29 September 2008

Holy Camel

Luxor is beautiful. We arrived Tuesday night in time for dinner at our Sheraton Hotel which was right on the Nile River. Can a trip get any better than that? (Actually it could, if we were allowed to eat the fruit and vegetables or drink the water. Only meat and bread for a week, as well as a somewhat constant state of nausea is rather unpleasant. So it goes.)

Wednesday morning was spent in the Valley of the Kings. Becky, I thought of you quite a bit on Wednesday morning -- we got to go inside the tombs of Kings Ramses III, Ramses IV, Thutmose IV, and (of course) King Tut. King Tut is still inside his tomb, which is actually the most attractive feature of that particular tomb, because the tomb itself is not all that spectacular. But the other three were incredible. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take pictures inside the tombs. However, the hieroglyphics were amazing, with so much detail and a lot of color. I was impressed with how well the colors have survived over time. Our guide said that to "paint" the walls they used natural resources and colors from rocks rather than paints, which would fade. Again, it was incredible to see how much work was put into these tombs, that one person could be considered important enough to spend 20 years constructing such a monument to house their monstrous sarcophagus and all of their possessions.

After the Valley of the Kings we stopped at the Funerary Temple of Ramses III as well as the Colossus of Memnon. Again, I was impressed by the preservation of everything, as well as the detail they put into the temple. Example for you:

This is on one of the walls of the temple. During battles in Ancient Egypt, the pharaohs would figure out how many of the enemy they killed by cutting off and counting the hands from dead bodies. This wall depicts the scene: the first guy has all the hands, the one behind him is recording numbers, the one behind him is checking to make sure he has the numbers right. It's a little gruesome, but I guess it's effective. They instituted this method of tracking so the pharaohs wouldn't cheat and say they had killed more people during the battle than they actually did.

After lunch at the Sheraton we rode falukahs down the Nile River to our CAMEL RIDE through Luxor. We rode for an hour and got to see a lot of the city. I really enjoyed this for a few reasons. First, I was on a camel. Second, it was cool to see the people in the city and how they lived and how happy they seem to be even though they live in blatant poverty. Some camel riding pictures...

This next one is of me with my camel, Bob Marley, and my camel driver, Muhammad.
Wednesday night and a good part of Thursday we went to the bazaar in Luxor. It was quite incredible, and we met some really nice people. There was one man, Nasser (like the president of Egypt after King Farouk was taken out) who owned a papyrus store that we talked with for probably an hour. He told us about living in Luxor and all about his papyrus store. It was really cool, and we enjoyed getting to know him and look through all of the papyri that he had. He had a 16-year-old assistant, Mahmoud, who really enjoyed talking with us and taught us some Arabic phrases. The bazaar itself was rather dirty (although not as dirty as in Cairo) and everything that we all bought has a distinct bazaar smell; it's easy to wash any clothing purchased, but a little more difficult with things like the small bongo drum my roommate bought.

On Thursday before spending the afternoon in the bazaar (or the pool, or napping as it was rather hot and we were going, going, going all the time) we visited the Karnak and Luxor Temples. They were beautiful, and again I was impressed by their structure and longevity. It's mind-blowing, really. I can't quite grasp the fact that everything there is so old.

Thursday night we took a sleeper train back to Cairo, which brings us back to the Cairo post on Friday. I'd never ridden a real train before, but I'm quite certain that this was the dirtiest train I will ever have to experience. The dinner was sketchy (thank goodness for the foresight to bring snacks!), there was dust everywhere, and the little sink did not look capable of washing anything. I used a scarf I purchased earlier that day to cover the pillow so I wouldn't have to actually touch it with my head. However, even in its dirtiness, it was quite a cool experience. I slept a lot better than I expected to, and I was not attacked by any Russian assassins or SPECTRE agents. (For those who do not understand the reference, several James Bond movies have scenes in sleeper cars, and inevitably Mr. Bond is attacked in his tiny compartment that looked exactly like mine.)

Cousin Cai, you're named after a pretty sweet city

Just so you know I was actually there...
We arrived in Cairo Monday evening and bright and early on Tuesday we took off for the pyramids. Some sixth grade flashbacks for you all: There are three pyramids at Giza, the great pyramids which are considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. We visited all three. The Pyramid of Kufu is the first, built (of course) by Kufu, the second is the Pyramid of Kahfre (son of Kufu), and the third is the Pyramid of Menkaure (son of Kahfre), so as our guide repeated several times, the father, the son, and the grandson.

There really is not anything I can say to adequately express the magnificence of the pyramids. It was incredible to think how huge and symmetric and old they are. Christ lived 2000 years ago, so the things we see in Jerusalem like the Garden Tomb or the pool of Bethesda are about 2000 years old, but the pyramids were built 2000 years prior to that. 4000 years ago and they are still standing. It's incredible.

After the pyramids we also saw the Sphinx and then went to a papyrus factory, Saqqara, and Memphis. The papyrus factory was really cool and the people there showed us how papyrus is made. Saqqara is the location of the Step Pyramid, the first pyramid ever built. Prior to the creation of the pyramid, when a pharaoh died they would bury him and then build a mastaba, which is just a large box, over his grave. The Step Pyramid was a mastaba with five smaller mastabas built on top of it -- hence the step-like structure. Memphis was the first capital of Egypt and had several statues, including a huge one of Ramses II which has fallen, but is enclosed and visible.

Tuesday evening we took a plane to Luxor, but I want to skip on to our return trip to Cairo. Rather than discuss the trip chronologically I will discuss it by location, so as not to confuse you...although that may be confusing for some. Regardless, I'm skipping Wednesday and Thursday for the moment.

Friday morning we went to the Cairo Museum, which was incredible. We were able to see the Rosetta Stone, all of the gold that was discovered in King Tut's tomb (there are rooms filled with gold jewelery and dishes and a throne, it's incredible), various other ancient artifacts, and an exhibit with 10-15 mummies, including Ramses II (considered the Ramses of the Bible who would not let the Israelites go) and Hatshepsut, the only female pharaoh of Egypt. Again, I was amazed by how old everything is, and how well preserved.

After the museum we spent a few hours at the Khan al-Khalili Bazaar before having lunch at the Hard Rock Café. The bazaars in Egypt were similar to the shopping in Jerusalem, except these shop keepers would almost go down to any price you wanted. However, I preferred the Luxor bazaar, so we'll discuss that when I come back to Wednesday-Thursday.

On Friday we went to the Cairo Citadel, which is the mosque of Muhammad Ali (not the boxer, a very important Muslim leader) as well as the Ibn Tulun Mosque. They were beautiful. We had to take off our shoes, as the mosques are holy sites, and our guide gave us a little lecture about Islam which, unfortunately, we had already heard several times on this trip. However, we loved looking around the mosques and taking pictures.

To the left is the Cairo Citadel, or the Mosque of Muhammad Ali. The decor inside was beautifully ornate, with rich colored carpets and intricate designs in the lighting. To the right is the view from the top of the minaret at the Ibn Tulun Mosque. The minaret is the tower where the prayer call sounds five times a day. There is a minaret very close to the Jerusalem Center, so we get the pleasure of hearing the prayer call often, occasionally at 4:00 AM. Although it is a beautiful call, I prefer it when the sun is up.

Saturday was our last day in Cairo, and that afternoon we drove back into the Sinai by way of the Suez Canal and the Red Sea. The Red Sea is beautiful. We stayed in a dirty hotel just down the road from Saint Catherine's monastery so that we could get up at 1:30 AM to hike Mout Sinai Sunday morning. But first, let's go to Luxor.

I Visited the Torah

We returned from our week-long Egypt trip last night, and it was quite fantastic. However, before I discuss Egypt we need to go over a few Israel visits on the way.

We left early last Sunday morning by bus to drive to a kibbutz near Eliat in the southern part of Israel, about 45 minutes from the Egyptian border. On our way to the kibbutz we stopped at Tel Be'er Sheva, the Wilderness of Zin, and Avdat. For those of you who are unfamiliar, we'll have a quick Old Testament review: Beer Sheba was the southern most city of the Biblical land of Israel; Isaac built an altar there, it was the location of Jacob's ladder vision, and Elijah hid from Jezebel in Beer Sheba. The Wilderness of Zin was a long stopping point for the Israelites during the Exodus from Egypt, they probably stayed there for at least a year and if I remember correctly, it was the location where they were all bit by firey serpents and the Lord told Moses to put a brass serpent on a stick for them to be healed. The Wilderness of Zin is also where David Ben-Gurion and his wife are buried. Observe for a moment the few of the valley from our lookout point. I don't know about you, but if I had to spend a few days in this wilderness, let alone years, I would murmur as well. I think sometimes we tend to criticize the Israelites and think they were ungrateful, and to a certain extent that is true. However, after seeing this particular landscape I cannot say that I wouldn't have murmured either.

Our last stop prior to the kibbutz was cool too. Avdat is a whole bunch of ruins from what was once an excellent trading post apparently; it was right on the trail from Petra to Gaza and people frequently stopped there. We were able to see things like where they would smash grapes to make wine, a baptismal font, and explore various caves. It was really cool.

After our Biblical stops we ate dinner and spent the night at a kibbutz. That was one of the most interesting places I have ever seen. We had a guide take us around so we were able to see various things like the dairy, the infirmary, the school, the cafeteria. Our guide told us that everyone on the kibbutz rotates positions, so you spend a while as a cafeteria worker and then you might become the treasurer for a while, and then you would be on the night watch, etc. The kibbutz covers all living expenses such as food, housing, electricity, and medical (among others) and each family gets a small allotment of money each year in proportion to the size of the family, so a family of six would get more money than a family of three. The little apartments they live in are also determined by the family's size.

It was interesting to see the communal way these people live. It is the best functioning socialist society I have ever seen -- not that I have seen many socialist societies, but we did study them often in school, and they all seemed to have many more problems than this kibbutz does. Our guide told us that in the time he has lived there (some 30 or so years) they have only kicked out two members, one of which was permitted back in later, and currently only have two who are somewhat problematic. Difficulties with only four people in 30 years is rather impressive. I doubt anything like a kibbutz would be possible in the US, or in any European capitalist country for that matter. Israel itself is capitalist, but the kibbutz (and others like it) does not have any problem surviving. I was very impressed by the people there and the way in which they choose to live.

Monday morning we ate breakfast and were off to Egypt!

20 September 2008

Off to Africa...cool!

Tomorrow we're heading to Egypt for eight days, so I'll be internet-less (and blog-less) for a while. Don't worry, I'm sure I'll have plenty to say when I get back.

I think I might have Mrs. Fickes flashbacks while we're there, what with the mummies and the pyramids of Giza.

19 September 2008

Tel Aviv

On Wednesday we only had one class (Old Testament) that ended at 9:15 (it started at 7:30, ugh) so almost all of the students went on a trip to Tel Aviv for the day.

I went on another very Ephrata-like drive, but instead of ending up in the beautiful Jerusalem, or the very dry and bare Ephrata (sorry, Grandma) we stopped at the Mediterranean Sea. Wow. I've seen the Atlantic and I've been in the Pacific, and now I can add the Mediterranean. It was beautiful; we got to the beach around 10:30 or 11:00 and stayed until 2:00-ish. The sand is really fine, and the water was so warm. I don't think I've ever been in water that warm, it was so pleasant. We brought lunches with us, so we ate lunch on the beach (cool) and I read C. S. Lewis for a while after we played in the water. We split up into smaller groups in the afternoon to explore Tel Aviv (I really don't think 81 students should explore together).

I ended up with seven other people and we walked all over the place. We went through several markets/bazaars and looked at different foods and jewelry and things; one girl bought a nice silver ring and some of the guys got soccer jerseys. We ended up getting lost looking for an art fair, but were really close to the Shalom Tower (I think the tallest building in Tel Aviv, if not then it's close) where we went up to the top and looked out on an amazing view. After the Tower we walked through the Russian section of the city, which we figured out when I started seeing matryoshka dolls in the store windows. The Great Synagogue (Grand Synagogue? I can't remember) is very close to the Russian section of town, and the rabbi who was there let us come in even though we were not appropriately dressed (we were fine except none of the girls had head coverings with them, we didn't think about it beforehand). The synagogue was beautiful. The woodwork on all the benches and doors and alters were amazing, and the fabrics they use were very ornate and in gorgeously rich colors.

We wandered back down through the city and the bazaars before they all closed at 7:00 (as it is still Ramadan, none of the Muslims work around 7:00 because that is when they break their fast). We decided to go back down to the beach to watch the sunset, which was the best decision of the evening. Two of the guys with us swam out to some rocks in the ocean to try and watch the sun set from there, but they didn't make it quite in time. Either way, it was beautiful. My first Mediterranean sunset.

We split up for dinner, and I ended up with three other people at a little place called Miguel's Hotel & Bistro, up near the US Embassy. Our waiter was hilarious, he made fun of one of our group when he asked if they had ketchup (apparently on his mission in Brasil ketchup was not always available and he assumed Israel would be the same), and was just very friendly the entire night. I ordered Middle Eastern kabobs, which were really good (the "mushed potatoes" they came with were excellent as well). We made it back to the rest of the group in time for our taxi-van ride to the Center and got in around 10:45. Except for early classes the next day and a sunburned back, the trip was absolutely fantastic.
And here's just one more...

Dead Sea Scrolls

I apologize to those of you who thought I would be prompt; I know I said I'd write about this all week, but it gets a little crazy sometimes.

For the past several weeks (perhaps months, we weren't told exactly) the Israel Museum has had the Isaiah scroll as well as other portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls on display. This was the last time they would ever be available to the public eye; as of 18 September they have been put into a temperature controlled vault and are no longer accessible, even to scholars, because they are disintegrating so rapidly. This last Sunday we had a free day, and Brother Huntington (the associate director) organized a field trip for anyone interested in seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls. We were all interested, so all 81 students as well as several of the faculty went to the museum.

Most of the museum is currently closed for renovation, but we were able to see a model of the city of Jerusalem as it was when Herod's temple was still standing (where the Dome of the Rock is now). Professor Skinner came along and gave us a fantastic description of the city, showing us specifically where various historical and biblical events took place, as well as how the structures in the model correspond with the city we see every day. This is the view from the city on the southwest...I think. Professor Skinner said the red-roofed houses would have been owned by the more wealthy people in the city (they have multiple floors) and the towers you see in the back right of the photo were part of Herod's castle. He had towers erected in memory of his brother, his best friend, and his favorite wife, who he later had executed. Great guy, Herod.

After looking at the city, we went down into the Book of the Shrine, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were exhibited. They were in a building with a white almost upside-down funnel shaped top. (Observe the photo, courtesy of Israelinphotos.com because I did not take my own.) When they found the scrolls at Qumran, they were contained in jars with lids that looked like this building. The actual building is underground, and right inside there was a long hallway with artifacts that were discovered at Qumran along both sides. At the end of the hallway was a circular room that discussed the Dead Sea Scrolls in detail, as well as their importance. It also contained the Aleppo Codex, the oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible, although in 1947 a large chunk of it went missing, including almost the entire Torah. I'm not quite sure how anyone could just lose all five books of Moses, but I guess it happened. Regardless, it was really interesting to learn about how the Aleppo Codex matched so well with the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Isaiah scroll on display is the longest continuous scroll of all 200+ scrolls that they found, and according to Professor Skinner over 95% of the text on the Isaiah scroll matches the King James Version of the book of Isaiah. That's pretty cool.

After the museum we split up into different groups. I went to West Jerusalem, specifically Ben Yehuda Street, with some other people, and we made our way through West Jerusalem and then into the Old City. It was fun, and very very different from East Jerusalem. The West side is definitely more European/American...well, see for yourself.I do like, however, that it is kosher.

13 September 2008


So, we were supposed to go to the Wailing Wall yesterday evening, but due to a variety of things our security personnel did not think it was safe and canceled our trip. It made for a really long afternoon. I had planned to discuss this experience with you today, however, since we aren't actually going until we return from Egypt I thought I'd show you where I live instead.

Here are pictures of our room. I live with three other girls; as long as we keep it clean we have enough space. (Mary, you might have a hard time with this life style.) The door opens up to a little patio and there is a tree in the middle (the hallways are open, so you can see the sky) and then on the other side is the door for our neighbor's apartment. I love having the tree there, and being able to smell the outdoors and hear the birds as I walk to my room at all hours of the day. We live on the third of eight floors, and the main entrance is on level eight: the eighth floor has an auditorium, the library, the LRC (Learning Resource Center?), some administration offices, and the security room; the seventh level has more offices and the entrance to the forum (another auditorium-like room, where we have class); the sixth floor has the computer lab, the lower entrance to the forum, the snack bar (woohoo!), classrooms, and the Oasis (where we eat); level five is the faculty housing and offices; floors four and three are all student housing; and one and two are also student housing, but are currently unoccupied. Since I live on the third floor but pretty much everything happens on floors six through eight, I go up and down the stairs a lot every day. I apologize for the awkward pictures, but the room is at a difficult angle for my photography skills.

Here is the view from our balcony. I must say, it's the best view I've ever had.

The BYU Jerusalem Center itself is quite beautiful as well; it is arguably the best (modern) architecture in the city, and people come from all over to tour the Center. I've seen at least three tour groups in my 10 days of being here so far. It looks amazing set up on the hill with Hebrew University on one side. I don't have any excellent pictures of it yet, but I do like this one. This is how the Center looks while walking home from the Old City.
The Center is the building up on the hill with the arches. And here's one more that's (somewhat) closer...
This was taken from the Rockefeller Museum. The Center is the building with the arches, like before, and to the right is the Augusta Victoria tower, which I discussed in a previous post. Isn't it a beautiful building?

Tomorrow we get to go see the Dead Sea Scrolls (SO COOL) and then I will spend the afternoon shopping in West Jerusalem with my roommates.

Shabbat Shalom.

10 September 2008

How Much?

I just returned from a quick trip to the pharmacy and the post office. Actually, "quick trip to the post office" is not an accurate statement; both of my post office trips so far have been rather lengthy, the first exceeding an hour without actually buying stamps or mailing letters.

The people in Jerusalem are really interesting. I'm sure other cultures are very similar, but whenever we go into the Old City I feel like I am being bombarded. Some is a good bombardment: the colors, the architecture, the history, the little alleyways, the smells (well, not always good), the noises, the clothes, even the stones in the roads are cool. However, the overwhelming bombardment to which I was originally referring comes from the shop owners and is not something I am quite used to yet.

We usually enter the Old City through the same gate, so I'm learning my way around certain areas pretty well. Not very far into the city we start hearing calls from the shop owners who sit in front of their stores: "Mormons!" "BYU!" "Utah!" They definitely know who we are. They also know that we will buy things, and that we will keep coming back, and because of this they are very...not pushy, but a little aggressive. "Oh please, come into my shop. Just come in and look, no charge for looking." But if you agree to go in and look, you get sucked in even further. One of my roommates decided she cannot touch anything, because as soon as she does, "Oh, do you like that? How much do you think it is worth?" When she replies that she doesn't want to buy it, or she doesn't have any money, or she is just looking, or whatever excuse it might be, the reply is always, "How much would you pay? How much do you think it is worth?" Then, if you do begin to haggle with them (nothing is ever at a set price, ever) they just won't quit. I'm almost afraid to talk to people because I'm worried I'll end up buying things I don't really want in the first place.

The other dilemma in regards to talking with the men in the city is the big difference between American men and women's relationships and Palestinian men and women's relationships. Many of the women we see here wear the long dresses and head coverings. Out of respect to their cultural views, we were asked to dress very modestly (long pants and longer sleeves, muted colors, loose-fitting, etc.) so as not to attract attention to ourselves and not to offend them. But, we (as in, we the women at the Center) were also told not to make eye contact or smile at the men because they will take it as a very flirtatious gesture rather than what we intend it to be. These instructions create a bit of a conundrum for the girls at the Center: we know there are certain men we can talk with, obviously, like the shop owners or the administration at places like museums and the post office and things like that, or we could never do anything on our own. But it is very hard to go from looking at your shoes on the street (while trying to see everything and make sure you don't lose your group and that you aren't getting pick-pocketed at the same time) to somewhat aggressive and slightly banter-like bargaining with the men in the city. Especially for people like my blond-haired, blue-eyed roommate; every time she goes out the men hit on her, and she always gets shop owners saying things like, "For your eyes, any price!"

Although it is rather exhausting, I love it here.

The Vantage Point

If tired of trees I seek again mankind,
Well I know where to hie me--in the dawn,
To a slope where the cattle keep the lawn,
There amid lolling juniper reclined,
Myself unseen, I see in white defined
Farr off the homes of men, and farther still,
The graves of men on an opposing hill,
Living or dead, whichever are to mind.

And if by noon I have too much of these,
I have but to turn on my arm, and lo,
The sunburned hillside sets my face aglow,
My breathing shakes the bluet like a breeze,
I smell the earth, I smell the bruised plant,
I look into the crater of the ant.
-- Robert Frost

We went on a geography field trip today, and this Robert Frost poem kept running through my mind. (Mr. Hill, I hope you would be proud that even three years after your class I have several Frost lines memorized and several more that I would recognize on recitation.) I envisioned a beautiful layout of the photographs I took to go along with the poem for you all but, alas, the internet is being particularly slow this evening and will not upload the pictures. Thus, you will have to rely on my descriptive abilities to see what I saw today.

Our stops for the day included Nebi Samwil (the location that the prophet Samuel is buried), the Augusta Victoria tower (built by Keizer Wilhelm and named for his wife), the Seven Arches Hotel, the Judean plateau past the Elias Monastery, and the Haas Overlook south of Jerusalem.

Holy cow.

The point of the field trip was to circle Jerusalem and get a feel for the layout of the land so that when we discuss various Biblical events (battles, migrations, etc.) we will have a map in our minds and understand where the various locations are in relation to us. Unfortunately, I am a terrible map remember-er. However, the view at each of these places was spectacular.

Nebi Samwil gives you a 360 degree view of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Down inside the building is a synagogue and a mosque (you don't see that every day). We were able to go into the synagogue, after we (women) covered our hair with scarves. There were a lot of women praying so we couldn't get to far inside, but it was interesting.

Our second stop was the Augusta Victoria tower. That is a beautiful building: There are great mosaics of Christ and the apostles on the walls and the ceiling, subtle stained-glass windows, and some gorgeous paintings on the second floor. There are two hundred steps to the tower, which means you're very high up, so you are able to see as far as the Dead Sea when the view is clear. Unfortunately, it wasn't clear today.

Seven Arches Hotel was cool. We didn't actually go in the hotel, rather, we went out to a lookout where you can see the entire east side of Jerusalem, the Kidron Valley below, and then the Church of All Nations and the Russian Orthodox Church right next to the Garden of Gethsemane, Hebrew University and our BYU Jerusalem Center on the side of the Mount of Olives, and three cemeteries right below us on the hill. It was quite incredible.

Our spot near the Elias Monastery was probably my favorite stop of the day. It is right on the border of the West Bank, so we could clearly see Bethlehem and Bethany from the plateau. Coincidentally, that particular plateau was part of the war zone during the Six Day War in 1967, and as we were looking out over the West Bank and then could see the edges of Jerusalem behind us, we were standing among the trenches that are still very visible. It was a little surreal, especially considering all the history that was visible from thousands of years ago and then history as close as 1967.

Last stop was the Haas Overlook, where we could see the entire city from the south side (we circled the city to orient us with everything, which I think didn't orient me at all. So it goes.). You could also see the BYU Jerusalem Center from this point as well.

Even if I can't read the map, our day was pretty spectacular. I still can't believe I'm actually here. Tomorrow I promise to discuss our adventures in Jerusalem, especially our interactions with the Arab business men. They are interesting individuals...

Lilah Tov.

04 September 2008

Pilgrim, not Tourist

I don't think anyone can fully anticipate or appreciate exactly what it means to be in Jerusalem until they are actually there. Tel Aviv is approximately 50 miles from Jersualem, which was an hour bus ride, and on the way I was reminded strongly of Ephrata -- very dry, lots of dirt, some shrub-like plants, kind of empty. I was surprised to see trees that I can't identify specifically by name (which is a little embarrassing) but were definitley some sort of pine tree, which surprised me. Pine does not seem like a Jerusalem tree. Regardless, about 30 of the 50 minute bus ride was surrounded by this scenery. All of the sudden, the traffic gets a little heavier (the traffic is another post in and of it self, good grief) and you see that people actually live here, which is also similar to driving into Ephrata. But as you come up the hill the road kind of turns, and suddenly you can see the old city past East Jersualem and the biggest thing there is the Dome of the Rock. It is absolutely indescribable. It has a beautiful gold-covered roof (a gift from King Hussein of Jordan in the 90's) and is contrasted nicely by a tall steeple or two over to the right, and the Jerusalem Center and Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus to the left.

Sorry Grandma. Although similar, driving into Jerusalem definitely trumps Ephrata.

That first night, in our tired, jet-lagged state, we ate dinner out on the patio and watched the sun set over the old city. It's like having a constant postcard as your view. The view is even more magnificent this month: the Islamic holiday Ramadan began just a few days ago; a cannon is shot to signal sundown around 7PM each night, and as soon as it goes off, all of the Palestinians turn on twinkle lights that they use to decorate their homes and break their fast together. So attempt to imagine seeing the Dome of the Rock in Old Jerusalem at sunset surrounded by homes that are glowing with lights. It's absolutely incredible.

Today after some orientation meetings, we split up into groups of eight (there are a total of eighty-one students) and went with one of the faculty or their wives on a four-hour tour of the city. The Jerusalem Center is located in the Palestinian section of Jerusalem, or East Jerusalem. We walked through and saw various homes and shops in the midst of the Kidron Valley. Our guide, Sister Wilson, introduced us to the money-changer who always is willing to work with the Center (his name is Aladdin, pronounced Ah-la-DEEN, not like the movie), and while we were there we met a very funny man who passed out business cards for wood carvings, particularly nativity sets. "You'll want to come very soon before the rush; I like you, I take the Mormons' money." There were several business men throughout East Jerusalem who wanted us to come see their shops, or give us their business cards so that we would come back. I suspect most of us will go back to the nativity set man, and he will take more Mormons' money.

We entered Old Jerusalem on the east side and went through the Palestinian corridor, then the Christian, then the Jewish. It was very easy to tell when you were changing location within the city; although the people look the same, their shops and dress do not. We were able to go briefly into the Church of the Holy Sepulchure (we'll take a tour later), walked past the Garden Tomb (another future tour), and visited an Austrian hospice, where we climbed to the top and had yet another incredible view of the city from the roof. We exited on the east side, taking us to West Jerusalem, which is the Israeli portion of the city.

East and West Jerusalem had some stark contrasts not only in the individuals who occupy the different sections, but in the set up of the city. While the Palestinian section (East Jerusalem) was rather dirty and crowded, with lots of small run-down homes and buildings, West Jerusalem was clean with nice landscaping and arcitechure. It was obvious which people have money and which do not. Apparently there are also different building regulations for the different parts of the city -- they are not allowed to build more than three or five (our guide couldn't remember which) stories high in East Jerusalem, but they can in West. Apparently several buildings in East Jerusalem have been razed because of this law.

In our orientation meetings, the point was stressed that we do not want to be seen as tourists, especially American tourists. The people in Jerusalem think of us as the Mormon students (there is even a sign pointing to the "Mormon University") and they respect us that way. Unfortunately, America (and obviously, tourists) are not always well thought of in this city. We discussed as we saw various holy sites for many different religious sects that most people who have come in years past come to Jersualem on a pilgrimage -- they come because of their faith and devotion, not curiosity. Many people spent all they had to come to this city. Sister Wilson told us of a man she met who told her that he has made the trip to Mecca, and how proud he was of that accomplishment. That is the same kind of pilgrimage: a trip that is truly important, not just enjoyable. It means something more than a nice vacation. That's what we're doing here. Our time spent in the Holy Land is also a pilgrimage; we're here to learn on-site, not sight-see. It is a truly fantastic opportunity.


I hate airplanes.

That being said, the travel in order to arrive in Jerusalem really wasn't that bad. I had several people ask me piror to my departure if I was scared or nervous in anyway, and the answer really was no -- except for flying.

However, there were some perks. Getting to the Salt Lake airport with enough time to sit with my group of 39 other BYU students prior to take off was one, as I met several people I'll be living with for the next three and a half months. I also had plenty of time to begin a book about Anwar Sadat's wife, which is amazing. I highly recommend it, A Woman of Egypt by Jehan Sadat. We also had a five hour lay over in New York; although I do like the city, JFK airport is not my first choice of a five hour lay over. But we had a chance to do more meeting and friend-making before our 11 hour flight to Tel Aviv.

11 hours is more than enough time on a plane, but combine that with the previous four hour flight, a five hour lay over, arriving three hours prior to departure, and an hour bus ride when we finally did arrive and it makes me grateful that the rest of our trips are so close. Yes we are leaving the country, but travelling to Egypt or Jordan from Israel is very different than traveling to Mexico or Canada from certain parts of the US. Israel is just so much smaller.

Either way, we made it safely and no luggage was lost from our flight. (Some was from the other flight, but they had to go Salt Lake to Denver to Chicago to Vienna to Tel Aviv, so it isn't surprising that the airline messed up somewhere. That was a terrible schedule.) Which means I get to tell you all about our first day and a half in Jerusalem, but that seems like it ought to be a different post. Ready?