A Travellerspoint blog

Day 10

View Israel/Rome on MaryDavis's travel map.

If my writing stops and your screen suddenly is covered with goo it is because my head has exploded from all the information and emotion that has been poured, plunged, gushed and jammed into it over these past days. It is all so real and harsh here but they still have hope for a future of peace and for some the future is far and distant for others it is closer but still just out of range of their grasp.

Today started with an uplifting visit to the Rawdet el Zuhur School, translated A Garden of Flowers school. This school is a Global mission partner and began simply with 20 girls and has now grown to 230 children K-6. We got to tour the school and then some of the children sang and danced for us. Their classes include Arabic, French, English, science, art, music, math and all the other normal classes. All the children are Muslim that attend and the message of peace and hope are taught as fervently as Arabic and math. The kids were all so cute and smiled and welcomed us and wanted their pictures taken. It was good to see positive things happening.

Next we boarded the bus and headed to Ramallah where we met with Jean Zaru who is a Palestinian woman who is also a Quaker. She works and lives in Ramallah. She was an excellent speaker and made some very good points. She said, "We must have power with each other rather than power over each other." She said we must raise the consciousness of the problems and we must work together. She kept us captivated and shared much of her struggles. After her talk and question time we were given free time to wander around Ramallah and get something to eat.

A group of us headed out and ate at a little restaurant off the street. Not sure what all we had but I had yellow cheese bread and Glenn had one with cheese and fresh thyme. We also got to try some of the things others had ordered and we were very full when we left. It was a fun little location and the people were very nice and friendly. We wandered around for a bit afterwards. Some bought some candy to take home to family and then we ended up at Stars and Bucks for coffee. We just couldn't resist. It was up stairs off the street so we had a good view of all the Saturday traffic by the town square. After a brief respite we headed back to the Quakers meeting house for another speaker.

This speaker was an American by birth but had been living in Palestine for over 15 years. He married a Palestinian woman and his father had left Palestine in the 1950's. He was a telecommunication executive first in the states and then in Palestine. He talked about what life was like before and after he got his "residency" card. It was amazing the difference and the limits he had placed on him once his card was issued. He talked about the problems with the Oslo agreement and it's serious flaws. He was also a very good speaker that kept us captivated.

Next we walked to the Latin Catholic Church and met with Fr. Raed Sahlieh the priest there. He was like the energizer bunny with AD/HD on speed! He kept hopping up and down and wiggling as he talked. He was so energetic and funny at times even though what he had to say was very serious most of the time. They have over 700 children in their school there and half are Muslim. He talked about the significance of the area and about the fact that Christians have been here for over 2000 years and are here to stay. He talked about what it would take for peace and what kind of compromise would have to occur. He jumped around sometimes from topic to topic and it was hard to follow but at the time it seemed to make a sort of sense. By the time we left there we were all mentally and physically exhausted!

We had an hour ride back to our hotel due to traffic at the gates into East Jerusalem, it was only 1/2 hour ride to get to Ramallah this morning. So another problem with the Israeli system.

Dinner was different... the hotel had a "special" dinner for all the tour groups that were staying here. They had music and traditional dancing or so they said. It was actually good food but stupid entertainment. One of the other women and I snuck out after Glenn and some others got trapped in a line dance. We went and sat in the lobby where we all met shortly after for reflection time. Most everyone stayed for reflection and it was a good time and good sharing. We came back up to our room to work on pics and get packed for tomorrow. It is hard to believe that it is our last day with the group. We did find out that the one woman from UK that is in the group is on our flight to London and staying over night in the same London hotel we are. So we will have her with us for a bit more. But we still have a full day tomorrow so it is to bed I head!

Posted by MaryDavis 11:39 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Day 9

We have now been gone over a week and have done so much and met so many people who have enriched our lives. It is amazing all we have done and everybody here is just astounded at how far we have come, not geographically but in so many other ways. Today was another busy and full day. We started with packing up and taking all our stuff down as we went down for breakfast. They loaded all of our stuff into a van because our bus can not get close to the hotel. We did not board the bus but set off on foot for the first part of the day.

Our first stop was the Greek Orthodox church of Annunciation. The Greek Orthodox believe that Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel at the spring where she was drawing water for her family so they built a church over the spring where Mary would have gone to draw water. The spring is the only one in Nazareth and it was fast running down in the bottom of the church. It is called Mary's Well even though it is a spring and not a well. The church was beautiful and not too over the top decorated like some of the Greek Orthodox that we have seen. It was very pretty outside and very simple.

Our next stop was the Sisters of Nazareth Convent. It was Glenn and my favorite stop. The nun who lead our tour was an absolute hoot! She was from Scotland and was feisty as all get out. The Catholic church had come to Nazareth in the early 1800's and in building at their current location they unearthed ruins from the Byzantine era and then unearthed earlier ruins too. It was determined that they had the house where Jesus grew up underneath their facility. They also were told before they had found anything that the Tomb of the Just was there. They didn't know where it was or really that it was even there but a bishop had written about it in the first century. They found a sealed tomb and when they opened it the smell of incense fill the area. It was Joseph's tomb, as he was considered the Just man. We got to see the round stone that had covered the tomb just as a round stone had covered Jesus' tomb. It is one of only 7 round stones found in Israel. It was so cool to see! Rather amazing. Unfortunately when the nuns excavated the area, and they did it themselves with the help of children from the school, much was lost or tossed. They even used dynamite to blow areas to reach. (Laura please stop yelling at them! They didn't know any better even though they should have.) But as the nun said with a big smile on her face, "That's life!" It was very neat to see the ruins of the Byzantine church with basins cut into the rock for liquids of some kind. There was also other tombs, worship areas and the remains of a pre-Byzantine city. Also there were ruins from the crusaders and then of course Jesus' house.

We walked on to our next destination which was where the Catholics thought the annunciation had taken place which was at Mary's home. The Basilica of Annunciation is built over the ruins of Mary's home. Unfortunately they were doing some preservation work so we saw a lot of plastic sheeting with a rock ceiling. We could even hear them using power tools so not sure what they were actually doing. The Basilica was surrounded by a wall in which different countries had made mosaics of their interpretation of the annunciation. Other countries including the US had theirs inside the main area where worship takes place. It was a beautiful church and the mosaics were all very unique and fun to look at. Mary and Jesus were black, Oriental, Asian, and even had a Boy Scout and Girl Scout with one! Didn't remember reading about their participation but what the heck why not include them.

After that tour we had an hour to walk around on our own. We walked some in the market place and this was not a tourist market place. They had an appliance store, kitchen wares, clothing, spices - Saffron for $10 for a good size bottle!, shoes, toys, jewelry and other such stuff. It was fun to see all the variety sold in little bitty shops and on the sidewalk in the alley. After our walking we joined together and headed to lunch, walking again. This was the weirdest meal yet. We were told there was soup and spaghetti and we could choose meat or no meat. Well the soup was a good lentil soup and the spaghetti had a small amount of sauce and meat in it. But if you had ordered meat then later you got a plate of meat and potatoes and salad! Then they had coconut macaroons for dessert. Very, very strange and rather pricey for what we got. It was all you could eat but it wasn't that tasty so I really didn't eat that much. Oh and of course pita bread but alas no hummus!

We had a 2 hour bus ride back to East Jerusalem where we met a woman named Cedar who works with the Sabeel Ecumenical Theology Center which is a Global ministries partner. Her story was another amazing tale. She was raised in Haifa where she went to a Christian school taught by British missionaries. They ran the school like a British school and taught everything in English, taught British history and as she said read the Bible as a literal translation of stories that took place long, long ago in a land far, far away. So these students read it with what she called British eyes and didn't even realize that they were living in the land where all this occurred! It wasn't until she was an adult that she read the Bible with "Palestinian eyes". She talked about the occupation from a very personal point of view. They had to leave Haifa with just the clothes on their backs when she was 12 years old. All the Palestinians had to leave and some went to Lebanon and some went to Nazareth and other places within the state of Israel. At Sabeel they teach a liberation theology to help the people cope with what they are facing. She commented that in the stories in the old testament her people were the ones being slaughtered by the Jews. She said that much of what happened in the Bible is happening again to her people now. Unlike many we have talked with she feels the only real solution is a two state solution with Israel having 75+ percent of the old Palestine and Palestine have the rest. Otherwise if they do a one state there are too many obstacles in her opinion plus Jews would instantly become the minority. It was very easy to listen to her talk and I know we only scratched the surface of her stories.

We headed to our hotel, the Golden Walls Hotel, which is directly across the street from the Damascus Gate through the old city wall. The hotel is very nice a looks more luxurious in the lobby area but we have a double bed and much smaller room than other hotels so far. As we were getting up to our room the Muslim call to prayer began and we realized our room directly overlooks the mosque and the minaret with the speakers in it calling them to prayer is right by our room. So we will not be needing a wake up call and Glenn doesn't have to set his alarm, we will be waking earlier than we need to. Oh well. This morning we were woken by trash collectors at 5:15 and the night before awaken at 3:00 in the morning by fireworks from a wedding. Life is never dull! We had an hour and a half before dinner to get settled a rest a bit. So I worked on this and then we headed to dinner at the hotel.

A quick aside... when we first got here, and not it has become a joke between Glenn and me, every time Glenn sees a cat, and there are a lot, he was thinking, "Oh, a monkey!"

Posted by MaryDavis 10:53 Comments (0)

Day 8

View Israel/Rome on MaryDavis's travel map.

Another beautiful day is Israel. Fortunate for us but not so fortunate for the Israelis as they would like rain! It was sunny and cool but warm in the sun. So after breakfast, which was different than our previous hotel and more continental less Mediterranean, we headed out to the city of I'billin to meet with the Melkite Catholic Archbishop Elias Chacour. He was a wonderful speaker with stories that both educated and entertained. Glenn was so enamored that he bought 3 of his books and had them signed. He spoke for almost 2 hours but the time went fast. He talked about his life story and shared his struggles, frustrations and successes in Israel. One of his comments was on the Jordan river. He said, "More ink has been used to write about the Jordan river than water in the river." So I guess what we saw yesterday was typical. He didn't speak very highly of George W. Bush (that is a really nice way of saying he actually slammed him pretty good.) and one of his comments about him was, "He thought he was a big tree but he forgot that he was only a tiny little bush." He talked about forgiveness and working together. He also was very clear that we should not hate the Israelis for what they are doing because it is not all Israelis. Hmmm sounds like he could talk to a lot of people about making blanket comments about any particular race or religion or sexual orientation or any kind of difference. As I said the time flew by but it did make us tight on schedule for the rest of the day.

After we left I'billin we drove to the Sea of Galilee for lunch. We ate at a restaurant named St. Peter's right on the shores and had.... fish. The kind of fish is the same kind they have been getting out of the Sea of Galilee for thousands of years. Now they call them St. Peter's fish. It was very good and with lots of hummus and pita and other salad stuff our meal was complete. After eating we walked down on the shore. The sea is really a lake but a very pretty lake. We didn't have much time to explore and hurried back to the bus to go to Peter's Primacy which is where Jesus asked Peter 3 times if he loved him and then told him to feed his sheep. This is also where the fishermen had been fishing all night and caught nothing and Jesus tells them to throw the net on the other side and they catch 153 fish. Inside the chapel here is a large rock where Jesus supposedly fed the disciples. Here we had a chance to go down to the sea and look around a bit more.

Next came the Mt. of the Beatitudes. Guess what happened here? Well, anyway there was a chapel up on top of the mount where Jesus gave his famous sermon on the mount. It was a simple chapel and very peaceful. The view was beautiful and we did have just a few minutes to enjoy. We gathered for a group picture with the Sea in the background and Glenn was able to be in it too using the little remote triggering device. After which we hurried back to the bus yet again. Sometimes I get so caught up in what we are seeing and then it hits me that we are talking about Jesus actually being here and doing things that I have read about my whole life. It gets a little freaky at times and other times I can see it.

We drove down to another part of the Sea and boarded a wooden boat for a ride. It was very peaceful on the boat and we had a moment of prayer and singing. It was rather funny as we were leaving we got certificates for riding on the "Jesus Boat" on the Sea of Galilee. Just a bit silly but we are official now I guess. Here at a kibbutz a few years back when the lake was extraordinarily low, they had found a wooden boat buried and preserved in the mud that was over 1000 years old. They put into special chemicals to preserve it and had it encased in special stuff. Way cool that they found it and were able to preserve it.

We had an hour bus ride back to the hotel with a late dinner here at the hotel which was nice since we are all getting tired of on again off again! We had chicken for dinner along with all the typical salad stuff and it was just too much food. But for dessert we had a traditional Palestinian dessert of a very, very soft sweet cheese and as the guy described it a hairy pastry crust. It also had a sweet sauce and macadamia nuts on top. It was different but good. Not too sweet. After dinner it was packing time again as tomorrow we head back to Jerusalem for the next two nights.

Posted by MaryDavis 10:47 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Day 7

View Israel/Rome on MaryDavis's travel map.

Today was a day on the move. We had breakfast and finished packing up and took all of our stuff down to the bus. They loaded our bags on and we loaded our bodies on and off we went. We went in a new direction today and didn’t go through Jerusalem. We headed to Jericho and the Judean wilderness. The group split up with those of us able to hike dropped off in the Judean wilderness in the Wadi Qelt. It was a terrific hike! This was the first time that one of Jeff and Janet’s tour group has been able to hike since it is usually raining there or in Jerusalem which causes flash flooding. But the day was sunny and clear and absolutely beautiful. Glenn had forgotten to get his hat out so we pulled together our meager funds that were not left on the bus and he got him a head scarf wrapped around his head by a Bedouin. We first got to a monastery in the middle of nowhere, where we refilled our water and emptied our bladders. We hiked on in a beautiful area of hills and valleys with steep ravines. IT was rocky and several times we had to climb up areas on the path. All in all it was about 3 miles and took us a little under 2 hours. It reminded Glenn and I of our Grand Canyon hike but much shorter and infinitely easier. When we finished up we met up with the bus at an area by the remains of Herod the Great’s palace from the 1st century.

We drove through Jericho and saw the sights on our way lunch. We rode a cable car up the Mt. of Temptation for lunch. It was a good lunch of several salads and meats. Some hiked up a little ways to another of the 5 monasteries left in Israel. There used to be 42 monasteries. Others of us, me included, sat in the sunshine and chatted and relaxed. After a bit we rode the cable car down and got back on the bus.

Next stop was the Jordan River and the sight of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. It was much smaller than I imagined and that it used to be. It was very muddy and cold. We rolled our pants up and stuck our feet in. We read the scripture of the baptism and enjoyed the moment there before we put our shoes back on and headed back to the bus.

The Dead Sea was our next stop. On the way there, the road was lined with barbed wire fence and signs on the fence warning of land mines beyond the fence, very welcoming! When we got there we got off the bus and many changed into their swimsuits there to get in. Glenn did but I chose to just get my feet in. We all walked down to the Dead Sea and it was very cool. You could tell how far down the water was due to several factors…evaporation, water being diverted to settlements, lack of rainfall, and Israelis taking the water to make their Dead Sea skin care products. It was very weird feeling water. It left your hands feeling oddly slick. The edge of the sea had salt crystals of different sizes and it was slimy muddy. People had trouble getting in and out of the water but once in the floated way up in the water. When people got out where the water had dried they were very salty looking and had to immediately go rinse off. Some people were rubbing the mud all over their bodies and it was fun to watch people trying to get out. After rinsing and changing again we headed back on the bus for our 2 hour drive to Nazareth where we will be staying the night.

On our way we saw a line of camels being herded by a man on a donkey. We also passed through a check point and had 2 armed Israelis walk through the bus checking us out. I guess we didn’t look threatening because they went on through. The long drive, 2 hours, was a nice break. People talked, read, and Glenn and some others previewed some of the pictures Glenn has taken. All in all a pleasant trip.

Our hotel here in Nazareth is our first night in Israel and not Palestine. Here we can drink the water because it is all filtered. Our room is fine but cooler and the heater doesn’t work as well. Oh well. Dinner was good here at the hotel. We did have nice fresh fruit for dessert which was nice. We are very tired and achy after such a physical day. Going to bed early because tomorrow is another full day!

Posted by MaryDavis 10:58 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Day 6

View Israel/Rome on MaryDavis's travel map.

Another very good day full of activity and learning. It was nice to sleep in a bit later this morning. We didn't have to be ready to leave until 8:30. The nice thing about breakfast time is we sit and chat about things while we are eating. We also tend to sit with different people than other times because you just sit next to whomever was already there. So we have gotten to know different people a little better.

After breakfast we headed out to the West Bank and into Hebron. Hebron is a very torn city with Palestinians having a very difficult time making a living. The Israeli government is working very hard to drive them all out of the area by making their lives more and more difficult. We toured the old city and walked the bazaar and many of the shops were closed. It is one of the few if not the only place where the Israeli settlements are within the Palestinian city proper. We walked to the Tomb of the Patriarchs where Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rebekah, and Isaac and Leah are buried. The area has been divided into a mosque and a temple and the graves are divided too. Both Jews and Muslims can see Abraham and Sarah's but then only the Muslim can see Jacob and Rebekah's, while only the Jews are allowed to see Isaac and Leah. Even tourists cannot go on the Jewish side. It was in this mosque that the Israeli army officer gunned down people during Ramadan prayers. You can still see some of the bullet holes.

After leaving the mosque we walked up hill, very steep hills, to meet with a Christian Peacemaking team run by the Mennonite church. They help the community deal with the Israeli occupation. One of the things they do is stand at check points to watch and make sure the kids and teachers heading to school are not hassled too much. The woman who spoke said sometimes they detain kids or teachers just to make them late for class. The organization has volunteers from the outside come in for different stints but also have locals who are working with them. After seeing some pictures showing what all they do we went on the roof top for a very good view of the city. One of the roads that was a main road has been closed to Palestinians for quite some time. They said it was for "security reasons" which is pretty much the reason they give for everything. This road is a direct shot for kids going to school so now they have to go way far around just to get to school.

When we left we walked again through the market place and witnessed 5 Israeli soldiers surrounding a Palestinian youth. Of course I had no idea what they were saying (if they'd have just been speaking English I could have figured out what was going on) but they detained him for a bit and then let him go. One of the people we spoke with said the climate changes greatly with the changing of the army personal assigned. Usually they are in 3 - 6 month rotations so things can be good or bad and change every 6 months. As we walked through we stopped at a Women's embroidery co-op. They had beautiful things and yes I have shopped some while we have been here! It was good to support the locals especially when they depend on tourist trade and yet tourists avoid the area. I know the West Bank is in the news a lot over things happening but all we witnessed were hospitable and friendly Palestinians and armed Israeli soldiers.

We hurried on up some very steep hills to a family's home where we had lunch. The seated us in 3 separate rooms and we had a wonderful meal of chicken and rice. We had plenty to eat and they were very gracious hosts. After lunch we trekked back down the hill and back to our bus where we drove to a place called Tent of Nations. It is a largish farm/orchard. The Palestinian family that lives there has owned the landed for almost 100 years. The first thing we did when we got there was hike to the place because a couple of years ago the Israeli army had moved huge boulders with bulldozers over the road to keep people from being able to drive on it. Once we got there we went and picked our either an olive tree or a grape vine to plant (this was optional but we wanted to). I picked out a very cute little olive tree. Then we walked to the field that had been somewhat turned and were told where to plant our tree. We used pick axes and sharp hoe type things to hack at the extremely rocky soil to dig our holes. I swear there was more rock that soil and am now amazed that anything grows there and that so many trees have been planted! We finally got the trees planted and then we had a little dedication for one of the trees for one of the Women's grandson who had died a year ago and she was feeling bad about not being home for her daughter during this time. Afterwards we met in a cave and her the granddaughter who still lives on the farm talk about their struggles. They have no running water (they only use a cistern), no electricity until a couple of years ago and it is all solar and no outside structures (they all live in caves on the property). The caves they live in do have doors and stay a nice temperature. The Israeli government has forbid them from building any structure on the property and has tried through the court system to get their land so that they can build another settlement on it. Luckily her grandfather had filed the proper paperwork on the land all those years ago unlike so many Palestinians. They have been in and out of court since 1997 jumping through hoop after hoop. So far they have been successful in maintaining the land. While we were in the cave it rained very hard which is much needed and we were happy it gave all of our new trees a drink.

Loading back on the bus we left the West Bank and headed back toward town. As we were going through town we came upon a meat market that had full camels hanging from meat hooks out front! We know they were camels because the heads were still on them! It was rather icky looking but then I am not fond of full carcasses of any kind suspended on giant hooks. We ate dinner at another different place and had a wonderful meal. Of course we had the huge salad course with plenty of hummus and this time warm homemade bread (pita). Off dinner we had grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat (think baby cabbage rolls) and little zucchini stuffed with rice and meat! It was all wonderful and they had arak to drink which is Palestinian ouzo. I didn't have any since it is made from anise and smelled like licorice just alcoholic licorice. Most said it was good but then they like licorice.

We had an early night tonight since we are to pack up and be ready to checkout and leave tomorrow morning for the Judean wilderness! Hopefully to bed earlier tonight than last night (stayed up talking to people and celebrating Glenn's birthday).

Posted by MaryDavis 09:45 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 16) « Page 1 [2] 3 4 »