I don't know, should you be creating weapons?

My Max has the flu.  It hasn't been diagnosed to be of the piggy variety at this point, but he's on bed rest for at least three days.

Last night he woke up in a panic and tried to mumble something to me with serious urgency in his voice.  I couldn't understand him for a few times in a row, and then he paused, collected himself and said

"Under the circumstances, do you think I should be creating weapons?"

I tried not to giggle at him in his Tylenol PM induced slumber, but it was hard.



Hebron is the largest city in the West Bank and the second holiest city in Judaism.  It is also Holy to both Christians and Muslims as it bears the tomb of Abraham as well as Sarah, Issaac, Jacob, Rebecca, and Leah.   The “Tomb of the Patriarchs” where these tombs are housed is the Muslim “Mosque of Ibrahimi” on one side and a Jewish Synagogue on the other - with separate entrances.  

As you can imagine, Hebron has been witness to a lot of violence and controversy in the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.   There is currently a large contingent of what many refer to as “Jewish Settlers” and the town is described as unbearably tense.  The settlers see themselves as reclaiming land that historically and religiously is rightfully theirs, and the Palestinians see them as intruders into their city and way of life.  The violence has been intense coming from both sides and Hebron has gotten a pretty bad rap.  Fairly so.     

We have wanted to see Hebron, but probably would not have of our own devices.  A friend of ours from Bethlehem offered to take us to Hebron almost 2 months ago.  He’s a local, Arabic speaking, Muslim looking man, and tough as nails to boot so we took him up on the offer. 

(Here we are at the tomb of the Patriarchs.  That is me in the funny hooded thing.  Mosque garb - what can I say?  The tombs are all covered in big green covers.  Muslims believe Abraham was the first Muslim)

I have read accounts of Hebron as hostile, scary, broke-down, hellish, and many other things. While I don’t doubt that those accounts have been and are true at times, our short trip went very well. Even though a good portion of the old city was closed down (probably due to lack of visitors) the working portion of the city for locals was pretty busy with people and goods for sale. All I can really say is that on the particular day that we visited Hebron we did not feel threatened or victims of hostility in any way. Any other given day might have held a different outcome, but our visit was informative, thought provoking, and even enjoyable as we visited a small local candy shop.

I feel hesitant to even bring up our moment of enjoyment in a city where a lot of violence and even death have occurred, where daily life is strained to the point of combustion; but maybe that is reason to mention it all the more. People make candy in Hebron. There is a nice old man that makes Turkish delight-ish treats that come in both yellow and pink. He was really embarrassed that I was taking pictures of him and after I caught him in one, he was sure to skedaddle around the corner. But that any semblance of normal life, and something as purely pleasure bringing as candy making and selling, takes place in Hebron was a nice idea to me.


Jordan Revisted, As Promised

It’s like a little Jordan sandwich! We introduced our Jordan trip, got sidetracked and filled the sandwich with other things, and now we are back to the Jordan trip. Bon appetite!

You can read the first part of our trip by following this link. After leaving Hassan’s shop (pictured), we headed for the Al-Pasha Turkish Hammam. The Hammam, as we soon learned, is pretty much a public bath where someone else baths you. You wear your swimming suit…but it’s a little weird all the same. The process is as follows:

1) You shower off your outside muck and then you sit in a ridiculously hot steam room for 15 minutes. I mean, deathly hot. They bring you a cold hibiscus drink half way through, but that didn’t help me much. When Max was finished (they separate the men from the women) he proudly told me that he outlasted two Arabs in the steam room. What a man I’ve got.

2) You take another shower and then sit in a Jacuzzi until a masseuse/scrubber is free.

3) A nice Iraqi man named Fadl/Morrocon woman whose name I can’t remember scoured and scrubbed and peeled away layers of both Max and my skin, respectively.

4) Then you get a massage, on a marble slab, followed by a douse of water over your head.

And that’s a Turkish bath. We felt like Romans of old. The pictures on the web are very ancient looking. We actually really enjoyed our afternoon, but it was still a little bit odd.

After the Hamman we went back to out Hostel that, if you recall, cost only $11 dollars per night. It made us sad. I mean we survived, but….well, click on this pic to see the look on Max’s face.

The next day we spent with Hassan and his family in their living room. I offered up my pitiable Arabic vocabulary, but Max carried on most of the conversation. A few of Hassan’s children speak some English and so we practiced counting to 10 a few times. We were, of course, fed a wonderful Jordanian dish of roasted chicken, rice with nuts and raisins, and Tabbouleh.  This is only part of Hassan's Family, he has 6 kids total. 

That evening we strolled around Downtown Amman looking at the King Abdullah (the first) Mosque. We weren’t allowed in at that time, but outside was pretty impressive.

The trek home was absolutely awful. We got to the Jordanian border ok, but the bus trip across the bridge and subsequent experience at the Israeli nearly put us over the edge. I think I’ll let old man Stoneman tell you about this in the next post though.

 Downtown Amman

King Abdullah Mosque

Hassan in his shop.  He showed us a piece he is submitting to Dubai for a conference in a few months.


Such Beautiful Things!

Penguin books has a new collection of classics covered in cloth with fabulous prints.  I'm speechless!


Oh yeah, I have a job

I have been working for an American NGO in the Middle East that teaches English to Arab speaking people.  It has been wonderful for me in so many ways.  My 6 week course is actually almost over and I'm quite sad about it.  But here is a bit from an email I sent to a friend telling her about it.

I am teaching an ESL class to 8 Palestinian Adults in East Jerusalem also. It has brought me more joy than I could have hoped for. I thought it would be more stressfull than it was rewarding or enjoyable for me, but I am finding it easier and easier the more I do it and I absolutely love my students. I have two High School boys that I want to kidnap and take home because they are so smiley and adorable. I also have one 40 something man and 5 middle aged women. Two of them wear the headscarf and the other three exhibit varying degrees of conservatism.  

I have made particular friends with 23 year old Ala’. She has been married for just over a year and has a little baby girl named Malek. She has actually started bringing me treats, which I have to figure out how to curtail without insulting her honor. I’ve decided to really try learning Arabic in earnest and after this class is over we are going to meet up once a week so she can help me with Arabic and I will help her with English. 

I feel like I’m actually doing something tangible to help the Palestinian people. Having a voice matters so greatly in this debate and the more people I can help express themselves to their leaders and the world in a language better accepted by the world, the more their voices will be heard.  Voices are ultimately the antidote to violence.  The “you love who you serve” bit couldn’t be more true. I am even getting paid, but when I ride out of Beit Hanina every Sunday and Wednesday I just want to wrap my arms around it and make the future’s of these people easier and more hopeful.

I also want to add a small note about the terrible tragedy at Fort Hood.  I have seen a disturbing development in the media as some try to make the connection between this troubled and deeply errant Muslim to the entire Islamic faith.  Some have suggested, with a wink and a nod, that Islam was the catalyst for this tragedy.  Violence of this nature is always senseless and to suggest that it represents a truth about the effects or intent of Islam is simply untrue.  People suffered greatly and their families will continue to suffer, but we would be wise to avoid making ill conceived assumptions about Muslims throughout the world.

We're Churchin' it Up

on the Barry Gibb talk show

Here are the details of our nerdulous date this weekend. Previously in the week I visited some sites with a friend and we learned that the St. James Cathedral in the Armenian Quarter was 1) very cool and 2) hardly ever open. They told us that it would be open the next day between 3:00-3:30, so I thought I’d bring Max…for a date.

We got to the church at about 3:10 and it’s a good thing because they closed the door not 5 minutes after we arrived. Actually, they told everyone that they had to leave the church and that it was closed, but I noticed a group of tourists huddled around a black robed priest in the corner. They didn’t appear to be going anywhere and with this priests blessing, so we sneaked over and tried to fade into the small group. I only got nervous once when I looked back an saw the giant wooden doors were closed shut behind us. Whether or not we had intended to, we had become committed to this group and this mini-tour. I scoured the group looking for a tour guide looking person who would certainly turn around when the priest was done and ask us for a lot of money. (He would be the one who looked sweaty and bored with the giant flag tucked into his backpack for tourists to see in the crowd.) Turns out there was no such order to the group, and after an almost whispered explanation of the church history we were let out of the medieval church into the sunny courtyard.

But the church! It was really something. Armenia was the first nation to officially accept Christianity and they did what every Christian group of old did, they went to Jerusalem and claimed them a holy spot. The church is said to reside on the tombs of both St. James the brother of Jesus and St. James the Apostle. Two James’ – what a coincidence! It existed in various states starting in the 5th century, but the current edifice dates to the 12th century with 18th century additions. It is a great cavernous, lamp lit cave of a church and quite stunning. There are, of course, several gaudy alters and golden d├ęcor covering most of them; but the floors are covered with blue and white tiles and simple rugs fill the nave instead of benches. The ceilings are draped with medieval oil lamps called “ganteghs”. Pictures aren’t allowed (nor is putting your hands in your pockets or crossing your legs – I was told to “sit properly” by a surly young priest) but I found a few on the internets.

After our short time in the St. James Cathedral we hurried through the quarter to the Church of St. Marks. I have mentioned this church before, but what I didn’t tell you (or Max for that matter) was that nice Justina told me that they hold services every Friday night at 5:00 in Aramaic, the language that Jesus most likely spoke in his daily life. I covered up my head and wore long sleeves at the behest of Justina who motioned to my bare arms below the elbow and told me to dress a little nicer next time.


Really, Yahoo Reviews Cathedrals Now?

Christmas Music Revisited

Things I still bought after my last post:
Bing Crosby/David Bowie: Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth

Barnaked Ladies/Sarah McLachlan:  We Three Kings/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Josh Groban: Ave Maria & Oh Come all Ye Faithful with the MoTab (I succumbed!)

Neil Diamond: Oh Come, oh Come Emmanuel (What's Christmas without the Diamond?)

Barbra Streisand: Jingle Bells

The Holly and the Ivy: Ripon Cathedral Choir - Max asked me to find a version with "4 to 12 voices" and I did.  So picky that one.

Kings College Choir: A few gems on the recommendation of a good and musically savvy friend.

Riu Riu Chiu: When the King Singers sang it with the MoTab.  One of my favorites!

Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Some of my favorites with Audra Mcdonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Renee Flemming

Warm December: Brushfire Holidays, Vol 1. - A collection of songs (new and old) by independent-type artists like Mason Jennings, Neil Halstead, Jack Johnson and Rogue Wave.  Really cool.  

Things I didn't buy because they were lame: 
Hall and Oats:  Oh Holy Night

Bob Dylan's Christmas Album:  It's a big commercial 'to heck with you' - it's Awful (capital A)

Things I'm Thrilled About:
Sting: If On a Winter's Night- it's a collection of Old English tunes.  So great.

Things I'm Disappointed In: 
 Prepare your gasps...James Taylor's Christmas Album was less than impressive to us.  His version of "Baby, It's Cold Outside' is Calypso madness  and creepy to boot.  Maybe it will grow on us, but it didn't feel fresh or hearken back to the classic Christmas tunes of our childhoods.  oh.

And I think I've prematurely spend my birthday money on Christmas music.  But what a way to spend it, right?

Things I Already Have that I'm Pumped About:
 Martin Sexton: Welcome to the Camp - a folky Christmas album with only a little bit of indulgence (Welcome to the Camp?  Come on)  One of my favorite Artists and one of my favorite seasons.   


Someone Take the Computer Away from Me!

I just spent $40 on Christmas music from Itunes in 5 minutes!

(If you are wondering what I bought....John Rutter's Christmas Album, Sarah McLachlan's Christmas Album, James Taylor Christmas and Sting's Old English Christmas Album.  Most Merry of Christmases)


Week update...well, the fun stuff

This week I pretty much stayed cooped up in my house...and almost lost my mind.  By the time I finished homework and such it was too late to go out and I just laid in my bed being excited about all the things I wanted to go out and do, but also be frustrated that I hadn't gone out that day.  I was so busy because I actually did all of my homework this week!  I know, novel.   But today I got to shake a leg in the old city with a friend and it was one of my favorite wandery days.  I feel like I'm "seeing the sights" but also "getting down with the people".

These are some of the people I met today:

Hadda and her mother were making date cookies to sell at the Arab Orthodox Society Holiday Bazaar tomorrow.  I made eye contact with Hadda as we were walking down the road through the open front door and she invited us in.  We sat in her kitchen for a short while exchanging what little Arabic/English we knew (respectively) and she kept thrusting blobs of brown date past at us to eat.  I might be sick tomorrow, but it was certainly worth it.  Max and I are going to drop by the Bazaar tomorrow and see if we can find her.

I didn't get Mr. Painterman's name, but he showed me how he stencils and then paints his Armenian Pottery before glazing and cooking it.  Actually, I asked if he "cooked" it and he said yes,  but after I left I realized that you "fire" pottery.  "Amateur hour!"  Anyway, his shop was really neat and he let me take a picture only if he didn't have to look up.

I have literally been waiting for months to take this picture.  I saw this man (who I call CobblerWobbler in my mind, for no reason at all) on one of our very first visits to the old city and I wanted so desperately to catch him "in the act" as it were. The time never came because of the light, I was without my camera, there were a lot of people, I was too shy and many other reasons.  Today it wasn't very crowded and when I saw him fixing what looked to be one of these girl's shoes (or maybe there mother's) I sneaked out my camera and took this picture.  Well worth the wait.

His shop is just wide enough for him and his sewing machine to fit in the mouth of...well, a cave in the old city.  Rad.

Not a person, but an awesome thousand year old book that Justina at showed me at St. Mark's Church (alternate "last supper/Pentecost location, home of Mother of Mark, baptismal sight of the Virgin Mary, and self proclaimed "First Church in Christianity").  I'm not sure if it's the 4 gospels, or just the gospel of Mark.

A donkey.  Don't worry Burt, you are still our number one burro.   

In other news, I have the world's nerdiest secret date planned for Max tomorrow.  Sshhh, I'll tell you about later....but it involves Aramaic!


"And David danced before the Lord with ALL his might": Day 6

Tsfat/Safed was amazing.  We were only there for one afternoon and a crazy evening.  I'll let these pictures we took of Safed-ian street dancers do the talking. 

And that's it for our trip. We had a marvelous time and got to see a lot of Israel's North. ...and C.J.'s beardy Jewish twin dancing on the streets in Safed.


A Spin Around the Sea of Galilee: Day 5

Moving on (regarding our trip up north).  After studying the map for a bit we decided to take a spin around the Sea of Galilee. Tiberias is on the south western side of the lake and we decided to make a counterclockwise journey around the lake before heading up to Tsfat. After driving for a while we passed the “Yardenit Baptismal Site” where many claim that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. If you know me, I’m not very big into the “place” frenzy here in Jerusalem. What matters to me is that Christ lives and his gospel is real, but Max and I had a particularly moving experience at the baptismal site.

It wasn’t overly crowded like in the summer and we got to see a few smaller groups doing their baptism thing. We saw a group of what looked and sounded like evangelicals (some speaking Portuguese Max pointed out) all dressed in white getting baptized by the water’s edge. Some of them jumped out of the water yelling “hallelujah”, others cried, and still others were emotional but a little embarrassed about being so public (and so underdressed – those white shields do not offer a lot of coverage…).

There was a very small moment taking place just in front of us where a Dad took his teenage girl into the water to baptize her while the mother looked on. Very sweet.

But perhaps my favorite was a small group of three priests of the Greek Orthodox Church who were swimming around in the river just after baptizing a couple. Most of the Greek Orthodox men I’ve seen around the city are very serious, very reserved, and very “hard” looking. In Jerusalem they where they long black robes and black hats and they usually have very long beards and long hair. Their buildings here are very ornate and filled with gold everything – they are usually constructed in caves and crusader constructions, so the spaces are often times dank, dark, and mysterious. But these three priests had their shoes off and were swimming around in the river with such joy. They were talking to each other and splashing a bit. When they got out of the water, black garb soaking wet, they sat around and read a few scriptures, sang a few beautiful songs, and “shot the breeze” as much as someone in their position can. It was the first time I have seen the seriousness and over dramatic decorating I associate with the Greek Orthodox give way to something that looked more like Jesus would have been doing in this spot so many years ago. I still can’t get over the sight of their bare feet, kicking around in the water and then being propped up on the stones around the river’s edge. It donned on me that maybe this more relaxed attitude is a product of being in the Galilee instead of Jerusalem. People are always talking about the tension in Jerusalem, and it doesn’t really bother me, but perhaps it imbues the religious stalwarts of Jerusalem with an added level of intensity.


Halloween in Jerusalem: On Taking Candy from Strangers

Haloween is still my favorite Holiday, but without kids you don't really get invited to the dress up parties.  No matter, Max and I made our own Halloween fun almost completely inadvertently. 

Friday is Field Trip day and we almost let this one slip by without even leaving our apartment!  At  3:00 we strapped on our walking shoes and took off down the hill towards the old city.  Our initial plan was to check out Mount Zion and the Room of the Last Supper, but because Shabbat was fast arising it donned on us that everything would already be closed.  So we decided to visit the Garden tomb and some of the sites in the Christian/Armenian Quarter that we hadn't seen yet.  I'll write more about the Garden tomb later (which is really a fine site), but for now I'll skip to the spooky.

After staying at the Garden Tomb for an hour or so and sharing a cheese, onion, and tomoto Pizza at Basti Pizza on the Via Dolorosa, we trudged backwards up the Via Dolorosa to try and find Saint Anne's Church.  By this time in the day the sun was almost completely gone, or at least hidden behind heavy rain clouds. We got our first day long cold front here in Jerusalem!  I couldn't have been happier.  It rained and drizzled all day and was absolutely dreary.  Perfect.

So we started winding around through the dark and rainy streets of the Muslim Quarter with very little luck.  In hindsight I'm pretty sure the sight was closed, but it provided an awesome spook ally for Max and me.  The alleys are really narrow and really tall with trees and garbage and all manner of scary things poking out.  Not to mention the exploding feral cat population skittering about beneath our feet and popping out from cracks in the houses.  I literally screamed out loud several times in fear of squashing a rotten cat...who probably deserved it.  We came across several distant gatherings of people which added significantly to the horror.  In the dark we couldn't tell if they were young Arab shabab waiting to capture lost tourists, Israeli Military planning some sort of coup, or just generic hooligans.  It's one thing to be afraid of the dark, or of getting lost, but to add the fear of getting caught in sling shot crossfire (or worse) is something else entirely.

So we gave up on Saint Anne's.  But we were still lost.  Not really lost, we just didn't know where we were on the  map and only generally the area that we needed to go.  It's not normally a problem, but there are some places here that you don't really want to wander into, much less at night.  But as we were walking towards what we thought to be the Damascus gate a Muslim couple with a baby in  stroller pulled up beside us.

"Hello.  Where are you from?  Would you like to come in for tea?"

It was either straight from every horror story you've ever read or the Bible.  Who knew they had similarities!  Turns out it was the Bible.  We explained to them that we didn't drink coffee, but that water would be fine.  So the five of us, two unnamed Arab parents and their little girl, Max and Myself shared a glass of water out on the porch, under the rain drizzles.  How great is that!?  It's absolutely an Arab thing.  At first I thought "I don't know if I'll tell my Mom", but when we didn't die I thought it would be safe to tell.  People just like the share here.  It's like trick or treat every day!