Sunday, September 30, 2012

Yom Kippur One Day, Passover The Next

That's how Ophir said it in class. "Time flies, doesn't it? Yom Kippur tomorrow and Passover the day after that--usually there's six months in there!"

Our outside time on Yom Kippur was restricted, as every Jewish establishment and then some would be closed as all the Jews spent the day at home or in the synagogue in fasting and prayer. The Old City was still open to us, though, and I went there. All seemed pretty quiet to me, but I was aware of what was happening in other places around the city. It was a day of reverence.

The next day I had another turn at the Red Cresent hospital. It wasn't as thrilling an experience as the first time, but still great. The first nurse we worked with started showing us how to take vital signs and check the tension in a woman's uterus. We then informed her that we weren't medical students, and then we ended up doing other things. I worked in the normal nursery with Lorina for a while. Those dark little Arab babies are so cute. I even got to see one have his first bath. He wasn't too happy about it, but I was.

We had passover the next evening. I was signed up to be a narrator and to sing two of the prayers with groups. I was also twenty minutes late. There I was, doing my hair and putting on my nice clothes and thinking myself to be making great time, when Sister Bench (housing couple sister) poked her head into my apartment and said "Are you coming to the Sedar?" "Of course. Five-thirty," I said, glancing at my clock (5:20). "No, five o'clock!" she says. "Hurry!" So I raced up four flights of stairs to the oasis and bashfully slid into my place at the head table--though I don't think anybody really noticed. The Sedar proper was only just barely starting, so the timing was alright. I sang both of my numbers--the four questions (before which we were totally shown up by Ophir's eight year old daughter, who sang the first verse in flawless Hebrew into the mic before we went up) and Y'vareh et Bet Y'israel, a blessing of rejoicing. I also read part of the Haggadah about the greatness of God and His blessings. Let down of the evening: when the time came for the bitter herbs came, I was totally prepped for pure, undiluted horseradish like I endured at BYU--but it turned out to be romaine lettuce, which doesn't have quite the same effect. Highlights of the evening: First, the dessert for the meal was a chocolate covered bannana with ice cream--AMAZING. Also, a group at the end sang my favorite Passover song--"Who Knows One"--as a rap. It was awesome.

The whole program was marvelous, and I even got to enjoy Charoset that I helped to make. Ophir made it a great experience, and his little daughter was great, too. When he told us he needed to keep the afikomen safe for after desert, she said loudly, "He won't keep it safe! He's going to hide it!" And we pretended we hadn't heard. When, after dinner, Ophir informed us that the afikomen had "disappeared," she said again, "No, he hid it!" Than ran off to help everyone hunt for it. Alex found it and split the candy prize with the little kids. It was a wonderful evening.

I will do more in the next post, just for the sake of keeping things coherent. More soon!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Joshua Fit the Battle...

...of Jericho! Jericho! Jerichoooooooo... Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and the walls came a-tumbling down!

Guess where we went for our fieldtrip this Monday? Hmmm, let's think...

Yep, even after our crazy trip and sleepless weekend, Monday was field trip day again. Fortunately it was only a half day, so it wasn't too long and we were able to get some things done in the afternoon as well. I was woken up at 3:40 in the morning by burning abdominal pain, such that I could barely walk to the bathroom sink for a cup of water. I took some omeprezol and sat awake for nearly half an hour, listening to the call to prayer (again) and praying that I would be able to sleep. The pain did go away and I was fine for the rest of the night. I didn't feel great the next morning--I've had off and on pain and nausea since then, actually--but I've seen much worse on the illness front, so I packed up my backpack and hauled off on the field trip. Needless to say, though, I was glad it was a half day only.

Jericho wasn't much to look at if you didn't know what you were seeing--but we did, so it was awesome. We saw Kathleen Kenyon's excavation trench, some stratification layers, and the remains of the oldest known structure in the world--an 11,000 year old watchtower. We saw the fallen remains of an ancient wall and discussed how this may be the walls of Jericho that were brought down by the Israelites. It's a good example of how your own beliefs or agendas can warp your perspective. Kathleen Kenyon (who was against Biblical interpretation of archaeology) excavated the wall and determined that because this was a Middle Bronze Age wall and the Israelite period was Late Bronze Age, the Israelite conquest as written in the Bible could not have happened because the city would not have had a wall at that time. An Israeli archaeologiest read her findings and retaliated with what I think was a very good point: assuming that the walls had been maitanenced and cared for, is it not possible that the Jericho of the Israelites was a Late Bronze city surrounded by a Middle Bronze wall? Of course it's possible--and there is evidence for this view. Late Bronze Age pottery has been found beneath the Middle Bronze wall--so either the Jericho Canaanites stuck some pottery up there while building a subway, as Dr. Stratford put it, or somebody had to have dropped a Late Bronze pot on that spot before the wall fell. Interesting, isn't it?

After that we visited a few other sites. We took pictures with a tree that was not the one Zacchaeus climbed in the New Testament but sure looked like it. We saw the waters of Elisha's spring--still sweet and still giving water to Jericho up until this very day. We stood on a hill and looked down at the remains of Herod's winter palace. Our talk there made the scriptures about him make so much more sense. We learned that because he was not a locally born or even remotely loved leader (as well as a few foreign attacks in the neigborhood) Herod became extremely paranoid about attack and assasination. This paranoia is evidenced by the fact that he had five different palaces (maybe more) to escape to in a pinch, such as Herodion and Masada, and also that he had a distrubing habit of killing friends and family who he thought might be a threat. Little wonder it is, then, that when the Magi show up asking "Where is he that is born king of the Jews?" Herod gets nervous. As far as Herod is concerned, he is the king of the Jews--so what is all this about a new one? You see what I mean--knowing more about Herod makes his actions make more sense to me.

We finished the field trip with a brief hike over a ridge overlooking a canyon, along the bottom of which runs the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. The parable of the Good Samaritan was set along that road, and several events and miracles--my personal favorite being the healing of the blind man Bartamaeus--happened there as well. The hike was very hot and very fast, and I nearly slid halfway down the hill on the lose rocks. I ended up towards the rear of the line pretty quickly, grumbling a little listening to Brother Judd shouting "Hurry up, Guppies!" from the front and Brother Stratford calling out "Left! Left! Left-right-a-left!" from the back. We made it though--and hurried home for lunch and homework. Fun, right?

I spent all Tuesday afternoon catching up on homework, including finishing a paper that isn't due until tomorrow morning. Victory!!! I even had time that evening to watched "Amazing Grace" with Katie and a few others (though most of the "others" had trickled off to bed by the time it was over). I finally got out into the city on Wednesday afternoon. A got a bigger size in the scripture case I wanted (my investment to encourage the preservation of my quad) and made a second visit to the Holy Seplechure. We also made a detour to the cistern under the chapel and sang there, which had a very cool echo effect and apparently could be heard in the chapel above.

I just want to mention that it is a great blessing sometimes to receive kindness from a stranger. When we were waiting in line to see the seplechure I went off to sit down a moment because I was not feeling well then. I was also stressing about things that were very important to me yesterday but really aren't now--but the end result was that I was a little upset and may or may not have been trying not to cry (she shamefully confesses). I walked around a little to clear my head. There is a small alcove around the back of the seplechure that has a paiting of Mary and the baby Jesus in it, as well as a beautifully draped altar and candles. I stood outside looking at the painting, still not feeling myself and tearing up a little. There was a priest standing watch in the mini-chapel who saw me watching. He beckoned me inside with a kind smile. I came, and he asked me if I was Russian (not sure why--maybe to see if I was with one of the massive tour groups miling around), to which I replied that I was English. He apparently didn't speak much English, but he looked at me kindly, then bent down and lifted one of the draperies to show reveal a small square of the stones of the Holy Seplechure that most people where going to see from the front on the other side. I bent down and touched the secret stones, then rose, thanked the priest, and quietly stepped out to make way for some people who were waiting outside. The prist probably thought I was another worshiper there, maybe crying because I was remembering the Savior's death and sacrifice--or maybe he just wanted to cheer me. I don't know. Whatever the case I was so grateful to him for noticing that one sightseer of the many hundreds there that day was a little sad and took the time to show me kindness and to give me a beautiful gift--a quiet moment with the Seplechure. It was a sweet and quiet instance of Christian charity at its best--showing love and kindness not just for those you know and love, but also for a stranger.

Sorry--that was a little long winded. My apologies.

I will write more tomorrow about today--including my second week at Red Cresent and the Passover sedar we enjoyed tonight. For now, though, it is late and I am very much not done with my homework--so I must away. I love you all!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Treasures of Turkey

So I said more on souveniers later--and here it is. This is my list of treasures I have brought back from Turkey:

1 pair of Sultan pants (variation on genie pants, but better quality and ultimately more comfortable)
1 present for Lydia (can't disclose, as she might read this)
1 present for Nathan (ditto)
1 Fez
2 pairs of earrings (about $2 each--a steal)
2 hand painted bowls (one for me and one for my mom)
1 box of Turkish Delight and one or two other treats
1 little wooden horse to remember Troy by
1 fridge magnet (also Troy)
1 bracelet
2 something beautiful (again I can't say because I know who reads this blog)

And here for your information are my Souvenier Stats:

Total number of non-food items: 13
Items for my own use and pleasure: 8
Items intended for other people: 5
Items I feel good about buying: 11
Items I regret: 2
Items for self that I absolutely adore: 5

Number of items costing $10 or less: 12
Of those above, number costing $5 or less: 8

Total cost of treasures for this trip: approx. $65.00, give or take a few.

So yes, there you have it. I spent more than I tended to, but on the whole I felt good about my purchases. I sort of regretted my Troy purchases later, but together they cost about ten dollars, so it's not to costly a regret. I'm super excited about the gifts I found for others, and I'm really in love with my sultan pants and my bracelet, which is made up of jade-looking beads, a couple little charms, and a bead with the Turkish evil eye symbol on it (I wanted something with the evil eye that was subtle, and there it was--much more discreet than the giant multi-eyed door ornaments I saw everywhere). I also felt that, being longer in Jerusalem, my normal rate of expendenture would not be so high--just a few sheks for a felafel or mango juice from time to time. I can afford that, I think.

Ma'asalaama--more catch up soon!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Turkey Days 5&6: The Catch-up Episode

This is the part where I apologize for sending this along so late--but life has been busy. You shall see presently.

The next day was a day of VERY much driving--about eight hours worth total. Yep, that's right. Eight. Hours. It didn't end up being as bad as I thought, though. After the first three hours we stopped off in Thyatira, which was the home town of none other than Paul's convert Lydia (I took pictures for you, sis). We sat on the antiquities on the little city block of remains and talked rather quickly about women in the scriptures because it was starting to drizzle. [Side note: Our administrator Brother Jackson's general rule is NO CLIMBING ON THE ANTIQUITIES. And we don't climb on the antiqities--we just sit on them for devotional from time to time]. After Thyatira we went to the best restaurant we've eaten at so far--a charming little family-run place in a pretty spot a mile or two out towards the country. The food was amazing--and we could see the women cooking and frying it up in the next room. It was the first real home-cooked food most of us have had in a long while, and we were so grateful for every bite. I also got a good laugh afterwards. I was talking to Katie afterwards when Mary came up and told Katie her skirt was cute. Katie got halfway through "Thanks, I like your--" when Mary burst out with "DON'T GIVE IT BACK!" I almost died laughing. Mary hit Katie's "boomerang compliment" tendency right on the head. It was beautiful.

Anyway--we had another five hour drive ahead to Bursa that none of us was was really looking forward to. It ended up being pleasant, though. We sang our "Istanbul was Constantinople" song and recorded it. The recording featured hand motions, some rather exciting dancing, and a great fez-wearing flute soloist bit. I'll have to show you later--it was fabulous. After that we sang "Shoo Turkey Shoo," and then one of the guys brought his iPod to the front and put his Disney collection on shuffle for everyone to sing to. We did Lion King, Hercules, Mulan, The Little Mermaid (I signed "Kiss the Girl) and a guy-girl duet of "A Whole New World." By then the drive was more than half over--and with a good book and even better company, it was over in a snap.

Our only stop in Bursa was at a beautiful early-Ottoman mosque. We removed our shoes and (girls only) covered our hair, and wandered around inside seeing the interior--the big, bold Arabic script on the walls, the designs in place of wood and carvings (because the Ottomans were poor then and couldn't afford wood and mosaics) and--best of all--a beautiful wooden pulput held together by the puzzle-like fit of the individual pieces, without a single nail in the whole structure. It was a very different place from the Blue Mosque, but it was still very beautiful in its simple, elegent way.

Our final day was headed back to Istanbul. We spent the morning on the shores of the lake at Nicea, talking about what the Nicean Creed affirmed and what we know as Latter-day Saints about the nature of our God. Apparently a few years back four of the teachers (including Brother Jackson and Brother Judd) unoficially reconvened the council of Nicea in a restaurant across the street. They dissolved the decisions of all past councils and adopted the Articles of Faith as its new creeds. They also dedicated the preaching of the gospel on the other side to those who were present at those original councils should they have not received it yet. It may have been unauthorized, but I thought it was fitting and proper all the same. We sang "Josph Smith's First Prayer" as we looked out over the shining blue water and bright sunshine and green hills... It was such an incredibly beautiful place. I don't approve of a lot of things Constantine did (see Nico Revolt, for example) but I have to hand it to him--when it came to his summer home, he had excellent taste. We finished off with a class picture on the very spot where his palace used to stand.

We jumped a ferry over the bay and drove back into Istanbul, singing the Istanbul song one more time on the way. Brother Judd also played us a series of turkey-related songs (turkey as in Thanksgiving, not the country)--such as "Except for the Turkey," "Frank the Christmas Turkey," and even one called "Turkey Burps." Brother Judd's daughter Carrie (she and her sister Megan went with us this trip and we adore them both) called out from the back that she hadn't said yes to any of these selections. Yasemin gently reminded us that the name Turkey has nothing to do with the bird, but should actually be pronouced "Turkiye," meaning the land of the Turks.

Back in Istanbul we visited the Hagia Sophia--which I think all of us were looking forward to immensely. It was extremely different from both the Blue Mosque and the Grand Mosque in Bursa, but still beautiful in its way. We saw tons of gorgeous mosaics, intricately carved porphory collumns, brightly colored walls and ceilings (lots of yellow going on) and a whole lot of crumbling plaster. The Hagia Sophia (sometimes pronounced Aya Sophia) was originally a Christian church. When the Ottomans took over they liked it, so they plastered over all the human figures in the mosaics, turned the crosses into lines and arrows, and called it a mosque. In subsequent mosques they would also copy the Hagia Sophia's dome pattern (one big one, lots of smaller ones) and the style of lights (chandeliers suspended close to the ground--ten feet up or so). Now it's a museum and the plastered mosaics are being uncovered for everyone to admire.

After Hagia Sophia I made a brief visit with a few others to the tombs of the sultans, which were big green house-shaped structures with a sultan's turban on the top--a small one for a normal male family member and a big tall one for the sultan himself (all except for the women's tombs, which were turbanless). There were some lovely Nicean tiles on the wall as well, but on the whole most of the tombs looked a lot alike--so before long we departed and turned to shopping.

I had wanted to visit the Grand Bazar again, but for the sake of time we ended up turning to a little street Bazar just shy of the Blue Mosque. We had a great time wandering among the shops, somtimes purchasing and sometimes just trying to communicate to the persistent shopkeepers that we really were just looking. I found a few treasures--but more on that presently. Thereafter we met up the busses again and went to a seafood place for dinner, where we were served (no surprises) fish--but with heads, eyes, bones, and tails still attached. I didn't mind it too much (I did worse at Chinque Terre) but Mary, who does not like seafood, was not hitting the ceiling over it. She did eat most of it though, and enjoyed it more than she thought.

Then it was off to the airport. We bid a fond farewell to Yasemin and left her with a whole bunch of grateful notes from everyone in our group. We went through some more extremely long lines and sat at the gate for over an hour. I talked with my friend Aliesha and another girl (McKenzie) about my hopes and dreams and worries about serving a mission. Aliesha is an RM herself, so she was great to talk to--her advice was essentially to just not think about all of that right now and enjoy Israel while I have it. McKenzie was also great--she is a font of wisdom and good quotes ("Life by the yard is hard, life by the inch is a sinch"). I also joined a group watching Tangled on somebody's iPad. We eventually took off at 12:55, flew for two hours (with a midnight breakfast served somewhere in there) and touched down at 1:55 (daylight savings--gain an hour). The security people at Ben Gurion decided to ask us all those questions we had been preped for at orientation not when we first got there (as we had thought they would), but at two o'clock in the morning, when nobody could form coherent sentences to save their life. We finally got back to the center at 3:45, getting in bed just in time to hear the morning call to prayer go out. Mary and Annie and Katie and I were all happy to be in the same room together again, and celebrated by promptly crashing into bed and sleeping until ten the next morning.

More in the next post. Ciao!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Turkey Day 4: Diana and St. Johns

I know these posts are going up fast and furious—I haven’t had WiFi all trip. I know they are long and packed with detail, but for the most part this blog is doubling as my journal so the details are important. Thanks for bearing with me. Over and out.
We started the day looking at the red brick ruins of the church of St. John. It is meant to commemorate the area (Ephesus) where John the Beloved is said to have died. Modern revelation tells us that John did not in fact die at all, but was translated—but the Catholic church leaders who built St. John’s didn’t know that. It was a good specimen of a ruin for the most part—we even saw an old circular baptismal font sunk into the floor, probably used for sprinkling but deep enough to stand in, reminiscent of the immersion fonts we use in temples. We had a devotional nearby overlooking the spot that once was graced by the magnificent Temple of Artemis, one of the wonders of the ancient world. All that remains is a single column (much was destroyed and what was intact was used to build St. John’s). We talked about how worldly things are not lasting—the things that “moth and dust doth corrupt,” and so forth. I know it was a pagan institution, but I wish I could have seen the temple of Artemis in its splendor. It must have been breathtaking.
I also got to visit Ephesus today. It’s amazing to think that Paul once walked the same streets we walked and preached to the people who lived in those houses. There were a lot of beautiful restorations, including a bath house (where, yes, we all got out pictures of the ancient Ephesian potties) and an immense library. Only the fa├žade of the library was reconstructed, but was glorious. Of course I’m a sucker for the library, even when there are no books in it.
The best part of Ephesus was the theatre. It was immense—the same seating capacity as the Marriot center. We sat inside and read the story of Paul’s companions being hauled to the theatre by the mob incited by the Diana shrine makers. At the appropriate part we all shouted at the tops of our lungs “GREAT IS DIANA OF THE EPHESIANS! GREAT IS DIANA OF THE EPHESIANS! GREAT IS DIANA OF THE EPHESIANS!” The acoustics in there were incredible, truly. The scriptural account says that Alexander (one of Paul’s companions) raised his hand to make his defense but when the people saw that he was a Jew they drowned him out with their cries. I can imagine how scary and overwhelming it would be to have the entire theatre shouting and screaming overhead with him and the others in the middle of it all, and for several hours. I can also see why they couldn’t do anything about it. Nobody would have been able to get a word in edgewise, let alone a whole defense, over all the commotion. It was so neat to be there, though. Most of the sights we visit are on a basis of something happening nearby or somewhere in that vicinity—but Ephesus has only one theatre, so without question that was the very place where Paul and his companions were assailed by the mob. And I was there, shouting like the mob and reading scriptures and singing hymns of praise. How amazing.
We were able to get back to the hotel at a decent time that afternoon, and we all mutually put on our suits and retreated to the pool for a dip. The Ephesus Princess is a resort-type hotel on the Aegean, so I could have gone to the beach—but I felt I had got in my fair share of saltwater at the last hotel, so freshwater pool it was. Because we were hotel guests, we could go over to the drink bar and ask for any drink we wanted for free. I was leaning toward my old favorite fallback—pina colada—but finally decided to be an adventurer and try something new. I ordered a Cinderella—peach juice, orange juice, pineapple juice, and something else (not sure what—club soda maybe, but no alcohol for sure). It was very sweet and very cold and absolutely delicious. I played Marco Polo and underwater tag with some friends, then joined up with a group practicing synchronized swimming. We had a go at lifting up one of the guys between us—Andrew, who is pretty bit—and actually managed it, but after that ordeal they decided to try with me instead. So I got hoisted by a dozen pairs of hands and just spread my arms and look pretty. We did some other moves as well, and ended up doing a whole routine which included a Neverland Crocodile sequence (if you feel you were missing out, don’t worry—somebody filmed it). Another group that had been practicing in the indoor pool did a routine as well that was a lot better organized than ours. I think I sense a competition in the making when the Jordan and Galilee field trips come around.
After another lovely dinner and beautiful sunset we all turned in. I stayed up and worked on these posts and did some reading and made some phone calls to get someone up to fix our toilet (long story) before turning in. My roommate, Lindsey, is sort of quiet but is a fantastic person—I’m so glad I have had a chance to get to know here.
TTFN! Ta ta for now!

Turkey Day 3: A Day of Hilltops

We boarded the bus after another early morning and hasty breakfast (I fully confess to smuggling another piece of white bread from the breakfast room—I didn’t have time to eat everything I had). The guy that sat next to me suggested we read through our assigned scriptures for the day—and we did, all the way through the Ephesus section (which was huge) for over an hour.
After a not-too-long a drive we came to Assos. The morning was still crisp and cool as we ascended into the village. We had to hike up a long, steep cobblestoned street. I was panting and sweating and my legs were burning by the time we hit the summit—but the instant we crested the hill it was all worth it. We could see for miles in every direction—out over the green hills and fields and woods one way, and far over the glistening Aegean sea and coastline in the other. We sat among the ruins of a temple of Athena and read about the journeys of Paul in Assos and Troas. We took pictures overlooking the sea in the early morning sunlight. The air was cool and sweet, and the view was possibly the most breathtaking landscape I have ever seen. I took pictures, but they can’t possibly do it justice.
We drove for many hours, with a brief break for lunch. I felt a little nauseated after lunch, but Will (one of our two bus docs) gave me a couple of tums tablets and I felt much better. I passed the time by catching up on my homework, reading my murder mystery, watching a little of Narnia (the first one) on my laptop, and played Never Have I Ever and debated the merits of various Disney princes with the folks sitting nearby. I also slept some. It’s way too easy to do that on the bus. We also did an introduction session, in which everyone came up to the mic to say a few things about themselves and take questions. I said that I did theatre and spoke Shakespearean and was promptly cheered and shouted into reciting a sonnet. I loved every second.
After a little over four hours we hit Pergamum. We rode a gondola to get to the top (and were SO grateful that we didn’t have to walk). The city was situated on a cliff, high above the valley floor. We took pictures in there—soon to come, I hope. We visited the ruins of the Temple of Trajan that had once stood on this spot (Roman Emperor Cult HQ was here). The standing columns were at least fifty feet high, and the scroll work on the tops was incredible. There were so many intricate carvings and huge marble works. I can’t imagine what that place might have looked like in its full glory. I can only think that the mere mortals who visited would not have been able to help feeling the awe of being among the Gods.
After the temple we sat in the theatre for our devotional—the steepest one in the ancient world. We talked about John the revelator’s words to Pergamum (one of the seven churches in Revelation). The theatre was open to a stunning view of the valley floor and a beautifully cool breeze. After our devotional, I went down to the theatre stage. One of the girls further up told me to do some Shakespeare, so I broke out my dramatic monologue from A Winter’s Tale. I actually remembered all of it, much to my own surprise, and did pretty well for having practiced it so little. Apparently Ashley filmed it. I’m a little scared to watch, but I’m kind of glad she did—I couldn’t ask for a better setting.
Oh, I almost forgot—I have big news! You’ll never believe it, but we have an engagement here on our trip. Not just a couple (though those have been cropping up)—no, this is a full-out proposal. Dallin and Cassie met at the airport the day we left and are going to be married a week and a half after we get back (their parents are doing some of the planning while we’re here). Dallin was asked in his getting-to-know-you time if he liked long walks on the beach (he had taken one with Cassie the night before). He said that he did, and that last night’s was especially nice and that she said yes. Brother Judd and half the bus looked absolutely flabbergasted. Brother Judd slowly stood up, took the mic, and said “What was the question?” He called Cassie up and made Dallin reenact the whole thing for us. We were all surprised, but they are great people and a great couple and we are all thrilled for them. I think they’ll be very happy together.
We retired to our hotel—the Ephesus Princess—for dinner. It was an amazing buffet, complete with intricately carved melons.
More tomorrow! Ciao, everybody--and Teshekular for reading these long posts. :)

Turkey Day 2: War and Peace

We departed Istanbul at 7am, which meant another very early morning for me. I’m getting a little tired of the 6am wakeup calls—but I grin and bear it and remember that I am in Turkey and having an amazing adventure and will furthermore have several hours on the bus in which to sleep.
We drove an awfully long way that morning—and that was all we did. We stopped once for a break, but other than that we drove straight through almost four hours to our restaurant. I dined with Brother and Sister Schade and their son Adam. They asked me a lot about myself, which was kind of fun—I being on the Lucky Judd Bus I hadn’t yet been able to get to know the Schades at all.
After lunch we drove to Gallipoli. We had watched a movie about it earlier the previous week (and again on the bus, actually—oi). The show starred a young Mel Gibson and was very sad and very heart wrenching—but that didn’t inform me much about the battle—so what I know I learned from our guide or read for myself. The Turkish shore there was the sight of a huge battle during World War 1. The allies decided to make an attempt at taking the straights Turkey controlled, thereby opening up the waterways to provide support to Russia. I believe the end goal was to take Istanbul and knock Turkey out of the war. The attack was poorly planned and poorly executed. Ships that were sent in to bombard the coast were hit with Turkish guns and undersea mines (though why the British thought an entirely sea-based attack on the cliffs would really produce a surrender is beyond me). A land attack was attempted with forces almost entirely comprised of Australian and New Zealand soldiers, a long with some French. Once again, stupid problems and poor execution ruled the day. Turkish automatic guns rained down bullets on the allied men, taking them in droves. The casualties were not only on the allied part, however—the total deaths numbered around 250,000 on both sides. The general who had originally executed this whole thing was retired and a new one was brought in. After three weeks in Turkey, the new officer proclaimed that the best thing that could be done for the Turkey campaign was the evacuate. They did. There was no resistance from the Turks. Some say it was because the decoys the Allies were using—clothed dummies strapped to animals who walked among the trenches, simulating life—were effective. Others say that the Turkish force understood that its work was defense and respectfully backed away from further bloodshed. No one knows.
We visited a memorial to the fallen of Gallipoli there on the shore. We also visited a grave yard where some of them were buried. I walked among the little white tomb stones and read every name. Some of the tombs were inscribed with phrases: “Nearer my God to thee,” “Dearly loved, sadly missed,” “God stands in every shadow,” “Abide with me,” “For King and Country,” etc. One in particular stopped me in my tracks. The tomb looked like any other, but with three remarkable words: “Lest we forget.” That stunned me. Having learned all I had about the battle, it seemed crazy to me that anyone should forget the brave lives that had been laid down in this place. After reading each name on the graves, I followed the Jewish tradition and left a small stone on the steps of the big memorial marker at the far end of the cemetery. I said a prayer, too—and looking at that little stone I promised myself that I would not forget.
I am so glad we spent so much time there as we did—it was amazing. I look forward someday to talking with my father’s Australian friends about Gallipoli. The memory of that battle has great meaning to the Australian people—and now I can say that it does for me, too.
We took a ferry across the straight and headed to Troy. Troy is another tel and is mostly in ruin, but it was amazing. Yasemin had told us that because the city was incomplete and ruined it might take a little imagination to picture what the city had been like. Fortunately, the excavation was also a very good one—I needed a lot more creativity when we visited Tel Dan. Besides that, though, imagination has simply never been a problem for me. The Iliad came to life as we walked among the ruins in the golden afternoon sunlight, seeing the gates, ramps, ramparts, and walls that once were part of the ancient city. As we walked between the double walls I could picture the exhausted Trojans resting upon their shields within the city, and from the top of the hill I could almost see the Greek bulwarks and encampments on the seaward side of the lush plains. Everywhere I looked was another little piece of the ancient Greek legends I love. I had brought several pages of the Illiad with me and happily read them there—recounting the advance of Achilles and the flight of Hector to the city walls until their final confrontation, and all right in view of those very walls.
I even got a picture inside the giant wooden horse replica. I got a miniature model for myself—cheap, yes, but I wanted something to remember by. It was the most magical place—one of many I will keep in my heart for the hard days when I need to escape my studies and stress for a while. On those days I will stop what I am doing, close my eyes, and suddenly find myself once again among the golden sunlight and quiet ruins of Troy.
We stayed at beautiful season hotel that night right on the Aegean Sea. We swam in the ocean, where had hands-up-stands-up contests and chicken fights, took a cool video of some of the girls doing an Ariel-style wet hair flipping line, and where I teased and splashed Katie some because she had pretty much got all wet but wouldn’t go under—she, the one who was doing all the swimming and wave jumping at Tel Aviv (I’m usually on the other end of the teasing, so I take my ammo where I can get it). A few people also got stuck by sea urchins, it would seem. We played a few rounds of sharks and minnows in the pool before dinner. Over dinner we watched the sun set over the Aegean, and afterwards some of us went down to the beach to talk and enjoy the sand and surf. A dance party had been planned for 9:30 by the pool which I wasn’t sure about (we were told not to dance when others were around and not to attract attention to ourselves). Just after the music started, one of the tour guides brought out two big beautiful birthday cakes for the three people who are having birthdays while we’re in Turkey (Callahan, Lauren, and Ellen). So we had a birthday party right there on the ocean, with cake and music and dancing and great friends. I cannot picture a better party.
Bye, everyone! More soon!

It's Turkey Time!

That's right! I am writing to you from a beautiful little hotel right on the coast of the Agean Sea in the beautiful (and surprisingly large) country of Turkey.

We have a theme song--"Istanbul Was Constantinople" by They Might Be Giants. Check it out sometime--I'd include the link if I could, but I can't access the youtube video. So you'll just have to find it yourself. We have been singing this song since our orientation meeting this last week--it's great.

Today half the center got up at five in the morning to watch the BYU Cougars play the Utah Utes. I was not one of those people--sorry cougars, I value my sleep too much. I came up at 7:30 sporting cougar blue and watched the last two quarters, just enough time to watch us lose. Sad day.

We departed the Center at 10:30 and got to Ben Gurion Airport by 11:30 or so, where we proceeded to wait in lines and scan baggage and check luggage and hand around passports for three hours. It was very long, needless to say, but I had to good fortune to be standing by Katie and Mary, which made things far more bearable. We got to our gate at 2:30 or so to wait for a 3:30 flight. We spent the time finishing our lunches and playing Bananagrams, at which I got particularly good--especially when playing it solitaire. The flight was pleasant--the seats were nice and the Turkish Air people actually fed us (chicken and potato salad and warm roll and chocolate apricot torte--yummy, especially for airplane food). We had been told beforehand to ask for Vishne to drink--a Turkish cherry juice our teacher's hailed as the nectar of the gods. We even memorized the Turkish way to ask: "Vishne, Lutfen--Teshekular!" Except that by the time they got to me there was no vishne left. Or maybe they stopped giving it to us when everybody asked for it. Darn.

Two hours later we came into Istanbul and sadly parted from the Schade class. We met our local guide--Yasemin (ya-sa-min), who showed us the walls of ancient Constantinople as we went. We retired to our hotel very tired from the long day.

The next day was day one in Istanbul. We started off at the Hippodrome--the horse racing track. It used to be a huge arena with a circular track in the middle that looped around a line of monuments and collumns in the middle called the Spina. It was built back when the city was neither Istanbul nor Constantinople but Byzantium. It was the central area for gatherings in Byzantine times and under Emperor Constantine (who made it bigger and better, as with many projects he attempted) and was rumored to hold 10,000 people. All that is left now are three monuments from the Spina--an obelisk from the Temple at Karnak in Egypt with many carvings (some of which on the base show how it was found and moved there), a bronze swirling collumn called the Serpent Collumn (allegedly made from the melted shields of defeated Persians), and the Wall Obelisk that is now just stone but was once plated with gold.

Next stop was the Sultanahmed Mosque--what you might know as the Blue Mosque. We removed our shoes, the ladies covered our hair, we put in our headsets so Yasemin could talk to us, and walked in. I was blown away. The place is massive, with something like twenty domes on the top. The walls inside are said to have been decorated with 50,000 tiles--and I believe it. Rich reds and bright blues form mosaics on every surface, and it's hard to see where the swirling designs end and the Arabic calligraphy begins. It was breathtaking. Nothing I say will do it justice--you'll just have to see the pictures.

Our next stop was the Topkapi Palace, where the Sultans lived. We walked through a gate that looked sort of like the one at Disney Land and through the inner courtyards of the complex. We saw the Imperial Council chamber--including the side room for the secretaries and the window into which the Sultan could peek from time to time and see that everything was running smoothly, just to keep the council on their toes. We saw beautifully decorated chambers filled with mosaics and carvings and even gold. During our free time we wandered through rooms that displayed the oppulent wealth of the Sultans--a gilded baby cradle, gold bindings for the Quran, ruby and emerald encrusted everything, and even the 86 carrat Spoonmakers Diamond (allegedly found uncut in a garbage heap and sold for three spoons--so there you go). We also saw some of the old Holy Relics--such as Joseph's turban, Moses' staff, David's sword, a couple of John the Baptist's bones, and some beard pieces from the Prophet Mohammad. Are they real? Anybody's guess--but in my estimation Mose's staff looked quite new.

We did lunch, where we were joyfully reunited with the prodigal Schade class (you know we are all getting close when we rejoice after being parted for one morning. I'm not sure what we're going to do at the end of the semester). We then visited the Grand Bazaar, where I really didn't buy anything (the little things I did get today I got elsewhere--more on souveniers to come) but did enjoy walking around and seeing all the bright, beautiful wares each shopkeeper had on display.

The day was capped by a boat cruise around the Marmarra Sea, all the way to the mouth of the bay to the Black Sea. It took about two hours and we enjoyed every minute--even the crazy pictures we have with the boys looking grea tand the girls with their hair blowing all over their faces. We enjoyed the cool breeze and the beatuiful sunsest and the sights along the shore and being in one company again. It was marvelous.

That's all for now! 

Friday, September 14, 2012

And Six Hours of Classes Later...

Yep, that's right. Count 'em. Two hours of Old Testament, two hours of Ancient Near East, and two hours of Palestine. Six. Hours. But now it is over, and I am feeling so liberated I could sing. this next week is our trip to Turkey--which means that I don't have to sit through another class period for over a week. Hallelujah!

Of course, the six hours did end with the announcement that the Old City and East Jerusalem are off limits because of clashes and demonstrations (no thank you to the makers of the insulting movie about Islaam--nothing but trouble). That plus the fact that tomorrow is Shabat, which means that East Jerusalem is about to close down... well, I guess I'm staying in today. So here I am a-blogging, and soon I will go downstairs and listen to Katie play her harp. Maybe I will also work out in the gymn or walk around the grounds or take a nap. I definitely want to read some more Israeli folk tales--I want to pick one to tell for the next talent show. I think it will be a very good day after all.

It has been already, in spite of the long class periods. My day was jump-started when I woke up and realized that my clock said 7:05 (breakfast starts at 7). Whoops. My dad says that when your body really needs sleep it takes it--so I guess my early mornings finally caught up with me, at least for an extra forty-five minutes. My only consolation was that when I woke up Katie was still asleep in the bed next to me, so we could enjoy our frantic race for clothes and makeup and toothbrushes together. Classes went alright, and then lunch was very pleasant. Now the afternoon will be pleasant too--not what I had expected, but good all the same.

I forgot to tell you one of my upsides from yesterday. I had got home from the city, read Old Testament like crazy for an hour, and was then tired and more than a little stressed (I hereby confess that I did not finish my reading for today in any of my classes. I am at peace with it, though--I ended up being better prepared than I thought I would be). I made myself decent and came up to the Oasis towards the end of the dinner hour to find Brother Bench (part of our housing service couple) waiting there for me with a letter from my wonderful cousin Amanda. She had written me a cheerful letter in her usual beautiful handwriting and shipped it with three stamps from her home in Washington DC. She told me a little about how things were stateside and inquired about my welfare among other things (such as whether I had yet seen any camels. And the answer is yes, I have). It made my day. It got a pretty good reaction from my roommates as well ("Look at that writing--it's a font!"). Thanks, Amanda.

I can't tell you all how much I love it here. The windows are filled with light and the halls are filled with music. As I write this, I am listening to one of the students playing a beautiful contemporary piece on the piano in one of the nearby classrooms. During out-of-class hours, there is nearly always somebody playing the piano or singing songs, and I have jumped in on several occasions to join in the songs or just to enjoy the beauty someone else can create. Katie is playing with the ward choir in the morning (an obligatto of her own composition while the choir sings "Come Thou Fount). I can't wait to hear it. The celtic harp is different from the concert grand I'm used to (spoiled a little? Yes.), but it's enough to make me remember how much I have missed hearing Katie play.

Tonight is another Friday night movie--Gallipoli. We get to visit Gallipoli while in Turkey, so we are watching the film before we go so we will appreciate what we are seeing when we get there. I know a lot less about WWI than I would like, so I am really looking forward to it. When my family went to Gettysburg I was very grateful that we had watched the film beforehand. I know that the real battle didn't have a dramatic score in the background, but it gave me a feel for the background and overall scope of the battle,and thus a greater appreciation for it when I got there. I think Gallipoli will be a similar experience. It will be a great film and a great experience to stand on the shores and pay my respects to the fallen of both sides.

And really, no matter what movie it is, the Friday night movie is a good time. I am looking forward very much to spending a night lounging in the forum with friends for a good time and a good show. My friend Eleisha and I are planning to show up sporting our genie pants. I can't wait.

Yom Tov! (Good Day!)

'Til tomorrow...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

At the Red Cresent Hospital

Today was amazing.

Of course, there were the downsides. I got lost in Jerusalem with my group because I thought I knew where I was going and actually didn't. I missed lunch (more on why later). I have more reading to do than I will ever be able to get though. And I managed to prove several times over that despite my dance and theatrical training, grace a virtue I have yet to fully possess.

But now for the amazing upsides--the parts that made every down moment worth it.

Today I volunteered for two hours at the Red Cresent Women's Hospital, just down the street from the center. I was signed up to be a nurse's aid. There were four of us doing the same thing--Ellen, Annie (my roommate) and Abi. I had been led to believe that would involve something secretarial, but those rumors were very much untrue. We were split up into different wards--Ellen in Labor and Delivery, Annie in Post-natal, and Abi in Surgery. I was put straight into the neonatal unit--a small room not much bigger than my bedroom at home, lined with normal basinets on one side and pre-me incubators on the others. I couldn't do a whole lot, as BYU liability concerns prevented me from touching anything that lives and breathes while within the confines of the hospital. In other words, I couldn't hold the babies when they cried--all I could do was rock their basinets back and forth until the supervising nurse could take care of them. I found other ways to satisfy my yearning maternal instincts. When the little ones fussed I pushed their basinets back and forth, singing softy and crooning gently in Arabic: "Marhaba, binti! Inti kuwaisa, nam..." Or, on English, "Hello, my girl... you're alright, yes you are..." etc. Three out of four neonatal babies (all girls) were one half of a set of twins (the other halves being big enough to go home). Two little girls lay in the incubators. One was four weeks early and so small I was afraid that a touch might break her frail little form. None of the babies had names--and they wouldn't get one until their family took them home. I gave them my own so I could remember them all.

On the whole I rocked and consoled and chatted around with the nurses and tried to feel useful for the first hour. My time was cut short when a particularly bossy nurse bustled in and informed me that I couldn't be in here with the premature babies and would have to leave right now. So I left right then. Another of the four nurse's assistant girls had drifted in a while before and she left with me. Ellen and I found Annie standing around in the hallway feeling useless and we all migrated downstairs together.

While downstairs the other girls were put to work making beds and carrying some things to the food prep area. Meanwhile, I took vital stats. I put on blood pressure cuffs and pulse moniters and gave the women thermometers to hold in their mouths. The nurse in charge of me did the actual recording, but I got to interact with the patients some. I was so glad to know Arabic--I carried on some small conversations with the ladies, who seemed very pleased to be able to speak with me in their own language.

Part way between one patient and another, my nurse came in to inform me that the doctor in charge of us all had invited me to come join Abi in the Surgical ward to stand in on a C-section. I consented at once. I was taken to a room where I took off my clothes and dressed in green scrubs and a hairnet and mask. I was admitted to the surgery room and stood along the wall with Abi. I came in while they were working on starting the epidural. It took a few tries to get it in. The poor woman looked like she was in pain--one nurse was there just to give her someone to hold and be with to make the pain easier to stand. They got it started in a few minutes and began the procedure. I won't go into detail for the sake of those who would rather not know what goes on while they are under anesthetics. Each time an incision was made, I had to remind myself that the woman couldn't feel anything--but I still winced to think how much she would feel it later. The nurses and surgeons were quick and efficient, however--they got into the uterus with no trouble and carefully removed the breeched baby. It was a little girls with a whole lot of hair--and we got to be there to hear her first cry. We left as they were suturing things up again. As we went into the changing room and removed our masks, the same look of amazement showed on Abby's face as must have been on mine. It was an unbelievable experience--I don't think either of us will ever forget it. I feel very fortunate indeed.

That afternoon I went into the city to change out some shekels for dollars (which I will then change into lira when we get to Turkey). We went into the old city and I bought my first-every schwarma. It cost me 17 NIS (New Israeli Shekels--that's the full name), but it was worth every last one. I think I have a new favorite food--right up there with gelato and my mom's white chicken chilli. I'm in love.

One thing I forgot to mention. September 11th was this week--two days ago, in fact. I forgot altogether until Israel class that morning, when one of the girls asked Professor Yardin if we could have a moment of silence out of respect for the day. He agreed at once, and we did so. I thought of my family's trip to the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero in New York. It was a beautiful place. I sang Amazing Grace by one of the pools and wept a little as I remembered the terror of the day--I was only in fourth grade at the time, but I will never forget the way I felt watching the footage of the planes colliding with the towers over and over again on the news. The memorial was so peaceful, though--and I was grateful to know that there was a place here to remember something better than fear. At the end of our moment of silence, Professor Yardin reverently gave us a Jewish saying that I think summed up the day perfectly: "May the names of all those who perished be a blessing to those who love them." May it be so indeed.

Ma'asalama and Shalom!


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Genie Pants and Jerusalem Sing-Along

So, good news. I actually did ace my Ancient Near East exam--or pretty close, anyway. I did not expect to do as well as 93%, but there you go. A minus for me! I did study very hard for the exam, and I also think I got lucky in my wrong guesses--I know I got more than two questions wrong, so the two that Dr. Stratford threw out must have been some of the ones I missed. Three cheers for dumb luck and flash cards!

Also, there was the song. I finally have it here for you. If you want the full experience, go to iTunes or Youtube and look up "Hercules I Won't Say I'm in Love" (with our without caps) and read these words while the song plays. I think the last verse may have an extra line or two, but bear with us--we started running out of room around the Nicean Creed and had to make up the slack.

That's Ancient Near East History
by Mary Bennion, Katie Graham, Annie Lieshman, and Rachel Pullan

Abraham came in 2000
1200 Moses came round and
Temple built nation united
But in 922 they're divided
Who can find the ten tribes? Lost in 722
612 Bab takes Nineveh; Lehi knows just what to do
South is in a fix, Neb takes Jeru in 586 (oh-oh-oh)
Cyrus, don't mind. Jews return 539
Temple re-seen in 517
They swoon, they sigh at the temple so high
du du, du du, la la la
Alexander dies 3-2-3,
Israel under Ptolemy
1-9-8 Seleucids not Heaven,
Fighting Maccabees 1-6-7

63 Pompeii, Herod dies in 4 BC
Christ til 34, come on you knew that one before
Jews revolt 70, Romans crust the city
(They burn it-to the-ground!) ohh oh oh
Revolt, take 2 in 132
Renamed Aelia in the Bar-Kochba
Byzantine, Constantine, the Nicean Creed-arriiiiiiive 3-2-5!
5 double 0 and the Talmud’s a go
Muhammad’s through in 632
638 Dome of Rock, isn’t it great
10-99 Crusaders just in time
1-1-8-7 Saladin wins Hattin
1-4-5-3.....Fall of ConsTANtin....(ople, ople) to ottomans. (Ahhhhh).
Sorry the text is so small--it couldn't be helped. There you go, anyway--the Orientation Test Timeline Song of Wonder. There actually were a few questions I used this on. One was "What was the result of Seleucid opression that took place in 167 BC?" I almost laughed aloud when I saw the question, because I knew that at that moment all four of us were mentally singing "Fighting Maccabees 1-6-7!!!" And I was right--I asked later. Go Fighting Maccabees!

We have many songs here at the Jerusalem Center. We sing hymns at a lot of the sights we visit. My Old Testament teacher, Brother Judd, has us do sing-alongs in the bus for every field trip (current favorites include a reggae number called "Jerusalem" and "Walkin' in Jerusalem Just Like John." Sometimes the singing just happens. For example, last week we went in for a spur-of-the-moment round of "Give Said the Little Stream" at a marker for a Herodian aqueduct channel, so the song has morphed since into "Give Said the Aqueduct." My current favorite is the one we sang on this week's field trip (sung to the tune of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"):

Take me down to the Dead Sea
Take me down in a bus
Down to the bottom-est place around
Saltiest water and saltiest ground
And I'll trace the footsteps of Lehi
I'll walk his wilderness way
And with water! Sunscreen! Nephi and Sam
See the Dead Sea today!

Don't you just love it? I do. We'll sing it again when we visit the Dead Sea for real in November.

In other news, I made some purchases yesterday. I tried to stay in and study, but after a few hours of Judaism and Christianity and Zoroasterism (for reals) I was so tired of it all that when Katie said she was going to the city I about begged her to take me along. We got some shekels at Aladdin's (pronounced Ala-deen, not like the Disney character), visited Omar's olive wood place (more on olive wood on another day) and went to Shaban's place in the Christian Quarter. At Shaban's I made my current favorite purchase of the trip.

Genie pants. Oh, yes, it's for real--and they are the most comfortable things ever. The ones I bought have a yellow and pink floral pattern with a gold ribbon strip down the side and make me feel like I jumped out of the Arabian Nights. I will post pictures soon so you can see the awesomeness.

More tomorrow! Ma'asalaama and Shalom!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Weekend of Wonder (Somthing Like That)

I hope you all appreciate these little posts. It's not easy to get them out there--especially when all of my blogger tabs are in Hebrew.

I realized (thanks to my Aunite) that I posted about the district conference but not about the rest of my weekend--and much has happened since district conference as well. So here goes!

Friday night was our first Jerusalem Center movie night. This week's film--Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. We had a lovely introduction by movie critic Dr. Professor Indiana Henry Jones Stratford (aka my Ancient Near East teacher Professor Stratford--also known as Invictus--wearing a brown suit and bow tie with the "dry boring lecture" light turned on over the podium). He told us all the must-knows of the movie. The following were some of my favorites:

1) Harrison Ford shoots the guy with the big sword because he was too sick to care about doing the whip slinging thing any more.
2) The only member of the cast who did not get sick was the director, Steven Spielberg, allegedly because he ate only the food he brought with him--namely, canned spaghetti-os.
3) There was glass between Harrison and the spitting cobra.
4) A fly does crawl into the German commander's mouth--it's not a film flaw.

So yes. We watched the whole movie in the forum, laughing even when we weren't supposed to and trying with mixed success to get comfortable in the not-so-cushy auditorium style seats. It was great.

I skip over the Sabbath because you heard enough about that in the last two posts. It was amazing--that's all there is to say.

Sunday--our free day--was a real adventure. Sixty or so of us paid 80 skeks--about 20 American dollars--to hire up some busses and go spend a day on the beach at Tel Aviv. It was wonderful. The sun was shining, the water was pleasantly cool... Everyone was doing something different. A few frisbee games started up throughout the day (some of which I took part in). A few people did some creative people burying (we had a mermaid and a munchkin happen, and I was halfway to becoming an octopus before other things got in the way--like the tide). In the sand sculpture department, a few girls even built a sand-castle model of the Jerusalem Center. The boys and the girls took turns making human pyramids (the boys' was taller and cooler by far). We got some great pictures, one of which was the first roommate shot we've had since Orientation--though we definitely want to do another one when our hair is less salty. There was a lot of swimming and wave jumping, and even a little surfing. My whole system got a little clogged with saltwater--but hey, it's the Mediterranean, I'm not complaining. When we got tired of the beach we went walking around the open air market near the beach. I bartered for a skirt, myself--I worked the guy down to twenty shekels from the original forty. More aptly he worked himself down while I just acted reluctant--but it was very effective all the same. We ended the day with gelato and one last go in the sea. It was a marvelous day.

Today was Field Trip day once again. Our first stop was a facility where Bedouin women create income for themselves by weaving. They showed us how the process works, from carding and spinning to the actually weaving. During the demonstration, a sweet girl no older than any of us passed out glass cups of something warm and pleasant. I think it was real Chai tea, in which case I accidentally broke the word of wisdom--but I know that none of us were going to turn down their hospitality. Making tea for eighty people on not much budget is nothing to turn up your nose at. Besides, the tea was sweet and refreshing, so it did us some good--I think we were all tired. It really is a great project. The goal is to empower these women who otherwise don't have much place in the household or the working world and to educate the women and their children. The way Fahima, our guide, said it was that the women here were working to give something better to their daughters. That's a worthy cause if ever I heard one. I bought a little woven ornament (I didn't have many shekels on me). It's not much, and it only cost about six dollars--but it will be a reminder to me about those amazing women and how hard they work to give their daughters a life worth living.

Stop number two was our first ever tel--Tel Sheva. A tell is a mound where cities and communities have built on top of each other for a long time. It makes a hill, which is great for defensibility and is generally a prime spot for future cities. Tell Sheva is the place where Beer Sheba used to be. We walked around the place and saw a text book "Better Homes and Gardens" example of an Israeli living compound, a satelite temple complex (possibly apostate), a huge storage chamber, and an underground water system. Granted, most of it (except the water system) was just the remains of walls--but it was cool none the same. Most of what we saw had been replicated for the sake of educated tourists like us who wanted to see what it was like--right down to the filled-in casemate wall. Even if some of the walls weren't part of the original dig, it was nice to have our first tel be one where we could easily imagine where the ancient city once stood.

We went to one other Tell--Tell Arad. It was less distinct, but we did see some more houses and even a twin temple complex. It was hotter than hades out there, but we got by--mostly thanks to shady hats, lots of sunscreen (some of us had burned at the beach already), and by drinking water like camels. I think the neatest part was the see the wilderness of the Negev having so recently read about Hagar's banishment from Abraham's home. I can't imagine what that would have felt like--wandering with next to no water and a small child to care for. God sent her the blessing of a well--and I don't think I ever realized what a great blessing that was until today.

Today was also my first look at the Dead Sea. We will come back here in a few months to swim, but today was a first glance. We sang "Under the Sea" as we descended below sea level. I love Brother Judd--every field trip he gives us papers with song lyrics on them so we can have a sing-along. We are the "Lucky Judd Bus"--and it is definitely the place to be.

The menu for dinner today said only two words: American dinner. I've been curious all day about what that might mean. The answer--Israeli attempts at hamburgers and french fries and chicken nuggets (shaped like stars and hearts and flowers, no less). My assesment is that the cooks made a valiant attempt and I love them for being willing to go all-out USA for us for a night--but nothing can take the place of a good In-N-Out burger in my heart.

That's all for today! Ma'assalama!


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Highlight of My Life!

OK, let's be honest--almost everything I am doing in Israel is a highlight of my life. But this one was special.

I just played the Jerusalem Center organ. Myself. With pedals and everything.

Granted, it was only Sweet Hour of Prayer in good old C Major, but I did it--one of the top hopes and dreams on my Israel bucket list.

Play one of the most beautiful organs in the world--check.

Rachel in the Jerusalem Branch

Today was district conference for the Israel district--and it was possibly the neatest thing I have done since I got here.

We had known it was happening this Sabbath since last week. We are all members of the Jerusalem Branch here (how cool is that?), and for district conference (the equivalent of stake conference) we would be joined by members from the branches in Galilee and Tel Aviv. President Schafer told us about the group in Bethlehem (the church's only official "group"--the next smallest unti after a branch), but had told us that the likelihood was that none of them would be able to come. If you are a Palestinian you have to have the proper papers to get from the West Bank into Jerusalem, and most of the Bethlehem members don't have that documentation. Without it they would have to drive over three hours out and around to get in. I prayed all week that those who were trying to come would be able to get here and that those who could not would know of our love and feel of Heavenly Father's guidance and assurance.

Anyway--the day came, and we were joined by members from all over. It was incredible. I met people today from Chile, Israel, the United States, the Phillipenes, and Russia. One of the Russian sisters spoke in the Relief Society session with the aid of an interpreter--and even with the constant back-and-forth between her and the young man interpreting, the spirit was there. The Relief Society president spoke as well--and I almost cried for joy to see that she had come from Bethlehem. She was the only one who made it, and it was because she had documentation--but I rejoiced all the same.

Her story was incredible. She was born in Israel, joined the church at BYU in the states, then came home. She spent the first several years of her membership in danger every Sabbath. She used to spend three hours running over hills, climbing fences, dodging guards, and even being shot at--and all just to get to church. I just don't know anything like that in the States--I can't remember a time when I haven't lived less than ten minutes away from meeting house. I am only now begining to realize what an incredible blessing that is. It is not easy to be a member of the church here. The walls and boundaries make travel difficult, and the non-prosylitizing agreement extends not only to visitors but to members as well. I have learned so much from these incredible saints today. I will never again take the blessings of religious freedom I enjoy for granted.

Another even that made the day special is that yesterday I got a calling. I am the Compassionate Service leader for the Jerusalem branch. As I went around meeting the sisters today, I was humbled and overwhelmed. I am in charge of service for the student sisters, and I have some ideas for ways I can serve them--but I am also over the service of the sisters who live here in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. I am in charge of giving and delegating compassionate service to these incredible sisters, many of whom I have not yet met and who all have sacrificed infinitely more than I have to be members of this church. However, most of them also live very hard lives. I cannot wait to get to work doing whatever might be needful for them.

I played the piano and sang with Katie for almost an hour today. I had missed singing with her. It was wonderful.

The crowning point of the day was this afternoon, when we made our first trip to the Garden Tomb. Nobody knows if that is truly the place where the Savior was laid, but it was a beautiful place to remember Him and His glorious resurrection.  We sat under a pavillion and sang hymns for a while. Several worshipers stopped their walks to listen in or even to sing along with us. I think it touched all of us to think that we were able to bring something to that sacred place. Many of the groups were singing in many different languages--but I loved listening to them all. No matter where we are from or what language we speak, we can all sing praise to our Heavenly Father.

Yesterday night we went to the Western Wall for the start of Sabbath. Both the partitioned sections were packed. Both men and women sang, chanted, danced, read scriptures, or just quietly prayed, welcoming the Sabbath day. I covered my hair and made my way up to the wall with a friend (Carrie, my Old Testament teacher's daughter) to touch the stones and pray. We both followed to tradition of not turning our backs on the wall until the last moment.

I have ben praying that as this trip continues, I would be able to learn love for all the people here--Jews, Christians, and Palestinians alike. Heavenly Father is already answering my prayers. I especially love the members of my district. They are all such faithful, wonderful people. As I was walking around after the service, a sister I had never seen before came up to me, smiling ear to ear, exclaiming, "Sister! It's so good to see you here..." She embraced me warmly, kissed me on the cheek, expressed her joy for my presence here as though she had known me all her life. Her warmth and love touched me straight through.

I gave a talk on charity in my singles ward a few months ago. One thing that I said (though I hadn't thought of it until I said it) is that because we are Heavenly Father's children, we share His infinite capacity for love. I am seeing the truth in that idea the longer I am here. It seems like every time I meet someone new here, my heart just keeps making a little more room to let them in. I hope that process never stops--imagine how much love there could be in a lifetime!

Ma'salaama, friends--more soon!

(PS: Thanks for the comments! I love you all so much! It made my day to hear from you all!)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Little Slice of Life (with Nutella and Peanut Butter)

This post is for the sole purpose of giving you a little taste of what life is like here at the good old Jerusalem Center. Not the classes and homework, mind--just the fun bits of sweet and sparkle that make this an interesting and fun and exciting place to live.

The locals call this place the "Mormon University." If you tell a taxi driver to take you to the BYU Jerusalem Center, he will have no idea what you're talking about. If you tell him to take you to the Mormon University on Mt. Scopus, you'll be dropped at the front door for fifteen shekels.

The most popular treat here is not havla or gelato, but is in fact pita bread spread with nutella and/or peanut butter (my personal preference is for both). We eat it all the time. There's a special corner reserved for that purpose (and other breads, too) in the Oasis, and you can buy it after meal hours for one shekel (about 25 cents) at the Shekel Shack in the student lounge. According to my mother, this declicious treat has been a tradition for BYU students here in the Holy Land since before the Center was built--and probably at Ramat Rachel before that. And I do love being a part of long standing tradition...

Alyssa and Rachel Holdrige (there are four of us) enjoying  chocolate pita goodness in the Shekel Shack.
Speaking of the Shekel Shack, I attended the Grand Opening the other night. They had a whole ribbon cutting ceremony followed by a very loud but very fun dance party. I was a little standoffish at first (I don't know how to dance to modern music--never have, never will), but Mary dragged me unto the floor and soon I was hopping around with everybody else. I bought myself a peanut butter and nutella pita for a shekel, talked with friends, and enjoyed the creativity being exercised on the dance floor (which was actually quite impressive). The get togethers in the student lounge are a whole bunch of fun--I look forward to seeing what the activities committee will come up with next.

There is plenty to do at the Center, but since we couldn't bring much with us we still get creative with our play. The discovery was recently made that socks tractionless flip flops make great ice skates on the polished limestone floors, so I am thinking a stocking-feet figure skating competition will soon be in order. Volleyball and basketball in the gym are a must, and in addition to that a ping pong club has recently been organized (as a side note, the ping pong and Foosball tables are in the bomb shelters--I guess we really are prepared in there). A few students initiated the Sunset Watchers Club, of which I am a proud member--we sit out on the terrace and watch the sun go down over the Old City after dinner. The best I've heard of yet, though, is a creative use of water bottles. We get big two liter bottles every time we have a field trip or free day. I've been trying to conserve mine, but between the four of us we have a stash of six or seven under the desk in our room after only one week. I'm told that some of the FHE groups are going to put them to good use on Monday night by setting them up in the gym and having a bowling tournament. I am so there.

A gorgeous Jerusalem sunset as captured by the Jerusalem Center Sunset Club.
Me posing with out extensive collection of water bottle ten pins.
I have been practicing the piano off and on for fun, but the rooms are in high demand. The piano in Room 1 is out of tune and the one in Room 2 is electronic (a very nice keyboard, don't get me wrong, but there's nothing like real keys). Everybody wants the one in Room 3, but the end result is that I usually end up somewhere else. I am luckier than all the other musicians, though--I live with Katie and her little Celtic Harp. No contests there.

I couldn't resist this picture. Smile, Katie!
Everyone has been studying like crazy because we now have two new classes and, therefore, twice the reading. We have still made time to get out into the city, though, and I have loved every minute. Yesterday we visited the Austrian Hospice again (for the good view from the top) and the Church of the Holy Seplechure, explored Zedekiah's cave (complete with shadow-making competition) and did a little street market shopping. Every vendor we met promised a good price for the Mormons, and one particular scarf vendor just past Damascus Gate offered me a scarf for five shekels less than for Katie because he said he liked me more. The non-price tag version of commerce is a little frustrating sometimes, but I'm beginning to like it more--the interactions with the merchants are just too much fun.

We have our first test tomorrow morning, and my roommates and I are still singing our song. In fact, I have had it perpetually stuck in my head all week. I shall get down the lyrics I don't know for sure and post it tomorrow after I have (hopefully) aced my exam.

Boker Tov and Ma'assalama, everyone!

The beautiful patio outside mi casa.
PS) Please comment on these posts! I check all the time to see if anybody has said something about my little writings. I would love to hear from you if you've got a spare minute. I would also love to know who all is actually reading this--just for my own record. :)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Citizen of the World

I just spent the last hour and a half watching as my preconceptions about everything East of the Prime Meridian were pounded to powder.

It was the most influential hour and a half of my Near Eastern Studies education as it stands thus far.

Back up. Today was day one of REAL classwork. Not as opposed to fake classwork--just more of it. Last week we had only Old Testament and Ancient Near East to worry about (which was more than enough what with a reflection paper due today and a test in ANE this Friday). This week we have been additionally loaded up with Israel, Palestine, and a language (Hebrew for me). Hebrew was a breeze--I already know most of the alphabet and vowel markings, and today we covered only a few phrases and the letters A and B (aleph and bet), so I get the feeling that Hebrew is going to be pretty smooth sailing.

Everything else, on the other hand... Let's just say I feel like I have enough homework to keep me busy from now until Rosh Hashana. Looking all my syllabi, that's not actually such a big exaggeration.

Anyway--back to my now non-existant preconceptions.

This morning we attended Israel class--which my teacher calls Judaism, Zionism, and the State of Israel. Professor Yarden was not what I had expected. I know exactly what I was expecting when I thought of a Hebrew teacher. I had unconsciously pictured a Hebrew-speaking man with payots and a prayer shawl from the start--stereotypical and stupid though that may have been. As you might have already guessed, I was dead wrong. Professor Ophir Yarden was close shaven, wore slacks and a polo shirt, and while he does speak Hebrew he is originally from the States. My only indication of his faith was the brown leather kipa on the back of his head.

He is an excellent teacher and kept us engaged from the very start. He started by working us through what exactly Judaism is. Culture? Race? Ethnicity? Political affiliation? Religion? There are arguments for all of the above and he showed us every one of them. He also showed us all the different places Judaism might have started--Abraham (the patriarchs), Moses (the law), David (the kingdom), Babylonia (the exile), the return to Zion (the rebuilding), the Pharisees (the practices), or the Rabis (the law and practices without a temple). He showed us the arguments for each. His feeling was that Judaism began with the exile to Babylon. Most peoples, when taken over by another country, would begin worshiping the new country's God, feeling that since their country had been beaten their new country's God must be the stronger. Israel wasn't much different then. "Average Joe Ephraimite" was a monolater--and accepter of one God but not a disbeliever of others. The exile changed that. The Israelites got to Babylon and realized that something was not right. "How can we sing the songs of Zion in a strange land?" "If I forget thee, oh Jerusalem, may my right hand lose its cunning..." etc. God was back in Israel, not in Babylon--and so a strong faith, different from any other in its time, was born.

Right there--my understanding is different. I felt like I was enveloped in Judaism for a while today and came out understanding more than ever before.

Just now I came away from my Islaam/Palestine class. Our teacher did not lecture us about Islaam or Palestine specifically today. Instead, he talked to us about the way we ought to view this course. He started by asking us what the Middle East is. Middle of what? Well, I thought, it's that part sanwiched between the Near East and the Far East, right? Right. But in relation to what? What was the reference point for determining the "middle" East, or even that it was East at all? The Arab nations didn't decide that--Britain did.

The next hour was spent quickly as Professor Bashir laid before us the many ways in which we simple human beings tend to generalize, categorize, stereotype, and oversimplify. He told us about the dangers of xenophobia, the fear of the strange and foreign, and xenophilia, the love of the foreign for the sake of its being foreign. On the whole, the poitn was this: we have great big assumptions about Arabs or Eastern people or Muslims that simply aren't true because it's not as simple as we think it is. For example, we get certain ideas into our heads when we think about a Muslim. But do we think about the Chinese-born Muslim who lives in Brooklyn and has been speaking English his whole life? Probably not. There is too much complexity, too many hues and shades of gray, for us to be able to draw the bold and simple lines we do.

Above all, Professor Bashir pointed out something particularly striking. He knows about us Mormons--we didn't need to toe any non-proselytizing lines for him to have some understanding of our faith. He put it to us that we should be more sensitive to these false perceptions than anyone because we and our predecessors have been victims of those very problems since the begining. We Latter-day saints have been persecuted and driven away and falsely accused because of warped perception and inadequate understanding. This should be important to us--and it certainly is going to be for me from now on.

There was much more in the lecture of a similar nature, but I think you understand the concept. I was stunned. I am stunned. I have always considered myself a fair person when it comes to critical thinking and weighing opinions. I never realized exactly how warped and distorted and oversimplified and uninformed my perceptions were until now. I am determined that they are going to change. I look forward immensely to learning from Bashir Bashir (yes, that's right) and Ophir Yarden so that my perceptions will have basis in fact and personal experience, not in generalizations and simple assumptions. I look forward to being able to go back to the States and watch the news or read a paper and be able to weigh for myself what is real or false, tainted or true, without taking the potentially distorted word of others for fact.

I want to be a well-informed, fair-minded, critical-thinking individual. I want to be no respecter of persons--Palestinian, Arab, Jew, or Gentile. I want to become, as my father says, a "citizen of the world."

I think I'm on the right track.


A play-by-play sum-up for anyone who cares:

Sunday was my free day. I walked the ramparts of the Old City wall with some friends during the morning. I also successfully navigated all of those friends--about twelve people--through the Jewish quarter, around the Hurva Synagogue, past the Church of the Holy Seplechure, through an Israeli street market, and out onto the main street right by Jaffa Gate, which was exactly where we needed to be. Lo and behold, I have an internal compass--and it works. Hallelujah and Ilhamdulilla!

Left to right: Jaelyn, Lauren, Brandon, Kathryn, and  what's-her-name (sorry--I can't remember).
Overlooking the Muslim quarter from the Western ramparts. Who can spot the Dome of the Rock?
I went back to the city later that afternoon with a couple of girls who needed a third buddy to get into the city. It was then that I bought and happily ate my first falafel (with french fries in it--who knew, right?). It was AMAZING. I was an instant convert. Next weeks installment: the Schwarma. Stay tuned.

Photographic evidence of my first-ever falafel (and Rachel Holdrige's, too). Believe it. 
Yesterday was our first field trip--the Jerusalem Overlook Adventure. We went to several sites all around Jerusalem took look at the city and the countryside from different angles. It was amazing--every stop was a new experience. We stood on a ridge overlooking Bethlehem and remembered the birth of the Savior. We stood on the last rise before Mt. Moriah (now the Temple Mount) and pictured what Abraham might have seen from somewhere near that spot as he approached the mount to sacrifice his son. We covered our heads to enter a synagogue beneath a mosque (long story) commemorating the Prophet Samuel, then looked down at the hills where he would have found the shepherd boy Saul and annointed him King, and also across the valley to Gibeon, where battles were fought and where Solomon received a discerning heart from the Lord by night. We entered a Lutheran church called Augusta Victoria, where we sang "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" and "Be Still My Soul" in the echoing nave before ascending the bell tower to look out over the hills (223 steps--whew!). It was an amazing day. I learned so much in so few hours! Next weeks trip is to a Bedouin weaving facility and the Negev--I can't wait!

Love you all--Ma'asalaama! Shalom!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

First Adventures in the Old City

Hi, everyone! I'm back again! I want to keep posting frequently, and so far I'm keeping up pretty well (though admittedly the fact that my blogger tabs are in Hebrew does not make things easy).

Yesterday I finally went against my studious nature and decided to forgo homework in favor of a brief excursion into the city. I went with about ten to twelve students, and we headed out at about 3:30 (we are not permitted into the city until then on Fridays since it is a day of worship for the Muslims, which sometimes makes the city a little crazy). We had inteded to go to the money changers to stock up on some shekels only to remember at the top of Saladin street that they are closed on Fridays. Instead we took a sharp left and entered the Old City by way of Herod's Gate. Usually we would go through Damascus Gate, since the main roads to about everything there is to see are down that way, but we wanted to do a little exploring off the beaten track.

We ended up in a quiet residential area, where a kind (or possibly annoyed) Arab pointed us in the direction of the Via Dolorosa, the road tradition holds that Jesus walked on his way to Golgotha. We stopped to study a map while a procession of Christian pilgrims in t-shirts and shorts walked slowly down the way, most holding hands while a select few carried a small-scale replica of the cross on their shoulders. I imagine they were headed for the Holy Seplechure, walking out the way that Jesus walked.

In the end we found our way to the Western Wall. The area in front of the wall is partitioned into men's and women's sides (which Katie and I discovered by trial and error--whoops). The women's side was smaller and very crowded and a little noisy, but also very reverent in its way. Women sat and stood everywhere, some with heads covered and some without, some reading the psalms, some praying, and some chantng hymns in Hebrew. A Bar Mitzvah celebration was going on over the partition on the men's side, which involved some jovial song as a young man of twelve or so was hoisted onto the shoulders of the men and carried while the men danced.

The Western Wall from a distance--women on the left, men on the right. Does it seem a little disproportionate to you?
A kind, American-born Jewish woman near me was telling another visitor about the traditions associated with the wall. When she had finished with the other traveler, I asked her if she might repeat what she had been saying to me. She ended up teaching our whole group of girls about the Western Wall and its significance to the Jews. She said that part of the Jewish faith is the original commandments given to Adam, Noah, and Moses--in basic form, not to kill, not to commit adultery, to keep a system of law and order, to worship God, and to (one other--I forget, I'm so sorry. I'll post it if I remember). She said that as Christians and Muslims also keep these rules, they are also heading in the right direction for Heaven (which holds true with our faith and the teachings of Mohammed). She told us that without the temple, the Jews feel that there is something missing from their world and from their faith (I think we all had a moment of cursing the non-prosylatizing agreement just then). She told us also that the coming of the Messiah would happen whether we were worthy of it or not, but that the building of the temple would require righteousness, repentance, and all people turning to God.

Wow. I guess we have more in common than I thought. Her words gave me hope. I think that when, someday, the gospel finally comes to this land, some of the Jews may find that it fills the hole the destruction of their dear temple left behind. I joined both Jewish and Christian women alike in making my way to the Western Wall to place my hand upon it and bow my head in a few moment's quiet prayer.

We made our away out of the city by the round-a-bout route, which I have decided is the only way to go around here. We took some fun pictures with a bunch of collumns in a sort of exhibit below street level. We walked by tons of shops--including one with backpacks hanging from the ceiling and walls, a spice shop displaying a pyramid of different colored powdered spices topped with a miniature model of the Dome of the Rock, and a candy shop that sported more varieties of gummy candy than I've ever seen in my life (I'll be going back there before too long, I think). Eventually we made it back up the hill to the center, where I gratefully went to the cool of my room to shower and get ready for dinner.

The Haram Es-shariif a'la curry and cinnamon. Cool, no?
That evening I took up studying for Ancient Near East class with Katie and Mary. While we were at it, Mary got the idea to write a song with the dates and events we were memorizing. So we did it. Annie soon joined us and I broke out my jelly beans and swedish fish, and it became quite a party. It took us over two hours, but we put out a good two minute song about our Ancient Near East timeline. The song goes along with the tune of the Disney song "I Won't Say I'm In Love" from Hercules, inspired by the line "...that's ancient history--been there, done that!" My favorite round of the chorus goes "Who can find the ten tribes / lost in 722? / Babylon takes Nineveh / Lehi knows just what to do..." My other favorite line is "Then Alex dies 323... / Then after that comes Pompey / Seluecids 198 not heaven / the fighting Maccabees 167!" I ellicited a lot of laughter by suggesting (in all seriousness) that the "fighting Maccabees" sounds to me like a college football team. And your opponents today are the guests, the Syrian Seluecids, against your home team, the FIGHTING MACCABEES! YAAAAY! I drew a comic along those lines that everyone got a kick out of and that is now hanging on my bulliten board with two of my necklaces and my center ID card. It was a great night. We are not joing to forget our timeline dates anytime soon (at least not before Friday, which is when we're testing on them) and I really came to love my roommates as we spent our evening being silly and having a great time together. When we finished we were shocked to discover that it was 11:30. Time flies when you're having fun! I'm not sure whether I am at liberty to post all of the song, but I'll find out soon (and may or may not post it anyway. We'll see).

The muses hard at work on our next big hit.

Today was the Sabbath. On Saturday. Yes. And apparently the jet lag finally caught up with our apartment, because we woke up at 8:35--twenty five minutes before choir pratice. Oops. Cue the mad scramble for dresses and makeup and mirror space! Yay! The meeting was neat--we heard testimony from members from Chile, Russia, Honduras, and the USA. I bore mine in Relief Society. I also got a blessing today from the Branch President. I had some pretty bad anxiety attacks yesterday and the day before and wanted some extra help so that they wouldn't get worse or make my trip too miserable. President Schafer talked with me for a while to get to know me and my situation, then proceeded to bless me with God's peace and comfort and healing. I feel much better now. I don't think the anxiety will be as big a problem before. I am so grateful for the leaders in God's church--I know that as long as I am part of this church, I will always have someone to turn to for help and guidance.

I just came away from a delicious fast Sabbath dinner in the Oasis (complete with ice cream) and a very statisfying nap down in the room. It has been a wonderful day.

More soon! Love always! Shalom!