Saturday morning was a time for shopping. First, I walked down, what I now know is, Hebron Rd., back to the same grocery store. After unloading my bags of groceries, I set off again. I went down Hebron Rd. again, but went left at the first street. That leads to what I think is Manger Street. On that intersection is Cafe Sima's. I happened to meet one of the staff members of the English Administration of Bethlehem Bible College (BBC). We talked for at least a half hour. There are so many questions I have, and everyone is so patient and willing to explain things and tell me where things are.
Cafe Sima's is a very nice place, but it does provide a more European atmosphere. I was amused at the irony of just having been in Rome, come all the way to the Middle East, and then end up having to order European coffee -- I had a Cafe Americano. I also had a sandwich, something that seemed a little bit Middle eastern but not really.
I met a young woman there who is Aramaic/Syrian Christian. She told me she was planning to attend Liberty University. I tried to tell her that people at Liberty would be Christian Zionists. We had a very nice conversation. I suggest some other colleges she might think about, including Earlham College.
I decided, as long as I was on Manger Street, I would try to walk to the Church of the Nativity. What a trek that was. I came by a sculpture in the middle of the road. I didn't think it could be Manger Square. I went to the left and ended up by a sports center on King David St. I went back and asked, and people directed me on down what is more of a single lane side street. It wound around and came by an Arab market. I must have looked lost and certainly looked like a tourist. A man "hustled" me into his shop, brought me tea, had me sit on a stool, and talked about how much he needed me to buy something from him. I finally bought some nice things, a few cups I liked, a genuine Palestinian scarf, and maybe that was it. He then proceeded to show me his jewelry shop and then his wood carving shop. He finally let me go and showed me where Manger Square was. He explained that there were guides who would show me around.
Sure enough, I didn't get very close before a man approached me. He had a badge as an official guide. We didn't linger very long. He offered to take pictures of me. One was by the Greek Orthodox church and then one where he had me kneel down and touch the star that's on the floor marking the traditional place of Jesus' birth. I suppose people believe they'll receive a miracle by touching the star or kissing it. My miracle was just getting up from my knees. He showed me the ancient mosaic floor beneath the current floor, the contemporary Roman Catholic Church, and the bell tower. While he was showing me around outside the church and trying to bring me near souvenir shops so I would spend some more money, a young boy was trying to get me to give him some money. I said no several times and finally the guide shooed him away. Before I knew it we were done. He told me how to get back to Manger Street.
In Manger Square there is a large building called the Bethlehem Peace Center . I went inside and looked around for a minute.
I don't think I went the way I was supposed to. I think I took the long way around to get back to the intersection where Cafe Sima's is. I didn't get very far before a man came after me with necklaces. I felt bad for the man. He looked tearful as he begged me to buy some necklaces from him. The necklaces were ugly. I tried to say no and get rid of him, but he kept following, kept offering me a better deal. I stopped and tried to reason with him, but nothing I said made any difference. He then began accusing me of being the kind of tourist who only buys from the Jews and doesn't care about the Palestinians. I don't blame him, but it was extremely frustrating. I had a mile or so more to walk. My feet were hurting, I was thirsty, and I was beginning to feel the effects of the heat. As I struggled to keep walking and try to find my way back, I struggled with the thoughts of not wanting to walk anywhere again, of wanting to take a taxi next time and avoid having to deal with people on the street. There's no way I can buy stuff from people every time I want to walk somewhere. I finally came around a bend to stores I recognized. Just a little further and I would be back where I started.
I still needed to walk further down the street and find the fruit and vegetable store. It took me a few attempts to find it, but just a little further on I could see all the bustle of activity in front of a store. I bought some potatoes, some carrots, and some bananas. When I was checking out, I noticed an American looking woman. I heard her say thank you. So I said Hello to her. We made our way outside and kept talking. She had on a vest that said World Council of Churches. She is from Chicago and is here working as an "Ecumenical Accompanier." The organization is Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel. She mentioned how they are a sort of "watchdog" group at Israeli checkpoints. I described the experience I had just had. She was of course sympathetic of my experience but also helpful in reiterating what I had already heard several times: the tourist groups are brought in to visit sites from Jerusalem and then whisked back off again. The people who live here have no opportunity to sell to tourists. The olive wood figurines are practically given away by Palestinians in Bethlehem, but sold to tourists for three or four times the amount in Jerusalem. She did have some helpful advice. She said to try to tell people that I'm not a tourist, that I live here. I'll give that a try next time.
I had one more stop. There was a little sweet shop, so I stopped in a bought some baklava; well, it was probably a lot of little squares of baklava. Very yummy. The thought of enjoying some of my morning's purchases urged me on the final few blocks to get back to my apartment.
I found that I was not the only one from here going to the East Jerusalem Baptist Church. There have been four guys from Presbyterian churches in Seattle working at BBC this past week on laying the groundwork for developing a degree program in computer science. We loaded up the van and set off for Jerusalem. There are apparently two ways to get to Jerusalem. Brenda, the wife of Alex Awad, chose to go the way that goes through tunnels. Apparently this was a way designed for Jewish settlers in the West Bank to enter Jerusalem quickly. We breezed through the Israeli checkpoint, since all the guards did was "profile" the vehicle and see that we were all very Western-looking.
I noticed as we drove into Jerusalem that it seemed like I saw as many Arab/Muslim people as I did Jewish (those wearing clothing styles that indicate their religious/ethnic identity). It also seemed like signs everywhere were written in Hebrew and in Arabic.
The East Jerusalem Baptist Church sits on a beautiful plot of ground, perhaps a half a block in size. The landscaping around the church gives one the sense of being in the Garden of Gethsemane. The church building is nice. There were about 30 people there. They were mainly Westerners who work in Jerusalem in one capacity or another. We had a typical, protestant, contemporary-style service. We sang some choruses with words shown on a screen while several guitarists and a percussionist led us. We sang a few standard hymns from a Untied Methodist hymnal. We had some time of welcoming and prayer. Rev. Alex Awad gave a message focused on overcoming fear in the modern world by responding to others with faith, hope, and love. We had a fellowship time afterward. I talked with one man who is a missionary with the Assemblies of God. He works with a school in Gaza. He hasn't been allowed to re-enter Gaza for awhile now. I spoke with a woman who works with Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. The young man who played guitar also works with Sabeel. Another woman I talked to teaches kindergarten.
I talked briefly with Alex and happened to mention my experience walking to the Church of the Nativity. He felt sorry I had experienced the shopkeeper pressuring me to buy from him. When I told him about the man who hassled me about buying some necklaces from him, Alex was a little more perturbed. He said if he knew who that man was he would report him to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The man would be disciplined for his treatment of a tourist. They recognize that people who act like that are only hurting themselves and others. And in reality they are not even the poorest people in Bethlehem who need the most help.
Today I made sure I had directions and a map to find the International Center of Bethlehem, where the Dar An-nadwa Center is located. I even knew how to take a little bit of a shortcut. I walked past Bethlehem University. The houses and buildings along the street looked nice. Then the rode began to get narrower and began to wind around a little bit. All of a sudden I came out on the busy Paul IV Street. The street was lined with shops, people were walking everywhere, and cars were trying to make their way through. After walking a few blocks, I began to wonder if I was lost. So I got my map out and asked someone. After we figured out where I was trying to go and where I was, it turned out I was almost there. Sure enough a little further down I came to the V in the road and then just ahead on my right was the place.
I guess I was early, maybe two minutes. People came trickling in. I finally asked someone who came by and he invited me to go upstairs to the room they were using for the Arabic class. Many of the people seemed European, some German, some Dutch, and a smattering of others including a few Americans. Dr. Moin Halloun (http://www.bethlehem.edu/images/archive/2005/2005_030.jpg) arrived finally and he started off full tilt. The class textbook is one he wrote himself and published. He drilled us frequently and had us work with another person too. Most of the time the students are doing the speaking. He left me alone for awhile, but near the end he came around to me. We were reciting nouns with pronoun endings: beti, betak, betik, etc. (my house, your house, etc.). My word was "wife," mara. I did fine until I got to maratik, "her wife." So he made jokes about Holland and Norway where you could say "her wife," but not in Palestine. He is a very good natured man, very funny, but high energy and loud.
At the break I went up and paid my money. He started to have me write my name, but then remembered I was already on his list. Unfortunately he didn't bring a copy of the textbook; he did have a copy of the dictionary (now my third or fourth Arabic dictionary) We just arranged for me to come to Bethlehem University tomorrow, find his office, and pick up a copy of the book. It will be interesting to see the university.
On the walk back I didn't notice where the shortcut street was. So I walked down to the main intersection of Hebron Rd. My walk there reminded me of the frequent trips I made in Rome up and down the steps of Trastavere. Now I'm going to get to walk up and down the hill of Paul IV Street. I'll have to come up with a better name.
Today I decided to walk down the street to where I had seen the Israeli wall. It's a very eerie feeling to see this huge prison wall looming up in the middle of a neighborhood. The corner of the wall has a guard tower. Just around the corner on Manger St. there's a painting someone has done on the side of a building in full view of the Israeli guard tower. The painting depicts a dove of peace wearing a flak jacket. In the center it shows the dove of peace is in the target sites of the enemy's weapon.
From here I walked on up the street to Bethlehem University. It's quite a little trek up the hill. Bethlehem University has a beautiful campus, very modern buildings, and friendly people willing to help an American find his way. I took a few wrong turns but managed to find Dr. Halloun and get my Arabic book.
One of the events of the day was to have a quick tour through the new building Bethlehem Bible College is constructing. There is still need for more funding, but they are well on their way to providing the community with a great place for education and various forms of ministry. Everyone at BBC works very hard and is committed to encouraging not only Palestinian Christians and their churches but the quality of life for all Palestinians.
In the afternoon I worked very hard at Arabic, trying to catch up, since I missed the first few classes. I think I'm doing okay. I find it very difficult to try to speak in Arabic when put on the spot in front of the class. Our teacher knows that we have to be forced to speak in Arabic in order to learn how to converse with people. He also knows we have to learn to speak quickly, which is very hard.
On the way home from class, I ended up walking with a girl from Norway until we got to Hebron Rd. She is volunteering at the YMCA in Beit Jala. She told me her story of entering Israel at the airport. The Israeli authorities questioned her about what she was doing going there. She told them exactly what she was doing and where. They finally stamped her passport, even though she asked them not to (because with an Israeli stamped passport you can't enter countries like Lebanon). Then the person wrote a one over where it says three for length of visa. So now she has been calling and calling trying to get someone to help her renew her visa for longer. Sometimes they yell at her, tell her it's not their problem, or just hang up. Once the woman said, "Why do you keep calling me?" Instead of transferring her to the right place, she transferred her call back to the beginning place. What a nightmare for her.
I finally decided I had to do laundry. The laundry room is actually on the roof the building. I go outside on to the roof and then enter a little laundry room. Fortunately the machines have English instructions, so it wasn't too difficult to figure out how to use the two washing machines. I did use the dryer for my "whites," but hung all the rest on the clothes line. I meant to take a picture of my clothes flying over Bethlehem. It was a windy day, but none of my clothes actually flew away.
You may have heard about this incident in Jerusalem. A young man swerved his car into a median where Israeli police were and hit a bunch of people before crashing the car into a wall. After he was already stopped someone shot and killed him. There's no evidence he had any desire to become a martyr. The family says he wasn't a good driver and didn't even have a license. They claim it was a traffic accident and the police had no reason to shoot the boy, especially after he was already crashed into a wall. The Israelis have a law that says a Palestinian who commits a terrorist act will have his home demolished. In the last two cases, a court has overturned that from what I understand. Ehud Barak is calling for a swifter execution of the demolition orders in order to prevent further "terrorist" attacks.
Thursday is chapel day. I'm really enjoying hearing them sing Christian songs in Arabic. Someone told me that many of the Arabic Christian songs come from Egypt, where there is a larger population of Christians. I sat near the front, so that's probably why no one offered to translate for me. Next time I'll be sure to sit in the back. One of the instructors preached a message from the Revelation concerning John on the island of Patmos. You can be guaranteed he didn't present the topic according to a dispensationalist, Zionistic approach.
I spent a greater part of the afternoon preparing for class on Friday. I tried to outline my lectures and shorten the material more. By the time I finished it had gotten dark out, which happens about 5 or 5:30 in Bethlehem. I shut the light off in my office and then discovered there were no lights on anywhere. I had to feel my way down the corridor, turn left, walk a little further, and then turn left again. I could make out the door to the outside. The thing is the doors lock and unlock with a key both from the inside and the outside. Fortunately, I had been given a key. It took me a couple of tries, but I made it out. Next time I'll carry my flashlight with me, or just go home when everyone else does.
My class went a little bit better than last Friday. The students seem to get hung up on very fine theological points. Because the book of Hebrews begins with comparing Christ, as the "son of God," with the angels, who are called in the Bible, "sons of God." It may be that Palestinian Christians are influenced by Muslim beliefs about angels. I showed them the texts in the Hebrew Bible (and the translations in Greek, English, and Arabic) where angels are called "sons of God." It took a long time before I was able to move on.
Then we got stuck on the issue of God's will in the world. Do bad things happen because God is punishing people for sin? I happened to use the example of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina to illustrate a different point. Apparently the students had been told by someone else that Katrina was a judgment because of some naked parade or something. Not something I had heard about.
Point is, doing cross cultural exegesis is a very difficult task. I'm learning that the hard way. Somehow I've got to get the point across that we can't discuss (and solve) every theological and moral issue, if we expect to finish going through the book of Hebrews.
Speaking of Hebrews, my book, which was supposed to have been printed last week, is now supposed to be printed and available next week. At this point, I'll believe it when I see it.
This afternoon I went with Rami, my interpreter for my class and my personal guide to the Holy Land, to take in a quick visit to Solomon's Pools. We first stopped for a bite to eat at a local diner. I had my first authentic falafel sandwich. It was good and I had fun experiencing their culture. The restaurant is actually run by a Palestinian Christian, and it is on my way to Arabic class. I'll have to make it a regular stop after Arabic class.
We drove south through several towns, one of which is named after St. George, who lived for sometime in the area.
We stopped first at the highest and largest of the pools. It's thought that this is the pool of Solomon, because in the Song of Songs 4:12 the woman is addressed as "A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a garden locked, a fountain sealed." The nearby springs would fill the pool and the other pools lower down the hill. Herod used the water via aqueducts to supply Herodion and even Jerusalem.
As we drove further down, we looked at the convent built in the valley. A town grew up around the convent. It's quite a spectacular site to see the rugged mountains and valleys.
The rest of Friday was spent doing my shopping. I ran myself completely out of food on Thursday. Now I'm well-stocked and eager to enjoy my locally grown fruits and vegetables along with tea sweetened with local honey.