Saturday, February 20, 2010

Thought I'd Be An Expert By Now, But.....

In the middle of this past week I returned from a whirlwind trip to Israel with a bunch of kids. It was incredibly stressful for me being responsible for kids in a new country. But I didn't let any parents down this time, though we discovered one child is violently allergic to strawberries, I had to pack up the kids belongings and move their luggage out of the horrible hostel we were set up in for our first night of the conference, and I had to act as our tour guide in Jerusalem. Overall it was a great trip, and the kids made it worth it. I was waiting to see how this conference went to decide if I would be involved in MUN again next year, but the kids have convinced me through their behavior and pride in their performance that I should definitely stick with it.

I know before I left I promised my expert commentary upon my return. So sure was I that I would know the route to peace and be the purveyor of understanding to all ethnic and religious groups around the West Bank with my five days in their midst. Alas, I am as confused as ever. My presence did not quell the tensions that run high throughout and around the old city--ancient wrongs, vengeance, and not-so-ancient grudges are alive and well. And so what follows is merely a tourist's commentary on her photos. I did learn a good deal about what is housed in Jerusalem and I left with a strong resolution to return sometime (without 16 high school kids) and really SEE Israel.

Like many Westerners, I expected Israelis to be fluent in both Hebrew and English. That simply is not always the case and I seriously underestimated the amount of Palestinian-Israelis and Arab Christians in the country. So, most road signs and information of importance appear in the three languages: Hebrew, Arabic, and English.

In this picture we're on the bus and over the hill lies Jerusalem. I took pictures of the hill because it looked familiar to me--like I see such landscape in photos of Israel.

Below is the "new" part of Jerusalem. This city is much different from Tel Aviv, which could pass as any Western, well-developed city. Just outside of old Jerusalem, where we were staying, and inside the old city walls, it all felt very third world to me.

The old, walled-in city is accessed through several "Gates." The one below, near where we stayed with a bunch of French nuns, is the Damascus Gate. This is the northern-most gate and is named (I assume) for the major city it is oriented towards.

The Damascus Gate entrance.

Once we passed through the gate, I lead us as straight as possible through the streets to reach the Western Wall (Wailing Wall). On the way, we bisected the street called "Via Dolorosa" on which lie the Stations of the Cross. Below is the 5th Station of the Cross, thought to be where Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus carry his cross or tried to carry it a ways for him. As a side note, in Jerusalem, it seems like the Christians are less concerned (than the Jews and Muslims) with actual historical fact, or archaeological proof and just ardently hold on to what is generally accepted as commemorative places. There exists loads of criticism and archaeological support that things happened differently, in different areas around Jerusalem. So I suppose it's something you have to decide for yourself. It still does not take away the fact that these places are so revered by so many and have been for centuries. You cannot easily dispel that kind of power and magic.

Below is a typical scene in the old city. People still live and work in the buildings and the streets are narrow and crowded.

I expected to see a lot of Orthodox Jews. What I did not expect was the interesting hat below. I simply imagined the black coats and hats with the side curls. Other dudes were wearing fur flying saucers. I know that's not very respectful, but that was my first impression. And at least I understand that they aren't tourist attractions and so did not jump in anyone's face to take a picture (I just clicked them off from behind). I think that this guy's hat means he's an Hasidic Rabbi.

And now we come to my contraband picture. No photos allowed of the Western Wall, but I got a couple anyway--taken in a very non-obvious, from in front of my stomach, sort of position.

In front of that barrier, there are many many Jews, praying and swaying. The men and women are separated and the mens' side is MUCH bigger than the womens' side. The men are very loud in their "wailing" and the women just seem to sway and read from their Torah books. If you go to the Wiki link above, you can see better pictures of the people at the wall, though not nearly as crowded as the day we were there. Tourists were allowed to respectfully go up to the wall, so I went up and stuck my little prayer for my family into a little cranny. While I can't honestly say I believe in anything like that--least of all any sort of dogma, it was still pretty cool to be there.

This is the entrance to the Dome of the Rock, which is not accessible these days to non-Muslims on Saturdays. But I had Turkish kids with me, so I let them go in and snap off photos while I waited outside the gate. Definitely go to the Wiki link. I was disappointed to not see this site. This is the girls getting themselves all covered up. The people inside the area made fun of the kids and hassled them for not knowing their prayers. It's probably a good thing I couldn't go in... I'd hate to have the kids see me rough-up anyone.

From Dome of the Rock, we made our way down the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where we spent a good deal of time. This is the place where, supposedly, the hill where Jesus was crucified and entombed has been dug away and this church was built over the site to commemorate all the important spots involved in the crucifixion, anointment, and entombment.
The history and ownership of the church itself is very interesting and the Wiki article on this place is definitely worth the read.

Just inside the doorway, this is the rock that commemorates where Jesus was anointed and wrapped up. There is a lot of contention over the validity of this spot, and I guess it's now more of a traditional place-marker than an historic one. To the right of the rock is a stair climb which represents his climb up the hill of Golgotha and at various points the rock on which the cross was set up is visible through glass. At the very top is an incredibly ornate altar and the rock is exposed under glass windows there. We did not go up there as we spent the majority of our time trying to get into the tomb instead.

But this is part of the rock of Golgotha, exposed on the lower level of the church. So I thought that was pretty good...

And underneath a huge, ornate dome, there lies, I mean, there for three days, lay Jesus.

The Greek Orthodox (I'm pretty sure anyway) own this part of the church, and so we had to cover our heads with scarves to enter. On this wooden structure built over the tomb there are shelves where people placed lighted bundles of 33 candles. 33 to represent Jesus' age when he died.

The dome from the inside.

We had to wait in line a LONG time, wrapped around the structure before we could go in. Here's people going inside--our turn is soon.

Inside the structure is two little rooms. This is the outer room and you have to bend down and go through that ornate marble doorway to get to the rock that commemorates the location of the tomb.

And this is the rock that people accept as Jesus' tomb. It's worn incredibly smooth from the billions of hands that have rubbed over it.

This is the altar above the rock. And that's all I had time for. They hustled us in and out very quickly. The kids were cute--they wanted to know if they were supposed to cross themselves before they went in and they conducted themselves with the requisite awe. Jesus is still an important prophet for Muslims.

Good shot of the doorway as I backed away.

After our day in Jerusalem we moved north of Tel Aviv to the gorgeous American International School for the MUN conference. The pic below is from even farther north, almost to Haifa. The woman I stayed with the last night really took good care of me and my kids and I shot this from her roof. In the distance is the huge Cesarea Aqueduct.

And below is the US Ambassador to Israel. This guys traveled with no less than 4 secret service dudes. He was gracious enough to come and speak to the students during the opening ceremonies of the conference.

I don't have the kids' parents' permission to post any pictures of them, so I won't. But we spent about three days at this school, joined by many schools from all over Israel--a great learning experience for our kids. While somethings went wrong for us on the trip, and we stayed in hostels while they are used to Hiltons, I have since overheard the kids talking to others about what a great experience they had and what an incredible impression Jerusalem made on them. Color me satisfied.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cross Country Festival

Carrie, our ski and climb buddy, has already posted to her blog about our interesting day last Sunday. You'll notice from her pictures, that I'm kind of blurry. That's the speed. So fast you can barely see me. I knew I was born for this stuff. Another 4 years and I'll be ready to represent the good ole USA (I'm an excellent sharpshooter as well).

We had a great time and appreciated being able to help raise awareness for the sport in Turkey. Consider us aware.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Things Fast Approaching

Several things are coming up that I'm excited about and I thought it a good time to share.

On Sunday we're participating in a cross country race. It's not a big sport in Turkey and the event is meant to give it a bit of exposure. Anyhoo, the whole thing is FREE, from the transport to and from the ski resort, lunch, booze, the ski race---everything is taken care of. I've never cross country skied before. Of course we've done plenty of touring on our teles, but I've never tried the skinny skies. I'm excited for the event!

Next week, I'm taking a group (mostly made up of my 9th graders) to Israel for a Model United Nations conference. I'm pretty stoked to go to Israel. I think the conflicts there are fascinating and we'll spend some time in Jerusalem. Expect a full report since after my five days, I'll surely be an expert on all things Israel/Palestine/Arab relations.

The weekend after I get back, we head out to Erzurum--way out in East Turkey, where the mountains are big, the snow is deep, the choppers are running, and all things are quite a deal more conservative. But it's the best skiing in Turkey and we are GOING!

April break is coming. We have a week off. We'd like to ski. We'll see what happens.
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