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
¡Hola nuestros amigos!
So here we are after our first several days in Guatemala sitting in t-shirts in the middle of winter, enjoying the gorgeous view from our school, CASAS. It has been nice to start settling into a routine here as we get up each morning around 7 and begin Spanish class here at 8:30. The classes are very small – with two to three students for every teacher. Class is difficult but we can definitely tell that our Spanish is already improving. We have class until 12:30 and then it is lunchtime. The food here (at school and Guatemala in general) is AMAZING. We had mentally prepared ourselves for rice and beans all day everyday so now that we are having chicken, papaya, pineapple, plantains, and salads, we are ecstatic. Unfortunately, the change in diet, schedule, and water has been hard on many of our bodies. Many of us have felt quite under the weather this week, but we’re remaining optimistic because we know that our bodies will adjust and we will quickly feel fine again.
After lunch, from 1:30 to 4:30, we do something as a group. Yesterday we went to the Central Plaza and the market (both are gorgeous) and today we are having a siesta and time of rest. We have already discovered a shopping center within walking distance of the school and after lunch several of us like to walk there and purchase pastries at Isopan (a wonderful bakery) and explore the city. Around 4:30 we return to our host families and it is there that we do our homework, talk with our host families, sometimes pretend to understand them, but overall enjoy experiencing Guatemalan culture and life with them. The two of us are extremely grateful that our families typically eat dinner around 7 instead of 9 or 10 like some families.
So far the things we like the most about Guatemala are the pretty flowers, the different sounds of the birds, plantains, the view that we have at CASAS of the mountains and the volcanos, the bright colors, and the willingness of people to open their hearts and homes to newcomers such as ourselves.
We thank God often for the caring people who have taken us in as their own. Although we are all having different experiences, it is meaningful to see God working in each family and student. Each morning we look forward to getting to CASAS to share and hear stories from everyone’s evenings with their host families. Many of our families attend church on Sunday. Andrea had an interesting experience at her first Mass, where the priest asked her (in Spanish) to collect the offering. She accidently agreed and found herself a part of the service. Cluelessly she attempted to follow the example of the other collectors but completely missed the part where the collectors kneel before the collection baskets and bless themselves. She felt relieved when it was over and could return to her seat. Each experience is an opportunity to learn and grow and we are thankful for the ways in which we have been able to connect with the people living in Guatemala, our host families, and each other as a group.
Overall, the last several days have been busy but have been full of promise. We are excited to be here and are thankful to God for health and peace. We are so grateful for your continued prayers and we look forward to sharing more stories soon.
- Andrea King & Savanna Lester
On our first morning in Giza, only a few hours after our 30 hours of travel to Egypt ended, our bus shoved its way through the dusty streets. Everyone with a window seat stifled gasps, fearing first that we would ram into truck full of oranges, then that we would kill the family of goats led by a young Egyptian, or any number of other possibilities leading to a traffic jam across seven unofficial lanes of vehicles. Our panic quieted only after three huge triangles loomed out of the dusty, fogged sky. Our first morning in Egypt, and we had already encountered the Great Pyramids! Many mornings and amazing sights have followed, like the Sphinx in Giza, King Tut’s golden mask in Cairo, the Nile in Luxor, the gorgeous sandstone walls of the Siq in Petra, and the salt crystals edging the green-blue waters of the Dead Sea.
Each site is also part of a story – the pyramids were there when Joseph gained power in Egypt, St. Catherine’s contains the well at which Moses may have met Zipporah, and in the Cairo Museum we looked at the same Pharaoh that Moses pled with to “let his people go.” Another part of what makes each day exciting is the deepening relationships within the group. It’s amazing how close people grow through shared stories of inconvenient diarrhea and Chaco blisters. As we follow footsteps of various travelers in the Old Testament, we have become travelers ourselves, joining in the story in some ways.
Evenings, which are generally less structured, have become a time for tea or soccer games with friendly locals, as well as a time to shop, nap, journal, explore, or play cards. Organic interaction and recovery from long hikes are important components of our evening time.
Despite these amazing experiences, not everything has been easy, as all cross-cultural groups surely could attest to. We have had to maintain awareness of safety concerns, especially through Cairo and the Sinai as violence, protests, and extremist actions continue to boil up in some areas. Our privilege as Americans and tourists is made especially clear by our preferential treatment in customs, by the ‘tourism police’ that accompany us, and by the poverty we see around us which contrasts sharply with our nice cameras, clothes, and hotel rooms.
If there were any one experience I could share with my friends and family back home, it would be the moment while climbing down Mt. Sinai, that I looked up and saw the night sky draped over the endless red desert, and I recognized that the same stars that shone down on me shone down on Moses as he made the same climb thousands of years ago. This moment symbolizes our story connecting with the biblical story in a striking way, and is a feeling I wish everyone could experience.
All of us here are grateful for the continued thoughts and prayers from our various communities, and we look forward to being in Palestine tomorrow and more exciting adventures in the coming weeks and months.
Three airports, two complementary beverages, and a quick sprint to catch a connecting flight later, we were in Arizona ready to take on the semester. Our first stop was the Florence Detention Center where our host showed off what could be described as the poster-child governmental institution for detention. He made sure to show us the nice soccer field that was there and how the place goes above and beyond the standards that the government sets. It is important to state that these are not inmates because they did not commit a criminal act. We then made our way to the Florence Refugee Project where the director filled us in on the legal details of our nation’s immigration system and told us about the free legal services they offer to those who are fighting their case for asylum. While the detention center said that the FDC and FRP had good relations, it was easy to see that they did not see eye to eye on a lot of things.
Friday started early as we headed to Nogales. We were led by the director of the organization HEPAC. Before going to HEPAC we stopped on the US side where we saw the fence for the first time. It is hard to describe such a structure to anyone who hasn’t stood next to it or have seen it stretch into the distance only to never end. We made our way into Mexico and stopped at Groupo Beta, an organization that helps the most recently deported migrants. We listened to stories from some men and then shared a prayer with them at the end which was really nice. We then went up to HEPAC where we ate with some of the children. After a short presentation about the organization which aids the financially disenfranchised, we made a stop at the local dump where we talked to some families that were living in the trash and have children or have been themselves involved with HEPAC. For supper, we were invited to some houses that were about the size of most of our living rooms. The food was great and the conversations or playing with children was even greater. We ended the night at a vigil for a young man, Jose Antonio, who was shot through the fence after allegedly throwing rocks over the wall. We all had rather heavy hearts on our way out of Mexico.
Saturday we made our way to Douglas/Agua Prieta where we were to spend the week with Frontera de Cristo. We arrived at the office where we were introduced to Mark Adams (pastor/Frontera de Cristo leader), Josias Casanova (group leader for the week), and Jack Knox (one of the drivers for the week). We talked about our hopes fears and expectations individually and were given a quick overview of what we would be experiencing throughout the week. We drove up to the fence and stopped at a set of flood gates to talk a little bit about what these migrants were facing. We then took a quick hike up a hill where we could see the sun set behind the mountains. It was absolutely breath taking; from the light purples where the sun was disappearing behind the hills, to the deep blues of the sky behind our backs, to the almost bright colors that the desert emitted in this magical time. We then went and settled into the community center in Agua Prieta. Little did we know the cold we were about to experience that night.
Sunday started out with breakfast in the morning at the Community Center in Agua Prieta where we were staying. Mark Adams then came and led us in a Bible study over a passage in the Gospel of Mark. After the Bible study we were given a short break to clean up and get ready for church. We attended Mark’s church, Lily of the Valley or in Spanish El Lirio de los Valles. This is a Spanish speaking Presbyterian church. We were welcomed in with open arms as if we were already family. It was hard to understand and gain meaning from the Spanish service but the songs were pretty. We sang two songs in front of the congregation and they loved it. It was really interesting and different to here Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow sung in Spanish. The church ladies made us a delicious lunch of enchiladas with mole sauce. After relaxing in the warm sunshine in La Plaza (a park), we returned to church in the afternoon to attend another Bible study. After a mix up over dinner plans we ate out together at a Mexican restaurant and got the experience of reading the menu in Spanish.
Monday I learned just how privileged I am financially in the United States. People in Mexico move closer to the border to try to make more money. One of the better paying jobs is working in factories, or maquilas. Maquila workers make anywhere from 65-91 pesos a day ($5-$6) which barely gives them enough to spend on the essentials. We were given a set amount of money and told that we had to go buy enough food for dinner that night, as well as breakfast and lunch the following day. This was an eye opening project just to realize how much certain items cost. Buying food for a family of nine on a maquila salary has to be done strategically but we ended up have money to spare at the end to spend on snacks.
Welcome to what was possibly one of the longest days of our trip so far. This was also a day filled with fluctuating emotions. It started out with an early breakfast that we cooked for ourselves from the food we bought the previous day. After cleaning up the kitchen we departed for a day in the desert. We drove into the desert through thorns and over bumps on the most uneven dirt road I have ever been on. We were all bouncing around in the van. Once the van parked we got out and walked a short ways to where CRREDA had their water barrels. CRREDA refilled the water barrels for the migrants that pass through there. We had our maquila salary packed lunches in that spot around a low sprawled out tree. After our bellies were satisfied we started our walking journey through the desert towards the border. It was hot, rocky and thorns surrounded us. There were gullies that we climbed in and out of and shrubs that we jumped over.
Once we were at the wall we had an amazing encounter with two border patrol agents on the US side. These agents were friendly and willing to answer our questions. It was very encouraging to see that they had feelings and cared about people despite their reputation and their job. While sitting at the wall we also had a Bible reflection over mark 5: 1-14. In this passage it mentions the desert more than once and so we talked about all of our new meanings of the desert now that we were in the middle of one.
After hiking back to the vans through the desert we crossed into the US and visited the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Here we watched a presentation of the organizations they support as well as receiving instructions on how the vigil would work. We then left the Sisters and went to a public walking path along the border and participated in a vigil. The vigil consisted of many white crosses with names of people who died in the desert crossing the border. We made a procession along the sidewalk and each announced a name on the crosses we were holding. We were right along the street that leads into Mexico so there were many cars passing us. After announcing and setting every cross along the street we formed a prayer circle and meditated over the lives that have been lost. This was a painful realization for me to see how many lives just in that small area of Agua Prieta had been lost.
Wednesday was a day full of emotions. Our day started off visiting Café Justo. This organization works to keep the profit of coffee sales in the hands of the farmers who grow the coffee beans. It was such a great experience to walk into a business and just sit down with the staff and share the word of the Lord. This rarely happens in companies in the US. Not only are the farmers benefiting from this company but they are also working to solve the root problem of migration which is a poor economy. Before lunch we made a quick stop at the Migrant Resource Center. This is a place which gives clothes and a meal to migrants who have just been deported to Mexico. They also help them make connections on where they are going next. In the afternoon we went to visit the Border Patrol Station in Douglas AZ. While we were there, they showed us a couple of videos in which they called the migrants “aliens, clutter, and undocumented.” They also talked a lot about their way of approaching the issue. In the early 2000’s they had more money available and were spending a lot on new technology and man power when they could have used that money elsewhere. Recently as the excess money has diminished, they are in a risk based approach. Now they focus on surveillance and information and the increase in man power has stabilized.
As we neared the end of the week, most everyone was mentally exhausted, but we had not had a physically demanding week up to this point. This all changed Thursday morning when we went to DouglaPrieta Trabaja, which is a community garden as well as educates people about gardening. While we were there we had the opportunity to help out with two projects. Half of the group worked on digging a swell (aka a ditch) while the rest of the group moved 35 lbs. adobe bricks. After eating lunch we worked a little while longer before we headed across the border to talk with Tommy Bassett. Tommy has been all over the place and had a lot of advice for us. The main point of his talk was about who is receiving the profit from our spending. Café Justo is just one example of a company where the money is actually going to the ones who do most of the work. In the evening we spent our time at CAME Migrant Shelter. Here we were challenged to only speak in Spanish while we talked with the migrants staying there who had been deported. Part of our group had a rough time there with stories and things that had been spoken but in the end Love prevailed and the whole group worked to comfort each other.
Friday was supposed to be a less stressful day but while we were at a house in the community we had a brief encounter with the local authority. This was more intense for the group but again in the end God was with us. Despite the craziness we still were able to enjoy our time listening to the family’s story. After that we made our way across the border and said goodbye and had our closing reflections. We safely made it back to Tucson AZ at 8 p.m. We are heading to CASAS in Guatemala City where we will spend nine week in host families and studying Spanish. Mail can be sent to the address below up until March 6.
Apdo.11, Periferico, Zona 11
Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala
-Stephan Goertzen, Isaac Driver, Katherine Graber
After bidding our Anqing host families farewell, we hopped a bus to the foot of Huangshan, or Yellow Mountain. The following morning, we rode out to the mountain, where we experienced a wealth of people queuing up to take the cable car up the mountain. For me, at least, this was a time where the number of people packed into one place (and particularly the pushing while in line) became almost overwhelming. However, the view in the cable car was spectacular: trees dotted the mountain all over, and the beauty was unmistakable. We then took a somewhat arduous hike to a hotel (not ours, mind you), where we ate a simple lunch of vegetarian dishes and a single meat dish of bone-ridden fish. We hiked around to different scenic spots before finally reaching our hotel. Rooms were a bit tight, with many bunks crammed into the room, though it wasn’t uncomfortable for most of us. We spent the night on the mountain, and we even saw a bit of snow, amidst chilling winds. We spent a wonderful time reminiscing as we began to plan for our last week back at EMU. The sound of our laughter could be heard several rooms away.
After descending the mountain the following day, we visited a small, ancient village, which was more of a tourist attraction than we thought, but still intriguing. Unfortunately, it rained, so we didn’t stay long. From there, we took our bus to Nanjing.
Nanjing in Chinese means “southern capital” (Beijing would mean “northern capital”), and the history we saw in the city made that apparent. We visited many museums and historical sites, such as the Nanjing Massacre Museum, the John Rabe House, a collection of Ming Dynasty tombs, Sun Yatsen‘s tomb, and the Taiping Museum. They were all very interesting, and reinforced things we’ve learned from Myrrle in our study of Chinese history, both ancient and modern.
Each morning we met for a couple of hours with Dr. Wang, a good friend of Myrrl’s and a professional psychological counselor, who is a pioneer in mental and emotional counseling for Chinese people through the idea of “zhi mian“, which he has adapted from Chinese writer Lu Xun. “Zhi mian” translates to “facing life directly”, a sometimes contradictory idea in a culture where keeping harmony and peace often trumps confronting an issue and resolving it. We were able to talk very openly with Dr. Wang about some of our more sensitive questions about Chinese culture (like the one-child policy or the continued veneration of Mao Zedong by many). Our dialogues with him were both refreshing and eye-opening, and it was a unique opportunity that I am thankful we had.
Of course, as our journey in China is winding down, some of people’s extraneous money went toward Nanjing’s excellent shopping. I think many of us found many cool gifts and keepsakes in Nanjing; I know I did!
We ended the week in Nanjing by visiting Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, the largest in China. We had a jiaozi (dumpling) party, in which we joined many seminary students in making what I’m sure were hundreds of dumplings, which the students then cooked. While I’m terrible at making things like this, the experience was fun, and it was nice to connect with the seminary students over our delicious dinner of both meat and veggie jiaozi. We ate SO MANY, I thought I was going to explode.
Nanjing was an incredible place, and definitely one of the highlights of our cross-cultural for me. If ever you are in China, Nanjing should be on your “must-visit” list!
- Alex Bender