Sunday, August 1, 2010

Chile - 18 to 27 July 2010

Chile was chilly!

Getting through Chile customs was just as strict as Australia. I lost a couple of leaves I’d stuck in my diary for sentimental/decorating purposes, it was sad but I expected to lose them in Australia anyway so I was half prepared.

Staying at the YWAM base was cool. We stayed with a family who was hosting an American dude also, who was learning Spanish. It turned out that the father had spoken on our first week of lectures on our DTS in Harpenden last year, so cool! Dan helped one of the leaders on the base get through a heap of emails because they were written in English, which helped him out a lot. The first two days I was getting over a migraine (after drinking wine from flying business class – I’m done with alcohol!) and so I slept. I don’t think I’ve slept so much ever! Then in the morning of the night we were to bus it to Talcahuano, I woke up with fluid and stuff in the middle ear – it was painful. I managed to get rid of the pain, but the stuffiness was still there (even to this day).

We were in Talcahuano for 2 days, which is a 6-hour bus ride south along the coast. I was expecting to help physically in Talcahuano after the earthquake/tsunami’s hit earlier this year, however God had different plans for me – relationships. We stayed with a family who blew us away with their hospitality (they really know how to do hospitality in Central and South America). The family of 4 moved into one room while they allowed a team of about 12 people use the rest of their house, including their one bathroom. Dan and I picked up a little more Spanish – it helps when no-one can speak English and your immersed in it. The Italian we’d learnt helped, they are very similar. We chilled with the team from Denver and helped out at a children’s party – it was really good to see the children, and parents, smile and have fun. It reminded me of a time when we held a party in Sicily on our DTS for an orphanage, I learnt a lot about just letting go and having fun.

When we got back to Santiago we did a bit of sightseeing. We took a 1-hour bus to Valparaiso, had a seafood lunch and looked around the town a little. The last day we spent walking around downtown Santiago. We got used to catching the little mini buses. The first time we caught one we travelled a LONG way out, we’d actually caught the wrong one (they all look the same, with slightly different signs on them). We were out to buy warmer clothes to go to Talcahuano, it was challenging because we didn’t get back until late and we had no idea where we were. The fact it was cold took over the desire to freak out over getting lost.

I really had to push myself to do things while in Chile and push past/ignore the lazy this-is-the-last-country mentality. It was a real struggle at times. I hate regrets and yet regret so often. I struggle when people are like, “Live life without regrets” because I regret that I regret…I have come to realise that I don’t like to make decisions because of this – if I make the wrong one, I’ll regret it. It’s a vicious cycle that must be overcome. Any good books on this mental issue anyone?

So, we rocked up to the Santiago airport to check in and get on board back to Aussie land when we were denied…initially. It turned out that our tickets had been “refunded” and we didn’t have a booking! Strangely enough, I didn’t fret. We have no idea what happened but my suspicion is that because we didn’t take the flight from Rio de Janeiro to Santiago to get the connecting flight to Australia, they decided to refund the ticket. Thankfully we were able to purchase tickets for the same flight (costing a tad bit more than the original price). I was so happy we could get the flight, but strangely enough didn’t freak out about the whole situation. I think I’ve change a bit in the fretting of things not going to plan, I hope it sticks. We walked through to the duty free shops and although I’m like “over alcohol” I was tempted to buy some Jonnie Walker Black. It was sooo cheap! Fortunately and thankfully I was able to resist the temptation because 1) I don’t need it and 2) It would have been confiscated in New Zealand. Dan had some rum confiscated because it is liquid, which cannot be carried on board. I think it’s really ridiculous and over-the-top, but thems the rules.

The journey hasn’t been as favourable throughout South America as other places, but we made it to Aussie soil and that is what I am thankful to my God for. He has protected and guided us on our travel and it’s been awesome knowing He’s looking out for us and over us. With one more destination to go before we hit home, it’s a time to get over jetlag, breathe and reflect…and what a reflection it will be!



Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mexico - 5 to 17 July 2010

Mexico City – the city of speed humps! This would drive me nuts. There are almost the same amount of people living in the place as there are in the whole of Australia. The city is massive in area also.

We stayed at a friend’s house while in Mexico. We met Serena on the DTS and what a blessing it has been. We were picked up at the airport by the whole family, in two cars…and we arrived at midnight! The Lopez family has shown us abundant hospitality. Serena gave up her bed for us, the whole family doted on us and we were chaperoned everywhere and anywhere we wanted to go. We ate a lot of Mexican food, some homemade and others in restaurants and kiosks in the street. It was so cool, though after a week my stomach thought it was taking too much of a beating with all the chilli and decided to get upset, but nothing too serious. I found some of the food a little heavy and was craving for salad. On one of the last nights we were there, Dan and I made dinner for them. I made rissoles (an Aussie thick-burger-pattie-looking thing) and a HUGE salad. Dan made a white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake for dessert – yummo!

We also caught up with two other guys we’d met on the DTS – Alex and Bernardo. Fortunately they were doing a bakery course close to Mexico City and we were able to spend two days with them. They bought some of their artwork over and it was sooo good. We were blessed having caught up with these dudes – they are such good value.

We walked through a huge park called Chapultepec and jumped on a peddle boat on the lake there – which was a funny green colour. We also visited a Castle-come-museum at the park, which has a lot of Mexican history in it. Unfortunately we didn’t learn enough Spanish to be able to read all the descriptions, nonetheless it was cool to see it all. Serena and I got a caricature done which was pretty cool (photo on Facebook). We went and visited Cuernavaca, walked the markets there and visited the Cathedral. It had some really nice (and old) artwork in it. A strange thing was the skull and crossbones on one of the doors – weird. We went to find the pyramids of Mexico, but when we got there (after getting a little lost) they’d shut for the day :o( Got a look at them from the distance, not as impressive as Egypt but these were Mayan-style so cannot compare. One night after dinner we went for a short walk in the street and there was a breathaliser set up, on the other side of the street were tow trucks ready to take the cars home - classic and brilliant!

We watched the World Cup final and it turned out that Dan’s orange pants didn’t help much, only good for one game. Dan wanted watch a live match of Luche Libre which is similar to WWF (which I’d only been introduced to a few weeks ago) except they’re more athletic…but still just as pathetic. We watched a little bit on TV and it was enough, Dan decided instead to buy a mask…uniquely Mexican.

The traffic in Mexico is similar to that of the Middle East, however I don’t think I can trust the Mexican drivers as much when crossing the road. We did a fair bit of driving (well, Serena did) and the traffic was horrible at times. There are pretty much no rules, though they do stop on red lights. We saw an article on TV of police charging drivers if they stopped over pedestrian crossings. The police drive with their lights on all the time and you know when you’re being pulled over if they announce it by loud speaker.

So, on the 15th we packed up, said our goodbyes and went to the airport to fly to Brazil…and we were denied. We had to get a visa, which we didn’t know about (or really look into it). We figured we’d been fine with all the other countries. So we went back to Serena’s – I felt so stupid. I’ve never had that happen to me before. I pretty much fell apart and had no idea what we were going to do as I’d organised with Compassion to visit 2 sponsor children we have. Dan figured out what we were going to do after a few phone calls to airline(s). Getting a visa to Brazil was going to take 5 working days and we were only on stand-by for flights to Brazil a week later. We couldn’t take the risk with Brazil as our flight to Brisbane was already booked, which went through Santiago, Chile. So loooong story short – we’re going to Chile so we can catch the connecting flight to Australia – which is 10 days. We also found out that it’s going to be pretty cold in Santiago – yay! We will be staying with YWAM and serving in whatever way we can after the earthquake there, and in running the base. Oh to serve again! Holiday with a purpose! Woohoo!

Till we leave Chile and hit Aussie, take care my friends and family mob.

See you all REAL soon – woohoo!



Thursday, July 8, 2010

Canada – 17 June to 05 July 2010

French! Canada is a bilingual country and legally you can’t sell anything unless it has a French translation on it.

We stayed in Montreal (East coast) for a few days getting over jet lag. It was a nice feeling to be fully away at 6:30am, but then I was knackered and falling asleep at 8pm. That lasted a few nights. We went for a run the first morning – oh boy that hurt, but it felt good…afterward, well after. We went to a nice park up the road from us and saw squirrels again…I love these critters and wanna introduce them to Australia!...maybe no. We walked around and got to know the city a bit. We were able to use bikes for free and rode on the most bike-friendly streets ever! Rode up Mont Royale, a big hill with a giant cross on it and a great view of Montreal. The city is really artsy and quite hip, there’s always something happening, streets close down for markets and festivals. I got to see a “Free Quebec” parade, a province who want to be separated from the rest of Canada. I fed a squirrel a chocolate ├ęclair, which I’m sure took him ages to eat :o) I had my first poutine (chips, gravy and cheese curd…mmm), it was okay. I said goodbye to my trusty pants, they faired me well. I was proud my stitching held! I bought another pair which should last me a few years since I won’t be wearing them everyday! If I get out of the habit of wearing the same clothes…I don’t think that will be too hard.

We hired a car and drove down to New York state to visit one of Dan’s old housemates from 10 years ago. The American border was friendly enough, Dan is good at breaking the ice. This time he asked the custom officer for a form in the African language featured in the ‘The God’s must be crazy’ movie – the clicking language. Always up for a laugh this husband of mine, meanwhile I’m one to follow instructions and behave myself so nothing untoward will happen to me, especially when it comes to official and law stuff.

We took a bus down to Toronto to visit another friend of Dan’s who lives in Mississauga. Checked out downtown Toronto as they prepared for the G20, we weren’t affected too much by it. There was an earthquake on one of the days, but we didn’t feel it. We borrowed bikes from a neighbours’ place and went for a cruise, Dan just happened to pick up a newspaper from someone’s recycling bin and read about our fearless Kevin Rudd stepping down – timing huh? We visited Niagara Falls which was amazing! So much water! The street-long ‘amusement park’ was sooo touristy, which we were happy not to partake in. Visited the Hershey factory and a couple of wineries around the place. It was a good day. Dan finally got a haircut and is on his way to building up a Mohawk – once in a lifetime I guess...I hope. The weather was really nice on the East coast, really blessed. It rained a couple of times and we rode in it, so refreshing.

We then flew to Vancouver and arrived late at night. We gained another 3 hours of our life. Jetlag from the East to the West wasn’t as bad. Dan had booked the accommodation the morning we flew out and so we got this hotel room on East Hastings street, it was fine – we were entertained and vibrated to sleep on the weekend nights by the 2am music in the pub downstairs. It was a decent walk into town and walking down the street caught me off guard. I guess I wasn’t expecting it. There are a number of troubled people who hang out on this street, mostly to do with drugs. I was scared walking down it in daylight. I cried for them as I thought about their lifestyle, habits and the things they were bound by – so much freedom to be had. I really hate seeing the effects of drugs and alcohol, it’s so damaging and no-one is immune from it – no matter how much money and “happiness” you have. So Holli came and celebrated Dan’s birthday with us at the Salmon House, a really nice restaurant. It had beautiful views of the city and the full moon was a real treat. We drove to Stanley Park and ate berries straight off the trees. Holli is a horticulturist and told us which ones we could eat – so cool! Later though I could feel them all processing…ahem. We saw a raccoon and seagulls eating starfish – whole. One day while we were walking downtown there was all this drumming noise, a whole bunch of people (like 50) gathered with their drumsticks and were (trying) to make a beat by hitting poles, chairs, anything they could in the streets…odd. There are novel people in Canada I’ve found…all so different.

We went inland to Chilliwack to stay with Janine and her family – sooo cool. It was only a couple hours bus ride in. Had our first Tim Horton Iced Cap (Cappuccino), WAY better than what I got in downtown Vancouver – American Iced coffee is cold coffee with sugar, and you put your own milk in it…blah! I was after a slushie, oh the Middle East do a good Nescafe Slushie. She took us to see the landscape and cool streams and waterfalls. It is so luscious and green. Mountains covered in trees and still a little snow left on the tops. We went and visited the cow farm next door to her and watched them getting milked, very compliant ladies they are. We roasted hotdogs over the fire, with the combine harvester collecting already cut grass in the background. I had a slight migraine for the time I was there, but managed to get rid of it quickly enough…grrr. Prayer and authority works wonders.

We then ferried across to Vancouver Island and stayed with Holli and Bob in Victoria. Oh how we’ve been blessed with hospitality. They doted on us and we were so grateful. We went to watch the Canada Day fireworks the night we got in, which were BRIGHT! We were really close to them and some of them I missed because they were so bright. Some I hadn’t seen before, so cool. Friday was to be beaver Friday. We went and bought the biggest sandwich I have ever seen and had a picnic at Beaver Pond – but didn’t see any beavers. Most of the time we were on the island I had allergies from the air, and Ginger – Holli’s cat, but I still couldn’t stay away from her. She is the most friendliest and lovable cat – jumps up on your lap like queen bee, I loved it! But got stuffy sinuses from her – oh well. Their dog Kimchee (not sure if I spelt her name right) is really smart too, blew my theory on dogs…what? I’m a cat person! We visited Salt Spring island markets and had a round of Disc Golf – 18 holes. I sucked at first, then got a little better (even beat Dan on some holes …tehehe). We missed the ferry going back by 4 cars and had to wait for the next one…hmph. Dan and I found this cute church on Sunday – Conerstone Christian Fellowship, they were celebrating 22 years and ordaining some elders. It was full of joy, friendship and warmth. John Wason (a YWAMer) did a drama on Jonah and practically told the story word for word from the NIV translation – impressive! We bought some of his stuff, entertaining for all ages. We had a BBQ afterward and got to know some of the people there. So welcoming. We then went for a walk into town and tried to find “beaver tails,” which Dan claims exist. We got distracted in a bookshop (surprise surprise) and missed the kiosk by 5 minutes, so no beaver tails for me. I’m sure they’re bad for your health anyway :o)

So things about Canada I picked up on:

- their toilets are low in height and a lot longer in length. Some use a lot of water and the automatic flushing freaks me out (which are found more in public areas)

- there is anti-bacterial hand wash in many of the shops, or automatic-starting fountains, wash basins so you didn’t have to touch a button or handle.

- it was annoying to have to wait until I got to the counter to pay the full price (they don’t add the tax to the shelf price) because even by the end of our visit I still couldn’t work out their money

- I have picked up on saying “right” or “yeah” at the end of my questions, and even on the end of statements. I met one guy who would say it after every sentence when describing something, it was used more than “like”

- they put maple syrup on everything, or maybe that’s just Dan

That is all. Until Mehiko…ciao…or adios amigos!


Friday, June 18, 2010

Egypt – 30 May to 17 June 2010

How to cross the road – close your eyes and walk.

Our bus travel from Israel took around 12 hours – fun! But we opted to go a direct bus (with a tour company) instead of figuring out how to split the travel in the two countries. I felt sick for the first couple of hours as the road was windy and the driver was…confident. As we got closer to Cairo, driving became artwork. Everyone manoeuvres in and out of traffic with sometimes only a couple of metres between each vehicle, and some of them are trucks! We managed to arrive with everything in tact, including our nerves.

The first day we were there we joined in the 50-year celebrations of YWAM with the crew from around the area. It was really cool to be a part of it and everyone was really welcoming. It was good to see how God was moving in these countries and hear the many testimonies that were told of healings and people coming to know Jesus. A shame there was not enough time to hear them all – we would probably have needed another week and still not got through them all – God is working all the time. We heard Loren and Darlene speak which hit Dan and I in different and many ways, which we need to process further.

We then spent another 3 days in downtown Cairo. Walking around Cairo is…interesting. So many different smells (pee and rubbish) and sights wherever you go. The traffic is pretty crazy and basically bumper to bumper. The roads go everywhere and even if you had a map I reckon you’d find it hard driving around. We decided to walk everywhere and caught the metro a couple of times, which is a nice one. Yeah, so the Egyptian way for pedestrian crossing is madness and it is a prerequisite to trust the drivers COMPLETELY. On the first night, I gathered up this immense trust and it got me across, a bit scary because you get sandwiched between the cars, buses and trucks. They basically beep at anything! This is truly a city that never sleeps! I tell you, after being in these Arab countries my nerves are beginning to get used to the beeping I just ignore them now – which I’ll need to ditch pretty soon. I used to hate it when people used their horns in Australia, I found it a sign of impatience and anger. Some do it for notification of danger, but then it quickly turns to anger.

So while in downtown Cairo we hung out with Sunni, who we’d met at the celebrations. We visited the biggest market and saw some awesome stuff; went to an oasis in the middle of Cairo, a really lush and green park; saw a Muslim temple for tourists (with the request of money to help the orphans…I believe him); visited the Coptic Museum which was awesome, and I’m not big on museums; walked through the city of the dead – tombs from long ago that are being converted into houses with people living in them. These tombs aren’t just coffins, these are full-on structures…why not?; drank icy Strawberry juice off the street using communal cups…hmmm; and just walked around the streets tasting the food Cairo had to offer. Falaffel! Soooo good and glad they have it here. I had it for breakfast even! Their bread here is not as good as other countries though. We caught up with the Egypt Ultimate team (they all say “Hi” Rick and that you should move back) but unfortunately were unable to play as the American College closed for the summer and were doing “maintenance” on the fields. So we went and ate Yemen food with three cool people, they were so friendly. That’s what I have found with the Egyptians, they are willing to change their plans and just hang out with you, so cool. There are some crafty fellows, but you get that in most cities. The Egyptians are clever, especially those with tourist shops. I got talked into buying some oil perfume and it was an okay price for me, but maybe a better price for him. These guys are big on the first customer of the day being good luck for the rest of it – but I think they tell that to all their customers. They also ask you for gifts if they give you something to try or smell, pretty up front. They’ve bought in a new taxi service, which have meters installed. The older cars (mostly black with some white) don’t have a meter. You need to barter with these guys in the beginning and ensure you use the words “Egyptian Pounds” and maybe even write the amount down somewhere. Some people have been caught where the drive changed the price at the end (or used another currency) and they make a scene until you pay. We stayed clear of them unless we were with an Egyptian. Oh how I wish we could download new languages! I know it can be done, but it’s certainly “marshalaah” (God-willing). NOTHING is impossible with Him! I have heard stories where languages have been spoken without knowing the language at all – too cool.

We also visited a place called “trash city” – which I think is a Western term. We got to the nearest metro station and were stumped on how to get there. We asked a couple of people but then I felt we shouldn’t be asking where “trash city” was because it didn’t feel…respectful. Past the city is St Simeon’s Monastery and so we queried about that. We came across this guy who is a Coptic Christian which I believe was a divine appointment) and he led us to a taxi, we invited him to come with us and he accepted – and it was his only day off work! It was awesome. So, “trash city” is where they take all the rubbish and they sort it out for recycling – but people live there too. There are three main churches and all are cut into caves. The story goes that St Simeon the tanner prayed with all the saints and God split the mountainside in half as proof He was real. There are really awesome carvings in the hillside, which I was only able to get a few photos of as my camera battery died :o( It doesn’t seem foreigners visit there as we were swarmed by kids and their families to chat and take photos with us. We saw the sunset over the rooftops and watched as people sorted the rubbish with the light they still had left. Then we went to a Coptic church service in Arabic. It was really cool.

The On-the-Go Tour

The first day of the tour we saw pyramids, pyramids, pyramids and a sphinx. It was hot! Dan went for a camel ride around the pyramids, while I opted for the air conditioning of the bus. We spent 18 hours on a train travelling from Cairo to Aswan in the seater train which had huge seats, some of us got sleep. It was interesting seeing the different people on the tour, some fresh into travel and others not. Amazing what you can get used to when you travel for so long…like lack of showering and other conveniences.

We hit Aswan and went out and to see the Nile dam and a temple that we had to take a motorboat to get to. This day I felt ill, I was getting stomach cramps every now and then. I think it was getting used to drinking the tap water, and I’d had some leftover chicken from a table. Others got it pretty bad during the tour, so I was blessed it didn’t last too long and it didn’t interrupt any other functions…ahem.

From Aswan we split into 3 teams and took felucca’s (sailing boats) down the Nile. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, it was cool on the water and we were protected by shade the whole time. Our job was to lay back on the matresses and enjoy the scenery. The first night we slept close by a Nubian family home and they cooked us dinner. The sleep wasn’t too bad, it was windy which kept the mozzies away.

The next morning we were unable to leave until after lunch as there was too much wind for the sail. It’s interesting, when sailing down the Nile the current goes from South the North, and the wind from North to South, so you have to criss-cross sail. Once the wind died down we tied all 3 felucca’s together and just floated down, we hit a bridge going down because of ill-timed steering, but all was good. We then got a lift with a motorboat to the beach we were going to spend the night at. A few of us needed to go to the toilet (an anticipated feeling in Egypt because you never know what you’re in for) and we did on the motorboat. It was a squat toilet at the back of the boat, in the open, which barely covered your lower back, in the open for all to see. It was an…experience.

We stopped at a beach area and had a “bon fire.” At about 3am there was a small fire in the front cabin of our felucca. The dude sleeping in there freaked out and one of the other captains burnt his hand pretty bad while putting it out. Exciting times.

We travelled by bus to see another two temples then arrived in Luxor. The hotels we’ve been staying at are 5-star (Egytptian 5-star) hotels and they’ve been pretty nice. It was a nice ending to the Middle Eastern journey. We got up early the next day to visit the Valley of the Kings and Queens and then another temple in the arvo. The valleys were pretty big in that there are many tombs there. They stopped building the pyramids for tombs because they were raided by the tomb robbers, so they went underground – so impressive and so much work, for a dead body. A lot of colour is still vivid after 3,000 or more years. By the end of the touristy things on the tour, I was a tired of hearing about Ancient Egypt. I began feeling sorry for these guys because they worshipped gods who didn’t exist and had an incorrect view of the “afterlife,” taking treasures with you? No physical thing here on earth is relevant after you die, sorry. We were told that when the people gathered around outside the temple (they weren’t allowed in) it was the priest who would be the voice of the god – such deception.

We arrived to our flash hotel in Dahab after an 18 hour bus ride where the seats didn’t stay reclined. We got swollen ankles after all that travel. The designer of the hotel (Mercure) definitely had fun with this one. We went snorkelling in the Blue Hole (Red Sea) which was AMAZING! God has an awesome sense of humor and such creativity, it was truly beautiful. We saw a turtle cruising past us and amazing colours in fish! I spent a lot longer in the water that I expected. The Red Sea is the next saltiest after the Dead Sea, so it was caked in our hair – such an amazing experience and I was truly grateful and thankful to God for designing such beauty and for those who went before us, who kept it alive for us to see.

We left late on Monday night to climb Mount Sinai. I did a bit of research in Exodus and Moses climbed this thing like 7 times and 2 of those he spent 40 days/nights up there…madness! Then I learnt that the Bedouins live and walk up there almost daily, and you have to have a guide with you at all times. These guys are machines. Some parts were truly a mission, especially the 770 steps at the end. It was worth it to see the beautiful sunrise in the morning.

It was an early start to catch the 7 hour bus back to Cairo. A lot of travelling between deserts in Egypt. We visited a perfumery in Cairo (and bought more) then went to the Khan el-Khalili markets (to get my last dose of hassle and bargaining) with our tour guide from the first leg of the tour, Romany (the best!). Then it was time to fly out the next morning which was kinda weird as we hadn’t flown for a while. I was really excited. I have enjoyed my time in the Middle East (some of it has been hard because of culture shock...then the continuous shock) but I knew it was time to depart.

It was a strange feeling to be walking around Heathrow and seeing all the shops I knew while I was living in Harpenden, to see the English Pound sign. We walked past a picture of London on the wall, saw fixed prices in the shops – ahhh, was able to flush toilet paper down the toilet (the simple things in life), and hear English – everywhere.

Then it was off to Montreal where we gain 7 hours of our life back…



Saturday, June 5, 2010

Israel – 21 to 30 May 2010


We arrived on the Friday because we wanted to be there for Pentecost (a day described in the book of Acts in the Holy Bible when the Spirit of God came down on the early church). Holy Day in Israel starts sundown Friday night and ends sundown Saturday. So…

Shabbat shalom (peace to the Sabbath) time! A horn is sounded 20 minutes before sundown on Friday that lets everyone know it’s almost time to commence the Sabbath, in which they do no work - whatsoever. Some of the Jews who are serious about this time ensure that all electrics are on/off as they don’t touch anything electrical during this time, there are some lifts that are programmed so one doesn’t have to touch the floor number, and so it stops at every floor.

At about 11pm we went for a walk in an area called Mea Shearim, which is one of the most Jewish Orthodox areas in the world – and they’re right. We went for a wander and saw many of the families walking around after their dinner – the whole family. Because they believe you aren’t to do any work on the Sabbath, if you drive through the area you will have your car stoned, so the police put up road blocks to their streets. I had to wear a skirt because according to their traditions (and it does state in the Old Testament) women aren’t to wear men’s clothing – so I wore my pants on underneath. They don’t look at you because if you don’t follow their practices, you aren’t “right” before God. I had mixed feelings walking through and watching these guys – sadness and a kind of respect. Sadness because their lives seem restrictive where more and more practices and traditions come in with every new Rabbi, that are passed down and obeyed. There is so much more spiritual freedom to be had and it’s not in following law, God has provided the Way. A kind of respect because they live out these things with seriousness and discipline. There are 3 year olds walking around with their “curly sidies” because they aren’t to shave the hair on their temples. Then there are all types of hats they wear, from small round ones to big Russian-looking fluffy ones. So that was my experience in a Jewish area. Dan however was approached by a bunch of Jewish kids and was told he looked like an Arab (he was wearing an Arab-coloured scarf on his neck) and that he should take it off. I was wondering why we were getting such looks…

We went to church on Sunday night and it was really awesome to be among other believers in Jerusalem of all cultures and ethnics, it was such a family feeling. On the Monday we went on a free tour around the old city which was really cool to get explanations of the different things around. It’s basically divided into four quarters – the Armenian, Christian, Muslim and Jewish. It was interesting to know that the old old city is really some 8m below because it’s been demolished and rebuilt over the years from a number of different conquerors. It is a Holy City for the three faiths – for the Christian it’s where Jesus was crucified, buried and rose again. For the Muslim it’s where Mohammad ascended to Heaven. For the Jewish it’s where the second temple was built and where the Western (Wailing) Wall stands. It’s nice to see the three co-existing, but there is also tension because of it’s significance and also the prophecies about the place.

On Tuesday we went on a Political Tour which was run by an ex-Palestinian activist who’d been jailed for some years. He is one of the lucky Palestinians who is allowed to live in Israel territory. He has people go on his tours to spy on him. He is just telling the truth and he is very passionate about it, but he has a family and so isn’t so full-on anymore. This tour really opened my eyes and created such mixed feelings inside. I mean, yeah Israel as a state, but they’ve created this huge wall that closes off the “Israel state” from Palestinians. When you look at a house you can tell whether they are in or out of Israel territory – the ones with 2 tanks on the roof are Palestinian because they have to store water as they don’t know when Israel will cease giving them water. Pregnant women in labour are made to wait at the checkpoints until an ambulance comes to collect them, and then it needs to be searched before they are transported. Israel calls the checkpoints “security gates” but the tour guide described them as more of “shame gates”, because if you look Arab they will ask you for the Israel ID card and if not they let you pass through. Now the ID cards, if you don’t have one, you cannot live in Israel – but to get one? Almost impossible. There is criteria set that cannot be met by most Arabs. We met a guy living on the streets with this problem, he was waiting for a card to be made and had paid the money. He wants to see his family in Jordan, but won’t be able to get back in if he doesn’t have the ID card. The tour guide called what Israel was doing – ethnic cleansing. I didn’t see even a slither of what’s going on. I have to say, it’s not everyone in Israel who agrees with what’s going on – it’s those in government and those who are Zionists (believe that the Jewish state should exist but more than what they’ve been given) and the guide was honest about this also. On their smallest coin, there is a “state” which is a lot bigger than what Israel is now…we were told a meaning of their flag represented the Nile and Iran with the Star of David (Israel) in the middle, which shows there is still a lot of land to be taken, or attempted to be taken. We were taken to see where the wall goes through a neighbourhood and to a house where the woman had to make the decision to have the wall go through her garden or be excluded from the Israel side. She opted to stay within Israel but now what took her a 3 minute walk to get to her mother’s house, now takes 1 1/2 hours to drive through all the checkpoints to visit her! There was a small street we visited in which Israeli settlers were moving in and the Palestinian family was living under a tree across the road. One woman was living in a tent just on the side of the house. While we were there, Zionists arrived (mostly American) and there was a little conflict, one of them stating that the Palestinians ought to feel lucky because they are allowed to live on Israeli land…under a tree and having your home taken from you? What the?!

We went to a Young Adults meeting at a church and heard a testimony of a guy from a Caribbean Island of when he died for over an hour and then came back to life. Quite an amazing journey while he was dead…Then he offered to heal people of shortened legs, as he had been healed himself. He prayed the simple prayer, “In the name of Yeshua (Jesus) I command you to grow,” for about 5 people and the legs grew! One after the other these legs grew, it was amazing to see. Never have I seen miraculous healing like this. I’d remembered reading about Jesus healing, back in the day, and noticed that coupled with healing was new faith, the renewal of faith, and praise to God. This is what I also saw in some of them at the meeting. Faith was renewed and they were strengthened again. It was an amazing experience and it also solidified my faith that God is still healing today. If we could capture all the stories in the world of such healings and deliverances, it would be a massive book! God is just too awesome!

We went for a visit to the Mount of Olives and ‘the’ Garden of Gethsemane where we met up with a Christian tour who were doing some teaching and fellowship. They invited us to join them which was really cool. They even introduced us to the rest of the tour. I truly felt welcomed. It was really surreal learning about Jesus in the place where he had been so many years ago. The view from the Mount of Olives is incredible – a bit of a hike but incredible. We saw olive trees that were 2000 years old and 1 that was 3000 years old. These are kept in an area that had only been re-opened recently. It was really cool to see.

We did a lot of walking around in Jerusalem. There is certainly plenty to see. I would have liked to get around to other towns and especially see how the Palestinians live (which there are tours you can do that), but you need a bit of time and know where you are going and what you’re doing.

I am still feeling a little tired of travelling, but know that we have another 2 months left and I think I can push through it. You definitely learn a lot about yourself and how you like to travel and live.

Til next time in Egypt…


Oh, here is an excerpts from Dan’s email which tells his story of Israel…enjoy!

If you have an Israel stamp in your passport, you are unable to travel to most Arabic (also mostly Islamic) countries: Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, and others. You WILL NOT BE ALLOWED to enter the country. If you have a Syria stamp in your passport, you will be questioned at the Israel border but you will be allowed in the country. Do not try to enter Israel on a Saturday – it is likely that the borders will be closed – it is the Jewish holy day.

Before you support the State of Israel on religious principles, please investigate your reasons for such support. (Note: I support the State of Israel but definitely not in its current position). Historically Israel was created by a Zionist agenda in the land of Palestine, where initially 55% of Palestine land was given to Jews, about 33% of the population at that time. The Israel-Palestine situation has very serious political and religious issues impacting on people very personally right now.

There are many ideas for resolving the Arab-Israel conflict. High level political support/pressure from the UN is needed just as much as grassroots reconciliation. Some friends started Ultimate Peace a few years ago; a way of using sport to break down barriers between different groups, between kids who are not currently involved in reconciliation but have grown up in a divided country. There are no stupid ideas – as long as someone has the passion to pursue them.

In similar news, all six branches of Starbucks in Israel were closed down on account of the managing director being an active Zionist.

We were listening to a guy we met from San Martin, an island in the Carribean. He'd drowned and been medically dead for about thirty minutes, and had come back to life. His story made the local news but unfortunately isn't on YouTube. He had an out-of-body/near-death experience and saw heaven and hell. Great story.

Then he said God had given him a gift to heal people's legs. So there were six people with different-length legs. And the six shorter legs grew to be the same length! One girl had a (long-ago) broken bone sticking out on her foot. It wasn't sticking out anymore. God is amazing, and awesome, and the very NAME of Jesus is powerful! Jesus really did rise from the dead and he's alive today – check it out in the Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John). And his life story was prophesied hundreds of years earlier!! The Bible is a book worth reading…

The ultra-orthodox (extreme) jews are pretty special. They religiously follow the `instructions' found in the Torah (first 5 books in the Bible, written by Moses), but place equal weight on the Talmud (oral instructions resulting from cultural interpretations of the Torah). In one way, they create fences around fences. `Thou shalt do not work on the Sabbath', found in the Torah, is ensured by the creation of additional rules. The light switch must not be turned on or off during the Sabbath, but the lights may remain on for the duration. The stove may not be turned off after the Sabbath meal, but an electric hotplate may be timed and set before the Sabbath, which will automatically turn off. Highly religious.

One of the beauties of the ultra-orthodox Jews however, is that after their Sabbath meal, en masse and as families they all walk the neighbourhood. So the men are dressed in silk suits and fur hats, and do not cut the hair on their temples, and the women are all modestly dressed in dresses and skirts, but they are out enjoying the streets as a family, along with everyone else in the neighbourhood. An excellent community-minded idea!

And we are now in Cairo, Egypt…


Friday, May 21, 2010

Jordan – 13 to 21 May 2010

Everytime I open up our blog web address it opens to a login page. However, every country I go to changes the language on the login page and I can never remember what link is the login – this time I try and find it in Hebrew (because I’m updating this in Israel). Then you enter your details in backwards...crazy but cool! Anywho...

To get into Jordan we took another taxi and was dropped off to then take another taxi to Mecca Mall, Amman where we were collected by a friend. Coming into Jordan for me was tiring. Although it’s a different country, the culture for me was the same and it started taking it’s toll. Being in another culture drains me because I am constantly aware of what I’m doing, what I’m wearing and being careful not to upset anyone with looks or behaviour toward both sexes. Things happen that you don’t know if is okay so you kinda turn a blind eye. For instance, what the taxi’s do between borders is illegal for me (and probably there too but there isn’t much done about it and I’m sure they know about it) and although I wouldn’t do anything, it plays even on my conscious just seeing it. I mean, it’s not major stuff but it’s still not according to the law. Anyway…

We hired a car for the whole time we were here. At first I was concerned but Dan did an awesome job driving around these roads. It’s a mixed feeling for me here. It’s like there are no rules, yet somehow it feels safer but then there are no rules and it seems more dangerous. There is no structure to driving here, indicators aren’t used except to let other drivers know you are slowing down and lanes are ignored or no longer visible! The car was a little Chery and it got us places. We flattened the battery twice and when we travelled to Petra the engine light came on. I have to admit, all the joking about driving on the wrong side of the road meant that the passenger seat (me!) hugged the mountains, so I was able to remain flexible! :D

So we visited Jerash and Ajlun in the North where there were some ruins (the attitude of “more ruins” at this stage) and a castle (again, another “castle”). The drive was really beautiful all through the mountain ranges. In the South we visited the Dead Sea, which was really cool to float in. We were going to enter in Amman Beach, then we found it was a ~$20 entrance fee. We drove on further to find a tourist bus parked off the road and a bunch of people going over the ridge, they weren’t swimming but we decided to…after they’d left. The water was really slimy, and salty obviously. We then went over to Hamamat Ma’in where we sat in HOT springs, and a Roman Bath – separately, they had a women and a men’s side. The drive through that area was absolutely gorgeous!

We travelled down the Petra the last couple of days we were in Jordan. Our little car made it, but it was close. We got about 200km out of Amman when the engine light came on. We stopped to check it out and Dan pulled tightly parts of the engine with some wire he found on the road, and the engine light went off. Then we kept on praying. While we were waiting for the engine to cool down a bit, I’d opened the door to get a breeze and Dan dropped the map behind me. It went flying out the door! Man, I don’t think I’ve sprinted so fast! Was good to know I still have some form of fitness! It’s pretty windy out there but surprisingly cool. You know, I didn’t think it snowed in the Middle East and only thought of it as a hot desert. But I guess if I think back to the desert trips back in Australia, it gets pretty cold out there.

So, Petra is BIG! We got a day pass and that was enough - for me walking, maybe not seeing everything. There were a few places we didn’t get to see, but we saw majority of it. I couldn’t manage getting out there two days in a row, ther is a fair bit of walking all over the hilly areas. There are these tombs cut into the rock all over the place, you’ll have to check out Facebook for photos. We visited the monastry and getting up was a MISSION! So many steps and so high up! The exercise was good, when I got past the pain – it kinda got to me mentally too, you go around the corner to see people climbing further up. As we were climbing, there were people on donkeys and they pooped everywhere, so when we were gasping for breath it was filled with the smell (and taste) of donkey poo – yumoo! Good for the lungs, blah! We stayed there for two days as we didn’t want to drive the car to Wadi Rum, which was our original plan – where we would have done a Bedouin campout. On the way home the engine light came on a couple of times and we asked God to get us home – He did. So awesome, thank you!

In Amman we helped out for a couple of hours scoring people against an English test to conclude what level class they would start at. It was really fun, a little nervous to start with as I didn’t want to score incorrectly making it hard for them to learn. I had fun getting to know some of them as there were a couple of personal questions in there.

It’s been good to see more of Jordan and we couldn’t have done it without the car. There is still a lot left unexplored, such a big country. It’s quite expensive here, especially after being in Syria. We’ve heard Israel is much more expensive so we’ll save all our shopping for Egypt, where it’s supposed to be really cheap.

Getting across the border was easy enough, though there was much waiting involved – on the Israel side. My passport got sorted but we had to wait while they checked Dan’s passport over and asked him many questions. I think because they’d seen we’d been to Lebanon and Syria. We thought it would be easy enough and I reckon it was just routine. They stamped my passport, which will mean I won’t be able to enter Syria or Lebanon again…unless I got creative with a “new” passport. But we’ll wait to see if we ever want to visit those countries again.

Till post our Israel trip, Ma as-salaamah!


Monday, May 17, 2010

Syria – 9 to 13 May 2010

The Syrian Pound – the Aussie Dollar is AWESOME against it!!!

Getting from Lebanon to Syria was another service taxi and passing through many border control areas. It’s so weird, just driving into another country.

We stayed in Damascus, with a day trip to Bosra. Bosra has this huge Roman theatre that has been well preserved and is really awesome to walk around in, there are so many rooms everywhere. The best theatre we’ve been to so far. We then walked around some ruins just near the theatre, which I think was the old town. There were people living there in these little brick houses, so simple.

In Damascus we walked around the Old City quite a bit, there are so many alleyways and streets to explore. There are many shops also. What I like about Damascus is it isn’t an overly touristy town. Not all the shops aren’t set up for just tourists and most of them are there for the locals to shop at also. There isn’t (that I saw) a huge shopping centre so you basically shop where the locals shop. The Syrian Pound was great value against our Aussie dollar. The food at restaurants was cheap and if you barter enough you can get material stuff cheap too, I kinda felt bad to though because they already started at a good price, comparing to our dollar. Public transport is cheap and so are the taxi’s – those with meters. Having said that we jumped into a taxi to get back from the bus station after visiting Bosra and it seemed to be a “special” meter. It jumped quite a bit – it was still cheap to us though. It’s hard to argue and weight it up.

The food in Syria is pretty tasty, although we got a bit “belly” from it. They love their chickpeas! We were in a restaurant one arvo and ate a few plates of appetizers. We were pretty full after that and were thinking of getting a main to share as they were huge. There were two Lebanese couples sitting on a table next to us and they offered to pay for a main meal. We were stunned and so blessed. After the meal the restaurant gave a huge bowl of fruit, and a plate of biscuits and jelly type sweets on the house. We were belly-aching full! I had to go back to the hotel for a sleep! I told Dan to take a couple of pieces of fruit and told him to do it inconspicuously… so in true Dan style he took all the fruit and left a smiley face in the bowl – what a stealth!

We visited a mosque in the old city, which was really beautiful. Of all the places we’ve visited where Islam is practiced, this is the first mosque I actually visited. Boy did it challenge me though. I had to wear this long, hooded robe because women must cover their heads…and arms and legs. It felt so demeaning and ridiculous. It’s such a different culture. While I was in Syria, I read a book on the basics of Islamic belief, it confused me and for ages (and still now) I would imagine the type of conversation I would have with a Muslim. It would be an interesting one. It seems…incomplete. Anywho, I could go on.

I got sick the last two days we were there. It started off as a kind of hayfever, then into a flu. I’ve just gotten over it today (15th) after battling against it turning to a migraine. I’ve done really good at eliminating coffee, I haven’t had one since Easter. I’ve pretty much not had anything that I thought might trigger them – caffeine, excess sugar and wine. This one I think was muscular, which is the next investigation…time to pull out my knowledge from the fitness training…yikes!

When we left Syria, I had a feeling of tiredness from being in the Arab culture. It has started draining me…or it could be all the travelling. We’ve been on the road for some time now and I’m still fighting the thoughts of going back to a routine life. It’s difficult in another culture as I’m continually aware of it’s differences and I don’t wan to upset anyone and be a “typical tourist” who doesn’t care about the culture I’m visiting. So it’s taking a lot out of me to be conscious of what I wear and how I behave (maybe too much).

Oh well, must press on to Jordan.