EMU Cross-Cultural

Mayan spirituality and culture

Mexico/Guatemala 5This week our theme was Mayan spirituality and culture. We started out by hearing some of the history of the Mayans and how they’ve been influenced by Western ideas and practices. Even the people who do still practice Mayan spirituality have incorporated other doctrines and traditions. I never really knew much about Mayan spirituality, but something that stood out to me from what we learned was that they call their god Ukux Caj, meaning “heart of heaven” or “what is most important in all that there is.”

Later in the week, we visited the Mayan Language Institute, an organization that is working to preserve the 22 different Mayan languages spoken here in Guatemala. The man who presented there talked about how language is such an integral part of one’s worldview, but how many Mayans feel pressured to abandon their heritage and conform to the more prestigious ladino culture, including the use of Spanish. In some ways it reminds me of the legislation in my home state, Indiana, that is promoting the use of only English.

Ruth Maust and Suzanne Opel in front of Mayan ruins Over the weekend we took a trip to Chichicastenango, stopping to see some Mayan ruins along the way. The absolute peace of the ruins made it hard to imagine the war and conquest that once took place there. In Chichi, we stayed at the Ruth and Naomi Artisan Cooperative, one of the suppliers of absolutely beautiful bags and textiles to Ten Thousand Villages. We also visited a widows’ cooperative further out in the country where they weave and embroider scarves, traditional clothing, purses, belts, and so much more. The sheer amount of color was almost as amazing as the fact that these women have found a way to successfully support their community.

We wrapped up the week by attending a Catholic mass in Chichi. This was just one example of how Mayan culture has blended with other influences. Certain parts of the service are done in K’iche, the Mayan language of the region, and there are various altars around the church that have significance for Mayan believers. After church, we were set loose in the market. The colors, the maze of vendors, the persistent kids who followed us around, the people trying to shove through the crowd, and the bargaining made for a whole different experience. Each purchase felt like a victory, but at the same time I couldn’t help but wonder if the vendors were really getting a fair wage. After a full weekend, it was a relief to finally come back home.

-Ruth Maust

The final week in Syria

Sa’lam Everyone!

Middle East 4Sadly we had to say goodbye to Syria this week. We had our last Arabic class Wednesday where we had our final exam which was just a short conversation with our teachers. I’m happy to say that we all passed the class and are now at level one. It’s sad to be leaving this place where I feel comfortable and semi- at home but I am excited for the next parts of our semester.

One very exciting thing that happened this week is that we all went to a Haman or public bath. The guys (including Linford) went Sunday with Ben the MCC rep and the girls (including Janet) went Tuesday with Amber, Ben’s wife. It was really fun and very relaxing. Okay, so this is what goes on, and it’s basically the same for men and women except the men’s hamam is bigger and the attendants aren’t as nice lol. We got the all inclusive package which included towels, shampoo, soap, the stream room, water area, a scrub, a massage, and then tea afterwards. First you sit in the sauna/stream room for awhile and then you go to the water area. There they turned the steam on also and there are basins with hot and cold faucets and basically you just pour hot and cold water or a mixture on yourself and sit in the steam for while to loosen up your dead skin. It was really relaxing and felt amazing. After that, whenever you were ready, you went and got scrubbed; this is the fun part, kinda. What happens is you lay on the floor and they go at you with a pad thing that feels like sandpaper and just scrub all the dead skin off. It hurt a little but wasn’t as bad as I expected and was well worth it. Once you’re scrubbed you wash yourself and hair and get all nice and clean. Then you go and have your massage which was basically like a full body rub for 5 min. Then you get towels and go sit on the benches in the sitting area and dry off while drinking tea. 🙂 While the girls were in the hamam there was a girl there who was getting married in 2 days. She had her mom and bridal party there with her. Usually brides will go to a hamam with their bridal party a few days before the wedding. They bring food in and will spend all day in there having a party. It turns into an all day spa day basically.

On Thursday the group traveled to Aleppo which was a 5 hr bus ride from Damascus. In Aleppo we went to the Citadel which is a castle from before 200 AD, basically really old. It was huge and had an awesome moat on the outside. You could see a lot of how it would have looked from how the ruins were arranged. We also went to several Mosques around the area. The next day we headed to Palmyra. Before we got to Palmyra we went to St.Simon Cathedral. St. Simon is a saint who sat on a column for 40 years teaching people about God, and the cathedral was built around his column after he left. It consists of 4 separate churches, and was very well kept. After that we went on to this huge Citadel called the Krak De Chealivers. This castle was just amazing, really well restored and in good shape. It was so huge and the outside wall was basically all intact. There was a wall that surrounded the castle and then the castle itself. The castle was surrounded by 13 towers. You could see the places where they dump hot oils down on enemies. It was great, better than the one in Aleppo. On Saturday we went to the Palmyra museum which had lots of artifacts recovered from the old city. Everything was very detailed and must have taken forever to make. Then we went to the temple of Bel which was huge, and also saw some tombs; tower tombs and underground tombs which are just as their name says in a tower or under the ground. After that we then toured the old city of Palmyra; it was really spread out and I was surprised by how much of the city remains or has been uncovered. You can see the main arch where caravans and camels traveled through which was lined by pillars many of which are still there.

As a way of reflecting on my time in Syria I created a list of some of the top experiences or things from this past month. So here they are in no particular order.

1. Food
2.The people
3.Sweets
4.Hamam
5.Berlitz language study
6.Shopping in the Souk
7.The Old City of Damascus
8.Kamal- our cook at St.Elias Monastery where we stayed
9.Traveling to old archeological sites

-Olivia Nussbaum

Delhi, India

India 3Namaste to all back home! Greetings from India! I was excited when I was asked to write this week because I knew exactly what I wanted to share with everyone back home. I wanted to share about getting to hang out with some kids from the slums of Delhi. We met with the leaders of the Reach Out and Pass It On (ROPIO) Foundation to learn about their program for helping children to take their rightful place in society through their Come Together Family (CTF) branch. It was rather eye-opening to realize how many people live in the slums. In Delhi alone, 52% of the population (approx. 20 million) lives in the slums and those numbers are still rising! After listening to some of the hard facts about the poor living in the slums, the program director filled us in about ROPIO’s mission to help the children of the slums by teaching and tutoring students after school and by re-enrolling drop out students and supporting them to the completion of their education. ROPIO also gives the children a chance to explore their own natural talents and gives them a place where they can showcase their skills. When we finished our discussion session, we all went out to go meet some of the children involved in this program and we were able to interact with and just get to know some of these great kids.

We played some ice breaker games and eventually just sat around talking and trying to get to understand each other.  Since none of us can speak Hindi and the children spoke only a little English it made the language barriers interesting, but it was really cool to see that we could still relate without language having to be the main factor. During one activity it was fun to talk with some of the youth about different random things such as their ambitions, likes and dislikes favorite classes, favorite songs, etc. I have to say it was rather surprising how excited they were about Justin Beiber. They sang us some of his songs, and we had fun just goofing off together.

Something that really hit home and meant a lot to me was after we played a treasure hunt game. We were all told that there would be a prize at the end for whoever finished first. Towards the end, all of the groups were left with just one number as a clue that corresponded with all of the other group’s numbers for a final code. We had to work together in order to get all of the pieces to crack the code. Once we cracked the code, the leader explained the reasoning for the game. He said that competition can put people against each other in order to try to win, but it is important to realize that we all need to work together in order to reach our end goal, which today was to crack the code that said “family.” The leader said that it is important to realize that we are all one family striving for the same goals and wants, so if we work together then things will go much better than if each of us was on our own. So many times I have been frustrated with America’s individualistic and competitive nature because through this system only one person really wins and the rest lose. It was really great to see these leaders teaching these group working skills to their youth. Also, it was nice to be reminded that I need to take the time to help out my fellow friends and other people without getting so wrapped up in being competitive and going after what I want that I would step on someone else. Working with the slum children has been one of the most rewarding and valuable experiences for me thus far. I hope that we all will continue to keep learning and growing throughout the rest of this trip. I, personally, feel like I have already been challenged to grow in many ways and I hope that it continues. Thank you for all of your thoughts and prayers – I have been especially grateful for them! Namaste!

-Heather Kennell

Mahabodhi Temple

Our visit in Bodh Gaya has come and gone but our group still talks about how much we enjoyed our time there. The open spaces, fewer amounts of people and a few free days were refreshing in many ways, not to mention the many delicious cups of chai to go along with great conversations.

A personal highlight for Bodh Gaya was our visit to the Mahabodhi Temple, one of the pilgrimage destinations for Buddhists where the tree of enlightenment grows. We were all tired and wanting our promised nap after an overnight train from Kolkata but our schedule had been rearranged and we were told we had a temple tour first thing after breakfast. As we walked into the temple we were surrounded by Buddhist monks, nuns and many others chanting their mantras, practicing different styles of prayer and putting all their focus into their spiritual practice. Our Guide for the temple tour was full of history and facts keeping my attention completely throughout. It was refreshing to see people so dedicated to their spiritual practice and it helped me to appreciate Bodh Gaya a lot more than I had when I first arrived.

-Nicole Ropp


Report from Guatemala

Mexico/Guatemala 4This past week has been a nice chance to settle into the routine of our lives here in Guatemala for the next while.  Returning to the houses of our host families every night finally feels a little bit more like home, using the camionetas (public buses) is not as daunting a task as a week ago, and Spanish classes are off to a great start.  Every morning we study Spanish for 4 hours, and then after lunch our activities vary from day to day.  Here is a glimpse of our weekly schedule:

Mondays are our free afternoons, a nice chance to email home or catch up on that homework we put off until too late.  Tuesdays we take a class (in English) about topics pertinent to life in Guatemala.  Last week Professor Héctor Casteñeda took us on a quick trip through Guatemalan history, from the pre-colonial life of indigenous Mayans through the 30 year long civil war to current issues of continued structural oppression.  We spend our Wednesday afternoons in worship, prayer and reflection on our experience.  Thursdays we take a field trip! This past Thursday we visited the National Cemetery, and then visited the city dump literally right in the cemetery’s back yard.  What a contrast between the grand mausoleums of the wealthy, the wall of niches for the poorer, and the poorest working in the landfill in back.  Finally, Fridays are a chance to check-in with the larger group to discuss the difficulties of life in another culture and the adventures we have had.

Cody Walker enjoying a freshly roasted marshmallow Our weekends vary, but we usually take a trip somewhere.  This past week our destination was nearby Volcán de Pacaya, one of the active volcanoes in the area.  The hike confirmed for many of us that perhaps we have been neglecting regular exercise, but the beautiful views certainly made up for it.  Unfortunately, for safety reasons, we didn’t encounter any molten lava (in previous years this was a regular occurrence, but since a recent eruption eliminated the path to the rim of the volcano, current tours take a different, safer route), which disappointed some of us.   To make up for it, we brought marshmallows and enjoyed a mid-hike snack of volcano-roasted marshmallows.  The vents in the ground provided the ideal distribution of heat around the marshmallow, making for perfectly toasted sugary-gooeyness.

Even though we have a lot of fun climbing volcanoes and applying our developing Spanish skills, this trip is also a sobering one.  Almost every day I am reminded, either in class or on a field trip or in an assigned passage I read, of the oppression that is common throughout Latin America, and the gross human-rights violations that have happened and still continue through today.  Even more difficult to grapple with is the part that my own country has played in the drama of Latin America.  In the words of the late Catholic priest Henri Nouwen, “Looking at the movements of the U.S. from the perspective of this poor, helpless, and dependant country is a quite different experience than looking at it from within the United States”.  Though he was writing from his experiences in Bolivia 30 years ago, his words have an eerie applicability to the situation in Guatemala as well.  And though the civil war formally ended in 1996, it is difficult to learn that the peace accords are selectively applied, and many Guatemalans still deal with racism and extreme poverty.

We left the border between the United States and Mexico just two weeks ago, and yet here we are in Guatemala, facing even more subtle borders.  As we continue to immerse ourselves in the culture here, may we discover how we can cross these borders.  Perhaps then we will discover what it means to love our Guatemalan neighbors.

-Brandon Waggy

Visit to Lebanon

Middle East 3Marhaba!

We’re back from Lebanon safely, and I’m in the dormitories at St. Elias Monastery again in Syria. It’s good to be ‘home.’ That’s right; our place in Damascus, Syria now feels somewhat like home. Damascus is familiar to us, with more or less some semblance of routine: wake up, eat breakfast, then hop on a bus for Berlitz to get drilled for 4 hours by our Arabic teacher. Of course a ton of different things happen in between all of those (bus rides never, ever get old) but we’ve finally got a small bit of understanding in the city and how it works. In Lebanon, it was starting over again.

Lebanon is a very interesting country. Like Syria it was under French mandate, but for far longer. After they got rid of the French, the Lebanese continued to teach French, English and Arabic in their schools. For this reason, almost every sign in Lebanon is in English or at least French instead of Arabic letters. Also, communication was loads easier. We stayed in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital. Beirut seemed like a mix of a European city sharply contrasted with the Arabic world. Women would walk around without coverings and in skirts and heels (!) but then call to prayers would blast at 4:30 in the morning from the minarets stationed on every other block. Stores featuring modern Western names such as Nike, Versace, and Starbucks would be sitting right next to the ruined buildings shelled during the civil war and the war against Syria. One of the favorite parts of Beirut for almost everyone was being by the Mediterranean Sea. It. Was. Amazing. I’m stoked to see it again in Greece in warmer weather.

Students listen to the tour guide, Clare, as she speaks about the Byblos ruins. Aside from being in Beirut, we also had opportunities to go visit a ton of different ruins such as in Byblos, the city that gave the name to the bible (Byblos=book). Seeing Greek and Roman artifacts never gets old…even though they are. ha. ha. sorry….moving on. We also got to tour Jeita Grotto, a giant cave structure with an intricate series of giant stalactites and stalagmites that is under consideration for being named one of the new 7 Natural Wonders of the World.

I wasn’t able to attend the trip to Mt. Herman, a giant snow capped peak around a 2 hour drive from Beirut, as I came down with food poisoning. It was quick and unrelenting, but it was over within 24 hours. I would like to formally apologize to Joe, my roommate, for the whole business, but as other members have learned already it’s to be expected with travel.  Back to Mt. Herman, I was assured that it was stunning and I would have loved it. Especially the snowball fight that occurred in which rumor has it Linford tackled a student into the wintery tundra.

I’m sure you have heard something about all that is going on in Egypt. To say the least the situation is pretty awful. Normally our group would be in Cairo right now, so we picked a good year to change the program up and go elsewhere for the first month. Lebanon’s government fell the other week, and they had some peaceful protests before we arrived but we felt at ease the whole time. Getting into Syria went without a hitch, and there haven’t really been any signs of unrest here at all. This next week should be exciting, so keep checking for more blog posts coming from our group!

Ma’as Salaam!

-Dan Nafziger

CASAS and homestays in Guatemala

Mexico/Guatemala 3As we were ending our stay in Mexico, we had some time to reflect on our experiences, and lots more on our ride back to Tucson. The time in Douglas/Agua Prieta really put things into perspective for all of us. Seeing all that was going on was both eye-opening and grounding for us. From meeting Border Patrol to talking with deported immigrants about their situations, we gained an immense amount of knowledge in only one week of travel, and it took a long time for a lot of us to process. This made the weekend of free time in Tucson all the more enjoyable. Having a full two days to relax and catch up on sleep felt amazing, especially the hotel’s hot tub.

After catching flights from Tucson to Dallas and Dallas to Guatemala City, we took a bus ride that showed us a little bit of the craziness of Guatemalan traffic and finally arrived at CASAS. Arriving at CASAS, we got a pinch of the beauty of Guatemala. CASAS has an incredible garden-courtyard area. The next day we got slapped in the face when we went to la clase de espanol where our teachers speak only in Spanish. On Thursday evening, we got to meet our host families. We got lined up like we were getting given away to people we didn’t know, and this is exactly what happened. I hope you don’t get the wrong impression though, the host families are awesome. In every host family, there is a unique aspect that opened us up to the culture of Guatemalans, Guatemalteca.

My family is very, very nice, like many of the families that are with the program. They are really good at correcting my Spanish when I mess up or there is a saying that relates specifically to Guatemala. They also have begun to slow down when talking to me, which makes it easier to understand what they are trying to tell me. My Guatemalan mom is a very religious person and is all about making me as happy as I can be, and making sure I don’t do things I don’t want to. She is always asking me what I want to do. I have found it easy to relate to my family, especially my brothers, who are into soccer and work with technology. The food here is different and delicious, and Pollo Campero is a big deal. Coca-cola is drunk more often than water and beans and eggs are at almost every meal. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish what they are saying because it is so fast and together. Looking at it, it is not too much different in English. I was fortunate enough to have another group member’s host family close to me. In fact, Lucas and I are neighbors. Our families are incredibly close and do a lot of things together.

Austin Showalter and his host siblings We have begun to get immersed in the culture apart from our host families as well, which has been nice. Guatemalans tend to dress very nicely, eat late, have little care of the time, and have different styles of greeting, including handshakes, hugs, and kisses. Along with getting immersed in the culture we visited the FEGUA museum on Friday and went on a “plunge activity” on Saturday. The FEGUA museum was all about the history of Guatemala and their struggles throughout the years, especially with the civil war dating from 1960 to 1996. The plunge activity was all about being able to get around Guatemala City without a guide or translator. We were given a map and places to go in the city, and we had to navigate our way to find the answers to the questions we had been given. Most everyone we encountered was very helpful with showing us where we needed to go or answering our questions, although there was one group that got yelled at by an old man for being American.

The majority of us are beginning to fit in and assimilate into the Guatemalan culture. Our limits are being tested, whether it is our level of Spanish, nerves, or sleep needed.

-Ben Nyce a.k.a. “Mincho

Damascus

Middle East 2I never thought that I could love a big city; that was before we came to Damascus.  I feel as if I can’t explain the wonders of this culture without showing someone in person.  I looked through all of the pictures we took, and I don’t think a single one of them does the city justice.  In the ever new stream of stimuli, I can only describe a fraction of what this city is like.  The magnificence of Damascus is soaked into every area of life–the cityscape itself, the history, the people, the activity and vibrance!

Last Thursday, we as a group retraced Saul’s adventure in Damascus. We read the history of Saul’s vision on the road to Damascus, walked into the Old City and read of Saul’s companions leading him by the hand into Damascus, read of Ananias’ part in Saul’s conversion story in Ananias’ home, re-enacted Paul’s escape from Damascus by sliding down a pole from a second story youth hostel (perhaps like the home where Paul stayed?), and finally ended our journey at the Bob Kissan church, which commemorates Paul’s escape.

Passing time on top of Mount Cassion. This past Saturday we were free of Arabic classes and ready to explore deeper into the city.  We conquered the steep mountain roads of Mount Qasyoom, one of the mountains on the border of Damascus.  Once we reached our destination, we looked out over a city that stretched from one horizon to the other.  I was dumbfounded!  It was incredible to see the city climbing up the side of Mount Qasyoom, to guess which dark splotch was the Old City and the abbey where we lived, and to know that in every square of the entire city there were bikes, taxis and buses surging through the streets; Muslims and Christians walking side by side; yummy shwarma, falafel, and cheese-stuffed breads baking on every street; and other intricacies of the culture going on that we have not yet noticed.   All of this was happening from one horizon to the other.

We are all incredibly thankful for the opportunity to be in this vibrant city.  As we travel from Damascus to Lebanon from Thursday until Sunday, our group is excited to experience another part of Middle Eastern culture.

-Aly Zimmerman

The Rickshaw Adventure

India 2We three white youths were a sight for sore eyes as we trounced around the overcrowded streets of Old Delhi in search of a Rickshaw that would carry us (for a decent price) to the familiarity of our hotel on the other side of town. This is Day Two of our India adventure and we are still finding our bearings. Everyone stares, some yell “hello,” and the bold ones ask for a picture.

One of our trio negotiates with countless Rickshaw drivers for a fair rate; the first few flatly refuse, some are willing to barter, and one finally agrees to our price. We pile in and the real adventure begins!

We wove in and out of traffic, sometimes so close to other vehicles I could reach out and touch them (which I did). Drivers and pedestrians did double-takes of the foreigners in the cabbie. The honking was never-ending, both from within our Rickshaw as from other cars; traffic lanes become completely obsolete.

It was invigorating to feel moments from an auto crash every moment. I found myself hooting, fist-pumping, and giggling like a silly school girl. The wind dancing in my hair, most of my body flailing out the Rickshaw’s opening, a huge smile plastered on my face—I felt so alive!

As we arrived at the hotel and jumped from our motorized chariot, my only thought was: “Let’s do that again!” Lucky for me, I have three months to do it (and much more!) again and again.

-Carmen Miller


Report on border issues from Mexico

Mexico/Guatemala 2We are spending the weekend in Tuscon before we head to Guatemala for the bulk of our cross-cultural.  This past week we were living in Agua Prieta, Mexico studying more about the border under the direction of Frontera de Cristo.  Events to highlight are:  walking immigrant trails in the Sonoran Desert, speaking first hand with deportees, touring a maquiladora and interacting with the U.S. Border Patrol.  For this update I will share about our desert experience.

We’ve been learning a lot about immigration issues and laws, but this week we were able to see it in action.  On Tuesday we visited Centro de Rehabilitacion y Recuperacion de Enfermos De Alcoholismo (C.R.R.E.D.A. or The Center for Rehabilitation and Recuperation from Drug and Alcohol Addictions).  CRREDA works with recovering drug and alcohol addicts giving them a place to live while they recover from their addictions.  One of the things they do is maintain multiple water stations in the desert for immigrants to refill their water bottles before they cross into the U.S. and make the trek through the Arizona part of the Sonoran Desert.

We went with them as they drove a truck out and topped off each of the 50 gallon drums.  We ate lunch under a shade tree which kept the water nice and cool under its branches.  As we got out our lunches, two heavily armed Mexican police seemingly popped out of nowhere.  They were looking for drug dealers.  The people we were with showed their credentials and we were left alone.  After lunch in the cool shade, our local friends led us along trails that migrants walk.  It was humbling to walk along trails that were possibly going to be traveled that very night by immigrants eager for a better life.  As we reached the plain just before the fence our group spread out.  I found myself weaving in and out, back and forth, trying to walk in open patches where the thorn bushes could not get at my legs.  I had to think about the migrants traversing the same ground at night.  They are not able to look around, scan the area ahead for the clearest path.  They just have to follow their coyote (a guide) with no time to choose a safe route.

A border patrol truck through a hole in the wall The first time I saw the wall I thought to myself “I wonder how hard it would actually be to climb it.”  I got my chance out there in the desert; some of us climbed up the wall, I wanted to know how hard it would be.  I got up without a terrible amount of difficulty, I just sat there, didn’t cross to the other side because that could be accompanied with criminal charges.  After a while I heard shouts of “mira, la migra!!” (look, the border patrol).  There as a quick scramble and everyone got down, it really wasn’t a big deal, the agent chatted with us for a bit and then drove away.  I had to think about that for a bit.  I was able to just climb that wall and not have much problem, but my Mexican friends weren’t able to just play around so freely.

As we were heading back to the vans our friends pointed out, with some binoculars, a small group of migrants hiding out on the side of one of the mountains.  It was this, walking the trails, and climbing the wall that brought the reality of migrants crossing the border into perspective for me.  I had read about it but it always seemed so distant, like it was happening in a different time and place.  Now it was happening right where I was and at the time that I was there.

So why do people cross illegally into the United States?  We’ve studied this a lot, and it’s not because they want to take our jobs, be a bother, or in any way get in the way.  They come because it’s their last resort.  Their economy is struggling and there is little to be found to support a family in Mexico.  When there are offers of cutting grass or working construction for ten dollars an hour, it’s hardly a question of whether or not to go.  For many it is the only foreseeable way that they can support a family, so they make the life threatening trip to work here in the states and send the money back to their loved ones.

I work for a lawn care company during the summers and I work with immigrants, “amigos” as my employer calls them.  They are “amigos,” and that’s it.  Not given any high ranking jobs, and rarely allowed to drive the trucks or do the nicer jobs.  I have also been influenced by our society and have made racial judgments due to lack of understanding.  Through the desert experience and others this past week I feel like I am able to humanize the immigrants.  I know, for the most part, why they are coming, how they come, and where their hearts are.  From my observation the main driving factor in jumping the wall is love.  Love for loved ones and family.

I will take this with me when I come back to the states, and with the Spanish that I pick up in Guatemala, I hope to connect on a personal level with immigrants.

-Austin Showalter

First impressions from Syria

Middle East 1It is hard to believe that only four days ago our cross-cultural group was still in the United States. We have already experienced so much; it feels like we have been gone a lot longer.

Last Friday our plane took off at 5:45 p.m. and by 3:00 Saturday afternoon we had landed in Jordan and were settled into our hotel. We were in Amman, Jordan for less than 24 hours before hitting the road and heading to Syria. The Jordanian countryside is very beautiful, and the bus ride to the border was enjoyable. Once we reached the border we got through on the Jordan side just fine, it was on the Syrian side when things got tricky. We sat in the bus for almost two hours while waiting for them to inspect our passports and who knows what else they were doing, but eventually we were allowed to enter Syria.

A Syrian tour guide joined us before we left the border and we set off to experience our first taste of Syria. First we went to the town of Bosra, where there are some amazing ancient ruins. We got to see and explore a 2nd century amphitheater that has been really well preserved. Then we got to see other parts of the ancient city, which included a public bath and a mosque that is also really well preserved. Most of the city was built with a dark hard stone called Basalt. These ruins set the bar pretty high for the amazing things that we will see on this trip

EMU students enter the Saint Elias Monastery, where they are staying for their time in Damascus. After Bosra, we were on our way to Damascus, where we will stay for the next four weeks. The monastery where we are staying is about a ten minute walk from the Old City of Damascus. Every morning we will get up and walk to the Old City to catch the bus to our language school. Beginning at 9:15 we have about 3 hours of Arabic class, and then we are pretty much set free to explore the Old City and other parts of Damascus. The Old City is amazing. The buildings, the markets, the food, the people, and more. This city is going to be our home for the next four weeks and we are all excited to become more familiar with it all.

-Allison Bontrager