Monday, November 7, 2011


October 24-27
Once again, I found myself on a trip to another country (in this case, "another" is referring to someplace besides Israel, which is the norm at this point), touring around places that mostly I'd never heard of, let alone had any idea that I'd ever visit, with 81 of my best friends. 

Here are some of the cool places we got to visit:
  • Mt. Nebo, from which Moses looked across the Dead Sea into the land which would someday be inhabited by the Israelites, and where they say Moses was buried.  Our tour guide told us that they still haven't found his grave.  Our Old Testament professor told us that, according to the Book of Mormon, he was never buried at all -- Moses was translated.  Sometimes I wonder why we get tour guides, since I'm almost always more interested in what our professors have to say. 
  • The Church of the Map in Madaba with the famous floor mosaic map of the Holy Land from the Byzantine era
  • Machareus -- the palace ruins where Herod once lived, or one of the places he sometimes lived, I guess.  We talked a lot about John the Baptist here, as this is a possible setting of the story of his beheading. 
  • King Abdullah's Mosque in Amman . . . this was an instance in which it was really neat to have a tour guide.  Mohammad is a Jordanian and a religious Muslim.  It was really neat to hear him tell about the mosque and describe some aspects of Muslim worship that were clearly an important part of his own life.  One thing I will definitely take from this experience abroad is a great sense of respect for the other religious groups which I have had a chance to learn about. 
  • Amman Citadel, where there were some cool ruins from way back when and an archeological museum with some really old artifacts.  Okay, this is where I realized that I am really starting to take things for granted.  When I start thinking, "All right, some more Roman columns," or "Great, more old pottery shards and stuff from the Middle Bronze Age . . . is there any special reason we've come to see more of this?" . . . I guess I haven't been in the States for a while. 
  • Roman Theater in Amman, which was, to be completely honest, not extremely unlike other Roman theaters we've seen on this trip . . . but that didn't make it any less cool.  Really, actually walking on, in, around the colossal remains of some old civilization is incredible.  And, of course, such an occasion provides an excellent opportunity for more singing, photo shoots, etc. 
  • Jerash -- I have been joking a bit about seeing a lot of old stuff and maybe not appreciating it as much as I should, but I was certainly not anticipating the awesomeness of this site.  Honestly, Jerash was on our schedule, but I had no idea what it would be.  As one of our professors later put it, Jerash was an ancient Roman city just as neat as Ephesus, but without the crowds.  We walked through Hadrian Gate, across the Oval Plaza, down the column-lined Cardo Road, past temples and monuments.  And then, we had free time to go in, over, around, through the ruins, exploring . . . and taking lots of pictures, of course.  Jerash was awesome.
  • Royal Automotive Museum in Amman -  I guess the idea behind this museum was to display all the cars of King Hussein, serving as a tribute to him and giving a history of Jordan and the legacy of the Hashemites.  Well, I don't know much about Jordan's history, and I probably know even less about cars, but I do know that I saw some really cool cars.  Ferrari . . .  Bugatti . . . anyone?  (David and Eliott should look up the Bugatti, but I call it!)
  • Jabbok River, the setting described in Genesis 32.  Here Brother Harper taught us a little bit from the Old Testament.  It was a really neat moment of us being able to read from the scriptures in the (approximate) location where the events actually took place, our study guided by a professor who was able to give us much more insight than I would have gotten from those few verses on my own.  Brother Harper has taught us a lot about covenants, and I feel like the things I've learned in his class will be some of the best temple prep I'll get.  I am really grateful for this incredible opportunity to study the scriptures in this unique way. 
  • Jordan River, site of Brother Ludlow's baptism. . . . and the site of the baptism of Jesus Christ.  (Actually, Brother Ludlow said he was baptised further up the river -- still really neat.)  It was really neat to be able to visit this place.  It was certainly one of the more sacred sites we've visited.  We read some scriptures, and then had some time down by the river to touch the water and sing a few hymns.  There were other people around and it looked like some baptisms were taking place.  On a side note, there were a lot of flies. 
  • and . . . PETRA!!!  Grandma Kathy especially was excited for me to be able to come here, so I knew it had to be good.  It was awesome.  Maybe it doesn't really have a direct biblical connection, but Petra was certainly one of the coolest sites we've visited.  One of the coolest things I've ever seen.  The rocks and cliffs and canyons themselves were spectacular . . . and then there were absolutely magnificent carvings in the rock face left by the Nabeteans.  A lot of people have seen the incredible face of the treasury, the spectacular sight that greets you as you emerge from the long, narrow siq . . .but realize that that is just one structure among many.  We kept hiking around and, even after spending the day in Petra, there was lots of stuff I hadn't seen.  A couple interesting things . . . there were people selling stuff everywhere -- mostly jewelry.  Bedouin women and even children - lots of little boys who would come right up to us and follow us around with their postcards.  As I was coming down the trail from the monestary, there was a little table of the same sort of jewelry we'd been seeing all day, but I guess whoever had been selling it had stepped away, and a young French boy had picked up some necklaces and was saying "For you, one dinar!"  His mock accent was great, everyone around - tourists from all sorts of countries - were getting a good laugh.  We stayed one night in the the Taybet Aaman hotel in the Wadi Musa near Petra -- that was so cool: a hotel built on the ruins of an ancient town, so we felt like the little rooms we were staying in were stone cottages of an old villiage.   And there were, I think, some actual ruins in between some of the buildings.  It was really cool.  One last thing, I got to ride a horse out of Petra, and my horse-leader-guy even let go of the lead rope, gave me control of the reins, and let me just gallop along.  That was exciting. 
A few more comments on the Jordan field trip: One day, we had a ton of KFC meals delivered to us.  That was sort of fun, getting KFC food in Jordan.  Muhammad, our Jordanian guide, told us that in the states KFC stands for "Kentucky Fried Chicken," but here, the C is for "Camel."  :)  As we came back through the border into Israel, I felt a little bit like I was coming home.  I thought how that sentiment of homecoming, multiplied by about a thousand, is what I will get in about a month as I come back to America.  It will feel so good to come back to my own country.  But for now, Israel is feeling more and more like home . . . and what an amazing home it is!

More Highlights: October 10 - 23

October 10 - Day in the City and Seder Dinner

The Western Wall - or "Kotel" - is one of my favorite places in the city.  We spent some more time there and got to observe some Bar Mitzvahs.  I walked around an open-air market in West Jerusalem, then headed back to the Old City and finally went in to see the Dome of the Rock up close.  We are not allowed to go inside, but it was neat to be up on the temple mount. 

Ophir Yarden, our Jewish professor, lead us in a traditional Seder dinner.  This is a Passover custom which we got to experience, even though we are not going to be in Jerusalem for the actual time of the Passover.  The word "seder" means sequence, or order.  There was a specific sequence of events for the evening, and as is a common aspect of Jewish custom, there was a song to guide us through the sequence.  LDS people - especially kids from BYU - fit in great with any sort of custom requiring music and singing.  We ate and drank symbolic foods and grape juice, participated in traditional games and activities, and read and sang traditional scripture passages and songs.  I had a narrator part and got to sit at the head table with Ophir and the other narrators, which was fun.  The Oasis was very nicely decorated, we were all dressed in Sunday best - with the addition of some kippas here and there on the men.  It was a very neat, culturally-enriching evening. 

October 12-17 Olive Harvesting and Processing
The students at the Jerusalem Center during fall semester get the unique opportunity to participate in Olive Harvest.  We spent quite a few hours on two different afternoons picking olives from the trees around the center.  Brother Skinner informed us of the steps of olive oil production and shared with us some of the symbolism surrounding the olive tree and the olive.  I really enjoyed picking the olives.  If I take only one thing from the experience, it will probably be that olive trees are strong!  I guess they'd have to be, their wood is valuable and the trees themselves last a long time . . . but I realized this for myself as I climbed up and in and around the trees -- even the smallish branches were able to support a surprising amount of weight!  About a week after the harvest, we pressed the olives!  We used this gigantic stone wheel to grind the olives to a pulp, then put the pulp in baskets which were then placed under big, heavy presses so that the oil was squeezed out.  It was a fun afternoon activity, and certainly full of symbolism.  I am glad to have had the opportunity and experience of participating in these events -- I think that references to olives, olive trees, and olive oil will be much more meaningful to me now. 

October 12 - Forum
A physics professor who had been in our branch for a while came as a forum speaker and presented some interesting ideas on the relationship between science and religion.  This was not exactly a typical forum subject, but I just ate it up!  I was so excited about the concepts discussed . . . I guess it's not a mistake I've ended up studying a lot of science at BYU.

October 15 - Sabbath, Fireside
Brother Ludlow gave an excellent fireside address on the Holy Ghost.  We are blessed with some really wonderful professors here, very knowledgeable and humble men who have strong testimonies and are wonderful examples to all of us.  Their wives and families are wonderful as well.  It is neat to be able to learn from them in settings outside the classroom. 

October 16 - Snorkeling at Eilat

Super fun day!!! We bussed to the beach at Eilat and got to snorkel in the Red Sea.  Awesome!  Friends, Fish, Fun!!!  And ice cream at the end of the day.  Perfect.

October 17 - City of David field trip
This was a cool field trip -- we didn't have to go far.  We just walked around and learned more about the really, really old part of Jerusalem that King David first established to be his capital just south of Mt. Moriah.  We went to a lookout at the approximate location of King David's palace, and watched a video going through the history of the city.  I was actually pretty impressed with the video -- it was in 3D, so we had little glasses to wear.  Just a side note, my seat was a little broken.  We saw some really old tombs (those seem to be everywhere here).  Definitely the highlight of the day was going through Hezekiah's Tunnel.  Fed by the Gihon Spring, Hezekiah had the tunnel constructed to channel the city's water to the Pool of Siloam -- a safer location -- in anticipation of the Assyrian siege.  So we got to walk through this long tunnel chiseled out by some ancient guys through running water.  Unlike the days of my friend's mom, who had to  swim underwater through part of the tunnel when the water level suddenly rose, the Gihon Sprin is now regulated, so we were completely safe, and it was lots of fun.  Thanks to Eliott for letting me bring his headlamp, which I used in the tunnel!!

October 19 -- End of Sukkot and Separation Wall Tour
6:30 am on the last day of the Jewish festival of Sukkot found a group of us taking in the height of the festivities at the Western Wall.  Allie had told me that this would be a neat thing to experience, and Ophir recommended it, so I was excited to witness this festival.  To welcome in the rainy season, the Jews wave an assortment of branches -- date, myrtle, and willow -- and a citrus fruit, and beat willow branches on the ground.  As Ophir put it, in perhaps not the most reverent way, after a week of praying, the Jews just have a temper tantrum, as if to say "God! Give us rain!"  The area in front of the wall was full of this sort of activity, praying and waving and beating willow branches.  Definitely a neat thing to experience. 

 Daniel Seidemann, a specialist in Israeli-Palestinian relations, gave us a brief lecture and tour, taking us to a couple lookouts and letting us see, up close, the Separation Wall.  I am learning so much just being here.  Things that would have seemed like fiction to me -- men with machine guns just walking around a crowded city, people who get put into jail without any just clause or due process, and walls built to keep people separated, and people living under a constant fear of violence -- these  things are a reality here.  Don't worry -- I am really completely safe, but I am really having an eye-opening experience to the fact that my life is really a very sheltered existence.  I kept being reminded of the Hunger Games, a trilogy I read just before coming here.  There are so many stories of dystopian societies that I guess I always thought were a little extreme, but here there really are high cement walls topped with barbed wire, and people who are not allowed to travel from place to place.  I am so grateful to be a citizen of the United States of America.

October 23 -- Free Day
 This was one of my favorite days here in the city!! I went to the Israel Museum for a second time -- it was more meaningful and enjoyable after having gone through it once, and having learned more about the history behind the ancient artifacts.  And still, after two visits, I feel there is a TON that I still haven't really seen.  How cool to live in such an awesome city -- so much to do and see!!  Nothing against Cheney, of course, but I'm starting to feel like even a semester is not nearly enough time to feel like I've seen all I'd like to see in this city.  Amy, Calli, and I did some shopping in West Jerusalem.  It was so much fun to have a girl's afternoon and get some new clothes!  I had been feeling pretty tired of my wardrobe - not to sound high-maintenance, but I only brought so many outfits in my one suitcase - and I was very glad to get a few new things.  Completely justified spending, in my mind.  We also found a little craft store and a shop with yummy waffles!  It was just a really fun, relaxed day -- fun to just be walking around the city with a few good friends.