It’s been a whirlwind of excitement since we’ve arrived in Lithuania. From getting to know the other students who are studying with us, to figuring out how to navigate around the city of Klaipeda, our journey so far has been amazing. We have class each morning for 3 hours, and then are free to explore Klaipeda, edit photos, or just relax. We’ve just returned from our week long trip to the 3 capital cities of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. The past week was tiring, but also filled with so much learning and beautiful views. A few experiences that struck me in particular were focused around the Holocaust and the history of the Soviet regime. Our first experience was visiting IX fort, which is where Lithuanian Jews were killed during Nazi occupation. Visiting this site and realizing it was exactly where so many people were killed was surreal. This fort was used as a place for mass murder and then later on as a place to house political prisoners who were on their way to the gulags of Siberia. The emotions we all felt during this tour are hard to describe. It was certainly something we’ll all remember because it had a deep impact on us as individuals. A few days later we then visited a memorial site where 70,000 Lithuanians had been murdered by the Nazi Security Police. Being at this site was also heartbreaking. As we walked around though it was hard to know how to feel because the sun was shining and it was in the middle of a beautiful wooded area. The police used this location in order to be able to disguise what they were doing. Along the way we also visited a few museums that provided personal stories, facts, and pictures about the impact of the Soviet regime and the Holocaust.
Though it’s difficult to visit sites like this, I feel that it’s also so important. It forces me to take a step back from my own life and consider what these people went through and the tragedy they faced. Learning about this history in our class was intriguing, but nothing can compare to standing in the exact spot where so many people’s lives were changed forever. That is something I won’t ever forget.
Three weeks initially seemed like a long time to be in DC. The first week we were learning how to navigate the city, open ourselves to a history of African Americans that most of us had never heard before, and realize that there are many perspectives about economic development, affordable housing, homelessness, mass incarceration, education and gentrification that we would have to sort through personally. By the end of our time together we reflected on how much we had learned, how easy it was to find our way to the next event and that the time actually flew by. Here are some of our highlights and significant moments over the three week period we lived on Taylor Street, NE at the Washington Community Scholar’s House.
Miles Walked– Approx 120 miles per person
Hours at Local Rec Center– 3 hours every day ~ 63 hours
Basketball games played– Over 130 games.
Service Hours at Capital Area Food Bank – 210 hours
Kids Meals packed- 407 boxes
Seniors Packets – 2160 boxes?
Sorted 1 huge pallet of 50 lb bags of potatoes
Different Types of Restaurants- Peruvian, Ethiopian, Greek, French, Chinese, South African, Thai, Italian.
Non-profit Visits and Advocacy Day
Capitol Area Food Bank – We spent 15 hours volunteering at the Capital Area Food Bank, which was within a 10 minute walk from the WCSC house. At these volunteer sessions, we packed over 400 boxes of meals for children to take home with them for weekend nutrition, and about 2160 boxes of meals for seniors which would be delivered to supplement their food supply. These meals went to people in the surrounding D.C. area, as well as in Maryland and Virginia.
MANNA – was one of the many non-profits that we visited during our time spent in Washington D.C. On our very first day in DC we joined with MANNA and many other non-profit housing groups for Advocacy Day sponsored by the Coalition for Non-Profit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED) in the DC Council Chambers. We were surrounded by an ocean of yellow shirts. During advocacy day, we learned about the different city budgets for the various affordable housing programs and how these non-profits were meeting with council members to encourage them to support and increase funding for affordable housing. While DC is experiencing tremendous economic growth many long-time residents are being displaced because of rising housing costs. Many units of affordable housing have been lost to redevelopment of upscale housing. After advocacy day, we went to MANNA to learn more about what they do. We learned that MANNA is a non-profit program that buys and renovates houses and then sells them to lower-income families for an affordable price. All throughout the trip, we met people who are involved in MANNA and also people who have purchased housing from MANNA. MANNA is one of several non-profits that are committed to help solve the D.C. homelessness problem.
Sitar – Sitar Arts Center offers after school and summer programs for children around the city. They offer different kinds of classes to take that help them improve their art skills and express their creativity. Some of the courses that are offered include dance, writing, music, visual arts, digital arts, improv, and many more. Sitar gives students a safe place to go after school or in the summer where they can be in a positive learning environment.
Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys –This school focuses on helping educate low income boys, mainly African American, grades K-6. The school is funded by donations from people and organizations in the community. The school’s curriculum is unique because the first six weeks they do not follow a strict lesson plan. The first six weeks, the boys learn to know each other, develop relationships with their teachers, work on basic respect and getting along. This school is special because they require the parents to be active in their child’s education by attending required PTA meetings and helping them at home with homework. The teachers and staff all have a passion for not only making sure the boys get a good education, but also are concerned with helping them deal with situations outside of the school.
Joseph’s House – On May 18, we were able to visit Joseph’s House, a live-in home for those who are homeless and suffering from terminal illness. It was truly inspiring to see how passionate and committed the staff are to providing community and support to those who are suffering and in need. Although Joseph’s House is not a large organization, it has been able to touch many lives, most often in the most vulnerable moments.
Christ House – On the first day of our cross-cultural trip, the group was split into three smaller groups and sent on a scavenger hunt around the city. One group took a walk by Christ House and figure out what the statue was that was outside. On Wednesday May 28th, the whole group visited Christ House to learn more about what they do and their mission. Christ House was opened in December 1985 as the first 24-hour residential medical facility for homeless men and women. Patients are sent to Christ House from area hospitals, shelters, and clinics when they are suffering from a variety of illnesses like cancer, hypertension, kidney failure, diabetes, amputees, etc. Patients tend to stay at Christ House for roughly 45 days. Some leave sooner, and some stay much longer depending on their health condition. Several days during the week, Christ House provides services to other homeless people, like allowing them to come take showers and also providing them with clothing. Christ House focuses on the holistic aspect of nursing by really trying to get to know the people and gaining that nurse-patient relationship while also providing medical care that they need. The mission of Christ House is to provide comprehensive and compassionate health care to sick, homeless men and women in the District of Columbia, and to assist them in addressing critical issues to help break the cycle of homelessness.
We have been to numerous of restaurants around the District of Columbia. The foods here in the city is really great! For example, one of the Ethiopian restaurant called Keren Cafe and Restaurant is an utensils-free sort of place, and the food is so good! The food variety is amazing from Ethiopian to Greek to French, Chinese, South African/Portuguese, and other diverse foods. We have stepped out of our comfort zones and tried something new and we loved it! The places to check out in Washington, D.C. are Keren Cafe and Restaurant, Chinatown Express, Tsim Yung, Sala Thai, Zorba’s Cafe, and Nando’s Peri-Peri.
Turkey Thicket Community Recreation Center – 1 block from WCSC house
After class for the day, majority of the group would go to the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center. At the recreation center, some members of the group were involved in numerous basketball games with members of the community. The most popular games played on the court were 2 v. 2, “Pig” and “Horse”. Brian, Travis, Kim, and Bailey were so competitive with the game, that they kept a running scoreboard at the house. The girls were able to hold their ground and were able to bring home the win. Throughout the three weeks, the students became friends with some of the children and learned about each other. Other students played other sports, including soccer, football, and Whiffle ball. The Recreation Center became a part of our everyday routine and we enjoyed getting to spend time there with the neighborhood children.
Highlights – Nationals Game, Pentagon, Shaw Tour (S. Street), Armor of Light, Time with David, Trial of the Big Bad Wolf.
Nationals Game – Friday, May 13th we attended a Washington Nationals baseball game at Nationals Park against the Miami Marlins. The weather was absolutely perfect, sunny and seventy-four degrees! The game was a very low scoring game with a final score of 5-3, Nationals. Almost everyone in our group sported the Nationals with different t-shirts and hats. Everyone enjoyed watching the game, taking pictures of the field, eating the usual ballpark food such as hamburgers and hot dogs, catching baseballs during batting practice and of course everyone left the field happy with a Nats win!!
Lithuania 2016 summer cross-cultural seminar has begun posting a few photographs from their explorations in and around Klaipeda. Pictured above is a group of the students on their first trip out to the beach on the Baltic Sea.
As we walk through silent, little Bethlehem, I can still hear the three wise men roaming through these narrow streets with their donkeys’ rhythmical clack of hooves fading into the flagrant symphony of commerce and daily affairs that takes place in Palestinian suqs (markets). If anything elevates Bet Sahour over the archeological sites we have visited so far it is the liveliness and musicality that hardly occurs within the granite walls of temples erected for the sun-baked gods of antiquity. The schools, churches, mosques, food shops and other ‘normal’ businesses fill the town with an air of that everyday festivity that is characteristic of small, picturesque towns. And it is this ‘everydayness’ that especially brings to life the miraculous events of old that occurred in this area: there are still flocks of sheep placidly grazing in Shepherds Field where the angels first announced Jesus’ birth, there is still a manger in the hypothetical ‘stable’ where baby Jesus was born, there is still an olive tree where wee, faithful Zacheus climbed just to take a glance at the famed Jesus in his ministry. The divine merging of ancient and contemporary life vitalizes the area and adds an entirely new dimension to Sunday school stories. Proclaiming clearly and loudly the existence of a people, these ‘temples and ruins’ of old have managed to preserve their ‘colors’ nearly to perfection.
What has also been preserved nearly to perfection are the ‘vestiges’ of a 50-year-old martial occupation in Palestine. Hebron, the anointment place of merciful King David, withstands today the strength of Israeli military control. Embedded in Area C (West Bank territory under Israeli Civic and Martial Law), Hebron is a crystal clear example of a slow but steady socioeconomic strangulation. This town is surrounded by Israeli settlements, which are illegal Jewish colonies within Palestinian territory, and therefore experiences a deflating desolation that makes business next to impossible. Yet enterprising micro-businesspeople refuse to leave their homes and refuse to venture into more fertile markets abroad by raising their flag of resistance: to exist is to resist. In silent, little Bethlehem there is still that 2000-year-old hope for peace on earth and good will to women and men, but, since peace belongs to those that can keep it, to Bethlehemites peace takes the shape of a 13-metre-high concrete wall and numerous checkpoints where Palestinians sometimes wait for over three hours to cross in and out in order to get to their daily activities. Yet workers, university students, mothers, fathers patiently wait in these never ending lines in order to build their families, their nation, all while raising their resistance flag: to exist is to resist. The monumental temples and obelisks erected to appease the irate, ever-scowling gods evidently did not suffice in this part of the world because the lords of war are still collecting their entitled share of suffering and despair. And as we move through these people’s struggle, with no more help to offer than our condolence and companionship, we raise their flag of resistance: to exist is to resist.
We planted grape vines at Mr. Daoud Nasser’s 100-acre property. His grandfather owned the property since the Ottoman occupation, and unlike most Palestinians, he possessed documents to legitimize this ownership. The Nasser family has been farming the land since then, passing it on from generation to generation, but as settlements encroach around his property, this generational continuity has come under threat. After the overnight destruction of his 1,500 olive trees, numerous threats, and countless legal quarrels, Mr. Nasser still remains faithful to the struggle: to exist is to resist. Today he runs the Tent of Nations, an organization responsible for proactively building a better future for Palestine by strengthening the productive sector of the nation. The resistance, according to Mr. Nasser, must be built from the ground up emphasizing the role of individuals to achieve the liberation and sustenance of the Palestinian State. This idealistic and perhaps futile hope is what strengthens an entire generation that powers through a decade-long national endeavor. This reality-defying ideal is what inspires an entire country that refuses to leave the ancestral homelands clinging to that 70-year-old maxim: to exist is to resist. And as we prepare to set out, let us say a prayer, of hands and not of mouth, to work for a day when the mass robbery of lands, the 13-metre-high apartheid walls, the excruciating checkpoints, and all the other vast and varied forms of oppression–here and everywhere–will seem as ancient and Ozymandian as the few ‘pebbles’ remaining for the rock-silent gods of power whose worship-filled reigns crumbled long ago with the resounding liberation shout: to Exist is to Resist!
20 March 2016
Charlie Good compiled a video recording of stories from independent travel last week. It can be found on YouTube at https://youtu.be/R_Iqu6RqbEA.
For free travel, the 7 of us, Sarah, Janae, Jess, Stephanie, Josh, Joel, and Josiah went to Monterrico, Guatemala. We took chicken busses, the metro, a lancha (a boat), and a van to get there. We stayed in a resort called Villa Los Cabos, a 20-minute drive from town. While we were there, our mode of transportation was 16 passenger vans that passed every 20 minutes and rarely had less than 25 people in them. Our days were filled with playing games, lounging by the pool, walking along the black sand beach, and taking trips into town.
One day we took a mangrove tour and learned about the protected mangroves and endangered species around Monterrico. More specifically, we learned about the turtle population problem and the efforts that Monterrico takes to protect the turtles. One of our favorite things was the small town feel. By the end of the week, people knew who we were, where we were staying, what we had done, and where we were going next. It sounds creepy, but it was cute. For our final day, the girls went to Antigua to explore the city and the guys went to Amatitlan and took a tour of the lake. Here’s some stats from our week:
# of games played 28
# of people fit into a 16 passenger van 40
# of people sunburned 7
# of jars of peanut butter eaten 7
# of people who wrote Kate’s name for fish bowl 4
# of times the 7 of us watched a movie on an Ipod 1
# of almost fatal blows to the head 3
# of people fit in a double bed 7
# of mopeds almost bought 1
# of eggs eaten 78
# of tiendas visited to get groceries 19
# of times the electricity went out while watching a horror movie 13
# of times Jess killed ants with various cleaning supplies
# of times we went stargazing 4
# of times Josiah scared us by sneezing – too many
# of mangroves climbed 1
# of people seen on average each day at our resort 2
For our free travel week, we spent a week in two different parts of Belize. For the first 3 days we stayed in Punta Gorda with relatives. We got to experience the small town life, explore the
beautiful seaside town, and visit a local chocolate farm. We also spent some time learning how to make typical corn and flour tortillas with our lovely host mom and learn stick from our host brother.
On Monday we headed to Placencia, Belize. We spent 3 days there on the beach exploring the beautiful island. It was a very relaxing and refreshing break from classes and Guatemala City.
-Emily Augsburger, Liza Brenneman and Jen Kuhns
On Saturday, March 5, 2016 we woke up at 4:00 a.m. to catch a taxi to the bus station to start our journey to Hopkins, Belize. After 7 hours on the bus we arrived in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. We then took a water taxi across the Caribbean Sea in order to reach Punta Gorda, Belize. Upon arriving in Punta Gorda we were supposed to take another bus in order to reach Hopkins. However, we quickly realized that, despite what we were told, there were no more buses running that day. Therefore, we asked someone how else we could get to Hopkins. Our options included: staying in Punta Gorda for one night, hitch hiking, or paying a hefty price to take a taxi all the way to Hopkins. After little deliberation we decided to take the taxi and arrived at our hotel at about 5:30 in the evening.
We started our week with a boat tour and dinner that ended in a lagoon where we saw bioluminescent plankton. Kate and Sarah sat with their feet in the water while Alexa and Rachel jumped in.
The next night we went out to dinner at a local restaurant where there was also live Garifuna music. We learned more about the culture and style of drumming while at the restaurant. On the following day we continued to explore the town. Alexa volunteered at the local school, Kate and Sarah explored the local library, and Alexa and Rachel visited a river and a local chocolate factory. On our final day in Hopkins, Rachel and Kate went snorkeling in the second largest barrier reef in the world and Alexa and Sarah went to Mayflower Bocawina National Park to zip line for a total of 2 1/2 miles.
On Friday, March 11 we left at 6:30 a.m. to start traveling back to Guatemala City. We actually managed to catch a bus back to Punta Gorda where we ran into the other EMU group that also went to Belize. We then traveled together until we reached Guatemala City at 9:30 p.m. Our total travel time (to and from Belize) was around 25 hours! It was a great week for all of us that was filled with laughter, adventure, and relaxation.
-Alexa, Kate, Rachel, and Sarah
The Peanut Butter Travels
We came to Guatemala to adventure into the unknown and to travel and stray from the beaten path. What we found this past week was what we were looking for, and so much more. We wanted to see as many parts of Guatemala’s vast diversity as possible: mountains, jungles, rivers, and beach. We were ready for whatever the journey entailed. After researching the Cahabón river area- potential sites to see and hostels along the way, we packed our giant tub of peanut butter and bread (that became almost immediately squished) and set out for just that.
We soon realized upon our exit from Coban that we were saying goodbye to our initial travel privileges of paved roads. From this point on we traveled by shuttle, pick-up, tuk tuk, lancha (ferry), kayak, and taxi. We went spelunking, swam in the crystal turquoise pools of Semuc Champey, jumped off of things that we probably shouldn’t have, hiked through Mayan Q’eqchi’ jungles, explored caves by candle light, kayaked the Río Dulce, learned about jungle herbs and medicinal plants, observed the chocolate process from seedling to bar, and explored other hidden gems of the jungles. We met amazing travelers along the way who narrated their own stories of travel and learnings. Inspired by them, we adventured away from the safer typical tourist path and found our own way.
Guatemala became our classroom as we learned from the incredible spectrum of people and cultures along our path. We saw where cultures are mixed and where they are separated, all part of the complexly flavored stew that is Guatemala. We learned that who you travel with makes all the difference as we supported, guided, and relied on one another. Throughout our journey we got a small but impactful taste of what it is like to make travel plans a reality. Overall this experience has empowered each of us to travel more, fearlessly embracing the unknown path. But don’t forget the peanut butter.
Last week, we arrived at Jerusalem University College (JUC) after spending a few days at the Jewish Efrat settlement in the West Bank, marking the transition from contemporary politics to ancient biblical geography. For me, this change has been a welcome one, especially after the intensity of Efrat. For once, it’s nice to be a college student again. We live in dorms, these beautiful old buildings that once housed a Palestinian Boys school. Just outside is a garden where students sit in circles for lunch, soaking up an idyllic seventy-degree sun. The rhythm of going to class and rushing to the cafeteria for lunch reminds me of the days when I was an underclassman living in the dorms, a fond memory indeed. During breaks between class, we play Knockout at the hoop just outside the academic building.
The JUC program is obviously quite distinct from a normal college class, however. After a few half days in the classroom and puttering around Jerusalem, we spent two full days exploring the biblical archeology to the east – Jericho and the Jordan River – and west to the Beit Shemesh, where David killed Goliath. In all of our studies, our wonderful professor, Aubrey Taylor, stresses the geographical and cultural understandings that are needed to place the Bible in its proper Near East context. For example, we talked about the geography around Jerusalem, emphasizing both the local valleys that protect Jerusalem to the west, south, and north, and the broader isolated Judean Hills. All to say that Jerusalem was isolated, and thus protected from invaders, but it didn’t have the access to international trade route that ran along the coast to the west. Perhaps this isolation should color our reading of how wary the Israelites were about foreigners, and their relative poverty in the hill country.
Yet, outside of this academic rigor, I’ve had fun exploring too. On Tuesday, we spent time in the City of David and walked through Hezekiah’s tunnel, which extends a good 500 meters from its Gihon Spring source to the Pool of Siloam inside the City of David. Several renditions of “Wade in the Water” were sung as we trudged single-file in knee-deep water. Of course, there is importance to this tunnel, which was rapidly built when Hezekiah rebelled against the Assyrian Empire (which went badly, unsuprisingly). There’s a story about one of the early explorers of the tunnel, Charles Warren, who was crawling through the tunnel back when it was heavily silted, and the water level rose to the point where he was twisting his neck to keep his head above the water. Fortunately, we didn’t have such difficulties!
Another highlight was the Jordan River, where five of our group were baptized by Linford in its muddy waters. Just behind us were Israeli soldiers, and just on the other side of the bank with Jordanian soldiers looking on, others were baptizing in the same spirit. Here, too, we read about the Israelites fording the Jordan before taking the city of Jericho during Joshua’s conquest.
Today, we took our first exam, and then had the afternoon off, a rare chance to sit back and relax. Without weekend breaks and only a few hours in the evening after 10 hour days in the field, it was rejuvenating to throw Frisbee in the garden and do some laundry before heading out for another week in the field. Tomorrow we head to Ashkelon to swim in the Med, Monday we swim in the Dead Sea, and the rest of the week we head north to the Galilee where we sleep in bungalows overlooking the Sea of Galilee. What a week to look forward to!
Thursday night we all stayed at CASAS because we were to leave early Friday morning at 4:45 a.m. for our 6:30 flight to Petén. Half of the group played the card game “Scum” in the airport. It was a lot of commotion at that hour, in such a small airport, but was tons of fun. The flight was about an hour long and we were all excited to receive Pringles and Chikys (chocolate cookies) on the plane. We arrived at out hotel “Gringo Perdido” (meaning “Lost Foreigner”). Although the day was slightly overcast, many didn’t think twice about putting on their bathing suits and spending the rest of the day in the lake paddle boarding, kayaking, swimming, and boating. The only obligation we had that day was dinner at 7:00, which consisted of amazing tomato soup, marinated chicken, rice and cooked carrots, with chocolate cake for dessert. While we were waiting for dinner, everyone split into three groups to play card games: “BS”, “Scum”, and “Resistance”. It is fair to say that the games got loud and rowdy. At night, it was a new experience for most of us to sleep under mosquito nets in a little cabin without any windows, only curtains.
Saturday, we headed to the Mayan Ruins in Tikal which was about an hour away from our hotel. We spent the next 4 or so hours exploring beautiful, ancient temples. We were able to climb up many of the ruins. One of the ruins only took 204 steps to get to the top…only ha ha. For some, fears of heights were faced and conquered. Not that we are competing with the hacky sacking competence of the Middle East CC group or anything, but we played some hacky sack on top of some pretty big temples. You know, no big deal. Throughout the tour of Tikal National Park, we saw beautiful toucans and monkeys! After the trip, we got an amazing lunch at a local restaurant. Back at Gringo Perdido, many got back in the water. Some went in early and relaxed in the hammocks for a few hours until dinner.
Sunday we packed up and headed to the town and island of Flores to meet EMU grad Jeanette Nisley and her family at their restaurant, where they made us some amazing food. Lunch consisted of mashed potatoes, pork, broccoli, bread and JAM! It was a nice taste of home. While we were there, she told us the story of how she moved to Guatemala after a cross-cultural experience and began working with the healthcare system. Their hospitality was amazing! After lunch, some of us went on a boat ride tour of the lake and the little town, while a few stayed back and explored the city by foot.
It is safe to say that this weekend was nice and relaxing for us, and we all wanted to stay there for a few more weeks. This is a weekend that we will never forget!