“We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto” (Ah, Yanoun)

January 27, 2009

We have just completed our three-day “taste of Yanoun” and have returned to Jerusalem to complete our orientation. My head is literally bursting and I have to empty it to make space for new information in the morning and to be able to sleep tonight.

yanounRocky hills dotted, but only near the bottom, with sheep and goats; men or boys riding donkeys along the roadside; groves of olive trees; newly cultivated fields (often with primitive hand tools) already planted with wheat, beginning to turn green though there is a drought and water shortage this year; an occasional lemon and almond blossom and spring flower; the rooster that begins crowing promptly at 3 am each morning;…illegal settlement outposts on the surrounding hilltops.

“The International House”…a rather grand name for less than grand living conditions, but donated to the program by the Yanounis; we are grateful for their generosity and will manage just fine (while secretly lusting after a real bathroom and hot water!)

driverPeople…our driver, interpreter and protector extraordinaire; so many families we have already met both in Yanoun and neighboring villages that are also a part of our responsibility, who exhibit such dignity and generosity in spite of the harassment, humiliation and intimidation that is their daily life; beautiful, laughing, well-loved children; delicious meals left on our doorstep at dinner time; dozens of cups of (overly) sweet tea and thick Arabic coffee shared in living rooms, on mats on the floor of homes that are barely more than sheds, and sometimes in the women’s area while the men talk elsewhere; there is a hierarchy here and we must remember to first meet the Mayor (elder) of any village before we begin to introduce ourselves to the villagers.

checkpointCheckpoint at Huwarra…has recently been ‘upgraded’, but we see that there are no toilet facilities for people who must frequently stand in line for many hours; bags that previously went through an xray machine must now be opened on a narrow window ledge and items of clothing or fruits and vegetables tumble out onto the ground, at which point soldiers shout and curse through microphones; returning from Nablus later in the day while going through the checkpoint on foot we find that while nearly anyone can enter Nablus, it’s difficult to leave (Huwarra separates Palestinians from other Palestinians, it’s not on an Israeli border). This will likely be one of the most difficult of our duties for me. It’s embarrassing to see people being humiliated while simply trying to go about their daily lives.

Visits in Nablus with Project Hope, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the International Relations Officer of the Nablus Municipality, to introduce ourselves and clarify how we interact with them in various situations; worship at the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd which will be our ‘home church’ while in Younan; Father Ibrihim greeted us so graciously during the service, calling us ‘gifts from God’ and speaking of the congregation’s appreciation for our willingness to ‘walk with us’; an excellent lunch with the team assigned to Tulkarem at the Hotel Yasmeen; and an introduction to kenafe, a sweet treat, which surely must be a gift from the gods; the differences between buses, services, and taxis and their fares…enough!

A highly emotional 3 days…I was weepy several times (and those of you who know me well know that I hardly ever cry …yeah, right!); so many questions…how can a person whose faith prohibits him from lighting a match to cook on the Shabbat justify lighting a match to send a flaming tire into the yards and homes of the people living below them on that same Shabbat? Our team is bonding well and when we return to Yanoun on Sunday we will be on our own; I only hope that in 3 months, when we are ‘handing over’ to Team 31, we be half as competent and self assured as the current team!


Sleep, Blessed Sleep

January 22, 2009

What a difference a good night’s sleep makes!  After a long and frustrating day of travel that included cancelled flights, rerouting on different airlines, and loss of our luggage, we arrived in Tel Aviv.  At each of the four stages of the journey where we were told to check on and file reports about our luggage we were given a different story, and at this writing it appears that someone may or may not know where it is and it may or may not arrive within the week.  By the time we reached Tel Aviv I was certain that this entire venture had been a very bad idea.

Our driver was waiting for us along with Jeanie, another new accompanier, who had arrived an hour earlier.  We rode to the Knight’s Palace, the hotel in the Old City where we will stay during our orientation.  We were much too late for dinner but, with characteristic Palestinian hospitality, the night manager of the hotel showed us down to the kitchen and allowed us to forage for our dinner.  Scott opted for a shower and bed while Jeanie and I started getting acquainted over a meal of pita bread, cheese, hard boiled eggs, cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, olives and several cups of hot tea.

As usual, I had not been able to sleep at all on the plane.  After exchanging a few words of greeting with my roommate, Shari from the UK, I fell into bed and doubt that I even rolled over during the night.  After eight hours of dreamless sleep, I awoke to a spectacular Jerusalem morning and the sound of the Muslim call to worship.  At breakfast we met most of the rest of the team (the Swedish contingent has not yet arrived), then toured the Old City and a portion of East Jerusalem.  As I walked along the well-worn stones of a city I’ve already grown to love, I knew that this venture had not been a very bad idea and that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be at this time.

On Our Way

January 4, 2009

After months of planning and preparation, I am finally on my way to Jerusalem!  I have thought and talked about it for so long that  now it doesn’t seem quite real.

Scott Thams, the other American on the team (also from the Southeast Michigan Synod), and I have spent the past 3 days in Washington, DC for the U.S. portion of our orientation.  There will be a second training period in Jerusalem with the entire international group.  It has been fun to be in DC in these pre-inauguration days.  The city has been spit-shined and the excitement is palpable…everyone you meet on the street is smiling.  It has also been a real blessing to have a travel companion on this end of the journey.  We will have a brief layover in London and have just received word that we will travel from Heathrow into Tel Aviv on the same flight as the 4 Brits in the group.

I now know that I have been assigned to Yanoun,  a small (13 families, approximately 100 people) Palestinian village in the northern West Bank just southeast of Nablus.  My team-mates are Rachel from the U.K., Birgitta from Sweden, and Peter from Switzerland.  We’ve had some preliminary email communication and I look forward to meeting them.

Our team has received an astonishingly detailed “handover report” from the team currently serving in Yanoun.  I can’t imagine a single situation we might face or a single facet of the living arrangements that has not been covered.  I plan to memorize it on the plane!

Assignment to Yanoun does present one problem and that is that I will have limited internet access because it is so isolated.  I’ll do my best, however, to file regular reports, introducing you to the folks I meet and sharing stories of their lives.  I feel privileged to have this opportunity.