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There’s a hole in this cake

3 Mar

(Title selected from a great moment in the film: My Big Fat Greek Wedding)

When Phillip and I began to unpack some of his mom’s things during our first months of marriage, I discovered that our kitchen would now house two identical yellow antique bundt cake pans.  They are the ones with ridges that look like sandcastle molds you take to the beach.  One was Lynda’s in which she and Phillip used to bake their “death by chocolate” cake.  The other belonged to my great grandmother, Annie Lee.

yellowbundtAs a child, I only saw one cake pan with a hole in the center on a regular basis.  It was mom’s stainless steel angel food cake one.  When that pan was on the counter or in the oven, I knew that the light, melt-in-your-mouth dessert with strawberries on top was in my near future.  She often made it for Sunday afternoon dinners.

But, my Granny, Annie Lee, used to make “apple dapple cake” in her yellow pan.  It was much heavier than angel food cake, much richer, and much higher in demand on weekends – especially when it came to bridge meetings in Arab.

She often baked two or three of those cakes a week for bridge, and according to Grandy, undersold them to women who didn’t know how to cook.  “At $12 to $15 a piece, I wouldn’t stand up and make ‘em for that,” Grandy (the family entrepreneur) told her mom.  The recipe called for pecans, which still grow and fall in Annie Lee’s back yard off Guntersville (colloquially pronounced /gunnerz-vul/) Highway, but the flour and apples, that had to be peeled and chopped by hand, were additional costs, of course.  So, as most customers complain at some point, one buyer told Annie Lee that $12 was “too much.”

My Granny clapped back, “Well, you can make it yourself.”

Now that we have moved to Austin, only one of the two yellow pans has come with us; the other is still in storage in our Atlanta basement, and I’m no longer sure whose is whose.  But because of that, now every time I reach for it, I think of all these women and all the cakes that have been enjoyed.

First Letter to Kharis

31 Oct

Kharis1

Kharis Faith Lucas (my sister Beth’s second daughter) was born Monday, October 28th.  I wrote this letter to her to commemorate her birth and beginning.  Welcome to life, little Hummingbird!

October 30, 2013

Dear Kharis,

This evening, you are in Valdosta with your Mom, Dad, sister, and Nana. Uncle Phillip and I are in Austin, Texas. It is very far away, but we will come to meet you and visit you soon.

Today you are two days old, and I am so very happy that you have come to be in our family!

You don’t know any of us yet, but you will. We all love you so much.

This summer, we had a special party just for you at Nana and Papa’s house. You were still growing inside your Mom, but you already knew how to move and kick. Maybe you were dancing in there!

I made a cake (a ‘hummingbird‘ cake because that’s the nickname I’ve been calling you) and we decorated the room with pink and white flowers. Your Mom’s friends and their little girls came to celebrate with us. We talked about you and wrote special notes to you.

Kharis3You don’t know your big sister yet, but she has already been watching you and talking about you. Now, she calls you, “the bee-bee,” but soon she will learn to say your name. Eliana loves to play and laugh and read books. You will have so much fun together.

Your Mom and I and Auntie Jo are sisters. A long time ago, we were little girls like you and Eliana. We played, and laughed and read books together. It is wonderful to be sisters! I’m sure you will love having your own sister.

I was in Georgia the day before you were born. I was hoping you would be born while I was there, but you weren’t ready yet, and I had to go back to Texas.

On Monday, I called your Mom while I was walking to my class. She didn’t answer, so I thought that she and Eliana were busy. Later, I found out that she was busy with you! You were ready to be born, and you came quickly — only 8 minutes after your Mom got to her bed in the hospital!  I was so happy to see a picture of you on my phone after my class finished. I called Papa and Uncle Phillip to talk about you.

All day yesterday, I told my friends about you. I also told my students about you. They were very happy to listen to the story about your fast birth. And when they saw your picture, they all smiled.

Kharis2This evening you are in Georgia and I am in Texas. It is raining here and I am sitting by the window thinking about you. I am praying for your beginning in this life. You are healthy and you are learning how to eat and move your tiny arms, legs, and head. You have probably been sleeping in your Mommy’s arms. I can’t wait to meet you. I will sing to you and rock you in my arms while you are small.  And I hope that, when you are older, we will be friends.

love, Auntie Rachel

Twelve Summer Snap Shots

25 Aug
Coffee & one of the dozens of desserts that Mom made over the course of the summer

Coffee & one of the dozens of desserts that Mom made over the course of the summer

Here we are – almost 3 months since our last post – and about 8,000 miles west of our Jordanian home of two years.  To be honest, I have avoided writing about this transition because I knew it would be “a biggie” emotionally speaking, and trying to condense a period of time that you’ve looked forward to for so long down to a few hundred characters on a screen just isn’t how I want to archive this transition.

So, I won’t!

I woke up this morning thinking, “Today is truly the last day of summer” (for me at least; Phillip already started orientation and meetings last week).  Tomorrow we will have been in Austin exactly 2 weeks, and I will begin my new job at UT Austin’s ESL Services.  I am looking forward to meeting some co-workers and hope to find some “kindred spirits” among them.  Whether I figure out who any of those people are this week or not, it will be nice to exponentially increase the number of people that I know in this city.  Right now, the sum of my acquaintances is 3!

In tribute to summer 2013, here are twelve of my favorite snapshots and memories.

(1) Homecoming to the fam!  It was so wonderful to be reunited with family; I missed them so much!

All 10 of us... (Beth counts for 2!)

All 10 of us… (Beth counts for 2!)

(2) Hearing Eliana talk!  The last time we’d seen her in person, she was about 7 months old.  Now she’s 18 months and about to be a big sister!  One of her top summer sayings:  “No eat bath.”  She also fell in love with a Dr. Seuss book about sounds.  Phillip coined all the sound effects for the story, and we all (including Eliana) repeated them all summer.  While by the end of our time together, she could distinguish between me and Phillip, the names she used for us were not exactly our own, but adorable nonetheless.  Phillip is “RR” (which is my family-given nickname), and I am “Day-shur.”

We read the Dr. Seuss book yet again...

We read the Dr. Seuss book yet again…

(3) Seeing Susie, Jordan, & Hadassah in the western world.  Phillip and I drove up to Charlotte to meet them for a day… and eat sushi.

(4) Visiting Stone Mountain Park with McAfee friends.  Mark and Sarah hosted us and we were able to enjoy one last hangout with Carson and Laura before they depart for their 3-year service at a church in Japan.

(5) Hanging out with Rick & getting a visit from the Alabama Stokes.  Rick always updates us on the newest “best fill-in-the-blank-with-a-genre-of-food place in town!”  And we enjoy great conversation with him.

(6) Stringing beads with Grandy & laughing at Aunt Sharon’s stories while we all ate fried fish, hush puppies, fried pickles, collards, and cole slaw at Top O’the River in Guntersville.  (Aunt Sharon and I have decided to write a book, by the way… more to come on that!)

A hilarious group of people to eat with.

A hilarious group of people to eat with.

(7) Construction with Dad & building stained glass windows.  We worked a little on his carport and finished cementing and painting patina on a lovely little window he sent to Austin with me.

Dad & Phillip show the strength it takes to make a very feminine headboard.  Maybe I should've chosen a less girly fabric... nah, I love this one!

Dad & Phillip show the strength it takes to make a very feminine headboard. Maybe I should’ve chosen a less girly fabric… nah, I love this one!

(8) Throwing a baby shower with Mom & Joanna for Beth & Carney’s 2nd little girl (due the end of October)!  Hummingbird cake & tissue paper pom-poms hung on a tree branch over the table… thanks, Pinterest!

"Little Sister's" Baby Shower -- can't wait to meet her this fall!

“Little Sister’s” Baby Shower — can’t wait to meet her this fall!

Love my sisters & my nieces!

Love my sisters & my nieces!

Meeting Elizabeth for the first time... I think she liked me!

Meeting Elizabeth for the first time… I think she liked me!

(9) Meeting Marie & Wes’ little girl, Elizabeth.  What fabulous parents, and what a sweet, content blonde baby.

(10) Hearing Phillip say, “It is finished at the University of Jordan” and then telling him, “It looks like we’ll both be employees at UT this fall” just a few hours before he got on an airplane to come home from his thesis presentation in Amman.

On August 9 (the day before our drive out to Texas!), Joanna and I picked Phillip (and his paper) up from the airport in Atlanta.  We weren’t able to greet him with hugs and balloons until the TSA people had released him from a special room for questioning.  Perhaps his 5 trips between Jordan and the U.S. within 6 weeks had something to do with it…

The moment I'd been waiting for!

The moment I’d been waiting for!

The paper I referred to was the long-awaited, much anticipated sealed document from the University of Jordan stating that he had completed all his hours and requirements for graduation.  UT needed this since UJ wouldn’t be printing transcripts/diplomas until after UT had started its fall semester.

(11) Road tripping from Austin to Atlanta in a 16-foot moving truck that blew a tire an hour into our trip.  No, we hadn’t even crossed the Georgia/Alabama state line before this happened although we could see it about 70 yards down the shoulder of interstate 20.  Yes, we looked at that line for about 3 ½ hours before the Budget 24-hour Roadside Assistance people were able to send us a new tire and someone to change it.  (Brought a whole new meaning to the “24-hour” part…)

Waiting on the shoulder of I-20 westbound around 9am the Sunday morning we left Atlanta for Austin.  Hey, you're gonna wait a long time for someone to come change the tire on your moving truck if those cards are in your hand!

Waiting on the shoulder of I-20 westbound around 9am the Sunday morning we left Atlanta for Austin. Hey, you’re gonna wait a long time for someone to come change the tire on your moving truck if those cards are in your hand! Thanks for packing ice and water in the cooler, Mom!

(12) Driving into Austin from the north side through the green rolling hills and realizing that this is going to be our new home.  After living 7 time zones apart from family for two years, Texas just doesn’t seem that far.  And it’s not!

Day 4 together in Austin next to the Colorado (a.k.a. "Lake Austin" as it's known locally -- I'm sorry people, but that is a river, not a lake).

Day 4 together in Austin next to the Colorado (a.k.a. “Lake Austin” as it’s known locally — I’m sorry people, but that is a river, not a lake).

Thanks to all the friends and family who shared your time and resources to spend time with us these past few weeks!  Hope it won’t be too long before we see you again!

Vacating Space

30 May

The past week has been busier than normal with packing up our apartment, posting photos of our furniture online, communicating with potential buyers, and getting ready to move across town with our wonderful friends, the Bullards, until we fly home on the 19th of June.

Tomorrow is our last day in the apartment.  It’s sad because this apartment has been our home for almost 2 years, and we’ve had so many friends/family visit and so many fun memories here.  We’ve lived in this place longer than we lived in Timothy Terrace together (that’s our Atlanta house).  Wow!  And actually, we’ve spent the majority of our married life in Jordan.  I guess we’ll have to learn how to function in America again!  That shouldn’t be too hard though ;).

My favorite little morning routine (which I’m doing right now) is to make coffee, pull the shutter of the kitchen window up, crack the window to let in a cool breeze, and sit at the kitchen table with my computer looking at the little tree across the street blowing in the morning wind and sunlight.

I am thankful for the success that has come to us as a result of our Jordan investment.  For me, this whole process was quite frightening when we started talking about it, and even the first semester we were in Amman.  There were so many unknowns, and my worry-wartness was probably clinically out of control.  But, Phillip has worked & studied so hard and gotten into the best Arabic PhD program in the country, and been asked to teach (for pay) starting his first semester.  And I have gained Admin experience of an EFL program, which I’m sure most likely, I would never have aspired to in the U.S.

Celebrating 3 years of marriage this month!  (And the fact that we got to go eat sushi for the second time in a year right after taking this picture!)

Celebrating 3 years of marriage this month! (And the fact that we got to go eat sushi for the second time in a year right after taking this picture!)

Yesterday, I booked a day trip ticket from Atlanta to Austin.  My former boss in Atlanta recommended me to an ESL program there (thanks, Thomas!), and I’ve been given the opportunity to interview!  It will be early July and also my first time in Austin.  Both Phillip and I have driven through Texas (shout-out to the 2011 Lucas cross-country move!), but we’ve not explored very much of the state.  We’re looking forward to it, that is, after some time in Georgia with family & friends!

So what does it feel like to make a major life-transition like moving to another hemisphere?  Well, I’ve done it once before (from the U.S. to Japan, and then back to the U.S. a year later) before I was married.  I was glad to have the support of my family during that time.  There were lots of cultural adjustments and re-adjustments to get used to.  This time around, I’m thankful not to be experiencing the transition alone.  I’m sure that Phillip and I will have “whoa” moments frequently during the next couple of months.  And certainly, we will be recounting (to ourselves and to you) stories of “when we lived in Jordan…” for the rest of our lives.

The saddest part about leaving one place in order to go to another is having to say goodbye to friends.  As much as I think about it, at the end of the day, the checks on my “to-do” list will be of no consequence, and the amount of money that I earned or lost won’t be at all what people remember about me or how I evaluate myself.  And I really don’t think that stuff matters very much (if at all) to God.  But, when I think back to the various people whom I associate with the various places of my life, I can immediately recall how we related to each other and whether the overall demonstration of each person’s life was kindness or selfishness.

Isn’t that interesting?  That distinction is something that even very young children can make.  I’m glad to say that I have been met with a lot of kindness and generosity in Jordan.  I have tried to take note from the people who displayed it.

So, this weekend, as we vacate our home of 2 years, let me raise my (now twice emptied) coffee mug in a toast to our transition and our friends in Jordan:  “Here’s to you, and how much you’ll be missed!  May the space vacated in your lives by our leaving be met with new kindness & friendships all your life long!”

Phillip’s take on Jerusalem

11 Apr

Were I to even begin to try and do justice to my thoughts and experiences in Jerusalem, you’d be reading a book (don’t worry, I won’t do that to you). Rather, I’ll stick to some of the major themes on which I continually ruminated during the six days we were in Jerusalem.First, this trip was different for me. I’ve been to Jerusalem a number of times, and each trip is always different. So, from that standpoint, it was the same (lol). I mean by different that, before going this time, we both knew that it would be our last time going, at least while we live here in the Middle East. Our last trip was only 3 months ago with Rachel’s parents. After we’d returned to Jordan, I decided I already began planning this final trip to coincide with Easter/Passover and decided that I was going to make it the granddaddy of them all. We stayed longer than we have before. And this time it was just the two of us. That meant we set our own schedule (or, to be fair to Rachel, I set a schedule that she was gracious enough to more or less follow). Finally, I’d decided to re-read all the books and information I’d read previously again, along with some new material from recent archaeological digs, etc. I’ve usually given historical comments when we’ve visited sites about which I knew something, but this time I’d read about pretty much every site, so it was really like a tour. Honestly, it was as much for me as it was for Rachel. I process information out loud, so walking around a city that is so rich in history and culture, it helped me to take it in and appreciate it by talking out loud (thanks, RR).

A great view of the Western Wall complex (holiest site in Judaism - below) with the Dome of the Rock on top of the Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary. It's quite busy due to Passover.

A great view of the Western Wall complex (holiest site in Judaism – below) with the Dome of the Rock on top of the Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary. It’s quite busy due to Passover.

The southwestern portion of the city walls (which date from the 16th century AD as they stand now). This view is from "David's Citadel," which is actually an Islamic-period reconstruction of an earlier fortress that Herod had built. It's the most likely site of Jesus' condemnation.

The southwestern portion of the city walls (which date from the 16th century AD as they stand now). This view is from “David’s Citadel,” which is actually an Islamic-period reconstruction of an earlier fortress that Herod had built. It’s the most likely site of Jesus’ condemnation.

Second, in my preparation for the trip, I focused not only on the religiously significant material, but historically and culturally relevant material as well. I really wanted to get a holistic picture. For example, I really wanted to pay attention to the walls this time. The current walls around the Old City date to the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, a 16th century Ottoman Sultan. The story of Jerusalem’s walls is a long and complex one, about which there is some debate. There were already walls when David and his men took the city. Those walls remained and were expanded by the 8th century (at the latest) to the western hill. Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed them, and Nehemiah is said to have still found them in disrepair over a century later. They were rebuilt and expanded several times again, until the city was again laid waste by Titus and his troops in 70 AD (only a portion of the wall was left as a base camp for his troops for over 200 years!). Byzantines and Persians, Arabs, Mamelukes, Ayyubids, Ottomans, British, and finally, Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians have since fought around and over these walls. I thought of the many men who fought and died to possess and protect the city from those walls.

A view of the Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary from south of the Old City. You can see the city walls.

A view of the Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary from south of the Old City. You can see the city walls.

The southern portion of the western retaining wall that Herod had built for the Temple. The pavement is 1st century AD. You can see the initial portion of Robinson's Arch, one of the large arched stepped entrances onto the Temple Mount.

The southern portion of the western retaining wall that Herod had built for the Temple. The pavement is 1st century AD. You can see the initial portion of Robinson’s Arch, one of the large arched stepped entrances onto the Temple Mount.

I also really wanted to focus on the complex that stands atop what the Bible refers to as Mt. Zion, but what Jews have for a long time referred to as Mt. Moriah and the Temple Mount. It’s the spot David purchased and brought the Ark to rest upon. It’s the spot his son, Solomon, is said to have built a magnificent temple (well, not him exactly, more like harshly-treated Israelites and Phoenicians). The Temple was destroyed by that pesky Nebuchadnezzar, re-built by the returnees under Zerubabel, and then completely rebuilt by Herod the Great. Herod, however, didn’t just want to rebuild the temple itself; rather, he wanted to create a huge complex. So he cut away the bedrock to the north of the temple, filled in uneven areas to the east and west with fill, and created a series of underground vaulted chambers to support the southern portion of what is really an esplanade dozens of football fields squared. It was said that, if you hadn’t seen Herod’s temple, you hadn’t truly seen beauty. Ironically, it was finished only two years before the Jewish revolt began, and only six years before Titus’ troops razed it to the ground and pulled down its retaining walls. A portion of the western retaining wall to the temple complex (NOT the temple itself) is what Jews today call the Western Wall (or the Wailing Wall) and what constitutes the holiest site in Judaism. The mount was given the name Moriah because of the later Jewish tradition that says that it was on that same spot that Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac.

A close-up of the Dome of the Rock. It is inlaid with tiny painted pieces of tile, with verses from the Qur'an ringing the structure.

A close-up of the Dome of the Rock. It is inlaid with tiny painted pieces of tile, with verses from the Qur’an ringing the structure.

Atop the since-rebuilt walls of the mount sits one of the oldest examples of Islamic architecture (although it is not typical of Islamic architecture) – the Dome of the Rock. At the southern end of the mount, which the Muslims call al-Haram al-Shareef “The Noble Sanctuary,” sits the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Islamic tradition holds that it is from the rock upon which the Dome of the Rock sits that Muhammad ascended through the levels of heaven on a golden ladder and received, among other things, the commandment to pray 5 times daily. The same rock – a natural part of the bedrock of the mount – is thought by most scholars to be the location of the Holy of Holies in the Jewish temple. Rabbinic tradition holds that that same rock was the first stone laid in creation (the foundation stone of the earth), as well as where Adam was created.

It is an awesome and strange place. You can feel the holiness afforded the site by so many, and yet it has become a site where politics and nationalism have collided more and more as well. Many Jews are eager to reclaim the mount and build the third temple, but some see this as something only the Messiah will accomplish. Arabs control it currently and, due to lack of Palestinian control over much of their land and lives, exercise their control with great jealousy and see any encroachment as a threat to Palestine.

Me sitting on stones that were part of Herod's western wall but were pushed down after the Roman general, Titus' men took the Temple Mount in 70 AD.

Me sitting on stones that were part of Herod’s western wall but were pushed down after the Roman general, Titus’ men took the Temple Mount in 70 AD.

Thirdly, I wanted to take in the city as a living city. Despite its small area (less than half a squared mile), it is home to at least 30,000 people, thus it is very much a living city. There are markets and stores just about everywhere you look, along with restaurants and a variety of establishments. The holy and historical are mixed in layers with the modern and, sometimes, the fabricated. Pilgrims of each of the three Abrahamic faiths come and visit, most of the time walking through and among the faithful of one religion to get somewhere else. To get up to the Muslim Noble Sanctuary (Temple Mount) you cross through the open Western Wall plaza. The Via Dolorosa (The way of sorrows, that is, the cross), the path tradition holds that Jesus walked with the cross to Golgotha, is largely in the Muslim quarter. The “Citadel of David” (actually a Hasmonean/Herodian palace that was rebuilt as a fort) straddles the line between the Christian and Armenian quarters.

We would often just wander around the old city from quarter to quarter and notice the different activities afoot in each quarter. It’s remarkable how diverse and different the modes of religious practice that take place in each quarter are, while at the same time how similar they are. Jerusalem represents so many things. History, faith, culture. It represents the central point for so many. It is a city of dreams, of longing. It plays a central role in the world to come in each of the three faiths. It is, however, a city of division and strife, with so many of those dreams and beliefs opposed to one another. It is often remarked that the different faiths tolerate each other in the city. That is true to a great degree. However, I think they tolerate each other because, aside from the police force that enforces it, each believes that, one day, they won’t have to tolerate the other anymore. One day, the city will cease being theirs only partially, and become theirs fully. One day, it will reflect the realization of their hopes and longings and faith.

My personal dream would be that their visions would change – that they would begin to encompass each other. That Jerusalem would ring with a diversity that is cherished, as it is already by me now. I love walking among Muslims gathered together to study the Qur’an on the Noble Sanctuary on my way to visit the Haredi Jews at the wall, the various churches in the Holy Sepulcher, etc. Jerusalem is a unique city, which has to be experienced to be believed. It’s something a little different for everyone. For me, it is the center of all of my interests and passions. It is for me, as it is for countless others, and has been for many throughout the past four thousand years, the center of the world.

Easter 2013

9 Apr
Flowers at the Garden Tomb

Flowers at the Garden Tomb

Easter Eve Mass

We joined English-speaking internationals from all over on Easter eve.  It was a reflective, meditative service that Phillip and I both enjoyed thoroughly.  The congregation of sisters and convent guests began on the terrace with a candle-lit vigil; then there was singing as we processed down to the sanctuary.  There was a homily, singing, readings, communion, renewal of baptism, and prayer.  A two-hour service, but great preparation for Easter.  (Side note:  we opted not to do the terrace sun-rise service since it’d probably be another couple of hours long.  Sunrise and sitting still for hours is a recipe for sleep!)

The Convent

This is the third time that Phillip and I have stayed here (at the Ecce Homo Arch Convent/Pilgrim House which is run by the Sisters of Zion, a French group of nuns).  I LOVE the atmosphere.  Since we have almost a full week to spend here this time, our pace has been slower than either of the other times.  It truly feels like a retreat/rest form life in Amman.  I’m glad that Phillip decided on staying longer this time.  The accommodations are simple, but comfortable and beautiful.  Stone floors and walls, a common coffee room with wi-fi (of course!) that extends out to the terrace.  And of course, the million-dollar view!

Unique blossom at the Garden Tomb.

Unique blossom at the Garden Tomb.

The weather has been *perfect,* and I have enjoyed wearing [insert gasp] short sleeves with the skin above my elbows showing sometimes!  So this is day 5 of 7, and we’ve been here long enough to start to recognize people.  Many of the sisters we remembered from before.  Some of the guests whom we meet in passing are the 24 Biblical Program participants that will stay at the convent a total of 4 weeks for Passover/Easter study and travel.  If I have an extra $5,000 (x2 for Phillip, of course) lying around when I’m a little “riper of age,” I’d love to come spend a month retreat here and go through the study with Christians from around the world.  So cool!

The Garden Tomb.  This site and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are the two most visited by Christian Pilgrims.  While the Garden Tomb is outside the city walls and is the least likely of the two to be the actual site, it is my favorite because the atmosphere is very peaceful and full of natural beauty.

The Garden Tomb. This site and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are the two most visited by Christian Pilgrims. While the Garden Tomb is outside the city walls and is the least likely of the two to be the actual site, it is my favorite because the atmosphere is very peaceful and full of natural beauty.

Resurrection Day + Rednecks

A “redneck” for my intents and purposes shall be defined as:

someone who is so absorbed in his or her own world-view /experience/agenda that s/he will do and say idiotic things despite what negative consequences there may be for themselves or others who may be totally unrelated to the redneck’s world.

You might be a politically-charged-Jewish-redneck if you decide to cut in a 100 yard line of mostly foreign Christians in order to go up on the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary, walk into the Alaqsa Mosque, start praying, and saying things like, “This is our land!”

You will ruin the opportunity to visit the mount for thousands of Christians and other non-Muslim visitors for the rest of the day.  My advice?  Maybe you should stop provoking the Muslims to throw rocks at you and go home and wash your beard which is much too long for 2013.  Keep it long if you feel that you must, but do trim it, and start worrying about your hygiene more than you worry about taking over the mount from the Muslim world.  And put on some shoes!  Nasty germs seeping through the soles of your feet as you walk around barefoot out here.  Gross.

4 ½ hours.  That’s the amount of time that Phillip waited in line to go through Israeli security to enter the Muslim-operated platform/hill of the Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount.  (It has so many different names because each of the groups who has stuck its flag in the dirt on top has given it a different one.)  I waited half of that time with Phillip Easter morning, but decided to come back to the convent eventually.

The rolled away stone at the Garden Tomb.  (Jesus was not there, by the way. :)

The rolled away stone at the Garden Tomb. (Jesus was not there, by the way. :)

Monday, April 1 was (an almost!) redneck-free morning.  After the previous day’s fruitless line waiting, Phillip was determined to get in line at least before the throngs arrived.  We got up to a 6:40 alarm, quickly ate some cereal and were down at the entry ramp by 7:25am with just a handful of others.  They opened the entrance at 7:30 (I thought we were going to have to wait until 8:30!)!!  I was glad to have a cool morning to walk around the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary platform with Phillip.  It’s his favorite place in the world, I think.  We saw a boys’ school on the far north end that neither of us knew was there.  We passed by at the time they were doing their morning recitation of a Qur’an Sura.  It reminded me of saying the Pledge of Allegiance as a student in school.

The architectural feat of filling in that platform (which is 35 acres, or one sixth the size of the 0.35 square miles of the entire Old City) without the assistance of cranes, bulldozers and modern equipment is simply amazing.  You walk up there, and you are standing where the Old Testament sacrifices were made — an area that we (as Gentiles) would never have been allowed.  The area, now controlled by Muslims, is the third Holiest site in Islam.  Up until 13 years ago, they allowed anyone to pay a fee and enter the building which supports the Golden Dome of the Rock.  But thanks to Ariel Sharon (a former Prime Minister of Israel) and some of his buds, now only Muslims may enter.

The symmetrical building may be sitting over the place where the Holy of Holies once was… or just beside it.  For that reason and the fact that the exact place of the Holy of Holies is unknown, Orthodox Jews do not go up on the platform anymore.  The Chief Rabbi has forbidden it.  Thus, the importance of the Western Wall.  And thus, the craziness of the “rednecks” from yesterday is highlighted.

Even still, I noticed one Orthodox Jew with his kippa and hair noodles (which had been made a little flat by the humidity, I suppose) who was standing still, facing the Dome of the Rock as if he were praying or something.  A group of Muslim men who had gathered to read the Qur’an together were shouting at him to leave.

Bold.

And stupid.

After a few moments, he continued to walk around with two Israeli policemen and their machine guns in tow.  Some people are just asking for it.  At least we got up there before he or his friends caused any more troubles.

Easter Dinner

Lemon & berry sorbet with chocolate drizzle.  Easter dinner's dessert!

Lemon & berry sorbet with chocolate drizzle. Easter dinner’s dessert!

I was just thinking.  If I were going to plan an Easter meal, I’d choose lamb as the main course if I wanted to put a religious spin on the dining experience and rabbit if I wanted to go secular.  Think about it for a second.  Either of those would be a more appropriate choice than burgers or chicken wings, right?  Anyway, now back to my account of Easter 2013:

Phillip and I held back our appetites all afternoon on Easter Sunday in anticipation of a huge delicious meal at the convent – like the one they prepared at Christmas.  Imagine your dining experience over the span of 8 months.  Now, imagine that except for what you cook at home (and I cook a LOT at home), 99% of the food that is available when you eat out is:  (1) falafel, (2) shawarma, or (3) hummus.  Finally, imagine yourself wanting a break from that!  The thought of Western/European-style dining after months of Middle Eastern food!  Mashed potatoes, pot roast, braised chicken, steamed vegetables, dinner rolls with honey butter… Mmm!  Tonight!  Easter dinner!  Yay!!  I can’t wait to see what we’re having!

Mansaf.

We walked into the convent’s dining room, and they had prepared JORDAN’S NATIONAL DISH for the foreign Easter pilgrim guests – lamb atop turmeric rice with a hot yogurt sauce on the side.  Not exactly what we were hoping for, but great-tasting nonetheless.  I also enjoyed a Greek salad.  We never eat salad in Jordan – except when I make Tabouleh – but it’s not the same as a SALAD salad.  They served “Star of Bethlehem” wine, a dry red variety along with a lemon & berry sorbet with chocolate drizzle for dessert.  Phillip and I split a third helping of dessert, thanks to Phillip’s making friends with our Arabic-speaking Palestinian waiter.  It was all delicious and we were full — thank you, Ecce Homo Convent for a beautiful Easter week experience!

At the pools of Bethesda where a special  supply of water for the Jewish Temple was stored.  Also where Jesus healed a paralytic who'd been waiting at the pool for 38 years.

At the pools of Bethesda where a special supply of water for the Jewish Temple was stored. Also where Jesus healed a paralytic who’d been waiting at the pool for 38 years.

Bethesda Pool Ruins.

Bethesda Pool Ruins.

Bethesda Pools -- imagine this whole area (and others) filled with water!

Bethesda Pools — imagine this whole area (and others) filled with water!

We have since concluded our fabulous week in Jerusalem, returned to Amman, fought gastroenteritis with antibiotics one more time (and please, Lord, may it be the last while we’re in the Middle East), and returned to work.   Still catching up on our sleep, but we have 1,300+ photos along with hours of memories and stories to thumb through in the meantime.

Thoughts on Judaism + Islam

9 Apr
A view from the men's side of the Western Wall Plaza.

A view from the men’s side of the Western Wall Plaza.

The Western Wall as a location for worship

(continued from Good Friday in Jerusalem…)

Also, today, thanks to Phillip’s descriptions and a cool model on an underground tour that we took yesterday, I learned a great deal about the layout and historical sequence of the temple and the wall/mount that supported it.  The feat of getting those multi-ton slabs in position (over 30 rows high on the steepest hill slopes) is simply baffling.   I imagine it’s like looking at the pyramids; you stand there and ask out loud, “How did they DO that??”

The Western Wall.  The most holy place in Judaism.  Worshippers gather day and night to pray at the ancient stones -- this is the closest spot they can get to where the Holy of Holies once was on the platform above.

The Western Wall. The most holy place in Judaism. Worshippers gather day and night to pray at the ancient stones — this is the closest spot they can get to where the Holy of Holies once was on the platform above.

The Western Wall is the most holy place in Judaism.  As Phillip and I stood and watched the crowds pray at sunset on the eve of the Passover Sabbath (which just happened to coincide with Easter this year), I wondered what it must be like to worship in that way.  I have prayed at the wall myself, but that style does not constitute the bulk of my experience with prayer or worship.  No one is there to “lead a service.”  Men and women simply clasp their copy of the Torah or a prayer book – sometimes covering their faces with it, rock back and forth, and sway side to side as they recite the Hebrew that they have meditated on and memorized by heart.  They’re at the Western Wall because in 2013, it’s the closest spot they can get to where the Holy of Holies used to reside.

There is so much history here.  I’ve contemplated historic and contemporary relationships among Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  In one sense, Christians are to Jews as Muslims are to Christians.  I don’t mean just the order of “who came first,” but rather the claims of each.  Christians believe that the Messiah has come while Jews are still waiting for one.  And Muslims hold that Mohammed gave the final and most complete revelation from God because what Jesus taught had been distorted.  Within that A –> B –> C sequence of faiths, I wonder if Jews look at Islam and think, “Wow.  How new.”

Street Talk:  Interactions between Jews and Arabs

Stylin' the Orthodox way!

Stylin’ the Orthodox way!

First up, in my opinion, the Orthodox Jews make themselves an easy target simply by their beard style and clothing preferences – the men in particular.  The orthodox men also grow out the sides of their hair just above their ears.  Eventually, the hair starts to look like long, curly “hair noodles” jiggling to and fro as the grower walks.  In addition, during this (our third visit to Jerusalem together), the men have been wearing huge biscuit-shaped hats covered in dark brown fur – perhaps a Passover thing?  And the big punctuation mark after it all are the black, Chinese silk wrap-around robes with white stockings underneath.  They even dress their little boys in a similar way.  Hey, gotta start those hair noodles early!   I want to say to them, “Come on, guys.  You really are asking for any snickers that you come your way.  No one else on the planet dresses like that.”  I guess they don’t care.

Now, only a couple of times have Phillip and I observed non-friendly verbal interaction on the streets between the two groups (Jews & Muslims).  It’s interesting that within the 0.35 square miles of the Old City, the Arabs tend mostly to stick to their quarter and stay out of the Jewish quarter.  I’ve seen more Jews in the Muslim quarter by far, but they seem only to be swiftly passing through.  There’s no loitering with their Palestinian buds or hanging around just because they both happen to speak Semitic languages.

The Via Dolorosa in the Muslim quarter of the Old City.  The arch spanning the buildings on either side is where the Ecce Homo Arch Convent gets its name.

The Via Dolorosa in the Muslim quarter of the Old City. The arch spanning the buildings on either side is where the Ecce Homo Arch Convent gets its name.

Phillip and I have now lived 20 months in Jordan.  During that time, I have gone from being almost totally ignorant of the Israeli-Palestinian situation to hearing story after story (from my students in Amman to random taxi drivers) about the two groups’ mistreatment of each other and their interactions over the past half century.  Having dealt with and adapted to the lifestyle required by Jordan’s limited water resources on a daily basis since our arrival in August of 2011, and having been educated by historical facts as well as these personal accounts of intense bullying and violence from my English students, I have to say that my empathy lies almost completely with the Palestinians.Certainly, I respect the long-suffering of the Jews (at least from an outsider’s perspective); their saga through the ages seems to be “persecution.”  But, one would think that being on the receiving end of that stick for so long would make a victim more kind-hearted towards others with whom they share dealings.

Vendors line every nook and cranny of Jerusalem's Old City streets.  This shop is in the Armenian quarter.

Vendors line every nook and cranny of Jerusalem’s Old City streets. This shop is in the Armenian quarter.

Gaza.

The West Bank.

The bulldozing of acres and acres of private Palestinian homes to build Israeli housing settlements.

The Berlin-like wall that we can see from the convent roof top just south of the Mt. of Olives.

The border crossings that make you feel like you’re trapped in a human rat cage.

The strict control over who passes and who spends their life inside the run-down ghettos like the outskirts of Bethlehem.

“Even a bursting appendix won’t be your ticket out,” said the shopkeeper in Bethlehem from whom we bought our olive wood nativities.

Come on, people.  Do we learn NOTHING from history?

A night market on a street stemming from the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary Platform.  You can find just about anything in these markets -- and you're especially in luck if you like gummy candy!

A night market on a street stemming from the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary Platform. You can find just about anything in these markets — and you’re especially in luck if you like gummy candy!

Passover week coincided with Easter Holy week this year, so our favorite Jewish bakery was closed for most of our time in Jerusalem.  No leaven during Passover = no pastries or cinnamon rolls.  :(

Passover week coincided with Easter Holy week this year, so our favorite Jewish bakery was closed for most of our time in Jerusalem. No leaven during Passover = no pastries or cinnamon rolls. :(

Our last day in Jerusalem, Passover was over, so the bread came to life again!

Our last day in Jerusalem, Passover was over, so the bread came to life again!

Good Tractors + Good Friday

9 Apr
Watch your toes as these tractors frequently come through Jerusalem's Old City streets.

Watch your toes as these tractors frequently come through Jerusalem’s Old City streets.

continued from Jerusalem during Easter/Passover, March 2013…

Somewhat sleep deprived for 3 nights prior to our journey from Amman, Phillip and I took morning naps after breakfast today.  The extra hours further relieved the soreness in my legs from yesterday’s walking and rejuvenated us with energy for another day out and about.There’s lots and lots of walking in the Old City.

People do drive cars through the narrow, European-esque streets, but you do have stand with your back to the wall sometimes to give them sufficient space to pass.  And watch your toes!   (Side note:  they also drive small tractors through the streets that pull carts of produce.  Side note to the side note:  I saw a tractor driver texting while driving down the ancient streets.  I can hear the mothers of Jerusalem telling their sons, “Don’t text and tractor!”)

Still, the vast amount of “traffic” is on foot.  There are 4 quarters/quadrants that make up the Old City:  Muslim, Jewish, Christian, & Armenian (see map).  Anyone can walk through any of the quarters; the names are given I suppose according to the shopkeepers and residents that occupy each area.  Despite the names though, you will find churches in the Muslim quarter – like the Ecce Homo Arch Convent where Phillip and I stayed.

The convent has multi-level terraces (flat roofs) where we enjoyed many lovely views of the Old City.  We could see Christian Pilgrims carrying crosses down on the Via Dolorosa (just at ground level of the convent).  Their singing (in various languages) echoed through the stone streets and walls.  It was a very cool way to wake up the Saturday and Sunday of Easter.

Ecce Homo Arch Convent -- this is the place we stayed.  The multi-level rooftop terraces offered gorgeous views at every time of day.

Ecce Homo Arch Convent — this is the place we stayed. The multi-level rooftop terraces offered gorgeous views at every time of day.

The minoret tower (and speaker) are very close to the convent, and you WILL be woken up by the morning call to prayer!

The minoret tower (and speaker) are very close to the convent, and you WILL be woken up by the morning call to prayer!

Sunrise behind the Mt. of Olives as viewed from the convent.

Sunrise behind the Mt. of Olives as viewed from the convent.

For me, the highlight and most contemplative part of today (Good Friday) was visiting the Church of St. Peter in Galicantu.  Why?  Because although it is another “traditional” spot – as opposed to a definite spot – the stone cisterns beneath the church are undoubtedly quite similar to what would’ve been found beneath Caiaphas’ house where Jesus was kept after his arrest and where Peter denied him three times.  The Galilean accent gave Peter away; Phillip can tell you how accents in Arabic really associate the speaker with a particular place – much more so than an English speaker’s does.

Far down under the church of Byzantine (1st century rocks) was a small room/cistern that you could walk down into.  It was empty except for a small wooden stand where a book rested.  I turned some of its pages to find that Psalm 88 was printed in more than 50 languages.  I found it very descriptive for what Jesus might’ve been feeling during his imprisonment.

Inside a cistern at the church of St. Peter in Galicantu -- a room similar to the one at Caiaphas' house where Jesus would've been kept after his arrest.

Inside a cistern at the church of St. Peter in Galicantu — a room similar to the one at Caiaphas’ house where Jesus would’ve been kept after his arrest.

Psalm 88

1Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
2 May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

3 I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
5 I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

6 You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
7 Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
8 You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
9 my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
11 Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
12 Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

13 But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 Why, Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?

15 From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
17 All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
18 You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

Healthcare + Having Babies

26 Mar
Arab Medical Center at 5th Circle in Amman (our go-to place for high-quality healthcare)

Arab Medical Center at 5th Circle in Amman (our go-to place for high-quality healthcare)

I got out of the swing of writing last week because I caught a nasty bug or bacteria or… whatever, it was gross and infected my tonsils and throat.  Thanks to Phillip for taking care of me and to Arab Medical Center for 1500mg of antibiotics.  (I do love drugs when they’re used responsibly.)

That reminds me.  I wanted to write about the Jordanian Health Care system.  To preface the details I’m about to write, let me just tell you that within about 24 minutes on Thursday of last week, Phillip and I had arrived at the hospital’s clinic, checked in, gotten a doctor’s examination, received a prescription, paid about US$3.50 for my medication, and were walking out the door.  As we left, we noted how we’d still be filling out paper work in a U.S. waiting room if we had been back in Atlanta.

For whatever reason, lots of Americans are utterly freaked out at the thought of a public health care system like the one Jordan has.  Phillip and I pay around US$128.31 per month (total) for our health insurance coverage.  (It went up by around 33% from our first year in Jordan due to one of my co-worker’s deciding to visit the doctor about once a week throughout the 12-month term.  She no longer works at our company, by the way.)  This is CHEAP compared to my Atlanta employer’s “family” plan —  which was about US$250 per month for the premium alone — especially considering that we didn’t pay anything at all for my doctor’s visit last week.  We paid a tiny amount for the medication and that was all.  In fact, our taxi ride to and from the clinic cost more than our actual visit.

Our expat friends told me and Phillip, almost as soon as we arrived in Jordan 2 years ago, that we should have babies while living in Amman.  My initial thought was always, “Oh, are you going to take care of them for us?”  Apparently, some of the nicest hospitals in the Middle East are here in Jordan.  Mothers can stay in luxury hospital suites (which include a bed for dad), get the best doctors, and benefit from excellent equipment and resources all for around $2,000 per birth.  That’s right.  In two months, the mortage payment on our house in Atlanta would cover the total birthing expenses of our CHILD.

Economically speaking, I’m sure the day will come when I regret not taking advantage of the maternity health benefits here.  But, I will at that time remind myself that I also didn’t want to dodge traffic walking in trash and mud on my way to work everyday with a ever-expanding baby bump.  Nor did I want to experience chasing down a taxi in the middle of the night while going into labor.  For me, myself, and I, the state of “being pregnant” ABSOLUTELY necessitates the possession of a car.  Call me a snooty American.  I. Don’t. Care.  :)

Oh!  I thought of another funny thing related to people who are not my husband telling me that I should have babies.  In Jordan (and perhaps in several other Arab cultural contexts), when a couple gets married, the public expectation is that they should try to concieve a child as soon as possible.  As in, if the wife isn’t pregnant within the first two months of marriage, rumour spreads that there must be something “wrong.”

Graph:  The average number of children per family in the U.S.  It was hard to find a similar stat on Jordan, but according to the Population Reference Bureau in 1990, the average number of children per woman in Jordan was 5.9 -- not exactly the same measurement, but illustrates a difference from the U.S.

Graph: The average number of children per family in the U.S. It was hard to find a similar stat on Jordan, but according to the Population Reference Bureau in 1990, the average number of children per woman in Jordan was 5.9 — not exactly the same measurement, but illustrates a difference from the U.S.

haha…  Phillip and I have been married now for 34 months and 3 days.  When Jordanians (women, that is) learn this information (i.e., after they complete their mental calculations for how many children we could’ve had by now), the next question is always, “WHY DON’T YOU HAVE KIDS?”

In the beginning, I was offended by this inquiry into a very private part of my life.  Now, I just smile and say, “Most Americans wait a few years after getting married to have children.  It’s our way.”

“Well,” remarks the wide-eyed wonderer, “I will pray that if Allah wills, you will have children very soon.”

“Thanks,” I reply.

And then the conversation moves on.

After Phillip and I have returned to U.S. life and conversation topics appropriate for American culture, I imagine that there will be days when I need something to laugh at.  These baby conversations will be among the first that I recall.

First View of Galilee from Umm Qais

19 Mar

Whoa!  I found this post as a draft from about a year ago.  Guess I forgot to publish it.  Yesterday, in my post, “The Great Outdoors,” I mentioned several places in northern Jordan, which is my favorite outdoorsy area of Jordan.  In the north western corner of the country is Umm Qais.  The surrounding area boarders Syria and Israel and has a beautiful view of the southern portion of the Sea of Galilee.

Umm Qais interests me for two reasons — other than the fact that it’s a gorgeous place to hike or have a picnic.

Reason 1.

It is believed to be the location where Jesus healed the demon-possessed man.  If you ever visit, you’ll immediately notice the geography consists of very steep hills that create a bowl around the south eastern edge of the Sea of Galilee.  Water flows downhill, right?  Right.  We hiked a little on those hills and thought how much easier goats and sheep have it on that type of terrian.  Thus, it was easy to imagine, after Jesus’ miracle, the herd of crazy pigs running down the slopes.  Once you start running down, you’d probably not be able to stop until you stumbled and rolled to the bottom… and it is a long, LONG way down!

mummqaisJesus Restores a Demon-Possessed Man

(Mark 5:1-20)

5 They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolishow much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

Roman ruins at Umm Qais, Jordan

Roman ruins at Umm Qais, Jordan

Reason 2.

Umm Qais (a.k.a. Gadera) was one of the ten Greco-Roman cities of the decapolis.  A trade route between Syria and Palestine once ran through it, thus, Greco-Roman-era ruins are found there.  Yes, that’s right.  Columns, stadiums, roadways, and various other structures.  Those people got around!  I think to fully appreciate the widespreadness of their “influence” (a.k.a. take-over!) of such a huge portion of the northern hemisphere, we’d have to travel from Rome to Jordan by boat, horse, and/or camel.  They didn’t have airplanes, and they didn’t have bulldozers or cranes.  Yet, the structures they were able to build are still simply amazing.

Here’s a short video from our hike with our friend, Shawn.