Greetings min Beit Lahem!
Here are some pics you can look at for the time being:
We went to Nablus and Ramallah last weekend. While in Nablus, we met with the Nablus Association, which is an organization working to support Palestinians on an economic level. They have several projects currently under way including a scholarship program that provides housing for Palestinian students. It was one of many presentations that we attended on this trip, all of which were great, but to be honest they have all kind of blended together. Maybe one of the others can tell you more. On a more tourist-y level, we visited the olive oil soap factory and a turkish bath house. For men. They let us walk through and see some guy being lathered up (he had shorts on). It was interesting to say the least. We were also given the amazing opportunity to eat some of the city's famous Knaarfa. I am not certain as to what Knaarfa is exactly, but I know that it had melted cheese in it, and it tasted like Cap'n Crunch. Delicious. Another stop in Nablus was Jacob's Well where Jesus had his interaction with the Samaritan woman. We were able to see the actual well that they say is where Jesus met the woman, and, if we wanted to, we could purchase some of the water. J bought some. My overall reaction to Nablus was that it was big and dirty.
On our way out of Nablus, we stopped by a refugee camp. I dont remember the name, but I think it was the smallest one in all of the West Bank at about 2,000 displaced human beings. We were given a quick tour and allowed to see a few graves of people who died in the second Intifada. Altogether, it was a sad experience. I wish that every person in the world would visit a camp like the one we saw. I think if people were to see the conditions that these refugees are forced to live in, the conditions their children are forced to live in, it would have a much more profound effect on them, and it may even motivate them to actually do something to help.
Also outside of Nablus, we were able to stop by Mt. Gerizim, the home of half of the living Samaritan community. We were given a talk by the priest about the history of the Samaritan community and the how their community operates. It was definitely interesting. I will let someone else who is a bit more careful with their words tell about it, though.
Ramallah was also big and dirty, but I had a lot more fun there. We arrived in the evening and ate dinner at our hotels. We had to split up because the original hotel made a mistake and didnt have enough room for everyone. Luckily the four of us ended up in the other hotel, which turned out to be a lot nicer, and had a better breakfast. Dinner was great. It was buffet style, actually, which I found amusing. I wonder if that is how they always do it, or if they did that specifically for us Americans? After dinner we went downtown. The first thing we saw was a break-dancing traffic cop. Never thought we would see such a thing here. The whole group split up and went either to ice cream or to a restaurant. L,K, and I (C) ended up at a restaurant with some other kids from the program where there were a bunch of guys watching the U.S.-Egypt soccer game.Eventually, J ended up where we were because the men's club that our tour guide was going to take him and some other guys to was full. It may have just been me, but I felt like everyone was looking at us with a little maliciously. I wondered if they knew that we didnt care about the game. While we were sitting there, our guide told us to start speaking french or spanish so that people didnt think we were American. He was joking of course. The people in Ramallah were extremely nice. In fact, everyone has been. I have yet to meet someone that hasn't been over-the-top nice. It's incredible.
The next day, we met with several organizations. The first meeting was with a Palestinian lawyer who has been working on fighting human-rights abuses in Israeli prisons. Her presentation was depressing. They all were. Its heart breaking to hear the things that happen to these people on a daily basis. It was encouraging, however, to hear that this lawyer has been fighting against the injustices that Palestinians endure while in Israeli prisons. Her organization is called Adameer.(adammer.info I think) Check it out. After that, we went to a presentation by Stop The Wall. Amazing. The presentation laid out the big-picture plan for the separation wall that the Israelis are building. It is incredible and a bit scary to hear how they are getting away with what they are doing. I will not take the time to explain everything because I will not do it justice. However, if anyone is intersted in seeing the presentation, go to this link http://www.stopthewall.org/downloads/ppp/Eco-ppt-EN-06-09.ppt. After hearing these presentations, the PSE leaders felt like we needed to take the edge off so we went to the Taybeh brewery. Taybeh is the only micro-brewery in the entire Middle East and it is Palestinian owned and operated. The tour was quick (the brewery is about half the size of larson hall, if not smaller) and informative. They allowed us to try a sample of their product, which the four of us declined. Not. It was quite tasty! Unfortunately, they do not sell it in the U.S. yet because of the whole occupation thing. If they were to try and sell it in the U.S. it could take up to three months (or some ridiculous amount of time) to make it through customs, which, since they dont use any preservatives, would be a problem because the beer has a shelf life of about six months to a year (depending on who you ask). Therefore, if they were to try and ship it to the U.S. it would probably expire rather quickly once it reached its destination, and no one would want to drink it. It's quite a tragic story.
We started our volunteer positions on Tuesday. I am working at House of Hope. So is K. H.o.H. is pretty much a school/boarding school disabled people (mainly kids). I was kind of nervous to work there because I was worried I wouldnt have the patience. Nonetheless, I was prepared for it. When we got there, we found out that the kids were on summer break, and therefore not at H.o.H. K and I were there to help them with random maintenance tasks that they didnt have time to complete during the year. For the last two days, I have been removing paint from a hand-rail with a flame thrower. So awesome. K is currently covered with the oil-based paint that she has been using to paint the same hand railing after C blow-torches it. At first, I was kind of struggling with the idea of just doing maintenance. I had this idea that I was coming here to do something profound, but I have come to realize that maybe this is exactly where I am supposed to be because it will show me that changing the world doesnt always happen in big dramatic ways. I hope that I can come to grips with that.
JS's volunteer placement is great. He is working with an American named Jason who has been here for five years and has raised a family here. Jason is a strong Evangelical believer from Arkansas and is supported by a church back home. He and some other American volunteers run a house church in English here and I plan to go to some of them. There is also a church group here from Michigan. It is encouraging that the senior pastor's daughter is here. JS asked her what her church thought about the issue and she said that her church's stance was to stay out of politics, they view it as helping Palestinian Christians. Whatever they call it, we hope they bring the experience home and let people know what is happening here. It's not a political issue, it's about justice, helping the oppressed, and loving people, we hope churches will see this and some will stand up. JS is helping build a climbing wall in a park next to an abandoned Israeli military base. The organization Jason works for tries to develop leaders among the Palestinian youth through camps, lectures, and leadership among younger Palestinians in the hopes of developing a strong generation of leaders (especially since many community leaders/fathers are arrested as Israelis are trying to weaken the resistance against the occupation).
L is loving her volunteer placement as well. She is working about 15-20 minutes from Bethlehem in the village of Alwalajah, with an organization called the Ansar Center, which is actually partially funded by World Vision. The Ansar Center provides much needed recreational and educational activities, leads demonstrations against the construction of the wall (which is planned to completely surround the village with only one exit/entry point), advocates for families who have had their houses demolished by the Israeli government, and supports the primary school (grades 1-9) in the village. L spent the last week touring the village, particularly the old school buildings and the one currently under construction), and talking with village residents. Her task for the Ansar Center is to write descriptions in English of all the Center's activities that will be posted on the Center's website, which is being constructed by some of the other volunteers. Overall, L is falling in love with the people of Alwalajah and thoroughly enjoying her exploration of their way of life, though she has been a bit overwhelmed and outraged by the weight of the injustices committed against the community.
Overall, everything has been amazing! The food, the people, the weather (once the sun goes down a little bit), the sight-seeing, and the host families have all been so amazing. We hope that every other Deputee is having the same experience that we are. (Except you Kenya. Slackers. :) ) We are excited that we still have so much time here, but we all miss our families and friends dearly. We hope everyone is well and that you enjoy reading our blog. Too da loo!