Journal in the Holy Land
December, 2001
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The sounds of Zababdeh: 
4:30 AM, Rooster (3 sec.) 
4:45 AM, Muslim prayer (40 sec.) 
6:00 AM, Church bells (40 sec.) 
6:30 AM, sheep 
7:30 AM, National Anthem (40 sec.) 
24-7, Electrical generator (5 sec.)

12/1/01:  Early this afternoon, about 30 Israeli tanks entered Jenin.  But no one at the school got word in time to get the busses home early, so they headed back as usual at 1:30.  They were refused entry to Jenin, so Abuna Aktham and the Vice-Principal headed off to see if they could get the kids home.  The buses re-approached the tanks, and as Abuna Aktham stepped down from the bus to speak with the soldiers, they fired several shots.  Meant to be warning shots, they didn't hit the bus, but they certainly did an effective job of terrorizing the children who all hit the floor and screamed (of course).  The collective wisdom was not to try and re-enter Jenin, but to bring the children back to Zababdeh and re-group.  By the time they arrived at the church (about three and a half hours after they left), dozens of families from Zababdeh and Qabatia met them to bring kids into their homes for the night.  Marthame had planned to go to Nablus tomorrow to worship at the Melkite Church (word came earlier today that the road to Nablus was open for a while), but that all went down the drain about the same time as stuff hit the fan in Jenin.  Meanwhile, we were putting the finishing touches on our latest update.  No sooner had we sent the send button that we turned on the TV to see the late-night suicide bombings in Jerusalem.  It's going to be a long, sad, frustrating week.

12/2/01:  So the plans involving heading to Nablus included worshiping at St. Matthew's in Zababdeh first and then heading down with the Anglican priest.  But we then learned that Abuna Aktham (the Latin Priest) had been working with the Red Cross to get the Jenin kids home.  They were planning to leave after the Mass, so we joined them for worship instead.  We then began the long wait of negotiations.  They had begun yesterday, but were still hoping to get the school kids - as well as students from the the Arab-American University - home in one convoy, led by the Red Cross.  The man doing this work had arrived here from Ireland six months ago.  We waited, and waited, and waited.  He continued to make phone calls to push the process along (audio - 5 sec.), even dropping the University students from the negotiations (since it was possible that the fact that there were young men among them might give the Israeli Army pause).  In the midst of all this, another suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus in Haifa.  Not only was that very depressing to hear, we also knew that it wasn't going to make our situation any better.  Some of the Muslim kids broke the Ramadan fast today - there's a provision for doing so in extenuating circumstances, and this certainly falls into that category.  But as it got closer to sundown, the kids were anxious - particularly the preschoolers, who hadn't seen their parents in a day and a half.  There was no way we were going to get approval.  Meanwhile, people were on the phone to find out the situation in and around Jenin.  If the bus could get to the edge of Jenin, the kids could meet taxis and the taxis could drive into town - tanks were on the roads, but taxi traffic (not bus traffic) was being allowed through.  Since we didn't have official IDF approval, the Red Cross representative advised against it - he feared for the safety of the kids in case an Israeli military action was being planned.  But since risk is part of everyday life here, the administration decided getting the kids home was the best idea.  And so, as the sun approached the horizon, we set off with one school bus, forty kids, one secretary, two Americans, a Catholic priest, and a Vice-Principal.  We arrived to the outskirts of Jenin and headed up into the hills to wait for the taxis who would meet us there.  It was a long fifteen minutes.  We could hear some gunfire nearby, as well as the tell-tale grind of a tank heading towards Jenin from the South.  Soon after, we heard a loud noise of an approaching vehicle from the bottom of the hill.  Expecting an army vehicle, we were relieved to see a vegetable truck.  The taxis arrived (after they went to two or three other erroneous hillcrests to meet us), and the older kids piled in.  The younger kids, remembering yesterday's trauma, were scared to leave the bus.  Elizabeth carried one small boy, who couldn't negotiate the last step off the bus by himself. He was crying as Elizabeth brought him to a taxi. And then, they took off through the hills (a la "Sound of Music" without the catchy tunes - 5 sec.).  We headed back to Zababdeh, hoping that we wouldn't meet the tank we heard along our path (we didn't).  We went home by way of the center of town, where the birds in the trees welcomed us home (audio - 5 sec.).

12/3/01:  Marthame is subbing for one of the English teachers (4-6 grades) who lives on the other side of Jenin.  This whole year, her presence has been unpredictable, and Marthame has done this before.  But given the news that all Israeli-controlled roads in the West Bank are off-limits to Palestinian traffic, it seems like we need to plan for a longer haul than before.  Tonight, the Israeli Air Force destroyed Arafat's helipad and helicopters (his new theme song courtesy of Shellac - 4 sec.), and there was some fighting in Jenin, too.  We hope our teachers and students are OK.  It's going to be a long week.

12/4/01:  We got together with friends from the Arab-American University of Jenin tonight. It was a chance to bid farewell to two of our ex-pat number who are leaving (if there's a road out) in the next few days and heading back home to Germany.  It was also a chance to celebrate before all the internationals take off next week for the holiday break.  It's going to be awfully lonely around here while they're gone!  Marthame and one of the professors brought out their guitars, and we sang into the night.  These are some of the moments that keep us sane here.  They also discussed their parting plans, since travel these days is a lot more complicated than previously.  As such, they're going to leave together en masse  to get to their various holiday destinations.  They'll use the Germans' departure in a few days as a test run.  All very sobering realities.  One of the families brought us back to the festivities with some Christmas music (audio - 5 sec.).

12/5/01:  Very tired.  No sign that the situation is improving.  There are no spare gas canisters (for cooking and heat) in town (fortunately we've got two) since the roads are all shut.  Yesterday a school in Tulkarem was shot up, with two students killed and sixty injured.  Zababdeh may shift its public schools because of this, moving the boys' school (next to an Israeli military training camp) into the girls' school, but in the evenings.  It's going to be a long month.

12/6/01:  Being trapped has its advantages.  Usually, the University folks split for their weekend (Thursday and Friday), but since they can't get in and out easily, we roped them in to hanging out.  We walked around Zababdeh a while, doing some shopping as we did so.  It was interesting, because people in Zababdeh are generally aware that there are now foreigners living here and nearby, but rarely are we seen in big groups.  We drew a lot of attention, and it was clear that people were very, very grateful to see us all.  Our students at the school got a kick out of trying to practice their English on the ajaanib (foreigners).  We then went back up to the University to do some singing and had dinner at the new nameless cafe there.  While dining on shawerma and kharouf, and a dessert of fresh fruit and argile, we got a text message from the Germans - not only did they make it into Israeli-controlled West Bank, they also made it across the Green Line (the 1967 Armistice Line), and even through customs and onto the boat out of Haifa.  It can be done...

12/7/01:  It's Friday, which means it's our weknd (that's half a weekend).  There was a lot of lounging around, as well as getting caught up on neglected home-based tasks.  Late in the afternoon, a few students and teachers from the University came by to visit, listen to music, and eat. We also played a little bit of "Name That Tune".  There were a couple (1 sec.) of good stumpers (4 sec.) in there. We also found out that our most recent update has been published in Italian in Bergamo, Italy.  Cool.

12/9/01:  Today we worshiped at St. George's Orthodox Church.  Marthame visited Abuna To'mie last night, and he invited him to join him at 8:00 - a full hour before worship started - as he prepared the "sacrifice".  There is a great deal of liturgy that takes place before the communal service begins.  Marthame sat behind the iconostasis in the tabernacle for both the Sacrifice and the Mass.  As the priest puts on each item of liturgical clothing, a special prayer is said.  Large, round pieces of bread are baked for the eucharist.  The priest takes one piece, cutting out the center (representing Christ) and piercing it with the knife, cutting another piece from an inner circle (representing the patriarchs), another piece (representing the angels), and then finally crumbs from outer pieces (representing us and our prayers).  All of these are placed on a plate together, then eventually mixed in with wine and spoon-fed to the congregation as communion.  As the liturgy moves from the Sacrifice to the communal worship, there is a swelling of the bells, the incense, and the prayers (audio - 20 sec.).  There is something very mystical and moving about it all.  The liturgy is so rich and detailed that one Sunday isn't nearly enough to get one's mind around it all.  But there was something very powerful about having our intercessions mixed with those representing others in the parish, then combined with body and blood to be shared and internalized by all - very welcoming, affirming, embracing.  We then paid visits to a few folks, including a family that owns a couple of peacocks as pets.  Their house is full of the feathers on display.  Quite a contrast all with what is happening around here - several killed in Jenin, another bomb in Haifa, promises of a harsher clamp-down.  It's going to be a long year.

12/10/01:  One of the up sides of having Jenin closed is that we can avail ourselves of the teachers at the school of the Arab-American University (they've been closed during the recent siege).  One of their teachers has extensive experience as an international EFL (English and a Foreign Language) trainer, and came to our school to talk with our English department.  Unfortunately, we don't have much time these days, due to the fact that two of our teachers are absent (they're way on the other side of Jenin and unable to come), so we met during one of the breaks.  We're hoping that we will get the chance more often in the future, but it would be preferable to have it under more peaceful circumstances.

12/11/01:  Marthame's 12th grade students are getting some practice with the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam - Birzeit University conducts much of its curriculum in English, and the Arab-American University requires a passing TOEFL grade.  Unfortunately, unlike closer to Ramallah, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem, the students here get little practice with English outside of the classroom, so at least getting them exposure to test-taking is good.  The church bell rang as classes were dismissed today, marking the death of someone in the parish.  The grim faces on the teachers in the hallways didn't spell good news.  In fact, it was the death of Radwan, also known as Abu Anis, father of six.  Three of his children are students at the school (quite outstanding ones), one is studying at Al-Najah University in Nablus, one at the Latin Seminary in Beit Jala, and one is still in her baby stroller.  Radwan, who had suffered from a heart condition, died at work in his fields.  He was just 47 years old.  The two of us have grown quite found of his children who are our students, and so our hearts - like those of most of the village today - are broken. Allah yerhamo ("God have mercy on him").

12/12/01:  Today was Abu Anis' funeral.  The entire village turns out for services, and today was no exception.  The service was during school hours, so Marthame could not attend. But Elizabeth did, as her eleventh graders attended the service to support their classmate. The church was packed with red-eyed sad people. Abuna Aktham and a priest from the Latin Seminary led the service, full of mournful music and consoling words. At the end, the men left the church, carrying the body to the graveyard for the burial. The women stayed, crying and occasionally wailing. One of his daughters fainted and was carried out by an uncle. After the service, Marthame had religion class with the eleventh grade.  Needless to say, class was cancelled, but Marthame took the opportunity to talk to the students and pray together with them.

12/13/01:  Today was the last day of school before the 'Eid al-Fitir break that marks the end of Ramadan.  We'll have five days off in a row, but it's unlikely that we'll be going anywhere - the situation on the ground here is deteriorating more and more rapidly as Israel has now all but confined Arafat to house arrest and continued its destruction of all vestiges of his authority "in response to" yesterday's murder of Israeli settlers on the West Bank.  Meanwhile, the political dance continues.  We also visited our student's grieving family today with all of the teachers.  The practice is for women to visit in one place and men in another.  Such visits usually go in one of two ways - utter silence, or talk of the political situation.  Like the States, people here prefer to change the subject rather than talk about the pain.  Today did bring good news, as Elizabeth successfully defended her Master's Thesis!  This online defense was a first for Northeastern Illinois University's Geography and Environmental Studies' Program.  When we left Chicago, Elizabeth had finished all of the requirements for the degree except the thesis, and was able to complete it here and on our short stay in Chicago last summer.  It's been a long time coming (theme music care of the Traveling Wilbury's and Metallica - 15 sec.).

12/14/01:  Today was the first day of our holiday.  It was also a day that Pope John Paul II had called for as a day of fasting and prayer for peace.  The season of Advent, like Lent, had historically been one fasting and preparation, but had lost that sense over the years.  Today, with the world descending into further and further chaos, and with the convergence of Ramadan, Advent, and Hannukah, it seemed only fitting to join in the fast as part of our Advent practices this year.  We have also been watching the film biography of Ghandi, a compelling telling of his life.  His fasts were very effective, particularly because they were accompanied by a sense of their faithful importance as real symbols of his complicity in the violence in India.  How fitting for us today.

12/15/01:  Abuna Aktham had three masses today.  The first was for Abu Anis, marking three days since the death - symbolically, this recalls Christ's three days in the tomb as well as his visit to Lazarus' tomb after his death.  Some of the international volunteers who preceded us here (and who lived with Abu Anis and his family) made the trip up from Jerusalem for the service.  Abu Anis' family has, over the years, been the host for many of the volunteers, both American and French.  We've been in touch with many of them to let them know, and most have responded with deep words of sympathy and real fondness for the family.   The second mass was for Abu Riyad, an older man in the parish who died yesterday.  He was buried today in the village's Christian cemetery. One welcome change this year is that the generator (which is next to the cemetery) is turned off for the duration of the internment. Only the men accompany the body to its final resting place.  The third mass was the daily Advent Mass, but we were up in the hills when we heard the church bells.  We needed to get away for our own sanity, both to get some breathing space from the recent deaths in the village and from the international nonsense that our own nation has helped create, once again vetoing a UN resolution that might bring some help here.  The utter shame.  There is something relaxing about being out in the mountains, though the symbolism of finding a dying olive tree wasn't lost on us.  As we came home, we could hear the mosque's muezzin signaling the end of fasting (audio - 11 sec.) - the last day of fasting in Ramadan.  Tomorrow shall be a feast.

12/16/01:  Once again, we couldn't attend the Anglican church.  Father Hossam was stuck in Nablus, unable to cross.  Finding this out was tricky business, too - our phones are unable to call anyone outside of Zababdeh, and the cellphone service in our building is horrendous.  This also means frustration for a lot of our on-line work for the time being.  This morning Elizabeth stayed in bed with a sore throat, and Marthame attended the Latin Church, this the third Sunday in Advent.  We have no school until Wednesday, so we're taking advantage of that to pay many, many visits - not only to our Muslim friends (who are celebrating the 'Eid) but also to our Christian friends whom we never have time to visit.  Our friend, who recently had a baby, offered us a traditional beverage called qurfe, made of walnuts, cinnamon, and sugar.  It tastes great, and is warming in the wintertime; also, she tells us, it's good for post-natal mamas.  We also heard several stories of woe, as the siege tightens around Zababdeh.  The Israeli army has entered Tubas, Tayasir, and Tamoun (to the south),  which means we cannot go East, West, North, or South.  Tomorrow we were planning to go with Abuna Aktham to run various errands in Nazareth and Jerusalem, but it looks like we won't be going far.  We also got word that a close friend suffered a heart attack and had to be taken to the hospital in Jenin.  It took several hours to get an ambulance to his house, then several hours to get to Jenin - 6 hours all told from the time he first fell ill for what is normally a fifteen minute drive.  Jenin isn't exactly the center for heart specialists, so we hope he will be OK.  The siege is making life unbearable for many - all for the benefit of an Apartheid regime.  We are fortunate to have the outside support that we do.

12/17/01:  Today we continued making 'Eid visits, heading out into the hills to share in fellowship with our shepherd friend. Not long ago, he and his family were evicted from their summer camping lands. They departed for their usual winter area on the other side of the mountain in the valley.  We caught up with him in the hills - we could hear his familiar call to his sheep ("The sheep know the shepherd's voice" - video - 5sec.).  There are four families there, meaning several dozen people living somewhat-communally.  One family used to live in Jenin and run a shop. The shop went out of business in this Intifada so they sold everything, bought some sheep, and headed for the hills. During the winter, it does get cold, but living in the valley means being somewhat out of the elements - at least, the wind (which can be the worst of it all).  We shared in a meal from a common plate, eating fresh-baked bread and cooked eggplant, all topped off with several rounds of tea.  He also showed us some of his treasures which he has found in the hills and fields - we're certainly no experts, but the stuff is old.  A pipe and coins from several eras are part of his collection.    We also got to play with the children and the new (still wet!) baby goats - Mabrouk (congratulations).  The whole time we were there, we could hear the sound of various weapons swirling around the area - tanks, airplanes, etc.  But life was calm in the hills.  We returned back to the village to find that there were still no telephones, so we continued using the cellphone.  Even that was unreliable, because the system was so overloaded, so we communicated with most of our friends by sending cellphone text-messages.  Perhaps we will have to resort to this for our email updates.

12/18/01:  Today is much the same as yesterday - no telephone, no internet; we feel so cut-off from the world.  We're getting ready to go back to school tomorrow, but also getting ready to visit more.  Tonight, we had a radio interview (imperfect audio - 15 min.) scheduled with the Catholic Views radio show sponsored by the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which has a sister-church relationship with Zababdeh's Church of Visitation.  We were fearful that we'd have to do it with the cellphone up on the roof (to get good enough reception), but sitting in our friend's apartment sufficed.  It should be broadcast this Sunday.

12/19/01:  This afternoon, Marthame attended daily prayers at St. George's Orthodox Church with Abuna To'mie.  At first, it was just the two of them.  About 10 minutes later, another member of the congregation arrived, then another ten minutes later.  They sang and led the liturgy together for the next hour.  There is something powerful about the idea that prayer and liturgy are important enough to do every day.  Even if it is the same, or approximately the same, there is a great deal of power in its habitual practice and expectation that God is listening.  We had a particularly important reason for intercession today - a friend of Marthame's from the States is in the hospital after he was paralyzed by a hitchhiker who shot him.  We're not the only ones at risk these days...Marthame then headed off with the Christian men of the village to greet the sheikh of Zababdeh in recognition of 'Eid al-Fitir.  Both Abuna Aktham and Abuna To'mie were there, as were many representing their two churches and the various Christian families of the village.  A vigorous discussion ensued about such important matters as the origin of various town names and the way that "kids today" act, after which the sheikh taught us a little of his knowledge of essences, perfumes, and oils - something he has more than dabbled in for some time.  He presented both priests as well as the mayor with some samples (we still have ours from our visit for 'Eid al-Adha in March).  Meanwhile, Elizabeth was attending evening Mass at St. Matthew's Anglican Church.  Given that it was pre-Christmas, mid-week, a small congregation, and a rainy night, it was not surprising that there was only a handful of people there.  Somehow, Father Hossam managed to get from Nablus to Zababdeh yesterday.  He's headed back in a few days - we just hope he'll be able to return here in time for Christmas day services.

12/21/01:  Today was supposed to be a day of rest - however, trying to get everything ready for the Christmas break means we did very little resting. Instead, we were planning, grading, etc. (we haven't even begun to pack for our anticipated travel to Cairo - if we can get out!).  We gave another TOEFL exam to the high school seniors - we didn't have another tape for the listening section, so we "performed" it live.  While the students were finishing the other parts of the exam, Elizabeth headed down to the parish hall for the weekly children's "Sunday School."  The children meet every Friday with Abuna Aktham and Sister Aimee for some fellowship and Bible study. Abuna Aktham told the story of Christmas, complete with sound effects and animation. As Abuna Aktham was doing his talk with the children (video - 21 sec.), his cellphone rang - Baba and Mama Noel  were on their way to the hall in Zababdeh to distribute gifts to the children! There was dancing (video - 5 sec.), singing, and over a hundred adorable kids.  There was some political editing of the gifts, though - since they had come from Haifa, the gift packages had some Hannukhah Gelt in them, with a menorah on one side and a Star of David on the other. Since these images have been adopted by the Israeli nation, it was deemed necessary to remove them from the packages lest there be any confusion among parents and older siblings as to why the church was supporting the Zionist cause - a sad fact of these days, but a self-preserving one of necessity. One of our friends from the Arab-American University came back early, so we got a chance to visit with her and watch a movie.  It is getting really cold here, so it's good to sit in a heated place and melt our brains with a little Hollywood nonsense.  We also finished up the English Club newspaper for the school.  Students wrote about Ramadan and Christmas, provided a report on student opinions in the current unrest, and created a couple of fun items for people to play with.  One of the 9th grade students has designed a webpage for the club, too.  It's a small issue, but we're hoping it'll grow in the coming years.

12/22/01:  Today was the last day of school. Roswell Presbyterian Church, one of our supporting congregations, sponsored a Christmas party for the children.  They did the same last year, which was an absolute treat for the younger kids.  This year, we started with a party for the small children. Like yesterday's party, there was singing and dancing, but also jumping (?) (video - 13 sec.). They got different gifts than yesterday, and this time without the political machinations. This year, unlike last year, we were able to give gifts to all of the students into the school - Roswell increased their gift this year, and the school added some money.  Elizabeth, Abuna Aktham, Baba and Mama Noel (truth be told that they were both Mama Noels) went around from class to class distributing the presents. Abuna made a point of telling the children that the presents came from one of our churches in America to share a happy Christmas with them. In the classrooms, as we have come to expect, there was also singing and dancing, and the kids learning "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" in English (video - 19 sec.). The day was a blast for the kids, for Abuna Aktham, and for Elizabeth who got to share in the joy that all this brought. Especially in these frustrating days, and for kids whose parents have no work or income, this was definitely a high point for the season. The kids shared their thank you's (video - 5 sec.) with "Miss Elizabeth". Elizabeth also put up a display of her 7th grade students' projects in which they wrote about their  families - along with accompanying photographs. In the afternoon, there was a luncheon for all of the teachers together.  Even moreso than last year, this year the teachers deserved kudos for their ability to persevere in the midst of adversity.  Meanwhile, Marthame was in Abuna Aktham's car driving down to Bethlehem.  Getting out was not tricky - at the checkpoint at Tayasir (now blocked by a gate), the soldiers were mostly just confused as to how Marthame had managed to get into Zababdeh in the first place, particularly with an  Israeli yellow-plated car.  A quick stop in Nazareth proved interesting, as the people Marthame met - Palestinian Christians - know the Palestinian Christians that we know in Lubbock, Texas!  Small world.  Marthame arrived at the Tantur checkpoint to enter Bethlehem, but found it completely closed.  He was picking up several boxes of bibles for Abuna To'mie, the Greek Orthodox priest in Zababdeh, from Bethlehem Bible College - instead, they brought the bibles to Marthame.  He also met up with Father Peter, an American Jesuit priest who has been here for twenty-seven years.  He was on his way up to Zababdeh for the Christmas celebrations.  The two rode up together in Abuna Aktham's car, meeting new checkpoints and Israeli bunkers all up and down the Jordan Valley road.  They weren't stopped until they reached Tayasir again and were told they couldn't pass - "too dangerous."  The fact that they had just driven on settler roads (which are more dangerous) and had come from Zababdeh that morning didn't seem to make any difference in the conversation.  Two hours later, as we climbed the military ranks in our conversation, and as Abuna Aktham came down in another car to argue and make phone calls, we were permitted to pass.  The soldiers were surprisingly patient with us but still couldn't understand why in the world we would want to go up to Zababdeh.  We arrived in time for a quick late lunch and an evening Advent Mass.

12/23/01:  Our visit to Burqin was in question up until the last minute.  Every year, the last Sunday before Western Christmas, the Orthodox community goes to Burqin and the Church of the Ten Lepers to celebrate and worship with the remnant community there.  Unfortunately, it was deemed too risky to go this year, as we discovered late last night.  Perhaps next year...? In the meantime, Marthame managed to infect the laptop with a particularly nasty virus, one which arrives when the computer is dropped on the marble floor. A few bumps and bruises, and no data. Eeep. Hope we can at retrieve our holiday host's phone number...

12/24/01:  A long day spent waiting for the results of the computer's self-diagnosis - it's at least hobbling along, but it's been a bit of wear and tear on us emotionally. We rely on the computer so much for our work, that we've taken to calling it "the baby" - such is our demented affection for this machine. Christmas Eve really began when we could hear the carols playing from the Latin Church's Bell Tower speaker (audio - 12 sec.).  As we looked out the window and saw the lit-up hay of the farm next-door, there was something that tugged at us to remind us that the Palestinian Christian village culture holds a strong connection with the time of Christ. We worshiped at the Latin Church (audio - 11 sec.) with Abuna Aktham. It was a special service (of course), a high Mass of music (audio - 15 sec.) and readings.  Here, there is a tradition of a sort of symbolic "pageant" as part of the service - several children dress as angels, while two of the high schoolers dress as Mary and Joseph in traditional Palestinian clothing. One of the villagers brings a live lamb into the church - no doubt from among his herd - who then spends the rest of the service lying in the manger scene (video - 10 sec.). Father Peter, who had come up from Bethlehem, delivered the homily (in Arabic!). While last year we felt it was important to spend Christmas in Bethlehem, this year it seemed much more important to stay here with the villagers who have made us feel so much a part of their life.  Greeting everyone with Merry Christmas was a wonderful gift to us. Elizabeth said goodbye to Advent with a good dose of sorely-missed chocolate by the Christmas tree.

12/25/01:  Christmas morning also means worship.  We shared in fellowship and communion with the Anglican church, the smallest of Zababdeh's Christian communities - but faithful and committed.  As we sang Christmas hymns together, there were some with familiar tunes, even if the words were new (and in a different language).  After worship, we wished everyone Merry Christmas and began the long and winding road towards Cairo, our Christmas break destination!  Because of the blockades now, we were able to stay on paved roads for only ten minutes or so before we turned off into a non-descript field.  For the next hour, we turned and traveled on passages meant for tractors to access olive trees in out-of-the-way places (video - 5 sec.).  Fortunately, we haven't had rain for a few days, so the roads were passable - even for the eighteen-wheelers forced to contend with them.  We arrived at the border village of Jalame. Even though it's within the West Bank, Israeli traffic is allowed to go there for purpose of trade.  There's a large parking lot where trucks exchange goods - even in wartime, commerce continues. We arrived at the border an hour and a half after we left Zababdeh - a new long-distance time record (it should take 15-20 minutes).  On the way, we heard on the news that there Israelis and Jordanians were exchanging gunfire nearby.  We called to see if the bridge was open - it was.  From there, we sped to the Sheikh Hussein Bridge at Beisan/Beit Shean and crossed into Jordan. We could hear the hollow echo of heavy artillery.  A taxi took us up, up, up into the hills to the village of Khirbet al-Wahadni, which is half Christian and half Muslim.  We have a friend living there who used to teach at the school in Zababdeh.  It was a treat to get to visit with him, eat traditional Jordanian Mansaaf, and to look around the village a bit.  The view from the village is striking, and on a clear day, our friend says he can see over into our neck of the woods - not into Zababdeh itself, but into villages around it!  We then headed down to Zarqa, Jordan's second city, to visit with other Zababdeh friends (the Palestinian diaspora at least means you always have a place to stay!).  Other Zababdehian/Jordians came to wish Merry Christmas, and our heads spun as they told us who their sisters and cousins and children in Zababdeh were - what Zababdeh needs is a good, web-based family tree!  The family with whom we stayed had lost their 23-year-old son this year to cancer, and so the usual holiday visits were accompanied by sadness and condolences.

12/26/01:  The visits continued today, as they will for quite some time now - traditionally, at holiday times, families spend a lot of time visiting relatives.  Since everyone is somebody's cousin, that takes a while!  We then headed down to Amman to see more people from (surprise) Zababdeh, and to drop our computer off at a local computer shop, praying for its healing!  Then it was off to the airport and our flight to Egypt.  Seems appropriate somehow to leave the troubled land of Palestine/Israel after Christmas with a little jaunt to Egypt, as Mary and Joseph saw fit to do.  We are going to spend our time in Cairo with friends that we met in Iraq.  The two of them are Presbyterian pastors teaching at the Coptic Evangelical Seminary in Cairo.  We arrived late at night but ended up talking well into the wee hours anyway - it's nice to be in a peaceful place sharing with folks from a similar language, culture, and faith background.  We don't get that combination often in Zababdeh.

12/27/01:  We are trying to combine relaxation and sight-seeing in this trip.  When you are somewhere as spectacularly old and storied as Egypt, the latter is easy - the former nears impossibility.  Even so, today we took it slow.  Our resting place for the time we are here is Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo.  Christians in Egypt tend to refer to themselves as Copts, not Arabs (whereas in Palestine, Jordan, and Syria, Christians are quite clear that they are Arabs).  The word Copt comes from the ancient Egyptian word for Egypt, whereas the Arabic word is masir.  We were told that Christians here see themselves as descendants of the ancient cultures of Egypt, whereas Muslim Egyptians identify themselves more closely with their Arab heritage. The evangelical church is the result of the work of Presbyterian missionaries here in the 19th century, and in many ways parallels what happened during the Reformation in Europe - a response to corruption and  ignorance in a priesthood which often served not so much the gospel as their own ends (we heard many stories of how and why families changed from the Coptic Orthodox church to the Presbyterian).  As a result, the seminary was established in 1863.  Rules at the time governing church property meant that the church couldn't build, and so the seminary floated up and down the Nile River for a while.  The Presbyterian missionaries clung tight to a vision of mission which combined fidelity to the gospel and respect for cultural and national integrity.  And so, within fifty years, the Coptic Evangelical church had been turned over into the hands of local leadership and has been thriving since.  We headed off to the American University of Cairo to visit the bookshop and to take a peek around the campus.  It's quite the calm in the midst of Cairo's downtown chaos: three lanes usually means six cars across, as well as ten or twenty jockeying for position.  Otherwise, a relaxing day of visiting and playing games with our friends and their one and a half year-old son Calvin (Presbyterians or what?).

12/28/01:  Today we did one thing: the Egypt Museum.  If you've seen the British Museum, you've got some idea what's in the Egypt Museum - or perhaps what should be in the Egypt Museum. There were not as many helpful labels, but fortunately we had a great guide book which we used to explore the highlights.  Even so, we ended up spending about six to eight hours there.  The first thing you notice about the place is that it is surrounded by police.  As are many places in Egypt.  Given the attack on tourists in Luxor and other places in the past several years (as well as the fact that the city of Cairo alone has 100,000 police), you are never far from finding someone in uniform.  Once inside, though, the place is vast.  Rooms full of sarcophagi, bas relief, statues, miniatures, animal mummies, people mummies, you name it.  Statues carved in stone almost 5000 years ago are remarkably accurate physiologically, if idealized.  Details like toenails are included, and ornithologists can conclusively identify the species of the birds in ancient murals.  Feeling excited and a little overwhelmed, we paused for soup and a mixed grill lunch before diving back into it again.  The afternoon was spent with King Tutankhamen's stuff (theme music courtesy of Steve Martin - 4 sec.) - a 19 year-old king of little consequence, except that his grave and all its trappings were found mostly intact.  His famous burial mask stands as the centerpiece (video - 8 sec.), but there was much more to be seen - alabaster jars that contained his viscera, throne chairs, gold pendants as big as your head, curved sticks that bear a resemblance to boomerangs (!).  Imagine what important kings' graves must've been like.  We wandered outside, dazed from the sheer immensity of the gold gathered there, and admired the setting sun over the Nile River.

12/29/01:  Today was spent with our friends, but that didn't mean that we didn't get our share of sight-seeing in.  Our fist stop in the morning was the October 6, 1973, War Panorama.  The 1973 war meant the Egyptian re-capture of the Sinai Peninsula from the Israelis.  The battle was depicted in three sections.  The first a miniature set, the second like the first, only it glowed in the dark (?), and the third a 360 degree rotating "Panorama," showing all the glory and blood of war.  It reminded Marthame of the Civil War Cyclorama in Atlanta's Grant Park.  Stunning when we idealize and idolize war like this.  Outside, the plaza was decorated with tanks, airplanes, etc.  It made us homesick to see war machines in a residential area.  We then stopped by to see the truly strange experience of Snow City - an indoor artificial playground for skiing, snowboarding, and igloo-exploring.  Very surreal in the relative heat of Cairo's winter.  That'll require a re-visit.  In the afternoon, we went up to the Citadel, an old Mamluk structure built on a hill overlooking Cairo's vast 17 million people (video - 15 sec.). The pyramids of Giza were just barely visible in the distance through the thick smog.  Just below the Citadel is the "City of the Dead," originally a graveyard that people began to move into as a solution to Cairo's overcrowding and the countryside's poverty.  It has been slowly receiving some recognition from the government as worthy of assistance, but brings Cairo into close similarlity with any number of cities where poor farmers come to escape the countryside and end up living in squalid squatter conditions.  The Citadel itself, apart from it spectacular view, contains the Mosque of Mohammed Ali (no, not him).  He is famous for inviting a large crowd of Mamluks to a banquet at the Citadel, only to slaughter them all as they were leaving.  His grave is within the mosque, and is decorated with the six-pointed Star of David - clearly this was designed in the days when the Star (or the Crescent, for that matter) wasn't such a politically-loaded symbol.  We returned back to the Seminary for a holiday gathering with many of the seminarians.  They are in the midst of exams - in Egypt, Christmas is on the Eastern calendar and doesn't come until January 7 - so they welcomed the break with snack food and a little bit of hymn-singing with 'oud accompaniment (audio - 9 sec.).  We then headed off to Cairo's holiday treat, the double show at the Cairo Opera House.  First act was a performance of parts of Tschaikovsky's The Nutcracker Sweet by the Cairo ballet, the rough equivalent of Italian basketball or Texas hockey (most of the leads had oddly Russian-sounding names).  The second act was a performance of Layle Kbiire (Big Night), a fast-paced collection of song and dance set in a small Egyptian town around a religiously-neutral holiday.  Strong men, belly dancers, and whirling darwishes were all part of the show. The Opera House was packed, and the experience was truly was exhilirating and magical.  The two pieces couldn't be more different, but together they were a good representation of how Cairo sees itself - a mixture of East and West. 

12/30/01:  We spent most of the day in Coptic Cairo.  Centered around Mar Girgis church (St. George's), this is Cairo's Old City and is where many of its historical churches are.  We worshiped at the Hanging Church (so-called because of its architecture, not its view on the death penalty).  The Orthodox service was about two hours long, and included a prayer specifically meant for the Coptic Church which had many references to the meaning of Egypt throughout Scripture - a place of slavery, yes, but also a frequent place of refuge (for Jesus, Abraham, etc.).  One of the altar boys asked Elizabeth if she spoke English or Arabic.  When she replied "English", the priest immediately began using English and Arabic together in the eucharist liturgy - quite a sign of hospitality.  There was no instrumentation, apart from a single pair of cymbals (audio - 8 sec.).  Most people took their shoes off for the duration of the service and certainly for communion (a reference to Moses in the presence of the burning bush?), and we passed the peace to one another by sliding our hands together and then bringing them to our own mouths to kiss them.  Beautiful.  We then moved on to many of the other churches in the area, including one which is built on the site of a cave where the Holy Family is believed to have taken refuge after Jesus' birth.  Unfortunately, the cave was closed (due to flooding) and the church didn't allow pictures.  Since we saw our visit very much in tangent with the Flight to Egypt, this was disappointing.  We headed on to St. Barbara's Church, built in honor of an early Egyptian martyr whose father - a pagan - had her killed for becoming a Christian.  There, we arrived just after a baptism had taken place.  As someone sang prayers and clanged cymbals (audio - 9 sec.), the parents invited us to take pictures with newly-baptized Daoud (David).  That beat any pseudo-historical cave by a long shot.  Our last stop was the old Cairo Synagogue, once converted to a church and now a restored Jewish house of worship. Once home to a thriving Jewish community, Cairo now only has a few hundred, mostly older Jewish residents. We were told that some Jews left Cairo (and Egypt itself) when Israel was established, but the majority left when anti-Jewish sentiment and violence grew after 1967 when Israel and Egypt fought and Israel took the Sinai. The synagogue is built on another Holy Family resting point, as well as the place where Moses was pulled out of the Nile by Pharaoh's daughter.  Its impeccable decorations and lack of a worshiping congregation contrasted strongly on both points with the churches in the area.  We then joined up with a friend Marthame had met on his first trip to the Friends' School in Ramallah in 1993.  She is working for the Presbyterian Church with her organization Care with Love, which trains young adults (largely unemployed dropouts) to provide in-home care for the elderly and disabled. She took a few hours off from her hectic schedule to give us the royal treatment.  She took us to downtown Cairo to a friend's high-rise apartment for an afternoon of delicious food, intelligent conversation, and a look at the new Euro!  After another spectacular sunset over the Nile, it was back to the Seminary to meet up with our friends and head off to Cairo's Kolali Presbyterian church.  Quite a contrast with the Coptic service (audio - 6 sec.).  The congregation was an interesting mixture of Egyptians and ex-pats, most connected with the Seminary.  There was a couple there from Paoli (PA) Presbyterian Church who are building their sister-church relationship with Kolali.

12/31/01:  We packed up the car and started driving East - back towards where we had come.  Unlike Moses, though, we stopped at the Red Sea instead of trying to part it (Marthame did try to walk on water - in the pool, on the barstools).  Our soundtrack for the road was a good slice of Americana, especially Springsteen's version of "Trapped" (audio - 7 sec.), somehow appropriate for folks living on the West Bank.  This was our overnight treat, at a little resort along the Red Sea.  And although it was too cold to swim, we did manage to spoil ourselves with a little American football on the beach, tennis on the courts, a sauna, steamroom and jacuzzi, and a massage.  Since it was New Year's Eve, the usual dinner was postponed until later in the evening for a spectacular banquet with all kinds of meats and cheeses and delicacies and desserts.  We were promised a "Russian show" with belly-dancing early in the new year, but it never materialized - instead, a bunch of international tourists were bumping and grinding the latest Amr Diab single (audio - 4 sec.).  Or maybe we're just getting old... Even so, it was a great way to ring in 2002. Happy New Year!