Monday, March 5, 2012

Shouting Stones

After getting back to Ramallah from Jaba, Jenin, I had to decide where to head next.

It was still pouring rain, my stomach was starting to ache, and I hadn't gotten any sleep the night before, because I'd stayed with a friend's family, and their toddler was up all night next to me, flailing and coughing. Poor baby. So at that point the only thing I could think of was taxi'ing to Souli's and taking a 1 or 2 hour nap. The kind of nap I used to take between early morning swim practice and Core class back at college, or between 8am Arabic and 11am history. This was going to be the best nap ever.

But by the time I arranged my evening, I only had 55 minutes to sleep. It was a blissful 55 minutes, even though I was preoccupied by thoughts of ordering business cards and sending photos for the website and why was everything happening so slowly and why wasn't I trying harder and damn these sheets are fuzzy.....

I hit my snooze button twice, and gave myself 8 minutes to dress and pack and get out the door.

Downstairs I hailed a taxi to the bus station, and in the wink of an eye I was on the bus to Jerusalem. It was rainy and miserable outside, and Qalandia was flooding. Fortunately, the soldiers didn't make us walk all the way to the big pedestrian checkpoint (the "chicken run"). We all filed out of the bus and went through the little pedestrian checkpoint. It was still miserable. There was a cover over us, but the rain was coming in sideways and it was freezing, and why didn't I have a jacket? When the green light went on I went through the revolving door, put my backpack and purse on the conveyer belt, and scanned my passport picture into the kiosk. The girl didn't make me show my visa, and I went back on the bus. It took another 40 minutes to get around the wall, through East Jerusalem and back to the Old City Damascus gate. I called my pastor and found his car waiting for me a block away. It was a big, spacious car, and four people were already in there...I was the last pick-up.

There were three girls my age, one from the States, one from Canada and one from Finland. We spent the thirty-minute ride talking about our work and our experience in Israel/Palestine. One girl was studying art at Hebrew U, and the girl from Finland was an intern for a bishop in Jerusalem. She was really overwhelmed at her second trip to Palestine, because her first tour had been organized by an Israeli Jewish group and completely left out the Palestinians (which is a pretty ridiculous omission since the Christians in Israel are Palestinians). But that's a common story. Her second experience here was actually with local Christians, so she felt like she was seeing a completely different place.

We got to Jeff and Julie's and bolted out of the car into their warm, lovely house. We were greeted by about 20 members of the congregation in the living room. I poured myself some orange juice and took a seat next to the girls who work for the Lutheran church. They're my age, from Portland, Iowa, etc...this whole atmosphere was making me feel right at home. Megan from Portland asked me if I knew this girl from Whitman College, and she happens to be in my sorority. Small world...small Northwest.

At that point I was starting to feel achey and nauseous, maybe from something I ate in Jaba, so I was looking forward to finishing up with the service and crashing at Fred and Gloria's. But it really surprised me. One of our readings for the night was a story from the Mount of Olives, where I was headed soon after.

As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen saying, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!" Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop." He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."

Gloria asked us, "Why would the stones shout? What does that mean, shouting stones?" Immediately I thought of throwing stones, and the image of the stone in Palestinian resistance. I didn't want to lay that on the table straight out, so I listened. People talked about a message that was so strong, it was bigger than humanity. It was a message that couldn't be stopped. I thought about a people's connection to their land, and if this connection was threatened, the land itself would rise up in protest.

The connection was so strong, and we were all thinking it, between that time and now. But no one said it out loud. I was reminded of the fine line we walk as foreign residents and international observers in this political mess. Were we doing all we could, or could we do more? I'd been staying with my friend from Britain the night before, and he told me had so much respect for the Christian Peacemaker teams, the ones who were out in the field, protecting Palestinians from soldiers and settlers just with their presence. He said, "I have a lot of time for people like that, they really embody the spirit of Jesus as a radical in his time."

We were all doing something, whether it was writing home about our lives, engaging with local communities, teaching kids, being advocates and leaders like Fred and's such a crazy reality for us to live in, knowing that we are walking through the Bible, Bethlehem, the Mount of Olives, Nazareth, Jericho...But for all the work we do, so many of the tourists who make it over here end up on tours that show them the places, and not the people. The Palestinian Christians, the ones who worship Jesus in the Holy Land, they are Palestinian Arabs, under occupation! What a stark contrast from that image of Bethlehem I carried with me last year, of that little ancient town on a hill, untouched by modern problems. But this is place we live in, and these are the people we live with, and they are a beautiful people. And now we are reading from the Bible in a living room in Bethlehem and talking about stones, and I smile a sad smile.

We sat there in silence for a while, watching the candles flicker, until Gloria closed out the conversation, reminding us to reflect on the theme until next week. Then Fred started us on a round of introductions, and I told everyone I was a volunteer in the Jordan Valley, and everyone was invited to visit the Al Aqaba guest house. Several people confirmed during our Soup Supper that they wanted to visit, so I took down a bunch of e-mail addresses.

My stomach was still upset, so I wasn't very hungry, but I dove into the spinach soup and bread and cheese anyway. Afterwards the girls and I started a little sing-a-long (begun with Megan strumming "Hero" by Enrique Iglesias on the guitar) with the worship booklet. I wasn't familiar with any but three of the songs, but the first song was from Holden Village in Washington State, where my parents met.

After we were all sung out, Fred and Gloria started the train out the door, and we hopped in the van and drove back to Jerusalem in absolutely terrible fog. I talked to Meghan about the possibility of doing an art project, like a mural in Al Aqaba. She said she like to come visit, and spread the word in her program. At the Rothberg International School at Hebrew U, a lot of her classmates were Birthright alums who returned to study, so the idea of going up to a Palestinian village would be a pretty unique opportunity to promote.

Fred and Gloria and I got back to the Mount of Olives, and it was pouring down rain as we pulled into the Lutheran World Federation Campus. We ran into the house and I settled down into their guest room, so excited for a good night's sleep. Gloria mixed me up some TheraFlu before she and Fred sat down with their laptops and a glass of wine in the living room. We all worked for a little bit, checked up on the headlines, Gloria referred me to an event next week, the Sabeel Study Circle with Rev. Stephen Sizer, called "Seven Biblical Answers to Popular Zionist Assumptions." I might just check this out.

The storm was raging through the olive trees all night, while something similar was happening in my stomach, but in spite of that I slept well and woke up to a hot shower and ginger tea and toast.