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.
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.