Friday, December 22, 2006

I Love America!

I love how polite people are, and how Christmas-y everything is. The stores are big (a little intimidatingly big actually) and so are the roads. Ben and Jerry's Coffee Heath Bar Crunch ice cream is just as good as I remembered it! So are Outback steaks and cheese fries! And there are movies without intermissions!

This is just what I needed!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Okay, now I REALLY need a vacation

Okay, let me start off by saying we are all okay and no one got hurt.

There is a course you take before you go overseas with the Foreign Service called Security Overseas Seminar. In it, they tell you that a really high percentage of foreign service officers are the victims of crime at some point in their careers, something like 85% if I recall correctly. Like everyone else in the room, I thought, well, hopefully I will be in the lucky 15%. But as you probably already know, my apartment here was robbed two months after I arrived at post. So I had already done my part to contribute to the percentage. And I hoped that would be the end of it.

Yesterday, M and I, along with two other friends from the consulate, decided to do the ramparts walk in the Old City. That is where you walk around the top of the Old City walls. The views are great and we all took some great pictures. We were all talking about what a beautiful day it was, how much fun we were having and how Jerusalem overall is a pretty easy place to live. That is probably what jinxed us.

We walked up the stairs to a wide part of the rampart (maybe 20 feet wide by 40 feet long....most of it was only a few feet wide). In hindsite, all of us looked up at the two Palestinian teenagers and thought it was odd that they were up there. But all of us dismissed it...true we were on a remote part of the walk, but we were barely a few steps from Lion's gate, the end of the tour, where the police stand. And we knew most of the Old City is covered by cameras, so few crimes more serious than pickpocketing ever occur there.

I was in the lead and the first guy, by the stairs up onto that part of the rampart, asked me in English "what clock," pointing to his wrist. I told him it was almost 1. He said thank you in Hebrew, then stammered a bit and said "you're welcome" in English. I continued on across, figuring this wasn't a place to dally and plus I was hungry and ready to go get lunch. And I as I walked past the second guy, who was standing near the stairs going down on the other side, he said, "wait wait." I looked at him and he said, "give money." I thought he was begging and I said no. Then he pulled out his knife and said "give money." This made me mad, and I said no again. Then he pointed to my camera (a little canon elph) and said "give camera." And I yelled no and put it in my pocket. What I didn't see was that the first boy, the one I had told the time, was clearly the leader (the guy demanding money from me was clearly nervous) and was angry at my defiance. M said he lunged towards me with his knife, a switchblade. She yelled, "Give him the f**king money." This stopped the first guy, and I reached in my pocket and pulled the first bill off the money in my pocket, a 100 shekel bill (a little less than $25 dollars) and handed it to him. M told him I had her money and I told him that was all we had.

In the meantime, our two friends pulled out their wallets. One handed them everything she had, $150 and 120 shekels. The other pulled out a 20 shekel bill and when they demanded more she gave them another 20 shekels (she had about 800 shekels on her). They kept demanding more, but Mary yelled "that's enough." And since some more tourists were coming, the two ran off. In retrospect, I think the one friend giving them so much money was what kept them from continuing to demand more or from hurting us. I don't think the one who asked me for the money and my camera would have hurt us. He was clearly nervous. But the other seemed more dangerous.

We went straight downstairs and reported it to the police, who ran into the city and grabbed every Arab kid they could find in a red shirt (none the right one). One poor group of boys got brought to us twice. Our security came down and sat with us while were inviewed in the police station. It took hours. We didn't get out until nearly 5.

I am hopeful they will catch the guys because of all the cameras. Plus, the police seemed really concerned about the boys having weapons and attacking diplomats.

So like I said, now I REALLY need a vacation!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Church of the Ark

Last Friday, December 1, I went to the settlement of Shilo. While I was there, they showed me a Byzantine Church they are excavating on the Tell by the settlement. The Tell is the site of the Biblical town of Shilo, for which the settlement is named.

Today there was an article in The Telegraph about the church. The mosaics are amazing. They showed me the inscriptions they refer to in the article, including a new on they had just uncovered Thursday evening. They read: May the Lord Jesus Christ Keep Watch over the Inhabitants of Shilo and may he bless Antonius the Bishop, Germanius the priest and Zorys the mosaic maker." Off to the side is a baptismal font with the inscription they uncovered Thursday. There is an additional inscription by a bench that says "This seat was made by Zoyrs the mosaic maker."

Inscription calling for the protection of the residents of Shilo

There are actually two levels of mosaics. Apparently the older church was built in an area of bad drainage. So they covered it up (which preserved the mosaics really well) and build a new one slightly overlapping the old. There is a mosque on top of all of that which is 1100 years old. I took some pictures, which I will download later.

Getting to see cool archaeological sites while working is awesome! Some days, I really like my job! :)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Christmas dinner for Bethlehem University

Last night, we went to a fundraiser dinner for the Bethlehem University scholarship fund. A really good cause and I hope they made lots of money for the students.

We had a blast. Dinner was pretty good but the company was excellent. We were at a table with a number of our good friends from the consulate. There was a musician who performed dance music periodically (priests probably shouldn't dance) and did sound effects for the door prize drawings and the raffle, which was the best part of the evening. Everyone on our side of the table won something except one friend, and we told him that was God's retribution for him trying to stack the odds in his favor when he drew a ticket (the tickets came in different colors and he picked one the color of his tickets on purpose). We won dinners to Askidiniya (one of my favorite restaurants here) and the American Colony (I don't like it as much but the garden you sit in is nice). We bought 200 shekels (about $40) worth of raffle tickets, so we made out pretty well. Of course, the emcee (I think he was a university official)did even better. His wife won a plane ticket to Brussels, which he gave back, and then he one a piece of art, which he kept (aside from that sounding rigged, I think he is seriously in the dog house for giving back his wife's trip but keeping his prize!).

M and I are thinking of donating a scholarship to the University. The students there are pretty have to be to go to school in this climate. Many of them have to walk hours and past numerous checkpoints just to get to school, and they stay on campus until they absolutely have to leave. The Christian population in general is in pretty dire straits in Bethlehem. They used to be the majority there, but with the economic and security situation, they are only about 20 percent of the population in Bethlehem now. Tourism, their only real industry, has virtually dried up, and much of their agricultural lands have been seized by the Israelis for the wall and a nearby settlement.