In Search Of Living Stones

Month: July, 2012

Alef Vetaf(Begining and End)

I’ve named this blog because it was the begining of an experience, and the end of camps, and in a way the end of my time with Musalaha. This whole summer has been leading up to this month of camps, and now its finished. Its also the last words of a beautiful song we sung in Hebrew at camp.

On Saturday I lugged my luggage and bag of camp shirts up my ridiculously steep driveway in 30 degree heat. By the time I got to the bus I was drenched in sweet. Such a nice feeling… Saturday and Sunday counsellors and helpers hung out and went through the program for the week. At one point someone put on a Hillsong CD, which made me feel a little homesick. I met all the local leaders, many of whom having been doing this for years, they are a lot of fun. Monday we had campers arrive and we met our cabins.

I had a room of amazing girls, both campers and councelors, and now my Arabic is almost good enough to understand simple statements when said slowly, and almost have a conversation. I am back to being frustrated though when the Israeli girls talk to me, as I understood almost nothing of what they said(WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL MY LESSONS?). We had 5 Palestinian girls, 2 Israeli girls, 1 Eritrean girl and one Sudanese girl. Within 10 minutes of getting to our room, Anastasia, a Jewish girl, told one of the Palestinian girls (through a counsellor) that she wanted to be friends but couldn’t speak Arabic or much English. The Palestinian girl said that she wanted to be friends also but can’t speak Hebrew and little English. So they started talking, through one of the girls here who is multi-lingual(I AM SO JEALOUS!), but she soon got bored so they were left alone. From the time they arrived, around 4, to bedtime, around 10 the two were inseparable. By the end of camp they were showing off that they could count in each others languages. It was amazing to witness, it wasn’t forced, it wasn’t an idea from an adult or a leader, it was simply one girl wanting to be friends with another. I couldn’t get over it, it was Musalaha in action. As camp went on, kids got to know each other more and we saw friendships forming, inspiring.

Every morning we had Bible Studies which included songs, a Bible Quiz and a Bible Story/teaching. It gave me goose bumps to hear everything translated into the different languages, the Bible stories were all in Hebrew and Arabic(I didn’t mind that it wasn’t in English, I helped write them so I tried to follow along with my extremely limited Arabic).  After that, we had Track Time where the kids could choose what workshop they wanted to do, art, map reading, filming, first aid, scrapbooking and Noura and I did the sweets. In the afternoon we went swimming, played water games and had a session on bullying and had team competitions. Because this camp was held in Petah Tikva in Israel we didn’t really have water restrictions(and I could wear shorts!), so there were many a waterfight between both campers and counsellors. In the evenings we had different things like bouncy castles, cabin challenges and a talent show(ours was pretty good!).

I’m just going to take a second to brag about our cabin. The camp had a few dramas with kids getting homesick or getting into fights, I can proudly say that our cabin was drama free. My worry when I saw that we only had two Israeli girls is that they would be excluded and be left on their own most of the time. This wasn’t the case, with almost no encouragement from the counsellors the girls all made efforts to have everyone included and enjoying themselves. The girls who spoke both languages fluently gladly translated for them and explained what was going on

I am in love with all of our girls, they are so beautiful, so funny and so loving. Two of the girls I quickly made a connection with were the two African girls, are Lulia and Fufu. They are hilarious, cheeky and incredibly beautiful, their skin next to mine is so dark. They were always quick to sit on my lap and give me hugs. On Monday I was talking to Naka, Fufu’s sister and a helper in our room and she told me that next week they are going back to Sudan, they have been served deportation papers. We were briefed about this on Saturday, warned that there is a small possibility that the Police may come but they were not to leave. News, and world stories have become real. They have faces, and names. They are people I love. Tuesday night once all the campers were in bed Naka came to talk to me, she was having a bit of a hard time. Her family has been here for six years and fled because of persecution. They have strived hard to make a life here, they speak fluent colloquial Arabic and Hebrew, they have friends and schools here. They work here. Their life is here, and now they are being told that they are not wanted. Naka and I sat for 45 minutes as she cried and knew that someone was there for her. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what its like to be in that situation. This morning during Bible Study after singing all our songs in Hebrew and Arabic(Ohev Bananot[I like Bananas, I know that Mangos are sweet..] and Ya Yasu’ Yasu’) we sung How Great is Our God. I love this song and I was really getting into it, right as the chorus started I open my eyes to see that I am being embraced by Fufu (not unusual). I couldn’t hold it together at that point. How can I truthfully sing How Great Is Our God when I have 7 year old in my arms who is being kicked out of the only country she knows? They are two ideas that I can’t marry right now. Shadia was leading worship and saw me crying, I was supposed to be on stage straight after for a game, but Shadia took over for me and let me sit with the girls. 

Thursday night the counsellors stayed up most of the night talking, playing music and playing ridiculously competitive games of spoons(I leaped across the table a few times). At 4am, as per camp tradition, we launched our attack. Armed with permanent markers and face paint,  faces, legs and arms became our canvas. No one was exempt, campers, helpers and the foolish counsellors who’d fallen asleep.  Friday morning came, we packed up, played some games, danced a little and said our goodbyes. I’m not great at goodbyes at the best of times, saying goodbye to people I know I may never see again is hard. Knowing that I don’t have to leave the country yet made it easier. Saying goodbye to Naka and Fufu was heartbreaking, God be with them. Amazing how in a week strangers can become close friends.

This month has been amazing. I have laughed, I have cried, I have met so many people, I have been stretched and I have learnt so much. July 2012 will go down as a month that has changed my life. Does it have to end?


Taybeh, oh, Taybeh

Camp number 2!

After 3 days break I found myself in Taybeh at my second camp. If I had to choose, Taybeh would be my second favourite place in the West Bank(after Bethlehem). There is something beautiful and serene about Taybeh, so I was excited to be there for the week for camp.

I wasn’t too sure what I would be doing at this camp, for the other two my roles are very defined and because I wasn’t so involved in the preparations. When I turned up I was told that I could choose a class and just join in, as well as make sure that the kids are all in the right classes and blowing the whistle for breaks/to swap classes. I choose the Games and Circus room as it looked the like more fun than the crafts, and I didn’t really have a desire to do sports in 40 degree heat. What I’m learning is that the kids love it when you get involved instead of just watching or giving directions(Secretly, I enjoy it more when I get to play also). So with every game I joined in, Duck, Duck, Goose, Freeze and Juggling. Tuesday night we took a tour of Taybeh, visiting to El Khader(St Georges) Church, which is an old Crusaders Church. While we were there 3 girls came to light candles and pray, even though the church is in ruins. So beautiful. After we had a tour of the House of Parables by Father Raed.

On Wednesday we planned to have water games, it just so happened that we also had a heat wave that day with the temperature soaring to 41(!!) degrees. The day started with all the leaders filling up the water balloons, which turned into the leaders ganging up on each other. The day was more like a carnival, with bouncy castles, trains, paddles boats and water balloons, it felt like a party. On this day 180 children turned up to camp(usually the numbers varied from 120-180) and it felt like a big party. In the few minutes of free time I always found myself in the middle of a water balloon war, and somehow I received most of the ammunition.  Wednesday night we went to Ramallah to take a tour, but mostly to eat Rukabs ice cream(my favourite). On the drive back we could see all the Ramadan Lights up, ready for the Muslim month of fasting.

It was so nice to be able to talk and sing openly about Jesus in this camp. At Hebron, even though it was held at a Christian school, all the children were Muslims. In Taybeh, everything was about Jesus, the theme, the songs and the lessons. We sung If You Love Jesus And You Know It, talked about Jesus’ Parable’s and prayed, all in Arabic. Because I had more freedom at this camp I was able to hang out and play with the kids more. I was blown away by their attitudes and how much they laughed. They reminded me of the children I used to nanny and my sisters when they were younger. They loved to laugh and be silly in every available moment.  These families live in a unimaginable situation, even I, who has lived in Bethlehem for 2 months couldn’t fathom it. For this village of 1,500, surrounded on all sides by settlements, its easier to move away than to stay. In fact there are 15,000 people from Taybeh living abroad, compared to the 1,500 who have stayed in the village.

On Thursday morning while walking to the camp we could hear fireworks going off, and found out that the Tawjihi(Grade 12 exams) results came out. Everyone at the Catholic school passed Father Raed was extremely proud. It was like a party, proud parents and family members passed around chocolates in celebration and you could hear car horns all day. I got to talk to some of the students and asked about their plans for study and life, and all are excited. They all dream of something bigger, not just for their lives but for their families, their friends and for Taybeh.

Tomorrow I start my 3rd and last camp at Baptist Village in Petah Tikvah, and I can’t wait!

A real quick update

Because my last blog was all about camp I didn’t talk much about anything else, so I’m going to do that quickly here.

At the moment I’m chilling in Taybeh at our second camp. Taybeh is beautiful and serene. More on Taybeh later.

Camps are great for practicing my Arabic, my Arabic teacher told me I’d learn more Arabic at camp than anywhere else. I think he might be right, in the least I am speaking it more than I would be. In the last camp I could never remember the children’s names, which wasn’t too much of a problem as they all became ‘habibi’ and ‘habibti'(my beloved, but used for children all the time). I also got on really well with the local leaders, one day I even told them not to speak any English(unless I asked for a translation). The phrases I probably used most was ‘inta moshgilti’ (you are my problem) and ‘inta majnoon'(you are crazy). My proudest moment was probably when Safa’ asked me a (relatively complicated) question completely in Arabic that I understood and could reply to, in Arabic. All that sitting in on meetings is paying off. Of course, I couldn’t repeat what she said in Arabic, but I knew what she was talking about. Other phrases/words I’ve picked up are, ‘sho bitsawi?'(what are you doing?), Hammam(toilet) ‘biddak maia?'(you want water?) ‘isma!'(listen!)

Mostly this is to write about the wedding I attended on Friday. On the way to the wedding I was buying chocolate in East Jerusalem and heard NZ accents, so I started talking to the group. Turns out the group were from Auckland, not just Auckland, Elim School and to top it all off my friend was with them on the trip. Unfortunately he was in the hotel. But seriously, what a teeny, tiny world.

Right, the wedding. Tamara, the bride, used to work for Musalaha so we got an invitation at the office. As I hadn’t attended a wedding yet everyone told me I should go. So on Friday I caught the bus into Old Jerusalem, and got ready for the wedding. This couple had 2 ceremonies, one in Bethlehem(Beit Jala) and one in East Jerusalem. This was for a few reasons, they both live in Beit Jala  and had a traditional Greek Orthodox wedding. But Tamara is from East Jerusalem so the second ceremony was for her family and to also prove that her centre of life is still in Jerusalem, hopefully it will be easier for her husband to now get permits out of the West Bank.

The service was all in Arabic apart from one Bible reading, but apart from that it wasn’t too different from weddings back home. Half way through the wedding we could hear the Shabbat Shofar blown to start the Shabbat, soon after that the Muezzin Call to Prayer goes off. Weird, beautiful mixture of cultures.

After the service we went to the ‘party’ which is what they call the reception. Instead of giving gifts to the couple you are expected to pay for dinner/give money to the couple. In fact, I was visiting some friends of mine a few weeks ago when they received their first wedding invitation of the season(summer=wedding season), they joked that it was the ‘first bill’. I think they ended up being invited to 13 weddings this year. The party was beautiful and the food was great. The bride and groom arrived around 10pm and from then on it was non stop dancing. Everyone was dancing. At one point Tamara was lifted onto a board above everyone’s heads. I love dancing. Just before I left they had the ‘single ladies dance'(and no, Beyonce was not the music of choice) where Tamara came onto the dance floor with two big candles and all the single girls held candles and danced with Tamara/had their photo taken to show all the single guys that we were available. I was not going to let this opportunity pass me by. I got home, my feet were killing me and I realized the wisdom of my friend, Daniel’s advice to ‘wear dancing shoes’.

Next time, inshallah.



Allah Khale Kul Ishee

This phrase sums up my week sufficiently, it translates to ‘God Made Everything’ and is a song we sung everyday of camp this week.

On Saturday with much anticipation our group of locals and internationals set off on the bus with Safa'(woman running the camp, also Adams mum)to Hebron. Hebron is about a 30-40 minute bus trip from Bethlehem(depending on whether you’re stuck behind a rubbish truck or not).  This camp had a youth group from the UK come specifically to help out with the camp, they were from the north and spoke with incredibly thick accents. I joked that I could understand the Palestinians speaking Arabic easier than the English speaking English.

We turned up to the Evangelical School at around 8am, half an hour before the camp started and already the grounds were swarmed with kids. And I instantly saw that these kids are amazing, so funny, cheeky and full of life. If you were to come with no idea of what is going on in the outside world you would have no idea from how they act.

This camp was extraordinary in the fact that these were all Muslim kids, so we couldn’t talk or teach about Jesus, even though the hall we gathered in had a huge painting of Jesus with children on the wall. What we COULD do is sing the song, Allah Khale Kul Ishee, a song sung by both Muslim and Christian children, because it doesn’t mention Jesus. As I’ve said before Allah simply means ‘The God’ in Arabic whether your Christian or Muslim. So instead we introduced ideas of reconciliation in different ways, through stories, crafts and games.

My main role at camp was to be Safa’s assistant and the nurse(thanks mum for making me do that First Aid course). Thankfully we had minimal injuries(except for when one boy was pushed and his tooth fell out…) More importantly I followed Safaa around and did whatever was needed. Often I found myself in meetings with solely Arabic spoken, despite the fact I didn’t know exactly what was being said, I could usually follow along well and asked questions when I couldn’t. In one of these meetings I met Abu Fareed the cook, during the meeting Abu Fareed misheard my name and called me Jamela(beautiful), I didn’t complain.

One day during Fun Hour, which is where all 100 kids gather in one room(imagine if you will, 100 energetic children in one room in 34 degree heat) we were all counting in Arabic, then in English, then Arabic again one boy I sat next to started counting in Hebrew. I was shocked and taken aback, and when I asked where he learnt Hebrew he proudly told me that his dad had taught him, before asking me ‘Manishma?'(Whats up?). When I asked about this I was reminded that his dad probably works for Israeli’s, maybe even building in a settlement. When I asked WHY they would do this, it was explained to me that work is work, in a place where work is scarce, putting food on the table becomes the number one priority.

At this camp, more than ever I felt like I was a local, I was treated as a local and expected to act like a local. On Thursday night the leaders had a BBQ in a park as a celebration of a great camp. As an honorary local I was asked to bring a salad, I know its just a salad but what it represented held great significance. In fact, when some of the leaders from Haifa and Jerusalem and I went out for coffee one night, I knew everyone there, they were surprised, I was stoked!

During camp I got on really well with the local leaders and often goofed off with them in my spare time. They were ages 12-17 which reminded me how much I miss my own siblings. At one point one girl and I got into a tickle fight that ended with me being attacked by 10s of kids tickling me. Most of them were translators and spoke good English while I practised my terrible Arabic. At one point I even had to translate from English to Arabic for one of the translators. He says its because of her accent, I didn’t care, all I knew was that I could translate it!

I am now resting for 2 days(HAHAH resting, not something I do well..) before my next camp!

Visions of Damascus Gate

Okay, quick life update!

Saturday I went shopping in Sinema Square(said Cinema Square) for some clothes that would be suitable for camp. I was shopping for an hour before I realized that I was the ONLY foreigner there, with 90% of the woman wearing Hijab. The fact I hadn’t realized these things just goes to prove how comfortable I am here. The shopping trip was a success, I bought some nice clothes and managed to only speak around 20% English.

Sunday I went to church and watched the Eurocup final. Italy didn’t win. I was disappointed.

Tuesday Shadia and I had a lot of meetings out of the office, which was nice. Of course all of them were in Arabic but I could just about follow along. I stayed at her house in Old Jerusalem that night. We watched Masterchef Australia. I can’t get away from it!

Wednesday I attended a Fourth of July party at my friends house with a lot of Americans. It was a lot of fun!

This week I also discovered that I live across the road from a refugee camp, named ‘Azza. What a weird discovery. I’ve lived here 2 months and never realized. The bakery I buy my bread from every morning is situated in a refugee camp. That is such a strange reality to me.

Visions of Damascus Gate

 If you’ve ever seen Damascus Gate you’ll know why its my favorite part of Old Jerusalem. It is beautiful and I could try to explain, but hopefully this picture will do small justice.


This is where get off the bus when going to church. My church is seriously just down the road. I always end up being a little early and get to people watch. Damascus Gate is in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian part of Jerusalem. There is always markets and seriously good street food . If you’re lucky you even find a delicious Carob drink here. Its Palestinian through and through.

Damascus gate is also a close entrance for Orthodox Jews with a direct road leading from the gate to the Western Wall(Wailing Wall). As I go to church on Friday nights, I  get to watch the Jews rushing through the gate in order to get to the Wall in time to pray, before the sun goes down. As soon as the sun goes down on a Friday evening, Shabbat (Jewish holy day) begins.

Its a beautiful mixture and gives me time to think. I love both these cultures. They both have so much to offer and both have very special places in my heart. At the moment I live and breath these cultures. So often though we are asked to choose between one and the other. You choose one and forget the other. Never both and the same. One or the other. People have chosen their sides and stand steadfast, they are passionately committed to their sides. If you are not for them, you are against them.

This breaks my heart, I can’t choose one or the other, I love both. I have friends on both sides of the story. After thinking and praying about where I stand on the issue, I chose the third, less talked about option. Both. One and the other. How? What does this look like? With out getting into the very serious, very complicated political issues, the answer is complicatedly simple, love. Man, that makes me sound like a hippy.

Recently at church we have been reading and talking about the Council of Jerusalem in Acts. While that situation had a very specific circumstance, we can take the lessons learnt from it. Ultimately it came down to a people group being on the outside. The final decision was one that meant that everybody could live in community together, while not losing their heritage. Essentially, who they were. Imagine, just imagine if that could happen in this situation. Just the thought gives me goose bumps.

Being Pro-Israeli does not make you Anti-Palestine.
Being Pro-Palestinian does not make you Anti-Israel.
There is an in-between. 
Loving one does not mean you hate the other.
There is a middle ground

PS. Our first camp starts this week in Hebron, this is a extremely volatile area with a lot of ‘action’ recently. The camp is being run in a Christian school, everyone attending will be Muslim. Prayers for energy for leaders, impact on kids lives and low frustration levels would be most welcome!