Journal in the Holy Land
August and September, 2000
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The morning sounds of Zababdeh:
4:45 AM, Muslim prayer (40 sec.)
6:00 AM, Catholic bells (40 sec.)
6:30 AM, Anglican church bells
6:30 AM, sheep
7:30 AM, National Anthem (40 sec.)

8/23/00:  After managing to make all of our connecting flights, we have arrived in Zababdeh, Palestine!  Unfortunately, we beat two of our bags here - they arrive in Tel Aviv (four hours away) tonight.  We will have to wait until tomorrow to hear their fate.  Since we are not staying in Israel proper, the airline will not deliver.  We will have to determine a mutually agreeable drop-off point.  Perhaps a password (hey, buddy, wanna buy a silent e?).

8/25/00:  We have managed to get a little settled, and are currently living downstairs in the parish house.  Not very private, but certainly roomy and convenient.  Marthame assisted in a wedding tonight (good thing the non-missing bags contained a shirt with collar!).  Father Louis has begun calling him "Deacon" to translate this oddity of this married American performing pastoral functions in a Roman Catholic church.  Even though it was the night before the first day of school, many of the children stayed at the party well after we did.

8/28/00:  We have found our luggage!  Marthame can change clothes!  Elizabeth can get near him again!  The airline dropped them off some time last week at a hotel in the Palestinian part of Jerusalem, but neglected to tell us.  Then they closed for the Muslim and Jewish sabbaths.  But now, we are clean and clad.  Marthame is still making sure he uses the correct hand to cross himself at Mass.  His feeble Protestant knees are getting a work-out.

8/31/00:  Our first week of school has ended.  Because the students in the school are Muslim and Christian (about half and half of the 700 across twelve grades), the "weekend" is split between Friday and Sunday.  Elizabeth is teaching English conversation to grades 3 through 7, and Marthame is doing the same for grades 8 through 11.  Marthame is also teaching religion for grades 8 to 12, while Elizabeth does the same for grade 7.  The bumpiness of the schedule seems to have smoothed, though our books have not yet arrived.  We are creating lesson plans from scratch for now.

9/1/00:  Our Sabbath!  We got a chance to sleep late, and to see the countryside.  We took a walk up to the brand new Arab-American University which opens this fall.  It is two miles away from Zababdeh, so many students have come here to live.  For some reason there's a connection with Utah State University (perhaps the familiar terrain?).  As a bit of perspective, our new friend who has visited Indiana wanted us to know how pleased he is that we are in Zababdeh, because Chicago is a dangerous town (note this, those of you who worry for our safety!).  His sentiment is echoed by many in the village.

9/2/00:  We moved into Chez Nous!  While it is not as large as our place in the parish house, it is much more quiet and private.  The mosquitoes seem to have figured this out, too.  Soon we will have a telephone, so our internet usage will no longer be on borrowed time.  Good news: there is room for visitors!  (Note the burgeoning gender dynamics)

9/3/00:  Almost too much to report for one day.  Father Konstantin and a group of Austrians came for a visit, and the town rolled out the red carpet.  The Mass was bilingual, and there was traditional Palestinian dancing by the school students (video - 24 sec. - to the left), a tour of the older homes by Abuna Louis (in patriarchal robe to the right), and - of course - food.  We then went to a Christian engagement ceremony in Tubas, just south of here (video - 7 sec. - to the right). The population is about 20,000 (150 of which are Christian, mostly Greek Orthodox). Muslim-Christian relations have a very good reputation in Tubas, despite the great difference in numbers. Finally, we journeyed through the area with Abuna Louis, surveying Latin Patriarchate lands nearby. We met a Bedouin family living nearby, herding sheep and adopting Elizabeth as their own. The children gave us dates, which they acquired by throwing rocks at a date palm tree. The bees/wasps (didn't get close enough to tell) were not pleased by this. Luckily, they did not seem to know we were the ones stealing their fruit. Silly invertebrates.

9/4/00:  Jenin.  Ah, the saga of the bank account.  Jenin (10 minutes away by taxi and pop. 40,000) is "The Big City," and we had big plans to take care of the financial needs.  Well, we do have a checking account.  But there's no money in it (nobody in Jenin takes travelers' checks), and we can't write checks (that's a separate application process).  That wondrous learning curve. But (with graciously lent money) we did get copies of our house keys, electrical mosquito repellent thingies, and Maalox. And hey--look at the date palm tree from yesterday!  That's happy, isn't it?

9/6/00:  Jerusalem.  Marthame has no classes on Wednesday (until the school schedule changes), so he went to Jerusalem to AmEx (see above for the "why").  To get to Jerusalem from Zababdeh, one must take a "service" taxi (shared) to Tubas, then to Nablus, then Ramallah, then Jerusalem through the Israeli check-point.  Three hours one way.  By car, maybe two.  A reminder of the political and economic reality.  But, six hours later, we have money!  Which means we will, nshallah, have telephone!  Which means we will have home access to email!  Yay!  In the evening, an Italian choir came to Zababdeh as part of their Holy Land tour (Audio of "Were You There" - 40 sec.).  One member of the choir was--oddly enough--a Glaswegian (to the right - Presbyterians are everywhere).

9/7/00: Things at the school have begun to fall into a pattern, and the books have arrived.  However, the class schedule continues to threaten to change.  This makes preparation a bit on the difficult side.  For lunch (the big noontime meal, and the one after which you're supposed to nap), we were invited to one of our fellow teacher's homes in Tubas.  He is working on his Master's Thesis on radon concentrations in homes in Nablus at Al-Najah University.  Unfortunately, access to materials (books, journals, etc.) is severely limited, so we've been poking around on the Internet to see what we can find.  Any chemistry profs poking around our page wanna send resources to him?  Tubas is beautiful, but we forgot our camera!  Next time, we promise.

9/8/00:  Sabbath! We go to Nazareth.  We had two goals: getting out of the house and not preparing lesson plans, and trying to call our friend who was visiting.  Why go to Nazareth to make a phone call, you might ask?  Good question.  Our friend was staying in Bethlehem (West Bank), but was using an Israeli cell phone.  You cannot call certain numbers in Israel from the West Bank, his included.  Since Nazareth is in Israel, we figured we'd give it a shot, but he had left!  Even though they meet for peace in Washington, there are annoying details like this in daily life.  We visited the Church of the Annunciation (left), where the angel Gabriel visited Mary.  The church above the grotto has murals from around the world depicting Mary, including the one at left of La Guadalupana from Mexico, making Elizabeth recall her wonderful visit to Oaxaca in July. Next door (right) is the proposed site of Shehab Eldien Mosque, which has been the subject of some controversy. In the absence of a building, the people worship outside, making us think of  Rally Day.

9/10/00:  Marthame preached at his first Mass.  It's not easy for a long-winded Presbyterian preacher to edit himself down to five or six minutes.  At school, the threatened schedule change goes into effect on Monday.  So we continue to adapt.  Too many stories of the hospitality of Zababdeh to relate.  Everyone wants to help teach us Arabic!  They must be patient.

9/11/00:  The micro fauna of Palestine have come for a visit. Some have been most welcome in our home, others border on the invasive - you might even say voracious - side.  To the left is our most recent nighttime visitor, a lizard, which somehow snuck in the back door.  To the right is the buffet that the mosquitoes have come to visit all too often in the night.

9/12/00:  Every Tuesday night we go with Abuna Louis and the Rosary Sisters to visit one of the families in the parish - this usually means thirty to forty people, since families are large extended units in Zababdeh.  This year we are visiting the newlyweds to bless their new homes.  The home meetings are held together by liturgy, song, prayer, and Bible study.  Although we cannot understand much of what is being said, we are asked to say a few words at each gathering which relate the passage to the couple's new life together.  And on our way home, the moon might bless us with its presence...

9/13/00:  One of the struggles for us here is fighting homesickness.  Despite the warmth and welcome of the village, life here for us can be very lonely.  There are moments when three years looks like a long time.  But there's nothing like a little jolt of Americana to kick those blues - Coca-Cola, Snickers, and the opening ceremonies from Sydney on our newly arrived television.  And there's nothing that quite brings a tear to your eye like watching Iggy Pop play "No Fun" live in Warsaw.

9/14/00:  Our apartment building has become quite the ecumenical, international spot.  The new Arab-American University that opens in October promises to bring in students from all over Palestine, and the administration and faculty are settling in to life in Zababdeh.  Our building houses Americans, Palestinians, Germans, and Jordanians.  Our landlord is a Pentecostal pastor, and some of the Americans are Utah Mormons.  We knew life would be ecumenical and interfaith, but this...It all brings an odd mix to this rural village - the SUVs share the same roads in town with the taxis, the tractors, and the donkeys.

9/15/00:  Ah, blessed sabbath.  Our German neighbors took us on a little jaunt around the "Big City" of Jenin.  Being Friday in a Muslim culture, of course, most everything was closed.  We did stop at the local plant nursery to do a little shopping - and, of course, to drink a little coffee (it is the rare store you enter that they don't invite you to sit, drink coffee, and talk about Chicago).  We picked up a couple of cedar seedlings and some herbs, promising to give Elizabeth's green thumb a work out.  In the evening we relaxed with one of the English teachers in the school and her husband - both native Zababdians - and talked all things political, religious, pedagogical, and culinary.  Their little blonde niece stopped by to play with Elizabeth's hair.

9/17/00:  Sundays are proving to be our busiest -but most joyful - days.  We began with a visit from 120 Americans from the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for morning mass. Bishop Robert Carlson had visited Zababdeh alone back in March for the parish's confirmation mass.  He returned with a group on their pilgrimage to the Holy Land and to Rome.  Once again, Zababdeh rolled out the red carpet for their visitors.  There were gifts (Monsignor boasts his new tonsure sun protection) and food (the traditional Mansaaf - rice with spices, meat, and pine nuts, topped with yogurt and chicken).  The school children did some "traditional" dance (video to the right -11 sec.), and we toured the school.  But the celebration for the day had yet to come.  Abuna Tomie, the Greek Orthodox priest, celebrated the wedding of his son (audio from the service liturgy - 16 sec.).  Dancing and food for weddings begins at around 8:00 and often goes into the wee hours.  You can hear the sounds of music and dancing over much the village.  To the right are some of the groom's extended family who have opened up their homes and their hearts to us.  Did we mention that they invited us in for coffee?

9/19/00:  Fauna of the Holy Land Update: Our latest visitor was this pretty little scorpion. We really didn't want to kill it, but we didn't want it cohabitating with us, either. So now we've learned not to leave the door open. We have heard concern from many people about the ruthless "skeeter" bites on Elizabeth.  No, we don't have malaria or West Nile virus. Fortunately, our electric mosquito poison thingies seem to work (and we are blissfully ignorant of their toxicity, which is described in Arabic and Hebrew). 

9/20/00:  The daily life and folks of Zababdeh are becoming more and more  familiar to us. Here's one of the families (one of several) that has adopted us.  When we visit with families, folks (especially the children) take great joy teaching us Arabic, and we have the chance to teach some English (which everyone seems eager to practice). 

9/21/00:  There are three or four Christian villages left in Palestine/Israel, and  Zababdeh is one of them.  The only one that is all Christian is Taybeh, near Ramallah.  Our meeting with Maria Khoury, a Greek-American coordinating the Patriarchate's English program, ended early enough for her to take us to visit Taybeh.  To the left you can see the "Palestinian House," a replica of a Jesus-era home built at the Latin church. Where Elizabeth is standing is where the family would gather.  Underneath, where you see the arch, is where the animals would stay.  This gave us a different mental image of Jesus being laid in the manger.  To the right are the ruins of St. George's Orthodox church, originally built, we think,  in the 4th century.  You can see the original baptismal font and the meat hook where animals are still sacrificed as thanksgiving offerings.  The ruins have become a shared holy site for all of the churches in Taybeh.  We also got a chance to visit the Khoury family's Taybeh Beer brewery.  The family returned to Palestine after the Oslo accords to open this business.

9/23/00:  It seems like we're always traveling!  From a conference for English teachers in Ramallah to a conference about the internet for Marthame in Tel Aviv.  We took advantage of this to visit Nablus (Biblical Schechem, Roman Neapolis) and our friend Abuna Dominick.  At age 17, Father Dominick left his home of Turin, Italy to study in Jerusalem.  He was the parish priest and school principal in Zababdeh, thirty years ago. And now, at age 87, he has made this his home.  In the background is his garden and Mount Ebal, home of the world's Samaritan community (pop. 400).  We also got a tour of the Sisters of Charity (Mother Theresa's order) hospice.  They take care of twelve severely disabled children and about as many older women.  This, along with the Latin School and the neighborhood of Rafiddya, is the Christian witness in Nablus.  It is a Muslim town, where alcohol is forbidden (curiously "dry" just like Lubbock). Consequently, communion wine has to be delivered periodically by the Patriarch in Jerusalem.

9/25/00:  Day two of the conference, sponsored by Schools on Line.  There's much too much to tell of these three days, but it is a capsule of life with the Palestinians and the Israelis.  Some observations: 1) the three hour trip between Zababdeh and Tel Aviv took seven because the Palestinian with whom I was traveling heard about the conference one day before - not enough time to get permission to enter Israel from the Israeli authorities.  2) There is much well-intentioned partnership developing between Israeli schools and Palestinian schools, though the technological gap between them needs to be bridged (something Schools on Line is trying to do).   3) However, some conversations between Israelis and Palestinians revealed that prejudices still linger. 
I was neither fish nor fowl, being an American living in the West Bank.  The good news is that we are planning to do an internet program with tenth graders from Zababdeh and tenth graders from Petach-Tikva (near Tel Aviv). Called "Family Tales," the plan is to have the children research family stories and share them with each other via email, perhaps creating web pages.  This has given an energy boost, most certainly.  Of course, for this web page, we've got the bells and whistles - or rather, the drums that entertained us that night (23 sec. of 9/8 time for you music buffs).
Meanwhile, camera-less Elizabeth went on a short tour of Haifa, with our friendly German neighbors (teachers at the new Arab American University 2 miles away). Actually, he is originally from Gaza, and consequently a knowledgeable tour guide for the region. Haifa was beautiful. It was such a treat to see the Mediterranean! We wandered the old city, seeing many churches and mosques. Sadly, Palestinians here are not allowed to build on or repair their homes, and so many of these very old buildings are falling apart. Many of them, including much of the Christian population of the city, have left because of this, and most of the churches we saw are abandoned, according to our friend. When folks leave, their old homes are bulldozed and the land used for new buildings, often offices and businesses. We saw several old buildings in the process of being demolished, and some people living in semi-demolished buildings. It was a sobering sight. But on a happier note, we viewed the Baha'i temple in Haifa. It is really spectacular, and we will surely return and post some photos of it for you. And we went to the Russian sector, where the prices are low and the language is exclusively Russian. No Hebrew or Arabic or English spoken there. Elizabeth bought some honey at what was apparently a very good price. 

9/28/00:  Weather update: it rained!  Hard!  The first day of rain since our arrival.  Things are already looking greener.  We also received an email from a friend in the States asking us how the clashes between Israelis and Palestinians were affecting us.  Truth is, we don't have much more insight.  Zababdeh is, in many ways, so isolated that our connection to Peace Process news comes - ironically - from CNN. We are thankful that we are out of the heat of conflict, but we do hope to find ways to be better informed of the political situation, from  sources closer to the events than Atlanta.