Journal in the Land of the Holy One
April, 2003
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The sounds of Zababdeh:
3:00 AM, Rooster (3 sec.)
3:00 AM, Dogs (5 sec.)
4:45 AM, Muslim prayer (40 sec.)
6:00 AM, Church bells (40 sec.)
7:30 AM, National Anthem (40 sec.)

Tuesday, 4/1/03:  The Presbyterians are having a security confab in Louisville tomorrow afternoon.  We've put in our request to return, hoping it'll turn out for the best.  We've been staying in touch via ZNN (Zababdeh News Network - the text messaging back and forth), which lets us know life is "normal" with an additional light dusting of snow (first time in a decade for that!). Meanwhile, today we and our friends from Cairo have gone back up to the village of Apshia to visit with our friends from the Middle East Council of Churches.  She has promised to teach us how to decorate Ukrainian Easter eggs.  We have seen these eggs before, the delicate, intricate designs seemingly impossibly painted on the thin shell of an empty egg.  Never did it occur to any of us that such amazing and delicate things could be made by normal people like ourselves.  She has dozens of them (gorgeous chicken, goose, turkey, and even ostrich specimens) and is ready to share her wisdom.  Marthame worked on the computer while Elizabeth and the other Presbyterians donned their aprons and took their seats around the kitchen counter.  We all first followed the same design, a colorful geometrical pattern on a black background. Our host had eggs already blown and dried for us, so we simply began by drawing light pencil marks on our eggs, and going over them with hot wax, manipulated in something called a kiska, which is like a teeny tiny metal funnel. This little funnel we heated over candle flame and pressed into a cake of beeswax. The wax melts and pours into the funnel. Then it's a matter of delicately drawing lines on the egg following the pencil marks, without any blobbing, shaking, or dropping.  That's only for the parts we wanted to remain white. Then the egg is dyed in a color (yellow I think), taken out, dried, and more lines are applied in wax (for those parts to remain yellow), and the egg immersed in another color. The process continues until the pattern is complete, and in this case, the egg is fully dyed black (except for the protected waxy bits, of course).  After the final dye job has fully dried comes the most fun part, when you hold the egg next to the candle flame and melt off the wax. It's so neat to see the colors melt into view.  Then the egg is subjected to various chemical baths for its own good (dry-cleaning fluid to clean it and oil-based varnish to seal and protect). We were all so enthusiastic that as the first eggs were drying we all tried our hands at another one, some more freestyle than others.  Elizabeth, who was  never one inclined to follow recipes, knitting patterns, or crosstiches to the letter (often with, eh, interesting results) had a ball - what with all that wax and dye.  [Mom, I guess the cat's out of the bag for your birthday present...]  Then we all enjoyed dinner together at one of Limassol's restaurants that promised Mexican food.  Cypriot-facsimiles of Mexican food are not the real McCoy (broccoli and green bean burritos?), but were delicious anyway.

Wednesday, 4/2/03:  For some reason, Cyprus shuts down on Wednesday afternoon.  Things are closed on Sundays, Saturday afternoons, and - for some reason - Wednesday.  We had things to do, and see, and had to get them done in the morning.  Our first order of business was to find some of the icon workshops around town.  We found two, one more traditional, the other in which icons seem to pay the rent but icon-inspired art is the painter's passion.  We are hunting for an icon of the healing of the ten lepers, which took place in Zababdeh's neighbor Burqin, but so far have been stymied.  No time this afternoon, either...We then headed to the town's old castle, built during the Crusader era, in which Richard the Lion-Hearted married Barangaria of Cyprus (which luckily is open every day).  Now it houses the local "old stuff" museum - cannons, armor, crosses.  Most interesting where the Medieval tomb coverings, etched or bas-relief life-sized full-body portraits of the deceased.  (Sorry, no photos allowed, and no decent postcards either.)   Many of them had been taken from Nicosia from a church that the Mamelukes had converted to a mosque - as a result, many of the faces had been scratched away, as though keyed by teenagers passing by on skateboards.  Meanwhile the messages from Zababdeh continue to come in.  The Latin deacon was asked to change the school clock, a job usually reserved for Marthame: "they asked me 2 change the bellclock. talking about u. i said may be marthame himself will do it."  Here's hopin'.  We met up with the other Presbyterians for a movie, a local screening of Chicago with Greek subtitles.  Elizabeth had seen the stage production in New York a few years ago, so it was interesting to compare notes.  Both were great fun, but there's something so live about a live performance.  In the evening, we got a call from the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Louisville.  They met and agreed that it would be reasonable for us to return.  We are elated!  We immediately began sending messages back to town.  Their joy mirrored ours: "This is the best news I hear thanks God."  Yes, thanks God.

Thursday, 4/3/03:As soon as we awoke, the breaking news came in from ZNN.  The spelling may have varied, but the message was clear: "the soldiers calling for curfew now"; "Zababdei under carfue"; "Soldiers declared curfew in zababbdeh now and it's full of soldiers and tanks now, y?  nothing clear yet"; "don't hurry we have carefew...2day"; "i think the curfew in zabab is a welcome back for you guys especially from our army friends : ) "  As we pieced the story together, we learned that all the roads to the village were sealed off in the morning.  At school, the Zababdeh teachers and students came in for a scaled-back day.  At 9:00, a jeep passed by the school announcing the curfew.  When they passed by again, Fr. Aktham went out to meet them and to explain to them that there were 500 students in the school who needed to get home.  The captain agreed to allow half an hour grace period for the kids to get home.  It was done, kids hustling home fearfully as tanks and soldiers were patrolling the streets already.  A great day to go back, we thought.  (note: while we rarely post pictures we don't take ourselves, it seemed fitting to do so here) We met up with the Presbyterians, who are waiting for their word from Louisville tonight.  Together, we ventured down to the archbishop's bookshop, our best and last bet for icons.  No such luck, but did find some lovely paper prints of icons.  We were given a free box of Orthodox incense, too.  It was suggested that we check out a Greek restaurant down the street.  What a thought: Greek food in Cyprus!  We were not disappointed - a lovely little family-owned operation.  We left having thoroughly savored about half the menu. Later on, we bid farewell to our Egyptian counterparts and took a taxi to Larnaca to the airport for our late night flight, which apparently had been canceled by Cyprus Airways.  No problem: another was leaving an hour later, on El Al.  The drama of Israeli security soon began.  A special section set up and roped off, carefully monitored, special Hebrew-speaking security people lined up.  We were asked the usual questions: What are you doing in Israel?  Has anyone given you anything to carry?  Are you carrying a gun or any other weapon?  Though we appreciated the need for the last question, we couldn't help but chuckle at the thought of us packing heat.  We checked in and made our way to the departure lounge, where the drama continued.  All other airlines had their departure gate posted - that is, except El Al.  Twenty minutes before the flight, a man came to the lounge and began announcing the gate (but not on the loudspeaker system).  We weren't sure if these special security measures made us feel extra safe or extra-endangered. We lined up, sitting next to a chatty New Jersey Israeli.  We were too tired to talk, but not as tired as we'd be eventually.  We arrived at Tel Aviv near midnight, hoping to find a shared taxi to Jerusalem.  After a long wait, we did, splitting the fare with another person on their way there, banging our way into the Notre Dame Hotel (complete with sealed room in case of chemical attack) at 2:00 in the morning.  Needless to say, they were not pleased, but our status as Latin Patriarchate volunteers and our passable Arabic helped.  It's not like we really cared at 2:00 in the morning what other people thought of us - as long as they gave us a bed.    Heck, for a couch we would've kissed their feet.

Friday, 4/4/03:  We checked in with the Zababdeh taxi drivers - the curfew was lifted, and the checkpoints along the way were reasonable.  We had some time to kill before meeting our ride, and ran a few errands - picking up mail at the Latin Patriarchate, Orthodox candles at the supply shop near the Holy Sepulchre - before going in to pray at the Holy Sepulchre.  As usual, the lines were non-existent.  We had plenty of time to pray alone in what many consider the most holy place on earth.  Unbelievable.  We prayed fervently for peace, for the reign of resurrection.  There couldn't be a better place for it.  We met up with the taxi at Qalandia, sharing the ride north with three folks from Zababdeh and two members of the newly-arrived World Council of Churches' team.  Since we had helped to bring them to Zababdeh, they were particularly happy that we were returning.  The ride passed through the now-familiar checkpoints of Ma'ale Ephraim and Hamra - the first long and drawn out, mostly because a Canadian Israeli soldier took an interest in the foreigners who were traveling.  It was our bags that were opened and us who were asked the questions, while everyone else simply stood around and waited for it all to pass.  Once we were on our way, the driver told us, "I'm glad he did that to you.  Do you know why?  Because it's your taxes that are paying for him to be here!"  Fair enough... At Hamra checkpoint we barely stopped, and we whisked home, stopping in nearby 'Aqaba to buy meat from their famous local butcher shop (best, freshest meat in the region, we're told).  We arrived in Zababdeh and found ourselves facing two jeeps which were blocking the road.  A soldier waved us away, and we obliged, backing up and taking an alternate route.  A short altercation took place later between the boys and the soldiers in jeeps, but we were happily in our apartment.  Home again.  Once snug, we immediately began sending around messages that we were back.  One reply said it best: "Welcome home among your brothers & sisters."  Despite our exhaustion, we went out to see some friends and to generally be seen around town.  People welcomed us back warmly, all greeting us with, ilhamdulillah 'as-salame (literally, praise God for safety).  And even when we heard the tanks coming over the hills, as we have become used to, we still knew we were in the right place.

Saturday, 4/5/03:  Fortunately, the chaos of the last three days in Zababdeh seems to be like past chaos - here for a couple of days, gone for a few, an off and on kind of thing.  In other words, the situation here is "normal," not escalated.  Case in point: this morning, all of the students were able to come except for the Jenin kids.  They've been stuck in curfew for quite a long time now and have missed a lot of school.  This, unfortunately, is the definition of "normal" here.  One of Elizabeth's students there had sent her an adorable e-greeting when we were in Cyprus.  Looks like we need to send him a "miss you" e-greeting now.  We arrived at school for assembly (as Elizabeth always and Marthame never does).  We followed Fr. Aktham past the lines of students as the national anthem played.  A ripple of whispers, then spontaneous applause.  Cool.  This is why it's good to be back, to be welcomed back.  We were missed.  What's strange, in addition to the welcome by the students (each of our classes also applauded our return as we taught them) and the rest of the village, there is also a sense of relief coloring our welcome.  There seems to be an assumption that, because we have been returned, that means there won't be any problems in Zababdeh from here on out.  Either they think the American government has a tighter control over our travel than they do, or that the Presbyterian Church has incredible inside information.  In any case, it's good to be back.  We spent time speaking with people about the curfew.  Several houses were surrounded, looking for wanted young men.  One was the home of a teacher in the school.  Her brother-in-law was taken at gunpoint, barrel against the back of his skull, and told to lead the soldier room by room to show that there was no one there.  "If I see anyone, I'll shoot."  It turned out they had the wrong house.  They wanted the neighbor's house, the house about whom we had written an article a few months ago.  They were looking for the same student.  Apparently he hasn't been seen since that day, so the idea that they'd find him where they last looked seems kind of odd.  But back they were.  They did the same to several other houses, arresting some, frightening many, many others.  Marthame also stopped by the Melkite Church to check on the progress.  The electricity is finished, lighting (including chandeliers and external lamps) is in place, painting is on the way, the windows are coming, and a new bell is ready to be installed.  Fr. Firas will buy stones to build the altar, and will - for the time being - use the old pews.  His eyes have the glow of a child on Christmas Eve, hardly able to wait to open his presents, this one being the church.  In the evening, we went up to the University to catch up with the ex-pats there.  It was good to reconnect.  When we left for Cyprus, we particularly felt like we were abandoning this community, but clearly the feeling wasn't mutual.  We shared stories of the last two weeks, here and there, news and updates.  The day the war started, two of the teachers walked into the cafeteria.  The students there burst into spontaneous applause, appreciative of Americans who stayed in obvious defiance of the situation.  News also came today from Jenin.  Another of the International Solidarity Movement folks was wounded this afternoon, hit by shrapnel in Jenin as he and others broke the curfew.  They had been sitting for hours in the open, watching the soldiers patrol.  Residents found this curfew particularly frustrating/goading, since no searches were taking place, the usual reason given for curfew.  As the internationals got up to leave, a tank opened fire on the ground in front of them, sending bits flying.  One was hit in the leg, a minor injury, thankfully.

Sunday, 4/6/03:  We worshiped in the Latin Church this morning, once again being welcomed back both officially and informally.  There was more news about the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in Jenin.  After yesterday afternoon's incident, in the early evening an American activist had part of his face sheered off by tank fire.  He and another ISMer were preparing to investigate reports of gunfire some blocks away.  According to his companion, the two of them were alone on the quiet deserted street, identifiable in their fluorescent vests, when approaching tanks opened fire on them, from the machine gun on top of the tank. (IDF rules state clearly that warning shots should not be fired from mounted artillery).  The Israeli army reported that the activists were caught in the middle of a gunfight.  Brian, a 24 year-old from New Mexico, was hit by direct fire, taking part of his face off.  His companion picked it up (yeah - it's gruesome stuff) and held it on with a t-shirt.  Assistance was not offered by the military.  An ambulance took him to Jenin hospital, where they waited for an hour for permission from the Israeli military to transfer him to Afula (in Israel), then to Haifa (via helicopter).  Miraculously, he suffered no brain damage, only severe loss of blood and the need for massive reconstructive surgery.  Still horrific, and more than a bit worrisome, following so closely on the heels of the Israeli bulldozing death of Rachel Corrie in Gaza.

Monday, 4/7/03:  Marthame made his way up towards Ibillin this morning to teach his evening class.  The checkpoint at the border was tighter than usual, with a soldier asking Marthame to open his bags.  He was quite friendly, though, and joked.  After Marthame had opened a bunch of the smaller pockets on the backpack, the soldier quipped, "Do you have any other secret compartments?"  He then apologized (!) for the thorough check.  Marthame caught the taxi waiting on the other side and met with Fr. Hatem and his family for lunch, now a wonderful weekly ritual.  Elizabeth, meanwhile, was at school, hoping the Jenin crew would come today.  A few of the older students did, taking taxis since the school bus wasn't allowed to pass.  After school, Fr. Majdi, the Director of the Latin Patriarchate's Schools, came for a meeting with the teachers.  The school is facing a huge budget crisis.  It was delayed for a year, the Patriarchate bearing the burden of this debt.  Now, it has reached the breaking point.  If $50,000 is not found, a third of the students and faculty will be turned away next year.  People are worried - the economics of this place are frightening right now, and people need every opportunity to work that is available.  These cuts will have far-reaching consequences for the village, too.  Now, the teachers are strategizing to try and find a solution that will save the money and their jobs (across-the-board voluntary pay cuts, etc.).  We hope they can.  Now is a horrible time to lose employment.  Fr. Aktham shared a message with a parish in Bergamo, Italy, yesterday which reflects on the current situation, particularly that facing the school, in light of the gospel lesson (John 12).  It is weighing heavily on him these days.  Back in Ibillin, Marthame taught the second of two lectures on Martin Luther, picking up where he left off three weeks ago.  It was good to be back.  It was also good to visit with Fr. Elias Chacour, who was back home in Ibillin.  He had met Marthame's family in Atlanta a few months back and was glad to send greetings to them.

Tuesday, 4/8/03:  Elizabeth arrived at school today to find all of the Jenin students there.  At last!  It's good for everybody to be back.  Marthame made his way from Ibillin, but his ride to Jalame (just inside the Green Line) was unable to pass the checkpoint into the West Bank.  As Marthame descended from the van, two older women called to him.  They live in Nazareth, with Israeli citizenship, but also have family and live in Zababdeh most of the time.  However, with their Israeli citizenship, they were turned back yesterday.  (Except soldiers and settlers, Israelis  - even Arab Israelis - are generally forbidden to enter the Occupied Territories.)  They figured that going with a priest, and an American at that, might help their chances.  After some negotiating with the soldiers, it did, and all arrived back in Zababdeh safe and sound.  The teachers met again today, strategizing for next year's budget crisis.  We hope they will be able to find a solution.  Fr. Aktham traveled down to Jerusalem and back today, hoping to find that his visa was ready.  He, and many other priests of the Patriarchate, have had their visa renewals delayed indefinitely by the Israeli government.  After a big international stink involving the influence of the Vatican, it looks as though things have been resolved for the best.  However, as is all too frequent here, the employees at various Israeli ministries are now on strike.  Fr. Aktham was supposed to travel to Italy for a conference this week, but with no visa to stay, he won't be allowed back into the country.  He returned to Zababdeh with a horrible crick in his neck - the weight of the world on his shoulders, perhaps?

Wednesday, 4/9/03:  Yesterday, on their way back home, the Jenin school bus was held up at the checkpoint for hours.  One of the teachers argued with the captain, who told her, "You are not nice people."  "Why?" she asked.  "Because you were shooting at us last night."  This is the kind of blanket punishment which so infuriates.  A bus full of children and teachers are held to blame for night-time shooting.  When they were finally allowed to pass, the teacher said to the captain, "Are you being nice now?"  Fortunately, they all made it today, though the soldier made a point to remember the teacher with whom he had the exchange yesterday afternoon.  We went by the Latin Convent this evening to check on Fr. Aktham.  He should be on a plane to Italy right now, but without a visa, he's here, stuck.  The good news is that his neck is better.  The cross on top of the church is lit up with new lights, too, in celebration of Lent.  Everyone is watching the events in Baghdad with great interest.  Sharon has now made a statement that the Palestinians should learn a lesson: what happened in Baghdad can now happen in the West Bank.  People here joke with us:  If he means removing the undemocratic tyrant running rough-shod over them, then he'd better be careful - Palestinians would welcome the Americans arriving to remove Sharon from power.

Thursday, 4/10/03:  The poor Jenin kids.  They finally get out of the city, make it through all the checkpoints, arrive in the village of Misilye, and the bus breaks down!  Dissonant coincidence abounds.  The good news is that they did finally make it.  Meanwhile, Boutros Ma'alim, the Melkite Bishop of Haifa, arrived today to see the progress on the Melkite Church.  Fr. Chacour came with him.  Meeting together with Fr. Firas and Fr. Aktham in town, they discussed the possibilities as well as the importance of future ecumenical cooperation.  Particularly with the absence of Anglican attention, it grows more important around here.  The scaled-back delegation stopped by the Convent to see the progress, to pray together (audio - 10 sec.), and to bless the new church bell which will call the faithful to prayer daily.  They were unable to stay for lunch, which meant larger portions for us.

Friday, 4/11/03:  Every Friday during Lent (a week later here due to ecumenical compromise), the Latin Church leads the stations of the cross.  The Orthodox Church, meanwhile, has a prayer service of adoration for the Virgin.  Marthame attended the latter today, since it's the last time they'll do it this Lent (they stop before Holy Week for some reason).  It is a long prayer, mostly sung, which mostly consists of liturgy which praises the theotokos, in Greek, the classic Nicene formulation for the mother of God.  "Rejoice, you, whose womb saw the miracle of incarnation.  Rejoice, you, who gave birth to the Savior of the world."  At many points, it's a departure from our Protestant Biblical piety.  However, it's an important reminder not only of the important place of Mary in traditional historical Christian piety (perhaps too thoroughly scrubbed out by Protestantism), but also a reminder that ours is not the only form of Christian expression.  The faithful crowded in the small parish hall (work had begun in earnest on expanding, but stopped abruptly due to lack of funds) for food and fellowship.  Fr. Thomas had prayed that morning in Tubas (three hours), their weekly prayer, then prayed for two additional hours in Zababdeh.  Tomorrow he prays weekly prayer in Burqin, then Sunday in Zababdeh.  Afterwards, the town's clergy came over to our place.  It was an overdue gathering, given the ecumenical nature of our work, but a good chance to get together and to discuss some issues of common concern, particularly the celebrations of Holy Week and the lack of an Anglican priest in town.  Fr. Hossam chipped in by way of telephone from Nablus, unable to come in person.  News came late of another ISM (International Solidarity Movement) casualty, this time a British national in Gaza.  Tom Hurndall has been declared brain dead.  That brings the total to four casualties (three in short succession, two of them fatal), and has caused some to claim that these international activists are being intentionally targeted:  Rachel Corrie killed by a bulldozer in Gaza, an Irish national shot in the legs this Fall, and an American shot in the face in Jenin last week.  Ugh. 867

Sunday, 4/13/03:  We worshiped this morning at the Latin Church of Visitation, Marthame leading along with Fr. Aktham, Fr. Firas, and an Italian priest who has been staying in town this past week.  He has been living and serving the church in Tunisia for the past forty years, and therefore speaks Tunisian Arabic with an Italian accent.  After worship there, we went to the Greek Orthodox Church to see Fr. Thomas.  A priest in Canada searching the web had come across the church in Tubas via our webpage, and contacted us trying to track down a baptismal certificate.  It's good to be able to demonstrate concrete results from our internet work.  We had lunch with a woman in the village who has adopted us as her own, at first because her son is a friend of ours living in Chicago.  Now, it's because she enjoys our company (the feeling is mutual) and we help provide a diversion.  Our language, in particular, is a source of much amusement.

Monday, 4/14/03:  Happy Birthday, Mom (check's in the mail).  Marthame made the weekly trek up to Ibillin. The road is much better than last week, mostly because it hasn't rained in so long.  Someone has been dumping rocks on the path, which for the time makes it bumpy but also fills in the road's gaps and, in the future, will be smoother after crushed under the weight of traffic.  The Jalame checkpoint was hardly any trouble, particularly since some of the soldiers have begun to recognize him.  His ride dropped him off at the taxi stand in Afula, needing to make a drop off at another contact point in the West Bank.  Marthame shared the taxi to Nazareth with Arabs, Jews, and Russians - an interesting picture of current-day Israel - before being welcomed once again in Fr. Hatem's home for lunch and intense theological debates.  Tonight's subject was Calvin, and the non-Protestant students are beginning to chafe a bit under the weight of the Reformation.  They see, rightly so, that the Reformation led to the endless schism of churches.  They also see that the Reformation led to them being able to worship in their own language.  A mixed legacy, as with most legacies.  He and Fr. Hatem had dinner up in Shefa'amer at the home of the Scottish theologian who is running the Theology Department where Marthame is teaching.  More intense theological debates and a late night, now a regular part of these gatherings.

Tuesday, 4/15/03:  Marthame made his way back to Zababdeh, the soldiers recognizing him.  One soldier was very concerned: "Is there someone meeting you in Jalame?"  He seemed to be reassured by the taxi.  As Marthame walked away, he saw a boy on a bicycle heading towards the checkpoint from the Palestinian side, no more than ten years old. He was stopped by a soldier who placed his hands on the handlebars.  You have to wonder just what the boy was thinking.  Surreal, really.  Marthame then began the long walk into town (about half the time it takes to get by car from Nazareth to the border).  A security road is being built which some are suggesting will be the foundations for the new security wall Israel is building around the West Bank.  If so, here it is annexing another big chunk of the West Bank for Israel.  The wall is already up around cities like Tulkarem, but there are no signs of it here yet.  One of the World Council of Churches team went with the Jenin school bus to make sure it could re-enter this afternoon. After an hour and a half of waiting at the checkpoint, and trying to call people in Zababdeh to tell us what was happening (the cellphone system here is completely trashed), he was able to get in touch.  The soldiers were refusing to let them pass.  Fr. Aktham called the Israeli District Coordinating Office, and was told the school bus had permission and would be let through.  At that point, the school bus was being told it needed to simply turn around and go back to Zababdeh.  Eventually, they were let through, but by the time it happened, everyone was weary of the absurdity of it all.  This is what grinds the spirit down day after day.  The high school seniors began their comprehensive exams today, a thorough mental pummeling - we wish them luck.  In the afternoon, we went to the Melkite Convent.  The sanctuary is finished, though still bare - white paint, no images up, plastic chairs have replaced the benches, a plastic table stands for the altar.  It was the first eucharist service held in the church since Fr. Firas' grandfather died in 1985, and as such, it was moving to be a part of (audio - 10 sec.).  Apart from his immediate family (including his very active twin toddlers), only one other family came to the service.  It's been a long time, and people have forgotten many of the the hymns and the liturgy.  They're rusty, but there's plenty of time.

Thursday, 4/17/03:  No Jenin students yesterday, nor today.  All of our students and teachers there are under curfew, and there's simply no way around it.  They have missed far too much school this year due to the closures.  In the afternoon, the electricity cut off for a while, something we've become fairly used to.  It happens periodically around here, usually due to system failure.  But this time, it was intentional.  The municipality was cutting down a couple of the trees in the center of town, awfullyclose to power lines, and didn't want to risk anything.  There are a large number of cattle egrets who nest in the tall conifers there, and people pass under the branches at their own peril.  A number of times we've been hit with what seems like intentional targeting, a white spot on a clean pair of dark pants.  The smell has become a problem, too.  A couple of the trees were cut down, and a number of birds circled in the air, traumatized by this change of events.  Marthame commented to some folks that the birds had become refugees - how ironic.  Meanwhile, the youth group at the Latin Church was making final preparations for the church bazaar.  It is the first year for such an activity, with a number of booths open to sell donated gifts.  The proceeds will go to support the youth group's activities.  The churches here are very poor, and thus reliant on outside funding for most of their operation.  It is wonderful to see a church working to encourage a sense of empowerment here.

Friday, 4/18/03:  Happy Birthday, Dad (the check's in Mom's envelope).  Today is our day off, our sabbath, our day of relaxation.  Elizabeth has come down with an ear infection (seemingly an annual occurrence we'd rather not celebrate), so she spent much of the day resting, breaking our Lenten fast from television. She's allowed.  In the afternoon, we heard the death bell sound at the Latin Church.  When a member of a parish dies here, the death bell sounds.  In our three years here, we've come to know the different bell signals.  From there, the news of whom spreads by word of mouth.  Marthame walked to the Convent to find out who passed away - the grandmother of a number of our students.  Families here are deeply intertwined and also large, so deaths affect a large number of people quite closely.  The deceased has a daughter in Nablus and a son in Amman, as well as another in Germany.  The original thought was to wait until at least the daughter could come, but then decided that the situation was such it would be better to go ahead and have the funeral.  In Muslim society the funeral is the same day.  For the Christians, it is often the same or the next day.  Marthame then went to the Latin Church for the stations of the cross, followed every Friday in Lent by the Latin parish.  It is a simple service of readings, hymns, and a lot of kneeling.  In the middle of the service, the electricity cut off (for the second time today).  The service was more moving as a result, hymns sung a capella and Fr. Aktham's voice carrying in the echo.  Having walked the stations of the cross in their traditional locations in Jerusalem, it was strange to do it here so close to their site - and yet so far.  When prayers ended, Marthame, Fr. Aktham, and Deacon Homam led the silent procession from the church to the home of the deceased.  The men are gathered outside, while the women gather inside around the casket.  There is a small prayer said in the home, then the casket is closed and carried to the church.  At the church, the family stood around the casket while the rest of the church was filled with more distant relatives and friends.  From the church, the clergy - now including Fr. Firas, the Melkite priest - led the procession of men to the graveyard, where the body is interred.  Hers was in a raised mausoleum, and all waited until it was cemented over and the engraved headstone was set in place.  A few hours and a few visits later, Marthame was back at the church, this time in the church hall for a supper along with the church bazaar.  Being a Catholic gathering, the simple supper was followed by - can you guess? - Bingo!  As Fr. Aktham stood up to read out the numbers, the lights went out, the third electricity outage of the day.  By this time it was night, so we were bathed in darkness until the smokers broke out their lighters.  Of course, being a Catholic church, candles are always handy.  Within a few minutes, though, the electricity was back.  The prizes were also donated by a number of local businesses, and everyone shared in the fun.  Fr. Aktham is a natural with an audience, and people were laughing and joking with each other.  A good spirit.  Marthame got home just as the electricity went out for the fourth time today, a new record.

Saturday, 4/19/03:The Jenin students made it today.  Thank God!  We were beginning to wonder.  The church bazaar also continued this evening.  Marthame stopped by to see what was happening.  In addition to the local handicrafts and religious goods (artwork, CDs, etc.), not to mention the face-painting, there was also a table set up for refreshments - fresh-squeezed orange juice and pastries.  Transport the scene across the Atlantic and you've got a good old-fashioned church fundraiser.  The spirit in the hall was great.  Folks from throughout the community - Christians and Muslims alike - stopped by to visit.  Tomorrow Palm Sunday begins here.  We were in Jerusalem for most of last year's holy week festivities, so we're looking forward to staying closer to home this year.  It'll keep us busy, that much is certain, with liturgical activities in three different parishes to participate in.

Sunday, 4/20/03:  We arrived at the Latin Church for Palm Sunday celebrations.  The ecumenical compromise here, and in many other areas of the West Bank, is to celebrate Christmas on the Western calendar and Easter on the Eastern.  Some times, like two years ago, Easter lands on the same day anyway.  Last year, there was a considerable amount of time between the two seasons.  This year, they're a week apart, so Holy Week begins today here.  The tradition has been for many years to have an ecumenical procession around town, stopping at each of the churches so that they will worship together.  This year, there is no Anglican representation, it having been six months since a priest led worship in Zababdeh.  But it was a pleasure to re-welcome the Melkites to the mix for the first time in some eighteen years.  The Scouts have been training for weeks in preparation for Holy Week, and today they got to show their stuff, leading the way with flags, drums, and trumpets.  The adorable kids followed close behind with their elaborately-decorated palm branches, then the rest of the village, singing as they went.  We stopped by the Anglican church to leave a symbolic palm branch - the bells were rung and the doors were open, but the congregation soon dispersed, sadly.  We worshiped at the Latin Church, all in all a wonderful celebration and a great way to ring in our return to Zababdeh a few weeks ago.  After worship, Elizabeth went home to rest and Marthame went to join a second Orthodox procession; the congregation of the Orthodox church was part of the ecumenical festivities in the morning, but the long, elaborate liturgy of the eucharist prevented Fr. Thomas from joining the group before worship. So he led another procession after mass as well.  What a full, exhilarating day. 

Tuesday, 4/22/03:  Elizabeth stayed home sick today, hoping to gather her strength for Holy Week and Easter festivities. Marthame has a two week break in the school schedule up at Ibillin - one week for those on the Western calendar and another for those on the Eastern one.  It gave him the opportunity to attend a peace demonstration organized by several Israeli and Palestinian groups to commemorate the events of last April - the double-suicide bombing in Netanya, and the massive Israeli incursions of the West Bank, particularly symbolized by the destruction of Jenin Camp.  Somewhat telling of the current situation, a year on, the original plan to hold dual commemorations in Netanya and Jenin was changed to Netanya and Tulkarem.  It was felt that the situation in Jenin was not stabilized enough to enter.  It's still too unpredictable from day to day.  Marthame went with one of the World Council of Churches team members, catching a shared taxi from Zababdeh towards Tulkarem.  The plan (that word has become somewhat obsolete here) was to meet up with the demonstrators in Tulkarem, then travel back to Zababdeh with about eight of them, most of them from the World Council of Churches teams that are working throughout the West Bank and Gaza.  On our way, we got a call.  The demonstration in Tulkarem was called off, the situation there too tentative as well today, and instead would be replaced with visits to the village of Baqa Sharqiyye just inside the Green Line.  As we arrived in Tulkarem, the driver got a call: the city had just been placed under curfew.  We drove towards the Agricultural Center in town, hoping to figure out things from there - perhaps make our way to Baqa, perhaps the eight would come here, we'd clearly have to play it all by ear now.  We arrived - most everyone was going home due to the newly-imposed curfew.  We could hear Israeli military traffic passing around town, but sparse enough so that Palestinians could still move, when soldiers and jeeps were not nearby.  We promised the folks at the Center that we'd be gone as soon as we could, but they were unconcerned by having to receive visitors in such absurd circumstances - this was normal.  We continued to touch base by telephone, plans changing from minute to minute.  Young men ventured out from there homes to throw stones at passing jeeps in the streets outside and were repelled with tear gas.  Eventually, even the event in Baqa was canceled, meaning no commemoration would take place in the West Bank at all - a moment that spoke volumes about the situation as it still faces the Palestinians and Israelis.  Nonetheless, the eight internationals were going to meet up with us in the town of Baqa, and we took our taxi there to meet them.  We eventually arrived separated by two checkpoints - they weren't allowed into the West Bank, we weren't allowed to pass the checkpoint half a kilometer inside the West Bank - and were unable to get any closer.  Marthame spoke with the soldiers at the other checkpoint by telephone - the internationals weren't allowed to pass into a closed military area, and we weren't allowed to pass out of one.  "Besides," he said, "You won't be able to get to Zababdeh anyway.  The roads are all closed." Marthame and his Swiss companion made it back to Zababdeh, no presence of Israelis evident along the road, a long pointless day - but for one t-shirt compliments of the Agricultural Center.  Meanwhile, the other internationals caught a bus to Afula, then a taxi to the Jalame checkpoint where they were simply waved through.  They caught up with us in Zababdeh after all, and we capped off their successful arrival with dinner up at the University's coffee shop. We returned home with three of them from Sweden (World Council of Churches volunteers serving in Gaza) who will stay with us for a few days.

Wednesday, 4/23/03:Marthame stopped by the Orthodox Church before daily prayers to meet with Fr. Thomas.  He was anxious to show Marthame the new books purchased for the children's library thanks to a gift from Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta.  He had a sign made in both English and Arabic.  Instead of transliterating "Peachtree" into Arabic, he had translated it - but as Olive Tree Presbyterian Church.  Marthame explained to him the translation mistake.  "Why would you name a church after a peach tree?" he asked.  An olive tree was at least Biblical, he reasoned.  We decided very few people would recognize the mistake, and it was correct in English anyway.  We also decided that Peachtree would simply have to change their name.  We're sure they'll understand.  In the evening, we gathered with the internationals from the University as well as those who arrived yesterday for a little gathering.  As usual, it was good to share our stories and experiences.

Thursday, 4/24/03:  Today was rather hectic at school, with only a half day of classes, and students all very restless on the verge of the holiday.  Jenin students were able to come - it seems almost a waste to make such a long trip for only for three or four classes, however, the students all seem very pleased at being together with their friends.  Today the busy liturgical schedule starts full on.  Since our ministry is so ecumenical here, we will have to find a way to celebrate with each of the communities.  Fr. Firas has decided that, at least for this week, he will celebrate with Fr. Aktham in the Latin Church.  The Anglican bishop has sent Fr. Fadi (who is Fr. Firas' brother) for the feast, which means that community will get to worship together again, at least for the holiday.  We hope the situation of a lack of permanent priest will be resolved soon.  While Elizabeth was still at school, Marthame began this morning by attending the Orthodox footwashing service.  Following the eucharist service, Fr. Thomas invited twelve members of the congregation to come forward and to have their feet washed as representative of the disciples.  The internationals here are also making their effort at attending many of the services.  Fr. Thomas invited two of them to come forward and have their feet washed as part of the twelve.  Time and time again we are bowled over by the unconditional welcome outsiders get in this society - but then again, we weren't sure who was supposed to represent Judas.  Marthame stopped by briefly in the afternoon for the Orthodox reading of the twelve gospels, a service in which twelve sections the gospels, from the Last Supper and leading up to the burial of Christ, are read, but he couldn't stay for long because the Latin service began soon after.  It, too, was a service of the eucharist and footwashing.  One feast days, the Latin church regularly has a procession in which various items (bread, wine, flowers, etc.) are brought forward.  Again, the internationals were there and included: one brought forth the candles in the procession.  After prayers, we went to visit with Fr. Firas' parents and to welcome Fr. Fadi to town - their service was at the same time, so we didn't get a chance to worship with them.  But tomorrow's another day.

Friday, 4/25/03:Our guests left early this morning back to Jerusalem to witness Holy Week and Easter events before returning to Gaza.  Our schedule, however, doesn't let up.  This morning, it was the Latin Church and their weekly Stations of the Cross service.  All Lent it's been held inside the sanctuary.  Today, it was held throughout the church's grounds.  Kneeling on the asphalt became somewhat more optional than in the pews.  This morning the hot dusty dry khamsineen winds were blowing (the name from the word for fifty, because the winds are so hot - think Celsius, Americans), making it, perhaps appropriately, a difficult desolate experience.  Walking past the cemetery with a large windblown wooden cross under a darkened sky was quite powerful.  The winds dissipated by afternoon, and clear skies met the evening services held in all three churches.  We went to the first hour of the Latin service, where the congregation enacts the burial of Christ - the funeral of honor he never received.  We then went to worship with the Anglican church - Marthame shared in leadership with Fr. Fadi, a simple service of readings, hymns, prayers, and reflections.  As much as we have enjoyed the ecumenical aspect of our work, we have missed being able to worship with fellow Protestants.  According to the register, the last time any service was held here was in October - too long ago.  We then went to the Orthodox church where they had just finished up their service of the burial of Christ.  Marthame picked up two lanterns from Fr. Thomas for tomorrow's trip to Jerusalem.  By the look of them, they've made the trip many times before.  Then it was off to the Latin Convent to pick up the keys to Fr. Aktham's car (an early departure), then to Fr. Firas' to borrow his robe.  A truly ecumenical venture.

Saturday, 4/26/03:  We got in our Catholic car, carrying our Orthodox lanterns, with Marthame wearing an Anglican robe loaned to him by the Melkite priest, and headed to Jerusalem.  Jonathan, our friend from the University, joined for the drive.  We took the video camera with us to document the trip.  We knew we had one checkpoint before us and also knew we might have to argue our way through.  Dozens of Palestinian cars, busses, and taxis were waiting at Tayasir.  Hundreds of men were sitting by the side of the road - clearly it had been a long morning for them already.  Marthame began walking towards the checkpoint, not seeing any soldiers.  Eventually, one called out for him to stop.  Another responded from his hidden vantage point in another watch tower.  The two didn't see eye to eye about whether we could pass.  Fortunately, the one who thought it was OK was the one who came down to check our IDs.  "We'll be back this afternoon." "OK!  You're fine," he said, giving us a thumbs up.  "What about everybody else?  Can they pass?" "Not until 7:00 tonight.  It's Shabbat." Alas.  We made it down to Jerusalem in good time, meeting up with friends at St. George's College.  The guard there is from Zababdeh and recognized us, asking us to deliver Easter presents to his family.  We also picked up our new video equipment, which a friend had brought from Boston.  She's here as part of a meeting held by the Anglican Diocese who arranged to have a couple of extra tickets for us to attend the lighting of the Holy Fire at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Due to a historic friendship, the Anglicans enter by the generosity of the Armenian Orthodox.  We went there to pick up our passes and to join in their procession towards the Church.  Once there, we learned something of the situation this year.  There is a current stink between the Greek and Armenian Orthodox as to what the emergence of the light will be.  We were told that the last Greek Patriarch, who was unable to walk well, was accompanied by the Armenian Patriarch in the tomb.  That became the status quo.  The new Greek Patriarch, who celebrated his first Easter last year, wanted to return to the older status quo.  There was some kind of disagreement last year, and the Greeks have announced this year that the Armenians will not enter the tomb.  The Armenians have felt slighted, and some are planning to bully their way into getting the light.  Word is that it could get ugly.  Rumors abound, for example, we heard that the mayor of Moscow has come, bringing some Russian security toughs to back up the Greeks. We decided to go anyway, though we decided not to stand down on the floor and opted for a safer, higher spot in case something happens.  When the Greek procession began, we could see a lot of shoving down on the floor.  It was difficult for the Patriarch to make his way through, and we were concerned something worse was going to happen.  Fortunately, the worst that seemed to happen was some shoving and insults, which is far milder that what some expected.  Nevertheless, the whole affair seems to us to be in extremely poor taste considering the broader context of the region.  For the gathered faithful, however, all conflict seemed forgotten as soon as the light was passed from the tomb, and joyful celebration erupted upon the floor of the church.  Perhaps that was the true miracle of the Holy Light this year.  We lit the two lanterns and began making our way back to Zababdeh.  At the Tayasir checkpoint, the scene was deserted.  A soldier motioned for us to turn around and go back.  Marthame got out to speak with him (from a distance of one hundred yards).  After a bit of shouting and stubbornness, he called us forward, checking in the trunk and under the hood, and then sent us on through.  We arrived back in Zababdeh, with everyone waiting for us.  The Scouts led the ecumenical procession, as we stopped at each of the churches for a brief prayer at each.  People said it was the first time in three years that there's been such a celebration in town.  Elizabeth rested up for tomorrow's continuation of the ecumenical marathon while Marthame went to the Latin Church for their evening worship.  After worship, the Scouts led a procession around town.  Marthame begged out, though - a long day behind and an early morning ahead were enough.

Sunday, 4/27/03:  The Orthodox service began at 4:00 am.  We rolled out of bed and joined the hearty faithful for the service.  We all left the church, lights out.  Fr. Thomas took a candle lit from the Holy Fire outside, where everyone lit their candles.  Following a brief liturgy, and singing of the Orthodox hymn, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and bestowing life on those in the tombs!"  Fr. Thomas knocked three times on the door (representing the tomb), and we all entered together.  The lights came back on, and the liturgy continued until about 8:00 am.  The kids who had been there since the beginning were real troopers, but they soon began to wear thin.  Fr. Thomas invited Marthame to stand with the chorus, a place of real honor.  After worship, we made our way to the Anglican church where Marthame led the liturgy with Fr. Fadi.  Afterwards, it was off to the Latin Church for baptisms.  Bishop Marcuzzo from Nazareth arrived for this annual sacramental celebration.  Twenty-five families brought their children forward this year - quite the liturgy!  After lunch at the Latin Convent, we went back home.  We've got six days off now, but it'll start with a nice, boring, early night.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Monday, 4/28/03:  Palestinian custom is that, following the large feasts, the families go to visit one another.  We obviously don't have any family here, but we have been so welcomed here that we've got a number of such visits to make.  We got a late start, but began in earnest around town.  The custom seems set up for failure - no way we'll be able to visit everyone we should.  But we'll do our best!

Tuesday, 4/29/03:  We continued our visits today, going down to Tubas to visit with the Christians there.  It was also a chance to see the church - we haven't been in a while.  They have just finished a new office, moving the children's library upstairs for more access.  This small community has done an amazing job of strengthening with little help from the outside.  In the evening, we continued with our visits in Zababdeh.  The sheikh and leaders of the Muslim community came by to wish the Christians a blessed feast.  Several of the other Latin priests also came up for a visit, among them Fr. Iyad whom we have gotten to know in our time at Birzeit and through his friendship with National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC.  It was good to see him and hear the news from there.  Then it was back to visits - since we've been so busy attending worship this past week, and now with worship, that we haven't been keeping up with news, either local or international.  Frankly, it's been refreshing.  The talk in town is all about Abu Mazen, the new prime minister.  Palestinians, surprisingly, remain hopefully optimistic about the prospect of peace in the region here soon.  We're stunned by the optimism, personally, but hope it's warranted. 895

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