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.