Our Christmas was far more comfortable this year than it was last year. Once it passed Thanksgiving, we set up our Christmas decorations and created a Christmas songs playlist on our iTunes. We also volunteered to co-host the first Christmas party among our volunteer community (along with our neighbors, Nick and Angel [and baby Moira]), which was a great success.
Kasey wound up being sick the last week of school (Dec. 20-23) and spent the first day of her illness alternating napping on the bathroom floor and, well… being ill. She became more coherent on the 22nd, but woke up on the 23rd with a bad migraine, so her Christmas break began (unhappily) several days earlier than the other teachers at school.
On Christmas eve, we traveled to Bethlehem. It’s a tradition for the volunteers at The Jerusalem Schools (and supposedly the sister school in Bethlehem) to head to Manger Square to carol on Christmas eve. After a very long, confusing trip to Manger Square (and not joined by the Bethlehem volunteers), we split off into two groups so that one group (made up mostly of the men in the group who had driven… and Kasey) could park the cars and the other could wait for us to catch up with them before heading to the square.
Except that the second group (women and tiny children) wandered off into Manger Square without all the men (and Kasey). We really didn’t understand the scale of the celebration that goes on in Manger Square over Christmas, and the second group undoubtedly overestimated our skill of navigating the exact same path through thousands of people that they had.
By the time that we had parked the cars and made it to the square, we were thoroughly stressed out. There were literally thousands and thousands of people crowded in a fairly small area, and we had NO idea where to go. All we saw was the official stage at the front of the square. Most of us had assumed that by “caroling” we were going to be standing in a corner, singing to passersby for half an hour, going relatively unnoticed.
Oh no. This was the same stage that, moments before we went on (supposedly), the Palestinian president gave a speech. It was a pretty big stinking deal.
Meanwhile, the second group (the one with the women and children) had gotten stuck in the middle of the crowd, and everyone had in some form or another gotten trampled or groped, and they were all traumatized. They eventually made their way to the opposite side of the stage from us, and then after waiting and arguing with the soldiers guarding the backstage, they were finally able to make their way over to us… bringing with them Eddie James, who they had met in the crowd and convinced to carol with us.
After standing for a very long time in the crowd, and Jon having to fend off men who were hitting on Kasey left and right, and one of the guys in our group nearly getting accidentally engaged, and families reuniting after a long separation in the crowd, and lots of tears and frustration, someone called out that we were on, and we shoved our way onto the stage.
There was a lot of cheering, and lots of roses were thrown onto the stage (one even beaned our leader in the back of the head), we sang carols for half an hour, and then we were done. It was far easier pushing our way out of the square than it was to push our way in.
We ate at a chicken place in Beit Jalla and then headed home.
Though we attempted to watch The Santa Clause before we went to bed, Jon fell asleep, and Kasey was nodding off at the end, as it was well after midnight.
Jon woke up super early the next morning to make a surprise breakfast for Kasey: eggs, toast, and BACON. We munched on that while we Skyped with Kasey’s family (Jamie’s boyfriend, Kuro, and our now San Diego-dwelling kitty, Polly, included).
After breakfast and our chat, we opened presents, and were definitely spoiled (both families had sent bunches of presents).
We relaxed and played cards through the rest of the morning and the afternoon. In the evening, we had a Christmas dinner with all the volunteers who had stayed in the country for Christmas.
Nick and Angel left us with their car while they went home for the holidays, so we spent our days after Christmas making use of the mobility (it’s ridiculously difficult to get out of the neighborhood for long without one). We didn’t make any huge trips (except for a quick trip to IKEA), but had lots of fun jetting around Jerusalem easily with friends.
As our holiday (or Kasey’s, at least) comes to a close, we look forward to the next 5 months – the only time remaining in our 2-year Middle Eastern experience. Kasey has already planned out what she will teach and is a little daunted by the lack of holidays in this semester (fall semester contains something like 6, whereas spring semester contains 2). Jon has 3 classes left – Archaeology of Jerusalem, Hebrew, a history seminar – and 2 comprehensive exams – Hebrew and Historical Geography. We’re both taking our last big breaths before we dive into the semester and work our butts off (apparently necessary to this post: Jon has become MORE good-looking in the past few months… just FYI… this is awkward…).
We’re shopping for plane tickets home for June. At the moment it will take about $1700 for both plane tickets, and we still need to find that money somewhere. We have a good chunk of it, but unfortunately it is in the shekels that we have saved this year, and not in a bank account accessible by credit card. Tricky. We’re trying to figure out the best course of action before too much time passes and the prices go up.
We will also very soon begin sending out our applications to teach in schools across America. Hopefully, out of the list of 350 schools we have built, we will find some success (AKA: JOBS when we get home!).
Also to look forward to in June: Jon’s family is planning to visit for our last 2 weeks in the country. We’ll get a chance to re-see everything before we take off, and Jon’s family will get the full Israel experience.
Here we go!
- Energy and enthusiasm for the coming semester.
- $$ for plane tickets.
- We had an awesome fall semester!
- The scholarships Jon has earned.
- Our safety over the past year and a half.
- Experiences and friends to last a lifetime! :)