them in my life.

On the way down the mountain, we had two options… the path that we came up with all of the camels, or what we were told was a staircase that just went all the way down. Unfortunately, I learned that choosing the path less traveled isn’t always the best decision… The “staircase” was actually just a bunch of big boulders stacked on top of each other that you had to climb down. It took me just as long to get down as it did to get up. Haha But it’s over with, and I made it safe and mostly sound, so that’s really all that matters! But for my roommates, I did indeed wear my pedometer during the entire day. My grand total for the entire day was 17,793 steps, with about 14,700 of those from going up and down Sinai. Whooo Ahhh! ☺

I spent the rest of my birthday on the bus or in line at the border crossing, but everyone was so nice that it was still a good day. But the only thing better than watching the sunrise on Mt. Sinai for my birthday was getting to talk to my mom when we got back to Jerusalem that night. It was the best part of my day to talk with her. Why do I have the best mom ever?! Seriously, she’s amazing and I’m so grateful for her and everything she has done for me. Love you mom!!

26 September 2009

The Pharaoh's Curse

So we went to a lot of extremes to avoid getting sick. We lived off of hot simple carbs and warm bottled water for more than a week. We slathered on the hand sanitizer before, during, and after any activity where we touched ANYTHING that might have been touched by anyone else. Haha Even so, a good chunk of people got sick in varying degrees of severity. Well, I was doing REALLY well and I felt great. Until the morning after our overnight train ride. But I got very little sleep, and I figured it was just mild dehydration. So I drank lots of water. And then on the bus that morning, it hit me. Like a brick wall. Oh boy was I in for a long day. That turned into a long several days. And I’m still sick, even though we’ve been back for two days. Ugh. In all of my other entries I just tried to focus on all of things I loved about where we went. But in all honesty, I couldn’t enjoy some of them like I had wanted to… particularly the Egyptian Museum. I could barely stand up let alone walk around and be amazed at all of the cool things I was seeing. Oh man. Did I mention that there was no air conditioning in this museum? And the bathrooms were on the second floor… hahahaha It is funny now. But I was SO terribly sick that first day. So as beautiful as everything from King Tut’s tomb really was, my favorite thing about the museum was that there was one room that was air-conditioned and it had one bench inside it. So there I sat for several minutes. And it was just one of the many tender mercies that day.

Another tender mercy that also demonstrates Middle Eastern hospitality… before I go any further, this is a terribly embarrassing story and more than a little disgusting, but I hope you all get a chuckle out of it and at least learn from my experiences. My group was visiting a synagogue in Old Cairo (this was in the morning just before we went to the museum). I was already feeling quite ill, but there wasn’t really anything I could do about it. I took some pepto bismal, drank some water and hoped it would go away soon. But as I was sitting in the synagogue, the overwhelming “I’m gonna be sick” feeling came over me. I knew it was either going to come up or down, and either way I was in trouble. So finally I got up and went over to the lady from our travel agency that was accompanying us and I asked her if she knew of any bathroom nearby because I was not feeling well. I followed her out where she asked the man at the front desk if he knew of one. He answered her (it was all in Arabic so I have no idea what was actually being said haha) and pointed down the road. So she grabbed our security guard and we scurried a little ways down the road to this humble little house where I see an old Egyptian woman poke her head outside. She showed me inside to this small open room with a toilet (open to the kitchen by the way haha). I got there just in time. Phew. Crisis averted. Or was it? I recomposed myself, and reached to flush the toilet as I just prayed Egyptian plumbing would work just this once for me. The toilet started to flush and then it stopped. The woman’s water had been shut off (which she said later happens all the time when the city needs it for something else). So what in the world was I supposed to do now?!?!?! It is not an exaggeration when I say that SHEER PANIC set in as I kept trying to flush the toilet. This was almost a bigger crisis. Getting sick all over myself is one thing, but getting sick in a stranger’s tiny bathroom in her tiny home and then leaving it as a mess for her to clean up when her water turned back on… NIGHTMARE. But alas, it was out of my control. The lady with our group and yelled back to see if I was ok, and when I told her what was going on she explained it to the woman, who told me not to worry about it. So I did something I never would have done if I weren’t with a group… I agreed to just walk away. We of course gave her a little money for her kindness and her hospitality to this poor sick American tourist, and then we went back to the synagogue to meet up with our group. I guess I at least have a really good embarrassing story to tell during all those silly get-to-know-you games we play in Provo…

Cairo/Giza/Memphis

Our first night in Cairo, we went to the Sound and Light show at the Pyramids of Giza. It was our first wake-up call that we are NOT in the USA anymore. Though I’m glad we went, I’ll be perfectly honest for any of you considering adding it to your itinerary. It was definitely a low-quality production to say the least. Haha It was so terribly cheesy, but whatev. I love cheese. I will just say that the best line of the whole production was “Man fears time. But time fears the pyramids.” **Cue the overdramatic music** hahaha so great!



We went back to the pyramids the next morning and we hung out there for several hours. We climbed inside the Great Pyramid and then we took lots of fun pictures on it. Holy Cow. I couldn’t believe I was actually AT the PYRAMIDS. IN EGYPT. IN AFRICA!!!!!! AAAAAHHHHHH. My bucket list has gotten very small already after checking so many things off of it! And of course I got a picture kissing the Sphinx. It’s a tourist must. ☺





We went to Memphis next where we saw the colossal Ramses II statue. Moses probably spent a lot of time here in Memphis, just fyi. After our trip to Luxor, we visited some Coptic churches and a synagogue in Old Cairo, followed by the biggest market place in Cairo. That was really fun, but I will say that once you’ve seen one or two shops, you’ve seen them all. They all sell the same things. And they are the same things sold in Petra, Amman, and in Jerusalem… And I think my favorite cat-call I got there was “You have beautiful eyes. Are you looking for me? **wink**” haha

We also visited the Egyptian Museum, where we got to see all sorts of things that I’ve been learning about for the last 3 years. I got to see the Merneptah Stele, which is the first mention of the Children of Israel in the land of Canaan found to date. This is what scholars use to date the Exodus and the lives of the Patriarchs. Also here at the museum were all of the cool things found in Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings! Oh my goodness! These things were truly exquisite! The jewelry, the furniture, the decorations, the weapons, etc… So beautiful!

On our last day, we went to the Citadel in Cairo, which is a fortress built in the 12th century AD by the Arab rulers in Cairo. It was also where theroyals who ruled Egypt for centuries lived until just a couple hundred years ago. Inside, we visited two of the three mosques. Both were absolutely beautiful. Through my classes and just talking with people I meet, I am learning so much about Islam and I can see so much truth and goodness that they have. These people are so good. They love and fear God, and they want to serve Him and live with Him, just like we do.



Luxor

Our tour around Cairo was interrupted by a three-day trip to Luxor. We flew down to Luxor, and then took an overnight train back to Cairo. Both were quite the experience. But Luxor was definitely the highlight of the trip. Where do I even begin? Um, how about that we stayed at the Sheraton Hotel. On the Nile. And ironically enough, staying at the Luxor was cheaper than Eryn and I staying at the Motel 6 in Iowa for one night…. I LOVE AFRICA! ☺ So yes, our accommodations were quite lovely. And I’ll probably never step foot in a fancy hotel like that ever again, but it was wonderful while it lasted!






Since we were staying on the Nile, we took lots of opportunities to explore it. We took three different boat rides down The Nile. It quickly became clear to us as we passed the countryside just how crucial this river is. It is the center and source of life for everything here in Egypt. And it was also much prettier than the Nile we saw up in Cairo. It was really just absolutely delightful! We also took a camel ride along the Nile through a village and their farmland. It is more beautiful than I ever imagined. And seeing the sunset over the Nile… I know I’m a sucker for sunsets and sunrises, but it truly took my breath away. My camel guide was named Ramses Tu, and the camel’s name was Bob Marley. Haha My guide was 22, and he is studying English at the University of Cairo. When I told him how old I was he made a note that I was an old woman… and he then proceeded to make what I think was an offer of marriage. He said if I was ever looking for work, he had a job for me. **Wink.** haha As tempting as it was, I did return with my group to Jerusalem. Adieu my dear Ramses Tu.






We visited the Karnak and Luxor Temples which again… WOW. SO BIG. Haha And to be honest, after awhile things really start blending in because they all kinda look the same. But what impressed me most about these temple complexes were the purposes behind them. And actually, the Israelite temples reflect some similar ideas from the Egyptians. For instance, in an Egyptian temple, there is an open courtyard that then steps up into a holy place, which then steps up again into the Holy of Holies where the altar was located. In Egyptian theology, there is also a sense of a trinity of gods, but it is made up of the God, his wife, and his firstborn son. There is definitely a sense of eternal life being a family affair. I wish I knew more… but maybe I’ll decide to pursue studies in it further so I can understand the symbols, paintings, and even the texts of the Ancient Egyptians better.






I know you are all especially curious about my visit to the Valley of the Kings. Well I can say this much… the tombs are covered in the most beautiful and exquisite paintings I have ever seen in my life. I went into a few different ones—King Tut, Horemheb, Ramses IV, and Ramses VII. As cool as it was to see the mummy of King Tut, my favorite tomb I went in was that of Horemheb. The paintings, carvings, and drawings of this tomb were the best preserved out of any of them I saw. And the tomb itself was left unfinished, so you can perfectly see the process of tomb construction and decoration. Unfortunately, you couldn’t even take your camera into the park let alone the tombs… Well, I guess that is what Google Images is for nowadays. Haha Now Erika, I dedicated my visit to Queen Hatshepsut’s Funerary Temple just to you. It is HUGE. After learning even more about her, I can see why you became so fascinated with her in school. She did some weird things, but she was definitely a remarkable woman in history. And thank you for teaching me all about her. You are the one who sparked my interest in Egypt in the first place!




Aimless Wanderings

So it might be a little hard to describe what I saw and came to understand without showing you my pictures, but hopefully I will still be able to make my point. On the way from Jerusalem to Egypt and back through the Sinai, we made several stops at places where the Children of Israel stopped: The Wilderness of Zin/Sin, the Sinai desert, Mara, Elim, Rephidim, and Mount Sinai. I’ve always been a little bit frustrated reading the stories of the Children of Israel, because they complained SO much. God parted the Red Sea for them to escape pharaoh, and two days later they were wishing they’d never left Egypt… I just never understood how they could be so ungrateful. But as I was visiting these places I realized that this is the very reason why they were caused to wander aimlessly around the Sinai for 40 years. They held themselves back and remained unprepared and unwilling to receive what the Lord had for them—ie. The Abrahamic Covenant and the Promised Land. And then I unfortunately realized that maybe I’m just like them in some ways. How many times have I been unwilling to let go of something that I thought was good, because I didn’t understand that what God had to offer me was even better? The Lord helps us progress by giving us things one step at a time. Some of these steps are harder than others, but at the top of the staircase, what is waiting for me? I don’t really know, but if it is from God then I know it is worth it. I never want to be kept wandering because I am unprepared for what the Lord has to give me next.

NOW, Here are my pictures :)


25 September 2009

Border Crossings and Bureaucrats

So considering we were trying to get about 100 people out across the borders of Israel and Egypt during this trip, everything went relatively smoothly. I mean there was the 8 hours total of waiting in lines during the process, but still… we all got our things and ourselves across each of the borders. However, I never have understood why after getting the same acceptable answers from the 50 other people in our group ahead of me, they still always look at me suspiciously while they ask me… hmmmm. I saw a sign that said nuclear weapons were not allowed to cross the border… HOW COMFORTING. Haha I mean, it’s clearly a very popular souvenir to bring back from Egypt. Haha Seriously. Some things are VERY different over here, and I am easily amused. ☺
Both Egypt and Israel have about 5 or 6 different checkpoints within the border crossing. Why? Because the government has to make up jobs for the young men in their country. This is definitely way more the case for Egypt than it is for Israel… but still. Every village or town that the highway goes through, even across the Sinai desert, has its own checkpoints with 20-something-year-olds who get paid to stand guard, or sit and sleep guard rather. However, you can be sure that the guards always wake up when two buses full of 60 pretty American girls goes by… Very interesting. Very bureaucratic… haha
We crossed at the Taba Border, which is right along the Gulf of Aqaba, part of the Red Sea. SO BEAUTIFUL. So politically, the Sinai is part of Egypt, since the peace treaties with Israel in 1994 or something like that. However, geologically, the Sinai Peninsula is still apart of the Asiatic tectonic plate. But luckily for me, I spent a week on the geological and political part of Africa, so it is official that I have been there. Check. Haha Though it is definitely a part of the Middle Eastern culture rather than African culture. I guess I’ll just have to go back. ☺

Kibbutz life in my future?

On our journey down to Egypt, we visited and stayed at a couple of kibbutzim. A Kibbutz is small settlement where everyone lives communally. Some of them are religious, some are agricultural, some are very tourist based… and some are a little bit of all three. We took a tour of the biggest kibbutz in southern Israel—Yotveta, which is mostly agricultural with some tourist interaction due to the rest stop they built. We ate dinner here too… our last meal eating things of color and drinking water for a week. What a long week that was!! We also stopped here on our way back from Egypt to eat dinner again. Because of the dairy here, they are famous for their chocolate milk. It really is VERY good chocolate milk ,Eryn… even better than BYU Creamery’s chocolate milk. Haha However, I personally think they should be famous for their ice cream. AAAHHHHH SOOOOOO GOOOOOOOOD. But then again, you all know of my personal and familial obsession with ice cream. Haha
After learning all about living on a kibbutz… and finding out that this one takes volunteers… I think if I ever come to an empty crossroads of my life, I might just volunteer at Yotveta for 6 months, a year, two years… whatever works. I mean why not continue living the ridiculous and crazy life, right? I could work with their horses there… or pick dates… or help in the dairy. I don’t really know. But I’m going to keep it logged away as an option for a rainy day. Haha

Trip to the Shephelah

The Shephelah (pronunciation--Shvay-la) is the lowland hills area of Israel/Palestine that lies between the Judean highlands to the east (Jerusalem) and the flat coastal plains of the west (Gaza, Tel Aviv). The Shephelah is crucial geographically because it contains much of the fertile agricultural land, as well as providing strategic cities to protect Jerusalem to the east or the seaports to the west (depending on who’s controlling the area). So during the OT, the Israelites were constantly battling over this land and its plentiful valleys with the Philistines (who controlled the coast).

During our field trip, we went to many of the Israelite’s key lookout cities, one of which I have studied in classes because of its amazing archaeological finds. This site, Lachish, was conquered by Joshua from the Amorites and became a crucial Israelite fortress city (Josh. 10:3-5, 31-32). The Assyrians then captured it in 701 BC (2 Kings 18:13-17, 2 Chron. 32:9, Isaiah 36), followed by the Babylonian capture (Jer. 34:7). When the Jews returned from Babylonian exile, some settled here in Lachish (Nehem. 11:30). SO this is more detail than you want, but I figured I would give you a brief overview on ONE of the many places we went. Anyway, the archaeology here as been phenomenal, as there are remnants of an Israelite Temple, the siege ramp from the Assyrians, the double gated/walled entrance of the fortress, and the most important find—the Letters of Lachish. These were letters written on ostraca, broken pottery sherds, telling of the fall of the neighboring fortress of Azekah to the Babylonians. They allude to knowledge that they were next to be hit, and all of the emotions involved with that knowledge. For an archaeologist like me, I just eat that stuff up! It was so amazing to finally be standing at this site that I have studied so much in classes! Love my life! ☺

Our trip also included a stop in the Elah Valley, where David slew Goliath. And of course in would not be a field trip if we didn’t get to learn in the field. SO, we each got a sling and five smooth stones and practiced our shot… Don’t worry, I had someone video tape me doing a demonstration. Of course I can’t upload it or show it to anyone until I get home… but just know that you’ll really have something to look forward to! Haha I think we’re mostly lucky that no one got too seriously injured… there were a few bumps on the head and split lips, but nothing that detracted from how AWESOME it was. I’m not terrible… but I definitely can’t aim and hit a target. Haha For sure though, this was the highlight of the trip for me!


The Garden Tomb

We went to the Garden Tomb today as a group. It was my first time visiting, but it certainly won’t be my last. A British Non-denominational group owns the site, which is why the area has been preserved rather than churches dotting the grounds. They have turned it into an oasis of peace and beauty in the midst of a hustling, noisy, contentious city. The gardens here are absolutely beautiful! A rare find in a city made of stones and dirt in the middle of the desert. Even still, it was not quite what I was expecting. As with everything over here, there were tourists EVERYWHERE. And in all honesty, I didn’t feel much during our tour by the nice British man, waiting in line for and going inside the tomb, or even as I walked around the gardens. But then our group all came back together and in the middle of the Garden, we started singing hymns, 100 strong. That was powerful… singing “He Has Risen” and “I Know that My Redeemer Lives” and a few others while looking at a tomb where Christ may have risen from, but at least represents at the very least that He HAS in fact risen. I was overwhelmed with emotions of the best kind, but especially with gratitude for the knowledge I have of my Savior and of my relationship with Him. His Resurrection was absolutely necessary for my family to be able to live together forever with Him and our Heavenly Father. And the fact that I KNOW that He does live gives me so much peace and comfort everyday when I think of my dad and how much I miss him. It was especially neat as we were singing because many of the other visitors and tourists came over and stood around to listen to us. Several of them were recording us... my first and definitely not my last exposure to that. haha During our free time I was walking around the garden and I went and listened to this group of Fijians singing praises to God. They sounded fantastic! And I also took a video for Tanner's benefit, because he has a small obsession with Fiji and the people there. :) I thought I would post the video just for fun.




video

16 September 2009

The Western Wall

Ok so here is the first of several promised posts. I have described a little already that the Jews celebrate the beginning of Sabbath, Shabbat, every Friday evening at Sundown. We count our days from midnight to midnight, but the Jewish day is from sundown to sundown. To understand why we went to the Western Wall, I should give a brief background though. The Western Wall, formerly dubbed the "wailing wall", is the only part that remains from Herod the Great's Jewish Temple Complex--from Jesus' time. It is the western portion of the retaining wall that surrounded the entire temple complex. When the temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, they burned it, and then toppled the stones to the ground below. Today, it is the Jewish belief that the Islamic Holy site Dome of the Rock stands exactly where their temple once stood. Though permission to worship near/on the temple mount has altered many times for the Jews in the last 2000 years, today they are able to worship at the Western Wall. It is THE holiest site in Judaism, because it is as close to where their temple once stood as they can get.

SO, luckily non-Jews are still able to visit and observe! So you walk in through security and it opens up into this large plaza. We got there just in time to see all of the boys from Rabbinical school marching and chanting down the stairs to the wall. For them, welcoming in Shabbat is a joyous occasion. They do their thing all the way to where the men go into worship by the wall. Once they get in there, a lot of them continue to dance, sing, clap, and chant. It is almost expected for the men to be very boisterous during the evening. For the women, it is a different experience. If the women acted the same way, they would be seen as very promiscuous. On their side, the women quietly read and pray at the wall. After observing all of this for a few minutes, my roommates and I wrote some prayers on small pieces of paper and stuck them in the wall. (We actually broke the Sabbath, because you aren't supposed to write on the Sabbath... oops.) After they worship at the wall, the Jews back away from it, so as not to offend God by turning their back on Him.

The feeling there was one of reverence, and intense faith. I wished that I knew Hebrew so that I could worship with the women there, but instead I just silently prayed to myself. After we left the worship area, we went back out into the plaza to people watch. We met and talked with several people who were there for their own personal worship. It was so fascinating to talk with these people! We weren't able to take pictures, because that is considered to be breaking the Sabbath. But next time I go back to the Wall not on the Sabbath, I will definitely get some pictures! I love learning about these people and their faith. It helps me understand my own background and faith from a different perspective, which I really appreciate!

14 September 2009

Slacking

Ok so I know I have totally been slacking on this. But in all honesty, I will blame some of it on the internet connection here... and the incredible amounts of homework I have to stay on top of, since we have class every day. Unfortunately, I still have about 30 pages to read tonight, and it is already after 9pm. SO I will have to write a real post later. BUT here are some things to look forward to reading about...

The Western Wall, The Recent Shooting, The Garden Tomb, Our Second Free Day Extravaganza (that included the Garden of Gethsemane), and our Shephelah Field Trip we took today. So I have lots to write about... but I promise I will catch you all up soon! I love you all! And thank you so much for those of you who are still keeping in touch with me! It makes my day to get emails! Loves loves loves!!!
Dear Mrs. Reyes' Class:
Thank you so much for all of your questions! I hope you all had fun learning about the different types of neighborhoods and communities that are here in Jerusalem. I want to answer each of your questions.

Marcelle, they have lots of cats here running through the streets. One likes to hang out on our patio as we eat our meals, hoping we'll give it some food. There are also dogs, horses, camels, pigeons, doves, and donkeys. Have you ever seen a camel? They are really goofy looking!
Cesar, I am having so much fun! I am very busy with my classes, but I try to get out into the city to explore as much as possible. I have the most fun when I am surrounded by my friends and we are doing something completely new, because it makes me feel adventurous!
Yesenia, they are serving us lots of different kinds of food here, so I am trying many new things. There is a lot of rice, and a lot of pita bread-which is kind of like a really thick tortilla. They mix all kinds of spices in everything here, so their food is very flavorful.
Alondra M.,When I go out into the city, I see lots of food for sale, but most commonly it is candy, spices, and fruit. I absolutely love it here! If you like traveling to new places at all, you would love to come here and learn more about this place and the people who live here! I really love all of the colors, but right now my favorite color is bright pink. That may change soon though!
Manuel,The most common foods I see for sale on the streets are fruit, spices, and candy and other sweet treats. I see all of the other food we normally eat, too, but they are normally just sold at grocery stores. I am staying in a building that is both my home and my school. It is a white building set on top of a hill and cascades down. It is 8 floors high, and has 149 stairs in it!
Alondra G.,My home is beautiful! Mrs. Reyes can show you a picture of it, but it kind of looks like a waterfall cascading down the side of the mountain where it sits. I'm excited I get to call this home for awhile!
Mark, I got here by flying on four different planes and then a bus. It took us two plane rides to get across the United States. Then another plane ride to get us across the Atlantic Ocean, and finally a plane ride to get us from Europe to the Middle East. Then we had to take a bus ride from the airport to our new home. It took us two days to get here! It was a very long trip, but we were grateful to get here safely!
Adriana, when I wake up in the morning, I go out onto my balcony and I overlook the entire city of Jerusalem! It is a beautiful view! I don't think I will ever get tired of looking at the city from my home. It is the perfect picture, and when I get back maybe I can show you exactly what it looks like!
Stacey, they are serving us lots of different kinds of food here, so I am trying many new things. There is a lot of rice, and a lot of pita bread-which is kind of like a really thick tortilla. They mix all kinds of spices in everything here, so their food is very flavorful. I have met many new people here. There are 82 students here, so I have been trying to get to know all of them, plus the teachers and the other staff members that work here with us. I have met a few merchants in the city, too, and they have been very kind to us! I also go to church here, where I have met even more people! I am staying in a building that is both my home and my school. It is a white building set on top of a hill and cascades down. It is 8 floors high, and has 149 stairs in it! We got here the night of September 2, so I have almost been here for two weeks.
Arturo, I am staying in a building that is both my home and my school. It is a white building set on top of a hill and cascades down. It is 8 floors high, and has 149 stairs in it! I live in a room with three other girls. Our room has 4 beds, a big desk area, closets, a bathroom, and a balcony that overlooks the entire city of Jerusalem!

I hope I answered all of your questions!! Thank you so much for writing me! It was so fun for me to read what you all wrote. I hope you guys are learning lots and working hard for your education! Maybe one day, you can all end up going to school in a cool place like Jerusalem, too! Have a great week!

Sincerely,
Miss Dana

07 September 2009

Week One

Salaam and Shalom from the Holy Land!! (That's hello in Arabic and Hebrew!) So just a heads up, I am the new pen pal for my sister's First and Second grade class, so at least once a week I will be writing specifically to them. Unfortunately because I've been so busy here and the internet is really slow, I've had a hard time getting on this week to write. So I think I'm going to make Erika use her teaching skills and just some up this post with what she wants to tell her class. Love you Erika! :) And yes, this may have something to do with all of those pictures you just posted of me on your blog...haha :P

The Jerusalem Center is absolutely beautiful! It is definitely one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever been in. It sits on the western slope in the middle of the Mount of Olives, which some Israelis call Mt. Scopus (it's all political, like everything else here). There are 8 levels in the center, and 149 stairs on the inside (with a lot more on the outside!). I live on level 3 in a room with 3 other girls. The four of us share a bathroom, so I don't have to wait in line like in the dorms! Our room has its own patio outside that overlooks East Jerusalem (the Palestinian sector) and the Old City that sit to the west of our center. It is a beautiful view and one of my favorite places to sit and watch the sun go down. The Garden of Gethsemane is just south of us at the base of the Mt. of Olives, as well as the Orson Hyde park. North of us lies Hebrew University and some new Jewish neighborhoods that are encroaching into the Palestinian neighborhoods (much to the uproar of everyone around). (Erika-I know you've been talking about neighborhoods and communities in class, but I don't know if it's too hard to explain how they are divided up by what ethnicity and religion the people are...)

It is about half-way through Ramadan-the Muslim holy month of fasting (lunar months). The Muslims wake up really early (about 4am) to eat a big breakfast and then they fast all day long until the sun goes completely down (about 7:30pm). Each morning when it is time to begin their fast, a big canon goes off (of course I wake up! It's practically right outside my window! haha). The canon will go off again in the evening when they are allowed to eat again. They have big parties every night where they eat lots of food and have music and fireworks. The streets in the Arab neighborhoods are decorated with Christmas lights in celebration of the Holy Month. At the end of the month, they will all exchange gifts with each other. So it is a combination of Christmas, the Fourth of July, and Fast Sunday in our culture. They certainly make it look fun! And of course there is the Muslim Call to Prayer that goes off from all of the Mosques in the city 5 times a day, starting at 4:30am. Normally it is only about 10 minutes long, but because it is the Holy Month they have been playing sermons before and after the call to prayer, so in total about 45 min of Arabic is sung and chanted every morning from the loudspeakers just across the way from us... I'm just used to getting up with it now. But it really is beautiful!

The Old City of Jerusalem is divided into 4 sections, or quarters: Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Armenian. There are 7 gates into the city through the walls (built by Sultan Suleyman in the 1500s). I haven't even been here a week yet and I've already made it into the Old City 3 times. Thursday our professors took us on a walking tour of the city just to show us around and get us oriented. Friday I spent the afternoon in the city and we wandered around the Christian, Armenian, and Jewish Quarters. As we were on our way out of the city, we randomly stumbled upon the Western Wall as the devout (mostly Orthodox) Jews were coming to welcome in the Sabbath--which is Saturday for them, and also for us here at the Center. We didn't get to stop because we still had a long walk ahead of us to get back to the center before the sun went down. But we will be going on a field trip for this very purpose this coming Friday evening, so I'm excited about that! Sunday we had a completely free day, so I went to the Old City with my roommates. We attended a Lutheran service at the Church of the Redeemer in the Christian Quarter. Then we just explored... or got lost... haha. We did visit the courtyard of the Church of the Redeemer. It is one of the favorite places of the 12 Apostles to come when they are in Jerusalem. And some of them have filmed their testimonies here. It is absolutely beautiful! And very peaceful in the middle of a very loud and bustling city. We ate our lunch here and then had some photo shoots. Overall, we are still finding our way around the city, but hopefully we will be pros in no time!

Saturday was our Sabbath here. I think it has been my favorite day so far, actually. We hold Sacrament in the Auditorium of the Center, which faces a wall of windows that overlooks Jerusalem. A little distracting maybe, but such a wonderful experience. We all sound phenomenal when we sing together, too. Church was beautiful. Sunday School was awesome, and Relief Society was special, too. I don't know how to articulate how powerful the Spirit was in our meetings, but it was such a neat experience... like being back in Nauvoo again. :) Our Relief Society President is Palestinian and she lives in Bethlehem, which is actually located in the West Bank. For years she has not been allowed to come to Church because it is held here in Jerusalem. Luckily she got a job working for the UN and now has a pass that allows her to come to Jerusalem during certain times of the day. She is fantastic and I know I have so much to learn from her!

Today we took our first field trip to study the geography of the Holy Land. We went to several different high points around Jerusalem. We stayed within a 15 mile radius of the city, but we saw so much! I never realized from reading the scriptures just how close everything is! Bethlehem is only 6 miles from Jerusalem. Bethany is on the mount just south of the Mt. of Olives. We went as far north as Nabi Samwil, the burial place of the Prophet Samuel. I see archaeology every where I go, and I'm hoping to somehow get involved with some type of current project while I'm here, or at least make some contacts. But I also have a lot of classes and LOTS of homework... so we'll just have to see how that goes.

I know this was all pretty scattered, but it is hard to find the words to articulate how beautiful this place is, and also how much we need to pray for the people here. Many Israelis and Palestinians get along just fine with each other, just like any neighbors. However, there are those who try to incite reactions, which is never a smart idea. It isn't a matter or who is right and who is wrong any more, though that is still what many fight over. Now, the conflict is really about what is fair and how to compromise, but some aren't interested in compromise, and those in power don't really care about what is fair. But I can say that all of the people here worship God, just like we do. They try their best, they raise their children, and they live their lives just as we do. They attend church with their families on their Sabbath Days, whether it is Friday, Saturday or Sunday. And we are all children of Abraham, and have inherited the opportunity to make those same covenants and receive the same blessings as he did. The Church is still true, and the Gospel is perfect in the knowledge of truth it gives us. And these people are just as good and worthy of our respect as any of God's Children.

02 September 2009

Two countries down, one to go!

So have a whirlwind of a week with family and friends, repacking about 8 times, and an orientation that would urge even Logan into submission, I finally got on the plane. My checked bag was 50.00lbs on the money, and my backpack is so stuffed that it didn't even fit under the seat on my flight to Vienna. And lucky for you all, the Vienna airport has FREE wireless. So my mom gets an update about 36hrs before I told her she would. Love you mom! :)

I hate international flights purely because of the length. But I love them because of the really good food, and the excellent service. Of course it only adds to my pleasure that the flight attendants ask you everything in English AND German! I've already met a lot of people, but only one of my roommates so far. Everyone pronounces my name Danna upon introduction. Maybe Connie is right... maybe I should spell my name Dayna. Maybe THEN people from Utah would get it right. ;) haha Love you Connie!

Considering there are 60 of us traveling over through Vienna on to Tel Aviv, there has not been a single incident. We are so grateful that we've been able to travel safely. Now we just have to make it through security in Tel Aviv without a problem--the most secure airport and customs in the world. Wish us luck!