Journal in the Land of the Holy One
June, 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.)

Sunday, 6/1/03:  This morning we worshiped at the Melkite church, and enjoyed the especially familial "coffee hour"' afterwards, in the still-being-renovated church. In the evening, Marthame stopped by the mayor's home.  He had asked Marthame to produce a short video on Zababdeh in Arabic, English, and French.  Marthame agreed to the English, so stopped by for a general session and interview.  The film will eventually be a kind of general information on Zababdeh - its churches, mosque, history, region, etc.  It'll be good practice for the real deal when we get going this Fall on our own video project here.

Monday, 6/2/03:  At the school, Elizabeth worked mostly in the library today, sifting through disorganized shelves of books, most of which are Bethlehem University cast-offs. Antique Leather Working in Germany and A Comprehensive Account of the Oil Industry in Kuwait tomes are not exactly the most useful. But we do have a nice little collection of children's stories in English, which Elizabeth is trying to organize and label, with the hopes that color coding them will increase the odds of their actually being read and staying in one place. Without a librarian, the room has become more of a student holding cell than a functional library. But hopefully small changes like what Elizabeth is working on can improve its utility. In the afternoon, she went to a local office/school supply/copy shop to get colored labels, which they didn't have, and would need to get in Jenin, if and when it was open. While she was in the shop, a couple of army jeeps went by.  The shopkeeper said they'd been going by every few minutes all morning - on high alert because of the current push to negotiations between Israel and Palestine.  Deep in the school library, Elizabeth had been blissfully unaware of the hubbub. Fortunately, there weren't any incidents with the military in town today; they just passed through a lot.  Marthame, meanwhile, made his was to Ibillin for the last class.  Today was the first time in a while that Marthame was picked up in Jalame rather than having to walk up to the checkpoint - do miracles never cease...While there, he read CNN's latest update on the Middle East, that Israel had "opened the West Bank and Gaza, after closing them on May 18th."  Since Marthame travels every week in and out of the West Bank, such assertions seemed odd indeed.  In the four months he's been going back and forth to Nazareth into Israel, the van picking him up and dropping him off has only entered twice.  For non-internationals, the borders were closed far earlier than May 18th and have seen little improvement.  After class, Marthame and Fr. Hatem were treated to dinner by Fr. Chacour in Akko overlooking the Mediterranean before Marthame retired to the Ibillin Guest House for some rest.

Tuesday, 6/3/03:  The question mark in today's transportation was Ibillin to Shefa'amer.  Marthame walked down to the gate of the school, and it wasn't two minutes before the Anglican priest of Shefa'amer passed by.  Marthame and Fr. Fouad shared coffee before he caught his bus to Nazareth and ride to the border.  The wait at the border was interminable.  Cars were entering, but at a very, very slow pace.  Marthame walked up to see if he could pass and if his driver could cut in line to keep him from carrying his luggage.  Marthame was allowed in, but the driver wasn't allowed to cut.  Marthame walked back to the checkpoint, and the soldier had found a car to drive him into Jalame.  Those in the car were more than a little baffled.  Marthame caught the taxi in Jalame and headed straight to Tubas to help work on the church's webpage there.  While talks are happening in Aqaba, the situation on the ground here seems just the same.  A new checkpoint was set up along the Tubas road at a little nothing village called Kfeir (just outside of Zababdeh).  Word spreads about such checkpoints quickly, which means their usefulness is dubious.  We decided to go through the checkpoint rather than drive around (we could've done either and likely reached our destination).  After an hour of waiting in the sun (not much fun for the soldiers, either), the taxi driver was ready for Marthame, to give the soldiers a mouthful.  Marthame rolled down the window, and handed over his passport, saying, "Hi.  How are you."  "What are you doing here?"  "You know," said Marthame, "I was going to ask you the same question."  It wasn't the yelling and gesticulating that the driver had hoped for, but the point was made.  The soldier clearly didn't want to talk about it - usually an indication that they're not fully buying the "for security" argument.  "Have a nice day," was the reply as they were waved through.  Marthame worked with the church council President on the webpage, trying to create something in English and Arabic.  For a church community of sixty, their dedication to ministry is impressive.  By the time Marthame headed back to Zababdeh in the evening, the checkpoint was gone.

Wednesday, 6/4/03:  We spent the day at school, attending to various tasks.  One of the school's teachers had been held up at the checkpoint the previous day.  When he asked the other young men being held there, he discovered they had one thing in common: they were all named 'Ammar (a name as common as David in the States).  It was clear the soldiers were looking for someone named 'Ammar, but how much more information they had than that wasn't clear.  In the evening, some friends from the University stopped by to say farewell - we're all parting separate ways this summer, but will meet up again in the Fall, inshallah (God willing).

Thursday, 6/5/03:  Today, Elizabeth worked with the art teacher to prepare an exhibit for graduation. The school is celebrating its 120th anniversary, so images of the school through the years will be displayed along with art, English, and science projects done by the kids this year.  The hall where it will be held was finally ready for us today - the day before graduation. Ugh. After helping prep the walls, Elizabeth focused on displaying work her students, grades 7,8, and 11, had done this year, including a timeline of famous scientists and inventors; posters of world leaders for peace and justice; posters, stamps and postcards of countries in Africa and Asia; and youth "newspapers."  Elizabeth pondered how much fun she had doing these projects, even though they sometimes invited classroom chaos and took time from the regular curriculum.  She deeply hopes that at least some of the kids were inspired, had their horizons broadened, felt excited about learning through these projects.  After helping with some of the science displays, Elizabeth left the art teacher to her own devices and went home.  Marthame was working on the first video project, that of the Graduation slide show.  Today, some of the students came for dress rehearsal.  Marthame got enough footage, and then finished the production work in the Convent.  Between Marthame, Fr. Aktham, and Deacon Humam, we're thinking of opening a studio called Deir Latin (Latin Convent) Productions.  It's a nice four minute piece.  We'll have to see if we can manage to produce an internet version.  Marthame stopped by the mosque to speak with Sheikh Fathi. Tomorrow we'll be able to do some filming of the Muslim community for the Mayor's project.

Friday, 6/6/03:  At nine this morning, the Latin community gathered at the church for the Confirmation of their sixth graders. The scouts were arrayed in the courtyard wearing their uniforms and playing a celebratory beat on their drums, waiting for the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, to arrive.  With great anticipation, the crowd waited, and waited. The scouts moved out of the sun as the morning grew hot.  Meanwhile, Patriarch Sabbah was turned away at the Hamra checkpoint, refused entry under any circumstances, in spite of Vatican laissez-passer and consular license plates.  His driver turned around and went up to the Tayasir checkpoint, where they were denied entry because the driver had a Jerusalem ID (Palestinians who live in Jerusalem have special status, permitting  them entry to Jerusalem, but these days they're often not allowed to travel into the rest of the West Bank).  In Zababdeh, Fr. Aktham got on the phone with his contacts in the military coordination department.  "But you let Jerusalemites travel here all the time - the rules are not consistent! If they were, we'd work within them.  Who do you want to drive the car? You won't let a West Banker do it, you won't let a Jerusalemite or an Israeli pass. Who will drive? You?"  At one point it seemed as though Fr. Aktham might load the confirmands and the congregation onto busses and try to have the confirmation at the checkpoint; that would have been a powerful statement.  However, the powers that be relented and allowed the Patriarch to proceed to his parish, only an hour and a half late. A sigh of relief was breathed when his car arrived, and those who waited outside filed into the air-conditioned church to find a seat in the crowd. In the front sat the confirmands next to their godparents and parents, who walked up with them as they received the anointing of confirmation from the Patriarch one by one. After the service, the Patriarch went to see the art/science/English/school anniversary exhibit, which was well received. After a brief tour, the entourage proceeded to the school/church hall for graduation. The room was packed, with the older scouts acting as bouncers, keeping a throng of kids outside. There isn't enough room in the hall for all of them, so only those attached to a parent were allowed in.  Soon, the graduates arrived, in their hats and robes, lined up for their entry march up the aisle and onto the stage, where they sat on risers.  As they processed, a short (four minute) film played, with scenes and sounds of the students in their final year.  The film was the first practice we had on the new film editing software purchased for the production of our documentary of Christian life in the northern West Bank.  Let's just say the learning curve is surmountable, but steep.  At any rate, the film was an enormous success, capturing the students at their best, and enthralling the audience.  The party continued with messages from Fr. Aktham, the Patriarch, traditional and modern dance numbers, speeches by students, and of course, distribution of diplomas.  We had asked for a moment to speak as well, so we were invited up front so we could say thank you and good-bye.  It wasn't really good-bye, since we'll be here until December, but it is good-bye to most of our work at the school, so it was nice to be given an opportunity to show our gratitude.  We joined the clergy for a delicious (as always) lunch in the convent before the Patriarch departed back towards Jerusalem.  In the afternoon, Marthame picked up with the video project, meeting to do interviews with the Sheikh and Fr. Thomas at the Greek Orthodox Church.

Saturday, 6/7/03:  This morning, the school was full of teachers frantically trying to finish their marks and report cards, and the playground full of kids nervously playing or sitting and chatting waiting for their marks.  At about 10:30, the bell was rung, signaling that report cards were about to be distributed.  The teachers descended en masse, and after some announcements by Fr. Aktham, homeroom teachers ("form teachers" in Britspeak) gave out the final report cards.  A number of kids had theirs withheld because they still have not paid tuition, a real problem for the school - not to mention for the families - whose finances are seriously strained.  Those who did receive their marks showed their pleasure and disappointment freely, comparing their grades with their cohorts, complaining and gloating in big groups.  Meanwhile, the vice-principal was distributing Caritas-donated school bags and supplies to the students, class by class, to be used next year presumably.  Finally, we have all of the raw footage for the project.

Sunday, 6/8/03:  We worshiped at the Orthodox Church this morning, Marthame invited to stand with the chorus.  It's definitely a gain of the last three years.  When we first arrived, Marthame stood up there (after invited by one in the congregation), after which he was politely asked not to repeat that by Fr. Thomas.  He's understandably anxious about word coming to Jerusalem about the role of Protestants in their church.  Nevertheless, it's an obvious step of trust-building.  After worship, we walked down to the Melkite Church for fellowship - one of our favorite things to look forward to all week.  After lunch, we both began the long work of reviewing all of our cassettes to pick out appropriate footage.  Tuesday, hopefully, the editing begins.  After Marthame gets back from Ibillin, of course.

Monday, 6/9/03:  As 12th graders from the Jenin district gathered at the Latin school for the first day of their comprehensive tawjihi exams, Elizabeth joined a handful of teachers and two busloads of students for a trip to Beidan.  At Beidan, natural springs support agriculture and recreation.  There are at least three swimming complexes here, with modern pools which are filled and drained twice each day (without chlorine).  The setting was beautiful, freshwater swimming tucked in arid, pine-treed  mountains.  The drained water continues downstream, a bit later than it would have otherwise.  The trip was conceived of as a way to thank and encourage the kids who helped with school projects all year, and they were definitely excited.  From first to eleventh grade, the kids came ready for fun, with packed lunches, swimsuits, towels, and floaty pool toys.  Most kids older than second or third grade didn't have swimsuits per say, but rather brought shorts and T-shirts, which is what Elizabeth wore for a brief dip.  For the most part, "swimming" is a misnomer; the pools are not filled deeper than perhaps 5 feet, and most kids are kept (by a lifeguard) in much shallower waters, where the activity is essentially standing or sitting in the cool waves and splashing each other.  Maybe five or six of the oldest boys managed flying dives and dog paddling across the "deep" end, but it was clear that learning to swim is not something kids here have much opportunity for.  At any rate, after a few minutes in the pool, Elizabeth was mobbed by kids wanting swimming lessons. The rest of the day was spent relaxing, eating, singing, and chatting. We finally packed up, most of us browner (or in some cases redder) than when we arrived, and returned to Zababdeh around five in the afternoon.  Marthame made his way to Ibillin for the final exam.  The van was able to enter again (two weeks in a row!) and pick Marthame up. At the checkpoint, the soldier gave back Marthame's passport, saying, "I know you."  He then asked, "Where are you going?"  "Nazareth."  "You're coming back today?"  "No .  Tomorrow."  "OK."  He seemed to think for a minute, as though that may not be possible.  "What's your name?"  "Marthame."  "OK.  Have a nice day."  We'll see what happens tomorrow.  Marthame made it to Nazareth and his (last!) weekly lunch with Fr. Hatem and family.  In the evening, Marthame got to see the best and worst of Eastern and Western cultures.  Even after all the flak about the midterm, the students were still trying to wangle their way out of the final.  Everything's negotiable here - a bit too much, in fact!  Marthame retired to the guesthouse, having dinner on the porch with a Brit volunteering with Fr. Chacour for a few weeks.  But by 9:00, all of the guests were tucked away in their rooms - the excessive privacy drive of the West.  Ah, we have found our way to the uncomfortable middle of the cross-cultural experience!

Tuesday, 6/10/03:  Marthame arrived early from Ibillin, finding the same soldier from yesterday at the checkpoint.  We were beginning to wonder, given the provocative assassination attempt yesterday.  No doubt this'll have repercussions.  The soldier said, , "How was Jerusalem?"  "Nazareth."  "Oh, yeah.  Nazareth.  You're going to Jenin?"  "No.  Zababdeh."  "What are you doing there?"  "Working in the church."  "Are there a lot of Christians, or just you, your wife, and the other foreigners?"  "No - there's a lot."  By now, the policeman was interested.  "How many Christians are there?"  "About 2000."  "And Muslims?"  "About 1000."  They seemed surprised, but interested.  Marthame then began walking into Jalame.  Along the way, a car coming from the other direction slowed down and stopped next to him.  A little Israeli flag fluttered on the dash board.  The woman driving asked in English, "Did the soldier let you in?"  "Yeah."  She drove off in a storm - perhaps she thought Marthame was from the International Solidarity Movement (you don't often see clergy wearing a backpack around here).  Perhaps she just didn't like the idea of any internationals living, helping, visiting the West Bank.  One never knows...  When he got home, Elizabeth and he headed over to the Latin compound.  Marthame continued his work on the Municipality film as Elizabeth helped the art teacher take down the graduation exhibit. It was quite a success, which is great since the kids worked very hard on these things.  As the morning passed, tawjihi students started to filter out of the school, having survived the second day of their exams.  Marthame got home at about midnight, as planes buzzed overhead.  They haven't flown this low or this fast (and thus this loud) in a while.  It's hard to stomach. 

Wednesday, 6/11/03:  Today Marthame worked from mid morning to late night, with few breaks, on the Municipality film project.  Elizabeth spent part of the day helping, and part preparing for our summer plans. In the early evening we took a short break to meet and show around three new teachers at the Arab American University. Two (an American and a Brit-turned-Canadian) are here only for the intensive June-July summer program, while the other will stay on into the fall, when more teachers are due to arrive too. After showing them the grand sites of Zababdeh, Marthame took a break to grab dinner with them.  The news was looping the suicide bombing in Jerusalem - seventeen killed and scores injured confirmed so far.  It looks like we're heading backwards.  It's almost as though Hamas and Sharon are working together - as soon as there's a seeming lull, or a possible path to peace (no matter how flawed), the military strikes - assassinations, incursions, curfews, etc. - and then Hamas unleashes bloody vengeance.  Or the other way around.  Enough.  We shared a small meal of shwarma and hummus sandwiches with the new teachers and learned about all the interesting places they've taught/lived/travelled before. Quite a list - those choosing to come to Jenin area in the middle of an intifada are bound to be adventurous. 

Thursday, 6/12/03: Today we are trying to tie up all our loose ends before we embark on our summer. After another fourteen-hour day, Marthame completed the film for the municipality, just in time for us to get out of town.  At the school, Elizabeth waded past the gathered tawjihi students, waiting for today's exams to begin (the first day of English), and descended into the the library.  In a few hours, she'd labeled and organized the English story section, with, she coyly admits, appealing results. Hopefully kids will be encouraged to enjoy these books, and they can be easily kept organized. Afterwards, she prepared for our summer, moving our houseplants up to our upstairs neighbor and giving our rapidly growing tomatoes, peppers, parsley, basil, and cilantro plants to a good friend.  Elizabeth especially looks forward to being able to tend a real garden again, to being around to enjoy the fruits of those labors.  At least if we can't, others can.  Loose ends filled the rest of the day and much of the night.  It'll be nice to get away for a while. 922

Saturday, 6/14/03:We left early this morning, catching the shared taxi towards Jerusalem with other folks from Zababdeh.  The line at the Tayasir checkpoint was backed up for nearly half a mile, taking us two and a half hours to pass.  The soldiers checked the cars one by one, most of them full shared taxis.  All in all, it took us five hot, long hours to get to Jerusalem - the other checkpoints nothing more than a mere stop along the way. We checked into a little cheap hostel near Damascus Gate where we stay from time to time - nothing fancy, just enough to lay our heads down.  We grabbed a late lunch at Lina's, a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the Old City whose excellent hummus draws a fascinating mix of clientele - Arabs, Israelis, Russians, Ethiopians, internationals.  We stopped by to visit with friends at St. Andrew's Church of Scotland where we've worshiped from time to time when passing through Jerusalem before meeting up with our journalist friends in town, enjoying a magnificent view over the Old City before calling it a night.

Sunday, 6/15/03:  We worshiped with the English-speaking congregation at Redeemer Lutheran Church this morning, the last Sunday for the current pastors who are moving back to the States.  It's always nice to worship in English.  After their farewell celebration, we packed up and began the long wait for a shared taxi to Tel Aviv.  Long wait.  We sat with a small group of foreign workers who had come to Jerusalem for worship and some cheap shopping on their off day.  Eventually, we all agreed to pay more to leave and not sit around waiting for other passengers - all except one, who had no extra money.  The driver agreed that he would pay the regular fare while we would pay the new fare.  It was an interesting moment, which ruffled a few of the other riders but made complete sense to the Arabs sitting up front.  We eventually reached our hotel in Tel Aviv and enjoyed Indian food at a nearby restaurant before calling it an early night - it's an early morning tomorrow.

Monday, 6/16/03:  Our driver was napping in his taxi in front of the hotel when we stepped out at 3:00 in the morning.  We arrived to the airport in plenty of time for our flight - traffic isn't usually a problem that early anyway.  Our flight out was on El Al airlines, known for their strict security measures.  We answered all the standard questions while our stuff was being x-rayed and searched.  As they checked our laptop bag, dusting it with little white cloths, one of them set off a buzzer.  They dusted and tested again and all was clear.  Still, we were met with some interesting news: "We can't let you take this laptop with you on the plane."  We've had several friends whose laptops have been taken in a similar fashion never to be returned (one as recently as a few days ago), so Marthame stood ground: "We can't do that."  The supervisor was called over.  "We'll send it on the next plane, sir."  "We've known people whose laptops have never arrived, and we simply can't take that chance."  The supervisor's supervisor was called over.  "We'll give you a baggage claim check for it, and you can pick it up from them very next flight."  "If you give us a letter saying that you'll replace this computer if it doesn't arrive, then we'll leave it with you.  Otherwise, we can't."  There was lots of consultation, and a lot of nervously looking at the clock.  Someone ran off with our passports and tickets, and came back with boarding passes.  Finally, a compromise was suggested.  "You will have to check the computer bag under the plane, but you can carry the laptop in your carry-on baggage."  "Fine."  A man from security then accompanied us through the rest of the process, right up to the departure gate, apologizing the whole way for the delays.  It was a fine way to put the absurdities of this place behind us for a while.


Saturday, 6/28/03:  We've made it "home," arriving in Tel Aviv this afternoon before catching the shared taxi to Jerusalem.  We took a stroll around the Old City before calling it a night - a long flight and not much sleep behind us.  We did manage to stop by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where a Spanish tour group was completing a walk along the Stations of the Cross.  We basked in their marvelous singing (audio - 13 sec.), a fine welcome back to Jerusalem.

Sunday, 6/29/03:  Elizabeth was feeling the fatigue of travel, so slept in.  Marthame went to the Redeemer Lutheran Church where we were welcomed back.  We met up with friends there who have a ministry in Birzeit, where we will be spending the summer.  To our great luck, they had driven in that morning, which meant they could drive us to our new quarters.  Abu Qash, a village just next to Birzeit, will be our home.  Star Mountain is a rehabilitation center on the edge of Abu Qash run by the Moravian Church.  They have given us a place to stay in exchange for some rent and some volunteering.  It's a quiet place, even quieter than quiet Zababdeh.

Monday, 6/30/03:  We caught the shared taxi towards the University today.  Birzeit University was our home two years ago when we first studied Arabic formally.  Now we've returned to do more study, this time digging into standard written Arabic.  We've done well at colloquial, but remain close to illiterate when it comes to reading and writing.  Marthame took a placement test to see if he had picked up enough to get into level two - he did, much to his surprise (and to the teacher's).  Elizabeth, meanwhile, is content to stick with level one.  It would be nice to feel some mastery of the language for a while, as well as getting grounded in the foundations.  We had dinner in the village of Birzeit overlooking the town's main roundabout.  We keep running into folks from Zababdeh that we know - they're everywhere! 924

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