Friday, September 26, 2008

Week 2 of 13 in Israel/Palestine

Saturday, 9/20

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.

Sunday, 9/21

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.

Monday 9/22

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 ( 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.

Tuesday, 9/23

   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.

Wednesday, 9/24

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.

Thursday, 9/25

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.

Friday, 9/26

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.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Week 1 of 13 in Israel/Palestine

Monday (9/15) I left home for the next three months. My flight began in Dayton, OH with a quick trip to Atlanta, GA. I was relieved on that flight when some people got bumped up to first class and the guy sitting next to me (or should I say crammed in next to me) ran for an empty seat. He was in such a hurry he left his bag behind. After a few minutes he came back and got his bag but didn't ever make eye contact with me. So I had a comfortable ride to Atlanta.
At the Atlanta airport I made my way to the international flights area. I don't actually know whether that area serves other international flights or just flights to Tel Aviv. The waiting area seemed to have two main kinds of people, typical Jewish-looking people (men with yarmulke's, tassels, or even more orthodox style) and a group of white, mid-western looking church-goers (Wal-Mart style clothes and tour IDs around their neck). I was among the latter group, though without an ID. I couldn't tell whether any Arabs were present or not. Even though we all had already gone through airport security, we went through another security check before boarding the plane. There was one other difference on the flight. Apparently Israel has a law that people cannot move around on a plane within 30 minutes of landing. Everyone was warned to get their potty breaks done before the 30 minute mark.
This Delta flight was one of my best experiences. This was the first time I've been on a plane where each person his/her own TV monitor in the back of the seat in front of them. They had a touch screen, so it was very easy to navigate. There were episodes from major TV shows as well as documentaries. It wasn't until half way there that I discovered there were movies also. I had wanted to watch the Indiana Jones movie before leaving and just didn't find the time. I got to watch it in flight as well as The Iron Man and most of Kung Fu Panda.
I was a bit nervous going through the Israeli passport check. The woman wanted to know how long I was staying and wanted to see my return ticket. I tried to explain that it is an electronic ticket. I did have my itinerary printed out, so I showed her that. She also wanted to know where I was staying. Then she asked me what religion I was. I wanted to say, as any American would, "what business is it of yours?" But I said I was a Christian, then I added that I was a Quaker. She didn't seem very impressed, but I guess any answer was acceptable as long as I didn't say Muslim. Last of all, she wanted to know my father's name and my paternal grandfather's name. I felt rather stupid, because I always get confused about my grandfather's name. I always called him Grandpa. I gave her the name Edgar. I think that's right. I wouldn't want to lie ... twice.
I had arranged with Bethlehem Bible College (BBC) to have a driver pick me up at the airport. We hadn't really had much time to make the arrangements. After getting my baggage, walking through customs, and passing the passport checkpoint, I entered the front area of the airport where people were waiting to greet their loved one. I started looking around at people with signs to see if I could find my driver. I looked for about 45 minutes. Then I tried to call someone at BBC. I couldn't get the phone number to work. A security guard even let me try her cell phone. I finally went back to the front of the airport. Within a minute I saw a person I hadn't seen before with a sign. As I walked closer I finally made out that it said in large capital letters TIM. He had been walking around trying to find me. After loading up his car, we sped off -- and I mean that literally -- into the evening. Because of traffic he said we would go around Jerusalem. The ride probably took an hour at least. It was dark by the time we arrived in Bethlehem. We passed one police barrier, but it wasn't a checkpoint. I guess we avoided any checkpoint. The police officer just looked into the car. The driver told me people think he looks Russian and he agreed that I look Jewish. We were just waved on.
kitchenA young man was sitting on the steps to BBC and he helped me get to the right door. We finally got the guesthouse and the woman there, Esther, came down and showed me to my apartment. I suppose it's about what I expected. It's quite small with a sitting room, kitchenette, bathroom(ette), and bedroom. There's a small kitchen table across from the couch. The kitchen has a large sink and counter area, a tiny gas stove (looks new), medium sized frig, and microwave. Someone provided me with a box of milk, a baggie of cereal, a couple of eggs, and some coffee and tea packets. The bathroom has a tub with a spray hose. It's not intended to be a shower -- no shower curtain. Here's the kicker, no toilet paper down the toilet. Another way that my Honduras visit has prepared me for international travel. The bedroom has a large wardrobe. The bed is nice and comfortable. The room has a medium sized floor-stand fan. It has made sleeping quite comfortable. sitting room
The night was very quiet. In the evening I heard the Muslim call to prayer and I heard it again early in the morning. From my bedroom window I look out at Bethlehem stretching up the hillside. out my back window
Wed. morning I woke up every few hours. I would make myself go back to bed. Then when it got to be 7 or 8 in the morning, I didn't want to get up. I finally got up, took a shower(ette) and got dressed. I ate a bowl of the cereal and had a cup of coffee while doing some reading. At 1:30 a guy named Al knocked on my door and invited me to lunch. The school provides a free lunch to staff, teachers, and students. There I met Rami, my translator, for a brief second and later met Alex Awad, the Dean of Students, full-time instructor, and senior pastor of the East Jerusalem Baptist Church. I sat with several people who are not locals and they answered my many questions.
Wed. afternoon I walked down the street that runs in front of BBC to find the grocery store. Maybe it was a mile, probably less. Actually, I only crossed one street and one busy intersection. I felt okay walking down the sidewalk. For the most part people ignored me. I tried to smile and nod my head at people I passed.  I bought some food and supplies. The store clerk seemed very happy for my business. He kept saying, "God bless you." He did well communicating in English.
chapelMy contact at BBC has been Munther Isaac. He came to my room Thursday morning. We went to chapel, which I'm assuming is every Thursday at 11am. There were about 40 - 50 students in the room. The songs were in Arabic, of course. I could sort of follow along on the screen which words they were singing. I did sing a little when they repeated a line that went something like Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, his name is Jesus. When Alex Awad began to give a chapel message, a woman came and sat next to me and translated. She did a terrific job. Apparently the students knew I was coming and have been asking about me. Several people have been calling me Dr. Tim, which I find very flattering and endearing. Everyone is very kind and gracious. After chapel Munther gave me a little tour. He is leaving soon for a month and a half in England, where he is beginning a research doctorate at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies.
walkway in front of apartmentFriday morning I made my way over to the main office at 8:30 am to make sure I knew where my classroom would be. Because I would have not only third year students but also second year students, the number would be 18. They are a wonderful group of mainly young people. They responded in a way students do in the States when you begin the class by questioning common assumptions. For instance, they were perplexed by my assertion that we didn't know who wrote Hebrews or to whom it was written. It turns out the Arabic Bible commonly used, called the Van Dyke translation, makes use of the Greek manuscripts which include a subscription at the end of Hebrews. I have not given that much thought over the years. I'm aware of its existence, but it is no longer an issue for modern English translations of the New Testament. It was described to me that young people are regularly taught by Muslims two things: Christians are infidels and the Bible is corrupt. This means I will need to spend some time talking about the text of the New Testament.
I'm not surprised I didn't get very far with my written lectures. I will need to do better with summarizing what I've written. That will mean spending some more time thinking about Hebrews and how best to communicate the central message to these students. I was very impressed with their inquisitiveness and the quality of their questions. I hope they all stick with me and not drop after a difficult and challenging first class.
After class Rami and I went to a nearby restaurant. The meal was largely the appetizers—pita bread and dishes of stuff like hummus, babaganoush, and a half dozen other dishes I didn't recognize. We also ordered a single order of lamb kabob. We couldn't finish everything. We had a cup of Arabic coffee, which came with small slices of baklava. In my blogs from Rome I complained about the size of the Italian espresso. If you can believe it, it seems like Arab coffee cups are half the size of Italian espressos.
I hope that everyone who reads this blog will check out the Gift Shop online at BBC . I met the man who coordinates the gift shop. One of the best ways you can support personally what I'm doing here, support BBC, and help local Palestinian Christians is to buy Christmas presents from this gift shop. I've been impressed by the quality of the work and its beauty. Order soon, order often. Imagine, Christmas presents from Bethlehem.
I now have an ethernet connection for internet in my apartment. I also figured out how to call my wife. She was trying to call me but the number we were told to use would get rejected. So I went ahead and called her from the phone in my apartment. We hadn't really talked to each other since Monday. Everything has been worked out now so we can stay connected. I also have an office to use. I've been a little uncomfortable working at the kitchen table and sitting in a straight back kitchen chair.
On Saturday I'll do some shopping, walk around Bethlehem on my own, and probably do some reading. I'm planning to catch a ride to the East Jerusalem Baptist Church this Sunday. Eventually I'll work out how to get to Ramallah for worship at the Friends meetinghouse.
I feel especially blessed to have met Rami. Besides the fact that he's one of the nicest people I've ever met, he is an experienced and professional tour guide and a trained archaeologist. We are making plans for him to give me weekly private tours around Israel/Palestine. We've already had conversations about what it might mean for Earlham School of Religion to bring students here for a two-week intensive. He loves the idea that we would want to combine visiting archaeological sites with time spent meeting Palestinians and learning about Arab culture. Great things are on the way and we're just starting.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Week 0 of 13 in Israel/Palestine

In my previous blog I was ready to return to home to Indiana from Rome. I was then reminded of song lyrics like "Homeward Bound" and "Indiana Wants Me." What popped into my head now is "I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane." I will be leaving on Monday, Sept. 15th to live in Bethlehem for three months (but my bags are not packed and I'm not quite ready to go).
I've had to adjust my plans somewhat due to the increased cost of everything. I had planned to stay at the Tantur Ecumenical Study Centre in Bethlehem. To do that would have taken all of the rest of my sabbatical funds plus hundreds of dollars of my own money, which we can't afford. I wouldn't have had any money to do much of anything else. I even tried to sell my exercise bike just to get some extra cash to have on hand, in case I wanted to buy a falafel or something. We've had a very tense week trying to figure out how I was going to do this. Then a few days ago Bethlehem Bible College (BBC) offered me a small apartment to live in for free. That's just an incredible blessing. I feel bad for not being able to follow through on my plans with Tantur.  But this other opportunity will allow me to experience much more of the local culture, while still being able to do research and writing. Plus my apartment will have internet access. I've been scanning books for several days to make sure I have with me the most important resources I need and which are the most unlikely to find in libraries there -- not to mention the heaviest ones I don't want to bring with me.
 Munther Isaac at BBC (the college, not the UK media giant) has been extremely helpful. He works with the BBC choir, which has toured the US several times recently. I know who my interpreter is going to be for my class and am looking forward to working with him. I've found video clips and images of BBC students on the internet. They look like a great group of people, many of whom are doing incredible things while living under great duress.
I haven't made a great deal of advances in Arabic lately it seems. I've been listening to Pimsleur recordings for Eastern Arabic. What I've found most frustrating is trying to figure out what to learn. Trying to learn Modern Standard Arabic, classical Arabic, and colloquial Arabic at the same time is very confusing. Not only is the vocabulary and grammar different, books on colloquial Arabic always seem to be written in transliteration. I've spent a great deal of time learning to read Arabic script, so I hate having to read transliteration. I keep trying to figure out what the Arabic letters are. So not only am I trying to translate the Arabic into English -- so to speak -- I'm also first translating the transliteration into Arabic script. Fortunately there is a Jerusalem dialect Arabic class starting now and running for the next 15 weeks. A professor at Bethlehem University, Dr. Moin Halloun, has written a series of books on the Jerusalem dialect for foreign speakers. I've signed up for the class and will start on the 22nd. I really hope I know enough to be able to be in the intermediate level. I don't want to start from scratch, although it's always best to have a firm basis for starting a language. I'm also trying to arrange for someone to tutor me and maybe that person can help me more with reading classical and Modern Standard Arabic.
Soon I will have my bags packed and will be leaving on a jet plane. I do know when I'll be back, however, Dec. 15th. I'll be home in time to bring with me Christmas cheer from Bethlehem.