Lithuania 2016 summer cross-cultural seminar has begun posting a few photographs from their explorations in and around Klaipeda. Pictured above is a group of the students on their first trip out to the beach on the Baltic Sea.
As we walk through silent, little Bethlehem, I can still hear the three wise men roaming through these narrow streets with their donkeys’ rhythmical clack of hooves fading into the flagrant symphony of commerce and daily affairs that takes place in Palestinian suqs (markets). If anything elevates Bet Sahour over the archeological sites we have visited so far it is the liveliness and musicality that hardly occurs within the granite walls of temples erected for the sun-baked gods of antiquity. The schools, churches, mosques, food shops and other ‘normal’ businesses fill the town with an air of that everyday festivity that is characteristic of small, picturesque towns. And it is this ‘everydayness’ that especially brings to life the miraculous events of old that occurred in this area: there are still flocks of sheep placidly grazing in Shepherds Field where the angels first announced Jesus’ birth, there is still a manger in the hypothetical ‘stable’ where baby Jesus was born, there is still an olive tree where wee, faithful Zacheus climbed just to take a glance at the famed Jesus in his ministry. The divine merging of ancient and contemporary life vitalizes the area and adds an entirely new dimension to Sunday school stories. Proclaiming clearly and loudly the existence of a people, these ‘temples and ruins’ of old have managed to preserve their ‘colors’ nearly to perfection.
What has also been preserved nearly to perfection are the ‘vestiges’ of a 50-year-old martial occupation in Palestine. Hebron, the anointment place of merciful King David, withstands today the strength of Israeli military control. Embedded in Area C (West Bank territory under Israeli Civic and Martial Law), Hebron is a crystal clear example of a slow but steady socioeconomic strangulation. This town is surrounded by Israeli settlements, which are illegal Jewish colonies within Palestinian territory, and therefore experiences a deflating desolation that makes business next to impossible. Yet enterprising micro-businesspeople refuse to leave their homes and refuse to venture into more fertile markets abroad by raising their flag of resistance: to exist is to resist. In silent, little Bethlehem there is still that 2000-year-old hope for peace on earth and good will to women and men, but, since peace belongs to those that can keep it, to Bethlehemites peace takes the shape of a 13-metre-high concrete wall and numerous checkpoints where Palestinians sometimes wait for over three hours to cross in and out in order to get to their daily activities. Yet workers, university students, mothers, fathers patiently wait in these never ending lines in order to build their families, their nation, all while raising their resistance flag: to exist is to resist. The monumental temples and obelisks erected to appease the irate, ever-scowling gods evidently did not suffice in this part of the world because the lords of war are still collecting their entitled share of suffering and despair. And as we move through these people’s struggle, with no more help to offer than our condolence and companionship, we raise their flag of resistance: to exist is to resist.
We planted grape vines at Mr. Daoud Nasser’s 100-acre property. His grandfather owned the property since the Ottoman occupation, and unlike most Palestinians, he possessed documents to legitimize this ownership. The Nasser family has been farming the land since then, passing it on from generation to generation, but as settlements encroach around his property, this generational continuity has come under threat. After the overnight destruction of his 1,500 olive trees, numerous threats, and countless legal quarrels, Mr. Nasser still remains faithful to the struggle: to exist is to resist. Today he runs the Tent of Nations, an organization responsible for proactively building a better future for Palestine by strengthening the productive sector of the nation. The resistance, according to Mr. Nasser, must be built from the ground up emphasizing the role of individuals to achieve the liberation and sustenance of the Palestinian State. This idealistic and perhaps futile hope is what strengthens an entire generation that powers through a decade-long national endeavor. This reality-defying ideal is what inspires an entire country that refuses to leave the ancestral homelands clinging to that 70-year-old maxim: to exist is to resist. And as we prepare to set out, let us say a prayer, of hands and not of mouth, to work for a day when the mass robbery of lands, the 13-metre-high apartheid walls, the excruciating checkpoints, and all the other vast and varied forms of oppression–here and everywhere–will seem as ancient and Ozymandian as the few ‘pebbles’ remaining for the rock-silent gods of power whose worship-filled reigns crumbled long ago with the resounding liberation shout: to Exist is to Resist!
20 March 2016
Charlie Good compiled a video recording of stories from independent travel last week. It can be found on YouTube at https://youtu.be/R_Iqu6RqbEA.
For free travel, the 7 of us, Sarah, Janae, Jess, Stephanie, Josh, Joel, and Josiah went to Monterrico, Guatemala. We took chicken busses, the metro, a lancha (a boat), and a van to get there. We stayed in a resort called Villa Los Cabos, a 20-minute drive from town. While we were there, our mode of transportation was 16 passenger vans that passed every 20 minutes and rarely had less than 25 people in them. Our days were filled with playing games, lounging by the pool, walking along the black sand beach, and taking trips into town.
One day we took a mangrove tour and learned about the protected mangroves and endangered species around Monterrico. More specifically, we learned about the turtle population problem and the efforts that Monterrico takes to protect the turtles. One of our favorite things was the small town feel. By the end of the week, people knew who we were, where we were staying, what we had done, and where we were going next. It sounds creepy, but it was cute. For our final day, the girls went to Antigua to explore the city and the guys went to Amatitlan and took a tour of the lake. Here’s some stats from our week:
# of games played 28
# of people fit into a 16 passenger van 40
# of people sunburned 7
# of jars of peanut butter eaten 7
# of people who wrote Kate’s name for fish bowl 4
# of times the 7 of us watched a movie on an Ipod 1
# of almost fatal blows to the head 3
# of people fit in a double bed 7
# of mopeds almost bought 1
# of eggs eaten 78
# of tiendas visited to get groceries 19
# of times the electricity went out while watching a horror movie 13
# of times Jess killed ants with various cleaning supplies
# of times we went stargazing 4
# of times Josiah scared us by sneezing – too many
# of mangroves climbed 1
# of people seen on average each day at our resort 2
For our free travel week, we spent a week in two different parts of Belize. For the first 3 days we stayed in Punta Gorda with relatives. We got to experience the small town life, explore the
beautiful seaside town, and visit a local chocolate farm. We also spent some time learning how to make typical corn and flour tortillas with our lovely host mom and learn stick from our host brother.
On Monday we headed to Placencia, Belize. We spent 3 days there on the beach exploring the beautiful island. It was a very relaxing and refreshing break from classes and Guatemala City.
-Emily Augsburger, Liza Brenneman and Jen Kuhns
On Saturday, March 5, 2016 we woke up at 4:00 a.m. to catch a taxi to the bus station to start our journey to Hopkins, Belize. After 7 hours on the bus we arrived in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. We then took a water taxi across the Caribbean Sea in order to reach Punta Gorda, Belize. Upon arriving in Punta Gorda we were supposed to take another bus in order to reach Hopkins. However, we quickly realized that, despite what we were told, there were no more buses running that day. Therefore, we asked someone how else we could get to Hopkins. Our options included: staying in Punta Gorda for one night, hitch hiking, or paying a hefty price to take a taxi all the way to Hopkins. After little deliberation we decided to take the taxi and arrived at our hotel at about 5:30 in the evening.
We started our week with a boat tour and dinner that ended in a lagoon where we saw bioluminescent plankton. Kate and Sarah sat with their feet in the water while Alexa and Rachel jumped in.
The next night we went out to dinner at a local restaurant where there was also live Garifuna music. We learned more about the culture and style of drumming while at the restaurant. On the following day we continued to explore the town. Alexa volunteered at the local school, Kate and Sarah explored the local library, and Alexa and Rachel visited a river and a local chocolate factory. On our final day in Hopkins, Rachel and Kate went snorkeling in the second largest barrier reef in the world and Alexa and Sarah went to Mayflower Bocawina National Park to zip line for a total of 2 1/2 miles.
On Friday, March 11 we left at 6:30 a.m. to start traveling back to Guatemala City. We actually managed to catch a bus back to Punta Gorda where we ran into the other EMU group that also went to Belize. We then traveled together until we reached Guatemala City at 9:30 p.m. Our total travel time (to and from Belize) was around 25 hours! It was a great week for all of us that was filled with laughter, adventure, and relaxation.
-Alexa, Kate, Rachel, and Sarah
The Peanut Butter Travels
We came to Guatemala to adventure into the unknown and to travel and stray from the beaten path. What we found this past week was what we were looking for, and so much more. We wanted to see as many parts of Guatemala’s vast diversity as possible: mountains, jungles, rivers, and beach. We were ready for whatever the journey entailed. After researching the Cahabón river area- potential sites to see and hostels along the way, we packed our giant tub of peanut butter and bread (that became almost immediately squished) and set out for just that.
We soon realized upon our exit from Coban that we were saying goodbye to our initial travel privileges of paved roads. From this point on we traveled by shuttle, pick-up, tuk tuk, lancha (ferry), kayak, and taxi. We went spelunking, swam in the crystal turquoise pools of Semuc Champey, jumped off of things that we probably shouldn’t have, hiked through Mayan Q’eqchi’ jungles, explored caves by candle light, kayaked the Río Dulce, learned about jungle herbs and medicinal plants, observed the chocolate process from seedling to bar, and explored other hidden gems of the jungles. We met amazing travelers along the way who narrated their own stories of travel and learnings. Inspired by them, we adventured away from the safer typical tourist path and found our own way.
Guatemala became our classroom as we learned from the incredible spectrum of people and cultures along our path. We saw where cultures are mixed and where they are separated, all part of the complexly flavored stew that is Guatemala. We learned that who you travel with makes all the difference as we supported, guided, and relied on one another. Throughout our journey we got a small but impactful taste of what it is like to make travel plans a reality. Overall this experience has empowered each of us to travel more, fearlessly embracing the unknown path. But don’t forget the peanut butter.
Last week, we arrived at Jerusalem University College (JUC) after spending a few days at the Jewish Efrat settlement in the West Bank, marking the transition from contemporary politics to ancient biblical geography. For me, this change has been a welcome one, especially after the intensity of Efrat. For once, it’s nice to be a college student again. We live in dorms, these beautiful old buildings that once housed a Palestinian Boys school. Just outside is a garden where students sit in circles for lunch, soaking up an idyllic seventy-degree sun. The rhythm of going to class and rushing to the cafeteria for lunch reminds me of the days when I was an underclassman living in the dorms, a fond memory indeed. During breaks between class, we play Knockout at the hoop just outside the academic building.
The JUC program is obviously quite distinct from a normal college class, however. After a few half days in the classroom and puttering around Jerusalem, we spent two full days exploring the biblical archeology to the east – Jericho and the Jordan River – and west to the Beit Shemesh, where David killed Goliath. In all of our studies, our wonderful professor, Aubrey Taylor, stresses the geographical and cultural understandings that are needed to place the Bible in its proper Near East context. For example, we talked about the geography around Jerusalem, emphasizing both the local valleys that protect Jerusalem to the west, south, and north, and the broader isolated Judean Hills. All to say that Jerusalem was isolated, and thus protected from invaders, but it didn’t have the access to international trade route that ran along the coast to the west. Perhaps this isolation should color our reading of how wary the Israelites were about foreigners, and their relative poverty in the hill country.
Yet, outside of this academic rigor, I’ve had fun exploring too. On Tuesday, we spent time in the City of David and walked through Hezekiah’s tunnel, which extends a good 500 meters from its Gihon Spring source to the Pool of Siloam inside the City of David. Several renditions of “Wade in the Water” were sung as we trudged single-file in knee-deep water. Of course, there is importance to this tunnel, which was rapidly built when Hezekiah rebelled against the Assyrian Empire (which went badly, unsuprisingly). There’s a story about one of the early explorers of the tunnel, Charles Warren, who was crawling through the tunnel back when it was heavily silted, and the water level rose to the point where he was twisting his neck to keep his head above the water. Fortunately, we didn’t have such difficulties!
Another highlight was the Jordan River, where five of our group were baptized by Linford in its muddy waters. Just behind us were Israeli soldiers, and just on the other side of the bank with Jordanian soldiers looking on, others were baptizing in the same spirit. Here, too, we read about the Israelites fording the Jordan before taking the city of Jericho during Joshua’s conquest.
Today, we took our first exam, and then had the afternoon off, a rare chance to sit back and relax. Without weekend breaks and only a few hours in the evening after 10 hour days in the field, it was rejuvenating to throw Frisbee in the garden and do some laundry before heading out for another week in the field. Tomorrow we head to Ashkelon to swim in the Med, Monday we swim in the Dead Sea, and the rest of the week we head north to the Galilee where we sleep in bungalows overlooking the Sea of Galilee. What a week to look forward to!
Thursday night we all stayed at CASAS because we were to leave early Friday morning at 4:45 a.m. for our 6:30 flight to Petén. Half of the group played the card game “Scum” in the airport. It was a lot of commotion at that hour, in such a small airport, but was tons of fun. The flight was about an hour long and we were all excited to receive Pringles and Chikys (chocolate cookies) on the plane. We arrived at out hotel “Gringo Perdido” (meaning “Lost Foreigner”). Although the day was slightly overcast, many didn’t think twice about putting on their bathing suits and spending the rest of the day in the lake paddle boarding, kayaking, swimming, and boating. The only obligation we had that day was dinner at 7:00, which consisted of amazing tomato soup, marinated chicken, rice and cooked carrots, with chocolate cake for dessert. While we were waiting for dinner, everyone split into three groups to play card games: “BS”, “Scum”, and “Resistance”. It is fair to say that the games got loud and rowdy. At night, it was a new experience for most of us to sleep under mosquito nets in a little cabin without any windows, only curtains.
Saturday, we headed to the Mayan Ruins in Tikal which was about an hour away from our hotel. We spent the next 4 or so hours exploring beautiful, ancient temples. We were able to climb up many of the ruins. One of the ruins only took 204 steps to get to the top…only ha ha. For some, fears of heights were faced and conquered. Not that we are competing with the hacky sacking competence of the Middle East CC group or anything, but we played some hacky sack on top of some pretty big temples. You know, no big deal. Throughout the tour of Tikal National Park, we saw beautiful toucans and monkeys! After the trip, we got an amazing lunch at a local restaurant. Back at Gringo Perdido, many got back in the water. Some went in early and relaxed in the hammocks for a few hours until dinner.
Sunday we packed up and headed to the town and island of Flores to meet EMU grad Jeanette Nisley and her family at their restaurant, where they made us some amazing food. Lunch consisted of mashed potatoes, pork, broccoli, bread and JAM! It was a nice taste of home. While we were there, she told us the story of how she moved to Guatemala after a cross-cultural experience and began working with the healthcare system. Their hospitality was amazing! After lunch, some of us went on a boat ride tour of the lake and the little town, while a few stayed back and explored the city by foot.
It is safe to say that this weekend was nice and relaxing for us, and we all wanted to stay there for a few more weeks. This is a weekend that we will never forget!
On Thursday, January 24 we arrived at Wadi Rum, Jordan after staying in Aqaba, Jordan for one night. What we had planned in Wadi Rum was a two night Jordanian Bedouin camp stay which included a three hour camel ride into the Wadi Rum desert. Once we arrived at the Bedouin camp we were able to choose our roommates, each tent was a double with the exception of one triple. My roommate was Michelle Mahia, who is a very good friend of mine. The Bedouin tents were not what I expected. When you are told you will stay in a Bedouin camp you expect to “rough it” (at least that was my initial thought) but these tents had indoor plumbing (toilet, shower, sink), indoor electricity which I believe is powered through solar power, beds, and even carpet inside. We were all so amazed at how incredible the tents were. After we settled down in our tents everyone went out to explore what surrounded us. Most people went to climb this huge rock that was behind the camp which gave you an amazing view of the area, while others walked into the desert to explore what else was out in the area.
The nights in the Bedouin camp were cold but not the coldest we’ve experienced. You definitely had to wear some extra layers going to bed. I wore a hat, gloves and two pairs of socks to bed apart from my usual sleeping attire. The next day, Friday, right after breakfast we had our camels waiting for us in front of the Bedouin camp. Most of the camels were sitting and ready for us.
– Brook Vazquez
Palestinian home stays:
Traveling constantly from place to place this past month has given me the opportunity to talk with lots of people but not truly get to know them on a deeper level past, “My name is Susanna and I come from the United States.” But the moment that Janaya and I stepped through our host family’s door, I knew that was not going to be the case with them. As soon as our host mom saw us she stated that she had three rules: we were to treat her house as our home; we were not allowed to be shy; and we were to speak in Arabic. She should have added a fourth rule that seems to be an unspoken one, which is to eat until you burst and then eat some more.
Food is their life, truly. Making and eating food is what they pour their energy into since there is little else to do for fun, and it is one of the few pleasures that is relatively unaffected by all of the constant changes negatively impacting their lives. They have good reason for the pride in their cooking and baking as each meal is a delicious cultural experience and history lesson. They talk about their food as old friends, calling it a particular name and then reminiscing when it would be made for different holidays. I had high expectations for food coming into this trip and I have not been disappointed whatsoever!
Home life is a constant reminder of how families are all together in spirit no matter how scattered they are around the world. Our host family receives calls hourly some nights from daughters, sons-in-law, aunts, and brothers from America and Cyprus. They share their daily life with their extended family, from showing each other what they are eating, to what they are wearing for an infant baptism to the celebrations of an engagement party. It is heart wrenching to hear my host mom talk about the good old days before her four siblings, daughter, and greater extended family moved away from Beit Sahour to live abroad. Some of them she hasn’t seen for more than six years and she doesn’t have a strong possibility of seeing them in the future.
And yet despite so much of the hopelessness that surrounds our host family, they continue to trust God and live life as normally as possible. They bolt from their seats the moment they hear their grand babies voices, they plan church retreats for the youth group to Greek Orthodox monasteries, and they moan over their school students failing theology tests which I think I would also struggle with knowing how my host mom is as a teacher. My host dad believes that I will forget about them when I go back home to the States, but that would be almost impossible as this place has become like a second home to me.
I bought a purple and gold scarf in a market in Luxor on the banks of the Nile. He started at 220 Egyptian Pounds, but by lying about how much money I had and threatening to leave, I got him down to 70 pounds, which is ten dollars. The scarf is royal and majestic, and I was very pleased with my haggling and purchase. I intended the scarf to be a present for my mother, but figured I’d wear it around myself a bit. I’m starting to bond with it now, though, and I’m not sure that I’ll ultimately want to give it up.
Today we crossed into the Israeli-occupied West Bank. I put the scarf on that morning in Jordan, not really thinking about it, but when we got close to the border some mentioned to me that maybe it’d be better to take it off. Anti-Arab sentiment runs pretty high among Israeli border security officers, and Arab-looking scarves and kaffiyehs on people trying to cross the border isn’t a great idea. I thought about taking it off, but it was such a small thing, and I left it on.
After I stepped through the metal detector, the man I had just handed my passport to asked me to take off my scarf and jacket. He asked to see the label on the scarf, and then told me to go sit in an area off to the right. I asked for my passport back, but he kept it. After a minute or two I was moved from the waiting area into a little room all by myself, where a man soon appeared to question me about EMU and our trip. He grilled me for a while, and then asked about the scarf. I told him it was a souvenir from Egypt, and then added, “It’s a gift for my mother.” Appeased, but not happy about it, they told me to retrieve my backpack, gave me my passport, and directed me towards the next line.
All in all I was delayed perhaps twenty minutes. It really wasn’t a big deal at all. But psychologically… I don’t know, it sort of was. I was detained by border security. I felt small. Even with all my power and privilege, I had no control over that situation. I knew I was completely in the right, had nothing to hide, had all the proper documentation, but it was still scary. Even with literally everything going for me and only one possible outcome, I was still stressed out and even afraid.
Today I got the tiniest possible taste, on the smallest possible scale, of what it must be like to be a refugee or immigrant. I can’t imagine being detained overnight or being stuck in a line for days because of a missing piece of paperwork or some system not checking out. And yet there are untold millions who live this hell every day – stuck at or behind borders, unable to travel freely to see their families, unable to leave their refugee camp, stuck in endless lines and starving.
We learned at the MCC office that Jordan has absorbed 1.5 million refugees from Syria. This influx raised their population by almost 20%. In all this 1.5 million, there was not one recorded instance of an ISIS fighter sneaking in as a refugee to cause trouble. The United States is squabbling over the entrance of only 10,000 refugees, with vastly more resources and personnel at our disposal for both vetting and resettlement.
The horrible truth of the above paragraph is enough to make me so angry I can’t see straight. The United States’ grand destiny was supposed to be a home for the tired, huddled masses – a beacon for those who are lost. Imagine how wonderful it would have been if we had led the charge in resettling those fleeing Syria and enfranchised the Muslim world. Instead we have marginalized them and been ruled by fear and hate. I’m so disappointed at the sorry state of my country in response to this huge gulf of human suffering. The cries of conservative leaders to ban Muslims from entering the country and blaming all sorts of things on the refugees is an abject absurdity. If Jordan can play nice, so can we.
Of course, Syria isn’t the only place generating refugees. Tonight I will fall asleep in the West Bank, an area containing many Palestinians who have been forced off their ancestral land and into camps. We have arrived at the central chapter to our trip. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict touches many threads; economics, security, foreign policy, religion. I felt today a sharp turn in the kinds of things we will be seeing and talking about. The last two weeks have been steeped in the Old Testament – now we’re going to start talking about things that are happening now.
I have no idea what it must be to be disenfranchised. What hardship have I ever endured? I’m so grateful for the chance to come see the other side, where movement is restricted, where rights aren’t recognized, where an entire ethnicity and religion is demonized, where you can be detained just because of a scarf.
I think I’ll keep it on, though. My host sister said it looks pretty.
Welcome to [the West Bank]! I have already found reason to hope here.
This past weekend, we headed to Chichicastenango. Chichi is much smaller than Guatemala City, and I think we all really appreciated getting out of the city. On our way to Chichi, we stopped at Iximche which is one of the Mayan ruin sites in Guatemala. We had a tour of the 5 Plazas and learned some interesting facts about the Mayans. We learned that they never walked straight up stairs, but went sideways so that they never turned their back to the sun or the moon as a sign of their respect and thankfulness.
After this we continued on to Chichi. The geography of Guatemala is crazy because towns are built on top of mountains and to get from one to another you must go directly down the mountain and straight up the other. On our school bus, this was quite the adventure, but we luckily survived and may have even enjoyed the adrenaline rush a little. We arrived in Chichicastenango and Hotel Giron, and then set out to explore the beautiful town. The streets were filled with color and life, but they were nothing compared to the beauty of the people. Chichicastenango is a town filled with many Mayans who dress in beautiful clothes with amazing colors. We had the evening free after dinner and people used it to explore more of the town and shop.
On Saturday morning we traveled out to a small, small community to hear from a widow and survivor of La Violencia. [This is how Guatemalans often refer to the Guatemalan civil war years from 1960 -96.] She had us into her home and shared about the murder of her husband and how she was forced to leave her town and flee with her two children to Guatemala City. We had previously read about testimonies like this, but there was something about hearing it directly from the source that just displayed so beautifully the strength and resilience of these widows. One section of her testimony that really stuck out was how after she returned to her town, the men who had killed her husband were still around. She would often see them walking around the community. She said the hate and anger made her physically sick and she asked God to take that from her so that she could live. Wow! This was incredibly impactful to hear. The widows made us lunch and we had the opportunity to purchase some of their handmade clothes, blankets, headbands and more.
After our time with the widows, we returned to Chichicastenango and hiked up a mountain where some traditional Mayan worship/ceremonies were held. It was a beautiful view and cool to see one of these types of worship displayed. We had another free afternoon and evening where we did dinner on our own. We didn’t venture too far, and all showed up at the same steak house in three different groups. Majority of us got cheeseburgers and French fries; how North American of us!
We attended a small portion of mass on Sunday morning before venturing around the streets that had turned into a huge market. We spent some more time shopping before heading back to Guatemala City.
Overall, it was a really great weekend. Very refreshing to get out of the city for a little and speak some English! We are back in the city now, having daily Spanish classes and afternoons full of learning more about the history and culture, and relaxing.
Thanks for reading and for your continued thoughts and prayers!