“maybe we have to break everything to make something better out of ourselves”
— Chuck Palahniuk
Hello, everyone. It’s been awhile.
As you probably know if you’re reading this blog, I’ve spent the past year in the Holy Land as a volunteer through the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission program. It seems pretty unreal that my time serving as a volunteer has ended and I’m back stateside, once again eating oatmeal in my bed in Bismarck and petting my cats. If you’ve been with me since the beginning, here’s an update:
I spent a year working with children, which has not necessarily improved my patience with them, but has definitely merited me some cool new hand clapping games (a skill you can feel free to endorse me for on Linkedin).
My hair, once chopped short, has regained a somewhat normal length, although I spent a good part of the year looking like I shared a hair stylist with Lord Farquaad. It’s fine.
Through diligent work and many long hours walking to and from everywhere, I have finally moved up to the SECOND fairest shade of foundation. That’s right — move over, Porcelain Ivory, Ivory is in the house.
In order to get all my things back to the U.S., I was forced to ship my blanket and baby a few weeks before I actually departed. My heartfelt gratitude to those who saw me through those difficult weeks of separation.
I remain just 5’3″ in height.
To read more about my final months in the Holy Land, check out my July Newsletter here.
Once, when I was young but still probably old enough to know better, my grandma made a big meal for Easter. She had a ham and potatoes and other good hearty midwestern fare. It was a full spread. When we finished eating, I turned to her and enthusiastically said, “Thanks for lunch!” If looks could kill, the one on her face when she seethed “Lunch?!” certainly would have put me six feet under. Mine would have been a very short obituary.
This weekend, I learned why, back on that Easter Sunday, the word “lunch” was treated like the worst possible curse. My fellow volunteer Carter and I, along with my host Nehida, held a party that served jointly as Carter and I’s going away event and Nehida’s birthday celebration. A common farewell here is “Yalla Bye.” In that spirit, we called our event “Yalla Pie.”
Palestinian parties are always something wonderful. If you can’t feel your arteries clogging by the end of them, you weren’t at one. We worked hard to make sure our event was up to par. We bought almost 10 kilos of meat. We made two pies (hence, yalla pie) and a cake. We had seven salads and a mountain of fries. There were only 13 of us between my hosts and Carter’s, but we prepared like the whole city would be in attendance. If someone had called this meal lunch, I might have fallen over and died where I stood, still covered in flour and bits of chopped onion. Honestly, I feel even calling the meal “dinner” is an insult. “Feast” seems insufficient.
We ate all through the evening. We stuck some birthday candles in an apple pie. Few people ate the chocolate pie I labored over; fewer liked it — an emotional scar sure to fill up many pages of my journal. In true Lutheran fashion, the cake was made of jello, and we all found room for it. By the time coffee was served I thought my ribs might crack. I asked the pastor in attendance to baptize my food baby. He declined. Another page in my journal to fill.
The Yalla Pie festivities signal the impending close of my time here in the Holy Land. It marked the near conclusion of a year of fellowship around food, laughter with dear ones, a journal filled with memories. Soon, I will be back in North Dakota sharing familiar meals with my family in the Peace Garden State. If anyone cooks, I will be sure not to thank them for lunch.
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.”