The day starts early for those who hear the “call to prayer” which is usually around 4:30a.m. Since we left the Guest House in Ibillin during our first week and are now at the Mt. David Hotel in Bethlehem we no longer hear the roosters. If we hear the “call to prayer” we may go back to sleep until it’s time to be at breakfast at 7:00a.m.
The dining room tables have signs indicating where the “Americans” are to sit. In addition to “American” table signs there are signs for “Ireland”, “Romania” and “Greece”. We finish breakfast in time to return to our rooms to gather what is needed for our second morning of the work project at Wadi Fouqeen (sometimes spelled Wadi Fukin) and to be on the bus that will leave at 8:15.
I continue to be amazed and impressed with our bus driver’s skill in maneuvering this huge bus, which seats 55 people, on the narrow, steep, busy and twisting streets and roads. (Our guide, Issa, said today that the Bethlehem streets were built by donkeys…and he meant that donkey paths of old have become the streets of today!) We hop on the bus and to make sure everyone is present and accounted for, we call out our number before the bus takes us to our next adventure.
The views from the bus window are always fascinating. The street and road signs are written in Arabic, Hebrew and English. In addition to the directional signs we may see fertile valleys with fields of green vegetables. Other places appear to be too rocky to grow anything. Between cities we may see terraced areas with green growth or a barren area with Bedouin camps. But we’re not in the countryside; we’re arriving at Wadi Fouqeen to find out what our “work of the day” will be.
Adel, the young man who will be giving us our work assignment greets us and identifies the need for two groups; one to pick up rocks and level part of the garden area and another group to help pick olives at his family’s home. Even though we’re all adults, many of us are excited about the opportunity to pick olives. When we find out those who don’t pick today can pick tomorrow, everyone is eager to help where ever needed and do not hesitate to begin work.
By noon the olive pickers return to the house, the rock workers have finished their leveling, scraped off the chipped paint, cleaned walls and windows and are ready to take off their face masks (to prevent inhaling rock dust) and are ready to eat. A delicious meal of Mugdahr made with lentils, vermicelli and ‘special spices’ prepared by Adel’s sister-in-law, Aziza, is accompanied by a traditional tomato-parsley salad and fresh yogurt! We dig in, happily! From there, we’re off to the bus, back to the hotel to clean up and be ready by 2:00 to visit the Bethlehem Bible College.
At the Bible College we were greeted by Alex Awad and his wife Brenda. Alex is the Dean of Students and also head of the Shepherd Society, the humanitarian arm of the college. We were shown the new building with classrooms and an auditorium which opened last year. The college library has recently become a community library, open to the public. There are 170 students, with an equal number of males and females. (Rami, our guide last week, graduated from this college.) The college was started by Alex’s brother in 1979. Christian students of many denominations can obtain a four year liberal arts education, with courses in ministry and biblical studies. The college also offers several programs to help students stay in the area and find jobs related to biblical history: Mass Media, Tour Guiding in this historically rich part of the world and the Shepherds’ Society, which provides study in the areas of social need. Yes, they include students of all faiths including Muslim in their student body.
Alex provided us with an excellent, thought-provoking presentation on the Palestinian perspective of the Israel-Palestine Conflict and some insights into the part Christian Zionism is playing in exacerbating this conflict. His Power Point presentation was available for purchase in the bookstore as was his book, Palestinian Memories. Many of us will have these resources with us when we get home. This was a very important summary of the issues for us.
Next we visited the Aida Refugee Camp, one of three refugee camps in Bethlehem; Aida houses 5000 refugees. The spokesperson and youth leader, Salah, described the camps as ranging in size from 3000 – 15,000, as a result of the depopulating of as many as 531 cities and villages since 1948. Families lived in tents, thinking this was a temporary situation, for 6 long years. When the UN realized this was not so temporary, all families were moved into hastily built buildings with very little space. His story is the story of thousands of refugee families; no rights, poor housing, treated like animals, shot in the night, tear gas thrown into homes, removed from home in the middle of the night by soldiers, shot at if out after curfew, and so many other inhumanities. We ended the visit by going to the rooftop of Lajee Refugee Center with the huge black water storage tanks we have been seeing on Palestinian homes. Salah pointed out the playground, which they would like to purchase for the children but the cost is $400,000…way too expensive. (The back of one of the big hotels was in view, and sometimes the camp residents can hear water filling the hotel pool, when there is no running water in the camp …therefore the need of the black storage tanks.) He also pointed out the gateway to the camp with a huge key above it, representing the key to justice they hope can come through UN Resolution 194.
The eventful day ended with a treat from Issa; yummy ice cream for each of us at Little Italy. Thank you, Issa, for the treat and thank you Janet for all you say and do for us! The end of another beautiful, educational and fun day!