EMU Cross-Cultural

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

Arizona, Immigration, and the Sonora Desert Museum

Mexico/Guatemala 1I think I speak for everyone in the group when I say that the past few days have just been a whirlwind of stories, facts, beauty, hard truths, and more.  The main events have been making our way through air travel, touring a US Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center (in Florence, AZ), hearing from Kara Hartzler, legal director of the Florence Project (helping with legal representation for detained persons), speaking with members of Shalom Mennonite Congregation in Tucson, and touring the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  Yeah, it’s been busy.

Our tour of the detention center was thorough… but also one-sided.  We were shown what the process was supposed to look like when things ran smoothly.  We had been primed with some pretty awful stories of when things went wrong, so hearing how things are supposed to go was a pleasant surprise in a couple ways.  One thing to note is that we often associate ICE detention centers with individuals who have entered the country without proper documentation.  However, the majority of the detainees at this facility were individuals who did have some legal status (permanent residence, green card, etc.) but had committed some crime (such as possession of drug paraphernalia) for which they could be punished by deportation.  Here is a brief summary of people’s reactions to the ICE detention center tour:

  • Surprised at the physical proximity to the detainees (we were in the same room as detainees at a couple points)
  • Surprised we actually got to see much of the facility
  • Surprised by how nice it was (except the beds)
  • Surprised by the good quality of the medical facilities
  • Surprised by the quick turnover rate (they have 300-some beds, but over the course of last year 45,959 detainees passed through center)
  • Surprised by the difference between illegal entrants whose only crime was illegal entry and legal residents who had committed a crime

Kara Hartzler told a different story.  She told us about many cases that were the exceptions when the process didn’t go smoothly, mistakes were made, individuals rights were trampled, and justice was not served.  These stories, though rare, can deeply impact individual’s and families’ lives.  In my opinion, Kara’s presentation was just as one-sided as the ICE officials’.  These sides were so complementary, though, that they both made perfect sense.

We rounded out our day with some ice cream and then an evening with some members of Shalom Mennonite Church back in Tucson.  These individuals told us many stories of the ways they encounter immigrants, their views on the Mennonite Church USA’s convention being held in Arizona, and outcomes of the new AZ immigration legislation (SB 1070).  It was interesting to see how on each of these issues there was disagreement and conversation within the church.  Not everyone was of one mind, but they were still working together and continuing to search for what it means to be church in this area of the world.

One thing that stood out to at least a couple students was the fact that racial profiling inherent in immigration law scares all immigrants whether they are citizens, legal residents, or undocumented immigrants.  Latino people are pulled over more and basically have to carry documentation with them.  Even with documentation, though, they can still be accused of stealing that documentation… so there’s no way to really feel safe if you’re of Latino heritage.  This particularly strikes me because as a Caucasian person I have immense privilege and can never really understand the fear or frustration that these Latinos are feeling.

This encounter with people trying to do church here in Tucson really brought home for me the strength that our Christian faith can be.  We have something incredible to bring to this situation and I hope that through this trip I can remember that faith grounding and listen to what that faith has to say about the situation.

Overall, the various presentations yesterday helped educate us about immigration.  The different presenters helped show us the real complexity of the situation and the humanity and truth on all sides.  We did a lot of sifting through personal bias (both the presenters and our own), but through it all we began to really enter in to this border area.

Joel Dewald, Rachel Hershey, Peter Labosh, Cody Walker, Austin Showalter at the Desert Museum posing as cacti One last thing to note is just the landscape here in southern AZ.  We are in a desert.  This place is unlike anything I have ever seen and I am just amazed by it.  I’m sure the rest of the group is getting tired of me saying so, but it’s just amazing!  You can see for miles with no large trees to block your view and it seems like every way you look you can see mountains in the distance.  The sharp, scrubby plants in the foreground blend into a carpet until rocks seem to erupt through this carpet and form mountains in the distance.  The sun is blinding and warms you right up, but the wind gets chilly when you’re in the shade.  Everyone looks extra beautiful with the wind in their hair and the sun on their faces.  This is not a sand dune sort of desert… it’s just something else.  Also, there are cacti everywhere.

We are leaving tomorrow to stop by Nogales and walk across the border and back and then continue on to Douglas/Agua Prieta where we will be staying for the next week.  Agua Prieta is at a higher elevation than Tucson and they’ve been well under freezing the past few nights, so we’ll all be pulling out the under armor.

We appreciate your prayers as we continue to enter into this place and experience the complexities and frustrations as well as the beauty.

-Rose Byler

India Photo 2011

India Cross-cultural students, Spring 2011.India 1

Photos by Eric Brodersen and Katherine Landis

Syria, Israel and Palestine

There is no place on earth that compares to the Middle East for experiencing the fascinating and volatile mix of religions, cultures and historical movements that have shaped the world. Beginning in Syria, with time in the neighboring countries of Lebanon and Jordan, living in Israel and the West Bank, and traveling to Greece and Rome, participants will be immersed in the ancient/ modern world of Jews, Christians and Muslims. Living in Palestinian homes in the West Bank, and studying, hiking, and serving from a base in Nazareth, and exploring ancient histories and current conflicts will provide an intense learning experience with the potential for life-changing insights into the Bible, world news, and yourself.

India

Discover the Beauty and the Culture of India

India is in South Asia and shares borders with Pakistan, China, and Nepal. The rugged Himalayan mountain range lies in the northern part of India while the southern tip consists of deserts, rain forests and relaxing beaches. India has a deep history dating back to 3200 BC when Hinduism was first founded. Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam all are practiced in India. Each of these religions give a different perspective to one’s philosophy of life.

Come, learn and experience the culture of India.

  • See the breathtaking views of the Taj Mahal as the sun sets while the dhobi (clothes washers) wash clothes in the river behind this glorious monument built for a loving wife.
  • Visit with a villager scavaging the hillside for sticks in the forest to use for a fire to make dinner.
  • Gaze upon the “Snows”—the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayan mountain range.
  • Understand the importance of bathing in the Ganga (Ganges) River.
  • Experience the generosity of the people who will graciously welcome you into their mud homes for a cup of Chai and a chance to talk with you.
  • Visit and work at Mother Teresa’s organization in Calcutta working with the destitute.

Jheldi Chhello!! (Let’s go!)

Guatemala, U.S. and Mexico Border

Students will explore two contemporary global issues: increasing human mobility across national borders, and the urgency for learning intercultural skills in a global context.

One of the most heated issues in the U.S. – and the Shenandoah Valley – is the debate surrounding policies and attitudes towards immigrants, undocumented workers, and the crossing of national borders. Many of these immigrants come from Mexico and Central America. We will begin with an introduction to some of the tensions and realities of immigrants here in the Harrisonburg area, then spend several days at the Mexico/U.S. border witnessing this movement of persons and the many policy, human rights and economic implications that result, before continuing on to Central America.

In Guatemala, students will spend significant time with CASAS, a Spanish & cross-cultural study program. The first two months participants will live with families in Guatemala City while studying Spanish, along with culture, history and religious faith of Guatemalan society. In the final three weeks of the CASAS program, students will be placed with organizations throughout Guatemala for a service learning assignment. Options include working in settings that are tied directly to human migration issues as well as health clinics, women’s cooperatives, exporting businesses, appropriate technology centers, orphanages, or home construction.

In the final weeks the group will explore once again the issues of crossing borders, human mobility and will be asked to examine the changes in one’s worldview about immigration, human rights and economic implications of immigration after experiencing the realities of Central America.

Final reports from Spain

Spain/Morocco 2010-11For the past three days, our group has been on a trip to Toledo.  In Toledo, we were able to see remnants of its Roman, Visigothic, and Moorish past.  Toledo was a city of immense intellectual knowledge when it was a part of the Islamic empire and continued to be when the Christians reconquered the city.  In addition to this more positive look back into Spanish history, many of us discovered some of the more disturbing parts of Spain’s past when we visited a museum about the torture devices used during the Inquisition.  The items on display there made me wonder how someone could have used those horrifying instruments on another human being.  Luckily, Toledo’s winding cobblestone streets and Christmas lights helped comfort me as I tried to focus on happier things.

Now that we are back in Montoro to finish our last week in Spain, the realization of how little time we have left here is finally hitting us.  While the prospect of seeing our friends and family again is exciting, it’s going to be sad to leave here.

-Kate van der Zwaag

'Nagy' with his sword It’s amazing how when people say time goes so fast, I never believe it’s true.  And then I find myself in my last week of a 3½ month cross cultural, and have to face the reality that it’s over.

This past week, as with most of the weeks on this trip, has been interesting.  Group dynamics always prove to be a source of interest, and it’s through our challenges with others in the group that help our relationships to mature.  It’s scary thinking that soon I will be interacting with others outside this group— people who used to be similar will now feel foreign and different, but I’m hoping that feeling won’t last long.

Our past three days were spent in Toledo, which is an awesome town.  They are world renowned for their sword making, and the better parts of my days there were spent with ‘Nagy’ and Ben talking about how sweet the swords are.   We also got to visit the torture museum there, and while being disturbing, it was also fascinating in the fact that people could have actually used these devices on someone.  It’s sad and sickening to see, but it’s real and is still happening, even if it’s not in the public eye.

Coming back from Toledo, we got a shock when we heard there was a landslide in our town that caused a road to be out of use.  There had been lots of rain, and the river rose considerably (as I depicted), and has certainly done some damage.

All in all, an interesting week.  There is excitement in the house for going home, but wanting to enjoy our last days to the fullest. Six days and counting.

-Jesse Weaver

Reflections on life in Morocco

Spain/Morocco 2010-10I am thankful for opportunity—a nicer way of saying I am thankful for wealth. I guess it is not such a bad thing. Without it, this cross-cultural experience would not happen. Morocco is 126th out of 177 countries on the list of the Human Development Index which is based on life expectancy, literacy, and income. I wish I could say this low mark is not correlated with the level of happiness, but the number of homeless beggars and street fights I have seen would suggest otherwise. That being said, Morocco is richer in some aspects—such as hospitality and spirituality—than what I am used to. Money is a strange thing; we use it to go places to learn from people who don’t have much of it. In one of our classes on gender roles in Morocco our professor said to have a voice one needs education and money; it also helps if you are male.

I am thankful I am a man. I am aware of the disparities between men and women in western societies, but they really seem minute when compared to most of the Islamic world. Only within the last ten years have Moroccan women been given the right to divorce their husbands, have custody of their own children, and share ownership of property. I am glad I do not, like the girls in our group, have to wear long djellabas, long dresses, to try and disappear for fear of being harassed. I am able to walk by myself at night if I want to. Women in Morocco, according to our professor Fatima Sadiqi, have power but not authority. Authority is sanctioned power. Another professor of ours Dr. Fatima Amrani, made the case the Koran has been misinterpreted, or even fabricated, by male religious authority figures over the years to control and silence women. Many improvements have begun recently, for the rights of women in Morocco. No matter how many rights are gained, I’ve always thought myself lucky that I will never have to give birth.

I am thankful for a loving host family. My host mom laughs like my real mom. My thirteen year old brother Akram can be a handful (he is in our room now, playing with Jesse’s camera) but life would be dull without him. I am thankful for ignorance, probably in more ways than I want to know. The specific case that made me think of this was LAeed, a Muslim holiday when every family sacrifices a sheep. Our sheep went from breathing to on the dinner table in a matter of a few hours. If I had to watch the animals I eat die every time, I think I would eat fewer animals.

I am thankful Coca-Cola is sold worldwide.

-Jordan Shetler

So far I have had a great experience living in Fez. At first I felt a little uncomfortable and overwhelmed living with a Moroccan family. It took some time getting used to eating without utensils, community showers, and living with twelve people in a tiny apartment. Throughout our stay here I have learned about the generosity of Moroccan families. Our host family gave us the only bedroom in their house and have accommodated to our needs in many other ways. Over the past five weeks we have all grown closer and we feel like part of their family. Daily our mother reminds us that she no longer has four children but six. Also, they have included us in their family gatherings and we have met most of their family friends. We are even part of their family shopping trips in the Medina. With our limited Arabic vocabulary it is hard to communicate, and we often feel like helpless children. We have learned to communicate with our hand and have gotten good at playing charades.

Not only have we grown more comfortable with our host family, but we have adjusted to living in the Medina. No longer do we wake up to the 5am call to prayer and we are used to quickly getting out of the way when a horse comes up behind us in the narrow streets. Even though our stay in Fez is coming to an end, we are still keeping busy on the weekends. This past weekend we took a day trip to a lake and a forest outside the town of Ifrane. First, we enjoyed the beautiful fall scenery of Morocco while walking around a small lake. Then we went on a hike through a forest looking for wild monkeys. Near the end of our hike we saw the monkeys swinging from tree to tree and sitting on the branches.

After we saw the monkeys we had a picnic lunch in the cold and rain. Last we drove to a forest where many tourists go to see monkeys. At this forest we got to hand feed them bread and peanuts. They were not shy at all and one monkey even clung to my leg until I fed him. It was interesting to see some of the wildlife that exists in Morocco. Now we all look forward to our Moroccan style Thanksgiving meal and our trip back to Spain.

-Valerie Landis

Festival of Sheep

Spain/Morocco 2010 - 9Like every other weekend we went on a trip to somewhere in Morocco. On this trip we went to Meknes and Volubilis. We stopped first at Volubilis which is the site of the largest Roman ruins in Morocco. An earthquake destroyed many of the walls but the arches and floor mosaics still remain. The Romans chose the spot for a reason; it was beautiful. We spent the rest of the day in Meknes. We went to a mosque, one of the only that will allow non-Muslims to enter. The other main important place in Meknes is a massive granary monument. It was apparently used for the King’s army horses that saved Morocco from invaders.

While that trip was an interesting part of our week, the highlight was the Festival of Sheep. This festival is extremely important to Muslims. The point of the festival is to sacrifice a sheep for the family like Abraham did, instead of sacrificing Ishmael. In the Muslim version of the story, Abraham was about to sacrifice Ishmael and not Isaac. Each family buys at least one ram (with all of its teeth) and sometimes a cow or goat in addition. Our family bought four sheep for the day. We will spare all the gory details, but our family did kill each of the sheep on our roof while we watched. Throughout this week, everyone will be eating basically all parts of the sheep. For the first day, we ate the liver and the heart, wrapped in stomach lining and the encasing of all the organs. We were surprised at how good it was in a sandwich with homemade bread. It was really fun to spend time with our host family, and everyone was really excited for the day. It reminded us of our Thanksgiving celebration. In fact, it wasn’t all bad as we thought it might be.

During the day it is normal for people to go and visit friends and family in their homes. Because it’s a holiday, people dress up in traditional clothes, especially when going to the mosque. People came to our house and it was really neat to see how the community works together. At one point during the day the neighbors came over with a man who was crying. He couldn’t afford to buy a sheep for the day. Because this holiday is so important, it is a big deal not to have a sheep and he felt terrible about it. So our family gave the man the extra sheep that they had bought the day before. We were really touched by this. We thought it is an example of how generous our family and people here are.

-Malea Gascho and Rebecca Martin

Meeting the host families in Fez

Spain/Morocco 2010 - 8On Saturday we met out host families here in Fez. I didn’t realize how nervous I was until our names were being called and the group was dissipating quickly. Carrie Schlabach and I met our host brother, who miraculously spoke some English, and headed off to hail a taxi. Our bags were put on the roof of the taxi and we were off through windy streets to our new home for the next five weeks.

That night we had dinner with our host parents and our three host siblings; Yasser, Hanae, and Ayoub. Eating here is completely different than in the States. Nobody has their own plate or set of silverware, but instead there is a main dish with many small dishes surrounding it full of food that we grab with our fingers or with a small bite of bread. Another difference is that you do not use your left hand to eat, so tearing pieces of food can be somewhat challenging. Our family always makes sure that we get enough food and that we enjoy what we have been served.

Spending time with our family thus far has included watching American movies with Arabic subtitles and laughing together over our difficulties with communication. I have been told multiple times that I am one of the family. “I have five children,” my mother will say, “Yasser, Hanae, Ayoub, Carrie and Alyssa. You are all the same to me.” I feel completely comfortable with all of my family members after only this short period of time with them. Their hospitality is much to be thankful for.

Now on to our weekly schedule. On Tuesday we started Arabic class, which we will have four days a week for two hours every day. I can already tell that we are going to learn so many helpful words and phrases, and this makes me excited for future conversations with my family. Once a week we have an internship of sorts, some of the options being going to an orphanage, learning how to write Arabic calligraphy, and preparing and cooking a typical Moroccan meal. Each week we will sign up for one of the activities that we are interested in, knowing that in the weeks to come we will have the ability to experience each of the options if we so desire. This week I will be going to a nearby orphanage to play soccer with the children, and I couldn’t be more excited to bond with these people from a completely different culture and language than my own over a good game of soccer (despite the fact that I can’t wear my athletic shorts!).

Though there are many differences and possible struggles that I will face, I am so incredibly thankful for the opportunity to study abroad in Morocco. I have always been intrigued by the culture and the language, and now that I am here I’m trying my best to absorb everything that I can. As I write this, I am sitting on my bed in a house that I’ve only known for a few days. The sounds of the television and my Moroccan family speaking in Arabic are in the background, and all of this brings a huge grin to my face, I can only imagine what these next five weeks will bring.

-Alyssa Weaver