Hard as rock
Soft as the sand
Move like the wind
Fly like the birds
And forever free
This description of the bedouin life was given by a bedouin I met at Petra yesterday. Petra’s ancient buildings and red mountains are impressive, but even more amazing are the people that we got to meet while exploring. Just like our friend said about his people, they exhibit an enviable freedom and infectious simplicity.
So, apparently I have forgotten about the existence of my blog. We are currently in the midst of our travel component: we spent an incredible week in Morocco and are now in Istanbul, Turkey. Morocco is a country full of unique smells, sights, tastes, and sounds. We spent a lot of time exploring souks (markets), wandering around ancient streets, and hearing from local speakers about Moroccan culture, history, and politics. Istanbul seems more European and is surrounded by water – it’s beautiful in a very different way. Tonight we got to go to a Sufi dervish, which is a meditative ritual based on spinning in circles. It was so enchanting!
There are so many other stories I could share, but I’m not the word-vomitting type (I think!). Instead, I’ll finish with a quote a friend shared during a good conversation today: “happiness is not real unless it is shared”. I’ve been realizing this more and more while traveling – good things and good experiences lose their value when they’re not shared.
Last weekend we got to take a much-needed break to hike up Masada, swim at the Dead Sea, and explore Caesarea, a city on the Mediterranean coast.
We recently got to spend a fantastic weekend doing home stays with Orthodox Jewish families in a nearby town. Shabbat, which begins at sundown on Fridays and ends about 24 hours later, is the pinnacle of the week for Jewish people. Because no work at all is allowed as soon as Shabbat starts, it’s normal to being preparing for it on Tuesday or Wednesday, and the hours leading up to Shabbat are busy with cooking and cleaning (no fire or electronics are used once it begins). Once the sun sets, men and some women head to the synagogue for a special service. There are no cars on the roads, and people have time to stop and chat with each other as they walk home for a celebratory dinner. The atmosphere on Shabbat is amazing. The few things that you can really do are read, take walks, nap, and talk to people. For 24 whole hours your phone, emails, and to-do list disappear, and all of a sudden the day feels so long and so full. My host sister and I walked to the park with her little nephew, and ended up joining an ultimate frisbee game (not sure if that counts as work but it was so fun). Anyway, I think that everyone, regardless of their religion or lack thereof, should practice some kind of Sabbath. It’s amazing what taking one day of the week to fully allow yourself to rest does for people and communities. Try it!
Yesterday was the busiest day I’ve had in a while. After our classes, a couple MESP friends and I hurried to West Jerusalem to attend a class at Hebrew University, which is taught by a great speaker that we’ve had for some of our own classes. We made it to the university and felt like freshmen all over again, wandering around with coffee in hand, having no idea where we were or how to find our class (I wonder if international students feel like this). We managed to find the right building and room and really enjoyed the lecture, which was on reconciliation theory. After the class, we had less than an hour to figure out how to get from the campus to our Dubke (dance) class, which is in another city. All in the midst of rush hour. We settled on a really over-priced taxi, and I was so frustrated about being in a rush and having to pay so much for transportation. When the driver dropped us off at the check point, he yelled out the window in Arabic, “remember, there is always time”. It was a simple reminder of a constant truth: time is relative and should never be a higher concern for me than the people beside me. It wasn’t the end of the world that we were half an hour late to the class, and our teacher was kind and accommodating. I’ve struggled with living in a polychronic culture – which I love – while studying in a very monochronic-oriented program. I am naturally the one to be late to everything, but am trying to be more on time and have realized that some people really do feel disrespected or anxious when the schedule isn’t adhered to. And for those days when time isn’t something I can control, I am grateful for the words of sages disguised as taxi drivers who remind me of my priorities.
Credit for the above pun goes to my friend Amelia, who was with me yesterday when we stumbled upon a piece of Jamaica in the middle of downtown Jerusalem. Yes, you read that right. We went to an open-mic night at a place that’s a drumming school by day and concert venue by night, and when we were greeted by the soothing sounds of Reggae I completely forgot we were in Israel! Those of you who know me well know that anything Reggae makes me beyond excited. Anyway, we listened to a variety of kippa-wearing, dread-lock-rocking performers who rapped and sang about everything from Purim to Ashkenazi Jews (some were serious and others were downright hilarious). This all probably sounds absurd, but it just goes to say that you never know what you’ll encounter when you study abroad! Also, I’m gaining more and more appreciation for Israeli culture. It’s amazing to see how diverse Jewish society is and every day we meet people who defy all the stereotypes I’ve ever had of what it means to be in Israeli.
This past week we stayed with families in the Bethlehem area, getting a better sense of what Palestinian culture is like. We also got to travel as a group to a few cities in the West Bank, hearing from local speakers on the conflict and getting to experience a few special sites in each city. It’s been a challenging week for me, with several ‘Type 2′ funny moments – experiences that you can only laugh at after they’re over.
In the middle of our second night of home stays, the other girl who was staying with my host family became suddenly ill and got up several times to throw up. Soon after I woke up and went to check on her, our host mom also got up to ask what was happening. We tried to explain that she had probably gotten food poisoning the day before, but our host mom adamantly disagreed, saying “No! I will tell you what it is! It is because you did not wear your jacket yesterday – it is because of the cold!” She didn’t have medicine, but she offered my friend a bit of Brandy, which I guess went with her theory about the cold weather being the culprit.
Whether or not her conjecture was accurate, she was right about the chilly weather. It seems like Palestinian homes are built with the hot summers in mind and heating is very expensive, so it gets really cold inside – probably around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. I no longer take heaters for granted!
The academic focus of the past week – and really the semester in general – has been the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I’ve really appreciated becoming more educated about it, but it has also been disorienting hearing the frustration and anger of people on both sides of it. So many people resort to blaming and sometimes demonizing the other side, which doesn’t seem to accomplish much. However, there are also many brilliant and hopeful people involved in seeking solutions and peace. One of them, who spoke to us, was featured in a documentary we watched this week. It’s called “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in learning a bit more about the Israel/Palestine issue. Most people think of Bethlehem solely as a pilgrimage site, but it’s also a city of cultural richness and political tension.