Saturday, February 25, 2012

Cat butt

I'm going to start with a light story.  Beware- things are not going to stay so light... I have a very sweet orange cat (two actually, but this story is only about one of them).  She used to have a stink problem,  poor thing.  She's very affectionate and she likes to stand or sit on people's lap to get petted.  When she is standing, her tail goes up.  It used to be that the smell that came from her little behind was quite foul and quite strong. I'm told it was a glandular problem. I am grateful that at some point the issue resolved itself.

Yesterday there was a stink in the air and when I'd get a whiff, I kept thinking, "This smell is familiar.  How do I know this nasty nasty smell?"  And then I figured it out.  It smelled like cat butt.  Now might be a good time to mention that I was in Hebron, a Palestinian city that is unique in that it has Jewish settlers living right in the middle of the city. What this means is some settlers have homes above Palestinian homes or market areas.  Palestinians living and working under the settlerments have put what amounts to horizontal fences above their businesses and homes, so that when settlers (notice I say "when," not "if") throw trash and other things down on them, the barrier catches what's coming down.  Other settler areas of Hebron are completely closed off- to Palestinians, to tourists, to everyone but the settlers.  The settlers in Hebron have a reputation of being particularly nasty- to Palestinians, to tourists, to everyone but the settlers.  CPT (Christian Peacemaker Team- and EAPPI (Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel- document cases daily (or more than daily) of harassment and abuse by settlers in Hebron.   There are about 400 settlers in Hebron and about 10 times that many Israeli soldiers to protect them.  Most of the settlers are American.  Others are French.  

There was a protest going on yesterday to re-open Shuhada Street, a street that used to be a main thoroughfare and commercial area in the Old City.  Palestinian access to the street was severely restricted after the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre on February 25, 1994, exactly 18 years ago today. Since the street restrictions were made, it has essentially shut down completely.  Many Palestinians have been forced to close their businesses, thus losing their livelihood.  Doors to their businesses have been welded shut.  You can get more information about Hebron and Shuhada Street at

Yesterday's protest started at a mosque outside the Old City and was supposed to end at the Ibrahimi Mosque (actually half-mosque/half-synagogue- I'll get to that later) inside the Old City. However, it ended prematurely, thanks to tear gas, sound bombs, rubber bullets, and what I am now calling cat butt, a liquid that was sprayed on protesters that smells like my poor little cat's rear end. Normally things that remind me of my cat make me happy.  This does not.  You may think I am making light of something serious and maybe you're right. There's a reason for it. Hopefully, it'll become clear as I write. As with my posts about the Wall, pictures will follow in a future post.

The weekend picked for the protest was significant.  As I said above, today marks the 18th anniversary of the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre.  In 1994 Baruch Goldstein, a member of the violent Jewish Defense League,  entered the mosque during morning prayers and opened fire, killing 29 Palestinians.  He was also killed.  (I'd strongly recommend you Google either Goldstein or the mosque and look at a few websites.  The interpretations of events vary widely).  After the massacre the mosque was closed and curfew was imposed in Hebron until tensions settled down a little (during this time there were others deaths beyond those in the mosque).  When the mosque re-opened, it was split in two: half-synagogue and half-mosque.  The mosque/synagogue is said to be built around the Cave of the Patriarchs- believed to hold the remains of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Rebecca, and Leah and therefore significant for Jews.  The 1000 year-old mosque is the fourth holiest site for Muslims, as it is believed that the prophet Mohammad visited it on his night flight to Jerusalem.  I find it ironic that after a Jewish man brutally killed so many Muslims in their place of worship, half the space was turned over to Jews...  To me it seems like bad behavior got a pretty sweet reward.   Maybe that's just me...   To get into either side, you now have to pass through security with members of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces), large guns in hand, at the door to "welcome" you. However, I digress...

Yesterday's protest was organized by Youth Against Settlements ( to re-open Shuhada Street. Several of us from Nablus planned to join the protest. However, we were staying in two different places and didn't get to meet up.  Three of our group made it to the protest, two of us didn't.

The three who made it walked with protesters (500 in number by their estimates) who were holding signs, playing drums, and shouting chants for about a half an hour before things heated up.  When I say "heated up," let me be clear that the protesters remained peaceful for the entirety of the action.  There were a few people who had brought Syrian flags to the demonstration and they were told by event organizers that the demonstration was only about Shuhada Street.  The Syrian flags went away.  All demonstrators  agreed not to use violence.  No rock-throwing, no nothing.  They were faithful to that commitment.  It was the IDF who decided to change the dynamic of things.  They had I-don't-even-know-how-many armored cars and soldiers, one cat butt spray truck, police cars, even a bulldozer hanging back ready for action.  I know this because my friend and I tried to reach the protest.

We had been running late and were advised by our friends to wait at the end point of the protest, but after waiting awhile we decided to start walking towards the demonstration. We walked past so many IDF vehicles and a point.  There was a definite line that we and all the other observers (Palestinians, international observers, journalists) could not pass.  And so we watched, took pictures, and took video.  Unbeknownst to us, we were only about a couple blocks from our friends; for the most part we couldn't see the protesters.  We did see the truck spraying cat butt spray at them.  We did see the tear gas being shot at them and saw as the gas released from the canisters.  We saw and heard the sound bombs.  We were very aware of the soldiers around us.

We followed the lead of the "veterans," those for whom this was clearly nothing new.  Many of the veterans were no older than eleven or twelve.  After awhile, the sound bombs were not only directed at protesters, but at us.  When the vets started running, we started running.  When they started walking back to see what was going on, we started walking back.  There were lulls when things were quiet.  We walked down a side street.  A man was selling something, another man passed by on a donkey.  People observing from roofs and windows yelled to us in true Palestinian style: "Welcome!" "What's your name?" "How are you?"  In the midst of what was quite jarring for us newbies, ordinary life kept right on going.  As we walked along the side street, we saw more IDF vehicles and soldiers on another nearby street.  We approached them and as we neared, there was a horrible high-pitched siren sound followed by a message that said something about how some technology was sponsored by the US government.  ( 2/27 Correction-  The message was as follows: “This is a test of the long-range acoustic device LRAD, from the American Technology Corporation.”) I was not feeling proud to be an American at that moment... I hoped to hear the announcement again, only because I wanted to document it on video.  Didn't happen.

After walking to that street, we headed back to see what was going on with the protesters.  A few courageous protesters with banners were coming up the street.  Wow.  The word "courageous" doesn't seem to do justice to their bravery.  They walked towards us, which is the same as saying towards the IDF, even with tear gas and sound bombs going off around them.  As I write, I will admit that I don't know exactly how close they ended up getting.  The intensity of IDF actions increased.  We saw someone get arrested.  We saw a journalist who got hit on the head by something and was bleeding. The sound bombs in our direction started being thrown down our "safe" side street and we ducked into, or rather were pulled into, a building.  We stood there with a group of women and girls, glad to be our of harm's way.

Then one of the women said, "Come have coffee with us. My father wants you to come to our house."  We hesitated, but eventually gave in as they repeated the invitation for us to join them.  We walked up the stairs into a beautiful and lively home.  We met Ahmad, his wife, his brother, his daughter, many grandchildren, and other relatives.   We drank tea while the sounds of an ambulance, sound bombs, tear gas, and gun fire (rubber bullets) continued outside.  Ahmad told us that we were now part of the family.  From time to time we or someone from the family looked out the window to see what was going on.  From what we saw, it seemed we'd gotten inside at a good time.  Despite our protests, we were served rice with cauliflower (and chicken for my non-veg friend), yogurt, and tomatoes.  When the heaping plate was first put in front of us, I couldn't imagine eating.  However, as I took one bite...and then another...and then a few more, I found that more than my body was nourished.  We were invited to stay the night or for a few nights, if we wanted.  We met a brother who has a shoe factory.  He asked for our shoe sizes so that he could make shoes for us for the next time we come.  We were given little plastic oyster shells with chocolates in them and then given more chocolates to stuff into them.  We ate oranges.  I smile as I think about this.  Eventually, despite their encouragement for us to stay, we insisted that we had to leave, since my friend was going to try to get back to Nablus that evening.  They told us to come back again.  Had the sounds not been intruding from outside, it would have felt like a perfectly normal visit with a family.  While perhaps not normal, I think it was quite perfect.

My friend and I went back into the street, now quiet (the one we were on anyway), but saw that the IDF was still around on the main street.  The tires were still burning (that had started earlier) and a dumpster and several other barriers had been put in the street.  We saw tear gas canisters and sound bomb canisters on the ground.  We walked back through the Old City to meet the friend we were staying with.  The Old City was quiet.  On Fridays things tend to be quiet in Palestinian towns, since most people are Muslim and it is their day of prayer.  However, it seemed to be quieter than would be normal, eerily quiet.  We saw IDF perched on a number of buildings keeping watch.  We tried to take a picture of one group, who used a loudspeaker system to tell us that if we took a picture, they'd arrest us.  We waited until we were pretty far from them, made sure they weren't looking at us, and snapped a shot.  Ha!

Our friend works at a hospital.  He said about 15 people had been admitted stinking of cat butt (my terminology, not his).  The spray causes respiratory problems, so they were likely treated with oxygen.  Apparently it takes many days and bathing in tomato juice for the smell to go away completely.  Other hospitals saw more patients for problems from cat butt spray and tear gas.  My friends who were in the protest said their skin, eyes, and lungs had burned from the tear gas (they were spared the cat butt), but thankfully their level of exposure didn't require medical attention.  After they'd run to safety, they passed around onions and were sprayed with perfume to help get them over the burning sensation.  Their refuge had been a butcher shop and then a bridal shop, it seems...

Today the protesters and observers of our group compared stories as we walked through where everything happened yesterday.  For the most part the evidence of yesterday's events is gone from the streets.  No IDF around.  No canisters.  The dumpster and other barriers aren't in the road.  There is a black spot where the tire was burned.  Cat butt still permeates the air.  But shops were open.  People were in the streets, conducting daily business.

I asked the friend we stayed with, "How can you live with all of this going on?"

"You just get used to it. This is normal life.  What you saw was not a big deal or particularly bad.  No one was killed," he said, though a protester was killed in Ramallah yesterday...

Today as we walked to the protest site, we spoke to a young man who said, "What is happening here is inhumane.  It must stop."  He said he'd written a letter to the government asking that classes be cancelled for three days in a nearby school, so that students wouldn't have to breath in the putrid air.  His computer shop was right about where the tire had been burning yesterday.  Cat butt was pretty strong in his store.

He's right.  It is inhumane.  It must stop.  In the meantime, what amazes me and gives me hope is the same thing that makes it OK to call the horrible spray cat butt.  Life goes on.  Even living under Occupation or maybe because of it, with tear gas and sound bombs going off around them, Palestinians reach out- to each other and to us.  They go about their daily life.  They smile and play and laugh.  They make jokes and laugh.  Surely I can find some humor in the insanity of it, too.  So, from now on, if I ever have occasion to refer to nasty stink spray again, "cat butt" it is. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Do you think we're terrorists?

The title of this post is a question I was asked a few days ago.  Sigh... It's not a question I wanted to answer.  Actually I was happy to answer with an emphatic "NO."  What I hated was that the question had to be asked in the first place.

Let me back up a bit...  I have talked about my class of teenagers in older posts.  I have worked with the group since my first week in Nablus.  There are some kids who have been coming since day one.  Others have joined somewhere along the way.  In fact, whereas most of the time I've been here, there have been 12 to 15 kids in each class, the last 2 classes have had 25 and then 40 kids show up.  Thankfully, another volunteer just happened to be with me when 40 came- we split the group into two: I with my regulars and she with the new kids.  With so many kids, I think there will be an official split into 2 groups based on their level of English.  My class has a wide range of abilities within it.  A few weeks ago some of the kids asked that we split into two groups according to ability.  I agreed that it would be a good idea, but said that we should decide as a group, which is how we've made all major decisions about the class- together. When we talked about it, the kids decided we'd stay together for my remaining weeks.  When the center suggested yesterday that we test everyone and split them into ability groups, I requested that this split happen after I leave, so that I don't lose any of the kids I've had since the beginning. I realize that this was a selfish request, but it was also based on the decision we'd made together a few weeks before. I think the center is going to wait to change the division of the groups.

As fodder for discussion the last several weeks I have brought essays from my students back home to English class.  Last year my Catholic social teaching students and I created a book based on our reading Freedom Writers Diary. For class here I choose one or two readings for each session- we read, discuss vocabulary, and then discuss the theme of the reading.  I also ask them to write something in response, but that doesn't always work so well.  I"m not sure if it's because the kids forget, they don't have the language to say what they want to say (I'm sure that's the case for a few), they don't care, they don't want to write about the theme I've picked, or some other reason.  Many did write about a person who'd influenced them.  However, I didn't get any writing after we read the Adversity essay... Ironic, since kids here know a little about adversity...

We also created a Facebook group to give opportunities for the class here to communicate with kids in the U.S.  I hope some mutually beneficial exchanges will happen.  Actually I know that there are already some good discussions happening.  A couple classes ago, after a few kids from the U.S. joined the Facebook group, the class here took some time to brainstorm questions they'd like to ask kids in the States.  The first several questions they had were about here: "What do you think of Palestine?" and "What do you think about Islam?" There were a few more about here (I think they had a question about the Occupation) and only after they asked those big questions did they think of the easier questions like "What do you like to do?" and "What's your favorite subject in school?" Of course, their earlier questions are far more interesting, I'd say, and could lead to some important conversations. 

Next I asked them to share their ideas about America (they almost always say "America" here and not "the United States").  They named cities (New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas), diversity, and some other things.  And then I asked them this: What do you think Americans think of Palestine?

I think the word "terrorists" was the third word to come up, after "West Bank" and "Israel."  Terrorists.  It made my heart ache, particularly since I know that there are so many people in the U.S. whose thinking goes something like this: Palestine = Muslims = terrorists.  A few more words went on the list, but my mind didn't leave the third word.  The kids then asked what my impression of Palestine is.

I said I was and am lucky because I had heard more about Palestine than the news at home gives, so I didn't think it was full of terrorists.  I already knew about the Occupation and the struggles Palestinians face and I have learned so much more from being here.  I admitted that there are many people at home who don't know the whole story because they only hear what the mainstream news, which is pro-Israel, tells them.  Sadly, I told them, many Americans do think that saying "Muslim" is the same as saying "terrorist", particularly after 9/11.  However, I went on, my experience of Palestine is of beautiful, generous people who open their homes and their hearts to me, who have shown me around, bought me kanafeh, and have in general been so lovely to me.  I thought I had made it clear that I have a very positive idea about Palestine and Palestinians.

However, as we left class that day I was talking to a girl who asked me, "Do you think we're terrorists?"

No.  And I don't think any 15 or 16 year-old (or child of any age, for that matter) should ever have to wonder about the answer to that question.

***Note: I firmly believe that we all have an important story to tell.  My boys at home shared part of their story in the book we created.  My kids here are doing it by talking to kids in the States.  We are also creating a blog in which they can tell you their stories in their own words.  As with the Facebook group, it is an experiment.  I don't know which kids will post or what they want to tell us, but I know they want their voices heard and I am excited that I may play a role in making that happen.  I'll keep you posted on its progress and let you know when it is up and running.  If/when we do get it going, please help me share their stories.  Thanks!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


I just finished my first Derrick Jensen book, A Language Older Than Words. I have another Jensen book I am tempted to start immediately, but I am afraid if I do, my own writing won't get done- the retreat letters I've committed myself to writing, the personal journaling I haven't been doing. Of course, right now instead of doing either of those things, I am writing here.

A few days ago, I sent Jensen an email with my Convers(at)ion post, since he was in it.  Within a day I got a response from him and on the same day I received another unexpected delight. I have made an unfortunate habit of checking my email and Facebook even before I get out of bed. Since my personal Internet connection is through my iPod, it's pretty easy to be online while snuggled up in bed. Minutes before seeing Jensen's email, I saw a Facebook post that took me back over 20 years to a music-creating experience in a forest. Our group had practiced the music only loosely so that it could emerge as it was meant to, not in a static way. In the making, we, or maybe I should only speak for myself, I, lost myself in the rhythms, the sound, the beauty of the creative process.

While writing my blog posts, at least when I am most faithful to the voice inside or the voice that flows through me, I also find myself lost in the process. When I say lost, I'm really only (temporarily) lost to what is in my immediate surroundings. In fact, I feel more connected to the World around me as I try to express how the World works its way into me and through me. When I immerse myself in that Presence, I find the words I'm looking for to describe what I feel in my gut and my heart. Actually it feels more accurate to say the words find me.

Calling the World "it" doesn't feel right. I shall call the World  "She" and "Her." I am keenly aware of Her presence in my life and how She guides me where I need to go. I could call Her, this presence that is larger than I understand, God, and many times I do, but what feels right in this moment is She. And She is not only the World that I see, but the One I feel and know outside of me, all around me, and within me...when I'm paying attention...

Some volunteers and I were listening to music a few days ago. A song by the Indigo Girls came on and the time I spent in Guatemala 15 years ago came to mind.  I remember when a package from my parents arrived and I was disappointed because the Indigo Girls CD I had requested was not the one they sent me.  However, I listened and listened to the one they sent (Swamp Ophelia) and then couldn't stop listening.
While I've been away from home this time around I've had Adele, Regina Spoelker, certain Taize prayer songs, Love the One You're With, Lean on Me (sung with my sixth and seventh graders in Chatra and now with my teenagers in Nablus), and songs I've downloaded from cheesy Bollywood movies to accompany me.  Later on they will undoubtedly transport me back to these places. Incidentally, one of the Bollywood songs will not only bring me to India, but also to the Church of the Nativity where a sacred song was sung with the same tune as Teri Meri... Unfortunately, because of the association to "Bodyguard," I was more amused than moved to hear the singing...

I know that certain singers, songs, authors and books will bring me back to these months. I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo start to finish on a rainy Sunday afternoon, my first Sunday in Chatra. The Aleph I read as I traveled from Spain to Israel, finishing it on a rainy day in Jerusalem. I don't think it was an accident that I read a book by Robert Thurman about Buddhism in between the two Coelho books.  Derrick Jensen will forever carry me to Nablus.  These books seemed to come to me at just the right time...  All of these authors lead me to one message: we are all in this together and are connected to each other (whether the "other" is another person, an animal, or something like a wall), regardless of our current place or time.

When I leave, so many things (the above only a few) will remind me I was here. They will not allow me to forget the poverty in India, the Occupation in Palestine, the people who crossed my path along the way. They will remind me that I am connected to Her, the Her that is not only outside, around, and within me, but outside, around, and within every other part of creation, regardless of who did the creating. Personally, I think She leads me to the reminders, whether I want them or not.  Sometimes it's easier to forget our connection, but She keeps showing me that I must not forget.

In every way possible She seems to be saying, sometimes in a gentle whisper, other times in a blaring scream, "See him. He is you and you are him. See her. She is you and you are her. See what you call it. It is you and you are it." There is always a danger that when She speaks, I'll ignore her. Maybe that's why She is so persistent in communicating this message. On some level, I get the message.  I know it's still not sunk in all the way...

This afternoon I was talking to a couple other volunteers about teaching teenagers.  I said that what teens, or really all of us, want is to be heard, to know someone is listening and cares about what we have to say.  I said that, as a teacher, I think it's OK to disagree with or challenge what my students say, as long as I make it clear that my disagreement or challenge does not mean that I've written them off. They must know I care about them always. They must know that I know we are connected.  Earlier in the conversation, I'd said that using the title "Love Thy Neighbor" for my blog helps me to try to live up to the ideal. Teaching theology also helped me to hold myself to a high standard. Of course, I fail all the time at loving my neighbor, especially here where many of  the Israeli neighbors are violators and abusers. What does loving them even mean? I'll admit I don't know. I don't really want to admit any connection to them, but still we are bound together...

Going back to talking about students, after this afternoon's conversation I finished Jensen's book. I have a whole paper of reading notes for future reference, but let me highlight one.  He wrote, "the people in my classes, including me, did not need to be controlled, managed, nor even taught. What we needed was to be encouraged, accepted, and loved just for who we were... to be given time in a supportive space to explore who we were and what we wanted, with the assistance of others who had our best interest at heart." The kind of space he discusses allows us to feel the connections She offers us, connections to Her within and around us.  I think in my best teaching, I succeed in providing such a space, a space in which my students and I are open to Her through each other. Sadly, I can also think of too many examples where I failed, sometimes miserably, to provide such a space.  I did not help anyone feel connected and may have even caused some students to feel disconnected.  I keep trying...

Over the last few years I have become more attuned to Her.  I felt Her telling me it was time to leave my job, felt Her telling me to go to India and Palestine. I know She will tell me where to go next. She hasn't yet. I was talking to my mom about possible next steps and she was laying out an argument for following a particular path. I told her that I am not sure it is the right path. I am not sure it's the wrong path either, but I suspect it would be. The next day I was talking to a friend who said, "If it doesn't feel right, then it's probably not." Thankfully, I already knew that to be true.  She tends to be pretty clear with me. Thankfully, thus far I think I have listened to Her, even when rational thought and other people have tried to persuade me to make a different decision.

Ha! I haven't felt like I've been making decisions. I've been following the path She's cleared for me. It's that simple. People who don't seem to connect with Her in the same way don't understand the feeling of certainty I've felt each time I've made major changes in my life, whether it be buying a house, changing jobs, leaving my job, or taking an 8 1/2 month journey.

I find Her messages everywhere, in friends, family, strangers, books, songs, flowers, mountains...everywhere. I wish other people felt Her as keenly as I do.  I know some people do.  I wish everyone would.  I try to imagine the World in which we all feel Her, regardless of what we call Her.  The picture is not clear to me, since the World would be so drastically different, but I do know She is beautiful. Do you feel Her? Can you see Her?   

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lightning and Finn, Part 6: More Yummy Stuff!

Lightning and Finn have shared many meals along the journey. OK, they've hung out with us people while we eat.  Here are some of the things we've tried...

 Jalebi is a popular sweet treat in India...It's fried, but when you bite into it, it's sort of juicy, surprising the first time around.  Here you can see them being made in the market at the Sonepur Mela. It's veeerrry sweet. We also saw jalebi in the market in the Old City of Jerusalem. 


Given the dearth of electricity in Chatra, we never really got to have ice cream.  However, one morning when we were headed north, we made a stop in Gaya and bought some delicious butterscotch ice cream. The container of ice cream was ripped all the way open and cut in slabs for us to eat.  It seemed like the perfect snack for 9:00 in the morning!

One of the great things about being with the SCNs was their joy in celebrating every occasion, large and small.  For Halloween, they made sure there were plenty of sweets, including my favorites...chocolate and custard apples! Cakes (or what I'd probably call sweet breads) were also a part of every celebration.  Finn and Lightning chose to pose with their favorite sweets, too! 

We also celebrated Thanksgiving.  Thursday nights, we always had an evening mass at the house.  Thanksgiving night, the mass was dedicated to me and to Thanksgiving.  While no one ate turkey, I made sure a turkey was present at the celebration! 

For Thanksgiving, for me there were, predictably, chocolate bars and cake.  Soft drinks were another special treat! Finn and Lightning always made appearances at special dinners!

Any time the sisters ate meat, like on Thanksgiving, they made paneer dishes for me.  Paneer is Indian cheese.  Yum!! 

One of my favorite types of street food in India was chaat.  Chaat is made from samosas that are broken open and all sorts of sauces that are then poured over it. Spicy, messy, and delicious!

We spent only a couple days in Morocco, but had some delicious food there.  Mom and Dad had chicken in their tagine (really cool serving bowl and cover- sadly, I didn't take a picture of the dish covered for you to see.  I mostly just had the rice, sauce, and raisins.  Even without something more substantial, it was pretty tasty...

Several times in our travels, Lightning and Finn have seen the impact they've made across the world.  Here they are posing by Lightning candy in the window of a candy shop in Seville.

We were in Seville for the celebration of the Reyes Magos, or Three Kings on January 6.  There was a huge parade that snaked through Seville on January 5th.  The parade floats were filled with children dressed according to the float's theme.  They threw candy and sometimes small toys or key chains to all the spectators. 

Sometimes the candy fell in unexpected places, like this one that got caught in my dad's glasses! 

The parade lasted well into the night and even after many hours of throwing candy, there was candy to be thrown!  We tried to guess how many tons of candy were thrown that day...and how much of it was smashed by the floats or people walking on it!

In residential areas, people went out on their balconies to watch and used whatever they could to catch flying candy!

Finn and Lightning got some candy, too, but they gave it to us.  

 No Three Kings Day celebration would be complete without the Three Kings cake.  It could be bought in many sizes, with filling or without, but the shape was always the one you see here.

Baked into each cake is a baby or other symbol of the baby Jesus.  Whoever finds it is said to be especially blessed.  Dad got ours. The baby is hard to see here, as it's still in the little bag that protected it.  The cake- pretty tasty!

After Spain, Palestine!  A few weeks ago, I visited a spice shop where we watched this man grind some of the spices.  The shop smelled so good as the aroma of all the various spices mixed and mingled. Lightning and Finn wanted to pose amid the spices...

 The same day, we went to a shop where peanuts were being roasted in the back.   We got invited to watch the process. After the roasting, water is poured over the nuts to cool them.  We got to taste the peanuts hot, fresh out of the roaster.  Peanuts have never tasted so good! 

Last week, a few of my students took me to the candy factory where one works.  No candy was being made at the time, but you can see the sugar mix used for the candy and the big containers they are mixed in.  To me they look a lot like what the peanuts were roasted in...

We were there when some of the candies were being packed up for sale.  When we arrived, we were given a bag of yummy hard licorice candy.  Lightning and Finn wanted to pose in a sea of candy on one table.  We were given a package of these candies to take home, too.  Incidentally, I just emptied the bag into our house candy jar this afternoon... It's almost empty now.

Halawa is also made at the factory.  It is a sweet made from sesame seeds and lots of sugar.  Here, Lightning and Finn pose with my students/tour guides and then we took a picture together with our bags of candy.

Later we were given some halawa from another shop (where another student works), so Lightning and Finn posed again.  Everyone at the house has also enjoyed munching on that!

We have tried other sweet treats that we don't know the name of.  This came in a long roll and we cut off pieces.  The outside is covered in pistachios, the inside is chewy and has a butterscotch flavor.  We bought it in a shop in Silwan after the shopkeeper gave us a sample to taste.

No blog that includes food from Nablus would be complete without a mention of kanafeh.  This is a cheesy syrupy, so so sweet specialty of Nablus and nowhere else.  It is sort of like a pancake soaked in syrup over melted cheese.  I tried kanafeh my first night here and was also treated to it by my students the day we visited the candy factory.   Nablusis like their sweets!!

There have been some unexpected food sights, like this Chiking Fried Broast restaurant in the city center of Nablus. that a young Colonel Sanders or simply one with his hair dyed?  There is a KFC in nearby Ramallah, but I've never been there (nor do I plan to go).  I've only heard ads on the radio.  The only words I understand in the ads are the restaurant name.

In Bethlehem I walked past Stars and Bucks, but didn't try any of the coffee...

When I was in India, one of the sisters made fresh peanut butter, which I ate whenever it was offered.  I was missing peanut butter in Nablus and went looking for it in the market.  I was surprised to find Kroger brand peanut butter in the middle of Palestine... As I have done more shopping, I have noticed more and more Kroger brand items with all the labeling except the main Arabic.  Who would have thought?

I'm sure Lightning, Finn, and I will have more adventures with food and lots of other things, but that catches you up on some of what we (OK, I) have been eating as we travel.  We hope that you are also having some culinary adventures wherever you are!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lightning and Finn: Part 5- Yum!

After a few heavy posts, it seemed time to lighten things up a bit again.  The next 2 posts will show Lightning and Finn as they experienced food in India, Spain, and Palestine.  Mind you, Lightning and Finn don't eat people food, but they like to look at it and pose with it or just hang with me while I'm taking the pictures.  You've already seen them experiencing some of the food in India.  Here are a few more pictures of what they've seen and, often, what I've eaten!

It seems only appropriate to start with rice.  When we arrived in India, all the rice paddies were green and beautiful.  Here you can see the paddies growing near the SCN convent. And when we went from place to place, we passed field after field of this beauty.  Usually there were other things growing, too.

Not ready for harvest...

I was especially keen to see squash plants which grew up and cascaded over homes.  It seemed like a good use of limited space!
Ready for harvest...

The rice fields were equally beautiful to drive or walk by when they were ready for harvest...

Lots of back-breaking work to get the rice cut, gathered, and thrashed (to get the grain).  Then the stalks were stacked and the form of stacking seemed to vary from region to region.  The stalks were used to feed the animals.  They were also cut and mixed with dung, shaped into disks and dried to burn in fires, for those who didn't have access to the rapidly depleting wood supply.

Around the time the rice was being harvested, there were also beautiful fields of mustard.  In the Jharkhand and Bihar provinces of India, mustard seed and mustard oil are used in nearly all dishes.

Fruit trees seem to be growing everywhere around India, Spain, Morocco, Palestine, and Israel.  This banana tree is growing just outside the house of the SCN novices in Mokama, India.  With so much fruit available, it's no wonder fruit is eaten after every meal.

In Nablus, Palestine we have a lemon tree and a pomelo tree growing right outside our house.  The lemons sometimes come in odd shapes and are often much bigger than the ones we buy at home

I'm not sure how I got through India without taking millions of pictures of the fresh foods in the markets.  Luckily, there are plenty of such markets in Palestine, too.  I walked through this market in Bethlehem.

OK, maybe I got a few pictures of food markets in India.  Walking through Jaipur, India, we passed an area where lots of grains were being sold- chickpeas, corn, lentils, and other things I didn't recognize.

Often fruits and veggies don't arrive to markets in big trucks.  They may be transported in small vehicles, on the backs of animals, in carts pulled by animals, or in carts pulled or pushed by a person, like these papayas in Jaipur, India.

Some foods were new to us, like the custard apple in India.  We had some custard apple trees in the compound and I ate as many as I possibly could.  They were so delicious!  When I did a teacher training, I used custard apple seeds to do a lesson demonstration on using manipulatives in math lessons.  In a later teacher training, chickpeas were the manipulative of choice.

I can only assume that the chirimoyas (whose name I don't know in English but found in Spanish once we returned from Morocco) that we were given in Morocco are related to the custard apple.  They were pretty delicious, but not quite as delicious as my beloved custard apples! I have also found custard apples in Nablus, but again, they're not quite the same as the ones in India!

There were other foods that were new to us, like these water fruit, which, as you can guess, are gathered from ponds... I never actually tasted them.  They came out of the water black and were peeled to look like what you see... These were being sold at the Sonepur Mela near Patna, India.

Food is prepared fresh daily.  Chili peppers seem to always be a part of Indian cooking.  I think my tolerance for spicy food went up while I was in India.  Like you see here, a lot of food prep is done on the ground in India, not at a table...Meals are also often eaten sitting on the ground.

I learned that tumeric is made from the root of a plant.
I'm not quite sure of the process from root to powder, but grinding comes in somewhere along the way!

There is so much more that could be shown and said.  However, I think I'll leave that for the next post about prepared foods...where Finn and Lightning will have a much more prominent role in the pictures!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Wall, Part 3: Photos

Some photos from close up, others from farther away, in no particular order.  Most won't have captions as they speak pretty well for themselves...

One part of the wall has a number of posters like this
 with stories written by Palestinian women.

Wall in Aida Camp in front of security wall.