Journal out of the Holy Land
August, 2002
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Thursday, 8/1/02:  We spent the day resting and getting caught up on work we've neglected the past month - our travels this summer have been deceptively exhausting.  The talks and their preparation take a lot of energy, and it doesn't seem that we've a had a real day of rest, but instead moments of it here and there.  The breaks are welcome, and our friends in DC have hooked us up with their internet access, not to mention their video rental card and health club passes.  We've put on the "itineration fifteen" over the past six weeks - like the famous "freshman fifteen" weight-gain - due to parents and friends taking us out to eat.  We're not complaining, but the need to buy bigger pants is straining our domestic budget...

Friday, 8/2/02:  The afternoon brought us down to the Mall for a quick look at the halls of power that have been impacting our life so directly with their Middle East policy.  We did have time to visit the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, a great national (and free!) treasure.  The sponsoring of the insect exhibit by Orkin was a bit much, though.  We then went to visit a friend (and fellow alum - Elizabeth graduated! - of Northeastern Illinois University) who is working for the National Geographic Society.  We met with her, as well as with two of their regional folks for Europe and the Middle East.  We were anxious to ask for advice about filming from the experts.  In the evening, we visited with old friends who are Presbyterian pastors in the area.  Marthame grew up with one of them 250 years ago at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta.  We sat out on their porch with friends of theirs who had spent a great deal of time in Kenya working in AIDS ministry.  We're all sharing some of the same joys and frustrations - both internationally and locally.  The more things change...

Sunday, 8/4/02:  Condoleeza bumped us at National, but we were able to schedule at the last minute at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church nearby in Bethesda, Maryand.  The original cancellation turned out to be a blessing, allowing us to meet a congregation that has been intimately involved in Middle East justice issues for some time now.  Recently it has caused some friction with the synagogue with whom they share space, particularly over the last two years.  We were warmly received with a large crowd for conversation after worship.  We were soon whisked out the door, lunch in hand (thanks to their mission elder), and on our way north.  Halfway up the Jersey Turnpike we realized Elizabeth had left her purse back in the pastor's office.  The mission elder (our lunch angel) graciously offered to ship it up to us, and we finished our journey to New Haven.  It was the first time we had been there since Elizabeth graduated in 1994.  We'll have a few days for nostalgia, but tonight we hustled off to First Presbyterian Church of New Haven where we used to worship periodically back in those "shortest, gladdest years".  It was hot - very hot (something we've encountered periodically during our talks, but not to this degree).  Even so, it was a good crowd with some interesting guests: the Yale biology professor from Beit Sahour who has been working tirelessly with Al-Awda, the Refugee Right of Return organization; the Yale Divinity School student who went to nerd camp with Marthame; the Presbyterian pastor who once served the Anglican communities in Nablus and Zababdeh (in the 1950s!) get the idea.  It's always amazing to see who comes out to these things.  After our talk we were able to reconnect with our hosts, our old neighbors and friends (and Marthame's colleague) in Wilmette.  It turns out that children get bigger, even when we're not around to see it.

Monday, 8/5/02:  A trip down memory lane today.  It's our first time back to Yale in eight years, and we decided to spend most of it the way we spent our four years here: eating pizza!  Our first stop was Naples Restaurant, after swinging by our old Residential College - Silliman (and trying out the new climbing wall there) - and inviting the Dean along with us.  Apparently, after years of under-age drinking, Naples finally lost its liquor license.  That'll change the face of New Haven a bit.  From there we went off to the spectacular Sterling Library to do some research - both of us have ancestors who attended (or were reputed to have attended) Yale graduate programs in the past.  In our undergrad years, we never bothered to look - we figured it was about time!  In the evening, we had a gathering back at our friends' place with a wide variety of folks, including Yale faculty and colleagues who share an interest in the area.  We were able to reconnect with folks we first met at the Coptic Evangelical Seminary in Cairo last Christmas who have since relocated to New Haven.  It's a small world...

Tuesday, 8/7/02:  From a friend at Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, we were able to connect with the Yale Alumni Magazine to see if that had interest in publishing something on our work.  They usually don't write about alumni, trying to focus on being an independent publication of merit (which they are), rather than a "rich donor of the month" magazine.  Nevertheless, they do have a periodic reflection written by alumni, and for that we well-qualify.  We will work on something in the coming weeks for their November issue.  We chatted with folks in the office, mostly about nerdy things like computers (they're all Mac-vocates).  One of the editors commented that he bought his first computer from a guy building them in his garage in Dallas.  He still has the thank you note that Steve Dell wrote to him.  We went up the hill, way up the hill, to the Divinity School to see our friend.  The place is in the middle of a massive construction project after overcoming major funding woes.  Marthame's aunt, grandmother, and great-aunt all attended Yale Div. School for a while, back in the day when female students were called "spinster ministers".  A professor once told Marthame's grandmother to move to the balcony, because her presence was distracting to the male students. Different days...We did get a chance to relax with our friends' kids and play in the afternoon.

Wednesday, 8/7/02:  After another goodbye (we've had a lot of those, and always after a visit cut too short), we passed by the coffee shop where we had our first date eleven (!) years ago.  How sweet...We arrived in New York City to stay with friends on the Upper West Side and experience the joys that go with trying to find parking there.  We didn't think it could get worse than Northside Chicago - little did we know.  But it also shares the variety of foods (a little touch of Vietnam this time) with our host, yet another youth group friend of Marthame's who has gone on to be a Presbyterian pastor.  There must've been a little mafia back there at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta.

Thursday, 8/8/02:  A New York day.  Our first stop was, of course, "Ground Zero".  We had seen much on TV of the events and aftermath of September 11th.  We have also seen our share of destruction (Jenin Camp, Nablus' Old City, etc.).  But the WTC was something to see.  The site itself doesn't look like much but a construction site at this point, and not knowing New York we don't notice the difference in the skyline that others do.  But to see the number of firefighters who have come from around the country and left their t-shirts, hats, etc., as a sign of solidarity and mourning was simply moving.  The crowds are still flocking to the site, but not with the still and reverence they probably once did.  It's not as fresh as it once was.  We connected with Marthame's Div. School roommate in Brooklyn and took a tour of their historic churches.  The most fascinating was the old congregational church that had been purchased by the Maronites (Lebanese Catholics) for a Cathedral.  We visited with the parish priest, asking him how they had experienced 9/11.  We expected him to respond with some reflection on the frustrations Arab Christians face in the US (the first anti-Arab casualty of the post-9/11 anger was an Egyptian - a Coptic Christian).  Instead, he commented, "We lost six members at Ground Zero."  The whole world has come to New York to stay...We connected with Marthame's cousin at Port Authority to head out to the Meadowlands for an international soccer game.  The line for the buses circled the place.  Soon, a guy pulled up with a mini-van and started offering people at the back of the line a ride to the game.  Having lived in the West Bank, random people offering rides was nothing new to us, so we jumped in.  We made it within sight of Giants' Stadium, but the traffic on the highway was so backed up that we decided to ditch our transportation and walk the rest of the way - also nothing new to us.  We arrived twenty minutes into the game between Real Madrid (with Algerian/French superstar Zidane Zidan) and FC Roma.  An unremarkable game, no one really trying all that hard since it was simply an exhibition match.  We dreaded the wait for buses back to the city, and not without reason.  Two hours later, we boarded and headed back to Port Authority.  Since the lines for food were like the lines for the buses, we had to grab something to eat (in the city that never sleeps, thankfully).  We headed down to the subway to get home to find clean-up delays underway.  The final blow was needing to move the car once we got back - alternate side of the street parking, you know!  At 3:30 am, we made it home, a reminder that the Middle East isn't the only place where things don't always go smoothly.

Friday, 8/9/02:  Coney Island - New York's equivalent of Stone Mountain, but without the troubling legacy of slavery.  We connected with Marthame's cousin and headed down to walk the boardwalk along the famed stretch of beach.  The most disturbing feature was the new "Shoot the Freak" booth where, as is self-evident, you shoot the freak.  With a paint gun.  A human being.  And we decry violence in other countries...We ate Nathan's hotdogs, rode the famed Cyclone, and Marthame's cousin wore the keffiye we gave him to see if he would get a reaction (he didn't - it's New York, after all).  We went back into Brooklyn to meet up with friends from various times in life - Junior High, Nerd Camp, Birzeit - and learned that there was a Palestinian solidarity rally just down the street.  We arrived in time to hear the testimonies of some brave young souls - members of a local racial justice organization - who had joined up with the International Solidarity Movement and had brought back stories and pictures of their encounters with tanks, gunfire, curfew, the like.  It was encouraging, though it's location (on a random rooftop in Brooklyn) indicated a distance from the main stream.  The trains weren't stopping at our destination running north, only south, so our journey was extended - New York's version of the checkpoint...

Saturday, 8/10/02:  Another day with Marthame's cousin, first in Central Park - we ended up sitting near the bandshell where the Manhattan Society of the Preservation of Barber Shop Quartets was giving a performance.  New York, it seems, is the one place where people do things really well that have no financial reward - barber shop singing, rollerblading, animal ballooning...We then enjoyed a corporate day at Yankee Stadium (capitalist membership has its privileges).  Not only did we get tickets, but binoculars, ice cream, hotdogs, beverages, and cracker jacks!  And on top of it all, the Yankees got beat 8-0.  For a native Atlantan, it was a little taste of vindication.  We learned when we got back to our host's home that the church sign advertising our talk tomorrow morning had to be replaced - someone had torn it down in protest.  Doesn't settle the nerves much.

Sunday, 8/11/02:  It turned out to be needless worrying.  Our talk at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church was well-received by a small but dedicated crowd (such are the deficits of traveling and speaking during the summer).  One of Marthame's friends from Junior High came, as did the father of another Junior High friend.  Our pastor friend had told us that we'd be impressed by the people we'd find in the congregation - their knowledge, their history, etc.   One person whom we assumed to be a friendly elderly gentleman turned out to be a former Assistant Secretary of State who specialized in Middle East affairs. His personal reflections on his time there shed a lot of light on the struggles that are still taking place.  After lunch along the Hudson, we drove up to White Plains to St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church to give another program, this time at a church pastored by a seminary classmate of Marthame's.  Following worship and a Middle Eastern dinner, we spoke about our work and ministry.  As conversation continued, we realized that there were not just Christians in the crowd, but Jews and Muslims as well.  One of the members of the congregation was growing clearly agitated as we spoke, finally crying out, "The Israelis should deal with the suicide bombers with an eye for an eye."  Several of the people in the audience, who were Jewish, spoke out saying, "Unfortunately, this woman is affected by the poor press coverage in the U.S. and doesn't know the full picture of the brutality of the Occupation."  Another person, a Muslim originally from Palestine, expressed great sadness that the Christian population of Palestine is evaporating.  Another reminder of the variety of opinions you find among people.

Monday, 8/12/02:  After a late night (and an even later morning, saying goodbye to Marthame's former fellow student and band member - audio sample - 4 sec.), we drove up to Boston, the last stop on our whirlwind tour.  We are staying with Marthame's aunt and uncle - we haven't seen them since we left for Zababdeh two years ago.  We've been used to seeing them every Thanksgiving and Memorial Day, so two years without is far too long. Marthame's cousin, who used to live in Chicago, now lives in the Dominican Republic.  She's back for the summer, too, so we get to see her!  Ah, family reunions.

Tuesday, 8/13/02:  We took off this morning for a long, toll-filled drive up to Maine.  Elizabeth's junior high principal (now rector of Christ Church-Cambridge) summers in Deer Isle.  They offered us a great chance - to visit with them, to get a beautiful spot for vacation, and to speak in a church about our work.  It's a long way, but worth it - we arrived just in time to boil the lobsters and get sloppy.  And because it's a long way, it's quiet here - a welcome thing. 

Wednesday, 8/14/02:  Our talk isn't until this evening in Bar Harbor.  It's an hour away, so we took off in the morning to spend the day at Acadia National Park not far from the village.  We hiked, saw the sites, "swam" in the ocean (freezing!), and ate a seafood dinner by the lake - crab cakes, popovers, it couldn't be more Maine!  Our talk was scheduled at St. Savior's Episcopal Church (our Presbyterian "gigs" are over), where some members have been very active with Sabeel.  There was a photo essay courtesy of Sabeel which showed some pretty graphic stuff from the last two years in the Territories.  The crowd was large, especially for an evening as warm as it was - no air-conditioning this far north.  The evening outside, it turned out, was quite cool - a good time for a walk along the piers eating lobster ice cream (actually, it's quite good) before beginning the long drive back to Deer Isle.

Thursday, 8/15/02:  After a late morning and a visit to a local sculpture artist and his creations - he supports his art habit by selling homemade jams and the like - we began the long drive back to Boston.  It turned out to be just as toll-filled as it was coming the other way.  Marthame's cousin is leaving tomorrow, so we bid farewell.  She'll be back in the States permanently about the same time we will, so we're hoping we can pick up with Thanksgiving again.

Sunday, 8/18/02:  We went to Peabody, to the north of town, to worship at the Community Covenant Church.  One of Marthame's fellow Div. School students is the pastor there.  After worship we headed over to their house to take a respite from the blistering Boston heat wave in their pool (with a slide!).  As we're looking to head out on Tuesday, it's good to get a break.  We went back to the church in the afternoon to speak to a small group who had gathered, deciding to forgo the simple pleasures of a/c.  It was our last presentation - again, we heard the question of how to stand for peace in the Middle East without offending Jewish friends and colleagues.  This has been a consistent theme in the northeast, and one with which a lot of American Christians are struggling.  No doubt it can be difficult, but at times we've found more resistance from Christians in our audiences than from Jews.  Oversimplifying doesn't get anybody anywhere.

Tuesday, 8/20/02:  We leave this morning, via Chicago (today), Amsterdam (arriving tomorrow), then Amman (day after), Jerusalem (later that same day), and finally Zababdeh (the next day) - three days of travel ahead (theme music courtesy of John Denver - 4 sec.).

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