EMU Cross-Cultural

Palestinian Ponderings

We have reached the end of our stay in Palestine, or the Occupied Territories, or the West Bank, or the Disputed Territories, or Occupied Palestine. Many names for the same small strip of land. I have spent the last week in Beit Sahour, a Christian village near Bethlehem. The group has scattered, for evenings at least, into separate host families; I stayed with the Qumsieh family. It is rather nice to be in a home rather than a hotel. The group still reconvenes for daily escapades. We have been working with the Alternative Tourism Group, and they planned a “nice” week for us.

I use nice in a loose sense, because here in the West Bank, the fact of occupation and the forces of conflict simply cannot be ignored. On Monday, we went to Dheisha refugee camp outside Beit Sahour, and met with a man who had spent most his life within that small arena, wanting to return to his family’s land. Then we walked through the crowded streets to meet with the camps Imam, who spoke to us about Islam, and how he viewed the situation. On Tuesday, we met with the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (Arij) which supplied figures and proof of land confiscations and methods of demographic dominance. That same day we went to the town of Hebron, where settlers occupy the city center, and thereby throw the entire city into chaos. Walking through the souq, our heads were covered by a net put in place to keep settlers from tossing items down on the heads of Palestinians below. As we came out of the souq and headed to the tombs of Abraham and Sarah, we passed through three checkpoints and three additional security screenings. We ate lunch in Hebron with Hashim Al Aza, a man whose house is almost surrounded by settlements, is in a part of the city controlled by the Israeli Defense Force, and who is under constant attack. His house is attacked, his trees are chopped down, his children are attacked on the way to school and he and his wife have both been assaulted multiple times.

But despite the signs of brutality, the picture is not without hope. Hashim Al Aza is an advocate for non-violent resistance. The farm we visited on Thursday, Tent of Nations, might be the brightest beacon. The farm is situated on a hilltop; the only one in the area not controlled by settlers, and has been in the family since the Ottoman rule. The farm came under physical attack, but when that failed, the settlers switched to legal harassment. But yet they run a farm, and serve as a witness for peace. Every summer, they hold a children’s camp and teach them the way of peace. The rock by the entrance, painted in three different languages, says their message best: “We refuse to be enemies.” There is hope.

In addition to our emotion-bending trips, we also have been honored with lectures relating to Palestine. The topics have ranged from the history of modern Palestine to the Palestinian woman. They were given either at the Alternative Tourism Group’s study center, Bethlehem University, or Bethlehem Bible College. Regardless of subject or location, they were all informative and interesting.

This is not to say that our stay has been all work. We have visited most of the tourist sites: the Church of the Nativity and the Shepherd’s Field. We also saw several craft workshops, several olive wood factories and one of the Hebron glass factories. ATG also treated us to a night of Palestinian music. Beyond that, there was getting to know our hosts, which was a pleasure. As a side note, my Arabic is about on par with my four year old host cousin. Next comes two weeks of study at Jerusalem University College.

– Joel Nofziger

Visit to Tikal and reflections on the Guatemalan civil war

Mexico/Guatemala 7This weekend was a second one in a shoreline Paradise, as our group descended upon the mostly undeveloped rainforest region of Tikal in the northernmost part of Guatemala.  This past week we finished our first section of intensive Spanish and we will all be moving up a level and changing around classes in the week to come.  Tikal was a welcome respite before we start the new challenge of our second four week intensive Spanish courses.  We walked through the rainforest and visited excavated ruins of the once thriving Mayan empire of Tikal.  Huge mounds of dirt covered in trees and vegetation  are scattered all over this jungle region reminding visitors that only a fraction of these ruins have been excavated in the archeological process that has been going on since the 1950s.  Our guide told us that in Tikal there are more than four thousand ancient buildings right in the middle of the rainforest.  We met quite a variety of flora and fauna, my personal favorites being the spider and howler monkeys we encountered munching on trees and holding conversations with each other.  The proper description of a howler monkey is a mixture between Joel DeWald atop an ancient Mayan templea scream and a roar that continues without end for several minutes.  We witnessed two of these howling at each other, and my group mates commented ¨that can’t lead to healthy family dynamics.”

As I relaxed on the lake outside of our ecological hotel (complete with hammocks and mosquito nets) I was reminded of the title of one of our cross cultural group’s books ¨Paradise in Ashes¨.  This book details how not long ago in the 1970s and 80s poor Guatemalans without land migrated to another lush jungle region in the north of Guatemala to make a better life for themselves.  Not long after they settled a small guerilla force brought Guatemala’s 36 year long civil war to ¨Paradise¨.  We have been reading and discussing the harrowing accounts of the massacres and genocidal tactics of the Guatemalan government army during the 1980s that occurred in the northern jungle regions.

This war was one of the ¨hot¨ parts of the cold war and the Guatemalan government received full support from Reagan and the US government during the 80s to suppress the communist guerrillas who fought during the civil war.  The whole war was wrapped up in the poverty and social problems of this country.  An incredibly inequitable land ownership system, virtual slavery of the rural landless population, and an oppressive government that US based United Fruit Company helped install in a coup, drove many to sympathize with the guerilla movement.  When I try to put myself in the shoes of the rural poor who joined the guerrilla movement I have serious problems believing that it was because they believed in Marxist ideology.  Rather it was the burning of villages, destruction of crops, massive killings of civilians, ripping open of pregnant women, and rape committed by the military during the civil war that drove people to either flee the country or take up arms to defend themselves.

The label ¨communist¨ has been used here to do a great number of horrible things here in Guatemala.  Priests and pastors that worked with the poor, village cooperatives, and peaceful change movements were all likely to be denounced as communist and their leaders killed.  Peaceful change was impossible in this country and could get you killed, so joining the militarized guerillas did not seem like such a bad deal to many and the poor and oppressed often saw no other way than violent revolution to change their circumstances.  My host dad told me that people could still use his involvement in protest movements during this time against him to this day, decades after the peace agreement.

Our group thoroughly enjoyed the jungle of Tikal.  It is hard to image that only thirty years ago massive oppression and the most horrible cruelties known to man were going on in these jungle regions of Guatemala.  We have been struggling with the questions like, why does God allow such brutality to go on in our world? And what is our responsibility to our neighbor in this world?  Our group continues to grapple with the issues of poverty, oppression and migration that are our southern neighbor’s daily realities.

-Joel DeWald

Three reports from India

India 6I’ve really enjoyed the time we’ve had at the Sarang Center. Each of us takes Hindi class, cross-cultural psychology, and a third class each day. I, along with Kerm, Ryan, Laura, Carmen, Tessa, and Rachel, take cooking class from our Hindi teachers, Anu and Gautham, every day. I’ve really enjoyed class as we’ve learned how to make deep-fried bananas, parathas (like a tortilla), assorted teas, vegetable curry, and many other amazing dishes. Gautham is web-designer, web-developer, Hindi teacher, cooking instructor, and in his free time learns about agriculture and health, sings, and is learning Spanish, and still has time to raise his adorable bacchi (baby) Herahnya, who is less than a year old.

Aside from classes, power-outages have occupied quite a bit of time during our stay here. At first they were really awful, especially at night when the fans weren’t on and it was extremely hot with 11 guys in the same room. As the days have gone on though, most of us have grown to accept the blackouts; a process made easier by the wonderful rain we’ve had the past few days. The air cools off significantly after the downpours, and it’s nice to see precipitation after such dry weather.

-Eric Broderson

Sarah Schoenhals and Tessa Gerberich about to drink some local chai. Narrow streets, barely wide enough for two people to pass. Houses the size of a master bathroom (and some of those would be much bigger, still). Clean areas to walk. Occasional bad smells. Smiling faces. Rubble. Stacked bricks and tarp.

Yesterday we had the privilege to visit two slums: one thriving and one that had just been demolished. I’ve always heard stories about people who live in extreme poverty: extreme generosity and joy amidst the struggles of life, but until one actually experiences it, it’s never a reality. While at the demolished slum, I was picked out by a girl who wanted to introduce me to her family and show me where she lived. I went to a relative’s ‘house’ first, then her own ‘house’ (stacked bricks from the rubble for walls, and tarp for a ceiling). At both places, I was given chai – her mother actually sent her son to buy chai for both myself and herself. This girl showed me her life, talked of her dreams, gave me gifts – both material and spiritual. What more could one ask for on one’s birthday, especially when the bestower of the gifts is unaware of this fact?

-Krista Townsend

Ben Bailey and Ryan Eshleman work in Cooking class. On Thursday, February 10, 2011, it finally happened. We arrived at the long awaited Sarang Center. Only it wasn’t exactly the Sarang Center and it wasn’t exactly what most of the group had been looking forward to for several weeks.

During the first part of the trip when we were hopping from town to town every few days even the most spontaneous among us realized a deep desire for routine and habit. We took trains, rode rickshaws, and drove in buses from place to place finding hope in the promise of continuity offered by our two and a half week stay in the south of India. We waited for classes at the Sarang Center like we waited for Christmas break at the end of fall semester.

Several days ago after a bus trip of considerable length which included exactly one bus breakdown, we arrived at the Sarang Center. Rumors had been circulating that we weren’t actually staying at the Sarang Center and those proved true. After a brief introduction to our teachers for the various subjects we are studying including Hindi language, Yoga, and cooking among others, we climbed back into our bus for the final leg of our journey to a nearby Hotel Management College where we are staying.

I may have been the only one who was surprised by our accommodations but I don’t think that was the case as I heard several of my fellow travels exclaiming over the cold bucket showers, firm to rock solid mattresses, and cabin camp room set up.

Since the initial surprise I would say we have settled in well and are for the most part enjoying our classes and our teachers. This group of people has so far demonstrated a remarkable capacity to adjust and adapt so we have quickly made the dorm building a lively place where we all crowd into the bathroom to look at all the funny bugs we find and songs can be heard echoing through our hallway.

Despite our mildly touristy beginnings the (not) Sarang Center is providing us with many experiences that could definitely be termed “cross cultural” and I’m sure will quickly become group jokes and good stories we’ll tell all of you.  So when you’re in your steaming hot shower, think of us with our buckets and laugh because that’s what we hope to be doing here.

-Katie Landis


Guatemala – a day at the beach

Mexico/Guatemala 6I can’t believe it has been seven weeks since our trip began. It has been exciting. Every day there is something new to learn to and to see.

Right now I am learning a lot of Spanish, a lot about Guatemala, and am getting to know my host family. I have a Mom, Dad, Grandma, and a sister who just turned seventeen. She is a lot of fun. I’ve never had a sister before so this a great experience. My family is very friendly, my mom is a great cook, and they all know a little bit of English. So that’s very helpful at times when my Spanish fails me.

I have never used a public bus system until now. I live about an hour away from the school and I have to take two buses to get there every day. It was a little hard to get used to at first especially when there is usually no room to move on the buses. But I am getting used to them and I don’t mind them as much anymore.

This past Saturday Ben Nyce’s host parents invited us to go to the beach for the day. Most of us were able to go and we all packed into one of the school vans and headed off. The beach was two hours away. It was beautiful and very relaxing. The sand here in Guatemala is black because of all the volcanoes in Guatemala. So it is really hot if you’re not wearing shoes. Ben’s mom, Betty, made us a delicious lunch which included “shukas”, which are otherwise known as hot dogs. On our way Cody Walker, Joel Dewald, Rose Byler, Peter Labosh, and Brandon Waggy en route to Antigua home from the beach we were going up a hill and the van broke down. We waited in the rain while Byron and Ben’s family tried to get it to start again. They were unsuccessful. So we had to get to Antigua which wasn’t very far away, maybe 15 miles. There we could rent another van to take us home. But we all couldn’t ride a bus to Antigua. So Ben’s mom waved down a pick-up truck and asked him he would take some of us to Antigua. He agreed. So Deanna and Dylan sat in the front of the truck and Ben, Peter, Rose, Brandon, Joel, Cody, and I got in the back of the truck. It had stopped raining thankfully and it was one awesome ride. I am sure we looked a little out of place to most people. Eventually we all arrived in Antigua safely and had dinner there. We found a van to ride home in and were on our way. It was a very exciting and memorable weekend.

So this week we are studying and preparing for our Spanish finals which are on Thursday and then on Friday we are headed for Tikal, which should be a lot of fun. On Monday we will begin our second round of Spanish classes. Blessings to you all and keep a look out for the next update. Hasta Luego!

-Audrey Hoover

Bedouin night and Petra

Middle East 5Although many of us were not quite ready to say goodbye to Damascus, we were all excited for what was to lie ahead in Jordan. We spent the first two days in the capital of Jordan, Amman, where we had time to explore the city and meet with the MCC representatives in Jordan. We got to hear many stories from them as they have been living in the area for a while and could give us another perspective to some of the conflict in the region. On Wednesday, we went to Petra which is probably one of the coolest places that I have ever been in. This ancient Nabatean city was completely carved out in the side of several mountains and was very well preserved. We spent all day exploring and hiking the trails in the city which led to some really beautiful lookouts of the surrounding area. In one of the churches that was carved out in the mountain, some of the group began singing someStudents admire the ancient Nabatean city of Petra. familiar hymns. This was a really powerful moment for not only the group singing, but also many other tourists that walked by and stopped to listen.

Just when we thought that we had reached the high point in the trip when we visited Petra, we traveled to Wadi-Rum to stay with the Bedouins for a night in the desert. When we got there, we unpacked our stuff and loaded up onto three jeeps that were going to take us out into the desert. We started out just driving on the road and then we picked up some speed and headed for the sand. You could tell that the Bedouin men that were driving the jeeps were having as much fun as we all were riding in the back. We were riding around for a while and had several stops so we could climb some of the rock formations and sand dunes. At one of the stops, one of the drivers motioned to Linford to hop into the driver’s seat and take it for a spin. I’m pretty sure that Linford thought we were racing and it was obvious that he was not going to settle for last! At our last stop on the jeep tour, we climbed up onto one of the rocks and watched the sunset. It was a great end to the jeep rides. We then got back to the camp and had a delicious dinner followed by some singing and dancing. Once again, Linford didn’t fail to provide the entertainment. In the morning, we ate breakfast and set out for our camel rides. I was a bit anxious about this as I heard that camels can be very unpredictable and not the most comfortable. We all had a lot of fun and found out that both of those rumors are correct.

The week we spent in Jordan was full of adventure and many memories. We were also very fortunate to have such an awesome tour guide in Jordan as he was very willing to answer any questions that we had (and also a lot of fun). We are back in Amman for the night before setting out to Palestine Sunday morning. We are all looking forward to what is to come with a week of home stays in Palestine.

-Steve Burkholder

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