Monday, February 23, 2009

Amusing Anecdotes of Strange Situations in an Everyday Existence

Caution: this post is very lengthy… but it’s what I promised, plus some extras J

Our last night in Luxor I decided to stay at the hotel and watch the sun set over the Nile. After that incredible experience I was heading back to my room with a group of girls. Anyway, on our way back we stop to look at the sign in front of the pedicure place at the hotel. We started laughing at the spelling errors and meanings that were lost in translation.

Pretty funny, eh?

We were mildly mocking their sign… which they must have knew and decided to avenge us…. As I was standing there laughing and taking pictures of the above sign I feel something hot and heavy land on the index finger of my left hand. I look down and it was a pile of something… something real nasty. I fling if off my finger and start screaming. My friend Chelsea Bigney informs me that it is bat poop from the insect eating bats that had been around the past few nights. Wonderful. And just what I wanted to hear. So now I’m grossed out, yet laughing hysterically. Jess Ralphs grabs my camera from me and proceeds to take a picture of the bat poop that I had flung on the ground.

A portion of the disgusting bat poop

As she is taking the picture, our friend Chelsie Tavenier comes over to take a look… at that moment the bat pees on her head. Oh man, you can’t even imagine the hysterics that followed. We really couldn’t believe the situation or control ourselves. It was just too much.

That wet spot on her head is bat pee.

We were laughing and screaming…. I’m sure all of Luxor and surrounding cities could hear.

Two really grossed out girls that can’t help but laugh.

Anyway, we had about an hour and half to shower and get cleaned up before our amazing experience on an Egyptian night train.

Taken the morning after

It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience…. If you must endure such an experience… once is plenty. I will allow the pictures to speak for themselves:

Our lovely cabin.

Me & Whit (my roomie for Egypt)

They served us some mystery meat. I tried to pretend like I had eaten it by cutting it into smaller pieces and shoving it to one side of the tray.

My bed was hard as rocks and probably 50 years old. And that is a conservative estimate...

They decided to give us a wake up “knock” 5:45 am and immediately proceeded to serve us 4 different types of bread… none of which I even touched

(I promise I’m not an ingrate… I really just wasn’t hungry…)

An Egyptian Pound Lost… is 5 Pounds Gained.

So, the exchange rate from pounds to dollars is about 5.36 to 1. Thus, on the Egypt trip, it was mostly unfortunate when our students confused dollars with pounds.

Exhibit A: One student was pleased in bartering an Egyptian merchant down to “4” for an ice cream cone. She handed him the 4 dollars she had agreed to pay… after rejoining her student group, she quickly learned that her colleagues had paid 4 Egyptian pounds for the same ice cream. Luckily, only a 3 dollar loss.

Not the ice cream in Egypt. Actually not ice cream at all. Delicious nonetheless.

Gelato on Ben Yehuda street with Ang.

Exhibit B: Excited to be somewhere remotely “American” (Hard Rock Café)… one student ordered a Coke costing 25 pounds. You guessed it right… She accidentally paid the restaurant 25 dollars. An unfortunate 20 dollar loss… that was a doozy.

Outside of Hard Rock w/Chels, Stef, and Jess.

Not at Hard Rock Café. But maybe the person who purchased the $25 Coke (Hint: It wasn’t me…)

Exhibit C: My story. So, for some reason, throughout the Egypt trip I proved to be the lucky target of extreme hassling from Egyptian merchants. And you RARELY find merchants as cute as these ones:

Particularly at the pyramids and Valley of the Kings, I had merchants following me from their shops to the door of the bus. These people are persistent! It’s crazy! If you even LOOK at them they think you want to give them all the money you have. It’s funny because you can’t look without them thinking you want to buy. There were several times where I picked something up to look at it and immediately they started to barter. They would say, “How much?” As I’m standing there thinking, “Actually, I don’t even want this…. How much will you pay me to take it?” Well… funny I should ask…

So, we were leaving the Giza Pyramids/Sphinx when out of nowhere a teenage girl approaches me with many colors of these bright, jingly, belly-dancing/head covering/whatever-you-want-it-to-be pieces of fabric. I continued walking and she closely followed. Because I wasn’t sure of this item’s use I asked, “Is this for dancing?” She lit up and said, “YES! YES!” I laughed because that was the last thing I would use it for… She quickly changed her mind and showed that I could put it around my shoulders. She asked me how much I would pay and I asked her how much she wanted. She said $12. I firmly told her, “No” and she continued to follow. In the next 100 feet she lowered her price down to $4. This seemed reasonable for this authentic Egyptian “thing” that could entertain me for a while.

Bright, colorful, jingly things.

She requested that I pay her in 20 Egyptian pounds. I only had a 100 pound bill and asked if she could break it. She couldn’t, so I said, “Oh well “ and continued walking swiftly in the direction of the bus because I was already falling behind my group. She quickly found her father and than ran after me, he exchanged two 50 pound bills for my 100. All was well and good…

But then it got sketchy. She still did not have change for my 50 pound bill so she ran and found her friend… as I continued to the bus. Her friend had American bills that she was willing to exchange with my Egyptian pounds. Still walking, she handed me a 5 dollar bill and a 1 dollar bill. In order to settle, I would have needed to give her a 50 pound bill. Things were getting increasingly confusing as I was not only getting hassled by these two girls, but now by my group who was trying to leave. A guy from the JC stepped in to help… he had been watching some of the exchange from a distance… but in his defense, did not see all of it. He grabbed the $5 from my hand, gave it to the girls, said, “You’re good. Let’s go.” And we ran to the bus.

Moments later I realized what had happened:

I was now in possession of a bright blue jingly thing. I still had two 50 pound bills. Oh… and a 1 dollar gain. Oops.

LONG story short? An Egyptian merchant paid me $1 to take her authentic Egyptian merchandise.

Here it is in all its glory. PS Of course I felt guilty… yet she was harassing me mercilessly and, as vengeance, I’m sure she’s made an Egyptian voodoo doll that has an uncanny resemblance to me.

A Short Simple Story.

So, this is story I promised in my Egypt post a few weeks ago. My camel guide Abraham was so cute and nice. He is an 18 year old boy who has lived in Egypt all of his life. He was honestly sweet and genuine… which is saying a lot for an Egyptian male… he didn’t creep me out at all.

Anyway, kind of a cute story… as he was guiding my camel we had a conversation that went a little like this:

“So, Heidi… you have boyfriend?”

“No… no, I don’t.”

“What?! Why not!? I look at you and… and… I CAN’T BELIEVE MY EYES! Your smile? So pretty. I serious. I just can’t believe my eyes. Heidi so sweet… really.”

I started laughing… so I asked him, “Well Abraham, do you have a girlfriend?”


“Why not?”

“Too expensive.”

It was just classic, I loved it.

He was a doll.
Shadow of me and my camel.

On our first night in Cairo, Chels T. and Jess worked their “blonde hair” magic to get a man at the hotel to host a dance party for our group that night.

Chels (blonde #1), Me (making the face my dad hates), and Jess (blonde #2)

It was in the lobby of our hotel. Our DJ played the same four songs over and over and over.

Dance in the Lobby.

Being a loud group of young American adults, we soon caught the attention of many a passersby as well as hotel personnel. Several of these strangers began snapping photos and taking videos. One brave soul asked if he could join. He was an Asian man straight from China who said he had never been to a dance party before.

It was hilarious.

If you can't tell, we had a way good time with him. I took a couple of videos, but unfortunately they won’t upload on here. Guess I will have to wait for a U.S. High-speed Internet connection.

Out-of-the-Ordinary Outing

Alright... so after Egypt and back in Jerusalem... One morning after class I headed to the St. Mary Magdalene Church with a group of 13 girls.

St. Mary Magdalene Church

Check out those Visiting Hours

Because it has very specific visiting hours, this was one of the only days that fit into our schedule. We couldn’t find a guy to go with us and thus, we weren’t allowed to take the short cut (through Orson Hyde Park) due to security reasons. Striving to be obedient led us to a more dangerous (and time consuming) path…

We made the smart decision to side step this sign.

This led us to sliding down some loose rocks…

This picture may not appear dangerous… but believe me, it was.

Sarcasm from Suzie, “Woah. These loose rocks sure look stable!”

After our descent we ended up on this trail…

We found out after our return to the JC that this area is VERY much forbidden…

So much for being obedient, right?

It led us to a cemetery and what appeared to be a dead end…

Suzie was very scared by this point.

After being frightened by a pack of wolf dogs (unfortunately I was too scared to capture this moment on camera) we encountered a wall. It looked like another dead end until girls started climbing over it.

Luckily, we were able to unlock this gate…

We couldn’t get it shut again. Uh oh. I sure hope those wolf dogs didn’t get out.

So, after about a 45 minute journey we finally made it to the Church. It should have taken maybe 12 minutes.

After the Church we headed for the Jewish Quarter to find some lunch. We ended up going to this little pizza place.

14 shek Eggplant Pizza.

As we sat outside to eat, a pizza man from a competing shop harassed us. He couldn’t understand why we would pay 14 shekels for a slice of pizza when his was only 10. He bragged that his pizza was MUCH better and that he sells 10,000 slices every day.

After calculating that he must make over $20,000 a day… thus making him a millionaire in less than two months… I didn’t feel too bad for him.

Cultural Contrasts & Religious Respect

The Wailing Wall/Western Wall is a high wall in Jerusalem where Jews traditionally pray and lament to bring in Shabbat. It is a very, very holy site as it was anciently the place closest to the “Holy of Holies” outside of the Temple Mount. One Friday evening we were able to observe and participate in worship at the Western Wall. It has been by far one of my most favorite and memorable experiences.

The Wailing Wall is the portion you can see with the people standing in front of it.

Men's section at the Western Wall.
Before arriving we were oriented by our professors on what to expect at the Wall and how to be the most reverent. So, the female students were advised by our male professors to wear headscarves to show respect at the Wailing Wall.
This was not on Shabbat. But notice their heads...
This ended up being bad idea. We walked in and were all very confused because no one else really had their heads covered, and if their heads were covered it was only the top of the head. However, being the obedient girls we are, many of us remained with our heads covered.
Not the same day, but this is how we covered our heads.

About a half hour before we were leaving a young Jewish woman pulled us aside and said, "You only have to cover your heads if you're married!"

She continued, "I saw you guys walk in and I immediately knew that a group of girls your age couldn't ALL be married... I was like, 'What? Where's the baby!?' I felt so bad and I wanted to say something, but my friend said it was funnier this way."

Haha… oh man, how embarrassing for us. We were just trying to show the utmost respect.

Then she said:

"We just let you look like a bunch of married Muslims at the Jewish Wailing Wall."

On the same day that I went to St. Mary Magdalene Church and the pizza place, I had an interesting experience at the Dome of the Rock. For those of you who don’t know… the Dome of the Rock is an Islamic shrine in Jerusalem. For Muslims it is the third most holy place after Mecca and Medina. It surrounds the sacred rock on which, according to tradition, Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son and from which the prophet Muhammad made his miraculous night ascent into heaven (the Night Journey). I have often admired this building from afar, but hadn’t found an opportune moment to go (it also has specific visiting hours).

Richelle was such a sweetheart to take pictures for me.

As I was posing I didn’t know what to do/how to stand because there was nothing to lean against. Moon said I looked too stiff, so she suggested that I move around. I was kind of twirling around in my dress (which I suppose could have been interpreted as dancing…)

One of the pictures Richelle took

As I did so, I hear screaming from behind me and I see a large man coming towards me.

The screaming was a woman yelling something in Arabic…which I didn’t realize, was directed towards our group. The man reached us first… he was a security guard and in a hushed tone he said, “You are in trouble for dancing. The woman behind you is very upset that you have been dancing. You must collect your things and leave.”

Initially we thought he was joking because he seemed friendly and he was not at all upset. We soon realized he wasn’t as the screaming continued and the woman came closer and closer. We grabbed our things and booked it.

But not before taking a picture of the back of the woman’s head…

While I never got a close look at her face (because my back was to her) Richelle and Moon said her face was the darkest shade of red they had ever seen because she was so angry.

In retrospect, my take on the situation is that she must have thought Richelle and I were Muslim (because of our dark hair) and was mostly upset that our heads weren’t covered (which is VERY immodest to show your hair if you are Muslim). She must have also thought I was trying to be disrespectful by “dancing” outside of this very holy mosque. I assure you that I was not trying to desecrate anything at all and just wanted to get a decent picture. I am genuinely sorry that I provoked her to such fury, this was not my intention.

If you've made it this far... just keep reading.

Entertaining Exposures

(Things you might not see every day)

Camels on the Freeway

Peacock in a parking lot

Boys rolling around at the Dome of the Rock

Shortly before the "dancing" incident

Nun Texting in Mary Magdalene Church


Quite Comical Quotes

Disclaimer: These may only be funny to those who know Ophir Yarden or Andrew Skinner (aka JC people)

A quote by Ophir:

“Well… you can only change your name so many times…” ~ response on leaving America to come to Israel

The remainder are attributed to Brother Skinner:

“Most of you are going on to great things… while my life is pretty much over…”

“This is one small exam in your magnificent lives. You’ll have a lot bigger things to ruin your life than this exam.”

“Evidently, I am the sacrificial goat and they don’t care what happens to me.”~ on his ignorance about security clearance

“They also invented the sexagesimal system—don’t get too excited, that just means the number 60…”

“Abraham goes to Egypt and he sees something that was already 800 years old. How cool is that?! Try finding THAT in Provo!!! (long pause)… Provo really does have a lot to offer… I’m just having trouble thinking of what it is…” ~ after slighting Provo in anticipation for Egyptian Pyramids

“That’s an area that bores me spitless, frankly.”- in response to a student’s question about Bible dating

“I will admit that there are some things I don’t know… boy… that IS a confession!”

“Yes, the actual bumblebee. I should have dressed up in a bee suit to clarify.” – upon answering Aubrianne’s question about symbols for Lower Egypt

“You can just put a little BS next to that in your notes.”- referring to the fact that he (Brother Skinner… BS) is talking

“If you pay more tuition, you’ll get better jokes.”

WOW... so if you endured that... CONGRATULATIONS!!! I hope you got a couple good laughs out of this. Comment on what stories you liked :)

PS I've been trying to respond to e-mails of those who have e-mailed within the past month... but something may be wrong with my e-mail. When you do receive an e-mail from me, just send a quick line letting me know! Thanks :)

Coming Soon...

A post about some of the funny things that have happened in Jeru/Egypt... Check back later this week :)

For now? A picture of Jayne, Lou, Me, and Animal in the Private Garden at Gethsemane

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My Home, My Habbibi

Home: (noun) a place where something flourishes

I am so overwhelmed with gratitude to be here in Jerusalem that I can hardly explain it. As I mentioned in my Egypt blog, it was so wonderful to return to the Jerusalem Center. It feel so much like home now. I cannot even describe how great everything has been. Every day, in fact several times a day, I am filled with appreciation about how great life is here. Sometimes school can be tough and things are hard with mid-terms, papers, quizzes, two-hour classes, and long days of studying, but it is more than worth it to be here. I have learned so much here and I feel it is knowledge that will be everlasting.

In front of the JC before leaving for En Kerem

Yesterday evening we were blessed to have a forum where our newest Jerusalem Center Director, Dr. Kent Brown, spoke to us. He gave us a detailed history of how the Jerusalem Center came to be and the opposition it faced along the way (which was extreme and often…) I had heard many of the stories he told us, but was surprised and fascinated by others. One of my favorite stories of the night was about the initial occupation of the Center. The students in the Winter of 1987 were residing in a nearby Kibbutz when Brother Gallbraith decided that they would need to occupy the Center by 6 am the next morning. He told the 100 students to pack up their things and silently move into the Center overnight. Due to the opposition the Center was facing, the idea was to get inside without drawing any attention. If they came in the early morning and took possession of the building it would be hard for them to be kicked out if they were already in. This move-in was obviously unexpected and the Center was not completely finished… in fact, they didn’t have heat for more than a month  and relied on the sun to warm the building. There were problems with the running water, lighting, and other aspects of the JC, but Dr. Brown emphasized, “Our students were home and that was the important thing.” ß This was probably my favorite thing he said that night… this is home. 

Our students were home... and that was the important thing.” 
~ Dr. Kent Brown  

The Center has a GORGEOUS Auditorium and I have heard time and time again that there is NO other room on the planet like it (I have not yet taken my own pictures of it… but will do so soon.. the one below is one I found online) Dr. Brown described the acoustics of the room and added that the sound on the stage runs along the floor as it ascends the room, the holes in the chairs absorb some of the sound (a very small amount) so that the sound in the room is reinforced by the sound ascending beneath you.

This picture doesn't do it justice... You've gotta come see it :)

He spoke about the Center being created to have the feeling of a living, breathing structure. Light will enter the JC from all different angles (there are SO many windows in this place!) and thus the light will change during various times of the day. From almost any window in the Center you have a great view of Jerusalem to make it feel like the City is coming into the Center. I’m definitely not stating things as eloquently as he did, but he used some beautiful imagery. Another interesting idea was that they constructed all the residential corridors to resemble the streets of the Old City. This is done with 1) the narrowness of the halls and 2) parts of the corridor being covered and other parts being outside.

Do you kind of see what he's talking about?

Also, the rumors are true… the beautiful Jerusalem Center will one day be turned into a temple with a “change in use” permit. It is currently chartered as an educational facility. However, this day when it will become a temple is very far off and seems almost impossible with the committees it would have to go through. For now it is used largely as an educational facility... oh and what an education it is!

This sign is true many hours of many days

Diligent students. This picture was not posed... it really wasn't; the current Branch President said we are the most studious group he has seen yet. 
But... I don't think he meant it as a compliment.

Where much studying, socializing, e-mailing, and researching occurs.
Also... 78 students many failed attempts to sign onto Facebook.

The Lounge. Almost Vacant. See... I told you everyone is studying... 

Okay, so we really do have a lot of fun at the JC that doesn't include studying. In fact, we have an AWESOME "In-Center Activities Director" (Alexis Redd) who has planned some way fun events. Tomorrow night we are learning how to Cha-Cha. The following are pictures from our "Freaky Friday" party held on Friday 13th and an "Egyptian Night" we had after we returned from Egypt. Freaky Friday kind of turned into goth/emo night, lol. I looked pretty dang scary... so I apologize beforehand... I don't think I've ever worn so much make up. Egyptian Night was really fun and everyone had an opportunity to showcase their many Egyptian purchases.

Albino/Goth, Heath Ledger, Cate Todd, Little Indian

Sister Bradley, Me, & Sister Foss

Egyptian: Gypsy, Mummifier, Me, & Bathroom Attendant

Our awesome group with our awesome Egypt stuff

Anne Shirley, Kara Van Wagenenenen..., Me, Steffy Lou
We won runner up for "Cleopatra Look-alikes"

Okay, so unfortunately I didn't get a lot of pictures of the wonderful "formal" talent show we had here. The amount of talent in the JC would blow your mind. I was absolutely shocked with how many people in our group can dance, sing, play musical instruments, and do all three. The people I have been privileged to get to know here never cease to amaze me. Here is one picture of Ryan Rampton and Jen Stacey singing "This is the Christ." It was incredible.
Jen has a gorgeous voice. If only pictures had sound...

Yes, I have already dedicated an entire blog to the food here, but meal time at the JC always proves to be a fun, social time. I have had hilarious, fun, awkward (haha, purposely awkward... Anne), great, deep, insightful, and spiritual conversations in the Oasis (dining hall). It's sad to skip a meal at the JC because you never know what you might miss out on... 

Richelle (aka the Pita-nator) with the most frequented part of the Oasis:
The Pita Table
(complete with toaster, hot chocolate machine, & condiments: nutella, peanut butter, halva, honey, jam, butter, etc)

Michael James Westover dishing some delicious food
A Happy Shabbat Table.
Amy, Mudrick, Leash, Aubs, Stef, and June.

Chels, Chelle, Cate, Money man, Rach, Emma, Jen

As you can see, we truly have some great times at the Center… and these pictures are only a small glimpse into what we do here. I feel extremely blessed to be able to spend 4 months in Jerusalem and I’m in denial that I only have 2 months left. I recently learned that the cost/tuition we pay for the Center only covers a fraction of what it REALLY costs to care for each student every semester. It’s been reported/rumored (depending on how skeptical you are) that the up-front cost only covers 17% of the total cost… meaning that 83% comes from other sources. This was humbling for me to learn and makes me feel very grateful for all those who make it possible for students to study here. I am so thankful that the Brethren see the benefit and importance of having a Center here in Jerusalem. I have had some incredible and life-changing experiences here and I am striving to make the most of the time I have left. I see the importance of the academics here, but even as beautiful as the Center is, I recognize the need to explore the eternal city. The Center would cease to exist if it weren’t for its beautiful and historically significant surroundings. 

The place where I spend the most time pondering when I'm at the Center:
Our Beautiful Balcony
Roommates minus Stef.  Shar Bear, Me, and Kar Bear
The JC Gentlemen surprised us with flowers on Valentine's Day. It was very sweet :)

It's still hard for me to get over how beautiful the Center is. I love it.

Jerusalem: My Home, My Love

Thanks for reading! I love you all :) Let me know if there is anything specific you'd like me to post about...