Friday, August 22, 2008

Home!

Last Wednesday I had the pleasure and honor of attending the funeral of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. It was the first state funeral to be held in the occupied Palestinian territories since the passing of Yasser Arafat - absolutely incredible experience; thousands of people and state vehicles. We watched from a third-floor coffee shop in Ramallah before walking down to join the procession. I only have a few photos (didn't bring my camera) - my friend Reanna took some great shots:
Friday was my last meeting with all parties involved with the playground process. For the new, sustainable, Palestine-built designs we've decided to go with a local contractor who is also a physics teacher at a Bethlehem high school. Hopefully we will see these new designs implemented over the next few months in several different locations. Hopefully I can return to assist with these new playgrounds before too long. When photos arrive, I will post them to this blog.

I had my last day with the Palestine Red Crescent Society - I'm going to miss those guys - we became so close over the past two months. We celebrated with a final barbecue at Osh Ghorab park and I was even able to spend an evening in Tel Aviv with the family of my sister-in-law. They were incredibly hospitable - Tel Aviv is a beautiful city - I thoroughly enjoyed the beach.

I flew to France then on to Atlanta for a three-day retreat for the FTE Ministry Fellows - the FTE being the organization that helped me begin this undertaking in the first place.

Finally, I am home. I spent yesterday unpacking, today tying up a few loose ends and tonight I should be on stage at the Division Area Arts Collective rocking out with my band. Home at last!

Until I can return, my prayers will continue unabated for the nation of Palestine and her inhabitants. For anyone reading this, if you have questions, please contact me and I will make time to speak with you about the region. My email is dannison (at) gmail (dot) com - otherwise, give me a call some time - I'm excited to be home and begin talking to people about the Holy Land and the steps that must be taken to ensure a lasting and just peace.

Thank you for your support this summer.
Blessings and Peace to all of you.
Masalam.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tired.

Wow I'm exhausted.

I've added the Palestine Pics Part Two slideshow with photos from the secondish(ish) half of my trip. Included are some pictures taken by my friend Rami Rishmawi at the Osh Ghorab worship service.

Also find some photos of my hiking adventure across the Judean Desert. My three friends and I hiked for three days - journeying from Bethlehem across the desert to the Dead Sea, then down to Ein Gedi and continued on to Masada.

Here's a goofy little map I made:

The first leg of the desert was ok... the heat is something profound. I echo the sentiments of my good friend Tom when I say that my entire relationship with the sun has changed. We each left with around 8 liters of water (not quite enough, but we were ok). I brought the inside shell from my tent to keep the mosquitos away - even in the most barren desert there are flies a plenty.

When we finally reached Masada we elected to camp in the nearby wadi - it's really a runoff limestone valley - water passes through once every year or so for a few days and deposits heaps of lime dust. The lime is quite soft and powdery and is the color of snow. Walking through these surreal heaps of powder I felt that the sun was completely surrounding me - amazing and terrifying. We climbed Masada under the light of a trillion stars and watched the spectacle of the Dead Sea sunrise from the peaks.

The new playground designs are coming together quite well - I'm preparing to transfer the project to my replacement here on the ground from ANERA. Overall, I think we've made some amazing progress here in the West Bank. More importantly, though, is the experience I have gained and the new insights with which I will approach my future ministry in this incredible country. There is so much work to be done - so much to talk about - I return to Atlanta on Sunday and I will be back in Michigan a week from this Thursday, on August 21.

Friday, August 8, 2008

News coverage

There have been a couple articles about the worship service we held on Wednesday:

Settlers scuffle with peaceful worshippers at abandoned military base in Beit Sahour

Israeli settlers assault worshippers

I have some additional photos to put up later that actually show the service itself. In the second (translated) article you can see my friend Robbie getting shove around a bit.

This weekend I'm hiking to Masada so I'll be out of touch for a couple days - but I love you all and miss you - I'll be home in two weeks.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Ush Ghrab is safe again!

We held the hill. I'm sure there will be some news tomorrow and I'll link to it then - but we held fast on the hilltop and did not move. The settlers attacked us - punching and kicking, spitting and throwing rocks, but we remained steadfast. We knelt in prayer and were not defeated. We had a full ecumenical worship service, we sang songs, we prayed and danced and celebrated the children's hospital that will be built on the hilltop. They will not steal this hill!
At one point, we were singing 'the vine and figtree' and the settlers attacked us very violently all at once - but we remained as a group, praying and singing, moving people from the front line to the back and meeting their violence, hatred and racism with love, gentleness and song. It worked! It really worked! I'll write more tomorrow - but today brought us one step closer to the children's hospital and sent the settlers back to Har Homa and Gilo - if only for a short time.

This is one hilltop they will not steal!

Praying for a children's hospital.

In a few hours I'm going to walk down to Ush Ghrab park to participate in an ecumenical worship service. Ush Ghrab is the site of an abandoned military base that has been transferred to the Beit Sahour municipality - which currently has funds allocated from international non-profit agencies to construct a children's hospital on the site.

Please watch this video (it's only 7 minutes long)




The settlers are coming to the park tonight. It is my intention to remain their and pray without ceasing that Ush Ghrab remain a public park for the people of Beit Sahour, and that a children's hospital, and not a settlement, is the future of this space.

The settlers have left their message on the walls in spray paint - in bright red letters. "Death to all Arabs," and "Arabs into the fire." They have come from Efrat - they are originally from Brooklyn. They have left the sign of the Kach painted on the wall.

The settlers saw the beautiful park that had been created by the people of Beit Sahour and the non-profit agencies here in Palestine. They decided that they wanted it. So now, like thieves, they are attempting to steal it. If they succeed, the hopes and dreams of the people who are looking forward toward a new children's hospital - the first of its kind in the West Bank - will be dashed.

There are hundreds of settlements in the West Bank. There is nothing like Ush Ghrab. Thankfully, we have been given the gospel for a time such as this - and the power of God's eternal ambassador, the Holy Spirit, will attend to all things - the praying people of Beit Sahour, myself included.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

New photos - a wedding, my homes, Nablus

Hi everyone - I uploaded new photos to a new album, Palestine Part Two.
I've included some pictures of where I'm staying (with the Salsas and also at Bustan Qaraaqa.)
Also, I realized that I don't really have any photos of people, so I've made a concerted effort to photograph more humans. Also, a dog and a cat. :D
I tried to add it as a slideshow on this blog but Google is failing me, so click here to go to the new photos.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Beit Sahour!

I have quite a few new photos and updates to post - I'm swamped with meetings today but I'll try to get some new videos and information up tonight.

In the meantime, please enjoy this completely awesome video about the town I live in, Beit Sahour, featuring the chart-topping local hit, "Beit Sahour."

beit sahour is awesome.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

This is what it's all about.





At Dar al'Kalima school.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

One down! And Obama.

I have some really great playground news following a brief rant.
I checked the news this morning and was really excited to see the following headline on CNN.com: Obama - "New Walls Need Tearing Down."

My heart actually skipped a beat. Immediately, this incredible fantasy popped into my head: Obama came to Israel and then visited Palestine - he saw the apartheid wall on his way to Ramallah and he, like all who see it with their own eyes, was so offended and disgusted by it that he realized it must, must, must be removed. So when he arrived in Berlin - arrived to speak to a people preeminent in their familiarity with the pain of apartheid walls - he chose this place to speak of his new-found commitment to freedom in the Holy Land.

And then I read the actual article.

How sad. And predictable.

No one in Israel/Palestine seems to have any love for Obama. He completely alienated the Palestinians when he spoke of a Jerusalem "united" for Israel. Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine! East Jerusalem is filled with Palestinians. This has only served to embolden the Israelis in their ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem. From the beginning, Jerusalem was to remain neutral - a holy city to serve as a capital for all nations. The Palestinians made the mistake of taking this seriously, and located their capital in the city. Israel doesn't want to share the city and are using the apartheid wall and home demolitions to move the Palestinians in Jerusalem out to the West Bank.

Conservative Jewish friends of mine who live in Israel have heard it said that an Obama victory would be "the end of Israel." I don't know why this would be - if you go to Obama's website (I won't link to it here) and read his detailed vision for Israel, there is practically nothing in there to guarantee the safety of the Palestinian people.
So nobody likes him. And I have to say, his comments regarding the "unification" of Jerusalem have me a little worried for my Palestinian friends who live in Shuafat, in Bet Hanina, and in other parts of East Jerusalem.
-----

I made several interesting trips this last week - I visited the Galilee and Nazareth - I saw Haifa and Akko - I traveled to Jenin and Nablus and up to a tiny little village in the north of Palestine called Rammaneh. I saw the site of the destroyed village of Tantura. I also visited an unrecognized Arab village outside of Haifa. I have updated my photos - if you see a picture and I haven't adequately described it please make a comment and I'll clarify.
I spent two days exploring Jerusalem and really familiarized myself with the Old City. At this point, I think wandering aimlessly through the narrow passageways and souqs of the Old City is my favorite past-time. It's quite easy to get lost, but the entire place is bordered by the massive walls of Jerusalem, and it's only one square kilometer so it's not like you have to worry about wandering off the edge of the map.
---

We have finished the construction of the playground at Dar al'Kalima! With the cooperation of numerous volunteers, the playground is complete and the site is ready for landscaping. Another beautiful structure for Playgrounds for Palestine and for all the children of Bethlehem. Read more about Dar al'Kalima school here.
Our volunteers were provided by the International Center of Bethlehem and Christmas Lutheran Church.


Huzzah!

That guy on the lower right is Payne - he's a new friend at the Siraj center here with his mom and sister. He's worked diligently with me on this project nearly every day - in the hot sun and dusty build site. He doesn't even mind when I make him test all the slides, climbing structures and everything else. (And those slides get hot. Seriously.)

Two more build sites to figure out - we'll see how far we get on the new designs before I have to go home.

It's been a pleasure, though, to work with all the different local contractors. We're trying to develop a design that can be built locally, using some recycled materials, and built multiple times to work and multiple sites. I think if I can come up with a model for future playgrounds and a team of local contractors to implement them at reduced cost I will have created something that will perpetuate the building of playgrounds in the Holy Land for quite some time.

Thanks again to all the volunteers at the Dar al'Kalima site. Onward to Osh Ghorab and the Arab Orthodox Club!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The 4th, Jericho, Dead Sea, Amman, Petra, Wadi Rum, Eilat

This past week has been incredibly eventful. I've added new photos to my Picasa collection on the lower right - where you can find all my trip photos including all the many things I saw over the weekend.

I'll start with a playground update. The build site is now at the Orthodox Club of Bet Jala, with a secondary build site at Osh Ghorab park in Bet Sahour. We may get to begin two playgrounds while I'm here. The Osh Ghorab site is incredibly beautiful and the municipality of Bet Sahour has been very helpful - I've met with the park planning engineer and I have a meeting with the mayor and the park's architect on Saturday morning. The Orthodox Club is also an amazing place - they are fully renovating the club from the bottom up to provide a public space for the children of Bet Jala to gather. Also - and this is the really exciting news - they're going to include a swimming pool! After meeting with their engineer, it seems that there is a lot of work to do but we will get moving as soon as possible. Either way, I'm driving back and forth from Bet Jala to Bet Sahour filled with joy, imagining the possibilities present at both of these sites. This project is a joy to work on - each meeting has been a pleasure - very few things are as life-giving as envisioning a means in which to provide children a safe place to play.

Last Friday was the 4th of July. I confess that the 4th is probably my favorite holiday. My father had a deep admiration for the "founding fathers" of the United States and I also revere our national history and our struggle for independence. Interestingly, many of the people I have met here in Bet Sahour also respect the U.S. struggle for independence. During the first Intifada in 1989, the residents of Bet Sahour staged a tax-strike. From the wikipedia article:

"During the first Intifada, the Palestinian resistance urged people to stop paying taxes to Israel, which inherited and modified the previous Jordanian tax-collection regime in the West Bank. “No taxation without representation,” said a statement from the organizers. “The military authorities do not represent us, and we did not invite them to come to our land. Must we pay for the bullets that kill our children or for the expenses of the occupying army?” The people of Beit Sahour responded to this call with an organized citywide tax strike that included refusal to pay and file tax returns.
Israeli defense minister Yitzhak Rabin responded: “We will teach them there is a price for refusing the laws of Israel.” The Israeli military authorities placed the town under curfew for 42 days, blocked food shipments into the town, cut telephone lines to the town, tried to bar reporters from the town, imprisoned forty residents, and seized in house-to-house raids millions of dollars in money and property belonging to 350 families. The Israeli military stopped the consuls-general of Belgium, Britain, France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Sweden when they attempted to go to Beit Sahour and investigate the conditions there during the tax strike."

I've seen this same bravery amongst the residents of Bet Sahour today. It is also important to remember that Bet Sahour is a predominantly Christian town - 85% of the people who live here are Christians. But they stand in solidarity with their brothers and sisters all across the West Bank in resisting the occupation. So I was excited to celebrate the Fourth of July here in Bet Sahour. To make it extra special, Robbie, Sam and I drove to Hebron to obtain some delicious, succulent, fresh camel meat.

Don't look at me like that.

It's not my fault you're completely delicious.

We had a bbq at Osh Ghorab and a festive time was had by all. Approximately half of the attendees were actually British so it was kind of an interesting Independence Day celebration.

On Saturday morning we left for Jericho and the Dead Sea. On the way to Jericho we stopped at St. George Monastery in the Wadi Kilt. It was a beautiful monastery, tucked away deep withing the ravine of the Wadi itself. It was built in the fifth century by John of Thebes. Afterwards we traveled to Jericho itself - a beautiful town set right against the Dead Sea. We saw the ancient ruins of the city from the time of Christ and earlier - Jericho is the longest inhabited city on the planet. We swam in the nearby Dead Sea. This part of the trip was a little rough, emotionally, because our guide and driver had to wait above while we went down to lay on the beach. Despite the fact that the Dead Sea is solidly in the West Bank, Palestinians are not allowed to swim in it. It was fun to float about a bit, though. The water stings like hell if you get it in your eyes or mouth.
At this point, Robbie, Sam and I separated and headed North for the Sheik Hussein bridge into the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. I was really, really excited to see the Jordan river - but it was actually kind of disappointing. The area is a DMZ - a demilitarized zone - so you can't really see what's left of the Jordan beneath the bridge because you're ferried across on a special bus. The Jordan River itself has been nearly drained dry by the Israeli National Water Carrier and the Jordanian government. It's also heavily polluted... very sad.

Once in Jordan, we spent the night in Amman, one of the largest cities I've ever seen. We took a bus in the morning to get to Petra where we met up with some Bedouin horsemen. They rented us some horses to get up behind Petra - we spent the rest of the day journeying through the ancient site (make sure to check out the photos). That night, one of our Bedouin friends let us stay in his cave and even cooked us dinner! Completely awesome.

In the morning we made our way out to Wadi Rum - a gigantic chunk of the Jordanian desert that hot, mountainous and inhospitable. We hiked around for a bit, climbed some canyons and spent the night in tents. After this we were ready to head home so we traveled to Aqabba and the crossing into Eilat, Israel.

Eilat is a beautiful Israeli city on the Red Sea - we spent time on the beach before catching the bus to Jerusalem. It was bizarre - moving through three countries in one afternoon - but eventually we made it back home to Palestine. My friend Stephen informed me that the following morning the would be lifting the curfew (house arrest) at Nilin - a village near our friends in Bil'in, so we decided to head up there to see what we could see.
When we arrived, the villagers had already left their homes to see the devastation that had taken place while they were under house arrest. The soldiers had bulldozed the nearby orchard to make room for the apartheid wall. Protests, marches and some degree of violence ensued.
Apparently, and AP reporter was present because it made the front page at CNN.com.
The IDF was really rough - people from the town were understandably unhappy to have had their orchard stolen from them.
I have some video of the event, most of it is pretty fuzzy but I'll try to post it later.
In the mean time - please continue to pray for everyone over here.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Palestine Red Crescent

Beginning of the shift... Ismael preparing the first pot of sweet tea...




Relaxing between shifts...


The box...


I love my coworkers.

video

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Briefly -

I'll give a more significant update when I get the rest of my video footage up on youtube - but for now I'm happy to report that I'm much healthier and now that the Salsa family has graciously loaned me their camera I've been able to take some new photos. They're available in the Bethlehem album on the lower right side of this page.

Visited a prayer service at Al Khadr last Friday, went to Shabbat services at the Western Wall on Saturday and I'm stoked to go see a football match projected onto the apartheid blockade here in Bet Sahour tonight. I love you all very much - looking forward to returning to my work with the Red Crescent on Tuesday.

Also, I was profoundly bored while homebound and sick so I designed a t-shirt for a made-up event for a made-up Palestinian organization that I made-up. :D The Palestinian National Disc Golf Association! (I'm kind of homesick for disc golf, I guess, of all things.) You can see/buy it my cafe press store.

(yeah... I also opened a store at cafe press called West Bank Awesome. heh.)

I beat dysentery! That should win me like, 1000 bonus world traveler points.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Slowly healing


But I'm pretty sure I'm getting better. Thanks to Dr. Susan for the differential diagnosis at a distance. Rehydration seems to be working. I'll be back up to full speed by next week, hopefully.

Attended the prayers at Al Khader today. Every Friday men young and old gather to say prayers in front of the apartheid wall. It was very moving and very peaceful. I'll have some pictures up soon.

In the mean time, here's a video I took of a Palestinian glassblower making a vase, start to finish:

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ack

Frailty, thy name is gastroenteritis.

I have been completely homebound for the past two days. Today I made it to the porch. Stomach doom.
Thanks God for the universality of Imodium.
I'm going to attempt Arabic classes today at the University. Hopefully tomorrow I can return to work as usual. I have no idea what knocked me out, but I've been feeling really tired ever since Friday, which finally manifested itself as some kind of evil gastrointestinal horror. Tea and toast until everything returns to normal.

Blegh.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Bilin, Ramallah, Hebron

Sorry for going so long between posts - I've been fighting some kind of virus or something and its sapping my will to type. Hopefully I'll be feeling better tomorrow.

Last Tuesday I passed my EMT examination with the Red Crescent and began work with the Beit'Lehem ambulance service on Wednesday. They're really cool guys - it was good to visit the different clinics and hospitals on calls and work with some fantastic professional EMTs. These people really know the West Bank better than anyone - I'll be working three days a week (8 hours shifts) and I'll keep you all updated.

Playground update - George has found a really wonderful project already in the works in Rammaneh, north of Jenin. It's about as far north as you can go and still be in the West Bank. The school up there really wants a playground. Furthermore, they need to develop the land (despite it being privately owned by the school, if it sits idle it will be walled off and claimed by Israel). I'll try to head up there this weekend and take some photos. I think this is the most promising location - there are also some local contractors who have built playgrounds in the past and it would be good to keep the money for the playground in Palestine if possible.

Speaking of taking photos - my camera broke. I mailed it home, in the mean time my mom mailed me her camera - as soon as it arrives I'll start taking photos again. Nevertheless, I still have my flip. Several relief agencies have been using them to assist people in developing nations with their documentation needs. It takes low-quality, youtube type video. I've posted some to my youtube account and will post them again here.

Stephen and I traveled to Bilin, near Ramallah, on Friday. We went there to view the illegal wall. There was a peace march which I was excited to witness from a distance. The march took place in a private orchard after Friday prayer services. Nevertheless, as the marchers approached the wall, IDF soldiers began firing CS gas canisters and rubber-coated steel bullets at the marchers. Here's a video of the march:



And here's a video of me running away when the soldiers started firing gas canisters. The white stuff is CS gas. Nasty.



I had my jump kit with me and tried to help a few people (I was especially worried about Stephen) but the gas was really thick and they kept firing the canisters in front of us as we were running away - to try to keep us near to the wall and the tanks. The canisters started several fires in the olive orchard - as internationals went to put out the fires the soldiers targeted them with canisters. At about marker 1:50 in the video you can see them firing the gas cannons - really scary stuff.
Anyway, here's a video of my friend Stephen making it out of the gas - huge relief.



On Saturday we spent the day touring the ancient city of Hebron. We visited the Tomb of the Patriarchs - Ibrahim Mosque. It was absolutely incredible. The city is amazingly old and beautiful. Unfortunately the influx of settlers has made it into something of a ghetto - most of the streets are barricaded off and if you are on the "Palestinian Side" you have to wait until certain times of day for the guards to open the gates. Some of the streets are one-way pedestrian streets for Palestinians, which was incredibly weird. The idea of a one-way street for pedestrians is completely foreign to me, but the parts of the city where Israeli settlers have claimed houses or built up condos is off-limits for Palestinians. Here's a shot of the city from a rooftop:



and here's a video shot I took of one of the razor-wire barricades that limit movement in the city:



Most of the barricades are concrete and steel-doors - this one was really imposing because of the barbed wire fencing.

Anyway - I had another chance to visit Jerusalem on Sunday and say hi to Basel and Stephanie and their adorable baby. All is well - I finally have a phone and when I get an international calling card I'll be able to call home.

I love you all.

One last picture of me vs. the gas canisters - Stephen took this and I think it looks awesome:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Some Pics

My camera broke! Gotta send it home to get fixed asap. At least I still have my flip. (google flip). I put some preliminary pics up in a public album at http://picasaweb.google.com/dannison - click on BeitLehem to see a picture of my new friend Basel and his boy, the view from the balcony at my house and the site at the Church of the Nativity where legend holds Jesus was born.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Passed!

I passed my Red Crescent test - got issued a shiny new ID card and I'll start at the ambulance station next week.

I had to travel to the Red Crescent headquarters in Ramallah. I took the Palestinian service to get there (it travels only through Palestinian areas) and for kicks I decided to take the regular bus service back (which cuts through Jerusalem). Big mistake - it took me three times as long to get home! The checkpoint really delayed things - there was an elderly woman on the bus who forgot her papers. She had her 6 or 7 year-old grandson with her - a young IDF soldier boarded the bus and demanded papers. It was really surreal, he had Tavor assault rifle that was almost as big as he was - he looked right at me and said, "Papers!" I almost started laughing because it made me think of Indiana Jones demanding everyone's papers on the zeppelin from "Last Crusade" - but of course it's a bad idea to laugh at the IDF. Anyway, I gave him my passport, but the lady didn't have hers so she got hauled off the bus. She was really scared because they left her grandson on the bus, but thankfully a Palestinian woman from Jerusalem promised to get him home. When we pulled away the elderly woman was walking back up the road in the direction in which we came.

I made many new friends today at the Red Crescent - I met with their public relations coordinator and with their volunteers coordinator - everyone was incredibly gracious and their facilities were absolutely beautiful. I've also been reading Mitri Raheb's book, "Bethlehem Besieged" during the long bus rides. Rev. Raheb is a really fantastic author and his stories from the 2002 incursion into Beit'Lehem and the siege of the Church of the Nativity are gripping - especially because I can often look out the window and see the precise places he is describing in his work. I hope to meet him soon.

It looks like we're making progress on the playground - due to difficulties shipping playgrounds into the OPT we may go with a local contractor, but we're examining a site near the city of Jenin in the north. I may spend a week up there next month overseeing its construction if we decide to move forward with it.

Ambulances, playgrounds, checkpoints, and the Church of the Nativity. Tons of stuff on my mind right now. I think I'm going to really enjoy working here.

Peace to all of you.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Palestine!

Long update! I've arrived in Beit'Lehem, Palestine.

Taize was beautiful and important - I met many new friends from around the world, as well as several from the states who I'll be sure to contact when I get home. The weekend at Taize was amazing - on Friday we prayed around the cross in the center of the church and on Saturday night we gathered to celebrate the resurrection of Christ with candles and songs of celebration. There's some video of the Saturday evening service below - I was able to take a little during the prayers without being too distracting. I've also created a new photo album with some pics - Taize is mostly beautiful countryside, beautiful flowers, beautiful cows - you get the idea.
video

I've also uploaded some additional fun photos from the Wilderness Medicine Institute.

I arrived in Tel Aviv at 2 a.m. on Monday morning. I had been very nervous about the arrival process - I was in constant prayer at the airport in France. Honestly, I didn't know what to do; the Tel Aviv airport is rather remote and I couldn't exactly take a taxi to the West Bank at two o'clock in the morning. I figured I might ask for help at the airport but I was unsure. Thankfully, this is rarely the case with God and I prayed for the same kind of help I have received over the past two years - the prayer that God would send me into community. I waited at the gate in the Paris airport until I saw a man with what looked like a guitar and, figuring him for a fellow musician, I asked where he was heading. "Hey, Tel Aviv!" I told him my situation and he said that we would definitely share a ride to Jerusalem when we got off the plane. He was a Palestinian man from East Jerusalem named Basel. His instrument wasn't a guitar, it was an oud - a kind of middle-eastern mandolin. Basel was in France on tour with his West Bank band, Turab. Check out their website - they make beautiful music.

When I arrived at the gate in Tel Aviv I was immediately separated from the rest of the Americans by three security personnel. They took my passport and ushered me to a special interview room. I suppose they were waiting for me - the "security director" was very familiar with my ministry project and had apparently seen my blog. (Hello security directors!)
At this point I was afraid they would send me home. Basel had told me on the plane that I might be stopped and questioned and not to worry, but I have never been questioned like this in my life - not even by American police at a protest. Nevertheless, I spoke the truth. I explained that I had come to study Arabic and the history of Christian worship in Bethlehem, and to build a playground for the children there. I told them I was a graduate student from Chicago. I didn't play around with the visa process (some people had told me to lie or say that I was part of a "Holy Land Tour" from the states.) The security people let me pass after about a half hour and I received my three month visa.
It took Basel a little longer - I waited for him to show up and was questioned twice more while in the airport. At this point I really wanted to get away from Tel Aviv and into Palestine. Repeatedly the intercom at the airport would blare a reminder in English that "no arms are permitted in the Tel Aviv airport." I suppose this is a regular problem in this area.
...
Basel passed through the gate and immediately we found a cab. After we made it to Jerusalem we proceeded to the old city and Basel invited me to stay at his home with his wife and 11 month old baby boy. It was wonderful - in the morning we played some music, had breakfast together and I was able to see the Old City on my way to Beit'Lehem.
I took the number 21 bus into the West Bank. We passed through the checkpoint with no problem.

The wall is profoundly sad. I had heard that it was tall and having had seen photos of the Berlin wall I assumed it would akin to other "separation barriers" built by occupying governments in the past. I was completely baffled and amazed by its size. The wall itself is really a marvel of modern architecture. It snakes through the entire city - it's three stories tall and standing beneath it you have the sensation of being held in the trough of a great concrete wave. It arcs over the land. I will take some photos of my own but you can simply go to google and type in "apartheid wall," - you will see some photographs that can only summarily convey the power of this structure.

The family I am staying with is awesome. Bishara and Shorouq have been very hospitable and they have two beautiful children, Eliana and Ayman. Bishara works with olive wood and his family is famous for making the equally famous olive wood nativity scenes and crèches that are so popular in the U.S. They have a gorgeous home in Beit'sahour with a fantastic view of Beit'lehem. I've uploaded some photos of the view from the balcony. Last night we watched the DVD of my going away party that was made for me by my cousins John and Margaret. It was fun - they had never heard American folk music.

Yesterday I visited the Church of the Nativity and took some preliminary photos - I'm sure I'll be spending quite a bit of time there and I'm incredibly excited - it is truly a hub of Christian activity in the West Bank. Today we're working on my Red Crescent paperwork - they may need me or I may end up doing some photography work around Beit'Lehem and working as a medic on the weekends, not sure yet.

I miss you all very much - you're in my prayers and I hope the weather is good (it's spectacular here). Please pray for me and for all the people who live in the shadow of unjust persecution around the world. Please keep the Salsa family in your prayers as well, and everyone here at the Siraj center.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sadly

It is time to leave Taize. This has been an incredible experience and a very worthwile trip to France. I feel a renewed peace and it was most excellent to be able to meet folks from all over the world. It has given me many new ideas as well... especially regarding community and the way in which we gather to bring praise to God.

But now it's time to continue east. Next post from the Holy Land!

Friday, June 13, 2008

We have luggage!

Finally, I can change my clothes. This is both a blessing for myself and for the entire community of Taize.

This week has provided me with an opportunity to rest and clear my head a bit - I've also been able to spend some time exploring the almost impossibly beautiful countryside here in France. I've visited Macon, Cluny and several other small villages. Cheese and wine in abundance, along with peaceful white cows and very beatiful gardens.

Taize has been an excellent experience - I've spent a lot of time considering both the religious phenomenon as well as the community itself. I believe at this point I have more questions than answers, but I will try to explore some of these issues (and post some pics) when I'm not blogging from a tiny roadside kiosk. :D

Sunday night I should be in Tel Aviv.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Taize!

I made it to France! The weather is beautiful and I was able to spend an afternoon exploring Paris before I boarded the bus to Taize. There are young people here from around the world - I've already met folks from more countries than I can list. The worship is refreshing and I'm trying to spiritually prepare myself for the Holy Land. I've been reading a lot of James Cone and James the Just. The Taize community itself is stunningly beautiful, rolling hills and a pervasive sense of calm.

Sorry no photos yet - Air France lost all my luggage and they have "no idea" where it is - my power converter was in there so I can't charge my camera. On the bright side, my trip just got quite a bit more svelt. I miss my sleeping bag, though.

Love you guys! Miss you all terribly.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Finished!

Emily, Evan and I have finished our four (!) final examinations and are preparing to head back to Michigan. I'll fly out on Sunday afternoon for France. This was a really amazing experience - it's opened many, many new doors. I'm very much looking forward to using my new medical skills in Palestine and hopefully for the rest of my career as a minister. After everything that's happened this month I can confidently recommend NOLS as a phenomenal school with some truly inspiring instructors - Gates, Ed, Liam and Brian were all fantastic teachers and I hope more people take advantage of the programs Wilderness Medicine Institute has to offer. Lander, WY is a beautiful town with some very cool folks as well - I hope my band can swing through here at some point when we develop a tour for this part of the country.

On to France!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Finals Week

I'm entirely exhausted - we have four exams this week. Classes are just about wrapped up and my head is swimming with medical information. I feel incredibly well prepared by my instructors here at NOLS - they've taken great care to work with each EMT student individually to gear them up for the finals. First, the Wilderness exam, then the EMT-B urban course final, the Wyoming practical exam and finally the National Registry exam. I'm doing well in the course (though my pre-med sister and cousin are doing very well).

Lately I've been thinking hard on why I'm here. I've also been thinking about Bonhoeffer and "wish-dreams" - about building playgrounds in Palestine and about why, exactly, I want to be an EMT. Then I was able to read these ten crushing, heart-breaking stories about the quake in China.

Hopefully I will never again remain so comfortable here in my privilege while so many thousands suffer and wait for rescue. Luke 10:1-9

I'll be sure to get some videos up soon, along with more pictures.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Update

It's really incredible how much we've learned in such a small amount of time - Emily and Evan and I have been on emergency-care overload. I'm excited to begin working in the Lander emergency room with my sis tomorrow - we'll be in on Friday and Saturday. Next week is filled with finals - both practical and written exams - and then on Sunday I depart for Taize.
I'm incredibly excited to be completing this training - I think emergency preparedness is important for everyone but especially for those individuals who plan on doing work in developing countries. Also, it's stressful and fun and fast-paced - three things that seem to appeal to me at some basic level. I look forward to continuing my EMT education and possibly working as a volunteer medic at the clinic in Beit Sahour - we'll see what happens when I get there.
Hope all is well stateside! Wish you were here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Pictures up!

I've added some pics - click on the slideshow on the lower right to view them all. Hopefully this google-blogger-picasa arrangement will work out well. I'll update the albums as I go. Hope all is well wherever you are, the weather is beautiful in Lander!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Lander!

And so it begins!

My sister Emily, my cousin Evan and I have all arrived in Lander, Wyoming, to begin our Wilderness Medicine Institute course here in the mountains. I'm preparing for overseas work; Emily and Evan are both medical students who are excited to learn about practical medicine in extreme environments. We're studying for WEMT certification through National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and today was our first day. Completely awesome. We arrived to relatively hot, dry weather - now it's begun snowing and there'll probably be a foot on the ground by morning. NOLS is a wonderful organization and I'll be here until June 6. (I leave for overseas on June 8).

Prior to arriving here in Wyoming I had an opportunity to finally meet the folks from Playgrounds for Palestine at the Friends of Sabeel Conference in Philadelphia. I was only in the city for one day but it was heartening to finally meet Susan Abulhawa in person - she is every bit as courageous and inspirational as I had imagined. I was also able to attend speeches by Marc Ellis from Baylor University and Jeff Halper from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. These are two more of my greatest heroes and they gave me some incredible ideas regarding the Israel/Palestine conflagration.

My last Sunday at Park Church was awe-inspiring and powerfully uplifting. I was commissioned by Rev. Petty and so many people came forward to lay prayerful, gospel hands upon me - I feel called and sent, beckoned and pushed forward by my gracious faith family. Strengthened by their prayers, I am sure that we will bring some new, precious light to this place of conflict and division.

Pictures to come soon!

Monday, April 14, 2008

New Friends for a New Playground!

March and April have been exciting months for the PfP Bethlehem project! I received a wonderful invitation to journey up to Traverse City during the end of March. I was a guest of MidEast Just Peace. I spoke at their meeting as well as offering a presentation to Immanuel Lutheran Church and the Potter's House, UCC. I was impressed and deeply moved by the stories I heard - there is so much solidarity for this cause in Traverse City! I was able to raise over $1500 toward the construction of the playground. Thanks to Gina and everyone else in Traverse City, I very much look forward to visiting again soon.
We also hosted a concert at Park Church last week to raise some money - thanks to Bates and Foote, High Five and Who Hit John? for playing some great music for a good cause.

As I begin to finalize the summer's plans, I'm becoming more and more excited - we're getting closer to our financial goal and the playground is moving closer to becoming a reality.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Moving closer!


Over the past two weeks we have accepted special offerings at Park Church to assist with the costs of the playground - so far we've raised over $2700! This is absolutely incredible - words cannot express my joy at this outpouring of generosity on the part of the members and staff at Park. I hope to bring our message to a few more churches throughout March and April - the Adult Education class on Bethlehem was a great success and we'll take this presentation on the road as we move closer to June.

The official construction of the playground will take place between July 14 and August 17 - during the month prior to this we will be examining the placement and working with the people on site to prepare for its arrival.