I take this moment to say thank you. Thank you for welcoming me into your places of work, worship, and education. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life for this brief period of time.
I recognize that while four months was for me a full journey, it was but a few short moments in your life. To have volunteers and co-workers come and go so frequently, to have had engaged and let go so many times must be challenging.
I knew it would be impossible to come to know you fully. As one who prefers depth of connection over light relationships, I engaged you to the best of my ability. In these final three weeks I was given opportunity to recognize how many more friendships could unfold. I hope to return soon, to pick up where we left off.
In my work with you, I took on a bit more than I was able to handle, wanting to engage in and learn about your complex home. My time behind the computer was greater than that in drinking tea, but I will do my best to share your stories as I continue to roam.
I hope to return soon, Ishallah.
In early November, I visited a climbing gym in West Jerusalem for the second time. Again, it was a bit of an endeavour to find my way there, even with my friend Lukas who is more well versed in the mass transit system in that area.
In late September I had stood waiting at a bus station on Kind David Street for over an hour, asking several people which bus arrived to the Jerusalem Mall or Teddy Stadium. I found the recommendations were mostly countered by the next person, “No, no. That won’t work. The buses have all changed after the light rail. Now you must take …” and so I waited for that bus too, but ultimately, it would never come. In the end, it was the #17 (which had come and gone a dozen times) which wound its way through neighbourhoods and down narrow residential streets to finally arrive near the climbing gym, some estimated fifteen kilometers from the Old City. This time, the #17 changed routes and it was the #18 we needed instead.
As Lukas later discovered, much simpler and faster to just ride a bicycle.
Who cut the rope?
Following two and a half hours bouldering, it felt good to have my fingers ache and shoulders strain at the weight my body imposed beneath the roof or on an extended overhang. Ultimately, I did well, and am pleased by my ability to come back after such an extended break. However, I was quickly reminded that after six weeks with only limited upper body workout (yoga, pull-ups on the door jam in my apartment), my days of climbing strong are behind me with hope for a renewed sense of physique in the not too distant future.
As we prepared to leave the gym, I engaged the woman at the counter in a conversation about outdoor climbing. The most local, recommended crag was a good one hour from Jerusalem by car. I inquired as to climbing in the valley between the southeast corner of the Old City and the Cinematheque.
“Where?” she responded.
I added “The green space, with trails for walking … just below the Cinemateque.”
“Ah. Yes. I know this place. I have climbed there.”
“Oh? Good. There is some bouldering, I think.”
“No, it’s not good for this. The rock is too slippery. So many people have climbed there and it is now too …
“Yes, limestone is like this. Both sharp edges and smooth faces. But it is close to where I work, just a ten minutes walk. I am thinking to purchase a used crash pad—” (she cut me off)
“It is not a good place to climb. They cut your ropes.”
I was caught off guard, “Sorry, but who cuts your ropes?” as this is taboo in the climbing world.
“The Arabs. They cut your ropes.”
“When? If you leave them overnight?”
“No. While you are climbing. They cut them.”
I pictured someone near the top of a climb, suddenly free-falling only land on her back. But that just didn’t sound right, not in this particular location. With an obvious tone of disbelief I responded in a factual progression, “They cut them. While you are climbing. Really?”
“Arabs. Why would they do this?”
“I don’t know. They don’t like us climbing there I guess.” She returned her stare to the keyboard at her fingers.
It is possible, of course, for climbers all over the world have had bolts cut or ropes stolen by locals who either recycle or resell the materials, or simply do not like climbers on their land. But to cut a rope while someone is climbing is unheard of.
I continued, “This doesn’t make sense. The wall is only six, maybe seven meters tall. At the top is a three to four meters stone wall which sits right at the edge. There isn’t even a place to stand. To cut the rope, while you are climbing, well, the person cutting would also be on a rope, just hanging there, waiting. You would see this person before you even left the ground!”
She saw my logic and produced an uncomfortable smile, “Well, it has never happened to me. I have climbed there several times. But I have heard this story from friends.”
I shook my head and smiled back, “And your friends are ok, right?”
“It seems to me people like to tell stories.”
She continued, “Well, anyway, the rock is not so good for climbing. There is better climbing to the North, where the land is higher and the rock is better quality.”
She proceeded to tell me the name of two places I had read about on-line.
“Yes. I hope to go there soon, maybe this weekend. Thank you.”
Monte Python’s Flying Sheep
Many years ago, a business associate stated he had never and will never leave the U.S. for fear of being killed, believing the rest of the world despises Americans for the freedom they have and do stand for. More recently, a Jordanian manager at Avis car rental in Aqaba was concerned for his pending holiday in Mexico, worrying he might be robbed. A German exchange student in Wisconsin told me Americans never travel abroad and eat only white bread. A Polish man in Bangkok insisted all Americans own a house on wheels. I shook my head but he was completely confident for he had seen it on television. I learned he referred the U.S. trend in the early ’90s to living in RVs. He had extrapolated several thousand Snowbirds to a nation of a few hundred million fifth-wheels.
After hiking from a Bedouin Village outside of Taybeh, Palestine, down through a beautiful Wadi and up again to an Israeli settlement to hitch a ride back to Jerusalem (which is a great way to experience both sides of the situation in one day) we were warned by a woman, “You went walking down there? You should be careful, there are Arabs with sheep!”
I do not intend to belittle the very real pain suffered on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict nor the lives lost. But in that moment, the Monte Python “Search for the Holy Grail” scene in which the killer rabbit attacks the knight came to mind. Otherwise docile, grazing sheep on ancient hillsides suddenly leap through the air to attack the unwary hiker. I nearly laughed but found just enough composure to assure her we were quite unharmed, and to her dismay, that combined, our group spoke ample Arabic to get by.
We tell stories to give warning, to educate, and to pass on tradition. We also tell stories to justify our own assumptions and fears, to justify our actions.
I recall clearly in my childhood the water colour depictions of the Biblical battles in which King David drove out the idol worshipers, the evil people whom God would destroy. Depicted as hunch-backed and filthy, clothes torn, with thick, bushy brows, they could have been mistaken for Neanderthals rather than the people of Canaan (Oddly enough, Neanderthals might have been rather attractive while modern archeology gives evidence for the people of Canaan to be the ancestors of the Israelites.)
In my child’s mind, this was easy to believe. I yet recall the sensation of grandeur, the opening scene of an epic film when the bad guys prepare to do really bad things even when we know the good guys will win in the end. Why would God smite an entire nation unless they were all evil? (Which begs the definition of “evil” but I will save this for another post at another time).
All creation stories, all recollections of battles in both poem and prose, the recounting of love gained and love lost are shared in this exaggerated manner. This is imperative for any story oral, written, or in film to survive the constant transition of cultural evolution. If a story is to live for two thousand years or more, it must be both relatively simple in concept and powerful in form.
If we were to tell life as it really is, if we embrace the truth of the people we have deemed our enemies, then we could not possibly bear arms against them for only in that place where we define them as something less than ourselves, even sub-human are we able to justify our actions against them.
The world defined in historic times was the distance one could walk in one, two, or a half dozen days. Those who wandered in the desert for weeks, months, even for forty years moved the distance now traveled by car in but one day, at most.
Today, one would hope that given the ease of transportation and the simplicity of intercontinental communication, these barriers to personal experience and knowledge would dissolve with time. Yet, more than one hundred years after the invention of the telephone, car, and air plane, we remain relatively ignorant beyond a distance not greater than that which defined the Biblical world.
Yes, we are aware within minutes, at most an hour of a hurricane which strikes a distant coast line or an explosion on a public transit system. We can repeat facts and figures and sound bytes from the news cast, but we remain disconnected from those who are affected.
No matter how much data we do digest, no matter how many news articles we read, nothing will ever replace face-to-face conversation, the experience of being in the cities and shops and places of worship, in the schools and homes of those we desire to know.
This is the only way we can come to understand another culture. This is the only way we can truly replace our innate desire to categorize and learn to refer to them as one of us.
There was a time not long ago, less than two decades perhaps, in which we looked to the future of a digitally interconnected species, worldwide. We believed then that famine, war, and daily strife would all but be eliminated, information the saving grace of the human race.
With satellite imagery we could greatly increase global crop yield and with internet-based communication, improve distribution. With real-time digital photography rogue military regimes could no longer get away with ethnic cleansing for the world would be aware, instantly, and take action to make it stop. Somehow, we believed, our cell phones would make us more connected, as individuals, towns, and nations.
Yet we now know things have simply not worked out as we had hoped.
I don’t need to quote the facts, for that is the heart of the issue. We simply receive too much information and for the overwhelming processing of it all, we filter and we turn away. Or we shut down.
If each of us was wet-wired, Matrix-style, to a massive computer which provided all the information we desired, real-time video feeds of every catastrophe and military invasion and non-wartime action worldwide, they would continue. In fact, they do.
It’s not for lack of compassion nor a desire to do the right thing, but the reality that it simply takes too much energy, too much time, too much empathy to open ourselves to the quagmire that unfolds when we learn that no human conflict on any scale is simple in its form nor easy to resolve.
Too much information is available to us. Too much information is required to truly engage and understand. Instead, we pick a side given the little we do know, and defend our position because we struggle to simply say, “I don’t know.”
The Archaeological Site Beneath the Church of the Redeemer, Old City, Jerusalem
In my time here in Jerusalem, I had the great pleasure of working with the German Protestant Institute of Archeology (GPIA), research unit for the German Archaeological Institute (DEI) to produce a short, educational-promotional film about their work beneath the Church of the Redeemer in the Old City, Jerusalem.
Built on initiative of the German Emperor Wilhelm II between 1893 and 1898 on the ruins of the crusaders’ church St. Maria Latina, construction of the Church of the Redeemer exposed a wall which is potentially the famous “Second Wall” (according to Josephus Flavius).
In the 1970s the German Protestant Institut of Archaeology conducted a four-year excavation beneath the church led by Ute Wagner-Lux. This received international attention at that time. In 2009, in cooperation with the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam, students of Architecture and Urban Design created a concept for the tour through the excavation.
Opened to the public in December 2012, this project now aims to serve a better understanding between cultures and religions by developing a clearer understanding of history. Beneath the Church of the Redeemer on Muristan Street in the Christian Quarter of the Old City Jerusalem, visitors may enjoy both a guided tour of the archaeological site and the highly informative and beautifully developed museum.
To learn more, visit www.elcjhl.org
Xenophobia builds boundaries. Empathy knocks them down.
Even if we desire to be in touch with every tragedy on the planet, we cannot, not even with all that happens in our own neighborhood, let alone the unfolding of events overseas.
As some point, whether case by case or total volume, we disconnect and fall back to categories as reference points for who receives our attention and who does not, for whom we act to support and protect, and for whom we ignore or even cast aside.
We all know, at some level, that all humans everywhere are very similar. We all have good and bad ones too. We laugh, we cry, we argue and we make up. We wake groggy and are eager to fall to sleep. There are Muslims who fail to pray five times a year let alone five times a day and Christians who never go to church. There are Buddhists who kill, religious leaders who do not practice what they preach and vegetarians who occasionally eat meat. There are professional athletes who use performance enhancing drugs and doctors who smoke. There are those who suffer from lactose intolerance who indulge in ice cream knowing the outcome will quite painful.
In every culture, in every country, on every continent there are people just like you and there are people just like me.
How do we embrace our shared like-ness given that we cannot possibly know each one at an intimate level?
We must desire to let go of our stereotypes and our fear. We must embrace the belief that everyone deserves that which we share, or even better. We must recognize that nations are not evil, rather it is individuals who commit acts which cause pain. To do so is very, very challenging for it requires tremendous self-awareness amidst a driving desire to lump groups of people into simple categories. To do so is dangerous, for it opens us to empathetic pain.
If you ask to what I am referring, consider how anyone in the U.S. can justify the death of no less than 150,000 human beings (by some counts more than 1,000,000 in total), mostly civilian, for the U.S. lead ten years war in Afghanistan and Iraq in retaliation for the death of 3,000? The only way, the only way anyone cannot cry, sob, even vomit at the very thought of this bloodshed is to disable that part of our selves which would otherwise say “this person is just like me” and I cannot justify their death.
Each of us can choose to not propagate misinformation which helps ease our own pain while supporting unfounded statements which ease the burden of a nation. The next time you find yourself categorizing someone, ask why? Then look for that place which allows you to find the familiar instead. It is the greatest give you can give someone you may never meet.
I was again walking back from the Old City to Mount of Olives, my camera gear, notebook, some fruit and water bottle all in my backpack. Four kids, ages I believe eight to ten were playing with yo-yos. Each had one tied to his finger, practicing various tricks. They were quite good, actually, and I could not help but stop to watch.
One of them looked over and saw me. I became the center of attention as I introduced myself. They did the same in turn. I set my backpack on the stone wall and removed my camera. As kids do, they got excited and wanted to show off for the video.
“Where you from?”
“‘merica,” I responded.
“You know Canada?”
“Good. Good. Canada here, ” pointing above his hand, “What here?” pointing to the side. “What here?”
“I don’t understand. Where?”
“Here! Here! Canada here. America here. What here?” gesturing again.
“Oh! The ocean?” I responded.
“No. No. What place?”
“Uh … Not ocean,” trying to picture in my head what he was asking, “Oh! California?”
“Yes! California! My uncle, he was in California!”
“Ah! Very good.”
One of the boys said, “You have yo-yo?”
“No,” I replied.
“Ayowah! Qadesh? How much?”
“Ten shekels,” he replied. This did not surprise me. Everything from bread to pastries to fruit to juice is ten shekels. It’s an easy number for both tourists and vendors. I gave him a coin. He jumped the wall and ran into the convenience store just across from where we were standing. He came back in less than a minute with a really nice, shiny yellow yo-yo. I was really excited, as I had not played with one for a long time.
He assembled it for me, and even tied the slip knot in the end. He then held my hand up to make certain it fit. I wound it up, gave it a whirl, and on my first go it came right back, snapping quickly into the palm of my hand.
In a matter of two more tries I had a horizontal fling working and then with some practice, the trick where you create a triangle and the yo-yo swings in and out of the temporary shape made of string.
“My first time!” The boys clapped and wanted to show me more.
I set my yo-yo down and filmed for another few minutes. The same boy then stopped. While he was winding the string around his toy, he asked, “You Muslim?”
He seemed a little worried by this and looked at the others.
“You like Muslim?”
“Yes. Of course. I like Muslims, Christians, and Jews.”
“Oh!?” he was surprised, but pleased, “That’s good. Good!”
The smallest of the boys was really excited now and spun round to join the conversation, taking his turn to test me, “You love god?”
“Yes,” I said smiling.
“You know God’s name?”
“Yes! Allah! Wow!” He looked around at the others.
Then he put me to the real test, “Say ‘Inshallah’ ” (God willing)
I repeated, intentionally emphasizing the second syllable instead of the first as he had, “Inshallah!”
Two of the four boys clapped as all four were quite pleased, “Inshallah! Good!”
We played with the yo-yos a bit more, practicing new tricks. A few cars zoomed by, as they do at night, sometimes drag racing on both sides of the street, up or down hill. One car drove slowly by, friends or relatives of the boys waving out the window calling to them.
A bit later, the more mature of the boys, whose command of English was better said, “You know nigger?”
I was caught off guard.
“Nigger. In America, my father don’t like them. He hates ni—”
I cut him off, “What?” I was not certain I heard him correctly, “Wait, wait. Hey. Don’t use that word. It’s not good.”
“Why? He say they all–”
“Stop. Don’t say it again. African-American. Or just American, ok?”
He continued, but a bit confused by my reaction, “My father say they … they not good. In California they—”
The other boys had stopped playing with their yo-yos and were listening, intent on the conversation, “Listen,” I said, “If I meet one Palestinian who, who is mean to me, or breaks my camera, are all Palestinians bad?”
He laughed, but got it immediately, “No. No.” and shook his head, looking at the ground between his feet.
“Ok. Your father? He meets one bad man. Doesn’t matter if black or white, African or Chinese or German. Does this mean they are all this way? Are all Palestinians the same? Is that possible?”
“No … ” his lights were coming on inside. I could see he was processing, “Oh!” He looked up again and smiled. Perhaps for the first time he was seeing things with that other-than-me point of view. “Ok. Ok. No more ‘nigger’. African or American, ok?”
“Right. American. Like Palestinian.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
This seemed to be something he had wanted to hear as it really struck a cord in him. It made sense. He was hungry for connection, The next half hour was spent posing for the camera, trying more difficult tricks, and sharing contact information in order that they could find me on Facebook. I tore a piece of paper from my notebook (which I take with me everywhere for just such an occasion) and printed my name four times, one for each.
As we finally prepared to say goodnight, my new yo-yo in hand, tied tight around my middle finger, the oldest boy said, “You, you are my best friend. We love you. Ok? Best friend. We write to you on Facebook tonight! Bye!”
They must have asked me a half dozen times if I had internet on my phone, which I did not, and then when I would be on-line so they could find me. To date, now four days later I have not heard from any of them. I am sad, to be honest, as I am excited to show them the video.
I just awoke from a much needed mid-morning to mid-afternoon sleep. Not a nap, for I seldom enjoy those, but a true sleep. Perhaps the best since I have arrived to East Jerusalem. Last night I was editing ’till 2AM and then walked to the office in the Old City to upload a film. At 4AM I caught a taxi with two volunteers for EAPPI in order to shadow them at the Kalandia checkpoint at the boundary of the West Bank.
Back to my apartment at 8:30, ate breakfast, and despite my best efforts, found sleep pulling at me.
What called me from my slumber was the wonderful wind driven rain pounding on my windows. I realized then that for me, changes in the seasons, both in temperature and length of day are an important part of my feeling settled in this world. I look back to March of 2008 and a blog entry Counting raindrops in Tokyo. I was so completely content to just sit in my hotel room, the window open to the street far below, and allow the mist to fill the room.
Living here has for me been a challenge, a true test of my ability to find internal peace amidst a nearly continuous onslaught of horns, sirens, music, fireworks (from Palestinian weddings) and road noise. It has been a study in my minimal need for exercise and at the same time, a study in sound and how it affects me. My every-other-weekend ventures to the Dead Sea, highlands of the North past the Sea of Galilee, and hiking in the West Bank with my friend Lukas have been absolutely necessary to maintain any semblance of balance.
I am envious of people who are grounded and content in the city. But I would never want to feel so comfortable here that weekend adventures on the trails were no longer needed.
This short, promotional film showcases construction of the sanctuary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan & the Holy Land (ELCJHL) at the Baptismal Site at the River Jordan, just one hour west of Amman.
According to UNESCO World Heritage “… the Jordanian Department of Antiquities has systematically surveyed and partially’ excavated a series of ancient sites that collectively represent one of the most important archaeological discoveries in modem Jordan — the settlement and region of Bethany (or Beth abra), where John the Baptist lived and baptized. The Bethany area sites formed part of the early Christian pilgrimage route between Jerusalem, the Jordan River, and Mt. Nebo.”
Shot on-site in four and a half hours with roughly twenty six hours in editing, this showcases the potential of a run-n-gun production assembled on a moment’s notice.
In favour: 138 | Oppose: 9 | Abstain: 41