Friday, July 27, 2007

A Meal for Mosquitos

This week has been an abnormal week, without much of the usual routine. Sunday night I went to a Messianic (though mostly evangelical) church in Jerusalem. There were some songs in Hebrew and I sat by a very eccentric jewish believer, originally from South Africa. It was a hard experience after being in "Arab-land" for so long and seeing all the difficulties experienced by people here. There was a brochure, for example, requesting prayer for those youth in the Israeli army who are "defending Zion", much like we would do in churches in the US. It was revolting to me, however. These soldiers make life a living hell for Palestinians, and yet the church was encouraging us to pray for their safety as they "protect" their country.

My next experience involved a solo expedition into Israel proper. After 5 buses and 5 1/2 hours, I arrived in Rame, a Druze (a branch off religion from Islam) village in the Galilee region. I stayed with a friend of a friend who refused to serve in the Israeli army and thus was jailed. Turns out this guy's father is a VERY famous Palestinian poet. I got to meet him briefly. I stayed overnight in Rame, and learned about how life is for Palestinian's who live withing Israel and are Israeli citizens (as opposed to West Bank and Gaza palestinians who don't have citizenship and are denied most rights). Life for them is very difficult also.

My third adventure involved volunteering at a summer children's camp, put on for the kids of the refugee camp where I live. The summer camp is at the local YMCA and involves camping and the usual camp activities. After the long trip back from the Galilee I went straight to camp and began helping out. That night I slept there and nearly got eaten alive by mosquitos (never again!). This camp lasts for 10 days and I will be helping on and off.

I have two weeks to go. Crazy! Please be in prayer for my remaining time here. Thanks for reading and caring! Salaam (peace).

Friday, July 20, 2007

From Jon-Al Ajnabee

Here is Jon "al Ajnabee" , checking in once again. Jon is much easier for people to say here than Jonathan and Al Ajnabee means the foreigner, a word I hear constantly whether walking on the street or sitting in a taxi. My status as a "Ajnabee", of course follows me everyone I go and is indellibly printed on my pale-white (though more nicely tanned, now) skin. It has its advantages like being able to travel where I want, more or less do what I want, and getting hand fed when being a guest at people's homes (this happened to me yesterday... was quite bizarre). All this while Palestinian who live here can hardly travel within their own country, many are very restricted in what they can and can't do, and some depend on the UN and other organizations for their daily bread. I am ashamed many times of this.

Why me and not them? Why am I so different by holding this little blue document called a passport? This little paper document makes all the difference in the world... and I am ashamed to have it at times. I am tiring of constantly, by nearly everyone I meet, being asked whether in joke or jest in I can take them with me to "America" or help them get there. Today I got proposed to by a girl who is from Gaza, but lives now in the West Bank and can't get back to Gaza. She's stuck here. The girl gave me a marriage proposol on the spot, in jest (though there is some truth in every jest), in order to get a green card to the US. It really saddenned me.

So I have three weeks left here. Im doing allright, but will definitely be ready to be home when the time comes. Everything just weighs on you here so much. Till then I will be doing some interviews, a little traveling, continuing my Arabic and wrapping up relationships and my volunteer work. Life has now a constant rhythm that I am accustomed to: lots of hanging out, lots of talking, some food every once in a while... :)

Thanks for hanging in there with me. I appreciate you all!

Salaam. (for more pics of my trip look under the "links" section on the right of the page)

Friday, July 13, 2007

ال حى في فلسطين (life in Palestine)

Hello Again!

Life has been rather droll since my last post and droll seems to be more difficult. When the novelty of hanging out with people wears off you realize that there is not a whole lot else to do around here. Maybe I'm starting to see what it's like for people who live here and aren't just on a nice little summer vacation. And I even have things to do like volunteering and Arabic classes. Lots of the youth (and jobless adults, of whom there are many, many) here in the camp have literally nothing to do. I think its this boredom and listness that drives many people crazy.

This last week I once again hit a wall, one could say, and had a taste of some depression: lack of motivation, being really tired, discouraged, etc. I have also realized how alone I am here in many ways. I have realized that, if I was to do a similar program again, I wouldn't do it without going with other Christians whom I knew. (The prospect for a wife, for the next time around, seems very appealing at the moment :). Living alone with a muslim family and doing a program not specifically Christian in nature has had its toll on me spiritually. One thing that has been difficult is that many of the big excursions and trips we go on are on Sundays, so if I go I have had to miss church. I have decided to not go on any more trips, so I should be able to go to church from now on.

My efforts to make contacts with Israeli-Jews, has thus far been ineffective. This is something I want to focus on in my remaining month here. I feel that to be effective in creating change here (and in simply undertanding the issues) on needs to hear and experience both sides of the wall, as it were.

Some random things I have experienced/seen this last week: the city of Qalqiya (a city almost completely surrounded by the wall), a grape-leaves lunch at a friends house in the camp, hearing the story of somone who slept away from home fore 3 months out of fear of being arrested, the actual arrest of a different man protesting the building of the wall, an hour or so conversation with a new friend, almost completely in Arabic (!).

On a seperate note, I would love to tell people in the US the real story of the situation here. If any of you have contacts in newspapers or other media who would be interested(or know of similar opportunities to share my stories once returning) please let me know.

(see some more pictures on my pic page- see link on the right)

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers! Keep them coming!


Friday, July 6, 2007

Past the Half-Way Mark

Greetings from hot and hotter Bethlehem, where Jesus was born under military occupation and were now 60,000 Palestinians live, again under military occupation, though this time now Roman, but Israeli.

It really has been a sultery last couple of weeks, for both the wheather outside and as far the wheather of people's souls. Gaza has been a nightmare and things in the West Bank have been difficult as well. Daily there is news of deaths, of military operations, of suffering. As typical for the summer, Israel has cut the water in the camp for the last 10 days or so. Some have gone without a shower for the 10 days. One of the bright spots (though really just bitter sweet) was the release of another guy from prison. He is the brother of one of my good friends in the camp and is well loved and respected here. The party for him was especially big and a great release for the camp. We all piled into cars, loaded with flags and with the horns blaring, to welcome his taxi as it came into Bethlehem. He is 26 and was in prison for 2 1/2 years, reportedly because he is an artist and was doing art in protest of the occupation for different political parties.

Personally I am doing well, though there are many times when I count down the days util I will be home and in an environment where I can communicate easily and where the expecations for what i am to do are clear. This last week, for example, I made several cultural blunders that got a couple people somewhat angry at me.

Arabic is going well. I am feeling quite pleased with myself at the moment. I am able to keep a conversation going on a variety of basic topics and can answer most basic questions about myself.

Last week I visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum. So much suffering experienced by the Jewish people that continues to this day for both Palestinians and Jews alike. Each side's suffering easily becomes an excuse to inflict suffering on the other sides. One's suffering makes one blind to the suffering of others. Lord have mercy on this region that seems so hopeless and messed up. When visiting the museaum I was able to meet, by chance, an American-Israeli-Jew (who lives in the Old City of Jerusalem!) and am now hopefully going to be able to meet with him this next week to get his perspective on everything. Please pray that this works out and that this serve as a door to more connections with Israelis.

Tommorow I am travelling with my group to visit Nablus, Tulkarm and Qalquiyam, cities that have seen the worst suffering in the West Bank. It should be eye opening experience.

I have 5 more weeks left here. Thanks for your prayers and emails.

(I added some new pictures to