Thursday, November 23

happy thanksgiving!

happy thanksgiving! have a wonderful day, eat lots of food and watch lots of football.

we're acutally going to get to celebrate with some american friends who live here in bethlehem. no football, but lots of food and other americans from the surrounding area.

Tuesday, November 21

fear vs. foolishness

so yesterday, i (sarah) ventured into the market alone. this was a first for me. it's kinda pathetic really. i mean, i have lived here for almost three months and haven't gone shopping by myself. it is kind of intimidating though. for one, it's super crowded. and everyone is speaking gibberish, or at least that's what it sounds like to me. cars are coming from every direction. the "market" is not so much square with booths set up nicely or a shopping center, but rather a couple of streets with shops all around and street vendors everywhere. there's a mix of produce, clothes, toys, souvenirs, dishes, tea, felafel stands, a meat market. people are everywhere. and so are cars. people walk down the middle of the streets and cars try to run them over. there's no "right of way" here. walking around cars is just one big game of chicken.
so anyway, i went to go shopping for some clothes and shoes. i went from about 1 pm till a little after 2. there are shops everywhere. tons to choose from. everywhere has pretty much the same stuff, but you can barter for a better price than the shop next door would give you. i did find one shirt and two pairs of dress shoes, so all in all, it was a successful trip.
a few minutes after i got back, i heard a lot of sirens. i didn't really think too much of it, because we hear sirens here all the time. i think police cars and ambulances just drive around with their lights on, and sometimes sirens just because they can. anyway, at 3:00, auntie bob, an older norweigian lady who is volunteering here, told me that she and her husband had been up near manger square and they saw the israeli army come in to make some arrests and some palestinians ended up getting shot. no one died, but it was still a pretty dangerous situation. not something i would like to be around. manger square is at the opposite end of the market from the house of hope. probably about a block away from where i had been, maybe fifteen minutes before the soldiers came.
people have asked me if i'm scared living here. i don't know how to answer that. so far, i have not been personally affected by any of the violence that has happened in bethelehem or anywhere in the west bank since i have been here. but this is the second time that i could have been around something that has happened. a few weeks ago, the soldiers came to bulldoze a house, and ended up seigeing a hospital right around the corner from the house of hope. this was in the middle of the afternoon and i had been planning to go on a walk with a few of the girls, which i do all the time, but i talked myself out of it. i don't even remember why. but we would have walked past the hospital as it was happening. i mean, they had road blocks up and weren't really letting people walk by, but i would have tried to walk by. when things like this happen, i start to get scared. but i don't want to be.
i am confident that God will protect me while i am here. not protect me in the sense that nothing bad is ever going to happen to me or near me or i'll never get hurt or be in any danger. but protect me in the sense that His hand is on my life and what happens to me is a part of his plan. but on the other hand, i don't want to be foolish and put myself is unnecessarily dangerous situations. i don't think that i was ever in any real danger yesterday. i was home before anything happened. and i'm a smart girl. if i see and israeli jeep, i'm high-tailing it the other direction. if i see a mob of angry arabs throwing rocks, i'm not going to go get myself caught in the crossfire. but if i had been walking by myself, not being able to speak arabic well, i could have not been able to understand what was going on, i could have accidentally ended up somewhere i shouldn't have been. i don't think either of those are a huge possibility, but still. i has gotten me thinking about how to balance trusting God for protection and looking out for myself.
i don't want to be foolish, but i don't want to sit in my room for the next six months because i'm afraid of what might happen. it's a hard thing to figure out. i don't want to live in fear, but i also don't want to live in ignorance to the potential dangers of my surroundings. i want to feel confident enough to go places alone, get involved in activities without jason, not be dependent on others to always escort me around. but i also want to be safe. and that's a hard balance to find. so far i haven't figured it all out. maybe by june i'll know how to handle life here.

Wednesday, November 15

Mine are cuter than yours

EDIT: I just wanted to say that I am very disapointed in you all. I left pictures of myself shaking like a Vegas showgirl, and we only get one comment. One!! Thanks, by the way, Spentsts.

Allright, here's the deal. I was over checking out John and Carol's blog and looking at some pictures of the kids they worked with in Ghana. There were some good lookin' kids on there. Cute as all get-out, as the saying goes. However, I think that the following pictures demonstrate the fact that our kids are cuter. Enjoy.

Shedha and Razan showin' some love

Asma being Asma

No, this is not a child from an island tribe. It's Kais on Halloween.

We're still working on the nose-picking thing.

Yea, I'm pretty sure he knows he's cute at this point.

Ok, so he's 18 and doesn't qualify as a "kid" but he's still cute . . . and gansta.

Feel free to ignore the kid in the middle when evaluting cuteness

Sunday, November 12

Wer goin' tuh the hitchin'

Since we've been in Bethlehem, we've been told that we should go to a Muslim wedding if we get the chance. They are some great parties with dancing, TONS of food, and fun traditions. We were invited to one that took place last Thursday and Friday (by the family of the groom who we had met once) and decided not to pass the opportunity up. We made the right decision.

Thursday night we showed up around 9, and the party had been going for a couple hours already. The makeshift stage that was set up in the groom's neighborhood was full of young men dancing to LOUD Arabic music. The groom was up on someones shoulders, and all the other dancers had formed a circle around him. Then we showed up.

Immediately, Sarah was escorted by some of the ladies to the place where they were gathered (you can read about that at her blog) and Jesse and I were coaxed/pushed onto the dance floor. Some man with a shepherd's crook came over, and made all the dancers except for Jesse, Myself, and our two partners squat down on the ground, while we danced in the middle of the circle they formed. Yes it felt awkward, and yes it was awesome. None of the songs that we danced to had any specific steps that we had to learn, the basic requirements to dance like an Arab man at a wedding are as follows.

1. Extend your arms to the sides, lift them until they are slightly above your head and move your shoulders to the rhythm.

2. Let your chest (rather than your hips) lead your dance.

3. Get really close to the man you are dancing with (this was also a bit awkward for me, but it was fine once I got over my American desire for personal space).

4. Do your best to move with the rhythm, but it is not required.

5. Make a lot of noise, smile, and don't get in the way of whoever is supposed to be the center of attention. (which turned out to be the foreigners for most of the night)

(In order to fully appreciate the video below, be sure that you have the sound on your computer and watch until the end. The end is the best part)

At one point, a song with English words came on over the speakers. Neither Jesse nor I had ever heard this song before, but apparently it was assumed that we would know how to dance to it. ALL of the other guys squatted in a circle around us, and Jesse and I showed them how to dance to the song. I had lost all my feelings of awkwardness or shyness by this point, or I would be repeating the familiar refrain. It helped that most of the guys assumed that whatever I did was right, since it was obviously an American song that we were dancing to.

We ended up spending about 1.5 or 2 hours there that night, and the next both my legs and my shoulders were quite sore. I was worried that there would be more dancing the next night, on the second night of the wedding.

When we showed up on Friday night, the stage was gone, as were most of the people. Apparently the feast and ceremony had been earlier in the day, so we had missed that part. But the family of the groom knew that we would be coming late, so they stuck around and waited for us.

As we sat and visited, they told us that they had prepared 150 kilos of meat and 50 kilos of bread for the wedding feast (in addition to a heck of a lot of rice). They brought a huge platter of mensaf (rice with yogurt, peanuts, and lamb meat) out to us. One that was probably fit for about 8 or 9 Americans to eat (there were 4 people eating).

Let me set the scene. Sami, Jesse, Sarah and I are sitting on plastic chairs in the middle of the room. 10 members of the grooms family are sitting on the bed, on the steps, or on chairs elsewhere in the room, facing us. This enormous platter of food is in front of us, the four of us are eating off the same platter, and all of the family is eyeing us with every bite, looking for hints of whether or not we are enjoying the food. (it was great food by the way). In addition to watching us, the family members are encouraging/directing us to eat more and more and more and more.

One thing that we probably have mentioned before: Arab people are very hospitable, and in Arab culture, it is also polite to refuse hospitality. (e.g. when someone offers you tea, food, or gift, you should refuse a couple of times before relenting). This creates some awkward moments when you really don't want something. . .

On this night, I did not want to eat any more mensaf. I had probably consumed 2 times as much as I eat at a normal meal, mostly very heavy lamb meat and rice, and I was feeling a bit bloated and almost queasy. However, they decided it was a good time to bring out more meat (which Sarah decided to put in front of me). I really was wondering where the best place to go would be, in case I need to eject the contents of my stomach, as I gulped down the last few bites of meat. Mercifully, the lady of the house realized I was bit uncomfortable (I think the gurgling sounds gave me away) and told me I didn't need to eat any more if I didn't want to.

We sat around for a while longer, and the man of the house grabbed my arm and directed me to put on his keffiyeh and his shalwar so we could take some pictures. His wife also gave Sarah one of her robes and a head covering to wear. We posed against the wall while they oohed and awed over us, and while Sami and Jesse took pictures for us.

Despite all my complaining about sore arms, sore legs, awkwardness, and overeating, we had an incredible time. The two nights we spent with this family were some of the most fun nights that we have had since we've been in Bethlehem. Free advice for anyone who lives in an Arab country: go to a Muslim wedding if you get the chance.

Wednesday, November 1

Ethiopians, Soldiers, and Turks

All right. Three more stories from Eilat:

1. While staying at the Shelter (the name of our hostel), a man I did not know came up to me and asked me to play backgammon with him. I told him that I was not very good, and that he would have to remind me of the rules, but that I'd love to play. He said he wasn't very good either and that it would be fun. One of those things was a lie, one was the truth.

Backgammon is popular game in the Arab world, so I can reasonably be expected to lose when playing against an Arab man. Also, the game was invented by the Turks, so I would be even more expected to lose to a Turkish man when playing him. Finally, I have only played the game with Fro 3 times.

Really, I thought that backgammon was a game of luck, but it was as if I was playing chess against Bobby Fischer. Bobby could tell me all the hints and tips he wanted, he could even tell me what moves to make half the time, but he would still destroy me like Tyson destroyed Peter McNeely. However, I am proud to be able to say that I played backgammon with a Turk.

2. We have a guidebook for Israel and the Palestinian Territories that is about 6 years old. This leads us to some places that no longer exist. For example, we tried to find a pub near the hostel section of town in Eilat, but couldn't find it anywhere. Across the street from where we were trying to go, there was a small bar with music blaring out if it. We decided to wander in, and fortune smiled upon us.

It turned out to be a restaurant/bar run by Ethiopian Jews. There was only one other white guy in the place and I think he was the owner or the manager or something. Our first night in the place, we had just eaten dinner, but one of the Ethiopian men literally forced food into our mouths (when I say literally, I mean it. I held the food in his hand, refused to let me take it with my hand, and forced it into my mouth). It was great, but we were so full that there was not way we could eat more than one bite. Sarah couldn't even handle that much. She made me eat most of hers.

The next night, we went back to the same place for dinner. The food was really intense, and it made a very powerful impression on my stomach. I am used to eating Arab food, which is no light fare, and this still felt incredible heavy. It was also bursting with flavor. As we ate, the Ethiopians watched and corrected our eating style, and interrupted us every two or three bites to ask if we liked the food. It was really fun.

After we had finished eating, the music really started cranking, and one particularly gregarious man (the one who had forced food into our mouths the night before) convinced us to get up a dance in the middle of the restaurant with him and some of the other men. So there we were, three white folks from the US, dancing in between the tables at an Ethiopian restaurant to some sort of music that sounded like a mix between Busta Rhymes, Tribal Beats, and Raffi. (Alright, everything will be alright, we can make it/ Alright, everything will be alright, we can make it).

We were there for about 2.5 hours, and we only left because the hostel had a curfew. When we tried to leave, the other patrons of the restaurant tried every trick in the book to keep us there. I ended up arguing with them in the street on our way out, trying to convince them that we really had to leave, or else we would be locked out of our hostel.

As we were arguing, one of the men ran into the bar (I knew where he was going) and came running out with a beer for each of us to walk back to the hostel with. (This is allowed in Israel). Finally, we were able to leave . . . But I am sure we will be back, God willing.

3. One morning, Jesse, Som, and I got up early to hike in the Negev. We took a bus out to the spot where the trail began, but we could not get a bus back after we were finished with the hike. We decided to hitch back. As we were walking, we came across a checkpoint that was manned by Israeli soldiers. They stopped every car heading back to Eilat, and asked if they would give us a ride. They first promised to find a car full of beautiful, single girls, but later we convinced them that we would be happy to ride back with anybody that would give us a ride.

Jesse and Som got a ride fairly early on, but there were only two seats, so I waited with the Soldiers for another 45 minutes or so. They offered me water, coke, sunflower seeds, and cookies. They asked me what music I liked and tried to give me their Ipod to use, and they constantly tried to make sure that I was as comfortable as possible.

At one point, a soldier who was stationed a little bit away from the check point began to sing "Good Morning Beautiful" by Steve Holy, followed by "You'll Be In My Heart." (The Phil Collins song from Tarzan). The other soldiers started making requests, and even put in my request for some Cat Stevens, but apparently, his Ipod was only stocked with cheesy love songs in English.

My perspective and attitude toward Israeli solders (as people) has really been impacted by this encounter. It was the first time I have interacted with soldiers who did not have reason to suspect or be frustrated with me.

The enduring image of this trip may indeed be dancing in the Ethiopian restaurant. I know that I will never get that song out of my head, and I pray that I will be able to return to that place. Israel is quite a unique place. The blend of cultures, religions, and languages makes it so that it would take a long time to grow bored with it. That wasn't a sales pitch, by the way. It's just the way it is.