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


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.


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 - 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


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


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.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


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


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


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.