Hah Jambo (hello) from Kenya!
We have had quite the busy week and a half. We have been experiencing so many things not only about the Kenyan culture but also about ourselves. Last week when we arrived we toured Nairobi and all the ladies bought a Kanga to wear when we are doing one of our projects. We have planted trees to help offset the carbon emissions that we will produce with the total air miles we are accumulating. Our tree planting experience was an interesting one in the fact that none of us really expected to only plant a couple trees each. At the place that we were staying for this we had a tour guide named Mark, who is working on biodiversity and is in my opinion the Albert Einstein of trees and plants. I found the experience a very humorous one and our first real look at how Kenyan people normally don’t go from point A to point B in finding a solution but going around in a circle until an answer or conclusion is reached. Continue reading
After a week of various independent travel experiences, all 30 members of our cross cultural made our way back to Jerusalem. Coming back to a now familiar city almost feels like returning home after a semester of almost never returning to a place twice. However, this week we had the new opportunity of lodging in the historic Ecce Homo Convent in the Old City. The ancient Roman road of the Via Dolorosa, the road that Jesus walked on to his crucifixion, runs through the basement of the convent, the victory arch made by Hadrian is built into the chapel, and the roof has a beautiful view of the Dome of the Rock. There really is nothing comparable to living in the heart of the Old City of one-of-a-kind Jerusalem.
Our focus for the week was learning more about Judaism, studying a bit of Hebrew, and of course visiting some more of the countless historical and Biblical sites in Jerusalem. This was the first time that Janet and Linford sent us off on quite a bit of independent exploration in the city. As great as our group is, it’s also nice not having to maneuver through crowded marketplaces with a group of 30 people. Some of the highlights of these explorations include walking the Stations of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa, visiting the Garden Tomb, walking on top of the walls of the Old City, and finally getting a chance to visit the Temple Mount after waiting in an impressively long line. Also, throughout the week we had about 9 hours of Hebrew lessons from out amazing teacher, Sarah. She taught us the entire Hebrew alphabet, quite a few words, and lots of songs, which have been stuck in many of our heads ever since. One of our more somber afternoons in Jerusalem was spent visiting the Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem. While this wasn’t the most energetic of days, this museum definitely helped us to better understand the past of many Jewish Israelis in a meaningful way.
Eventually (March 23rd to be exact), the time came for us to leave Jerusalem, the city that became many of our group members’ favorite city on the trip so far. We headed back out to the Galilee, where we had briefly visited with JUC already, but this time came to stay at a kibbutz in Hannaton. A kibbutz is an agriculturally based intentional community. Some have completely shared resources among members, while others like ours have more independent families. This week in the Galilee region was planned and led by our guide Lori, a Jewish American who immigrated to Israel just a few years ago. Our schedule included a wide variety of lectures and “mifgashim” (face to face interactions) with everyone from Israeli college professors to descendants of Holocaust survivors, to soldiers fulfilling their 2-3 years of service in the Israeli army. These “mifgashim” were some of the highlights for me personally. Israeli young adults are some of the most articulate people I’ve ever met, and I learned so much about their individual beliefs as well as the beliefs of Israelis as a whole. And I think that all of us in the group have gotten pretty good at explaining both the purpose of our trip as well as who Mennonites are, after having to explain these so many times.
Our week in the Galilee ended with a free day to explore the coast city of Akko before we headed to our next and final location in Israel, the town of Nazareth. This semester has kept us moving right along through locations and information, and even so, we are still just skimming the tip of the iceberg when it comes to learning everything about this fascinating part of the world.
As the plane began to descend we saw just how vast and colorful Mexico City is. Some were sad to have departed from their lives in Guatemala City, others were ready for a new adventure, but no one knew what to expect here.
We arrived at a Quaker guest house, Casa de Los Amigos, exhausted and hungry from our long expedition to Mexico City. We were welcomed with warm hospitality as we found that we would be eating chili and corn bread, a more westernized meal, after eating beans, eggs, and tortillas for the past couple of months. That evening, some went to the revolution monument that is lit up with red lights at night. We watched a beautiful fountain of lights while being serenaded with typical music of Spanish guitar and flutes. We all were content with not having a strict schedule there, which allowed for a better transition to Mexico.
The next day we explored the city and all of the locura that it embodies. While walking down the street we saw an entertainer with floating balls, and a flash mob take place. We made our way to the famous Zocolo where we visited the Cathedral and the Palacio Nacional. The Palacio Nacional is filled with murals of the famous artist Diego Rivera. We had a guide explain to us the rich Mexican history from Mesoamerican times until the time of the Revolution, that Diego Rivera incorporated in his paintings.
We then took public transportation to Coyoacan, birthplace of Diego Rivera’s wife and also famous painter, Frida Kahlo. Some decided to stay and visit her home which is now a museum of artifacts from her life. Others went to the plaza where there was un chorro of people relaxing and enjoying their weekend.
I personally decided to go to the Frida Kahlo Museum. After doing several projects and learning about her, she has become an inspiration for me. Never in my life did I think that I would get to go to her Casa Azul in the corner that I first learned about in 8th grade, and yet there I was, filled with excitement. In a time when women didn’t have a say, Frida spoke her opinion and went against the current. She experienced so much pain in her life from Polio, and an accident she had when she was a teenager. She expressed this pain through paintings, mainly of herself. She embraced her suffering and found a positive outlet to express it, which is something admirable. She was an outspoken woman of courage and talent and I am pleased to say I got to cross something off of my bucket list by going to visit her house.
Also in our time in Mexico we took a double decker touring bus all around the city to sight see and learn a little history about where famous events took place. One night we dressed up and went to see a Baile Folklorico, or a folkloric dance in the Palacio de Bellas Artes. We watched in awe the women in their colorful traditional dresses accompanied by men in their sombreros float around the stage as they tapped and danced to Mariachi music. None of us wanted to blink in fear of missing out on the amazingly beautiful dances.
After four wonderful days in the city, it pained us to leave, but we were ready for our next adventure in Puebla, Mexico.
Again time has elapsed. We have just finished a two week intensive course at Jerusalem University College which mostly consisted of extensive field trips to biblical sights. The focus of this program was to look at the influence that geography, archeology and history have on biblical interpretation.
Our time at JUC has been so rewarding. The stories of the Bible and especially Jesus’ ministry are so much richer with the historical and cultural context which has been explained to us. It is incredible how much context matters and how much more elaborate the story becomes when placed alongside the cultural context of its day. It is so refreshing to see myself and my classmates learning so naturally outside the typical classroom.
We spent some time towards the south of Israel/the Negev, at the Mediterranean and nearby sites, then did a two day trip to the Dead Sea area where we visited Masada, Ein Gev, and Kumran, the location of the Dead Sea scrolls.
Following that we did a four day, three night trip to the northern part of Israel, the Sea of Galilee which was central to the ministry of Jesus. Galilee, due to its location is this “cosmopolitan hub” where the international community is connected through trade, so it is a lot more secular than other regions in Israel, like Jerusalem which is more isolated and therefore more conservative. I find it so fascinating that this is the location that Jesus chose for the majority of his ministry. It just goes to show how strategic Jesus was in placing his ministry in this geographical region where it could spread so easily. The message wasn’t only for Jewish people, it wasn’t restricted to a gender, or race, or tribe, or anything! It was for everyone, no exceptions. Jesus took his message and life to the crossing point of the world at that time, and that’s huge! I love it. For me this is a sort of confirmation that we are called to a radical life of being uncomfortable, of going out into the unknown, into the most worldly places to interact with people who are different than us; a place where we can share the good news of Jesus and continue His ministry to the ends of the world.
With JUC now behind us we are passing swiftly on toward further darkness, but we’re also moving toward a new sun. We’re getting pretty good at this transition stuff, and with each passing one we come closer and closer to the end of this journey. I can only speak for myself when I say that the beginning of the end is coming all too quickly! I have been so privileged to have this experience and am saddened that it is drawing to a close.
Time has definitely not been on my side this trip– there is simply not enough of it!
Thank you all for your prayers, I know our God is listening!
It’s been a busy couple of weeks over here in Israel. Throughout our three weeks in Beit Sahour we took Arabic classes, which helped us to interact with our host families and people on the street in a new way. We were no longer just tourists. When we would try out the new words we learned people would break into a surprised smile and respond in Arabic. We were reminded that we are still “in school” when we had to take our Arabic test, but I think overall we did pretty well for only having seven sessions.
It was difficult to say goodbye to Beit Sahour. After three weeks we had become comfortable with the small town atmosphere and it had started to feel like home after having moved around so much in Egypt and Jordan. We got to know our host families well, and it’s always hard to say goodbye to people who have so quickly become friends and family.
We spent a night in Jerusalem before going to the settlement–Efrat–as a way to prepare and take a breath from being so busy. As we walked through the city streets the differences were startling. In just 8 miles we experienced two very different cultures and lifestyles.
While it was good to be in Jerusalem for a night as a buffer, there is only so much preparation you can do for our upcoming culture shock. We needed to just jump right in. And we did. We only had three days in the settlement of Efrat so we kept our ears open in an attempt to learn as much as we could. We had a tour of the settlement and had the opportunity to hear from multiple esteemed people in the community. This was a challenging experience for all of us, as it forced us to take on multiple perspectives. I think the best part for all of us was the conversations we had with our host families. Personally, I found my host family to be very open and willing to answer any questions I had about Judaism and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Also I think we all really appreciated the conversations that we were able to have with some of the young people one evening after watching a short film about checkpoints.
We are all taking in so much and trying to process everything which is close to an impossible task, but for now I’m satisfied to follow the advice I received from my host dad: constantly keep your eyes open to observe and your ears open to hear, if you get more confused you are on the right track. There are no simple answers to this conflict, and although we’ve experienced so much we are not experts and will not be able to solve the problem. This humbling realization is what we carry with us throughout the rest of our adventures.