EMU Cross-Cultural

South Africa: understanding the Boer narrative

What we’ve experienced, which has provoked much thought and emotion, are the many ways in which one history can be told. In the last blog post, we focused on the how the oppressed experienced apartheid, which, on this cross-cultural, is intentionally what we’re choosing to focus on first. In this blog post, we will elaborate on the narrative that the apartheid regime wanted to be heard. And it was, and still is in ways, heard loud and clear. Here we will go into depth of the white, Afrikaner historical perspective of apartheid.

So the day after we went to the Apartheid Museum, we went to the Voortrekker Monument, which told a narrative beginning in the early to mid 1800s. We traced a very specific picture that was being painted through the carvings of the walls of the monument; the bias was in favor of the Afrikaners and what they would consider their struggle.

Here’s what we gathered: the Dutch didn’t come intending to settle, but ended up doing so. The monument’s walls have stone carvings, which wrap around the main front room, depicting South African history from the Dutch (known as the Boer’s) lens. The story starts and ends with depictions of agreements, the first being between the Boers and the Zulu and the last being between the British and the Boer. Both agreements ended in “betrayal.” These betrayals had a galvanizing effect on forming the identity of who would become the Afrikaners.

In all of the depictions, the Boers are portrayed as victims of oppression under the native South African tribes present on the land they settled. This view of their victimization began when the Dutch were sent to run an outpost in South Africa for trade ships to stop at on their way to India. This victim view continues as they portray themselves in the monument as innocent, while the natives brutalize them. These natives were usually depicted as male, violent, and animal-like in demeanor. Almost every carved scene portrays Boer women at the center, helping the viewer to sympathize with the Boer, as noble protectors of women and children subject to this native-inflicted struggle.

A significant historical event that framed the Afrikaner history into a mythology was the Boer’s victory over the Zulu in the Battle of Blood River. This battle took place between nearly 500 Boer and 10,000-12,000 Zulu. During this battle, the local river was said to run red with blood, hence the name. This battle was so commemorative that it today is still marked as a significant part of the Afrikaner history.Furthermore, the Voortrekker was erected in 1936 just after the British had come and imposed many oppressive laws and even placed many Boers in concentration camps while attempting to colonize South Africa. This oppression is another galvanizing event in the Afrikaner past that helped shape their identity leading up to the Apartheid era. The Voortrekker is a manifestation of Afrikaner mythology, and a shrine to commemorate the “struggles” that the Boer settlers overcame.

photo credit: https://www.safarinow.com/destinations/groenkloof/galleriesandmuseums/voortrekker-monument.aspx


Puerto Rico

All we can say is wow. Our first week here in Puerto Rico has been filled with lots of new encounters. Some of us experienced our first time far away from home, some experienced our first time on a plane, and all of us are experiencing breathtaking views of God’ s creation that a picture can do no justice. Along with all the breathtaking views and exciting bonding experiences, we have also come across a lot of new feelings. We are learning about the struggles Puerto Rican’s are facing, whether it be governmental, economic, natural disasters, or beneficial decisions for their personal lives. However, just within these few days we have seen the perseverance instilled in Puerto Ricans, and I have to say it’s awe inspiring.

We have been able to tour the city of San Juan and learn about the history of Puerto Rico, meet with a Mennonite School, along with a fun day of scuba diving. We recently just met our host families and will be spending the next week with them, diving more in depth into their culture. We will also be starting Spanish classes this upcoming week, along with one of our few service projects. It has been challenging to hear the impacts those have had on the issues surrounding them in Puerto Rico. Some people still don’t have roofs on their homes from hurricane Maria, and many places, including my home stay, does not have acceptable drinking water from the sink, so we have to rely on clean water through continually buying water bottles.

It is a blessing that God has granted us this wonderful opportunity to learn and engage with our world and those around us from far and wide. Our group continues to pray for guidance while we are here and blessings for continued learning and bonding. May God continue to open our eyes to those around us and place us where we can be of service to those around us through Him. More to come soon!

-Emily Lam

Group after our first salsa class

Mexico: beginnings

11 May

Our first weekend we  were introduced to Mennonite Central Committee and Casa de los Amigos, the hostel/guest house where we stayed. Erica opened our discussion with a version of the Lord’s Prayer from a migrant perspective. Reflecting on that version was a good moment of assessing personal thoughts and a practice of empathy. Abbey talked about her experience volunteering at Casa for the year. She addressed the potential for a “white saviour complex” by intentionally building cultural competency and empathy. Her focus has been in holding people’s “sacred stories”, as a way of giving respect to individuals we encounter.

We also met with a church youth group in Ecatepec, (in the state of Mexico, on the outskirts of Mexico City.) Every single person was so friendly and welcoming. They taught us about different cultures in various regions of Mexico. Despite the language barrier we all got along great. Some of us made bets over hot salsa, and we played word games to practice our Spanish and their English. It was wonderful getting to know everyone, sharing in their music, and sharing dinner together…I really enjoyed getting the chance to converse with so many people in Spanish. Jessica, one of the girls from the youth group, and I connected over music and singing, despite my limited vocabulary.

-Emma Picht




Puebla Zocalo at night

South Africa: Soweto

Bumping along in our small, faulty-but-still-chugging bus driven by Baba, with mini Table Mountains lining the landscape of our three-day trip from Joburg to Capetown, we compile this blog, attempting to blend together these many thoughts from the past week. We’ve decided as a group to release this first week of learning over the course of four blog posts, focusing on the essential themes. Not only do we welcome your questions, but we ask for them. We will read them as a group, discuss, and answer as best we can; we’re excited to say we’re looking forward to starting the conversation.

This has been a week of seeing Soweto through the wrinkled eyes of its majority rather than through the tints of its flashy few. Coming from the lifestyle of privilege that is normal in the United States, it is so easy to magnetize to it in any new context we find ourselves… and globalization has made it so that we could access it anywhere in the world. It takes organizing and preparation to travel somewhere else in the world and plan a trip of honest encounter with the Other, an encounter of intentionality. I feel grateful to have leaders who know the context of South Africa well enough in this way to craft a cross cultural that illuminates the reality of the (black) majority, while intentionally juxtaposing the lifestyle of those who have convinced themselves to believe they’re above it. (system?)

The Apartheid Museum and insight provided by those who are guiding us through, including South African pals connected through the Anabaptist Network in South Africa (ANiSA), laid a foundation for understanding apartheid in South Africa (SA). This is a system strategically set in place in the early 20c to impart hate, to divide, and to confuse, so that the black majority would never have more power than the Afrikaner minority. Having at least some basis coming in to SA, a question many of us had coming in was: how similar or different is the people’s history of racial discrimination in SA to that of the US? A few gleanings learned from this past week made the answer to this question clearer:

  1. A similarity: The native makeup – there are 11 official languages and in the regions we’ve been to so far, you can usually assume a black person is either tribally Zulu, Xhosa, or Sotho. Most people speak far more languages than my mere one, which allows for translating and compromising. Our host mom said she is usually the one to compromise in a conversation – when she hears that the person’s accent is Xhosa she’ll switch from her native tongue of Zulu to Xhosa; when she hears a Sotho accent, she’ll switch to Sotho. Communities like the one in Orlando of Soweto that we stayed in are a “mixed masala” she says – all black ethnicities live on one block. In the US context, this is most similar to the Native American population with its multitude and diversity of tribes and cultures, comprising the first population to live on American soil. Similarly, Native Africans were on African soil for centuries prior to any white man stepping foot on it, sustaining thriving kingdoms and knowing the land and its resources as their own.
  2. A difference: The system of apartheid was socially engineered – “perfect racism”, says Trevor Noah. The Afrikaner of SA felt threatened by the black majority of nearly 80%. The government therefore travelled to and studied other instituted systems of racism around the world – in Australia, in the Nazi regime, and in the US and Canada. “Then they came back and published a report, and the government used that knowledge to build the most advanced system of racial oppression known to man.” Land rights became one of the main ways that apartheid was installed and established, despite the irony of true black ownership of the land (insert pic) Overall, there were over 3 thousand pages of laws written to suppress the agency and power of Black, Colored, and Indian people; a new law was created in reaction to any time a non-white person attempted to squirm free from the system.
  3. A difference: The US has never had anything like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), for the deep harm that colonialism drove into the natives it subordinated, abused, and killed. We mainly learned about the TRC through Desmond Tutu’s book No Future Without Forgivenessand Pete Meiring, a TRC commissioner who spoke with us about his reflections and experiences on the commission. In wondering how to go about moving forward as a nation post-apartheid, brainstormers who were mainly theologians discussed whether it was preferred to have this process look more like Nuremberg (the typical retributive justice way), amnesia (forgive and forget), or a third way. That third way became “granting amnesty to individuals in exchange for a full disclosure relating to the crime for which amnesty was sought” (30). Tutu emphasizes that the basis of this third way is the concept of Ubuntu, which “speaks of the very essence of being human”, saying “I am human because I belong. I participate. I share.” “A person is a person through other persons; in other words, “my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up in yours” (31).

The interconnection of black struggle, around the world, became glaringly clear throughout this week. From the Foreword of a required reading by Steve Biko entitled “I Write What I Like,” which explores his philosophy called Black Consciousness:

Biko’s Black Consciousness (in which the term “black” includes all people of color) stands on the shoulders of this history. It is grounded in the recognition of the high costs of truth. Biko wants the people, all people, to seewhat was going on in South Africa and all over the world. He wants us to see the connections between South African black townships, the black ghettoes in England, the United States, and Brazil, and the many similar communities in South Asia and the Middle East. Many of us share his insight today when we seek those whom we call ‘the blacks’ of their society, even if they may not be people of African descent.


Asturias, Spain & the Camino de Santiago

23 April 2019

It’s a place that reminds me of home, but feels utterly alien. We are constantly surrounded by green mountains on one side and the ocean on the other, with only a strip of land in between. Yet it is not my way, my camino, that draws my eyes as it may have in the US. It is the absolute contrast that I find in sweeping my eyes from left to right, rather than the dirt under my feet. Everyone calls Ireland the “Emerald Isle”, and thus from what I’ve seen, Asturias should be called the “Emerald Shore”. It is here, through conversations, through interacting with nature that God has opened my eyes and helped me to see. I see that, despite all my worrying, things turn out well. I see that, despite all my work, all my knowledge, I am insignificant to the world, yet I can do so much. I see that, despite my strengths, God can work through my weaknesses, but only if I can let myself be vulnerable and trust him. Trust him to guide my feet as I follow his way; trust him when the path curves and doesn’t make sense; trust him to put me exactly where he needs me, when he needs me, especially when I think I know better. God’s way is like the Camino de Santiago. It twists and turns, is muddy, has crossroads, and is cluttered with whatever is blocking the way. But the blue and yellow shell signs pointing the way always appear. The mud eventually turns to dirt and to grass, and there is always a path through the obstructions. Following God isn’t always clear, but if we follow the way of Jesus, we’ll find a warm place at our journey’s end.

-Austin Engle


Spain: Cadíz

From markets filled with fish, fruits, and fresh breads
To watching the sunset each night on the beach surrounded by friends
Host families, street music, living with a partner, and plenty of new food
When in Spain there’s no reason to worry, never a day seemed blue
Doing good takes not much, if the heart is feeling giving
Some apples, oranges, and crackers may mean an extra day of living
It’s not often you see so many stray cats, scattered along your walk to school
Yet we see plenty of the fancy pet dogs, in their sweaters looking cool
Learning is fun, with classes taught by those who love to teach
Classes four days and no homework, who wouldn’t want to spend Fridays at the beach?
Cadíz is the place to be, to study, to explore

But the adventure won’t stop here, there are still two weeks more

~Kellie Serrell

A text to my parents

Still studying, this is the last week of school though. We have an exam and final presentation on Wednesday and Thursday this week and we leave at noon on Friday to go to Córdoba for a few days and then to Llanes on the north coast for 4 days, and then after that we have free travel and returning to the US. Learning Spanish is harder here, since we’re all in one group together, and I have the worst Spanish out of everyone, but I still feel like I’ve been learning. Last Saturday and Sunday we were in Ceuta, which is a Spanish city on the north coast of Africa (surrounded by Morocco), learning about immigration. The Spanish border is appalling similar to the US border with Mexico, minus the guns. People desperately try to make it into Spain and a few do successfully, but the vast majority don’t make it and either get deported or held by Spanish border control. Some people who make it into Spain destroy their passports and official documents so the border patrol doesn’t know where to deport them to, when they are caught.

~Andrew Nord

Blessed are the butterflies who rise above human borders

14 April 2019

Fresh off our settlement experience, we spent last week in Haifa, a port city on the slopes between Mount Carmel and the Mediterranean. Our days, organized by Oranim College, were filled with lectures, documentaries, and museum visits. That included a preview of this past Tuesday’s election, in which Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party effectively remained in power. After his pre-election promise to start annexing the West Bank, the future looks even bleaker for our friends back in Beit Sahour.

We also had many a mifgash, or “encounter,” with Israelis. Two of my favorites were a talk with Benji, a 20-year-old combat soldier, and a day spent with best friends Yael, a Jewish Israeli, and Rawan, an Arab Israeli. They took us to each of their homes and talked about the ways their lives are similar and different.

During our free time, we had to balance exploration of the city—the Baha’i Shrine and Gardens were beautiful—with academic work: unfortunately, we don’t just get to travel and have fun all the time. Most evenings in Haifa found several students in the lounge, sharing portable keyboards and typing out research papers based on interviews we’ve been conducting throughout the semester. Toward the end of the week, we all sat in a circle to read our thesis statements out loud, and it was cool to hear the 26 different topics we’ve been digging into.

Another assignment was to split up into groups and each present the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an interesting way. On Saturday night, we gathered to enjoy each other’s performances, which ranged from finger painting, to two people talking while divided by a curtain, to breaking the world record for the most consecutive readings of the Balfour Declaration. They were all excellent, but the most meaningful for me was a group that depicted an Arab mother and a Jewish father reading two different bedtime stories to their children simultaneously. Sometimes the books said the same things, but many of the pages had slight differences that described the divisions between the two groups and the way they view this land.

This week, we moved on to Nazareth, Jesus’s hometown and our last major stop in Israel. For two days, our group split in half to learn about Roman occupation and resistance (I got “stabbed” by a zealous Linford) and to volunteer at Nazareth Village. The Village is a re-creation of a first-century town like the one Jesus lived in, and it gives us a more realistic view of the place where he spent about 25 years of his life. Some students dressed up in first-century clothing and picked weeds like peasants as tour groups passed, while others stayed in shorts and t-shirts to haul rocks, clean stables, and work in the gift shop.

For the rest of the week, we embarked on our last big physical challenge of the semester, a 65-km trek on the Jesus Trail. The trail was started ten years ago by Maoz Inon, an Israeli, and Dave Landis, an EMU grad, to allow people to walk in the places Jesus walked and connect some of the important sites from his travels. When we started out from Nazareth, Linford read us the Bible passage where Jesus tells us not to worry by saying, “behold the birds of the air” and “behold the lilies of the field.” As we walked, Linford encouraged us to observe the things around us and pick out something new to behold. Here’s what we came up with:

Behold the trail we walk: sometimes straight and easy, sometimes crooked and demanding, but always a fun adventure. –Graham

Behold the snails which cling to the flowers. Though easily overlooked, God notices all.  –Rachael

Behold the cows of the pasture, for they peacefully accept strangers and are slow to anger. –Jessie

Behold the barbed wire fence, almost invisible amongst the lovely flowers that now surround it on both sides. –Silas

Behold the roof that provides shelter and comfort from a world that can be harsh.  –Nealon

Behold the trees and flowers rooted to withstand the wind and rain. –Natalie

Behold the highway, a deadly risk, yet wonder and promise drives us on. –Elliott

Behold the confusion. For it seems as though we go the wrong way, yet we are led down right paths to shade and nourishment. –Luke

Behold the beholder in the eye of beauty.  –Isaac Andreas

Behold the trail blazes that take the place of our physical Jesus in directing our path.
– Lauren

That afternoon, we made it to Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine and where we beheld a delicious dinner. The next day, we set out through rolling countryside and fields of beautiful flowers. Between chatting, playing music, and doing funny impressions of people we’ve met, we meditated on Jesus’s parables, where he compares the Kingdom of Heaven to ordinary things:

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a well-paved, level path. Weary travelers do not stumble because of it. –Marianna

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a plowed yet unsown field; something will eventually grow but it can be anything you want it to be. –Tor

The Kingdom of God is like the orange tree. Though we cannot reach the upper branches right now, we can still enjoy the fruits it produces and sweet aroma that surrounds us.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a city viewed from a distance: you can’t see a path that leads there, but you know that there is one.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like the sun, always there but not always appreciated.  –Audrey

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a field of wheat sown with careful intentionality, full of uniformity, yet defined by individuality.   –Isaac Alderfer

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a foreign language. It’s hard to appreciate when we don’t understand it. But once we begin to understand, we can see and hear it everywhere.

We were rewarded at the end of the day with a dinner fit for a king and heavenly fudge brownies in Ilaniya. On Thursday, we had to leave early for our longest day, which took us through mud and over the Horns of Hattin. Linford read us some of Jesus’s statements like “blessed are the peacemakers” and “woe to you who are rich,” and we thought about the kinds of actions that we want to encourage or discourage in today’s world:

Blessed are those who seek beauty, for they will always find it. -Karissa

Blessed are those who stand in treacherous waters to help others safely cross. –Skylar

Blessed are those who actively listen to people who are very different from them. –Collin

Blessed are those who change their mind, for they will be given wisdom. –Allison

Blessed are those who listen joyfully and graciously.  –Carly

Blessed are those who offer a helping hand over giant mud puddles and wet are those who don’t accept it. –Anisa

Blessed are those who appreciate the person right in front of them. –Mary

Blessed are the weary, for they shall find rest. Woe to those who rest too long, for that shall bring unrest. –Daniil

Blessed are the butterflies who rise above the borders humanity has made. –Erin

In Arbel that evening, we were blessed by hot showers and a cool pool to splash around in. For the final day of hiking, we went over the cliffs of Arbel, through herds of cows, and down to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. On a hill where Jesus may have given his Sermon on the Mount, we tried to put ourselves in the places of the tired, downtrodden, ordinary people who came there 2,000 years ago. We imagined what they might have thought about Jesus, who was preaching a radical message that threatened to disrupt their relatively peaceful lives under Roman occupation, but who also offered a view of a new kind of kingdom in which they could truly be free.

–Ben Stutzman


Middle East 2019 group at Giza

Middle East: West Jerusalem, Efrat, observing Shabbat

2 April 2019

I quickly grew fond of the Abraham Hostel after arriving on Sunday afternoon. This place has created a memorable atmosphere for itself. In most of the rooms, each wall is a strikingly different color than those adjacent, and everywhere you look there are fat, slightly cryptic stenciled messages like ABRAHAM – THE FIRST BACKPACKER and DON’T WORRY – WE’VE GOT YOUR TOWEL and IF YOU MUST RUN – RUN. Among other delights, this West Jerusalem hostel features a spacious lounge/dining hall where the majority of guests and visitors enjoy each others’ company. During our first evening here, our group ordered pizza – evidently the best in Israel – and enjoyed listening to some talented music from hostel staff and Jam Night volunteers.

Monday and Wednesday looked a little bit different for each student in our crew, because  they were both very free in form. We were given only a checklist of six sites to visit around Jerusalem on our own: The Temple Mount, the Burnt House in the Herodian Quarter, the Tower of David Museum, the Mea Shearim, the Bible Lands Museum, and the Israel Museum. The Temple Mount is easily the most famous as well as the most sacred of these, which explains why the line to the top seemed half a mile long. This was well worth it to see the large and lovely Dome of the Rock up close, as well as the El Aqsa mosque that it often outshines. As much as visiting this and the other locations paid off, I think I enjoyed the Israel Museum the most. It features some fascinating exhibits on history and culture specific to the Jewish people, the most complete collection of Palestinian artifacts in Jerusalem, the Shrine of the Book that holds the fabled Dead Sea Scrolls, and some truly mesmerizing artwork from various movements in time. If you ever find yourself pacing these halls, I highly recommend taking your time in the “Eye to Eye” section, which uses modern art that is provocative and often creatively interactive to discuss conflict, communication, and their relationship.

On that note, in the midst of exploring these locations at our own individual paces, our group gathered on Tuesday morning to meet Yuval and Husam, Israeli and Palestinian partners in peace. They introduced themselves with stories of boys who were taught to fear any contact with the other side but grew into men with the understanding that this very contact is vital to building anything positive together. They led us around West Jerusalem, pointing out sites of suicide bombings and uprooted burials, sharing insights on the dialogue that is needed to address past and present injustices. “Both sides obviously have pain,” I remember Yuval saying. “We won’t get anywhere until we are all willing to talk about the other side’s pain even more than our own.”

On Thursday, we bid our lovely hostel farewell and loaded a bus headed for Efrat, an Israeli settlement town not far southwest of Beit Sahour. On the way, we visited Hadassah Medical Center, one of Israel’s largest and most impressive hospital complexes. We then stopped at the Pat BaMelach Artisan Bakery for lunch and a bread baking workshop. (Yes, we got to eat our projects, and I’ve certainly had worse.) Finally, we arrived at Efrat and met our host families, which are composed of some fascinating people from across the globe.

Over the next day, we listened to all sorts of speakers on topics including fears of terrorism, response to tragedy, the lifestyle of seminary students, the controversial founding of this settlement area and coexistence surrounding it, and the expectations of Shabbat. Hearing these voices presented some areas of the ideological spectrum that our group had not yet been exposed to in person. Whether we always reached an agreement or not, it was a valuable experience for us and a vulnerable one for those sharing their views. Another quote that stuck with me from one of these discussions is, “Try not to see it as someone trying to convince you of something. Look at it as someone’s story that has made them who they are today.”

Then we reached Shabbat itself, initiated at sunset on Friday with the lighting of our family candles. My first Shabbat synagogue service was much more lively than I expected, and even though the entire event was in Hebrew, that was no excuse not to participate in a circle dance and attempt to mimic the mouth noises of those around me. My highlight of Efrat was probably Shabbat supper that night and lunch on Saturday. Not only was the food heavenly, the conversation was long and meaningful. Graham and I learned as much as we could about our host family’s background story as well as their Jewish lifestyle. Both are full of intricacies. Outside of meals, we did great amount of reading and napping, something highly encouraged by the Jewish sabbath. There are a lot of rules to follow on this holy day, such as no flipping light switches, no writing, no tearing paper, no driving, and plenty more, but its purpose is to help one disconnect from typical routine hustle and take a break from any exertion, physical or creative. Some might call it glorified laziness, but I’d like to recommend the phrase “gratitude for just being present.” I was sad to see this special time end.

We concluded our time in Efrat with an engaging film and discussion about border checkpoints and factors involved, followed in the morning by a visit to The Magic Place, an adorable and empowering kindergarten program with its focus on music, art, and environment. My last memory of this settlement will be a colorful room full of toddlers performing interpretive dances to Flight of the Bumblebee, and I cannot complain.

-Silas Clymer

Middle East 2019 group at Giza

Middle East: Beit Sahour

24 February 2019
The twenty days that we have been scheduled to stay in Beit Sahour are concluded – we depart this afternoon. This is the longest amount of time that we’ve been headquartered in one spot, and some would say it’s been just long enough to start really digging in and adapting to the lifestyle here before being uprooted. That’s the nature of this semester’s journey. We hop from place to place in bursts, taking in the environment, natural and human, and the stories, old and new. Sometimes we linger enough to reflect, and sometimes we must process on the go as we shift into what can seem like one entirely different cross-cultural after the other. Each time, a piece is added to either clarify or complicate (usually both) our understanding of the puzzle that is the Middle East, with all of its beauty and struggle.
This final week in Palestine has had many puzzle pieces to contribute to our experience. On Sunday morning, our group drove out into the wilderness to begin our hike to Jericho, the lowest city in the world and debatably the oldest. The hiking was a welcome change of pace from the classroom studies and lectures that we were becoming accustomed to. The weather was wonderfully sunny and warm, perfect for the basking, wading, and exploring we did at the spring we came across. This spring morphed into a pretty ancient aqueduct that we followed for the next several hours. Some of us decided to really test the reliability of our WaterBasics filter bottles and took advantage of this available running, but not particularly translucent, water source. Thankfully, no adverse effects tarnished our time of appreciation for the gorgeous landscape throughout the rest of hike. When we reached Jericho, it was now more than comfortably hot – perks of being the lowest city in the world. We spent the late afternoon visiting Zaccheus’ sycamore tree, doing some downtown meandering, and hunting for cheap snacks before taking a bus back home.

At first, I believed the Monday group had it the roughest; the Arabic final exam was that morning.  The rest of the day was pretty open besides an afternoon lecture and an evening soccer game. The lecture was on the influence of international funding in the occupation and the USA’s place in that. The game was a challenge issued to our whole group by the Beit Sahour city league girls team. These were high schoolers, and despite our best efforts, they beat us 3-1. Johnny, our very passionate de facto coach, kept us entertained with his yelling how bad we were from his sideline perspective.

“She’s not your grandmother! Don’t ever let her do that to you again!”
“I am going to kill you all after this!”
“That Austin… all he cares about his hair.”
A rematch was scheduled for Friday.
It was then that I learned that I was not alone. A wave of sickness had rippled throughout our numbers, displaying the same symptoms at around the same time. We have our suspicions. Remember that aqueduct from 36 hours previous? Trust us, they said. The filter will protect you, they said.
Throughout the remainder of the week, there were many more speakers. With the Badil organization, we had a pretty uplifting discussion concerning finding creative solutions to the plight of Palestinian refugees. We visited the Tent of Nations, a olive tree-planting organization whose project leader offered an extremely insightful message of non-violent resistance to the occupation. Its mottos include “We Refuse to Be Enemies” as well as “We Refuse to Be Victims”. Those of our group who were healthy even helped clear some bushes for future planting (while the rest of us sat pathetically in a cave). From the organization of Kairos Palestine, we heard about the call to Palestinian Christians and perspective of a religious movement in resistance. The energy and intention behind all of these different groups and all of the various approaches to the problem is most empowering. So much of what we’ve been seeing and hearing is only angering, saddening, or both, and the exposure to some strong forces of hope has given us something to help bear the weight of the reality here.
Two additionally positive notes to close this week on: First, EMU won the rematch 5-0, and Johnny did not kill us all. Second, we had a lovely farewell dinner party on Saturday night with our friends from ATG. It also served as a graduation of sorts from Arabic studies. The food was fantastic, as usual, but the live music was perhaps even more spectacular. What is reportedly one of the best bands in Palestine jammed out on the oud, bouzouki, and kanun as we did some mightily awkward dancing. That’s a good memory to end our stay here with – the memory that beautiful Palestinian culture can still shine through the conflict that has overshadowed so much of its identity in the world’s eyes.
Next stop: Israel, the other main player in this conflict. What stories will we see and hear there, I wonder? How will we be able to reconcile them with that which we now carry with us?
Stay tuned.
-Silas Clymer
Middle East 2019 group at Giza

Guatemala: A day in my life

Reflections on a day in my life in Guatemala

Every morning I feel a small tug from sleep by my sister at 4 am. Phone flashlight, towels thrown, and makeup to be applied in the light of the hall. When she shuts the door to leave for her long commute, I am left to sleep for 2 more hours…

6:30 alarm sounds accompanied by pit bull puppy growls, dishes being washed outside and Spanish worship songs. My sister yells through the window “¿estás viva?!” She’s surprised every day I didn’t die in my sleep.

Dad is always full of animation to see me in the morning. Even with tired eyes and sleepless nights, he makes a bomb breakfast. My favorites are eggs with una salsa, tortillas, and beans, Nescafé and pan dulce if I’m lucky.

I break conversation or silence to brush my teeth with the door open so my sister can continue to tease her “hermana gringa.” “Con cuidado” says my dad and sister, and I’m off with a prayer/blessing.

I walk to Andrew’s house (other EMU student), there is a rhythm to my walk orchestrated by my neighbors. First comes the dogs on the roof who come out to greet or growl. Then comes the older couple walking their dog, then that man wearing too much reflective gear on his bike; it ends with the older man at the corner grinning, “bye bye” he says. No it wasn’t creepy, just eccentric. The sun, the wind. I rap on the door of Andrew and his mother invites me in. I greet the daughters and son in that classy, bohemian, houseplant paradise until Andrew shuffles in with his sandals and massive sombrero: We walk to the bus station and cram into that hot, crowded bus pumping rageton. “Pasaje en mano, dale, dale” says the money collector. He rapidly spews nice sentiments, not wanting to be a bother, tells us we’re all very nice as he pushes more and more people into that bus. I sway in the bus, shifting, move on my tiptoes, ducking as people enter and leave. We jump off the bus, quick to get off before they close the door, quick to get past the back of that bus and the black soot sure to follow.

We arrive at school CASAS. I fill a cold mug with coffee, sit in the sun, switch to shade and greet my friends. I watch my teacher Albertina strut in with her head held high and all the confidence and command of womanhood. I mean that, she has a presence. The gardener and Reina, who makes our lunches, greets us.  Alfredo who also works there, but is closer to our age greets us. He’s an incredible painter by the way. I cram in homework I didn’t have the motivation to do the night before and drag myself up to the third floor where our classes are held.

In class we study grammar, intermixing the subject with real conversation, debates and stories about boys, the bus, questions, beliefs. Our class is often rightly accused of laughing, yelling and talking too loud. Albertina is patient with our sass, exaggerated complaints and growing Spanish. She plays music, she tells us to get up and dance and lets us get up at any time to refill our coffee cups. Somehow, I learned more about life and Spanish in that class than in any class before.

When I finally return home it’s about 5:00. Andrew and I walk the highway talking about faith or lack thereof, silly ideas and relationships. We greet who we pass. The boys sitting outside the mechanical shop giggle and practice their English on us, a mother, her husband and baby have a little snack stand where I regrettably never bought anything. We cross the streets, me running faster than Andrew. We turn corners and walk under the tarp creating a makeshift restaurant with plastic stools on the sidewalk, an open grill, scraps of food shoved to the side. Trash, buses, and motorcycles cover the streets. We wait to cram into the microbús. Smiles, curious looks, and random conversation may start with our fellow passengers. We yell for our stop and we’re finally to our neighborhood. We greet the people outside the local tienda. They recognize us by now and make sure to greet us. I reach my house and rap on the door. Eventually my brother or father comes. They’ll hind behind the door and slowly show their face as if they don’t know me or throw open door with a hug and kiss. We recount our days around coffee or tea and pan dulce. Henry talks extensively about his day in the hospital, Julian is accused of not eating enough and then there’s the joke of needing exercise which only Henry and Lorena partake in. Maybe there’s a telenovela on tv, the news or animal channel until it comes time to eat. I put out the vasos, set the table. “Cuantos personas somos?” asks my sister or mother because I can’t count. Mitz nails me in the side and we accuse each other of being too crazy, singing or dancing badly or talking too loud. After dinner we read a chapter of the Bible. It’s horrendously boring. We are in Leviticus. Everyone fights to keep their eyes open, winking and slapping each other to stay awake. Discussion follows mostly between my dad and brother, my sisters (whom are typically more insightful) may share a bit too.


I wish I could share the total richness, push, grime, fullness, belly laughing, warm days, but you’d have to be here for that.

-Maya Dula