Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pictures! Yay! I am sure you are all so excited....these pictures are kind of from whatever and are in no particular order. And, I sort of messed up formatting them....I don't know how to fix that so, whatever.

This is a picture of a street in the market in the Old City. It was such a nice day, but then the weather turned rather wet and rainy--which was actually so beautiful and fun. I was wearing my sandals though and it made me realize just how much dirty, gross stuff was floating around the streets. It just felt like a moment from a book or something....the sudden rain and the storekeepers sweeping away the puddles.

This is a monk named Matthias. We met him at the Church of the Visitation in Ein Kerem (the traditional birthplace of John the Baptist). It was actually funny, because when we were trying to walk down to the village, we got so mixed up and couldn't find the path. A really nice Israeli medical student named Jonathan helped us find our way down. As I was walking with him, he told me about this really nice monk name Matthias. So, I thought it was pretty cool when we actually got to meet him. We walked up to the gate and it was locked. He was so friendly and just invited us to jump over the gate (the gate had spikes on it basically...) and he was just laughing his head off watching us try and get over--which we did eventually. I'm a champion fence jumper really. Ein Kerem was a really fun place to visit and just so beautiful and peaceful. There was a quiet feeling there with lots of gardens. Matthias actually opened up his garden for us to walk through because I was telling him how beautiful I thought it was. That day we also met a really cool artist. We ate lunch in his garden at his house and then he invited us to come and see his artwork. I wished I could buy something, but it was way too expensive. He did give me a postcard of one as a gift though. So many cool people....

This is the really cool sign pointing to the Mormon University--home sweet home.

And below, one of the actual Giza Pyramids....who does that?

These next pictures are some pictures that I am kind of proud of for one reason or another. Maybe they will give a little flavor of things I've seen:

I got some pita bread from these women. It was absolutely warm and soft...(This was in Cairo.)

The pictures above are from Egypt. This is my camel, Bob Marley. And on the right is lunch--washed down with a highly caffeinated Coke. Delicious. Just some random things, I guess.

Some random recent ones....

This picture is from some ruins at the Pools of Bethesda.

This is a group of us visiting the Dome of the Rock. You can probably tell that I'm getting tired, because my explanations are pretty sparse. Hopefully the pictures are kind of cool anyways.

Last one for now--I thought this picture was so cool. We were at the David Citadel Museum. There has been quite a bit of rain the past couple of days. If you look closely, you can see the BYU Jerusalem Center to the right of the church spire, in the distance on the mount and directly under the center of the rainbow.

Monday, February 2, 2009

I have officially made it back from Egypt! I can report that I did not get sick (food sick or otherwise) and apparently that is quite the feat. After traveling by bus, train, plane, falukah, camel, taxi, van, foot, and carriage, it certainly felt nice to be back at the JC last night. It honestly felt like coming home. I love the Jerusalem Center! Thank goodness for toilets that flush and restrooms that don't cost money! Not to mention clean water.... The entire trip to Egypt was just so jammed pack with cool things that there is no way I will be able to give a full update, but I'll try to hit the highlights.

We stopped at several places on the bus ride down: Tel Beersheba, Wilderness of Zin Overlook, Ben Gurion's grave, Tel Avdat and the Kibbutz Yotvata. Looking out on the Zin Wilderness, I have to say I felt a little more sympathy for the Israelites in the wanderings....that would have stunk. Tel Avdat was totally awesome--it still felt like a city. I felt like I could just move into one of those cave houses.

That first night we stayed at Kibbutz Eilat. For anyone that doesn't know what a Kibbutz is, it is kind of like a commune. Not exactly, but that's a pretty good idea. They are traditionally based around agriculture, and the Kibbutz Yotvata (where we had a delicious dinner) is a very successful agricultural community with a dairy farm as well. Anyways, the kibbutz was fun and a good place to spend our last night in Israel before entering Egypt. Early the next morning we got back on the bus and drove most of the day to Cairo, where we checked into our hotel. Driving through Egypt we saw mostly the Sinai desert, some Beduins, camels and made our first stop at an Egyptian restroom. A real treat, I assure you. Most of the time the toilets don't flush and if you're at the end of the line....and there's usually no toilet paper, soap, the water would make you sick, and the kicker is you have to pay to have this special privilege. Well, anyways, our first night in Cairo was pretty cool. Some of us went out to Pyramid Street, where we experienced our first Egyptian taxi. Coming back to the hotel, a dance party had started up and it was super fun. I think the hotel staff were enjoying it as much as we were, if not more, because when we walked in they were all crowded around watching, taking videos and pictures.

Ok, I have to also tell you that we'd had quite a bit of orientation before going to Egypt on how even a a few drops of water could make you sick. We had to use bottled water for everything--teeth brushing, drinking, and washing our faces. Well, they did a good job making me probably more paranoid than I needed to be. That first night when we got to the hotel, I was like...oh man....I don't want to take shower. I was standing outside the shower trying to get up the nerve to get in, when the pressure in the shower head made it swing a little, knocking the head and hose out of place. Water was spraying all over the bathroom and it got me smack in the face! My roommate was probably laughing in the other room, because I totally freaked out while the water was spraying everywhere, because I didn't really realize what had happened. It was probably a good initiation though, because then I wasn't so worried about it anymore.

The next morning we hit up the Giza Pyramids, the Sphinx, a papyrus factory, Memphis, and Saqqara. (All of these places could really use an entry all on their own, but honestly...we saw soooo much!) I've got to say I was totally impressed. It is amazing to imagine their ingenuity, craftsmanship, and intelligence in building and carving....I took so many pictures of just their art, because it really was so beautiful and so much of it is still so preserved. We went to this restaurant for lunch that served us lamb and chicken kabobs. I also drank a Coke (which I actually a few times while in Egypt because it really washes down anything that could be suspect... :)

Moving on....that night we flew to Luxor, which I totally loved! It seemed like a cleaner city than Cairo to me. (There were so many sad things about much poverty and trash...For all of the amazing things we saw, there were some things that also made me sad.)

Luxor was just so wonderful though. The hotel we stayed at was totally awesome, and the food was amazing (best chocolate cake...mmm). Our first full day in Luxor, we went to the Valley of the Kings, where I saw the tomb of Tut Ank Amon. I actually was probably most impressed with Ramses IV's though. At least I think it was Ramses IV's...maybe II. We also saw the Funerary Temple of Ramses III--which was amazing--and the Colossus of Memnon. In the afternoon we went on a falukah ride down the Nile (which was right outside our hotel, seriously) and went on a camel ride through a village on the other bank. I loved my camel--the ride was so fun! His name was Bob Marley, which apparently was a popular name since there were a couple others. My guide was funny; he was probably 15 years old and he offered me a smoke, some sugar cane, and went on about my beautiful eyes--which totally doesn't mean anything, since they treat all foreign women that way. Pretty much all of the girls in our group got proposed to in one way or another.

That night I also had my first real experience with Egyptian merchants. I bought some pretty cool stuff...some of which I'm sure I got kind of ripped off on at first. The merchants are super aggressive and it was kind of overwhelming at first, but bartering became really fun. The next morning we went to the Karnak Temple and then to the Luxor Temple by carriage. We were definitely warned not to take the carriages on our own, since people have had some bad experiences in the past (Rich, I know you understand what they're talking about), so I was glad we were able to go as a group. That afternoon was really relaxed--we hung out at the pool and went shopping after it cooled down a little. It was crazy walking out in our little groups because people definitely notice you. The men are constantly making comments to the girls--some of it is funny and some of it is's just the way they are. Shopping was pretty funny that night though. One of my friends made one of the merchants mad, because she had bought a blanket at a different shop. She pulled it out and showed it to someone else in our group that was looking at one in his shop. As we were walking away, he was hurling insults at her calling her ugly and mean--it was just ridiculous because one minute they are going on and on about how beautiful you are and then the next they can't stand to look at you. It was kind of ridiculous, and we just laughed about it. That night we headed off to the train station to catch a train back to Cairo. Now, at first an overnight train ride might sound fun, but I have to say, when we got to the station and started to see the kinds of trains that were pulling up, I was definitely worried. It kind of felt like camping in a train...sort of dirty. In the end, it really turned out being really fun. I can't say that I got a very good night's rest, but it was an experience to remember.

Friday morning we had a sacrament meeting back at the hotel in Cairo. Lucky me, I was asked to give a talk. It worked out pretty well and we actually had a really nice meeting even though, looking around, most people looked pretty beat. We toured the Egyptian Museum where I saw a bunch or royal mummies (crazy) and had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe.

The next day we packed up to leave for Jerusalem, and stopped at the Muhammad Ali Mosque, a synagogue in the small Jewish community, and a church in the old Cairo Christian community. The Christian Church is supposed to be where Mary, Joseph and Jesus stayed in Egypt to escape Herod. On our way out we stopped at McDonald's and everyone got Big Macs. I had never had a Big Mac before, but I must say, it was pretty good. I also treated myself to an ice cream cone that definitely hit the spot.

We stayed one more night in Egypt at a hotel near Mt. Sinai with a wake up call at 2:00 AM. We hiked all the way to the top and sang hymns and watched the sunrise. It was totally amazing and worth the hike. It was crazy, though, because as we were walking up we passed so many camels and Beduins and merchants that were actually awake trying to sell people camel rides and blankets. I definitely could have used a blanket at the top though. Despite having on nearly six layers of clothes I was totally freezing. The whole trip was amazing and this was a perfect cap on the experience. It's hard to write about all the things I thought about and saw in Egypt, but it was definitely a perspective changing experience.

Yesterday was a long day of traveling (though we did stop at Yotvata for dinner and ice cream again) and it's back to class and life here in Jerusalem. I have some pictures that I'm going to post, but when I tried it tonight, it wouldn't work. It's late and I want to go to bed, so I'll give it a try tomorrow.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

History and adventuring

Tonight Dr. Skinner gave a seminar about the Dead Sea Scrolls, which was so cool since he actually helped identify and translate scrolls from Cave 4. (Seriously, I feel like Dr. Skinner knows basically everything.) However, as interesting as the lecture was, I felt myself hitting that wall of exhaustion by the end. By the time I get to bed here, I am so ready to just fall asleep. I think that's a good thing though, because my days have been really full and active. So, I was on my way to my room to go to bed, when I decided to check my email. And there was one from Rich letting me know that an update was in you have Rich to thank for this....

With the conflict in Gaza still going on, we still have to be careful and pretty aware about going certain places in Jerusalem. We have gotten to do some exploring though. Earlier this week, some of us went over to Hebrew University to check out the campus, and lo and behold, there is internet over there that seems to be better for uploading pictures. I didn't have my computer with me then, but hopefully the next time we walk over there, I will be able to upload some pictures.

A couple of nights ago, we had a visiting speaker from the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, Stewart Tuttle. He is the spokesman for the United States at the Embassy (he is actually also a member of the Church) and he talked to us about present situations here--mostly about Gaza. It really helped to see a broad picture of what is going on over there. I have already gotten so many unbelievable opportunities to learn is amazing. The BYU faculty that is here is so wonderful! We also have a class from an Orthodox Jew teaching basically the Israeli/Jewish historical perspective and a Christian Palestinian who is teaching the Palestinian historical perspective (Rich, Brittany, Sister Huntington told me that Dr. Musallam has really lightened up--he must have been pretty hard when you were here...he's really cool though, even though I do like to keep a really low profile in that class). My Hebrew teacher is Judy Goldman (MaryAnne, is this who you had when you were here? sounds like she's been teaching here for a really long time...) She teaches us fun Hebrew songs and is so encouraging about all we can learn. I love all of my teachers so much!

Yesterday was our first field trip. They call it the geography field trip because we go to all different places around Jerusalem to get different views of the city and the landscape. We went to the Seven Arches Overlook, Augusta Victoria Tower (both of which are near the Jerusalem Center and also on the Mt. of Olives), Haas Promenade Overlook, Deir Mar Elyas/Elias Monastery, and Nabi Samwil. Standing at some of these places, we could see basically all of the important sites in the Old Testament. (I think I had always imagined these places to be farther apart.) We could see Bethlehem, Bethany, the Hinom and Kidron Valleys, where they intersect, the city walls, the steps leading up to the temple platform, the City of David, the Judean Wilderness, the Judean Highlands, the Benjamin Plateau, the Judean Shephelah and so many others. They were all so neat, but maybe my two favorite places were Haas Promenade Overlook and Deir Mar Elyas. As we sat on the Haas Promenade Overlook, Dr. Skinner recounted the story of Abraham bringing his son Isaac to be sacrificed. We sat in the spot that is thought to be where, in Genesis 22: 3 "Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off." As we looked out on Mt. Moriah (Temple Mount), it was so humbling to imagine Abraham's willingness to be obedient to the Lord. There were many moments as we looked out from the different places where we went, when I imagined the people that had come before and looked on this same land. The Deir Mar Elyas is along what is called the Patriarch's Way--an ancient highway. It was along this highway that Mary and Joseph stopped at the well on their way to Jerusalem and also the place where the Prophet Elijah rested. While we were there, Dr. Skinner also talked about how this was a place for shepherds and sheep. As if on cue, a flock of sheep came right atop the hill amidst our group. It was pretty cool. The shepherd boy wasn't too keen on us taking pictures for free though. :)

Today we had class as usual and then free time in the afternoon. It was a gorgeous day, so a group of us decided to go walk on the Old City walls. It was so fun! One of the neighborhood boys (Rich, did you know Peter?) started walking with us and came with us all the way to the top of the wall. He was really nice--he just likes the BYU students and has made friends with several before I think. There really are so many nice people here. We got pretty far along the wall, but before we got all the way through, the Center called us and said we needed to leave the Old City because of a demonstration at one of the gates. I don't want that to worry anyone though--they just like us to leave when anything like that is going, because you never know when one of them could escalate. We made our way out towards West Jerusalem and ended up getting some delicious pastries at a Jewish bakery. I wasn't going to get any other sweets, but then someone wanted to stop and try some gilato was just way too good to pass up. By time we were done, it was getting kind of late, so we called a taxi that took forever to come and pick us up. While we were waiting, we met a Jewish boy and his sister. They were waiting to go somewhere too I think. The boy had a deck of cards, and showed us all sorts of really cool magic tricks. He was very friendly and asked us if we were students. One of the things that just gets me, is that he could sit there and talk to us in English, but he also knows Hebrew and Russian too (that was where his parents were from I think). I feel dumb that all I know is English.

Another random thing about Jerusalem, is that there are cats seriously everywhere. I don't get it. Cats. Everywhere.

On a totally different subject, I got a calling to serve in the nursery here in the branch. I am super excited! This week, however, I am teaching Relief Society--which I am also excited about. Since I couldn't call Mom or anyone to bounce ideas off of, I actually just started talking to Brother Huff (my religion teacher) about the lesson at dinner. Hopefully it goes ok.

Anyways, I just have to say that the days get better and better here. I'm not even going to apologize for how long this post is because, apparently, I am just going to be a chronic rambly long blogger.....oh well...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I have arrived...

I am finally getting around to making my first blog post! For those of you that don't already know, I arrived in Jerusalem about 5:00 on January 7th. (I can see that I am going to need to keep up better with my posts, because I already feel like there is too much to write.)

Life here at the center is coming into full swing. We've had most of our classes a few times (or at least once) and get lots of free time to go out in the city. The Center has 8 floors and most of us live on either the 3rd or 4th floors. The rooms feel kind of like mini apartments--with four beds, a bathroom, and a porch to walk out on (the view is absolutely incredible). People are getting to know each other a little better, and it seems like it is going to be a fun group to be with. Getting over jet lag was a new experience for me, and I have still been waking up very early in the morning. Although, if the jet lag didn't wake me up, the call to prayer definitely would. We are within range of several minerets and when everything is so quiet in the morning, the call to prayer is actually surprising loud. . . Today was a big improvement, though, because I wasn't awake until about 5:30.

Here is a little bit just to kind of catch up for people that have been asking for an update:

The day after we got here, we went down to the city for an orientation walk. We didn't spend a long time in any one area, but it was so exciting to see so many places and to just be out in the city. I was surprised at how close so many places are together. I guess I kind of imagined it being more spread out....The merchants were very happy to see us and many of them came out to greet the "BYU students" and to say hello to "the Mormons." I love meeting the people here or even just seeing them working and walking on the streets.

Because of the conflict in Gaza, we have started off with some restrictions about where we can go in the city, but there is so much to see and do anyways. We are very safe here, but being here so close to the conflict and tension is already giving me a new perspective. Probably my favorite part of everything I have experienced so far is just seeing all of the different people that are here in Jerusalem. Last Friday we stood on the balcony and could see a demonstration happening at a mosque. Fortunately it didn't escalate, but it just made me think about how this is just a part of life here for many people. At the same time, I go out and sit on my porch and can here the Palestinian children in my neighborhood outside running around and playing. There is so much I want to understand about the history here, but also to understand the current people and culture.

We have also had our first Sabbath. Church services are on Saturday here instead of Sunday, for those of you that don't know. It was so amazing to sit in sacrament meeting looking out on the entire city. . . We also performed our first number as a choir. It was such a special experience to be able to sing there.

I love the city so much already! Yesterday we walked to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I think we will be going there again, so I will save my comments for another time. It started pouring rain when we walked out, and of course, the merchants were all trying to sell us umbrellas. It's amazing how the price went up from what it had been in the morning. . . :) I got some really cool pictures of the streets and the shops in the rain--it was beautiful. It was so fun getting home in the rain, even though it was sort of cold and we really did get soaked. The streets were kind of gross too (which I noticed because I was wearing my sandals....).

Today a group of us went exploring in West Jerusalem (which is the newer part of the city).

So, I have never blogged before, but this seems like a really long post, and I have a lot of reading to catch up on. Hopefully I will be better about posting so that I don't have to do so much catch up! Oh, and one disappointing thing is that I don't know if I am going to be able to post pictures. I guess it kind of overwhelms the network or something. . .we'll see.