Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Arrival and Orientation

I have been here in Israel for a week now and I am not sure it has really sunk in yet. I arrived just fine, flying on Luftansa, most of the announcements were in German. It was really cool to fly in a 747 as well, I forgot how big those planes were. Upon arrival, there were no hick-ups at customs and we met the staff at the airport with a bus ready to take us from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. I was very tired because sleep was hard to come by. On the way to Tantur, one interesting factoid our director said was that we noticed pine trees growing in groups in various areas. This is because the Israeli government is trying to recreate the landscape to the way it use to be at some point in time, but I cannot remember when that time was, but there were parts of the drive that reminded me of parts of eastern Washington.
The place we are staying, called Tantur, is a place of learning and relaxation at the same time. There is not an official school here, but at any one time there are several scholars, men of the church, or other people with connections living here. I have met a few people who are working on research, there was a large group of teens from Israel last weekend, and there is also a retired Bishop from England who will be here for three months working for Tantur to pay his living expenses. He is a quite delightful old chap. I have also heard that Shayne Claiborne will be staying here for several weeks in March for a conference he is doing at Bethlehem Bible College. As with all places in this region, Tantur is made of stone, and so it is fairly cold inside, but as long as you keep moving it is alright.
Over Orientation we have taken many tours of different areas, mostly in the Old City. Much of it is different than I expected, it is a very crowded place. The Old City, which is about four miles from here, is one square mile and has a population of over 28,000. A kind of comical happening in the Old City is when there is prayer time, which also happens to be when the several churches bells are ringing, so there is almost a competition at those times. When you look across the skyline you can various minarets of the mosques and the steeples of the churches. Among other places, we toured some of the seven stages of the cross. The last of those stages were not as I expected. The supposed place for Jesus death and burial are very close and within basically one building, but over the years there is been a conglomeration of buildings. (Many of the things I describe will have pictures posted, either on the blog or on my Facebook page or both).
In addition to the touring, we have had two Wen Eh 's which means "where what" in Arabic, essentially a scavenger hunt. Our first was in Bethlehem, which requires us to cross the wall into the West Bank. The second was in East Jerusalem, right outside the Old City. Both of these, we were taken there, but either bus or taxi, split into groups, and we were on our own for several hours. Both of those areas are predominately Palestinian. It was a lot of fun to navigate roads that did not run in a straight line, with hardly any Arabic to ask for directions. Both of these times we had to find our own lunch. The food here in terms of the ethnic type that I have tired has only been faloffal (not sure how to spell it), which is a round bread that is cut in half and then stuffed with various meats and vegetables. Last night I also went to a dessert place that made, among other things, a crepe with Nutella on it, it was very good.
The limited amount of Arabic I know has been thanks to our Arabic instructor who gave us two sessions of survival Arabic. This is Palestinian Arabic, which is a little different than Arabic in Egypt. It has been a fairly frustrating endeavor, but there are Palestinians here at Tantur, and many other places that are happy to help get a handle on the speaking. There are some in the group who have taken Arabic before, so it is nice to be able to get help from them at times.
In addition to Arabic, we have had a lot of other informative meetings on cultural things to watch out for, boundaries, rules, and other things related to living in Israel. One thing we do is use all Arab buses because they are safer than the Israeli buses. It is really neat to be ready to go places on my own. It is only a five shekel, and about 10 to 15 minute bus ride and I am right next to the Damascus gate into the Old City.
Today we started our service projects which is kind of how we are to learn Arabic. I am working at a soup Kitchen in the heart of Jerusalem. Since we cannot use the Israeli transportation, it is about a mile or two walk after riding the Arab bus. It is me and my roommate Paul who are there at the Soup Kitchen. Today we did have another group whose service project had not started yet, but for the rest of the time it will be me and another guy. I spent half the day chopping apples for a fruit salad, and the other half cleaning up the floor and the cooking space. I am pretty sure what they serve is super kosher, and so they serve literally anyone who walks in the door. It was difficult to understand what the kitchen staff wanted because they were a mix of Arabic speakers and Hebrew speakers. There was only one lady who sounded like she was from England who could help us out. I hope that I will be able to communicate more as time marches on.
That is pretty much everything that has happened up until now. I will try to keep up with this blog weekly or when there is something interesting comes up.