Journal in the Holy Land
January, 2002
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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.)

1/1/02:  A night of buffet followed by a morning of buffet - nothing could be finer (except, perhaps, Cracker Barrel).  We lounged about at the Red Sea, finding it warm enough (but too late) to swim.  Off in the distance, we could see ships lining up to enter to Suez Canal.  We drove back to Cairo, the terrain reminding us of the long desert drives in Iraq.  We arrived back at the Seminary in time for the cookout - a pork cookout!  We don't get much of that, since Palestine is mostly Muslim and Israel is mostly Jewish, meaning almost nobody eats it.  Marthame played soccer and volleyball with the students for a few hours, while we both visited with many of the students and faculty that we have gotten to know over the past few days.  The amazing thing is that, even though we have learned a basic level of conversational Arabic, it is almost completely useless in Egypt - the Arabic spoken in Egypt is quite different in vocabulary and accent than that used in Palestine/Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.  For example, a typical greeting is: "Zayak?" (how are you?)  In our neck of the woods, it's "Kiif Haalak?"  Not even close.  Even so, we've really enjoyed getting to know this committed group of young folks who want to further their ministry in Egypt.  Our friend and the seminary president have been planning on heading to the States in a week and a half to do some talks at churches. However, word came today that, even though he's visited the US before, the president's visa application has been rejected, most likely because he's an Arab (perhaps specifically because he's from Egypt).  Thoroughly disappointing.  When there's trouble, let's round up the wagons...We had been looking to buy a leather jacket, since Egyptian leather is supposed to be of a superior quality (as well as being reasonably cheap).  Instead of dealing with the hassle of the markets, we had a friend of a friend make a housecall.  Marthame and Darren modeled the new look for Harley Davidson's clergy line.

1/2/02:  We got an email from one of Marthame's students that the Israeli army entered Qabatiya on New Year's Eve - we're never very far from the situation.  We connected up with a good friend to see her Care with Love program.  We visited their central training facility in downtown Cairo, where students (targeted at Egypt's many dropouts and unemployed youth) are trained to be in-home caregivers for the disabled and elderly (another growing population in Cairo).  In a few years, the Center should be self-sufficient, but right now it's taking up most of our friend's time to set it up on its own two legs. So far, they've trained an impressive number of graduates through their program.  Using dummies, they train students proper ways to feed, change, wash, give enemas, etc. We then headed out to Wadi Natroun, the Salt Valley, on the road between Cairo and Alexandria.  Our friend donated land there for a rehabilitation program for drug addicts, which is just getting started.  Its isolated location seems good for such a program, but it won't be isolated for long - bedroom communities for Cairo are expanding further and further towards Alexandria.  The Wadi itself is famous for its salt-processing, and also for its monasteries.  There are four here, all of them for the Coptic Orthodox church, and were built in a time when the Wadi really was isolated.  The Coptic Pope, Shenudah I, spends three days a week at one of the monasteries in reflection and prayer.  We visited two of them, the first dedicated to Mar Bishoy.  Bishoy was a Coptic saint who lived in the desert in a cave in the 6th century and dedicated his life to prayer, meditation, and hardship - we visited the cave where he used to tie the ends of his long hair to the ceiling so that it would pull and wake him up if he fell asleep.  Our guide was Brother Bishoy, an Egyptian who had spent time in desert monasteries in California and Australia in addition to Egypt.  He got a kick out of using his English with us - so did we.  We then went to the Monastery of the Virgin Mary, also known as al-Suriani, since it was once populated by Syrian priests (but is now owned by the Copts).  It is here that Mar Bishoy's hermitage and hair-tying location was.  The monk who was our guide spoke little English, but welcomed us warmly and prayed over us, giving us a bit of blessed oil.  There is something striking about visiting these places where the Desert Fathers used to come to meditate, especially when we can arrive there in car, snap a few pictures, and post them on the web.  We headed back to Cairo, hoping to catch the Sufi dancers, but we didn't realize showtime had changed, and we were about two hours late - that and Snow City next time.

1/3/02:  Today is our last full day in Egypt, meaning we've got to get at least one thing in: the pyramids!  We may have missed Snow City, but we won't miss the pyramids of Giza.  Giza lies on the outskirts of Cairo, a subway ride away.  We rode out with our friend and his son to see these ancient architectural wonders.  Most everywhere you go in the area, you will be approached by official and unofficial guides, as well as by men offering cheap rides on camels and donkeys, not to mention the latest postcards and ceramic figurines.  The pyramids are quite staggering, especially in their size (video - 10 sec.) and eometric precision.  What they once were has been lost, since the limestone coating that once covered them has been all but chipped away to provide for castles and mosques.  We entered one of the larger pyramids by way of its narrow staircase (video - 5 sec.), making our way to what was once a pharaonic tomb.  Calvin for his part was particularly unimpressed with what he saw - the rocks within his reach were gfar more astounding.  We did give into one of the camel rides, on a ship named "Columbus".  We seemed to enjoy that more than Calvin did, too.  Even Columbus put in his two cents (sideways video - 6 sec.).  The contrast of the ancient pyramids with modern Cairo is quite evident in the town of Giza itself, whose KFC and Pizza Hut stand not far from the park's entrance.  From there, we headed back to Coptic Cairo and the Coptic Museum there.  After spending a day in the Egypt Museum, it is difficult to spend time in another museum, lest you compare.  The Coptic Museum has focused - but not exclusively - on Christian artefacts.  Among the more interesting items were the early crosses which took the traditional Egyptian Ankh and transformed it into a Christian symbol.  There was beautiful woodwork and iconography in addition to the exquisite stonework.  From there, we headed off towards the Seminary by way of Pope Shenudah's Cathedral nearby, then off to the Nile for a traditional falucca ride.  The faluccas are ancient sail boats that have been used for thousands of years along the Nile.  Ours had a motor, just in case the wind wasn't helping, but the breeze was more than adequate.  The silhouettes cast by faluccas in the shadow of modern hotel buildings seemed to sum up Cairo quite well.

1/4/02:  Our flight from Cairo to Amman this morning left Egypt behind - there was still so much to see, but it will have to wait for another trip - Luxor, Sinai, Khan al-Khalili, and (of course) Snow City!  We arrived in Amman and headed to the computer shop to get the diagnosis: new hard-drive needed, some information loss, should be ready before we leave.  Our host then took us to admire the newly-opened mall in the neighborhood of 'Abdoun.  We counted maybe two signs in Arabic in the whole place, which had everything from Swatches to Italian shoes (Elizabeth picked up a pair).  Clearly, this is where the jet-setters of Amman come to catch up on the latest fashions.  Somehow, our jeans and hiking boots left us feeling somewhat out of place.  The news here is full of stories about a boat full of weapons trying to wend its way to Gaza - the whole story seems either to be incredibly poor-timing on the part of the Palestinian resistance or a whopper dreamed up for the American press.  Dinner was homemade pizza (or, as our hostess says, "bizza").

1/5/02:  We spent the morning at Jaresh, the Roman ruins in one of the old cities of the Decapolis, Gerase.  The Jordanian government is working to restore much of the place, and have done an incredible job.  The triumphal arch of Hadrian, the Hippodrome (seating 15,000), the central plaza and streetway (which had a sewer system running below it!), the Coliseum (seating 3,000)...Marthame had been here before in 1993, but it was Elizabeth's first time.  It'll warrant a return visit, since there's simply too much to see in one sweep - can't wait to go to Petra, too.  We then headed up north, our soundtrack a mixed tape of Christmas songs - everything from a cover of the Chipmunks' Christmas Song (audio - 4 sec.) to hymns sung by the famous Lebanese singer Fairuz (audio - 6 sec.).  Our destination was the region around 'Ajloun and the magnificent 'Ajloun Castle.  It was built as a defense against the Crusaders, and is quite the forboding structure overlooking the valley around.  Like our earlier visit to Khirbet al-Wahadni, we could look in the distance over to the West Bank (video - 16 sec.).  Our late lunch was our now familiar favorite, maqlube.  We joined our hosts for Mass at one of Amman's Latin parishes for worship.  Since the majority of society is Muslim, the work week is molded around the Muslim week.  Sunday, thus, is a work day, and so Saturday night Mass often is the major worship service of the week for the community.  We spent the evening visiting more of the Zababdeh diaspora before we picked up our (now) healthy computer.  Il-hamdulillah!  Many are predicting snow (!) tonight.

1/7/02:  Happy Orthodox Christmas.  Today was our yom tawil - long day.  We left Amman early in the morning, catching the shared taxi to the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge.  Our inexplicably long wait before entering the Israeli-side of the bridge was just the beginning of the delays.  We were pulled aside before having our bags x-rayed - clearly someone was being trained, and we looked like just the folks to train on.  They asked a lot of questions about where we stayed, who watched our bags, then more about our work - whom did we know, did we have friends or phone numbers...our computer bag was triple-searched, and Marthame's visa was scrutinized - all of which kept us from meeting our taxi.  So we caught the Palestinian bus to Jericho, where we found a taxi on its way to Jenin.  The situation on the roads is interesting, both being much worse than it was when we arrived but better than when we left for Christmas.  New checkpoints have taken on a much more permanent look in the meantime.  Fortunately, it was snowing (!), so no soldier wanted to stay out and scrutinize for too long.  We could see snow-capped hills and even at times snow on the roadside as we headed back to Zababdeh.  It was good to get back, even if the wind has knocked our telephone service out for the evening.

1/8/02:  At 6:30 this morning, we heard an announcement from the mosque's prayer tower, but weren't clear as to what it was.  When we arrived at school, we understood: a snow day!  The heavy rains (which froze in some places) meant that no students - except those in Zababdeh - were able to come.  Since we are in the middle of exams, it was considered better to delay for a day.  A short day today to constrast with yesterday.

1/9/02:  All of the students were back for the first time since last month.  It was good to see both teachers and students from Jenin and beyond.  Today was our moving day (theme music courtesy of "The Jeffersons" - 7 sec.).  We decided to take the apartment on the third floor of our building.  Our basement apartment is devoid of all sunshine and darn cold.  Our phone line should be changed, but in the meantime, we're cut off.  Tonight was another gathering of the local ex-pats for a birthday party.  While blowing out candles and playing all kinds of games, we discovered that our neighbor's phone had been changed to our number.  Ah, the simplicity of labeling...

1/10/02:  We have added the sunshine, but have also added the bristling winds.  Kind of a zero-sum difference temperature-wise.  But now we have a balcony (to enjoy on sunny days...) and a view of the beautiful hills. And now we have the right telephone number.  And soon we'll also have hot water and a working television...

1/13/02:  The situation has improved somewhat in our area - which, as always, is a qualified statement.  What that means is that things are better than they were when none of our students could come from Jenin.  Things are still worse than they were - say - six months ago, but then again, everything is relative here.  Father Hossam, the Anglican priest was able to come from Nablus this morning, a welcome change from the previous months.  We worshiped with that community.  It is definite now that he will be transferred up to Nazareth within the next few weeks, which will be a real loss for Nablus and Zababdeh.  It's still unclear who'll be coming to take his place - the wheels of church hierarchy seem to cease turning north of Ramallah and south of Nazareth.  After church, we made some overdue visitations to friends and "family" in the village, sharing some of the spoils of our trip to Egypt.  The kids of one family loved the postcards from the Egypt Museum and told us the latest Khalili (Hebronite) jokes.  We then headed up to the Arab-American University of Jenin to visit a friend and play some overdue Scrabble.  Her pet turtle helped us with some of the tile movement.

1/14/02:  Exams continue for the students today.  Grades 6-11 gather upstairs in the auditorium - it works better to have them mixed up together, so that cheating is minimized.  Today was also the first time we've been to Jenin in almost two months (unless you count the emergency trip to get the kids home through the hills).  There's no business going on, but it was good to see the streets full of people and activity again after the withdrawal of Israeli tanks - this means the surrounding villagers can once again head to the region's financial and commercial center.  We headed off to do various errands.  As Marthame passed by the Souq (market), he noticed a line of billboards printed in English and Arabic: "Better pains of peace than agonies of war."  We had seen the same signs as we headed up to Zababdeh from Jericho a week ago, clearly a concerted effort by the P.A. to build popular support for dialogue.  We've seen similar signs in Israel, but always by individuals and not the government.  In any case, it's clearly not being received well here - all of them in Jenin (unlike Jericho) have been scarred-up with graffiti.  Elizabeth, meanwhile, visited a pet store - the front room had the usual fare of birds and the like.  In the back, though, she was quite astonished to come face-to-face with a baboon. The back room is a kind of mini-zoo, with a fox, wolverines, and boa constrictors to draw in the crowds. Their conditions seemed clean enough, but still depressingly small for wild animals. From there, she and a teacher from AAUJ visited a friend in town, for a little coffee and dancing. As they left, she stopped in a store to get embroidery thread.  The man who runs the store promised to send her patterns by internet (here's one of about eight patterns he sent).  The work here is quite exquisite.  In the evening, we visited with one of the families connected with the University living in Zababdeh.  Originally from Utah, they've come here for a year to live with Dad as he works at the University.  By complete chance, they happen to know our favorite German board game, Siedler (translation: Settlers).  It's an ironically appropriate game to play here, as each team builds settlements, monopolizes and steals resources, and then tries to build the longest road and the largest army.  Sound familiar?  Marthame's team won (what does that say about them?).

1/16/02:  Two members of Care International came to stay with us today.  They were coming from their office in Jerusalem to the one in Jenin to visit projects in the area.  We got connected with them through mutual friends at the Arab-American University of Jenin.  One of them, who had been working in the Balkans, was surprised by the treatment of them as NGO staff by the Israeli military.  In the Balkans, she related, no matter where she went her NGO credentials gave her access - here (as we discovered last month) not even the Red Cross has instant access.  Somehow refreshing and yet depressing to hear that confirmation from someone fresh to the situation.  Over the last few days, Marthame has been wearing the kaffiye, the traditional Palestinian headscarf, to fight off the cold weather (it's quite effective).  Students keep asking him whether he's a Fatah (PLO) supporter.  Tonight, there was a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) demonstration in town (as evident by the red kaffiyes) because the Palestinian Authority arrested the leader of the PFLP.  Looks like a regular scarf and hat will have to suffice in the future.  Word also came that a Palestinian with Jerusalem residence was killed by gunmen near Jenin.  They thought they were killing a settler - the Israeli license plate was the target.  Now Palestinians are literally killing themselves.

1/17/02:  The English teachers were planning to head down to Nablus to see the resources at the British Council Library.  Last night, the Israeli Army reinstated closure measures on Nablus, Jenin, and other cities.  This meant cancelling the visit to Nablus, but it also probably means absent students and teachers in the coming weeks.  When we originally decided to go to Nablus, the caveat of "we'll have to see about the situation" was introduced - seemingly unnecessarily at the time.  Living here throws caveats into everything.

1/19/02:  Today was the last day of exams - the process here seems a little drawn out, with each class having one exam each day.  At the same time, this has given us the chance to slowly adjust back to life in Zababdeh, and that for that we are grateful.  Now exams are over, and on Monday it's back into the classroom.  The teachers all came over today after school to pay the official visit to our new apartment.  There were about forty of them here, including their children, which meant they were sitting on top of every piece of furniture that vaguely resembled a chair.  After showing them some pictures from the school's Christmas party, we served the requisite coffee, after which they all left.  There's something strangely appealing about "official" visits, in which bunches of people stay for a short period of time and then leave right after the coffee is emptied.

1/20/02:  Abuna Aktham has returned from his trip to Canada - there will be a big Roman Catholic youth gathering there in the summer, and he is one of the priests helping organize the event.  We are hoping to get him to come to Chicago with us afterwards if possible.  We worshiped with him at the Church of Visitation in the morning, then got a chance to visit with him at night and exchange gifts - he had some for us (maple leaf-shaped chocolates), and we had some for him (not pyramid-shaped).

1/24/02:  The last four days have all kind of blended together.  We have been visiting friends in the village, and getting to play with their kids (and really really big mushrooms), which we haven't done in a while - elsewhere, outside Zababdeh, the nonsense continues.  The Israeli army cut off Tulkarem, then assassinated four in Nablus, leading Hamas to call for "all-out war" or something like that.  Then Palestinan extremists shot and injured many people in West Jerusalem.  Every day, we return to school expecting not to see our students from Jenin and beyond because of Israeli reprisals carried out on the Jenin area.  So far, though, the long and winding road has remained open.  There are many strange things that happen in this place - this is just one of them.  One of our friends from the Arab-American University of Jenin called us from Jerusalem today to say she had arrived there safely from Zababdeh.  At the Hamra checkpoint, with which we have become all too familiar, she related the story of the Israeli soldier's harrassment of the entire taxi.  It began when he saw the address on one passenger's ID as "Tulkarem."  "That's ours now," he remarked.  He then opened the taxi driver's ID, noticing the picture of Jesus within (he's a Christian).  "Some people say we killed Jesus," said the soldier.  "I think that's a good thing."  Then, as they waited longer, he waved his gun around at the passengers.  The word that came to mind is "provocation," but our friend noted that she was the only one in the van who was visibly bothered by this.  Everyone else simply was used to it, it seems.  Which is disturbing.

1/25/02:  Another "operation," as they are called on this side of the Green Line - a bomb exploding in Tel Aviv.  We didn't hear about it until later, as we had headed down early in the morning to worship at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity in nearby Tubas.  This town of 10,000 has 55 Orthodox Christians.  From all accounts, community relations are harmonious.  Friday morning, being the Muslim day of prayer, becomes the Sabbath for this minority community.  Most of the community, as well as a couple of cars from Zababdeh, arrived this morning to worship with Abuna To'mie as well as Bishop Timotheus from the Jerusalem Patriarchate.  Like all Orthodox bishops here, Timotheus is Greek by birth and nationality, though he has lived here most of his life.  The community has done a remarkable job of keeping their life of faith going - the church building was rebuilt in the '70s and the hall was completed two years ago, and they have recently built a library as a resource for the children.  Bishop Timotheus delivered the first books, with promises of more to come.  We then returned to Zababdeh as the Bishop stopped in for coffee on his way to Burqin - we'll join him and the Greek Orthodox church there for Sunday morning worship.  The news from the States regarding this area is disturbing, as Bush scolds Arafat like a little child and threats to close PA offices in Washington are bandied about.  Especially for those of us who are here and see what is happening, witnessing the American response makes one more and more cynical.  On a happy note, Marthame's sister had dedicated a half-day of programming on Orlando's Z88.3 Christian station - we caught the sponsorship announcement over the internet (audio - 34 sec.).

1/26/02:  One of our friends has returned back from Ramallah.  He was working up until a few weeks before Christmas at one of Zababdeh's sewing sweat shops.  Because of the situation here (at times impossible to get goods in and out) and similarly cheap labor available in Jordan, the owner of the shop closed up.  Our friend, who was already struggling to make ends meet,  headed down to Ramallah a few weeks ago to find work there.  He's sharing an apartment with a bunch of other guys in the same predicament, eating bread and falafel (the Middle Eastern equivalent of mac n' cheese).  He came back because his wife gave birth to twins.  Two more mouths to feed...

1/27/02:  After an aborted attempt before Christmas, we have finally managed to get to worship at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Leper in Burqin.  We've visited there several times before, but this is the first time we have prayed there.  Some of Burqin's remnant Christian community were there, as well as a busload of folks from Zababdeh and a few cars from the Greek Consulate and Patriarchate (including Bishop Timotheus).  This is the fourth oldest church in the world - the oldest three being Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Jifna (near Ramallah).  Every year they try to have a special Sunday set aside for this church, in which the story of the Ten Lepers (Luke 17) is told. It was quite something to stand in the cave where the lepers are believed to have been when we heard the gospel lesson read.  It was a beautiful service - prayers (audio - 18 sec.) being mostly sung (audio - 9 sec.), and the Bishop serving the Orthodox communion by spoon to all the children and also to all adults who had fasted appropriately in preparation.  Abuna To'mie gave a brief homily at the end of the service, focusing on the lepers' words to Jesus, "Lord, have mercy."  "Today," Abuna said, "we are all lepers - in need of the Lord's mercy."  How true - the news echoed that, with more tales of violence and reprisals.

1/28/02:  Tonight we had the chance to visit with friends at the AAUJ.  As the American line gets tougher and tougher, we are keeping each other apprised of what's happening.  We also met with a German NGO representative who is interested in funding a summer environmental program through the university.  Not surprisingly, Elizabeth is hoping to get the Latin School and some of the students and teachers involved in such a program.

1/29/02:  We continued our periodic training sessions with the English teachers and one of the teachers from the AAUJ's school.  She has done a great job of giving us teaching ideas while doing some teaching herself.  Who knew that teachers still had so much to learn?  Our lullaby was the F-16s, flying louder and lower than they have in our time here.  Wonder who's at the other end.  Lord have mercy.

1/30/02:  We paid a visit to Zababdeh's sheikh - we had bought copies of a French documentary on Zababdeh made in the 1960s, and have been delivering them to the congregational leaders.  He told us some of the history of the mosque in Zababdeh (built in the 1950s), and was clearly very proud of the new mosque which is being built on the main road from Tubas to Jenin that runs through Zababdeh.  He took us on a tour of the grounds around the mosque, which house not only the sanctuary but also a kindergarten (where about 40 children attend every morning) and the Muslim town cemetery.  We talked about politics (surprise, surprise), but also a great deal about religion.  There's an interesting aspect of Middle Eastern relations - it is as though you have to find the one thing about which you most disagree before you can move on to a place of understanding and agreement.  We've had similar interactions in the village with Catholic and Orthodox Christians.  We discussed the incarnation and resurrection (both of which the Qur'an deny), as well as the elevated place of Mary and Jesus (both of which the Qur'an affirm).  In fact, there is far more about Mary in the Qur'an than in the Bible. Especially these days, it seems more important than ever to have these discussions to find out what people really believe, rather than relying on hearsay and rumor.  As we got up to leave, he insisted on giving us each a small gift of perfume/cologne, a field which he knows a great deal about - it turns out.