Sunday, December 21, 2008


Aswan is in the south of Egypt and has a much more "African" feel than an "Arab" one. Here we saw the unfinished obelisk, the biggest dam in the world (on the Nile), and the Philae temple. After lunch we took a falucca ride on the Nile to the desert side, where we got on camels and rode to a desert monastery. After some exploring we rode our camels back to our boat and continued down the river to a Nubian village. A hospitable Nubian family invited us into their home for fresh hibiscus juice, dancing, and henna. What a fun day!

Old Cairo, the Egyptian Museum, and the Sleeper Train

Our next day started in the land of Goshen at Tel-al-Yehudiya ("hill of the Jews"), where the Israelites would have lived and worked for Pharaoh before the exodus. We discussed several Biblical passages here, but as I surveyed the flat landscape, rich soil, and green palm trees, what really stood out to me was that life in Egypt was good, predictable, and secure--the exact opposite of life in Israel. (I have more thoughts on that, but I think I will write a separate blog on them).

On our way to Old Cairo, our bus hit a car...and kept driving. Remember how I said there are no traffic lanes or lights? Well, I guess there just aren't many traffic laws, period. It's a different world.

In Old Cairo (or "Coptic Cairo"), we visited a two coptic churches and a synagogue. One was built in honor of Mary and Joseph's flight to Egypt. This was the highlight of my day, because I met a group of 10-15 Egyptian girls ages 13-14 in the bathroom. They were super excited to practice their English and take my picture, and we spent most of my time there hanging out in the courtyard.

We spent the afternoon in the Egyptian Museum, where we saw things I remember seeing in my middle-school textbooks, like the contents of King Tut's tomb and the mummies! I saw the mummies of both Ramses II and Tuthmose III, who are both thought to be the Pharaohs during the exodus (depending on whether you agree with the early or late date). They still had hair and fingernails!

After some time at the market and a stop at a bathroom, we headed to the train station. That night I slept on the overnight train as it clacked down the tracks from Cairo to Aswan.

Cairo & the Pyramids

Our journey started with a full day of driving from Jerusalem to Cairo, the biggest city I have ever been in with a population of 20 million people. To put it in perspective: the number of people who work the night shift in Cairo is equal to the total number of people living in Chicago. We got to our hotel near 11 pm, and Naomi and I went out to explore the city. Big, crazy, and dirty are all words that come to mind when I think of my initial impressions of Cairo. It is a city that never sleeps-- there were just as many people out on the streets at 2 am as at 2 pm. There were no traffic lanes, no street signs, and few stoplights. Mounds of litter and garbage lined the streets since there is no public garbage pick-up service. Suffocating smog and impure tap water are just part of life in Cairo. All these things are very different from Israel, and right away I also noticed that the people were different, too. In general, the Egyptians I met were friendly and loved to smile and laugh. Even security guards joked around with us. This was much different from Israel and the West Bank, where people are usually very tense and serious.

On our first day out, the traffic was good because the Muslims (85% of Egyptians) were having a four-day feast, the annual "Festival of Sacrifice" to celebrate Abraham's sacrifice of Ishmael. Sheep and cattle wandered the streets in front of our bus, unaware of their fate, and we watched men and their sons catch and slaughter their animals.

Our first full day was mostly spent exploring the pyramids at Dahshur, Memphis, Saqqara, and Giza. The ones at Giza were the largest at 440 ft. tall. It's estimated that it took 200,000 workers 20 years to build it! We also saw the sphinx.

That night Naomi, Jesse, John, and I explored downtown Cairo some more. We met a local young man, Muhammad, who took us to his cousin's cafe, packed with people. We hung out for quite a while, and enjoyed talking with lots of different people. I had some delicious fresh mango juice. I also rode in my first Egyptian taxi, which felt like a crazy carnival ride complete with multi-colored flashing lights and blaring Arab music. I decided that I like Cairo a lot.

Out of Egypt I called my son...

I have been back in the States for a week today, and it has been so good to catch up with family and friends! I ended my semester abroad with an 8-day field study to Egypt. My next few entries will include some pictures, stories, and thoughts from that week.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Last Week in Jerusalem

I am nearing the end of my last week in Jerusalem...can you believe it?! Early Saturday morning I leave for Egypt, and I will return to Green Bay December 14. This semester has gone by so fast.

This past week I finished up my final exams and term papers, did some Christmas shopping at the souk, and spent a lot of time enjoying the city and the relationships I have built here. Tuesday I went to a Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem called Tahatia, where 12,000 people live in less than half of a square kilometer. I was invited into a family’s home and got to hear their story. Yesterday I walked the ramparts of the Old City walls. Today I attended a free lecture on the “Theology of the Land." All these things were very thought-provoking. I have learned much during my time here, and in some ways I am coming home with more questions than answers.

Tomorrow I will spend my last day packing, walking around the city, and saying goodbye to Marwa and my friends at the Gypsy Center. After dinner I’m going to sing Christmas carols at St. Anne’s church with a group of friends, and after that we are going to Dr. Wright’s house for cookies and a time of sharing and praising God for his faithfulness this past semester. He is so good!

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Gypsy Engagement Party

I just got back from Marwa's engagement party...what a cultural experience!

When I first arrived, I was hustled into a tiny back room of the house where all the other women were waiting. Marwa had her hair all curled and was wearing very heavy, elaborate make-up. Most of the other women were wearing brightly colored dresses with silk headscarves, lots of gold jewelry, and heavy make-up as well. All the children waited with us in the back room too. The small house was packed with at least 100 friends and family members, and it was fun to try to figure out who was with who.

Me, Marwa, and Katia at the Domari Center (bottom)

Marwa and I at her engagement party (top)

After a short wait, we heard the men started to read the Qur'an in the other room. All us women crowded near the door and tried to listen. After the recitation, all the men shot off guns into the air outside. Meanwhile, we women went even further back into another small room and crowded on small stools. Marwa's sister-in-law started the Arabic party music pumping, and Marwa started to dance while we all clapped. Different people--her mom, her grandmother, her cousin--got up and took turns dancing with her. I've never seen so much hip-shaking in all my life, and was certainly not expecting it here! Inevitably, Marwa pulled me up to dance with I did, laughing all the while. When one of the elderly veiled women saw me dance, she immediately called me over and asked if I would marry her son. I politely declined.

During the dancing, different food was served along with Arabic coffee, including baklava and some sort of pesto-type sauce on pita bread.

After the dance warm-up, the time came for Marwa's fiance to enter. She squeezed my hand and shot me a nervous look right before he came in. She barely met him last week. They danced around each other without touching for a few songs. Then, we stopped the was time for the engagement "ceremony." Zaki (her fiance) carefully adorned Marwa with gold jewelry: two necklaces, three rings, three bangles, and earrings. Two of the elderly women shrieked and made a tribal-sounding noise with their tongues--a joyous celebration sound. Then Marwa and Zaki danced again, this time cautiously holding hands, now an officially-engaged couple. After about an hour, he left the room, and we women got to have the floor again! One of the women handed me her three-month-old baby to hold while she danced. I couldn't stop smiling as I watched these beautiful women of all generations freely celebrate together.

After several hours of dancing, it was time to go. We took a few pictures, kissed each other on the cheeks, and said goodbye. I will never forget this night!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hey everyone -- Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you all had a restful day with family and friends.

Thanksgiving in Israel was a little strange, since it's not a holiday here. I had a final exam in the morning, and then I ran in the first annual JUC 5K Turkey Trot. I had Arabic class in the afternoon. As I entered Bethlehem, I was shocked to see tons of Palestinian Special Forces vehicles speeding down the street, tires squealing and everything. Men with the guns pointed out the windows stared me down.
When I turned onto the street that the college is on, there were armed soldiers with their guns locked and loaded on both sides of the street, about one every twenty feet or so. It was quite intimidating to walk through. I laughed to myself and thought, What a Thanksgiving parade...I mean, really, who needs Macy's? Later, I found out it was because the president of Palestine was coming to meet with the prime minister of Italy.

Anyway...when I got back I talked with my family, which was good, and then it was time for dinner. The dining room was decorated really nice, and I couldn't believe all the good food we had! We had all volunteered to make different dishes, and people were so thoughtful in modifying things so that they were gluten-free for me. :-) It was so refreshing to eat a slow dinner and enjoy talking with each other.

The past few weeks have been pretty busy here, full of studying and writing term papers. In the Eastern world, education is very self-motivated; your whole grade is usually based on one huge exam or term paper at the end of the class. However, I have still managed to have some adventures. Ashleigh, Naomi, and I visited the Dome of the Rock (see pictures below). Last Saturday, I went to Hebron (south of Bethlehem in the West Bank) and visited some friends who run an Arab school. I sat in on some English classes and some classes for hearing-impaired children. They were learning their numbers and colors in Arabic, so I learned right along with them! :-)

In other news, my friend Marwa (who I teach English to at the Domari Center) got engaged last week! I am going to her engagement party this afternoon. She is 17, and her brother helped arrange the marriage to one of his 27-year-old friends. This seems so strange to us, but in this culture it is the norm.

The countdown in 17 days I will be home! I'm looking forward to see you all.

"For I know that my Redeemer lives..." (Job 19:25)