Saturday, August 29, 2009

Israel... excuse me. PALESTINE.

Let me tell you something right now: there’s something strange about walking out your door and smelling that someone has recently cleaned their gun in the entry…

(Mutual entry, typed by Kasey, with separate sections by Jon... posted from JUC)

Day 1, Wednesday: Traveling from Calgary to London

Jon and I were completely exhausted by the time we made it to our plane in Calgary. In the last 36 hours, we’d slept for about 4 hours. We figured that was a good thing, because we’d be more likely to get some sleep on the plane.

Not so much. International flights of that duration generally employ the use to massive, personal entertainment systems, and given that we are Jon and Kasey, naturally we stayed awake to explore. We watched Monsters vs. Aliens (which I thought was very funny, and Jon kept dozing off through), then an episode of The Office (the one where Michael runs into Meredith with his car), then Adventureland (meh), and after that, we dozed on and off and finally fell asleep as the plane was landing.

Day 2, Thursday: London

It was about 1:20pm when we arrived at Heathrow. We followed all the signs to customs (which was about a mile through the terminal), dragging our bags along with us. We got through customs no problem; the immigration officer deemed us “in transit” and gave us quick entry to the country. After customs we had to find our way to the Underground.

At the Underground we found an information counter. The guy there recommended that we leave our bags at our next terminal and then come back to the Underground. We were able to buy day transit passes for 7.50 Pounds each and then hiked another mile to our next terminal, where we found a storage shop that stored a bag for 8 P. We packed what we needed into Jon’s backpack (passports, money, etc.) and then headed back to the Underground (so at this point we’ve walked about 3 – count them, 3 – miles on no sleep down stuffy corridors.

(Oh, and by the way, Jon went to get our money exchanged in Calgary and assumed that you use Euros in the U.K. Ummm no. You use pounds [which I can’t seem to find the symbol for]. So we also had to get that money [Euros] exchanged to pounds. Lol.)

We finally made it back to the Underground. Now we have no idea where anything is in London, so we asked a couple of random people how to get to central London and what a good stop was. We got on the Piccadilly line and rode for about an hour (and dozed the whole way) to Kings Cross (no, we did not see platform 9 ¾. We were focused on getting outside).

At Kings Cross we asked another dude how to get to Big Ben, and he said the bus that would get us the closest would probably be the 91 (if I’m remembering correctly), and that we should get off at Trafalgar Square. The 91 bus was just across the street, so we wandered over there… and the bus was stopped with paramedics getting someone off the bus. Soooo we sat there for a few minutes until the next 91 showed up and we could hop on.

The bus ride was only about 10 minutes through London, and Trafalgar Square was pretty cool. There’s a huge amount going on – lots of shopping and restaurants and whatnot… LOTS of people wandering around.

Everyone who looked like a tourist was heading down one street, so we followed them, and found ourselves crossing a bridge over the Thames (the Thames is gross – super brown, icky water) so that we could see the London Eye (a ginormous ferry wheel that costs a lot of money and takes you up really high so you can see the whole city) and Parliament (where Big Ben is).

It was a sunny, warm day, and it was fantastic! There were a ton of street performers near the London Eye. Jon and I mostly wandered through the crowds and took some pictures. We had a man take a picture of us with the Eye and the parliament building behind us, to prove we were really there.

We were on a pretty tight schedule, so after we took enough pictures, we wandered back across the bridge and up the street to grab some food. I got sushi from a store called Wasabi, and Jon got a chicken samosa (which gave him bad breath for hours).

I was tempted to buy people presents, but refrained.

The Underground was right there, so Jon went to ask a guy for a suggestion on how to get back to Heathrow, and couldn’t understand him. So we stood and studied the maps for a long while until we figured out what to do, and we hopped on the train and, after a long time (and some brief naps), we were back at Heathrow.

I guess Heathrow’s so busy that they don’t assign gates until about an hour before departure. We sat in the middle of what we think was an in-airport mall for a couple hours, resisted the candy store we were sitting next to, picked up some snacks and water from a shop, and then – surprise, surprise – had to hike about a mile to the end of the terminal for our gate. (We passed a giant group of people waiting to board a plane for Reykjavík, which I thought was funny [and if you’re not following me, there’s a random scene in the movie Bewitched where Nicole Kidman bewitches Will Ferrell’s exwife to leave him alone and move to Reykjavik… Iceland].)

We were the only Americans at the gate for a while. The only people there were the kids at the gate next to us who were returning to Seoul after a school trip. After about 20 minutes, people started to show up.

And funnily enough, they were all Jews. Seriously, all of a sudden hordes of Jews started arriving at the gate. We’re not exactly sure what was going on, but at the exact same time, they all got up (though they didn’t all seem to know each other), went to a random corner, and started humming and bobbing. We assume it was a Jewish custom we don’t know about. But since Sabbath isn’t until Saturday (right?), or sun-down on Friday, and it was sun-down on Thursday and right before our plane was to take off, we assume they were praying for a safe flight? Or they were terrorists.

Just kidding.

In this plane, we were stuck in the middle row/column/aisle with no window. BUT. There was another entertainment system. This one had basically the same movies as the last one… except that after a moment of exploring, I discovered that our armrests contained controllers and the system had old school Mario, something I’ve been DYING to play for years now.

Jon was a little more varied in what he did that night. I played Mario for 5 hours. And sucked at this one level, which made me really angry. I mean, it’s old school… how hard can it possibly be? I also accidentally turned off the game at one point and had to go back to the beginning.

The food/meal that BMI (British something or other… our airline) serves is bloody AMAZING. There was an entire tray, and it came with a packet of milk, a bread roll, a package of crackers and cheese, beef and gravy over mashed potatoes with red cabbage (Jon thinks it might have been beets, but I’m not so sure. The point is that was soooooo good!), an actual teacup with a packet of water in it, chocolate mousse, AND cheesecake. AND they asked us if we wanted anything else to drink! And the snack that they gave us before THAT was amazing! Kind of makes me want to just go ride that plane around for days on end. But then, I’m also hungry right now.

Once again, we were dozy, but only Jon slept a tiny bit. And I played Mario.

Day 3, Friday: Israel. Excuse me… Palestine.

The Ben-Gurion airport is sooo gorgeous! It’s made of massive stone murals and pillars. We were impressed right off the bat, especially when we passed the central area where they had food and other stores, because everyone was dressed normally! Very few were wearing robes or covering their heads: jeans and t-shirts abounded!

Even getting through customs was a breeze. Why is Jon here? He is coming on a study trip. Why am I with him? I am his wife. Easy peasy rice and cheesy. Our passports were stamped and we went on through to grab our luggage.

One of the compartments on our largest bag was zipped open, and I remembered vaguely that the only important thing in there were Jon’s spare glasses and his sunglasses. I look in the compartment, and his sunglasses case is missing. Oh no! They were prescription sunglasses and I didn’t know a whole lot about Israel except that it’s a bright place and that he’d need them. So I yelled at him that they were gone. He said a quick prayer in his head, and a second later, what should come coasting lazily around the luggage belt? His sunglasses case, with sunglasses inside.

God is good!

We eventually got all of our luggage together on two carts and wheeled them out to the arrivals meeting area, which is surrounded by waterfalls (ironic considering that we’ve since learned that Israel takes their water rationing seriously). There were a lot of people there at 5am, but we didn’t see anyone holding a sign for us, so we found some chairs where we could sit and use our computer to access the free wifi.

We were there for a while, all the time keeping an eye out for this Shane S----, who we figured was some white dude who looked out of place among all the locals. Imagine our surprise a while later when a black dude (who admittedly stood out a bit more than a white person one) came striding toward us holding a sign with our names on it.

Yup, it was Shane. One thing I really appreciated was that he was so normal. He wasn’t a freaky missionary recluse who can only function in their chosen field. Totally cool. We stopped on the way from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to pick up some drinks (there were lots of American brands to chose from, and I had a coke, because I reasoned that this would give me the caffeine kick I needed to stay up the rest of the day).

Shane knew a LOT more about the area than we did, and chatted the whole way back, pointing different things out to us. We didn’t so much understand at that point in time (so much information, and sooooooooo tired), but we tried to pay as much attention as we could, considering.

When Shane met us at the airport, he said, “So… I have some good news, I have some not-so-bad news, and I have some bad news. Which would you like to hear first?”

I said whichever he thought would be better.

“Okay, so the bad news is that your apartment isn’t ready yet. It’s brand new, and VERY nice, but construction just isn’t done. The not-so-bad news is that we have a place for you to stay, and it’s nice, and it’s HUGE.”

I said okay, so what was the good news?

“I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance!”

So yeah.

The next fun thing was when he asked me how I felt about science. Turns out they found a girl who was a trained math teacher, so they wanted to know if I was comfortable with teaching science. Sure, whatever.

Shane drove us by where our actual apartment will be. It’s literally at one of the school’s gates. The apartment we’re staying at now is up the hill a bit more, and it has four bedrooms. It’s ginormous. The living/entry room itself is literally the size of our entire apartment back in Oregon.

Shane dropped us off, and we were alone in our apartment. We wandered around for a little bit and explored and tried to choose a room. We didn’t know if any more people were going to be coming, and even though there’s plenty of furniture in the place, there were only one set of mismatched sheets to use.

Our plan was to stay up for a while, because by the time we got to the apartment, it was only about 8am. The JUC student who Jon had been in contact with for the past few months was going to come over at some point, but we didn’t know when. His name is Bryan and he lives down the hill a bit. The original plan for the day was to go to the Old City with Bryan and get the tour, and then that evening we were invited to Bryan and his wife Sara’s house for dinner.

By 8:45 we were too exhausted. We curled up on the couches in the living room to take a nap with an alarm set for 11am. I turned the alarm off when it rang at 11, but when I looked at Jon, he didn’t seem to be getting up, so I went back to sleep. Eventually Jon did get up and he started unpacking. There was a knock at the door, but I kept sleeping.

Bryan had come over to say hello. I’m not exactly sure what their conversation was about because I slept through it, but the gist of it was them meeting for the first time and then Jon saying we were too out of it to make it to the Old City. Bryan left, and Jon moved me to a room where he had put sheets on the bed, and we slept on.

Jon tried to get me up at about 5pm, but by then, I wasn’t feeling good. It was 7am back home and I had been running on 6 hours of sleep when I got there. As a result, Jon went to Bryan and Sara’s by himself. I’ll let Jon tell you about the dinner….

(Jon here!)

Dinner was pretty nice. I went over ALONE and Sara (Bryan's wife) opened the door. They were having shish-kabobs (or however you spell it). There were cherry tomatoes galore (which I actually ate and loved!). They had meat, which was nice to have. We sat outside and chatted, I used the computer and then Bryan and I took a walk around the neighborhood (getting to know the area :P) After that I went home and crashed!

Day 4, Saturday: Uhh… nothing.

Well to be completely honest I have no clue what we did on Saturday. We have no internet in the apartment. We found a TV and a DVD player in storage, so I think we can safely assume we watched movies.

We didn’t want to go outside, really, since we weren’t sure what it was like, and we were still tired. Shane had stocked our apartment with some basics, and Bryan and Sara had sent Jon back with fruit, so we sustained on toast and peanut butter, and fruit. Nom nom nom.

We definitely went to bed early.

Day 5, Sunday: Old City

Jon Here!

Sunday morning we went with Bryan to a church service. We came in late because the pastor was pretty much finished his sermon. BUT, there was another service right after that. (Kasey: It was all one service. They simply have a small message, take a break, then come back to sing and have another small message.) It was an Arabic born-again Christian church. There were about 7-9 people in this church, but the preacher was very good. A very nice man. His sermon was simple yet powerful. More powerful in my opinion than most preachers in North American (at least the ones I’ve heard, and I’ve heard quite a bit).

The first part of his sermon was about Christ speaking to you. How people get confused if God is really speaking to them or not and if they have a word from the Lord, should there be an audible voice? Should I have a vision? Should everyone hear the voice of Jesus? He answered these questions (which most people have asked themselves) with a very simple answer: God can speak to you in an audible voice, but He spoke many words to his servants to write down for our sakes and that is the Word of God, The Bible. He said that God does speak to you, if only you would open your Bible and read it and apply it to your heart so that He can change it if you so desire.

The second part of his sermon was about fear. He looked at everyone and said: “we are Christians, we should not fear anything!” It was amazing that this pastor said this to us; that we need to suck it up when something frightening comes up and know that if you are obeying the Lord then he is on your side. He continued to say that in Jerusalem a few years ago when there was chaos, they had to close the church doors, because if he opened the doors while the service was going on tear gas would come in! He applied this part of the sermon mainly to our physical bodies because of the environment we are in. And continued to tell us that the worst thing that could happen is that we die and go to Heaven. I know he meant more than just our bodies, but that our character needs to be without fear. Yes, it is hard (I can attest to that) but it will change you for the better if you put your faith in the Lord and trust in Him through all things.

This just goes to show that the size of a church, your location or even your ethnicity doesn’t matter. What matters is that you have a humble and obedient heart toward Christ.

After the service Kasey and I were introduced to the members of the church. Kasey even met some of her soon-to-be students who admitted that they may cause her some trouble in the classroom. (Kasey: That’s not exactly what they said. The girl, Heidi, said she is going to be a senior this year, and that her class will be the best behaved, but she told me some specific grades that I’ll have to look out for.) I laughed at her. They gave us fruit and some good pastry-bread-cheese things…very good J After that we headed down toward the Old City. I’ll let Kasey tell you the rest….

(Kasey here)

After we left the church, Bryan led us down some more random streets until we could see the wall of Old Jerusalem. We got some pita something-or-other. I’m not sure what it was called (Jon: it was a chicken Somoza), but it had bread and meat and pickles and some sauce and it was SO YUMMY.

And then we headed into the city. Right next to and below the gate that everyone enters through is an old gate – original from the wall in Roman times. There are stones all over the city that are from original buildings or original walls or original roads. Bryan told us something about the city pretty much every step of the way. It was all interesting. But there was so much of it that by the end of the day Jon and I were left exhausted and staring at each other going, “So… there were the 4 quarters… we liked the Jewish quarter the best because it was open and not as crowded and not as dirty or scary… and we saw the Catholic Shrine O’ Jesus.”

That’s a summary of our day. Bryan introduced us to a man who runs two shops across from each other in the Arab quarter. He exchanged our money for us and offered us a huge bowl of fruit and let us stay in his nice cool shop for a while.

Bryan also introduced us to a man in the Jewish quarter that runs a shop that is scripture-based. Every item in the store is based on a verse from the Bible. There were pictures made up entirely of Hebrew text from books of the Bible. My favorite would be the Esther or the Ruth pictures – they had the entire books on them.

Plus that store had air conditioning.

And trust me, we needed the air conditioning. Both of us wore jeans and t-shirts. A couple minutes in and we had sweated straight through them. I had to take several breaks to sit down and get cool in the Shrine O’ Jesus, because it’s a massive building made of stone, and it was damp but very cool inside.

If you don’t know about the Shrine O’ Jesus, it’s basically a building that the Catholics put together (if I remember it correctly) with a collection of representations of relics from the time of Jesus. They have a rock that the cross was supposed to be set in, they have ‘the grave of Adam,’ and supposedly Jesus’s tomb. “Supposedly” and “representations” are key words in there. The Catholics take it very seriously, lining up in droves and filing past to touch these places. They leave candles and pray and cry… it would all be very moving if you could guarantee that all the displays were real. Unfortunately about the only thing that is definitely real are the pockets in the walls that used to be graves. That was creepy. All in all it would be a pretty spiffy place to film a horror movie.

We picked up some pita bread from a place as we left the city. The bread was about the size of a large plate and about a half inch thick, and you could tell it was fresh because it was hot. Each piece is only 2 shekels (approximately 50 cents), so Jon will be picking our bread up from there in the future, on his way home from school. It was pretty awesome.

We stopped by JUC and saw a bit of the campus, and met Dr. Wright and his wife. We stayed for longer than we needed to, because Bryan seems to feel the need to chat for an hour with everyone he knows. We found out a lot, though, which was nice.

We stopped for groceries on the way back, and then hiked up our hill, checked our internet at Bryan’s place for a couple minutes, and then went home. We were completely wiped out and my feet were covered in raw patches and blisters. Great fun, eh?

Day 6, Monday: Tour

The next day, we had to be at my school at noon for a quick orientation. Quick was the keyword. I expected to actually be delving into orientation, but instead it was just a tour around the school. The teachers who had been there the year before were excited to see all the new things. Those of us who were new nodded along and agreed that an actual gym and that murals on the walls were, yes, a good thing.

We met some of my coworkers: Julie, Nick, Austin, Jamal, Mustafa, and Charlotte. Everyone seemed nice enough and we all chatted for a couple minutes after and then went our separate ways.

Shane asked if I had a choice between teaching earth science and life science, which one would I rather… and I said earth science (because I like tornados and earthquakes and all that awesome stuff :D).

Day 7-10, Tuesday-Friday: Orientation

Orientation started at 8am every day and went to between 2 and 3. We still didn’t have internet at the apartment, so we usually hung out for a while after just checking our emails and whatnot.

In orientation we talked about how we were expected to teach, any ideas we had for teaching, what the rules were, and we all agreed on a set number of rules and discipline for the kids. We also heard a lot of stories from the returning teachers about what little terrors they all are. So some of the newbies (myself included) were a little (or a lot) wary of what was going to happen in school this year.

Interspersed with the actual orientation meetings were meetings with the superintendent of the school, Ross, which he never told us about but somehow expected us to know to show up. Each meeting he said he’d try to keep brief, but he would up talking for about 3 hours, so any days that we had meetings with him in addition to orientation, I was at the school 8-3 and then 6-9 or 7-9:30.

Orientation was long but was at least entertaining and informative and useful. Ross’s meetings were probably meant to be informative, but were really him rambling half-sentences and not ever actually explaining things the way he wanted to. My favorite was when he told us that A: we were not to say Israel, we are in Palestine, and B: OMG YOU MUST NEVER GO OUTSIDE YOU WILL GET YOUR ARMS BROKEN AND MEN WILL THROW ROCKS AT THE WOMEN AND YOU’LL BE MUGGED AND RAPED AND JUST DON’T DO IT AND ESPECIALLY DON’T LEAVE YOUR HOME UNLESS THERE ARE 5 PEOPLE WITH YOU AND YOU HAVE AN ARAB GUIDE OR YOU WILL DIE.

I have since had many talks with returning volunteers, who agree that you absolutely CAN go outside without dying, and that in fact, you’re generally very safe leaving the hill to go shopping or touring.

Ross is very pro-Arab, which after you hear the whole “The UN up and decided to take Palestinian land and give it to Israel and now they kick people out of their homes so the Jews will be able to live wherever they want,” you’re kind of on their side too, but Ross likes to make you feel as if you’re unsafe venturing to the Jewish side. Jon and I felt a LOT safer on the Jewish side. Safer than walking down our own street to get to the school.

During this week, if we managed to track down Ross to ask about our actual apartment, he would sidestep the question and say “Hopefully soon” we’d get to move in. Jon and I eventually got fed up asking when it was going to be done, and ventured down to where the apartment is (which is literally next to the school wall and one of its gates. I will walk out my door and be at school, not to mention that this apartment is a good halfway down the hill, which will make hiking up it that much easier).

The apartment we’re supposed to get doesn’t even have WINDOWS in it yet. At this point all it looks like they’ve done is gut the inside of the apartments. It was disappointing, to say the least, and it further solidified our distrust of Ross, who told us “We have a partially furnished apartment all ready for you” when we were still discussing whether or not we would come.

Furthermore, on Wednesday, he pulled me aside to A: tell me I had to cover my Hebrew tattoo on my foot because it would insult the Arabs that I was displaying the language of the land, and B: we were going to have a roommate in our temporary apartment, and she was coming that night at 3am. So Jon and I spent a good part of the night cleaning up the house and moving all our things into our room, and getting our roommate’s room ready for her. I wrote her a note so that when she got in, she’d know exactly which rooms were available to her, that there was food in the fridge if she needed it, and oh yeah, WE WERE OUT OF WATER.

On the roommate note, Ross can’t read, and she was coming in at 3pm on Friday, not 3am Thursday morning. So when we woke up Thursday, there was no roommate, and when we found Ross at the end of the day, he was like “Oh yeah, the itinerary she sent me (which, by the way, he had SENT TO HER in the first place because HE bought the ticket for her) was wrong, and she’s coming in tomorrow.”

The water thing: one day, we tried to hop in the shower, and the water was gone (Jon: that was me…I got all soaped up from head to toe and all the sudden the water pressure started to decrease. I was like “what!” so I had to take the shower head and put it almost directly on my skin to get all the soap and shampoo off of me (the water was pretty much at a trickle while I was doing this) I was laughing while I was doing this). I approached Shane and told him about it, and some of the other volunteers winced and said “Oh yeah, that happens ALL the time in that apartment.” Shane said he’d tell Ms. Maha (the business manager of the school), and that something would get worked out. So we waited the day, and nothing happened. There was still no water. Luckily, we had several water bottles filled in the fridge, so the day was fine.

When nothing had happened, I went to Ross and told him our water was out. He said something would get done about it. Nothing got done about it. So I hunted Ross down and told him again. He found our maintenance man, Mike, who came to our apartment, dragged our landlord to the roof with him, and checked our tank, which was completely empty.

See, what they forget to tell you when you get to Israel (excuse me… Palestine) is that Israel rations their water randomly. Supposedly you should instinctively know when they’re going to shut your water off, and act to conserve it. Nobody told us this. So when we did 2 loads of laundry, took a shower, and filled a water bottle, we had used the entire thing up.

Mike siphoned water from an extra tank into ours, and commanded the landlord to replace the tanks. Apparently they were about 70 years old in tank-years, and were ridiculously unreliable. We asked Mike when we would have our water turned back on. He said definitely not till Monday. That was on Thursday, and we’d already gone 2 days without water.

I asked Ross about this that night (when we were also pestering him about when our new roommate was ACTUALLY showing up), and he was like “No no, they’ll definitely fill it up Friday. They always do.”

They always don’t.

So on Friday, about 5ish pm, our new roommate Heather shows up. She’s very nice and quite chatty and likes movies and tv shows and internet about as much as we do, and she was very glad to see that she had some younger, cooler roommates. She had been here 2 years before, and was familiar with the type of volunteers that show up, which are typically of the holier-than-thou and/or opinionated, close-minded, and judgmental Christian variety. So we were glad to see her too.

Day 11+: Saturday-onward

On Saturday, none of the paid Arab teachers were required to come in, but the volunteers were. That’s another thing that we’ve learned since being here. Why pay people to work when you have volunteers that get no say in the matter? We all showed up at 9:30 to arrange supplies and hang things on walls and clean.

Except that the supplies hadn’t shown up yet, so we hung around for 3 hours waiting to be told what to do, and then were sent home because there was nothing TO do. Oh, but we had to come back later for another Ross Talk.

Jon and I ventured out for groceries and spent our remaining money, retaining only about enough for a one-way bus ticket for Jon to get to JUC.

Unfortunately in 2 days we had run out of food.

Meanwhile our shower situation was that there was none. A shower consisted of turning on the water (which was ice-cold), dousing yourself with the 5-seconds of water pressure it provided, then turning it off and soaping up, shaving (Jon: uuuhhh…only for Kasey and Heather. I swear I don’t shave my legs), shampooing your hair, and then turning it back on and trying to get it all off with the 5-seconds. It was a freezing, awful experience, and all three of us were quite perturbed that we had been put in this situation. It’s hard to cook when you have no water. But then, we had run out of food too.

Sunday Jon and I decided to sleep in, because it was the first day since we’d been here that we were really able to. Except we were so exhausted by that point that we slept until 1pm.

Ramadan had started on Friday, and we were no longer allowed to eat or drink in public during daylight hours. Those who observe Ramadan wake up at 4am to eat, then go back to bed and sleep as late as they can. They don’t eat or drink again until after sunset. This lasts for an entire month.

While I was at orientation, Jon generally took naps and did his homework and kept things clean, and of course watched movies. It’s not entirely safe for me to walk the streets on my own, so he’s been walking me to school in the morning and then picking me up in the afternoon. It’s a good arrangement, but will change next week when JUC starts up.

I’ll tell you about the day that school started at The Jerusalem Schools (I work in JHS, which is Jerusalem High School) in the next entry… this one is already ginormous (12 pages, about 5500 words), so I’ll give you a break. ;)

Friday, August 28, 2009

(Jon here...)

Last night I found a spider bite on my lower left butt cheek….pervert.

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