It’s been a busy couple of weeks over here in Israel. Throughout our three weeks in Beit Sahour we took Arabic classes, which helped us to interact with our host families and people on the street in a new way. We were no longer just tourists. When we would try out the new words we learned people would break into a surprised smile and respond in Arabic. We were reminded that we are still “in school” when we had to take our Arabic test, but I think overall we did pretty well for only having seven sessions.
It was difficult to say goodbye to Beit Sahour. After three weeks we had become comfortable with the small town atmosphere and it had started to feel like home after having moved around so much in Egypt and Jordan. We got to know our host families well, and it’s always hard to say goodbye to people who have so quickly become friends and family.
We spent a night in Jerusalem before going to the settlement–Efrat–as a way to prepare and take a breath from being so busy. As we walked through the city streets the differences were startling. In just 8 miles we experienced two very different cultures and lifestyles.
While it was good to be in Jerusalem for a night as a buffer, there is only so much preparation you can do for our upcoming culture shock. We needed to just jump right in. And we did. We only had three days in the settlement of Efrat so we kept our ears open in an attempt to learn as much as we could. We had a tour of the settlement and had the opportunity to hear from multiple esteemed people in the community. This was a challenging experience for all of us, as it forced us to take on multiple perspectives. I think the best part for all of us was the conversations we had with our host families. Personally, I found my host family to be very open and willing to answer any questions I had about Judaism and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Also I think we all really appreciated the conversations that we were able to have with some of the young people one evening after watching a short film about checkpoints.
We are all taking in so much and trying to process everything which is close to an impossible task, but for now I’m satisfied to follow the advice I received from my host dad: constantly keep your eyes open to observe and your ears open to hear, if you get more confused you are on the right track. There are no simple answers to this conflict, and although we’ve experienced so much we are not experts and will not be able to solve the problem. This humbling realization is what we carry with us throughout the rest of our adventures.
Judge Lawrence Burman – average of 7 minutes per case, 57 immigration courts in country, deportation system backlogged with 350,000 cases, 40 % appear in court without representation.
“Like doing death-penalty cases in a traffic court setting,” one immigration judge said in testimony before Congress about the job.
This is hard to read and I felt like I might cry, especially after meeting families that have been in these situations. There are so many stories like this one I’m sure. So many families broken apart. I can’t even imagine but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying. I don’t want to [return home and] act like I don’t know what I do know.”
On February 28, our group left our Spanish classes early to get a head start on our weekend trip to Lake Atitlán. After a warm and humid bus ride, we stopped at a cooperative called Campesino Committee of the Highlands. While walking to the storehouse, Rebecca was happy to see a group of children playing soccer in an open building with a sign saying, “Se prohibe jugar fútbol.”
Once inside, many of us were surprised to see the logo of the cooperative superimposed onto chalkboard-sized, professionally printed tarps with Hugo Chavez’s face and the phrase “Continuemos la lucha!”
On Friday, February 14th we travelled to Tikal for our second weekend trip in Guatemala. We had a really early start to the day – we needed to be up and ready to leave CASAS at 4:30 a.m. so we could catch our flight to Tikal at 6:00 a.m. The flight to Tikal took us about 45 minutes and we arrived safely in our 30 passenger propeller plane. From there we went straight to the Tikal National Park where we toured the Mayan ruins. We hiked to five different sites and our tour guide gave us some background history about the ruins along the way. It was really fascinating to see these ruins and to learn about the Mayan culture in such an interesting place.
Last week we heard from two speakers, the first speech was focused on Neo-Pentecostals and this movement involves a new Pentecostal form as opposed to the old. Neo-Pentecostalism originated after the strong earthquake in 1976 when destruction occurred in Guatemala City, and churches and communities came together as they saw hope in the Neo-Pentecostals. During this time the country became more conscious of God, and the Neo-Pentecostal churches grew from 2% of the population to nearly 40% today. The second speaker was Rafael Escobar, who is the Dean of the Anabaptist seminary, Semilla, where we are studying Spanish. He discussed the Mennonites in Guatemala. The discussion revolved around the distinctives of Anabaptists including peace and non-violence, which is different than the Dispensationalist theology of many other Guatemalan churches. Throughout his speech he encouraged us to explore how we express our faith, where we come from and how we should apply this to our calling here.
What does oppression feel like? What happens if we label the relationship between Israel and Palestine as apartheid, and how does that title change our experience and perception of the region, and America’s own involvement? Are our host families, generous to a fault in welcoming a complete stranger into their homes and filling our plates past protests of complete satiation, silently suffering past their means under inflated prices and lost opportunities? During our lectures and field trips around the West Bank, passionate and convicted Palestinians share their stories and effortlessly evoke our deepest sympathies.
As responsible stewards in an EMU Cross-Cultural, we have been reminded of the importance of a balanced understanding; we cannot fully understand even one side if we neglect to understand both. But when our host families and speakers relay stories of suffering or injustice, how will we walk into a settlement, or an encroaching and internationally illegal community of Israelis on Palestinian land, and empathize with the imposing doctrines of Zionism, of Colonialism?
On our first adventure outside of Guatemala City, we took a three hour bus ride that was split in half. Our first stop where we ate lunch was the Mayan ruins of Iximche. This was an interesting place to see because prior to this we have been learning about the Mayan people. During the week we had visited a Mayan museum close to CASAS where we were able to see and hold artifacts that were 1,500 years old! We also learned about the Mayan cosmovision which embraces the balance of nature, and their precise calendars which accurately correspond with astronomy. While we took a walk around the ruins we were able to see people practicing their Mayan prayer ritual. In the ruins we saw the ancient Mayan soccer field where people played using their elbows and chest to hit the ball. This game was the deciding factor of who would be sacrificed to the gods at the end of the game.
We then took a winding road through the beautiful Guatemalan mountains to arrive at our destination, Chichicastenango. In this town we focused our learning on Mayan culture, markets, and Catholicism. We were able to meet with a women’s widow co-operative that helps them sustain themselves and their families by creating textiles as their sole income. This opportunity allows them to work with an organization specifically like Ten Thousand Villages who are able to buy their products and allocate fair prices. In this co-operative there are twelve women from the K’iche village. This was a fascinating experience to be able to buy items from this co-operative and meet with the women who made them. We also had the opportunity to visit another co-operative called Ruth and Naomi. It was amazing to see that there is hope for people in small villages to make a living for themselves. Continue reading