Monday, November 4, 2013

The Final Countdown

Tonight I am to be set apart as a full time missionary and my quest to serve the Mexican people will begin.  Needless to say, I'm just a tinsy-winsy bit excited!  It also reminds me that I never finished my stories of Israel, something that I have been seriously lazy about and has now come to bite me in the keister.  So I have created a sparks note version of my adventures for your enjoyment.  

  1.  Fourth best field trip ever... (inside joke)

The week after Galilee we had a field trip that took us to Qumran, Masada, the Dead Sea, and another place which name escapes me now.... but it had a waterfall!

We couldn't resist showing off a little skin
Qumran: "Qumran, Qumran, just a little older than your mom!" offense.  A harmless rap that one of our classmates came up with.  We know mothers are wonderful, but that's besides the point. In case you were curious, Qumran is where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.  Visually, not the most incredible place.  Everything is tan and covered in dirt.  So while the history is great and significant, we didn't stay long.

Masada:  A facinating site filled with history.  Looking at what is left of the ruins, it's mind-boggleing to imagine how great the fortress was pre-destruction.  We divided up into small groups and set off on a scavenger hunt for knowledge, a.k.a. filling out a questionnaire with facts from signs.  It was fun to explore and according to legend, Micael Jackson himself once came to Masada.  To commemorate the moment, I put my beats by dre around my neck, pumped up the volume, and created portable speakers to blast every King of Pop song on my phone.

Don't worry, I wasn't disrespectful.  Sure, dancing to "P.Y.T." in ancient cisterns was fun but the history was far more interesting.

Dead Sea:  One of the coolest places in Israel!  Most definitely in my top five places to revisit.  But if you happen to be planing a trip let me advise you on a few precautions you should take.

1. Don't drink the water.  Don't even lick your lips after they get wet.  That water is 30% salt and no matter how salty you like your french fries you will NOT like how this tastes.  It's horrible and never leaves your mouth.  I had to chew on some mentos to finally get rid of it.

2. Don't get the water in your eyes.  If you do you will go blind... or that's what I'm told the experience feels like.  I took great care to stay away from any splashing so I don't know what it's like first hand.  But those less fortunate than me did not have pleasant things to say about it.

3. Don't jokingly splash anyone in the face.  No matter how nice of a person they are you will get yelled at and be put on their "to murder" list.  Seriously, it stings that bad.

4. DON'T have any open wounds.  Paper cuts, hangnails, it doesn't matter how small, the salt will sting like crazy!  Despite the rare opportunity to show off our legs, us girls stopped shaving about three days prior just to be careful.  I'm sure the guys did the same... in regards to their face, not legs.  Sadly I had acquired two gargantuan sized blisters on my feet the Saturday before from a long day of walking in the wrong shoes.  Even though several days had passed, scabs had yet to form and so the wounds were still fresh.  My clenched fists and locked jaw could not prevent squeaks of pain from escaping through my teeth as I stepped into the ancient sea.  But it wasn't as bad as I expected.  Sure, it stung like a thousand hornets at first, but it soon numbed and I joined my friends.  Each time I let my feet bob above the water and then submerge them again the hornets came back.  But it became the type of pain that felt good... or maybe I was slowly loosing my sanity.  Moral of the story, do everything you can to not have any open cuts, but if you do, relax.  As long as you don't have a cannon ball wound, I think you'll live.

Despite all the above, you'll still have a lovely trip.  Floating, without effort, in water is a surreal sensation.  We could have stayed there for hours and I would have still been amused.  Unfortunately we didn't have hours to spare so our swim was short in order to make time for mud baths.  Once we had taken satisfactory pictures of each other completely covered in black mud we washed off and headed to our last sight.  Two excellent waterfalls with disregarded "no swimming" signs.

   2.  Sunset Club

I've always loved sunsets.  What good natured human being doesn't?  They can transform the sky, clouds, buildings, trees, and peoples faces in the space of an hour, or just a few minutes.  One of God's daily gifts to us.  Each one is incredible no matter where you are, but I have a favorite place.  The 8th floor balcony of the BYU Jerusalem center.  The last few weeks of our stay saw the formation of the "Sunset Club."  Membership was open to all and meetings were not mandatory.  After dinner, whoever wanted to could make their way to the balcony and join in the fun.  It was always a sweet time in which we would reminisce over all that we had experienced together.  Swapping stories and feelings and sharing a mutual dread for what we all knew was close at hand... leaving.  Sometimes a few of the guys would carry up guitars and we'd sing/mumble along with whatever they played.  But the best part was watching the sunset.  Always.  The way those reddish hues were painted across the sky and fell upon the old, limestone buildings of Jerusalem created a timeless image that I sorely wish I could see again.  So beautiful and unmatched.

   3.  Palestinian Soccer

There was a couch randomly left in the middle of a
empty filed/playground.  Silly Israelis...
A circumstance that I will not soon forget and possibly the most awkward moment out of the entire semester.  Taking a break from studying from finals, a group of us went out to play soccer with some of the neighborhood kids.  I was looking forward to a fun, casual game of soccer and it looked like that was what I'd get.... until they picked teams.  It's not what you think, I wasn't traumatized by being picked last.  On the contrary, I was one of the first to be selected.  But as each team grew, so did my anxiety.  In the end we had three teams.  One all boys, including our Ben and Skylar.  Another with all of the BYU girls and a few girls from the neighborhood.  And last, but certainly most odd, my team which consisted of yours truly... and a bunch of Palestinian boys.

Me and my new best friend Bassam
How did this happen?  Beats me.  Had the team captain acquired knowledge of my impressive defense skills from my elementary days?  Not likely.  Was it my riveting beauty and charm?  Even less likely.  All I know is that one moment I was surrounded by familiar girl faces and the next they were replaced by strange boys with an unfortunate amount of acne.  But that shouldn't affect me, after all, back home I would wrestle with my brothers all the time.  And the acne thing?  Been there, done that.

The problem was that I had been brainwashed.  Flashback to the very beginning of the semester:

They separated us, girls from the boys, and lead us into different classrooms.  Unfamiliar with the girls surrounding me, I clung to my sketchbook, absorbing myself in the stylization of a school boy's tie in order to escape monotonous small talk.  The instructors began to talk, I continued to doodle, and after an hour we were all eating lunch.  Yet in that small space of an hour, all we had previously conceived about the confusing yet intriguing gender of man had been replaced with a new, more terrifying image.

A superb flashback was it not?  I should have been an english major.  Regardless, how about some background info on the background story?  In that little meeting us female students were informed on  safety precautions for living in Israel.  More specifically, how to avoid unwanted attention from the local men.  In doing so, they shared stories from previous semesters that, quite honestly, scared the bejeebers out of me.

Despite a few... creative cat calls, no harm came to any of us those four months in Israel.  Nonetheless, I was still didn't want to break culture protocol, which hindered my playing ability quite a bit.  Every time the ball came my way, so did all the boys causing me to pull back last minute in order to not run into them.  It was a big ol' mess of awkwardness and the other girls teased me relentlessly.  But we did have a good laugh and in-between games the guys filled me in on all the Palestinian political wrong doings... it was interesting.

Needless to say I wasn't MVP that day.  I'm glad I went though.  One more awkward story to add to my long and ever growing list.  I also got to meet Bassam, our team goalie.  Since the rest of our team did an excellent job of keeping the ball away from me and on the other end of the field, Bassam and I were left with plenty of time to chat and get to know each other.  He is fourteen and reminded me a lot of my brother Garrett, both in love with the sport soccer.  
They managed to capture a rare moment when I actually participated.

   4.  Talent Show

Previously in the semester we held a "Formal Talent Show" in which we were treated with violin, piano, guitar, and vocal performances by our fellow students, as wells as some poetry reading and Irish clogging.  So the rest of us goofballs didn't feel left out, another "Informal Talent Show" was held.  In other words, anyone in possession of little or no talent, but enjoyed making a fool of themselves was able to walk on stage for a little lime light.

There was dancing, rapping, singing, whistling, and even origami folding.   Being my... overly theatrical self I couldn't resist putting on an outfit and doing a jig of my own.  With the combined powers of my lovely roommate Amber and myself we created our own spin off of the song "Loathing" from the fabulous musical Wicked.  Our personalities as well as appearance (minus the green skin) fit perfectly with the characters of Elphaba and Glinda.  While our performance was far from Broadway worthy, it was a blast to do.


 5.  President Uchtdorf

Possibly one of the most amazing experiences of the semester.  We had a visit from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf.  He and his family were visiting the Holy Land and we managed to convince them to stay with us for a few days.  It became a not so uncommon thing to see them eating breakfast or lunch with us in the Oasis, or heading out for a day in the city.  Several times I or a group of us would run into him in the hallways and have a little conversation, then skip away squealing to ourselves "did that just happen?"

On two occasions he spoke to us formally.  Once in our District Conference and again in a program dedicated to the events of the Upper Room.  Both times were wonderful.  In District Conference our choir got to sing for him and, with some careful maneuvering, I managed to claim the seat right in front of the podium for myself.  So when President Uchtdorf stood up to speak I was just two feet away from him!  If he was a spitter, I would have felt it!  But he's not, unfortunately.  The second time he spoke I wasn't nearly that close to him, regardless, he, as usual, spoke very inspiring words filled with the spirit.   I would describe them further, but I'm afraid I don't have the time.  All in all, it was a surreal experience to have him in our presence.  Not something I will soon forget.

     6. Roommates

I realize that I rarely ever mentioned my roommates in my posts.  Let me fix that now because these girls were/are amazing.

Kirsten Anderson (far left):  ABBA's dancing queen in flesh and blood.  A film major and dancing minor.  She was also my "nook buddy" which means our bed were in the same corner of the room.  Many nights we'd stay up late talking about anything and everything. 

Paige Bartholomew (middle left):  Before Jerusalem she went on another study abroad in Vienna.  Also a dancer (but not majoring) and extremely down to earth.  Can get along with anyone and loves everyone.  

Amber Feigleson (far right):  Madam President of the Jerusalem class of Winter 2013 and Mother Hen to all.  She served her mission in Finland and does a mean Velociraptor impersonation.

In no way do these descriptions do justice.  There is simply no way that I can write out all of our adventures, talks, and feelings that we've shared.  We might not have been the most cuddly of roommates, but we loved each other and we all knew it.  We always had each other's back and a listening ear when needed.  They each give me tremendous support with my decision to serve a mission and were ecstatic when I first shared the news, but we all regret not having the opportunity to room together again.  Being the youngest in the group, by the time I go back to school they will all most likely have graduated or been married.  Hopefully by then I will have some old companions to house with...but still,  I will never forget theses three angels.  They helped make my semester great and I expect many reunions in the future.

     7. T-shirt Contest

Did I forget to mention I won a t-shirt contest?  Every semester the students submit designs for the semester t-shirt.  The competition was heavy this year since there were four art majors in attendance. There were two voting's.  The first to select the top three designs, the second, to pick the winner.  I don't mean to brag, but two out of the top three were my designs and after everyone voted again, I won!  You see the end result below.  The design incorporated the three significant buildings/places we went to that semester.  Turkey and the Blue Mosque,  Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock, and our beloved Jerusalem Center.  Home.

      8.  The Last Week

When I first learned that we would not be retracing the last week of the Savior's life during Holy Week I was extremely upset.  How could they not realize that it would have been the perfect way to enhance an already spiritual week and give us new meaning to the biblical stories?  It was still an amazing week and you can read about it here, but I thought it could be just a bit better.

As usual, I was wrong.  Not in the fact that it would have heightened the spirituality of the week, but as to when it would be the best time to reflect on the Savior's life.

By walking in the steps of the Savior's last week our last week, we remembered why we were there.  Why this place was so special.   At each site students could sign up to say a few words.  I was lucky enough to do so at one of my favorite spots, Dominus Flevit.  We ended our stay on a spiritual high, with a greater love for the land, people, gospel, atonement, Savior, and each other.  We ended our "journey" back at the Garden Tomb.  Ironic that that was also our very first field trip.  After hearing a few more words from teachers and students, time was given for a testimony meeting.  If ever there was a time the Spirit was so strong it was tangible, that was it.  How could they possibly send us home after that!?!  Again, there is much more I could say on the subject, but due to time, I must hold back.
Garden of Gethsemane
"Oh Jerusalem Jerusalem"

   10.  One more day

It didn't feel like our last day.  We set out like we did any other free day, but we made sure to stop by all our favorite places.  Hezekaia's  tunnel, Shabbon's shop, shawarma in the old city, pastries in the Jewish quarter, gelato in West Jerusalem, and Magnum bars at the 7/11... notice how everything involves food?

Even though the gelato is to die for, our main reason for the long trek to West J was to support our fellow JCrew members.  Lexi and Lizzy had taken their violins to the middle of the square, left their cases open, and were playing for shekels.  It was awesome!  They are really talented and it was super fun to watch.  When they finished they were able to buy everyone gelato with their earnings.  Score!

It was very strange when the day ended because it did not feel like goodbye.  It was hard to imagine that we wouldn't see each other the next day.  No one wanted to think about it so after we were all packed, we went outside for one last sunset club meeting.  Mother Nature didn't disappoint.  It was beautiful.  We shared hugs, emails, and swore to write each other on missions.  Eventually the time came to leave.  It was hard and I became shockingly less talkative.  No other time in my life will be like Jerusalem.  If I could, I would have stopped time with all of us there.  Sadly I lack that supernatural power.

This past summer National Geographic came out with the movie Jerusalem. When I first saw the trailer I could hardly hold in my excitement.  I haven't been able to see the actual movie, but whenever I start to miss Israel, I just watch the trailer to feel a little better.

I can't really think of any words to further describe my experience and love.  There are no words really.  Not unless you've been there.  Not unless you're in the JCrew.  We all have a mutual understanding.  So I guess that's it.  Time for my next adventure in Mexico.  If you're curious, check out my mission blog.

Jerusalem, if I forget you...

1 comment:

  1. Eden, you have the wonderful ability and inclination to see the wonder, to create the magic, to appreciate the beauty and glory of "The moment". And you make it come alive for those around you. You have that elusive joie de vivre that will always make your days sparkle. Jerusalem will always be a major part of you because you were such a major part of Jerusalem. And the same thing will happen on the Baja. Just make sure you design and bring home another award winning t-shirt design. You are fabulous.