This blog is behind. I need to catch up. So here's how this is going down. I am going to briefly outline the ins and outs of each day this week until the present day. Then I will be ready to move on. OK? Cool. Let's do this thing.
Monday: Bethlehem! See previous post.
Tuesday: Mostly an indoors sort of day. Study study study... The evening, however, was something else. We had a great adventure in the Old City walking through the Kotel Tunnel. "Kotel" is the Hebrew word for supporting platform around the temple. Herod built the massive platform for the temple to stand on. Later, the Muslims came in and built their houses right up next to the walls, leaving only a little bit exposed--the Western Wall. The Kotel Tunnel runs under all those Muslim houses, running beside the entire length of the Temple Mount. That's where we went. We had a fantastic guide from Philadelphia who walked us through, telling us all about the excavations that have gone on down there. We saw an enormous stone thirteen feet long that weighed around 250-300 tons (the little stones, three by three foot, weigh in at two tons apiece). We also saw the spot along the wall that is closest to where the ancient Holy of Hollies once stood and where Jews sometimes come to pray. I ran my hand along almost the entire length of the temple platform, touching stones laid in place over 2000 years ago. It was an amazing adventure. My travel buddy was Lisa Judd (10 years old) with whom I have become friends here at the ol' JC. She and I are kindred spirits, often to be found with our noses in books. We have a good time.
Wednesday: Also a day of much study. The afternoon was unusual, though. A gentleman (a lawyer by trade) named Danny Seidmunn took us on a tour in the vicinity of the Mt. of Olives, showing us the places of conflict in Jerusalem and giving us the facts about the tensions and troubles here. He said that Jerusalem is not necessarily a bomb waiting to explode, but it could be described as a small nuclear device--things combining or clashing just the wrong way could set off a chain reaction that would lead to a huge explosion. Thus, Jerusalem requires constant crisis management maintenance to keep it calm and quiet and safe. It was fascinating to hear from Mr. Seidmunn and to understand so much more about the city I live in. We were even taken right to the separation wall itself. It was covered with graffiti, mostly of the civil rights, freedom for all, stop all oppression, if not you why us sort of nature. On the way there we passed by several fences topped with barbed wire and stone walls topped with broken glass, as well as the ruins of a house that had been randomly selected for demolition. Mr. Seidmunn gave a clean, concise, not-to-heavy version of things, but it was still a humbling experience.
That night we had Israeli folk dancing in the gym. I asked Aleesia to bind my shins with medical tape before hand so I could dance properly. It was a fun evening--we learned five or six dances in one go and just had a good time. Our instructor was hilarious, my shins didn't hurt too bad, and afterwards Katie and I danced one of our Israeli dances from our class last semester. It was a good time. :)
Thursday: I started out today going somewhere I had never been before--the Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene (called by us JC students the Golden Onion Church--look it upon google and you'll see what I mean). It's just across from the Garden of Gethsemane, so I've been close before, but the church is only open to visitors on Tuesdays and Thursdays from ten to two, so it's been a while in coming. We wandered about the beautiful grounds a little before going into the church itself. It was smaller inside than it looked, but it had beautiful paintings and some nice relics and several kind Russian nuns with whom Calahan could converse because he served his mission in Ukraine. I was feeling stressed that morning when I left and just was not in good spirits, but the group I was with noticed that I wasn't too chipper as we sat and waited our turn to look at the relics, and they cheered me up in no time.
Thereafter I joined a group with Katie and Annie and Jackie and a few others to go see some carved stone tombs down in the Kidron--one of which is allegedly the Tomb of Absalom. We got some great pictures there and enjoyed exploring a little before heading home for lunch. At lunch I found out that a group was going to go play soccer with Roget and the others again, so I joined up with them. The game didn't last long because we were kicked off the field by a neighboring school, but I did score once (VICTORY!). Roget and her friend Mohammad then gave us a brief tour of the Mount of Olives, including introductions to a few of our neighbors in the nearby homes. We visited two little hosues, and in each we were welcomed into the living room to sit and talk for a while. I got to hold little six-month-old Khalid (whose mother is no older than me) and be introduced to eight-year-old Nor (with a sparkling smile and big eyes to match her name, which means "light"), as well as a whole bunch of boys and a couple moms. It was really neat.
On our way out we came upon a couple boys trying to carry a metal bedstead (the head and foot boards) up the hill to the Old City, so we came along to help out. It was probably a strange sight--two little Palestinian boys and four tall Americans carrying a pair of metal bedstands down the middle of the street past Herod's gate. Around Salah Ad-deen street we ran into a group heading off to the Shuk--the open air market in West Jerusalem--so I latched on with them. I had no money, but it was still fun to walk around the vendors and smell the smells and see the sights and snack on some of the dried strawberries Katie bought. A big thing at the Shuk is donuts. I resolved to come back and buy one at the first opportunity. We got home just in time for dinner.
That evening was the center's formal talent show. I recited "The Man from Snowy River" (with introduction written by my own self). It went great--everyone loved it. Confession: I ran it through for the first time with the introduction down in the bomb shelter twenty minutes before the show was supposed to start. I also said many prayers that I would be able to remember it all. I did and I am grateful--the spirit really does bring all things to your remembrance. There were some other great numbers, too--Katie on the harp, several AMAZING pianists, a guitar and cello duet from Michael Stallings and McKay AhPing, a few vocal numbers (including one from Phantom). I was also part of a small ensemble group that sang "The Holy City"--right there in the auditorium overlooking Jerusalem through the tall glass windows. It was amazing and we sounded awesome. Problem: I was singing high soprano and definitely strained my already tired voice trying to get to some of those Gs. Darn it. Mostly it was amazing, though. Everyone here is so richly talented--especially in those beautiful, wonderful talents that never see a stage but that are an even greater blessing.
Friday: Mostly indoors today, as is always the case with Fridays (because it's the Muslim day of prayer we have to stay in until three, so we only have about two hours of outside time). We usually have a humanitarian activity on Friday afternoon, but this week it was cancelled so everybody could participate in the olive harvest. We all spread out everywhere on the grounds--balconies, gardens, you name it--and picked for hours. I found myself in some good spots--up a ladder with Mikele, under a tree with little Emily Judd on my shoulders, on the patios outside the student bedrooms (including my own) with Jacob and Eliesha and Sarah and Liz, right by the Benches' door picking olives as long as my thumb and twice as fat (as compared to the shrivley things everywhere else), and even underneath the patio awning, yelling up at Katie to "for Heavens' sake be careful up there." We picked several gallons of olives that afternoon to be turned into oil the next week."
Saturday: The Sabbath once more. I sang in church--"Savior Redeemer of My Soul." My friend Hannah accompanied me, and had been practicing to do so all semester (she heard me practicing the vocals and asked if she could play the accompaniment. She later told me that she almost never volunteers to play for these sorts of things, so I feel honored). My voice was tired from the talent show and wasn't doing what I wanted it to, so I was a little worried. I sang alright, though, albeit with not much vibrato. Everyone said it sounded great, though, and (more importantly) that it brought the spirit. The district president spoke after my number, and he expressed his love for that song and said he had listened to it three times on the way here. No pressure, right? :) Anyway, the short version is that everyone like it but me--and I was happier about it towards the end of the day.
I went to the Garden Tomb that afternoon. I didn't get in with the earlier group I had hoped to go with, so I only had about twenty minutes there. It was enough, though. I wandered the pathways through the trees and flowers, thinking about covenants and baptism and the atonement and eternal life, glad to be out in the sweet afternoon air. I went again to see the tomb, and smiled at the truth of the words on the door: "He is not here, but is risen." I don't think I've ever heard more wonderful words.
That evening was a CES devotional followed by choir practice followed by Mission prep. I would like to acknowledge briefly how amazing my mission prep teachers are. This week I have been trying to be more invested in my scripture study--do it longer, make it more meaningful, study harder, etc. It was great, but the end result was that I was feeling emotionally and spiritually burnt out by the end of the week, and (as a result) I was feeling overwhelmed again at the prospect of being a missionary (something like "if this is what missionaries are supposed to do and I am falling short of it already, how will I be a good missionary?"). Fortunately for me, I have Will and Bethany. I came up to Will after class and said simply "Will, I am feeling burnt out and overwhelmed. Help." He spent the next twenty minutes with me, with Bethany coming in a little later, and between the two of them I was re-energized and motivated and comforted and felt ready to start anew. Thank Heaven for the council of friends and leaders.
A note from my friend Alyssa, which she typed on my blog while I was working on something else: "Once upon a time there was a chica named Raquel. She was an amazing story-teller and way awesome person. She could tell a much better story than this. The end."
Sorry that all took so long, folks--I promise to be more diligent in the future. I love you all! Shalom!