Sunday, March 22, 2009

Seperation...No Breathin!

If you ever thought building a wall on the southern U.S. border was controversial, then try talking about the Separation Wall. Here is as short of a summary as possible about the history and problems associated with the Wall: Ever since Israelis declared their independence in 1948, there have been a series of wars between them and neighboring Arabs and Palestinians, resulting in some controversial territorial boundaries. In many cases, the Palestinians were forced out of their homes (so goes war) and into the West bank, the Gaza Strip, and neighboring Arab countries, creating “temporary” camps numbering around 5 million Palestinian refugees. Some Palestinian extremists resorted to suicide-bombings (a.k.a. homicide-bombs) in Jerusalem to fight back for their land. The Israelis responded by building a huge wall to regulate the flow of persons between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israel has a right to build a wall in its own country, however the wall intrudes into the West Bank in several spots (the West Bank has its own Palestinian political authority, but it’s under Israeli military occupation). Since the wall’s existence, there virtually have been no suicide bombings. But many other problems have resulted: The Wall separates families from each other, from schools and hospitals. It’s big, ugly, and runs through peoples yards and streets; it has devastated economies, particularly those dependent on tourism (when we visited Jericho, I saw an huge multi-million dollar hotel-resort that was completely abandoned); many people have to line up at 4 a.m in order to get through the checkpoint to work in Jerusalem, only to return at 10:00 p.m—others simply lost their jobs.

I have passed through the wall on a few occasions, but last time was my favorite. We spent the day in Bethlehem, mostly at Bethlehem University, where we watched a documentary about a Palestinian village that was forced to evacuate by the 1948 Israeli Army. The director was there to answer questions (the film took first place at the last Dubai independent documentary film festival), as well as a panel of 4 college students who answered questions about life in the West Bank and their opinions on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I sat next to another student named Jasmine who spoke to me throughout the movie, and after the presentation we played a short pick-up basketball game with some other students. The overall feelings I got from the students was that they are eager to learn, eager to make a difference, eager to make peace, but very upset and annoyed at the way they are treated and the barriers (physical and social) between them and the Israeli youth. Dr. Mussalem (our Christian Palestinian professor of Islam who grew up in Bethlehem)walked us through the streets he grew up and took us to his favorite restaurant. We never felt unsafe—the contrary, we were welcomed warmly and I want to go back.

This is the spot of the manger.

This is a mosaic of St. Jerome, who, while in this room, translated th Bible from Greek and Hebrew to Latin

The guy in all black on the far right is an Orthodox Greek minister. He made some of the girls turn around and leave the church for laughing while in his church. Good times.

The panel.

People can make wishes if they put their fingers in these holes, and place a coin in the bottom hole. I wished for world peace and a remote control car.

Eating dinner in a cool tent. Best food ever. I sound like a girl.

We had a Christmas devotional, full of Christmas songs, stories, and memories as we overlooked Bethlehem. Nothin' like celebrating Christmas in March.

The streets of Bethlehem. It is hear where I bought a unique nativity set made of Olive Wood. The set shows the three wise men seperated from the manger by a giant wall. Quite the political statement (which I'm trying to stay as objective as possible for now) but I think it said alot about Christ's message. Jesus was born. He lived, died, was risen. So much seperates these people, these cultures. Even Christ came as a sword, seperating families, peoples, even thousands of years later. So much seperation. But underneathe it all there's the possibility to connect. The realization that we are all sons and daughters, human beings, here with a purpose. I'm sounding preachy but I can't wait for the day when walls are non-existent.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Utah's 6th National Park

Did you know that Southern Utah extends into the Middle East? They call the place Petra, but I call it summer’s home. Last week in Petra was the first time I’ve felt at home in a long time (including Bountiful) even though I’ve never been further away from home. I could have sworn I was in Zions, Capital Reef, or Bryce Canyon as I climbed the red baked sandstone cliffs and hiked up the sandy desert trails and slipped through the narrow slot canyons of Petra. I half expected to hear Uncle Wayne fake a warning about rattlesnakes in the brush ahead or hear Aunt Trina tell Jade to stop leaping over cliffs. It was all so surreal.

Petra is the 2nd of the 7 Modern Wonders of the World. I am the 1st. Here are some pictures of 2 different Wonders of the World colliding:

All of the sandstone mountains are covered in tombs and houses carved right into the stony mountain walls by the 5th century Nabataeans. The Bedouins (modern nomadic people like the Gypsies) later began living inside these tombs. Fun to explore.

Recognize this place? I walked out with the gift of immortality. But no girl.

This is me on a donkey. Sideways. I rode on it all the way up to a monastery, scaling slippery cliffs. People kept checking out my ass on the way up.

After Petra we visited Jerash, which is the largest, best preserved Roman architectural city outside of Italy. Once again, I experienced Deja Vu having been in Rome a year ago. All roads do lead back to Rome.


Inside one of the Roman theatres, some military-retired Jordanians started playing Scottish music for us, to which we had a small African style dance party. It must have been an interesting sight to see a bunch of Americans dancing like Africans in a Roman theatre with Scottish music played by Arabs in Jordan.

The big picture on the right is the Jordanian King. He has blue eyes because his mom is British. The people here love him and there are pictures of him everywhere. The two guys in the middle are Princes.

After the tour we watched a bunch of middle-aged Jordanians reenact Roman battles and Gladiator tournaments. Horrible acting + cheesy costumes + obvious choreography = hilarious show.

We got to hangout with the actors afterwards. Violence is so fun.

Jordanian food is the best. I could have eaten ten of these huge, fresh out of the oven, thingies. I am tempted to call them tortillas but I know I shouldn't.

These are the girls before they entered the main mosque in Jordan. Moddest is the Hottest.

The river Jordan. This picture is kinda silly but the river Jordan was a beautiful, peaceful place. We had time to reflect in the cool breeze, dip our hands and feet into the river, and listen to Brother Wilson teach. My mind brought me back to my own baptism and reconstructed the images of Jesus's baptism.

When I first received my 3 1/2 month Jerusalem itinerary, I looked forward to Egypt, the Old City, and Galilee so much that I really had no expectations for Jordan. Jordan was a pleasant surprise, a country full of friendly people, incredible ruins, and biblical history. It reminded me that while I do love to travel and experience what's out there, one place remains at the top of my "favorite places to go" list, and that's Southern Utah. So, Mom and Dad, don't forget that while the Pyramids of Egypt and the Treasury of Jordan are absolutely magnificent, they will never quite live up to my memories of summer campouts to Southern Utah with the fam.