Friday, December 21, 2012

Egypt to Israel: Day 1- Jerusalem

I apologize for spelling and grammar errors...iPad typing and an unhelpful browser are only getting the ideas online. For pictures, please visit: Egypt to Israel Day 1- Jerusalem

Last night at 6:00 p.m., 18 people boarded a bus in Ma'adi, hoping to be in Israel in less than 7 hours. Unfortunately, it would be more than 13 long hours in a bus before they saw the country's border.

Military and police rules change regularly in a part of the world where rules are often ignored and countries are often at war. Art, our tour leader and a coworker, anticipated this issue which is why we left Egypt early that evening. By the time we reached the Sinai peninsula, our security guard on the bus was told we were not allowed to cross via normal route. Instead of using the "middle road" to cut across the desert into Israel, we were forced to follow the peninsula's perimeter, adding several hours to our already long trip. This winding road was riddled with police and military checkpoints. At one time, we waited over an hour because we could not proceed without a police escort. Finally, 12 hours later, we pulled into Taba, the Israel/Egypt border. We walked our bags through both country's security and customs and finally arrived in the beautiful country of Israel.

Our guide, Suzanne, gave us each 20 shekels so we could get coffee and pastries at Yellow, a local quick stop. We then headed to the River Jordan, a little spot where some famous dude was baptized a long time ago. We also passed Lot's wife on the way, which I feel is a great rendering of what might happen to you if you don't follow directions the first time.

The River Jordan is neither wide nor deep at Jesus's baptism spot, and you could easily wade across into the country of Jordan. It was strongly discouraged, though, by our guides and by the soldiers with machine guns on each side. Several tour busses from South Africa were there baptizing people into the church. The main pastor gave a short sermon and there was spontaneous song and dance. It was so joyful and perfect, that even in the rain and cold, pilgrims come to be welcomed into the Christian family.

Our bus proceeded to Jericho, which is in Palestinian territory. We ate lunch at an oversized gift shop with an amazing view of the city ruins next door. I decided I would sing a fitting song for each stop in our journey, which is funny now, but your just wait. "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" sounded nice from the rooftop into the city's former glory.

As the bus ascended to Jerusalem, Psalms were read on the bus. The Psalms of ascension, 120-134, were chosen by various travelers and spoken or sung over the microphone. I even got to sing Psalm 121, music composed by my college friends Rachael and Andy.

Jerusalem is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. It feels like a Middle Eastern Europe, with narrow stone streets and ruins and walls protecting the quarters. Our hotel is in the middle of the Old City Jerusalem and we can easily walk to all the quarters (neighborhoods). After settling in, we headed through the Armenian and Jewish quarters to the Western Wall (The Wailing Wall) to experience Shabbat.

As we came upon an overlook we could see the wall and the maze-like protecting walls leading to Palestine. We could hear the mosque's call to prayer and see the dome from the other side and at the same time, heard singing and saw joyous celebrating at the wall on the Israeli side. It was a beautiful, sad melding of harmonies as prayers were sung and boundaries ignited in song.

We went down to the wall to experience the crowd firsthand. There were separate parts of the wall for males and females to pray, sing or gather. I wrote prayers down one piece of paper and placed them folded up into the wall as people have done for so many years. Krista and I shared a prayer before maneuvering our way home I the cold rain with Chris and Justine. After a delicious dinner and a hot shower, we are ready for bed.

I will make many references to faith here, and many jokes and just as many frustrations. Some who knew me a while back may not be surprised that I'm enjoying such intensely religious experience. Others may be turned off by my jaded disbelief of most religious practice. But what I'm finding more and more, after living in a Muslim country and visiting this wonderful place, is that what is beautiful about religion and faith is not whether or not it is true. It does not particularly matter if I believe it fully, just that others do and that this is meaningful to them and me in some way. I cannot wait to discern this experiences for the next 9 days.

Friday, December 14, 2012

"...I Didn't Do Camping"

I didn't do camping. “In my previous life…” I begin my sentences. “…I hated the sun,” “…I never exercised,” “…I kept my apartment cold and dark,” “…I disliked the outdoors,” and “…I didn't do camping.” One time my father suggested a family camping trip. My mother and I shared a sarcastic glance and she replied, “Sure! Where’s the nearest Hilton?”

When I was 13, I saw the ocean for the first time. And given that I had waited thirteen years for that moment, The Great Barrier Reef provided quite the pay-off. As camping experiences go, the Sahara Desert felt like a similar reward. In a way, it was like reliving my first ocean sighting. The same overwhelming vastness, the same humbling sense of smallness, the same fascinating calmness, where, for a moment, it could have been any point in history that I was standing in that spot, looking at that beauty. A desert today, an ocean millions of years ago.

On our second night, I laid on the sand, alone, under the stars. I have never seen so many stars, and I could not decide if they proved or denied the existence of God. Was I experiencing a justified religious connection or intense scientific evidence? Or was it some combination of the two? But the mesmerizing confusion of it all was comforting, because I felt sure of one thing: I am a different person now than I was four months ago. I am healthier, more daring, and deeply invested in new experiences. I dive in the Red Sea and sand-board along the dunes of the Sahara. And it doesn’t bother me that I haven’t had a shower in two days.

As my patience is tested, my feminism is diminished, my teaching is weathered, and my faith is confused, I have been strengthened in a type of faith that has been so difficult for me in the past—a faith that I can and will be a better, healthier person tomorrow than I was yesterday.

And I laid in the desert, considering my blessings…wondering what new, amazing first-time awaits me next.
This is how we slept each night. Bedouin-style camping with our amazing bedouin guides.
The white desert almost looks like snow drifts.

Climbing a cliff in the black desert.
Softest sand we ever felt!
Our transportation!
The "new" me. :-)
Rabbit rock formation. Kill the bunny!
This is Egypt.
For more desert pictures, Click Here.

Thanks to Ahmed, our amazing guide.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Poem for Scuba: Eight Dives of Eid

Diving Sonnet II
Marsa Alam, Egypt: The Red Sea
Eight Dives of Eid: October 24-29

The eight dives of Eid are a glorious thing,
Where the turtles swim and the dolphins sing,
Away from the hustle of work, take wing,
For the divers, yearning and wonder we bring.

The eight dives of Eid are a beautiful sight,
Where clams and coral fill with delight,
Away from the constant teaching plight,
For the divers, five days when things are just right.

The eight dives of Eid are a necessary break,
Where sharks do fear and excitement make,
Away from the grueling time spent awake,
For the divers, a journey we were able to take.

The eight dives of Eid a family made,
Where a dive squad created, explored and played,
Away from Cairo we wish we had stayed,
For the divers, the memories do not fade.

Pretty, pretty
We saw several blue-spotted rays.
These two lion fish are gorgeous.
Possibly my favorite shot from the entire trip!
I heart sea turtles!
I think this is a crocodile fish and it is weird-lookin'.
1/2 of the White Trip Dive Squad!
Also might be my favorite shot from the trip. We went into an underwater cavern and the light came down from holes in the ceiling.
Bottom right=SHARK! White Tip Reef Shark we saw. It was amazing.
A family of dolphins we saw while snorkeling in between dives. I like that it looks like they are flying.

For more pictures from our trip, Click Here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Poem for Scuba: Hurghada Dive Certification

Diving Sonnet I
Hurghada, Egypt: The Red Sea
Certification Dives: October 19-20

A fairer, finer morn' could not be found,
When on the boat we packed our gear away,
And all who sailed did make a yawning sound,
For tired were the folks at break of day.
A bumpy night of travel, less of sleep,
The students set their course for Red Sea Shore,
But troubles to their self the pupils keep,
Because they knew the day would give them more.
Then at first breath, first sight, first water's song,
When creatures of the sea first come alive,
The weary trav'ler's worries now were gone,
One goal remained and that was just: to dive.
When bus departed none were e'er the same,
Those who were students; divers they became.

Students of diving before our first certification dive.
The clown fish are my favorite. Thanks to Jess who used my camera to take these amazing photos!
Peggy, Beth and me, refusing to separate.
My diving buddy, Beth, going all rock star on us.
Some of the coral we saw.
Beautiful sunset on The Red Sea.
Our team of divers, me, Beth and Debbie with our instructor, Ahmed.
Pretty, eery fish.
Me and my buddy, Beth.
More from the clown fish. Actually, my favorite shot from this dive.
The AIS West Dive Team. This picture includes a dive master candidate (Jess), newly certified divers (9 of us), a couple
experienced divers and our two instructors.
For more pictures, CLICK HERE.

More diving to come this weekend when I visit Marsa Alam. I'll be allowed to have my camera the whole time, too!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Of Circus, Food & Diving

This is a pigeon. Pretty soon, they will become delicious squab.
Squab stuffed with some sort of grain. Delicious.
The damage after my delicious meal.
I would like to post a bit more about food on this blog, as it is something I love about Egypt. Not just Egyptian food, which is fantastic thus far, but the different takes on international cuisine here. My eating habits have changed immensely and most of that is due to ease and necessity. I learned to cut a pomegranate and regularly munch on almonds and unripe dates. I eat the same thing for lunch every day and always look forward to it. I bought 30 pieces of falafel for the equivalent of 60 cents (TOTAL!) and every night for two weeks, I've had a falafel sandwich with cheese, mayo and tahini.

Autum and me before the circus started.
Two weeks ago, I spent the weekend with my friends, Justine and Chris, in Maadi. Maadi is an island in the Nile where many expats are located. It captures the feeling of both a city and a neighborhood and is very green with trees, plants and grass. I love it there and would consider moving, but the 45 min.-2 hr. bus-ride is a major deterrent. Regardless, Chris and Justine are AMAZING people who open their home to me. I get to spend time with two of my closest friends and explore new parts of Cairo. We went back to Al Azhar Park to see one night of a circus festival. Beth and Autum met us there and we were able to see three circuses: Cairo, Tunisia and Belgium. It was great fun and I've decided Al Azhar Park is one of my favorite places.

Love me a good levitation!
The breathtaking Tunisian.

Hilarious Belgians.
Last weekend, 9 of us went through intensive certification for Open Water Diving. It was a week of major textbook reading, 6 hours of academics and equally as much time in the pool with full scuba gear. This weekend, we are going on our certification dives and by Sunday, I'll be certified! I was very moved several times throughout this experience, because diving is something I always wanted to do but I was convinced I would never get the opportunity. It could very much change my life, because if I love it as much as I think I will, it may be hard to move back to a landlocked state.

Our gear before we learned to assembly and wear everything.
Wet suit!
I am struggling at work, still, which has made me more grateful for the brilliant experiences I have outside of school. I love my job, and I find myself especially improving in early childhood teaching. As frustrating as it is to be part of something so new and at times, crazy, it is also extremely exciting to be a member of the team that is shaping the future of AIS West Elementary School. I work with talented people and have already made lifelong friends. The rest will come in time.

Stay tuned as I spend the next two weekends diving in new parts of Egypt! First, Hurghada for my certification dives and then taking the five-day fall break to visit Marsa Alam and get some real dive experiences under my belt. That underwater camera case and diffuser will come in mighty handy, I'm sure!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Red Sea Sick (the best kind of sick)

Scroll down for pictures. And a link. To more pictures.

It always starts with a sore throat.

That scratchy feeling catches me mid-breath, first thing in the morning and I think, “I’m sure it’s just allergies.”

And later in the day, when a coworker asks how I am feeling after she hears me sneeze in perpetual motion and gasp for air. “I think it’s just allergies,” I reply.

On the bus when my body starts to shutdown and my head begins to spin. I lean back and close my eyes. “I’m probably allergic to something,” I reassure myself.

About 7:00 p.m., when all I can think about is bedtime and a cup of herbal tea, I have a private thought, “I hope I’m not getting sick.” I don’t say it aloud because then it might be true.

Thankfully, in six years of teaching and four of residential dormitories, I have learnt the ins and outs of sickness. I know each telltale sign and can predict the moment when certain symptoms will hit me. Luckily, sickness in Egypt is not that different from sickness in the U.S.A. It is lonely, difficult and totally sucks.

There is always a day, though, stuck in between the sore throat instigation and the severe cold take-over, when I feel well enough to return to my earlier hopes of allergic reaction. Fortunately, that was the day I spent at the beach in Ain Soukhna.

Thursday’s arrival and Saturday’s departure were shaky at best. I willed myself away from tears (at this point, I am likely the biggest baby on the staff) and pushed through, remembering an old wives’ tale about salty sea air curing all sickness. I am pretty sure I just made that up.

Friday morning I took some Tylenol for the declining sore throat and headed to the beach by 9:00 a.m. We were there until almost 7:00 p.m., coming in only for a short lunch. I swam in the Red Sea, played beach volleyball (note to self, get better at regular volleyball first) and lounged on the sand. I fooled around with my camera in its underwater case and got to know more of my amazing coworkers. The rest and relaxation I experienced at the beach was as good as, if not better than, lying in bed, wallowing in the prospect of my incoming cold.

As I sit here in my room, waiting for the NyQuil to kick-in, I am so grateful that I was able to spend the weekend by and in the Red Sea. I could complain that my vacation was ruined by illness, but in reality, I am so fortunate to have been somewhere so amazing, regardless of my health. Many people can say, “I was sick. I rested. I got well.” But I can say, “I was sick. I rested on a beautiful beach on the Red Sea in Egypt. I’m getting well.” Not a bad deal at all.

Throwing back snacks on the bus.
Before the show at the beach on our first night. 
The Whirling Dervish show. Not great quality, but an experience nonetheless.
Flying a kite on the beach.
In the sea!
On the beach, our first night.
I LOVE the water!
Toe pictures are so in.
The moon's reflection on the sea was breathtaking.
The view from our resort.
So as not to overload you with pictures, here is a public link to more beach pictures: More Beach Pictures