Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Last Days

My time here in Jerusalem is drawing to a close and I'm starting to feel how sad it will be to go home and leave this amazing place. I'm ready for the program to be done, but in a lot of ways I'm not ready to leave this city.

I'm so grateful for the opportunity to have had this experience and I realize that it would have never been possible without the help of so many of you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for giving me this wonderful gift that I will always treasure.

Being here has been incredible, and I've learned so much about the Middle East, the history of the world, and most importantly my Savior. My testimony has really been enhanced through my experience; although, as I've mentioned before, I realize even more that seeing isn't necessary for believing.

I have a testimony of Jesus Christ, as my Savior and my Lord. I'm grateful for his mercy and love for me, and for his sacrifice in the garden and on the cross. I believe in the restored gospel and that this church that we are a part of has prophets, acting under the direction of Jesus Christ himself. He was real and is real and he lives. I'm so grateful for that precious knowledge!

I love you all and can't wait to see you soon!

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

My time here in the Holy Land is coming swiftly to a close but I thought I'd put up at least one more post about my last extensive fieldtrip: the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan! It really only takes about an hour or less to get to the border of Jordan, but it took us about 2 hours to get through and on our way again. It's been interesting to go through customs in this part of the world. They didn't stamp our passport going into the country or leaving, they only stamped us that we'd left Israel and entered Israel. Someone told me that it was because as Americans it can look bad to have a Jordanian stamp in your passport. I don't know if that's true or not but I have been told that having a stamp from places like Saudi Arabia or Yemen could mean that you don't get back into the United States. I don't know how true that is either, but it's an interesting rumor.

During our trip we had a local Jordanian tour guide who was actually really informative (unlike Egypt where the guy was informative sometimes and repetitive most of the time). One of our first stops was on Mt. Nebo, which is where Moses looked out at the promised land before being translated (we all had a good smile when our guide told us that he died but no one knows where he is buried).

We also saw an amazing Byzantine floor mosaic map of early Christian pilgrimmage sites in the Holy Land. It's very famous and has really helped archeologists (Biblical ones in particular) figure out where traditional sites were for early Christian pilgrims. The first picture on the top right is of my head and the Madaba map on the ground behind me.

The highlight of Jordan by far was Petra. Petra is the famous city that Indiana Jones rides his horse out of in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was a major city built by the Nabateans (who were a pretty well established group of people that I knew nothing about until I got here, unfortunately). They traded in spices and such and basically ran the spice route from Yemmen up to Petra and into Asia. Petra was a major stop for the camel caravans. The Nabatean Empire was eventually dismantled by the Romans and all that's left is some amazing carved architecture and a bunch of bedouins selling cheap jewelry that turns your fingers green even though they assure you it's real bedouin silver.

The first picture is of me with the "treasury" behind me. The "treasury" is a huge building carved directly into the rock. It's amazing! The next picture is of a group of us on a high place with the land of Israel behind (brother Seely is on the far right--he's the semi-balding, older guy).

If walking into a pyramid was one of the funniest things I've done in my life, then riding a donkey in Petra was probably one of the craziest. To get to the "monastery" (another huge rock-carving building (and when I say big, I mean big: like, a house could fit inside it!) you have to climb or ride a donkey up 1000+ stone stairs. Or, you can pay a bedouin boy $7 and he'll take you up on a donkey. Or in my case, the bedouin boy will slap the donkey on the rump, tell you it knows the way, and take off after it as it runs up the mountain. There were times I thought I might die, which is when I yelled out to the kid that he better keep me safe or I wouldn't pay him any money. After that we still went fast (we kept passing people which is scary in a one lane little canyon with cliffs on the sides at times) and for some reason he tried to make it up to me by flirting with me. He kept asking if he could sit with me on the donkey. I kept telling him no (I felt him help me onto the donkey and I wasn't going to make that mistake again) but at one point I asked him a question and he didn't answer and I looked all around and didn't see him until I looked directly behind me and realized he was sitting on the back of my donkey, grinning. I told him to get off but it was pretty funny. The experience alone was worth the $7. Someday I'll have to show you a hilarious video I took while riding.

Another highlight site we went to was a Roman city named Jerash. It had great ruins, probably my favorite of all the Roman cities I've seen. I even ran a footrace in a hypodrome. I took second place, but I was barefoot and in a skirt so it wasn't a totally fair race. I can't even tell you how impressed I am with the Romans. They really knew how to make their cities. I think I might have really liked having them come in and conquer and up the standard of living, had I lived in the 1st Century. To the left is one of the temples in Jerash, the columns are still miraculously standing because the Roman engineers built them so that they would sway slightly during wind and earthquake. You can even feel them sway if you stick your fingers between the cracks. It's crazy!

We also got to see the Jabbok river, which is where Jacob wrestled with the angel before being reunited with his brother Esau. This is where Jacob was given the name Israel. It was a peaceful place at the side of the highway. Here's a picture of Jacob and the angel wrestling.

We stayed in Amman for 3 days (the capital of Jordan) and it was really great! We had a lot of free time in the evenings which meant we could go out exploring, take taxis and see the sites. There wasn't a lot to see that we weren't seeing as a group, but we did have a good adventure going to a shopping mall/bazaar one night. Foreign taxis are really fun, as long as you have a boy with you! I felt safe in Jordan, and much more respected as a woman there than I did in Egypt. However, I also felt a greater need to be modest, just out of respect (not out of safety like I did in Egypt).
One morning we toured the Mosque of Abdullah in the city. They made us put on long black robes and we all brought our head scarfs to wear. Here's a picture of a bunch of us looking serious (I'm not sure why) and of me in the women's mosque (which was my favorite because a cute little Muslim woman showed us all around, the washing room, the toliets, everything). The boys were jealous that they didn't get to see something that we did. Ha ha!

The last spot we stopped at on the way back home was at Bethany Beyond Jordan, which is the traditional baptismal site of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist. I'm not sure if this picture is blasphemous or not, but here's a baptism picture. This is my friend Jason, he gets married one month from today! Crazy! It's actually probably pretty accurate that Jesus got baptised within a quarter mile or less of this area. It was HOT HOT HOT at this site! It's amazing to feel how the heat increases as you get closer to the Dead Sea.
All in all, the whole trip was wonderful, although it was good to get back to the Center!

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Dead Sea and Me

About a week ago our group took a trip down to the Dead Sea region to explore some of the Dead Sea's many wonders.

We started the day with Masada, the fortress solidified by Herod
the Great and sieged by the Romans. I wish I had a picture of it to show you just how tall and seemingly unassailable it is. The Romans spent months building a siege ramp to get to the people. When they finally arrived they found that all of the people (minus a woman and a few children who were hiding in a cistern) had committed suicide. The alternative would have been punishment, death, or slavery. It's a very tragic story. I'm not sure what I'm doing in this first picture, but I'm on the top if the fortress at Masada. It was HOT HOT that day!!!

After going to Masada we went over to swim in the Dead Sea. It was about the weirdest thing I've ever experienced. I picture it to feel a lot like zero gravity. You really do just sit and float. It burns like crazy if you get it in your eyes and tastes horrible if you get some in your mouth. It actually just sort of hurts your skin all around if you stay in for extended periods of time, and after you get out your skin feels like you just bathed in baby oil.

Supposedly, the mud from the Dead Sea is supposed to do wonders for your skin. We, of course, tried it. With the no touching policy here at the Jerusalem Center, it was amazing how much of an excuse everyone suddenly had to touch members of the opposite sex (just to help them cover themselves with the mud, you know). Fortunately, the guys tend to stay away from the engaged girls, so I was safe!

The last place we went on this field trip was to Qumran, which is where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. This is a picture of me with one of the caves behind me. It was fascinating to learn more about the Essenes and scrolls. Life would have been interesting as a monastic. I'm glad I'm not doing it and marrying Bryan instead.

Galilee and Beyond

I don't even know where to start when it comes to the time I spent in Galilee. It was an incredible, beautiful, and peaceful (for the most part) place. We spent 10 days in a kibbutz on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and spent the days in classes or touring the land round about. I think I'll just highlight photos and give you a little bit of an overview of some of my favorite sites.

This first picture is of Paul defending himself to Felix and Festus (except that I'm Paul and my friend Catherine is Felix, and Festus) in the city of Caesarea Maritina. This city is one of the few ports in northern Israel and was an important trade city. Because of this, Herod the Great built it up into a fancy schmancy city with all the finest and fanciest adornments. Then he named it after his benefactor (Caesar). It is here that Peter came and taught Cornelius after recieving the dream to take the gospel to the Gentiles. It is also here that Paul spent much time (in prison) and from where he left for his final journey and trial in Rome.

The second picture was also taken in Caesarea Maritina. This is us taking a bath in the Roman baths. We got used to seeing and learning to appreciate Roman ruins while we were in the Galilee region. Caesarea was particularly cool because they had mansions, bath houses, a large theater, and a hippodrome (where they had olympics and chariot races and such), all really well preserved.

This third picture is of the Church of the Annuciation in Nazareth.

I had to give a little report at this site, so it's near and dear to my heart. The church is supposedly built over the place where Mary lived and was visited by the angel Gabriel who told her that she would conceive the Savior. Whether or not you want to believe the story, the church was really nice and I liked it better than many of the other churches we've gone to. Intestingly, Nazareth is one of the largest populations of Palestinian Christians. We also ate fresh pizza baked on freshly cooked pita here. It was one of the best lunches yet! Ever since Egypt I've had a hard time stomaching the bologne sandwiches they often pack for us.

One of my all-time favorite places I've seen on this whole trip was the city of Dan. It was absolutely beautiful! The city marked the northern most reaches of the Israelite's control (during Old Testament times) and is also near the source for the Jordan River (which feeds the Sea of Galilee and eventually ends up in the Dead Sea). Behind me in the fourth picture is a metal frame of a pagan alter that was built at Dan. It's huge! You just never think about the fact that the alters were so big. The one on the Temple Mount would have been even bigger than this, because sacrifices would have been burning all the time and the priests would have walked on it and everything. Dan also had remnant of other Old Testament ruins, including a gate that they figure Abraham would have walked through when he was in the area.

The other picture is of a group of us eating lunch at Dan. I'm sitting next to my religion professor and his wife (the Drapers). Actually, I had a really great talk all about Middle Eastern cuisine with Sister Draper while we were walking around this site and I just got hummus and pita recipes from her last night. I can't wait to try them!

Another great place we visited was Nimrod's Fortress, a massive castle that has passed through various hands for millenia. I explored down some dark stairs and ended up crawling out a window to get a cool view of the fortress from outside it. This is me with the Golan Heights (kind of exciting, huh?) behind.

On one of the days we took a day trip to many of the sites of Jesus' ministry. We started it off by taking a boat across the Sea of Galilee and reading the account of Christ calming the waters. We also went to other places like the Mount of Beatitudes or Saint Peter's primacy (where Jesus said Peter was the rock). I really loved this day. It was nice to sit at the sites and read the scriptures and feel the Spirit. We don't always get that with how busy our schedule is here.

Fortunately for us, the professors built a lot of time into this trip to go swimming. This is a picture of my friend Moriah and getting so happy to get to swim in some natural hot springs! We were especially happy because our towels and suits were full of sand from swimming the day before. Life really was sweet in Galilee. We just kept saying that it felt like a vacation from our vacation on a vacation. Most afternoons that we weren't doing fieldtrips I just swam in the Galilee, layed on the beach, or read the New Testament and did homework. It was wonderful!

Another night we went to a famous (at least to BYU students) fish restaurant and ate St. Peter's fish. Afterwards we walked around Tiberias and ate icecream. I thought the fish was pretty good, especially with a lot of lime on the top of it. Most people just thought that it looked so gross that there wasn't any way that they would actually ingest it. Sometimes I just don't get the people that travel but don't want to try any of the culture. For example, the people who don't like hummus, or lamb. How do they survive here? It's a wonder to me.

A lot of people don't know that the church actually has a branch house in the city of Tiberias. The branch is really small, only 4 or 5 people attended when we were there on Shabbat (including a girl who was on leave from the IDF) but it's beautifully situated and really quite a blessing to have it. I've never had such wonderful views during sacrament meeting as I have here. I think more of our church houses ought to consider this. This is a group of us on the back porch with the Sea of Galilee behind us.

After going to church we stopped by one of the traditional baptisimal sites along the River Jordan, not where Christ was baptized by John the Baptist, but where he would have done baptizing. It's been somewhat commercialized by the state of Israel, but people do baptisms there even today: by immersion, self baptism, sprinkling, you name it. Actually, I watched a man perform two baptisms by immersion there. He put his hand to the square, said his little bit and dunked both of his parishioners. Something felt a little bit off to me until it hit me that he doesn't have the authority to do that ordinance. I feel so very grateful for not only my knowledge of the Savior, but also for my knowledge that the authority to act in his name has truly been restored.

On the way back to Jerusalem we stopped at a few sites and cities. One of them was Akko, a wonderful crusader city on the coasts of the Mediterranean. This is a picture of Moriah, Catherine, and I with the Mediterranean behind us. Also on this day we stopped at Haifa, which is where the church had a mission home in the 1800's. Several missionaries came here and we heard wonderful stories that just made me get the chills to think about how much the Lord loves all his children. This cemetary was one of my favorite spiritual sites, and an excellent example of how the Lord can see the whole picture, so much more clearly than we can. (It's late or I'd tell it on here. Ask me if you want to know the story and I'd love to get the chills all over again and tell you about it.)

Overall, Galilee was a wonderful highlight of this experience. I felt my testimony grow deeper, but not necessarily because of where I was geographically located. I'm realizing more and more with my time here, that I can feel the Spirit stronger when I'm reading my scriptures on my little bed, than I can when I'm in even the most "sacred" shrine or church. It isn't necessary to come here to draw closer to the Savior. I'm grateful for the chance I've had, but I'm also grateful for the knowledge I have that this experience can keep going, even as I leave the Holy Land.
I discovered the "sunset" setting on my camera. I thought a dance would be appropriate.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Schwesties Ahoy!

I haven't posted anything about how fun it was when Sarah came to visit. Everything really worked out great as far as my schedule and being able to spend time together. I wish we'd been able to have a bit more time to just sit and talk, but as it was, we got to do some really great stuff together. Who would have thought that we'd we able to spend time together in Jerusalem? We both marvelled on that fact multiple times while she was here.

On the morning she arrived I woke up feeling so excited that I was going to see her. When we finally got in touch with each other we made plans to meet up outside Damascus gate. I always have to be in a group of 3 so I recruited two friends and the three of us headed up to the Old City. I'll never forget seeing Sarah, running through the vendors and people outside Damascus gate, waving her arms and yelling "Schwestie!" It feels so good to be loved.

The next day Sarah (and her two traveling buddies) came with us on our City of David and Hezekiah's tunnel fieldtrip. On this fieldtrip we explored the remains of the Jebusite village that David conquered and made into his capital. It was a really great to learn more about the boundaries of the original city and to see how it continued to expand under David's and Solomon's reign. It was also interesting to think about the growth in terms of Lehi's family and where they would have likely lived when they were here.

One of the highlights of the fieldtrip was when we walked through Hezekiah's Tunnel. Jerusalem's main source of water came from the Gihon Spring at the bottom of the Kidron Valley (they also use a lot of cisterns, because the city gets about the same amount of rainfall annually as London does, except that it all comes at once in a few months in the winter). Unfortanately, the spring was outside of the walls of the city, which is a bad thing when you know that the Assyrian army is on it's way to attack you. This was the scenario that led King Hezekiah to conceal the spring and build the tunnel around 700 B.C. to bring the water directly into the city. It was quite the engineering feat and they figure that they had people working around the clock for weeks to get it done before the Assyrian's arrived. Fortuantely, they finished in time and the Assyrian's weren't able to sack Jerusalem. The tunnel is about 533 m long and runs under the city before it empties into the Pool of Siloam. The water came up to between our calves and thighs and was pretty cold. The word "Gihon" means "gushing" and I guess in the old days, before they monitored the water levels, there were times when the students would wade through it and it would come up to their necks!

The pictures above are of us descending into the tunnel, us in the tunnel, and us at the Pool of Siloam.

Another great highlight of the Sarah's visit was seeing Bethlehem together. Because Bethlehem is in the West Bank, the security wouldn't let her ride with us on our bus, but she managed to get there and found us at the Church of the Nativity. It was so fun to turn around in the courtyard and see my sister standing there. It just made me so happy.

After going through the Church of the Nativity, which is a Byzantine (3rd Centuryish) church that is supposedly built over the cave where Christ was born, we walked over to the Peace Center and looked at nativities from all over the world. A nice Palestinian guy took our picture for us, with the Church of the Nativity in the background. (He was also very nice to follow us around the museum and tell us about how great Palestine was, much better than America, and about how he had never kissed a girl and was waiting until he got married. At that point we told him I was getting married too and then excused ourselves from the museum.) :)

The stained glass is from the Church of the Nativity. The other picture is of the partition wall. It was interesting to go through the border. I'm really having mixed feelings about the Palestinian-Israeli situation, after being here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Making of My Day

This is a bit silly of a post, but I thought that I'd just better show off how great Bryan is. Today was the second (and last) day of finals for the first half of the semester. I've been feeling sick still and so life has felt a little bit overwhelming to me of late, which Bryan knew about. This afternoon I was sitting out on my porch that over-looks the city when all of a sudden my roommate Emily came out. She handed me a big bouquet of gerber daisies and a note from Bryan (written, of course, in girly handwriting):

Get better soon and good luck on your tests.

Love, Bryan

The flowers were beautiful and I'm showing them off here. My roommate refused to tell me who had given them to her to pass on to me, so I still don't know who he talked to to set the whole thing up. I put them in my extra water bottle and kept them by me all the rest of the time I studied (I was tempted to bring them to my final but I decided that I shouldn't so that other girls didn't feel bad about not getting flowers). :)

It was just what I needed to boost my morale and help me focus for the rest of the day.

Bryan's great!

p.s. The second picture is of the flowers with the Dome of the Rock in the background.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Walk Like An Egyptian

Egypt was such an adventure! I can't believe that I actually went there. I couldn't believe it when I was there and I can't hardly believe it now! We spent two days in Cairo and three days in Luxor. I was amazed by everything I saw. This first picture is me and a local in front of one of the first ever "step" pyramids that were ever built in the whole world (around 2600 BC)! One of the things you learn quickly in Egypt is that everything is older than it is in Israel. It's really amazing. Another thing you learn quickly in Egypt is that no one is really "nice." If someone offers you something then they expect money. This applies to everything from toliet paper (usually there's a woman sitting outside the stalls and handing you toilet paper only after you pay), to taking pictures. Fortunately, I had learned this little bit of information pretty quickly and when this guy offered to take a picture with me, I flatly refused. Egyptian men are persistent however, and after undressing himself and redressing one of the guys in our group in his clothing for a picture, he then redressed himself and walked over to me, grabbing my wrist and saying, "Come on, come on, photo, photo." I told him I had no money several times and he finally said, "You American. No charge." So there you go. Probably my first time that traveling abroad as an American has brought me benefits. We Americans really aren't looked at favorably in many places of the world, so this was pretty funny to me. As promised, I thanked him but didn't pay him anything. Other people in my group weren't as willing to take pictures with him. One guy, Spencer (whom the Egyptian kept calling "Jack") completely refused, and told the guy to leave us all alone.

Telling the men to leave us alone was something we actually had to do a lot. One day, a group of girls and I accidentally took a wrong turn and ended up in a local market. No tourists. No white people. Mostly men. We were completely out of place and I was horribly uncomfortable. A young man actually followed us the whole way and wouldn't leave us alone until after 30 minutes of us telling him to go away. It was a third world market in every way you could imagine. Slabs of meat in the sun, flies everywhere, dirt, and people, and poverty. Men with no legs begging in the street. You can't quite imagine. I've never felt quite so vulnerable, particularly because of my gender and my race. Looking back, I think it's good to feel for everyone to feel like the minority at some point in their life, just to help all of us realize that the world is much bigger than the U.S. Caucasian sphere that we pass our lives in.

The treatment of men toward women was not limited to the markets, however. Everywhere we went we got cat calls and comments, men asking provocative questions and offering the guys we were with camels and money to buy their "wives" (referring to us). (My personal favorite was when a guy said to me, "Excuse me, but can I give you a hassle?") It was worse even than Israel and we were all very cautious and aware of our bodies (and money) as girls often get groped in Egypt. It was even more dramatic than here in Jerusalem. You don't really think about the fact that all men in the world don't view women in the same way that American men do. I don't think I saw a single Egyptian woman with her head uncovered, and we had to follow certain rules to help keep us safe. For example: never look a man in the eyes (it's a sexual come-on), always wear loose-fitting and modest clothing, never go out with wet hair (interestingly, this implies that you've just been "intimate"), etc. It was very different, and I'll be happy to return to the states and feel like less of an object.

Egypt really was wonderful, though, in spite of the men. It's just a different world in almost every way imaginable, and it was fun to learn to appreciate it. This next picture to the right, is of me kissing the sphinx (sort of). You can see one of the pyramids in the background. Fortunately, the nose of the Sphinx was shot off during target practice by invaders many years ago so it doesn't get awkwardly in the way when it comes to kissing.

Just beneath and to the side of the Sphinx is a temple where the Egyptians mummified Pharaohs. It took 72 days to do the whole process. I've included a video (not of someone being mummified, sorry, but) of us at the pyramids.

We did go inside one of the pyramids, and it was probably the most bizarre things I've ever done. It was also probably one of the stinkiest, sweatiest, hottest things I've ever done too. It was a good adventure. It took us about 15 minutes, and that was one of the shorter routes. I'm glad I did it. The pyramids really are HUGE!!!

After spending a day in Cairo, we flew down to Luxor, which is where many of the pharaohs are buried. It's really dry and hot in Luxor and we heard it hit 109 degrees when we were there. Yikes! No wonder we were all so tired! Add to that the fact that we were touring all day and getting up around 4 or 5 each morning to start the tours, and it's no surprise that so many of us got sick. I'd estimate that about 1/4 of us got sick, with either a cold or stomach thing. We weren't allowed to drink the water or eat any uncooked veggies or fruit, and even some of the meat looked questionable (at least to me). I felt good until the second day in Luxor and then Pharaoh's Revenge struck. I'm still feeling it, I don't know that I've ever been sick quite like this. The good news is that it should leave by the time I'm 30. (My friend Moriah knows someone who's brother who suffered from Egypt stomach problems until he was 30, so there's hope!)

This is a picture of my friend Moriah and I at the Luxor Temple (which was incredible, as was the Karnak Temple). There's a hieroglyphic behind us of 4000 year old belly-dancers. Our tour guide was an Egyptian and gave us a long spiel about how belly dancers are some of the highest paying jobs in the country. I figured that if something happened and I got stranded in Egypt then I'd take up the profession. Belly dancing outfits are fairly cheap and they're all over the place for sale in the markets. I'm glad I didn't have to carry out the plan. In case you wonder about Moriah's and my strange postures, we're imitating the posture of the belly dancers in the hieroglyphic (except that they were definitely more limber than us, we'll have to work on this before we take up the profession).

One fun tidbit: The Muslim Brotherhood (supporters of Islamic militant jihadist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas) has a pretty strong hold in Egypt. For this reason, attacking tourists to hold for ransom from the Egyptian government is something that could easily (and has in the past) occur. To combat this (since tourism is such a major source of income for Egypt) the Egyptian government requires all tours to have an Egyptian tour guide and an Egyptian security guard with them at all times. We learned a lot of interesting things from them. Usually the guards wore suits, so it was hard to see their guns (we call them "pieces" because it's fun to say to each other that we saw someone "packing a piece" in the bathroom, etc) but one day one of the guards was wearing regular clothing and he jumped on our carriage with us. I turned around and what did I see? His piece, glaring back at me. Of course I thought it was pretty funny and took a picture. (This is me and Jason (he's engaged too)).

One of the funnest things we did in Luxor was go on a faluka (sail boat) ride on the nile. This is a picture of me on the boat. Don't worry, I didn't actually touch the Nile, I didn't want my foot to become diseased and fall off. (The Nile is really diseased. We heard all sorts of stories about people who drink the Nile and go blind and stuff. Horrible stories.)

After the faluka ride we went on an hour long camel safari through little towns along the west bank of the Nile, and through fields and groves of banana trees and other plants. It was really beautiful and I had fun talking to my guide, who was 25 and in school to be a teacher. He was actually nice and was married with a 6 month old daughter. My camel was named Casablanca (very romantic, huh?) and I was the last one. My guide, Makhmoud, taught me how to ride it like an Egyptian and then had us slow down behind the rest of the group and gave me the chance to "gallop" a camel. Talk about awkward. It was very fun. The girl in front of me is the only black girl in our group, and all the Egyptians we passed loved her. She looked like a princess as she waved at all the men and children and they yelled things like, "Oh, sister. We love you. You're our color, I want to marry you," etc.

After our three days in Luxor we took a night train back to Cairo. That was good adventure too. They call it the "new train", but it's actually the same age as me. (That should give you some idea about Egypt.) We spent the last day in Cairo at the Cairo Museum (where I gazed on the faces of Ramses and Seti, the postulated Pharaoh's of the Exodus, and looked at King Tut's treasures). It was very cool.

We woke up early the next day to drive back and stopped in Eilot (just across the border in Israel) to go snorkeling in the Red Sea. The Red Sea!!! The one Moses parted! The snorkeling was great (I'd never really been before) and the water was such a beautiful blue green color. I don't know if the picture to the left really captures it and does it justice, but it was gorgeous. The mountains behind me are in Jordan, but just a few miles to the south is Saudi Arabia. Kind of cool to be so close to all these countries you only hear about in history books.

I was feeling pretty lousy during the last few days in Egypt, and the bus ride back was rough on me (I actually spent the last hour or so of it sitting in the guide seat next to the driver because I felt so sick). I was happy to get back. And in spite of hurting stomach and achy body, I had beautiful Jerusalem awaiting me. I took this picture of a Jerusalem sunset last night from my balcony. The prayer call was singing, the Dome of the Rock shining, and I was happy to be back. This world really is an amazing place!