Monday, April 18, 2011

Easter in Jerusalem: a reflection

I know it has been long months since I have written here-my hope is that will change soon- My plan is to still to reflect on themes, stories, and thoughts of what I have seen in my travels.

For those few who read this: yes, you can remind me to be consistent about it-my hope is to post something once a month-you can all hold me to that.

Anyways, A year ago during this Easter week I was in Jerusalem on my semester abroad. I know that if you look back in this blog you may see my previous thoughts about my time there. As I think back on that week I remember a poem I wrote in reflection of my observations of the city and the significance of the week. In thinking of last year’s Easter and in preparing for this one I want to share it with those who read this:

The Holy City

Salaama to Shalom
Shessa to incense,
99 names to cross-adorned rosaries
niqab to prayer shawls,
flags of all variety.
Domes and chapel bells
mosques and calls to prayer,
market streets with winding corridors.

Gallabayas and black skirts
hats and hoods
monks and priests:
all wandering the streets.
Pilgrims in the name:
of Allah gracious and merciful
of YHWH-just, loving, and righteous
of Christ the human Word and Light.

Living out religion,
seeking the heart of it.
Reading the words of prophets,
of a messiah to come,
or already come to return.

The heart of humanities kingdom:
one and central to world faith.
Intermingled and intertwined with the
controversial and political,
opinion and demonstration,
contrast and tension.

Crosses, stars, moons
languages conjoining; intermingled
from ancient dialects of Aramaic; Semitic.

All to stand where the prophet was carried in a dream.
To wail at the site of the torn down temple of the one God.
To walk in the tortured path of Christ down the Via de la Rosa.
To see, To hear: the living proof of faith.

This is where the spiritual meets the physical:
miracles and signs and wonders,
the unseen realm:
sacred and holy
pictures of ancient glory,

and hopes for future peace.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Syrain Titanic

We wound through the covered and open passageways of Damascus’s bazaar and open air markets on coble stone paths dodging the many people, carts, and vehicles on the narrow pathway. As we hurried through we strived to keep sight of one another as we rushed late to our appointment at the Syrian Bathhouse. Finally we arrived at a dark corner under a small yellow and white awning. We lined up against the wall staying out of the traffic as we waited to step back in time and in customs into the women’s bathhouse. Adjusting our lungs to the dense humid air we were greeted by the store owner- a lean and petite women with long black hair loosely thrown up with a clip. Her dark eyes and high cheek bones gave her a beautiful but stern look. As we came down the concrete stairs we saw her leaning with her elbows on the tea serving counter near the cash register in a small clean white tank top. She was obviously a hard working businesswomen. She welcomed us loudly and began her instructions. As we filed in we took in the place. After, passing through the narrow and crowded streets it took a moment to adjust to the space opening up before us: a high domed ceiling with small circular holes the size of bottle cans letting in colorful shafts of natural light that looked like spotlight rays in the steam. They shown down on a concrete fountain with plants with a small pool below. We walked across the tile floor and we were informed to place our belonging in cupboards underneath the bench seating that went around more than half of the square room. We each were given a towel, soap, and a loofa. The local women looked on with amusement seeing 15 young women with such pale skin and hair file through their bathhouse. With the light falling of bare feet we all went through small salon style swinging doors to the sauna room. We each took turns sharing the small space full of dense heat. The store owner was always there directing traffic and telling us all how much time each we had and in which order to do things- sauna rinse-wash --rinse–scrub-rinse. In small groups we filed from the sauna room into the much larger bathing room.

But the best moment was after most of us had had more than our share of water and were waiting for everyone to be finished. A small group of us sat in the Sauna room watching this store owner help customers. In a lull the store owner explained that these high domed ceilings had great acoustics and her and several of the other Syrian women began to demonstrate-singing quite beautifully. We were lost in the music-and probably light headed from the steam when suddenly the music stopped. After a few stares and gesture we began to realize it was our turn to contribute. So we began to sing and humm to the tunes of famous Arab songs we had heard often on the radio in taxis or been taught in Arabic class. When the Syrian women could understand a piece of the famous melody they would join in and provide the words as we mumbled and hummed along. This soon turned into a full on sign along. We were soon asked to share music from our country with these Syrian women. Unsure of what all of us would know-or could feel was appropriate our RA mentioned the love song from Titanic. Now I am no Celine Dion fan, nor a fan of Titanic or really of much cheesy over done on the radio love songs. But I had to agree-this was one song that all of us knew and we had no problem sharing with our Syrian friends. So we boisterously began to sing “Every night in my dreams. . . “ and as we sang the stern face of the store owner who by now had gotten distracted by work began to change. She stopped what she was doing and her eyes lit up as acknowledgment crossed her face. She began to humm the melody mumbling words as we did to the Arab songs until she was lost in the music and memory of the love story. As the song continued and became more dramatic so did our singing and in came hand motions and dramatic poses. Our over-dramatization had an effect on the Syrian store owner who began to smile and as she sang mumbling the words along. Then to our surprise she began to dance-with arms swinging wide like ballet and with large sweeping movements turning and spinning barefoot on the moist floor. The light from the can sized holes in the ceiling suddenly were spotlights shinning down on the small women who glistened with sweat from the moisture the light from the wet floor also reflecting back on her face. We, the audience to this, were shock and surprise by the very sudden change in demeanor of this hardened workingwomen. Yet we still completed the song to the best of our memory of it. We were met by smiles and applause, which we then returned for the interpretive dance. There was laughter and smiles all around.

Music was the connector between cultures. We then dried off and collected our belongings, heading back through the saloon doors where we then sat and had steaming hot sweet tea. We sat relaxed and watched as the store owner went back to her busy work inviting and preparing things for new customers and instructing workers and guests alike. We left and wound back through the same cobble stone path we had hurried down before. The shops had closed and it was almost sunset. As we walked much slower back through the market we caught each other humming along to the voice of Celine Dion alongside our Syrian friends to our own version of the Syrian Titanic love song.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Philippines: The Youth Rally

I know I left you all hanging for too long. So here it is:

We rattled and jumped along the bumpy poorly paved streets holding onto our unbolted benches crammed in the back of the church-owned Jeepnie. We stopped at huts, shacks, and houses fitting more and more youth into the over packed vehicle. We were gathering young Filipinos from all over the city and outskirts of Lapu-Lapu for a Youth Rally downtown. We reached the covered concrete basketball court and all piled out of the backside of the old army vehicle grateful we could breath again. As we all looked up we could see young people arriving from all over the city:

The youth from the dumpsite village came crammed in a similar Jeepnie tighter than we had packed in ours. The city youth came on foot in groups or on colorful trykes honking as they came down the road.
We all walked into the outdoor auditorium and faced the plastic chairs neatly lined for the event. On the stage: sound equipment and band instruments ready to be used.

As we all sat down the divide became clear:
On the right the city and suburb youth sat in their bright colored clothes, white powdered and pale faces, oiled and shinned black hair, with book bags, flip flops, hats or barrettes in their air.

To the left the outcasts: the dumpsite youth in their faded thin shirts contrasted by their dark complexions and short frizzed hair. Having nothing to bring with them, they wear dirt covered and duck taped plastic flip-flops no accessories to boast.
The two sides dared not look at each other. They dared not speak across river that was the aisle separating their chairs.

The City folk with brightness in their eyes would with caution dare to take a peek and ‘the others”. “
The “Others” feeling uncomfortable in this concrete city cage were out of their league.
They were out of their world, their slang language, gangs, and rough behavior. Squirming in their seats afraid to look up to see the curious stares or glares of the city side.

I sat next to a young Filipina girl wearing a white shirt and purple clips in her hair on the city folk side. Other students sat on the left. The rally began and we sang Filipino worship songs all together. Although we were one in voice the social divide was great, staring us in the face. Awkwardness in the air.

After worship ended and everyone settled into their previous stances, and the same glances, our trip leader took the mic and took up a challenge. He called on the young Filipino people to help devote themselves to changing the poverty and oppression in their country. Like Moses when he was called to lead his oppressed people that they will have God’s help to bring this change.

Then he pointed out the elephant in the room: The dumpsite people were segregated from the city and suburb youth. To this separation he made it clear: we are all made equal in Christ –and that all Filipinos needed to work together to bring hope to their country. With this we prayed God would call these Filipino young people to reach their own -to instill hope in their hearts.

After such a sober event silence filled the building. Until it was announced that it was time for the youth groups to present their songs, dramas, and human videos. Each youth group did their song and dance, which was followed by clapping and smiles.
But the Dumpsite youth group was by far the most popular. As I watched I realized I had seen this before-they had practiced in their tin roofed church on the outskirts of their village everyday since we had begun visiting them. They wanted to make an impression, to prove themselves,and they did. In these young Filipinos moves you could see the truth of emotion and meaning.

In this interaction- a small shift occurred in the looks and attitudes of the city youth sitting and watching in their chairs. A change-less nervous glances- and then encouraged clapping for their performance. These poor young Filipinos walked back to their chairs with smiles on their faces.

It all ended in prayer. As we crossed the aisles grabbing one another’s hands-the river gap of the aisle was breached -hesitantly. It lasted only a moment but there was a hint of the hope. A joining of young Filipino Christians together encouraged to bring hope to their country.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Setting the Scene: The Philippines

From Kingdom without borders by Miriam Adeney:
“The sun goes down in the blink of an eye in the tropics, but the evenings stretch out wonderfully. People amble, gratefully inhaling the night breeze. Friends laugh, families meander companionably, couples nuzzle. Vendors, alert and awake, cater to everyone’s desires. In upscale places like The Fort or the Mall of Asia or the Podium, stylish people flock to coffee shops and bars.
Yet not far away, cardboard shacks hover on the banks of fetid canals thick with unspeakable garbage. The night breeze and the family and friends and vendors are here too, but the options are limited and the milieu squalid.” (Adeney, 13-14)

This is the Philippines. Small Islands known for their big cities with apartments of concrete and tin roofed shacks. Tropical foliage, mango trees, palms, and flowers. The crowded streets full of bikes, trykes, food carts, jeepnies, and people in flip flops wearing thin clothing. White powdered faces coming in and out of convenient stores selling home goods, local movies and music carrying sun umbrellas. Food carts with roasted chicken and other items on a stick, open-air markets with chickens bound at the feet, and fast food Jollibee standing happy guard outside. This is one version of this country. City life.

The other is right outside the gravel or concrete streets where the road becomes mud and dirt. And the homes become thatched collages of spare sheet metals, dried palm leaves, and old pop music or political posters. Built around waterways where children play in the local dumpsite, sewage waste, drinking water and swimming pool all in one. Wires and antennas strung from home to home held on by pieces of bamboo and duck tape connecting these villages and neighborhoods to the tube. Dirt yards with plastic chairs outside where children play with stones, sticks, and if they are lucky a cheap colorful plastic ball. They wear even thinner clothes some with holes, small dirty shorts, skirts, and t-shirts advertising off-brands in Tagalong, English, or Chinese or with skewed images of famous cartoon characters on them. This is another version of the country. Suburban life.

The last is even further out of town in the arid wasteland. Where the foliage disappears and mango trees do not offer fruit falling down a crevice of a tin roof. The roads are dusty and wide connecting one larger suburb or city to another. But there is life in-between, ignored as an unpleasant blur and smell on the side of the roadway. Some small huts outside known as sari-sari stores house small amounts of products from the city: candy and soda, chips and cosmetics, soaps, shampoos, and laundry powder. The entryway is met with a few homes-the nicer version of what is to be seen further and deeper into the village. They are made of spare parts and pieces: more tin siding and roofs, posters, rotting wood, a bamboo strung door, and rusted and crooked nails or duck tape holding the leaning and buckling structures against each other. Here a meal is served once every three days. Children run around with even thinner clothes that look more like cloth napkins with holes bigger than quarters in them. If the children are wearing clothes at all-it may be washday and they lack pants or a shirt or both. They run around trying to find ways to waste their energy, too young to work. Those who can work are found further back in the village in the mountain landfill: the dumpsite. Where unmarried women and men of all ages work picking through the trash and leftovers from the city scavenging for goods that can be kept, or polished, reshaped, and sold. Blackened by their hours in the sun they are treasure seekers, looking for money in another man’s trash hoping to find enough to provide the family’s dinner in two days. Or to find a new siding to the house, a new piece of cloth for carpet, a new stick to poke the garbage with the next day they work. This is the often untold version of the country: the outcasts: the squatters: the Dumpsite people.

These are the poorest of the poor.
So what happens when all three versions of this country collide?

To be continued . . .

P.S.- for those of you who can relate to seeing similar situations (any of the three pictures I describe) in other countries please feel free to share your memories, feelings, and reactions. If you have not, feel free also to comment of course on your thoughts in reading this :)

-sorry if the pictures are too small-anyone know how I can make them bigger?

Saturday, October 30, 2010


As some of you know I started this blog so my friends and family could keep track of my travels through the Middle East this past spring. Well my many college travels are over but my experiences and the memories remain.

I feel blessed by these memories and sometimes the ability to express them in a way that others can feel them come alive again.
I ask God to remind me of what I have seen and heard-and I will have flashes-glimpses into moments.
Those moments that are unexpected, that put you in awe and amazement- fill us with joy and laughter- or weakens your knees and makes your heart turn to lead- all significant -all should be told.

We live in a culture where story telling is something people do when they are done living their lives; for the elderly who can have no other occupation but to reflect on the life they had a share it with others.

But in many cultures and in ancient times, before the square boxes took up space and possession of our time and minds, it was a source of entertainment.
–a way to stay connected as humans –to know where we have come from-where we are going.
It was education: to learn the history and identity in clans, families, and countries. Through stories the younger learned life lessons and morals from those older and wiser. Many of the great speakers and leaders have told stories, parables, folklore, and personal or collective histories
-it is a discipline; a discipline Christ was familiar with and used to teach.

So here is my plan:
I am beginning a discipline of storytelling.
As memories come to me I will write, share, and hopefully develop a way to keep these memories alive. They will mostly be recent as in the last 4 or 5 years since that it when most of my personal adventures have been.

To those who may actually read this: as I tell these stories feel free to share your own. With a little work we can create a discipline of storytelling.

I have asked people in my travels what they want me to do when I come back to America
-most often they say one of two things:

1. remember us
2. tell others about us

-So this is my effort to honor that.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

water-necessary to live-but killing thousands

Water-the simplest and most essential things of life-the earth is made of mostly water –so are most of the living creatures on earth-including us-its hard to think of water as a killing force and not a life giving force-but for billions that is how it is- there is plenty of water in the world but not enough drops to drink- it takes filters and wells to make that possible and bottled water does not help the situation-

I remember that I bought bottled water in Egypt because local water would make us sick- and we just assumed it doesn’t make locals sick because their bodies are used to it-what is that is not true-what if they have developed a resistance to it but this has led to other problems in health when they get older-or causes more risks in children dying? Then also there is the issue of plastic bottles-why do we ship and distribute this to thousands in a crisis instead of giving them water filters to use the water that is all around them-teach the tools to boil and treat the water that surrounds them and is muddied up?

It is suppose to be a life giving force and with help can be restored back to its original purpose –to help bring life- Water is a crisis world wide-only a few weeks ago I read an article on BBC about conferences going on about the Nile and its sources and the fight over it as a resource among North African countries –I think of how polluted the water was in Cairo and no one could even swim in it let alone drink from it-yet it is one of the largest and most important water sources of the North Africa- I think of how water pollution is often on the list of issues and obstacles to peace as well. To learn more about the Nile and the treaties and talks over this resource see below links:

An organization that is making a difference in all of this is Wine to water, led by Doc Henley, a former bartender, who was named one of the top 10 CNN HERO's this year- this organization is building wells and distributing filters, all over the world and in so saving lives.

As Doc has explained more Gov. funding for research on disease is being done for HIV, Malaria, AIDs etc. then research into water sanitation/disease control –these do not kill by themselves as many people as unclean water does each year. Another staggering truth is that every 15 seconds a child dies as a result of lack of clean water. Wine to Water is using money made through hosting wine tastings and selling their own wine to have wells built by local communities with local resources. They are training locals how to build the wells, and where to find the supplies to keep them running.

To find out what can be done go to:


Wednesday, May 19, 2010


so I have no new posts today but I have gone back and updated old posts with a couple of pictures-my hope it to have a slideshow of pictures to put onto this blog at a later time.