We’re almost through with the year now, and in many ways, I’ve found my routine. I know how early I need to wake up to get to the school I volunteer at and be my best self. I know how early I need to wake up to get to the school on time (the times are dramatically different). I treat myself to lattes and ice cream (OK, OK I might be a regular) from time to time. I have a gym membership and try to go with some semblance of frequency (I am not a regular). In many ways, life here is shockingly similar to life back home.
Despite the similarities, the differences also ring clear. Missing from my routine this year is a key relationship — Netflix. Yes, that’s right. Prior to leaving the U.S. I cancelled my Netflix and Hulu accounts and got a free Overdrive account instead (although I did break down and use my mom’s account to watch the newest season of “Grace and Frankie;” Lily Tomlin is a national treasure). It was a hard decision, but Netflix and Hulu do try to stay in touch. They email regularly. They ask if I want to come back. They are persistent.
But, one of my goals this year was to read more and boob tube less, and so, here I am, behind on “Broadchurch” and having never seen “13 Reasons Why.” Instead, here’s a list of books I’ve read while waiting to have Netflix once again:
Hamilton, Ron Chernow
A Problem from Hell, Samantha Power
Wages of Rebellion, Chris Hedges
Sex Object, Jessica Valenti
The Book, Alan Watts
The War for God, Karen Armstrong
The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander
Bad Feminist, Roxanne Gay
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
Israel/Palestine, Alan Dowty
King Leopold’s Ghost, Adam Hochschild
Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
The Social Animal, David Brooks
Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson
Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
Notorious RBG, Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
Faith in the Face of Empire, Mitri Raheb
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
Accidental Saints, Nadia Bolz-Weber
Blood at the Root: A racial cleansing in America, Patrick Phillips
Pastrix, Nadia Bolz-Weber
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Kim Barker
Rant, Chuck Palahniuk
Grief is the Thing with Feathers, Max Porter
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde
When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
We still have about a month left, so if you have any book suggestions or prayers for my emotional well-being as I continue to work through this self-induced deprivation, both would be appreciated.
At sunrise on Good Friday, the Jerusalem/West Bank volunteers and I gathered in Jerusalem to commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion by tracing his steps through Jerusalem’s Old City along a path that is known as the Via Dolorosa or “The Way of the Cross.”
This past weekend, I participated in the Palestine Marathon in Bethlehem, running my first half marathon race. The race calls for the right to movement for all people, a right that is not available to many of the people I care about here in the Holy Land.
Not only was this my first half marathon, but it was also the first time I had run outside since the summer. I did all my training on a treadmill. If you’ve never run extended periods on a treadmill, close your eyes and imagine what it would be like to die. Then imagine that feeling while in a room filled with sweaty people. That’s pretty much what it’s like. Whenever my will was wavering, I would focus my eyes and repeat my running mantra “Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”
Based on my training experience, and the fact that the last time I ran a race was my high school’s “Apple Dash 5K,” it’s no surprise I missed the start of the race (those starting guns are not as loud as they seem in the movies), and spent the majority of the event trotting along next to a middle-age man who had never run more than 2 km before signing up to knock out 21.
The race started at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where it is believed Mary gave birth to Jesus. The fact that I signed up for a distance race is probably just as miraculous as a virgin birth. Heading out from the church the rest of the course took us along the separation wall, through a refugee camp and past multiple falafel and shwarma stands. Whenever I felt my feet veering unwillingly toward the smell of roasting meat and tahini, I meditated on the Notorious RBG, pushed my headphones even deeper into my ears and vowed to eat to the point of discomfort as soon as I crossed the finish line.
Nevertheless, I persisted, and crossed the finish line still on my feet. I won’t write home about my final time, but I will note that regardless of how you feel about participation medals, I walked around eating bread and wearing mine with pride. I plan to get one of those “13.1” stickers and staple it to my forehead immediately upon my return to the U.S. so I can casually boast about the feat whenever I see someone new. Probably, RBG would not approve.
Well, it’s been a few weeks (months) and I’m sure many of you have been desperately awaiting an update on my life here in the Holy Land. My grandma always tells me I don’t write her enough. Self improvement is a constant struggle.
Anyway, I’m still here.
At the beginning of March, my fellow volunteers and I traveled to Jordan to visit the Lutheran Church in Amman. There, we joined the local congregation for evening services and spent some time talking with the local pastor about what their church is like. We also went to Starbucks. Religious experiences come in all shapes.
Of course, while we were there, we also partook in some tourist activities. Here are the highlights:
“For almost six months now, I have made my way to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope in Ramallah on Sunday mornings. The church has been a constant for me, a place of refuge and rest during this year of tremendous personal growth and change. Each week, I find joy in its familiar scene — in exchanging the same greetings and comments on the weather before the service, in hearing the same voices enthusiastically lift up the Gospel hymns, in seeing the same children race to the front of the church to receive their communion blessing.”
“As I celebrated Christmas this year, far away from my biological family, the words from Bishop Younan’s sermon came floating back to me. In North Dakota, my family spent Christmas riding out the latest blizzard and eating the same Scandinavian meals we eat every year. On the other side of the world, I gathered with my local pastor and his wife and children, people I have no biological connection to, to eat food that had nothing Scandinavian about it. And yet, gathered around a table crowded with people and food, we celebrated the same miraculous event that my family back home was also celebrating — the birth of a baby that would radically change our world.”
Well, we’ve survived the Christmas holiday out here in the Holy Land. In my own personal Christmas tradition, I ate too many cookies and regretted none of them. It’s good to have consistency in a new place.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Christmas, but when in Bethlehem, do as the disciples do. Following good form, my fellow volunteers and I battled our way into Manger Square, in front of the Church of the Nativity, where it is believed Jesus was born, for Christmas Eve. Let me set the scene: After stopping for pastries to sustain us for the journey we walked our way up a hill to an entry point to the square. We stood in line. Our things were searched, but luckily our pastries were left unharmed (a Christmas miracle). We got caught behind group after group of excited tourists wearing matching outfits and following guides with ball caps and little flags of defeat. They blended in as much as I did wearing a neon red hiking backpack — practically locals. In the square, we were offered tiny chocolate Santas and bought cups of coffee for two shekels. There were people dressed up as Disney characters and clowns. Music was blasted from the stage. Probably, this is exactly what Jesus would have wanted his birthday to be like back in the day; probably, Mary would have had a heart attack.
After enduring the festivities as long as one can with only one cup of coffee under their belt, we wiggled our way through the crowds to a local cafe for caffeination and a bit of a reprieve. From our perch we listened to the scouts march down the street playing drums and Christmas tunes. Christmas parades are much more enjoyable when you’re not watching them in several feet of snow.
Later that night, we filed into church in Ramallah. We sang familiar tunes in a new language (as my gift to the congregation I opted to hum rather than sing). The kids of the church each got hand wrapped gifts at the end of the service. I briefly thought about fighting one of them for their new puzzle, but forcibly reminded myself I’m an adult instead (puzzles > responsible social responses, in case you were wondering).
We opened presents of our own following the service; I have never been so excited to receive a new pair of thick, fuzzy socks and a bag of Sour Patch Kids™. I played Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You (extra festive)” one last time before I curled up in bed. It’s always good to end a night feeling your best.
As my gift to you this season, please enjoy my updated Cats of the Holy Land page, which started out as a joke and is now something I am obligated to continue.