Monday, November 29, 2010

November 2010: of Soap and Stany

It is early morning in the basement of Ascencion Catholic Church. Having arisen from my sleeping bag, I am thinking of Hanilyn (here pictured taking some first steps at her 1st birthday party just a week ago). Hanilyn is our daughter Maggie`s first child. Too cute, yes? Time now to take my first steps of the day also!

Cool and crisp, it is time to turn on the furnace so as to greet homeless guests here with some of the warmth we all need. Once every ten weeks the church hosts up to 15 people: families who have fallen onto hard times due to things like health care costs, unemployment, or other circumstances. To satisfy city codes, someone from the church must stay overnight to handle any emergency that may arise. Last night that was me. Two snoring men, crying children, and the chirping of a smoke alarm (that needs a battery changed) contributed to an unsilent night.

With the new day, all are awaking with surprisingly good spirits. Folks are pleased that soap is available to use in the showers here and are grateful to be able to take a bar with them to the next shelter. They see me typing this and I tell them how, on this day last year, my wife and I were arriving in India. Larry, whose time in prison over 16 years ago continues to handicap his ability to find steady work, tells me that I was really lucky to go to India. Another man interrupts to say how much he liked going to Reno once. A woman observes how nice the bar of soap is compared to the sample sizes they usually make do with. Somehow that soap seems more important now than the glorious experiences of the past year.

The homeless families staying at the church enjoyed a Turkey dinner 2 nights ago, a tradition for the holiday of Thanksgiving. Kristine stayed over that night, after having worked all day preparing a similar meal for 14 who came to our home. In the U.S. Thanksgiving is a time to share a feast with friends and family while being mindful of all we have to be grateful for. Our children Sonrisa, Shaman, and Mira were all there, together our foster daughter Maggie`s family, our friends Gil & Adriana with their boys, and one of my students from Portland Community College who has no family nearby. The three pre-teen boys loudly played Fooseball in our basement and were crazy happy when Shaman distributed his old Pokeman cards among them as a gift.

It is good to take time to be thankful, whether it is for a dream trip to India or a bar of soap today. Sonrisa now has advanced Junior standing at Portland State University and has declared a Sociology major with an Environmental Studies Minor. Shaman is working part time and is hatching a plan that will include future studies at Portland Community College. Mira has full time employment and still loves making music as a skilled base guitar player. Gil is successfully recovering from gall bladder surgery and yes, his kids love their Pokeman cards almost as much as Maggie loves her new life as a mother!

What a remarkable year it has been! Exactly one year ago Kristine and I arrived in India to begin the Fulbright adventure. First a night in Mumbai, then the arrival in Kochi to be greeted by our future lifelong friend Stany. By the end of that second day, we would be in Pala and preparing to furnish our apartment and to meet my colleagues at St. Thomas College. It now seems both so recent, and yet like a former life away....

Over the next nine months, regular end-of-month entries will serve to both reflect upon the activities of a year ago as well as update people we met abroad with more current news. What follows is a sampling of news highlights from November:

This month has been full of activity, not the least of which involved many communications with Stany by email and by phone. He has been selected by USIEF (United States India Education Foundation) as a nominee for a Fulbright-Nehru award that will take him from India to teach courses at Portland Community College (PCC) for 4 months beginning in September of 2011. Originally we had hoped that he might come as early as a month from now, but the wheels of bureaucracy move almost as slowly for him as they did for me. Final notification should be communicated from Washington D.C. in early March. Perhaps it is for the best, he will be an honored guest as PCC begins its 50th Anniversary celebrations next Fall.

Much of my activities beyond the classroom in November have been devoted either to meetings or to speakings! Meetings relating to the Portland Metro Green Party, Peace and Justice Works, Just Skills Seminars at Ascension Church, PCC Peace and Conflict Studies, and the Internationalization Steering Committee at PCC, have been productive but somewhat exhausting. Speaking engagements have included four solo presentations (one on Palestine, two on India, and one relating to China & India) and chairing three panel discussions (on Teaching Peace in the 21st Century`): a total of 7 events in 10 days!

It is a challenge to balance what it asked of us and the energy we may have to fulfill basic obligations. Jesus tells us that we should give our widow`s mite (if even a small donation of time or money, but enough so as to be felt as a sacrifice). But when is enough enough? In this world, in our country, in our community -- the needs are so great and our enough is usually not so.

One step at a time, yes Hanilyn?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

October 2010: Trick or Treat?

One of the favorite holidays in the U.S. is Halloween, known as All Saints Day (in the Catholic Church) but secularized to be suitable for all to celebrate on October 31st. Pictured here (right to left) is our foster daughter Margarita, with baby Hanilyn, stepson Reynaldo, and husband Reynaldo Sr.. They are having fun dressed up as a leprechaun, a butterfly, a policeman, and a vampire: For people beyond the U.S., it must surely seem odd that even adults may like to dress up in an odd way and go out to ``trick or treat`` with their costumed children. The kids really like this custom as asking for a ``treat`` at the door of many homes eventually fills their bags full of candy! Older children especially may deliver a ``trick`` to those who are not generous, usually involving some kind of harmless prank.

Because I am a little late in writing this, the November 2nd elections have also just transpired. To use the trick or treat metaphor, some are still trying to figure out whether the results were more of a trick or treat – though few who feel it to be a trick consider it to be harmless. The Republican Party has emerged victorious in capturing majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives as well as in Governorships and State Legislatures. In Oregon, a Democrat was narrowly elected Governor (chief executive of the state) but is faced with a legislature that is evenly divided in one chamber and has a narrow 16-14 Democrat advantage in the other. So it is that both at the national level and in our state of Oregon, much partisan conflict can be expected as President Obama and our Governor Kitzhaber struggle to address the economic and other issues requiring action.

If this sounds more trick than treat, one should consider how few people either participate in Halloween or Elections! Over half of the homes in our neighborhood did not welcome the children in their quest for candy! Well over half of voters also did not vote! Nationally, only 38.2% of the Voting Age Population (VAP) voted, with Oregon being the third highest in turnout at 52.6%. While there are many complex reasons for this correlation between Halloween and Elections, I would say a key element is the decline of a cultural sense of community – with the most important factor contributing to that decline being summed up in one word: FEAR.

A cancer of fear has long been growing globally, only to be further nurtured by 9/11 and the War on Terror. Most people lock their doors and do not socialize much with their neighbors. Nations restrict their immigration, and seem most interested in other countries when there is a strategic advantage to be had or an economic market to be exploited. In these financial hard times, charitable giving is in decline even as the needs of poor people at home and abroad are increasing. Is this the sort of world that will warm our hearts and bring us more fulfillment?

During this past month, we have had bicycles stolen from our home on two occasions, with the first theft prompting us to lock the garage – and yet the second theft happened anyway! Is locking our doors (and often our hearts) even effective in providing the security we may need? Gandhi would suggest otherwise – and would not Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammad agree with him? Fear (the destroyer of community) is ultimately rooted in our attachment to material things (including our own bodies). It is an indication of our lack of faith in that which can neither be stolen nor harmed in any way: our soul. Death comes to us all in due time, and our bicycles will be lost to old age and rust in their due time also. Such security as we may have in this life will not come to us from better locks and more powerful militaries. It can come from the willingness to sacrifice (tapas) for the sake of loving others (ahimsa), which will help us build community (by manner of degree, the Kingdom of God), as we seek the truth (Sat) which may set us free of all fear.

Dear reader, please forgive my verbal venting. Stating what is in my heart sure feels good. I do not want to live a life that reinforces fear in this world. Why cannot the citizens of India and Pakistan see one another as members of the same human family and embrace? Why must a million poor people in Haiti still be living in tents ten months after their horrible earthquake, while the U.S. remains preoccupied with maintaining a middle class lifestyle? Fear of losing what we have (Kashmir?), fear of not enjoying our Kashmir sweaters? fear, fear, and more fear?
This month of October had good signs that fear can be overcome and community can be strengthened. A friend of our family, Mary Margaret, married for the first time (beyond her 50th birthday) and the celebration of her love for Patrick (also older) brought many people to our city of Portland who had not seen one another for a great many years. One such friend stayed at our home, six joined us for a wonderful dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant, and many more danced into the night at the wedding reception. A fine time was had by all, including such social introverts as myself! Definitely treats trumped tricks on that weekend!

Other good signs could be seen in my Portland Community College classrooms where students in two of my four classes received a ``D`` average evaluation on their first exams (with the other two classes not much better with ``C`` average grades). Though some may still feel tricked by my demanding expectations (though my standards are advertised in advance), students in every class have clearly grown closer in community as they are studying together and helping one another learn. When their second mid-term exams begin next week, I fully expect they (and I) will be treated to much improved performances! As we overcome our fears (regarding learning and expressing ourselves) sad experiences (tricks) can be transformed to feelings as sweet as candy (treats)!

Other highlights of October would certainly include our celebration of my wife`s birthday (including Kris and I driving the two hours to the Pacific Ocean for lunch), our daughter Sonrisa progressing well in her studies, daughter Mira earning money so as to enjoy her own apartment by December, and our son Shaman providing a positive attitude and much assistance in helping around the house. There was also an uplifting march to end the wars in Iraq and Afganistan (as well as the occupation of Palestine) which, though pelted by rain, still built community among those who were cold and wet. Little actions, small steps forward, communicating how we care about one another: no act of love is without good consequences.

To all who read this months` entry, Peace Be With You. Let us continue to hold one another in our hearts no matter how great the physical distance may be between us. Let us not fear for the future, but rather build community in the present which may provide us all a better future! When we are asked ``Trick or Treat``? let us have fun regardless of the response!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

September 2010: A New Academic Year

Looking back on the month of September, the blur of activity includes the beginning of a new academic year at Portland Community College (PCC). Pictured here are some of the more than 2,000 employees as we attended meetings to prepare us for classes.

Influenced by the sluggish US economy, enrollments at PCC have increased dramatically to a total expected headcount exceeding 90,000 students on our four campuses, additional centers and affiliated institutions. Classroom space and parking is hard-pressed to accommodate such numbers and construction plans are moving forward to relieve the stress in future years. Due to severe budget restraints being faced by our primary source of income (the State of Oregon), serving students in the short term means relying more heavily on part-time instructors (who are paid less and with fewer benefits). In turn, this puts more pressure upon full-time faculty like me to be on committees and fulfill needs (like office hours) for which part-time instructors receive no compensation. To maintain high academic standards in this context is a challenge that can be met well only with sacrifice. As health care costs have increased this past year, for example, many of us now are working more hours -- for less pay.

My full-time teaching load now involves a total of 125 students enrolled in two sections of ``US Government: Institutions and Processes`` and two sections of ``Peace and Conflict``, with one of each of these courses taught at the PCC Cascade Campus and the others at the PCC Rock Creek Campus (18 miles/29km away). Thankfully, I am often able to ride my bicycle to the Cascade Campus (Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays) as I live only about 7.5 miles/12 km away. Traveling to the Rock Creek Campus from my home requires use of a car (the only other option involving bus travel taking about 4 hours per day on Tuesdays and Thursdays).

The last week of September reflects how busy my school duties may keep me. In addition to my normal 16 hours of classroom teaching (on two campuses), I gave 4 hour-long presentations regarding my Fulbright experiences (on three campuses), and attended a total of six meetings (on three campuses). Preparing for classes and undertaking other responsibilities associated with teaching added to a total work week of at least 50 hours. The meetings involved topics including issues relating to student exchange programs, mediating a dispute between student government leaders and college administrators, setting up weekly public events in a Free Speech Forum, clarifying courses to be taught during Winter and Spring, as well as helping to lay the foundation for a visit by Vandana Shiva in February. BUSY? Maybe too much so.

My wife Kristine is keeping very busy with our household that still has my son Shaman and daughter Mira at home, together with their cousin Stephan and Mira`s good friend Naomi. Kristine is also participating in a course of training to prepare her to help others with Spiritual Direction and is enrolled in a seminar at Ascension Catholic Church which seeks to build organizational skills relevant to addressing issues of injustice. Hopefully her training and skills will help her resolve the conflicts we experience even at home!!

It seems that there are few dull moments on the home front. All three of our daughters have had birthdays celebrated (simply/cheaply) in September: Mira turned 20, Sonrisa 26, and our foster-daughter Margarita celebrated number 27. Our clothes dryer broke down and was replaced by another which required an extension of our gas line to be completed. Then the dishwasher died and I installed another that was (thankfully) on sale. These expenditures have challenged our bank account even as our household income has declined from last year due to increased health care premiums deducted from my paycheck. As a family we exercise care in these tight times (over 10% unemployment in Oregon): and two of our adult children remain unemployed.

For those of us insufficiently practicing voluntary simplicity, these economic times may force an involuntary simplicity which can be a blessing. Too many middle-class people (and we are among them) show less empathy towards the plight of others due to their being too comfortable to share their pain. As Kristine and I volunteered at a homeless shelter this month, I think we are reminded that our family is also but one job loss or a major medical bill away from joining many of the families there. Had we been born Pakistani, we might well be among the nearly 20 million people there who are homeless due to monsoons last summer. If we were living in Israeli-occupied Palestine, we would still be faced with the injustice of water rationing and other indignities.

Let us remind one another of our common humanity. Let us always give as much as we are able of our resources and time – that others may have the basics of life and hope in a better future. Rather than just thank God for our blessings, let us consider how we may freely share with others as much as we can – and then a little more. Is that not what Jesus would want? As well as Buddha, Mohammad, Gandhi, and others who we may recognize as worthy messengers of peace?

With the beginning of a new academic year I will complete this month`s message to those interested in following my blog at: As my thoughts turn to the many people at St. Thomas College in Pala (Kerala, India) who have touched our lives: know you are remembered now and always. When you begin your morning with a song based on Cardinal Newman`s poem, I translate it into English from Malayalam:

Lead kindly light,
Amidst the encircling gloom.
Lead thou me on.
I was not always thus,
Nor prayed that thou should lead me on.
I loved the garish day and, in spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years.
Long thy power has blessed me.
So shall it still, lead me on.
Over moor and fen, over crag and torrent
Until those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

August , 2010: Home to US

Even as this Blog was first intended to communicate experiences traveling beyond the U.S. to those in the U.S. wanting to know about them, it seems good that it now may serve as a means of communicating experiences in the U.S. to those beyond its borders who may want to follow life as it unfolds here. To the many who have touched our lives during the 35 weeks which precede this entry, this Blog will now shift its intent to sharing with them (each month, not each week).

The featured photo this week is of our home, located at 1037 S.E. 80th Ave., Portland, Oregon, 97215-3010 U.S.A.. Currently four of five Sonnleitners live here: Kristine (wife), Shaman (son), Mira (daughter), and myself (Michael). This month saw daughter Sonrisa and her boyfriend Arron move out and into their own apartment. Also now residing here are Chris (son`s friend), Naomi (Mira`s friend), and Stefan (nephew). This full house also enjoyed guests this month from Oakland, California (Ian) and Copenhagen, Denmark (Karoline). Mira and Naomi had stayed a few days with Caroline while traveling in Europe! Let all friends find hospitality here whenever they visit this part of the world!

Those following previous Blog entries may be interested to know that Mira and Naomi arrived home to Oregon on August 2nd, with Kristine and I arriving (as planned) on August 8th (after spending a week in the Chicago area visiting her family and friends). In Chicago we stayed with Kris` mother (Pat), overworking her aging washer and dryer with our dirty clothing, causing mechanical failure! (Perhaps we should continue the practice of hand washing and air drying, as we had our dryer break down also in Portland within a week of our return!). In Chicago we shared quality time with 2 (out of 4) of Kris` brothers, 3 (out of 5) of Kris` sisters (plus their families), as well as with 6 Uptown friends hosted by her former roommate, Sr. Joellen McCarthy and 7 others arranged by Kris` spiritual companion, Rose Amberg. BUSY!

Upon arriving in Portland, the marathon continued. It took a solid week to unpack and feel settled back into our family home. Having been gone for over eight months, it is not surprising that we still have not found items that may have been lost or otherwise still in hiding. Another week was needed to become accustomed to driving an automobile again (with our van breaking down three times, requiring $480 in repairs)! One of the breakdowns literally involved the breaks failing (while I was driving alone on Friday the 13th!) -- with creative use of emergency break and downshifting managing to narrowly avoid a collision. Grateful to remain alive, I was also pleased to be able to spend seven hours picking 115 lbs (about 50kg) of blueberries -- which have been frozen to help supply us with fruit until next year. During the last week of August we were able to share with our adopted daughter Margarita, who returned with her baby and stepson from a month in Mexico where she met her husband`s family for the first time.

Remember our first Blog entry (Week 1 last November)? I was there pictured holding my newborn grand daughter, Hanelynn: Now she is 9 months old!

Taking time to share with our many friends at Ascencion Catholic Church (including two birthday parties for children of families we are especially close to), Kris` sister Maria and her family, as well as several faculty, staff, and former students associated with my work at Portland Community College also added to a social life which seems more active than when we departed for the Fulbright adventure abroad. All this activity may well have eased our culture-shock upon returning.

Speaking only for myself, I am reminded of the feelings that were mine upon returning from India after my first 6 month visit in 1971-72. If anything, the materialism so abundantly visible in the U.S. then is even more pronounced now. Having been quite happy with basic needs being satisfied during these months of traveling out of a backpack and suitcase, I am reminded of the proliferation of wants (as distinct from needs) which rules many lives in this country. Shopping in a supermarket here reflects the comfort most people take for granted -- and the choice of an entire aisle full of breakfast cereals! Cannot 2-3 of the healthier types suffice? Instead, we have sugar and cocoa most everything -- and wonder why we get overweight and have diabetes running rampant! For now I will not venture into a shopping mall: the experience would be unnecessarily depressing.

As one means of coping with my feelings, I have decided to join Muslims who are fasting during the month of Ramadan. Mohammad`s original idea was to promote empathy with the poor by taking no food nor liquids while the sun shines for 30 days. It was a fine idea, which can also help remind us of the difference between needs and wants. As we watch news of the continuing impact of monsoon flooding in Pakistan, for example, accepting a little discomfort ourselves (and making a donation to help some of the over 20 million people affected) would seem a good thing. It is in this context that I have appealed to several friends in India and elsewhere to respond with generosity: Are we not all one human family? Why should be allow national boundaries (or even historic animosities) to divide us? What would Gandhi do? Jesus do? Buddha do? Mohammed do? Pious words mean little without action.

It is in this frame of mind that the task of filing my tax returns was undertaken. Postponed by filing an extension while I was in India, I was greeted by yet another IRS letter threatening seizure due to my past patterns of civil disobedience. This time I was told they would demand $2,600 from my 2009 tax obligation – even though the 2009 tax returned had not been filed! A pre-emptive first strike on me as a military tax non-payer (ha)! According to my calculations, their math was $1,800 to high. No doubt this disagreement over my duties as a citizen will provide fuel for much correspondence. For my part, such disagreement is of as little importance as whether or not you agree or disagree with my tax resistance: the main issue is one of conscience. To kill, threaten death, or prepare to harm others are actions I intend to support as little as possible. Refusing to cooperate with unjust laws is only a small consequence of trying to build a foundation of peace for the human family. What do you think?

In the months to come, I hope to hear from many of you. Please feel free to comment on this Blog site: You may also write directly to my personal email at: My responses will be as time allows.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Week 33 Aswan & Luxor

Sunset over the Nile reflects well our last week in Egypt: bright and colorful. As we now prepare to depart for the U.S., time can be taken to reflect upon some of the remarkable sights and people who have touched our lives during our traveling from Cairo to Aswan, to Luxor, and back to Cairo.

Sights have included temples and tombs from as early as 3,000BC, including locations like Abu Simbel, Edfu, Kom Ombo, Karnak, the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, and Luxor (known as Thebes, the capital used by many of the 320 pharaohs from 300 dynasties covering 3,000 years). While all of these are worthy of visitation by tourist and scholars alike, detailed descriptions would best be left to National Geographic. Abu Simbel, however, stands out in the memory as its colossal statues survived the rising waters of Lake Nasser after the Aswan High Dam was completed in 1971. The Amun-Ra Temple of Karnak was also a must-see as the largest religious building ever constructed, so massive that it could encompass two St. Peters Basilicas (the largest church in the world)! None of us are likely to forget the Valley of the Kings, as summer temperatures on that day reached 50 C. (122 degrees Fahrenheit)!

Traveling to Abu Simbel required a 3:30am wake up call to a 4-hour journey in an over-full minibus. Between attempts to sleep we enjoyed conversations with a very international mix of people. The Core of this group would also return together as well as travel from Aswan to Luxor, and even talking late into the night at the Oasis Hotel (where I had booked accommodations for the four of us in Luxor). Jeremy (Britain) took the prize for most entertaining stories, as he had been traveling for several years and had eaten everything from camel to snake. Jamie and Heather (U.S.) were the best listeners, while John and Barbara (New Zealand) would complain the most about our cramped conditions – though they became progressively more amiable the more we visited with them (especially when the air conditioning was functional). Our 2 comrades from Australia added much humor to the mix, even when, on the trip to Luxor, they had to find other transportation due to bus overbooking. The setting of the full moon and a brilliant sunrise over the desert (only 20 miles from the Egyptian border with Sudan) were unexpectedly beautiful bonuses to a travel plan to beat the heat.

Returning from Abu Simbel, Jeremy, Jaime, Heather, and us transferred to a much smaller vehicle to visit the Aswan Dam and other sights. The Dam was quite massive (with more materials used in its construction than all of the great pyramids combined). While it had dramatically improved electrical production after 1971 and increased agricultural production by 30% in the country, I later learned that it had also displaced over 20,000 people (almost entirely Nubian small farmers) who received little to no compensation for their loss. As has been the case in India, dam projects become monuments to modern pharaohs and the already wealthy benefit while most costs are borne by the poor. Such dam construction and displacement was a contributing cause of the emergence of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka (Hindus who were the first to use suicide bombing as a strategy), as well as the growth of the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt (which would inspire angry Muslims who would organize Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Al-Qaida). While working effectively to control Nile flooding, the Aswan Dam prevented the natural refertilization of the soil and so has made Egypt dependent upon chemical fertilizers (eagerly provided by multinational corporations).

In Aswan, three friendships developed through conversations with friendly local residents: Ahmad, Miro, and Mohamed. Ahmad is a Nubian (more African than Arabian) Muslim whose family was among those displaced by the Aswan High Dam. 39 years old, he is unmarried in part due to low income from underemployment. He lives with his also unmarried brothers on Elephantine Island, now largely a tourist attraction for foreigners visiting Aswan who want boat rides on the Nile. Having met Ahmad in an internet café, I was impressed by his mellow temperament and willingness to share of himself. We walked through the market together and talked about our lives. Later he arranged for Mira, Naomi, Kris, and I to take a motorboat cruise on the Nile for which he served as guide. Fair price, no hassles, and a patient pace that allowed time even for me to go swimming!

My wife and I met Miro near the Temple of Philae, when we were too hot and irritated by entrance fees (always $10-15/person to see) and yet had to wait 90 minutes anyway for the minibus to pick us up. Miro owned the only café (very small, only two meal options) in the area, where we filled our stomachs for about $2 each. His English skills were very good as his father and grandfather (who both died early in his life) had encouraged him to go to college. Unemployed thereafter, he joined the Egyptian Army and became a trained sniper. That career ended when his eyesight suffered from the stress of his duties and he was forced to be discharged. Miro came by the Memnon Hotel (where we were staying in Aswan city, with its amazing view of the Nile), and we talked late one evening about violence and nonviolence and how a soldier with either orientation can be praised for the qualities of discipline and self-sacrifice that are needed. I was not surprised that he had admiration for Gandhi, in part due to Gandhi`s very positive relationship with Muslim communities. A Muslim himself, he displays both curiosity and respect for others by maintaining long-distance communications with Jewish and Christian friends he has met over the years. Unmarried, I encouraged him to be open to a relationship in which his many fine qualities might bless another person`s life.

I met Mohamed as he is the night employee at the Memnon Hotel in Aswan. Always awake (and usually praying to Allah) when I came to the lobby early to use our computer, he and I were able to talk at length about his life and dreams. A citizen of Sudan, Mohamed has a 9-year old daughter who lives with his former wife who is Egyptian. He works two jobs to support them both and dreams of educating his daughter and returning with her to Sudan (the only country that grants her citizenship). Educational opportunities are better in Egypt, though they cost LE 800 per year for non-citizens (a fortune for him at $120). So it is that he normally works 16 hours each day and sleeps 3-4 hours, asking for Allah to give him strength to fulfill his duties. Of the $160 his daughter needs to continue her schooling in September, he has been able to save only $60. For what was spent by the four of us to go to Abu Simbel on one day, he could be assured of another year of education for his daughter. Let this be food for thought as we (who are so privileged in this world) often take more care to fulfill our wants while the best efforts of others may fall short of satisfying their most basic needs…. It is my hope that Mohamed and I will maintain contact in the years to come and be supportive of one another as friends should be.

In Luxor Kris, Mira, Naomi, and I stayed only one night at the Oasis Hotel, where extreme heat had overwhelmed their air-conditioners and power outages (our first since living in India) made climbing the stairs to our room (without an elevator) an endurance contest. Hussan, the manager at the Oasis was very understanding when we shifted to the 3-star Gaddis Hotel – and even offered to drive us to the new accommodations free of charge! This was especially impressive as competition for the tourist trade is so fierce that I was able to negotiate with the Gaddis to pay them only half price (just a little more than the $10/night per person in two rooms which had drawn us originally to the Oasis). July and August are when few tourists arrive by any means other than luxury cruise boats, as these months can reach temperatures as high as 140 degrees. At the Gaddis we had cool rooms with refrigerators, cable TV, a private bathroom with tub, and a view of the pool…. So we had luxury in Luxor for our last hotel stay in Egypt!

Taxi drivers helped introduce us to life`s realities in Luxor. Ali and his brother took us to all of the tourist sites we desired to see while showing us where their family had been evicted from their traditional home near the Valley of the Kings (as part of an effort by the one-party state to make that are more visually appealing to tourists). The low compensation was presented as ``take it and leave the property``, leaving the family entirely dependent upon tourist income (from their taxis and alabaster factories). How precarious this is can be seen in how disappointed Ali was that I employed another taxi to take Mira, Naomi, and I to go visit a center for rehabilitating abused animals – with that taxi driver having had only our short ride as income for four days. The many horses, donkeys, Mules, and occasional camel that ACE (Animal Care in Egypt) treated for free would never have received treatment because the owners are too poor. The taxi driver that day had no air conditioning and functioned with a battery that struggled to start, since charging a battery costs too much when one`s income is near zero.

Mohamed, a felucca (traditional sail boat) owner, who I met during an afternoon walk, is in a similar situation. Ours was the only business he had had for a week, even though is boat is moored very near the five-star Sheraton Hotel in Luxor. A remarkably amiable person, Mohamed thanks Allah for every blessing and seeks to avoid bitterness through prayer. Most tourists from the Sheraton book boat rides through the hotel (which gives business only to those owners who agree to kick back money to the hotel). Mohamed does not play that game, partly because the Nile waterfront land upon which the hotel is built was previously owned by his family for generations (yes, you guessed it: until the Egyptian government forced them to sell it for $600 or be removed by the military). Now he works hard to support his family on a net income of about LE 10,000 ($200)/year that could have been much more except for the taxes and fees he pays (for mooring his boat on what remains of his own land), as well as the bribes that must be paid to local police and government officials to allow him to continue operations….

So the sun sets on our two weeks in Egypt. It is as bright and colorful as many of the people we have met here. Yet the beauty of this land remains more to be realized in the future than in its past or present. Modern Pharaohs benefit the already wealthy (as has always been true) while cutting deals with multinational corporations that promise little relief for the poor (beyond tourism). The two overnight sleeper trains (from Cairo to Aswan and Luxor back to Cairo) cost us each $60/night – more than many hard working Egyptians take home to their families in a month. Officially, day trains are off-limits to foreigners, so even we had few transportation options (except hot and undependable buses and more expensive plane flights or a hired car). At least our complaints (which were expressed) run little risk of resulting in arrest or torture (a common reality here which does nothing to reduce U.S. support for the regime).

As we now return to the United States, let us consider how we may modify our lives and influence policies in ways that can benefit the many wonderful people who struggle to just survive in places like India, the West Bank, and Egypt. For them a new political day must dawn and economic policies to benefit the poor must be fashioned in order for future sunsets to be fully appreciated by all. As Gandhi once said: God comes to the poor in the form of bread. Sunsets do not deliver food to the table. Through our collective efforts, we can create a world where all in the human family may have basic needs met. On that road to build global justice, peace can be ours.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Week 32: Cairo

As can be seen from the photograph of the four of us here, Kris and I have reunited with our daughter Mira and her friend Naomi in Egypt! It had been six weeks since we were last together in Rome….

Kris and I took two days instead of one to travel to Cairo from Israel, arriving three days ahead of Mira and Naomi. Since we were traveling by bus (cheap, cheap!), we had to get our visas at the Egyptian consulate in Eilat. What we had been told would be a one hour procedure took all afternoon when a key official decided to go home early for the weekend. So we decided to stay the night in Eilat, a prime tourist vacation area on the Red Sea, and rest up for the second of two 5-hour bus rides. The first had taken us along the length of the Dead Sea. The second took us across the breadth of the Sinai Desert. Thank heaven that both buses were air-conditioned! Good conversations with two U.N. soldiers (from Chile, stationed on Cyprus) and a young student (Daniel) from the U.S. helped time pass quickly on day 2.

Our accommodation for the week was the Arabian Nights Hostel, located in an older area that was called Islamic Cairo. An incredibly small room, with a tiny refrigerator, AC, and private bathroom had no window and was a little on the smelly side. A very friendly staff provided a very poor breakfast as part of the $10/person/night price (cheap, cheap!). Visiting with other guests there was part of the benefit, as they could often provide tips about where to sight-see and how to do so with less hassle and expense. One such guest was Len who was with his two daughters Medea and Lena. These three came from Australia where Len had built a mud-brick home on 30 acres of land some 26 km from the coast near Brisbane. Len was a self-described old hippie who now produced his own electricity, living a simple life with his wife and occasional visitors – and without any nearby neighbors.

Len and his daughters joined the four of us on a dinner cruise on the Nile. $30/person seemed a good splurge for 2 hours, until we discovered the ship only traveled about one mile (very slowly) before it turned around and that we had to pay for any refreshment (including water – at ten times the street price)! Still, the views of downtown Cairo from the top deck were very fine, and the on board entertainment very bizarre: music so loud speech was nearly impossible, a belly dancer whose costume left little to the imagination, and a dancing male dwarf in a skirt (whirling dervish) with a companion able to pour and drink water while spinning himself in circles. Memorable. Strange, but memorable. Some older folks (including Kris and I) preferred the more quiet scene on the top deck, which also included having water poured on us by some pranksters as we passed with just inches of clearance under a bridge. Strange also, but memorable!

Our day at the Pyramids was the highlight of the week, as we hired a taxi to transport the 4 of us to three sites: Giza, Sakkara, and Dashur (14 pyramids in all!). At Giza we spent over two hours on horseback (Kris and I) and camel (Mira and Naomi) being guided around the three great pyramids and six smaller ones. Reaching into the sky nearly 1,000 feet, the two largest (shown in the picture) are breathtaking. Up close one can see that most of the building measure 10-12 cubic feet (small enough to make them manually moveable, with great difficulty. This is not to entirely discount the possibility of alien assistance (ha), as they were constructed with almost unbelievable mathematical precision – and 4,500 years ago!!! The Sphinx was also impressive (even without his nose), and gave us a little break from the riding. It may well be the camels will be remembered by us as fondly as these wonders of the world. When Naomi`s camel sneezed and nearly blew green slimy stuff all over Mira too, well, that was an event also for history to record! At Sakkara the girls and I were able to walk around inside several tombs with ancient hieroglyphics and paintings (sadly available to be touched and corrupted) and a smaller pyramid (through passageways not more than 4 feet high and not designed for the claustrophobic). There also was to Immotep Museum at Sakkara where photos were not allowed but where the one employee could not enforce the rule – and Mira and Naomi could see their first mummy! At Dashur Kris watched while the three of us climbed 200 steps (about 1/4th the way up a large pyramid) in hopes of being able to enter, only to find the door installed there to be locked! Still, the view was great from up there, and you know a great time is being had even when the disappointments are fantastic!

The four of also took a day trip to Alexandria this week, with Mohammad (the same taxi driver who took us to the pyramids). During the 3 hour ride there (and 3 hours back) there were remnants of no fewer than 10 major accidents to be seen – including the burned out skeleton of a car still smoldering. Mohammad explained that too many people drive far too fast on this 6 lane highway, with too little sleep (especially truck drivers), often with either alcohol or drugs involved. I also learned from him that a monthly salary for a contracted driver like himself is about 1,200 Egyptian pounds ($240) – much better than what he made as a cook in a restaurant ($120), or what a fruit vendor on the street might earn (about $60: $2/day). Alexandria itself had a Mediterranean shoreline reminiscent of Chicago at Lake Michigan, only with literally tens of thousands of people packing the miles of sandy beaches! Walking the seaside promenade near the Citadel of Quast Bay (dating from the days of Alexander the Great), and viewing Pompey`s Pillar (from Roman Times), were also highlights.

Other activities worth mentioning would include Kris and I attending St. Joseph`s Catholic Church (on the Island of Zamalek in Cairo) for Sunday Mass (in French), the girls and I going to the Egyptian National Museum (while Kris was feeling ill for a day): there viewing a great many amazing displays including mummified crocodiles (20 feet long), King Tut`s 50 lb. golden mask/headpiece, thrones, chariots, and other artifacts too numerous to mention. Of course, there were also the hours spent shopping in the Khan el Khalily bazaar getting harassed by shopkeepers desperate for a sale and by men whose stereotypical humor too often included `` how many camels may I pay for your daughter``? Male expressions clearly crossed the line on at least two occasions when 1) an older man quietly proposed an encounter with Mira (receiving instead a severe scolding from me) and 2) a young man pulled down his pants and exposed himself (when I was not nearby the two girls). It would seem that in big cities like Cairo (20 million) and Alexandria (4 million), the behaviors of some Muslim men fall far short of what the Prophet would (an did) prescribe as honorable.

As we now approach Aswan by night train from Cairo (a 13 hour ride), the morning sun reveals a Nile river with date palms, stone rural homes, and people riding donkeys. Here is an ancient land now in economically hard times, where 137 pharaohs ruled during 300 dynasties for a period of 3,000 years. Humbled by Greek, Roma, and Turkish rule, by Napoleon and the supposedly civilized British, there remains a proud people who deserve to be proud of their past and are working together to build a better life for themselves and their children. Guided by Allah, there is no reason why they cannot succeed.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Week 31: Jerusalem

At Gethsemane a small grove of olive trees have been preserved with some, like the one featured here, now over 2,000 years old. This tree may well have known Jesus, as he prayed for guidance at this place prior to giving himself up for arrest and crucifixion. It has seen the passage of time from Roman rule, to the Byzantinian period, thru the Crusades, to Islamic rule and the Turkish Empire, thru the British, Jordanian, and Israeli rulers of the past 100 years.

For me this tree in the olive grove next to Church of Gethsemane has a spiritual significance beyond any other location Kris and I visited in Jerusalem during our seven days there. Sites holy to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are present throughout Old Jerusalem, as well as just outside the historic city walls. There is the Dome of the Rock (where Abraham is said to have been willing to sacrifice his son about 4,000 years ago), the Western Wall (what remains of the Second Jewish Temple, destroyed by the Romans in AD 70), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (built on the location where tradition says Jesus was both crucified and was buried), and the Al-Aqsa Mosque (the third most holy place in Islam, after Mecca and Medina -- nearby the Dome of the Rock where Mohamed is believed to have been raised into heaven). Kris and I visited these places and many more, especially sites associated with Jesus` Stations of the Cross and his mother Mary (who, according to Orthodox Christians, has her remains at Mary`s Tomb). While the historical accuracy of many locations is questionable (the site said to be where the Last Supper occurred was located just above King David`s Tomb), the faith of believers is very real.

Sadly, this faith has made Jerusalem a battleground for centuries, with soldiers on the streets of the Old City even today. As told by excellent displays at the Museum at David`s Tower, Jerusalem has been destroyed six times and rebuilt seven. The blood of the innocent is everywhere -- shed, for example, by Christian Crusaders who conquered the city and slaughtered every Jewish and Muslim man, woman, and child while celebrating their victory. No such extreme brutality has been ever been manifest under either Islamic or Jewish rule. What might Jesus (with his message of suffering love) have to say about that? If we take a little time to ask the old olive tree, I think we can hear an answer....

Today over 80% of Old Jerusalem (within the walls) is Palestinian Muslim, with Jewish immigrants forming a majority of the population in the areas of the city built since the 1860s. These Muslims, as well as those residing in East Jerusalem, are in territory occupied militarily by Israel since the 1967 War. No nation (other than Israel) recognizes this occupation as legal under international law (though both major parties in the U.S. consistently support it with military aid that has now reached record levels). Soldiers armed with automatic rifles are stationed throughout the Old City, but not elsewhere in Jerusalem: Here the Muslims are seen as an ongoing security threat. Although they were allowed to remain after the 1967 War (and were even given Israel citizenship), not one Muslim I spoke with on the streets will vote, and all call themselves Palestinian (not Israeli).

Zahir, our Muslim guide while visiting Mt. Moriah (The Temple Mount which includes the Western Wall and Al Aqsa Mosque), showed us the bullet holes in the Dome of the Rock (sacred to all three religions) made as Israeli soldiers entered the holy place in 1967 killing many who had taken refuge there. With our own eyes Kris and I then observed armed Israeli soldiers enter the Dome (now a mosque), completely violating its sanctuary even now. Witnessing this intrusion, Zahir went on to tell us how he, as a Muslim of under 50 years of age, is not allowed to worship inside Dome. Prior to the year 2000, Muslim policy allowed Christians and Jews to freely enter this site that is sacred also to their faiths. Israeli state policy now limits entry to the Dome by anyone they choose to exclude, including all tourists, Christians, and Jews. Any complaint can lead to arrest and detention without trial.

Random conversations with Israeli soldiers and many others continue to blame such policies on security concerns caused by terrorism. They often see Zionism (which requires Israel to be a majority Jewish state with its capital a united Jerusalem) as the only protection against an historically hostile world. I am reminded of an aspiring actor on a bus who told Kris and I that even the United Nations supports the terrorists. This otherwise very rational person would agree with the man I talked to while he played with his dog: ``the entire world is critical of us, and the whole world is wrong``. The roots of such statements run deep into the anti-antisemitism of Crusaders who labeled Jews as Christ killers, the pogroms common through hundreds of years in Europe and Russia, and could be easily felt by Kris and I as we walked through the Holocaust Cellar (near the Tomb of David) where pictures abound of Nazi brutality and one can see soap made from the bodies of those exterminated in German concentration camps.

At Ecce Homo (a former Franciscan convent where we stayed in Jerusalem), a conversation over dinner one night might also provide insight. ``Ecce Homo`` refers to a statement made by Pontius Pilot (at this location long ago) in which he presented Jesus to those present by saying ``Behold the Man``. Catherine (a black woman from Cameroon now living in Atlanta) observed how unkind mankind is – and that is just the way it IS. I responding by asking whether what ``is`` always ought to be. Aisha (a civilian employee of U. S. Department of Defense working with the Air Force) felt that there must be a better way of resolving problems than by always returning violence for violence. Following a discussion with references to Jesus, Gandhi, and Buddha, I then invited all at the table to join Kris and I as we were to say goodbye to our friends in Bethlehem the next day.

Only Aisha came with us to see the folks at Wi`Am (a Palestinian Center for Conflict Resolution referred to my accounts of earlier weeks). While we were able to share briefly with Hope, most other folks at Wi`Am were bust elsewhere that day. Yet Mazin Qumsiyeh (a U.S. citizen born in Bethlehem) and his wife Jesse (a native of Taiwan who met Mazin while both were students at Texas Tech) were there. I had arranged, by email, to see them as they had just returned from speaking engagements in Europe relating to Palestinian human rights concerns. What was expected to be an hour at most turned into three, as Mazin took us on a tour of Bethlehem which included where he works in the Science Department at the University, as well as where he was arrested while seeking to block an Israeli bulldozer (in an area where The Wall continues to be built.

We observed the construction workers using heavy equipment where homes had been cleared (a practice which has been publicly proclaimed to be on moratorium), and he showed us a detailed map of the area which shows how The Wall literally surrounds pockets of land for future annexation to Israel (as a buffer area intended to protect their hold over Jerusalem). While only Aisha was shocked by what she saw, the reality of seeing more of what we had known about still impact Kris and I. There is the Muslim home, being surrounded by fence and The Wall on all sides (clearly conveying the message to MOVE OUT). There is the barren land where only a few olive trees remain of the bounty that once was. There is The Wall, symbolic of what IS but showing no indication of what OUGHT TO BE.

As first posted, this entry neglected to mention that my birthday was celebrated in Jerusalem (on July 11th). Ought THAT to be?! At age 30, I never thought I would make it to 60 – yet here I 61. Kris and I attended church in the morning with an Armenian congregation totaling 7 people (and Kris was asked to do some of the readings)! In the afternoon we were joined by Laura, Ryan, and Hope (from Wi`am) and they treated us to a very pleasant dinner out! My late evening was spent watching the World Cup Final soccer game with about 20 people crowded around a small TV outside a Palestinian drinking spot with me sitting between a Polish national (fan of Spain) and a Norwegian (fan of the Netherlands). Sipping mango juice and not caring much about the game outcome, my attention focused more on those around me: internationals from 5 nations, Muslim Palestinians bitter about the occupation, Zionist Jews dressed in distinctive black coats, and even three Israeli soldiers with their machine guns hanging loose. Although a full picture of a peace will not likely come in my lifetime, this day certainly provided glimpses of what is possible when people put differences aside and show the humanity that is theirs in common.

As Kristine and I have now departed to Egypt from what should be a more holy land. We have journeyed the length of the land and seen where Jesus taught his message of love. We walked on via Dolorosa (the route where Jesus carried his cross), and have seen how his pain continues in the lives of those being judged and punished today. Perhaps it would be well for us all to consider both what IS and what OUGHT TO BE. What would Jesus have us do? Perhaps listening to the old olive tree may still be helpful?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Week 30: Sea of Galilee

Sunrise on the Sea of Galilee.

For nearly a week this was the sight that greeted us each morning from the balcony outside our room at the Oasis Emmanuel Pilgrimage Guest House in Tiberias. Breathtakingly beautiful. Perhaps such scenes as this helped inspire Jesus to see the Love that is God in every person and throughout all of creation. Located on the west bank of the Sea of Galilee, the kind staff at the Guest House helped Kris and I discover the many places to see and appreciate all around this freshwater lake where Jesus found his twelve disciples, preached his Gospel, and performed many signs of the powers embodied in him.

On a Sunday Kris and I went to the Church of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee. Sunday Mass is celebrated outside right next to the water. This is reputed to be near the place where Jesus took a 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and fed 5,000 people, having baskets of food left over after all hunger was past. A day later it was pointed out to me that we had 2 fish and 5 loaves (plus salad and watermelon!) with a young couple we had met in Bethlehem, with Ryan cooking the fish (from the lake) over charcoal eagle-scout style! While not miraculous, the watermelon was the best I have ever tasted, richly red with no dark seeds.

Being joined for two nights and a day by Ryan and Hope was a real blessing. Their good company (and rental car!) greatly facilitated our seeing places that would have not otherwise been very possible. We drove together to the Church of the Beatitudes where Jesus is thought to have delivered his Sermon on the Mount, to the Church of the Primacy of Peter built among among the ruins of Capernaum at the location where Peter`s home is reputed to be, and to a museum that contains the remains of a 2,000 year old fisherman`s boat that was discovered buried along the shore of Galilee. All of these places, however, seemed strangely uninspiring to me. The location of the Sermon on the Mount, for example, was beautifully developed (very developed) as a place of contemplation – but all I really wanted was to sit on a nearby hill and imagine the scene as it was before: I could not, because lunchtime was upon us and those who maintain the place were closing it down within 30 minutes of our arrival! For me these holy sites were now more tourist locations than centers for spirituality.

My most spiritual moment, surprisingly, came as Ryan, Hope, and I decided to go exploring for a cave while Kris rested in Tiberias. Within ten miles of the Guest House are the Hamud Caves. I had read that in one cave called Zuttiyeh, evidence of human habitation had been discovered dating back 250,000 years! A complete skeleton of a Neanderthal man (aged only 10,000) had also been found there. Had I not taken note of directions to the place from the book, we would not have found it – as there were no on site markers or signs of any kind and its main entrance was not visible from the road. At Zuttiyeh there were no people. Livestock had produced the path we took to it. Once there, it was as if we had been transported back in time – so far back that even Jesus was recent history! Here had been our ancestors. Their presence could still be felt.

The Zuttiyeh Cave required about a 100 yard steep hike upwards to reach it. Once there one is met by an oval entrance at last 40 feet high and 60 feet wide. Inside is a fairly flat interior floor space of at least 1,000 square feet, complete with nooks and crannys some of which seem fairly deep. Out of respect for a rare species of bat which now inhabit this cave, a posted sign discouraged further exploration. From the backside of what had once been the large common space, one can look out of the cave entrance to see the small valley below, another large hill just across that valley, and (that day) a sunny blue sky. Looking to the left from the cave entrance the valley clearly flows down to the Sea of Galilee (near Capernaum) perhaps 3 miles away. I wonder whether Jesus ever came to this spot. Odds are he must have known of it. Had he known of the cave`s ancient history as we now do, I have no doubt that he would have appreciated it also....

As Hope and Ryan drove back to their volunteer work at Wi`am in Bethlehem, they dropped Kris and I off in Nazareth. There she and I walked around the grounds of the Basilica of the Annuciation until the doors were opened – and we found a morning Mass is process. We sat through a pleasant ceremony, though I confess paying more attention to the architecture of the building than to the service (in Italian, I think). There was the original wall of a crusanter church destroyed 900 years ago. There were portions of the Franciscan rebuild in 1620 (when Christians became saf ely able to return after an absence of 450 years). Now in a central area built below the entry floor was the sacred place revered as the location where the Angel informed Mary that she would become pregnant with a child to be named Jesus. In the same compound as the Basilica is the Church of St. Joseph, constructed over a site thought to be the homw and workshop of Jesus` family. Archeological uncovering of housing, to be seen in the downstairs are of tis church, seem to give plausibility to the claim. One explanatory panel makes mention of a brother to Jesus (named Jude). Curious: maybe Jesus had brothers and sisters! Much has been lost to the shadows of time….

Upon returning to Tiberias, our final activity was to go out onto the Sea of Galilee (really a lake about 15 miles long N/S and 7 miles wide, E/W) in a ``Jesus`` boat (constructed as a facsimile of boats in Jesus`s time). We were allowed to join a tourist group of 28 persons on pilgrimage from Quwait: ethnic Indians mostly from Kerala and Tamil Nadu! Kristine smiled as she knew this was exactly the company I would have preferred had I a choice. My conversations revealed that an organizer of the group is a relative of Dr. Mahajan, a respected Gandhi Scholar I had met with several times while visiting the Gandhi Studies Program at Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam, Kerala. It is quite amazing how very small the world can seem at times. Small in a good way!

After five days with Tiberias as our home base, we traveled back to Bethlehem for one night (as we had no other accommodation booked). God would provide, Kris had told me. Well God set us up with our friend Zoughbi Zoughbi as he set us up in the empty apartment previously occupied by him with his wife and children. He stayed behind (a stateless person, and committed to work for change here), when she left for the U.S. (where she is a citizen). The children are with her, as a son was in need of special medical treatment for an imperfectly healed broken leg. To stay the night in his former apartment was most generous of Zhoughbi, but it also served to remind us of how families are often divided by the circumstances of life here.

Today we go through the military checkpoint through which Zhoughbi has no permission to pass – into Jerusalem where he, as a Palestian Christian, cannot freely worship. It is my hope that I may come back and forth into Bethlehem at least once this coming week to share more with this wonderful man. Let us all become more conscious of how privileged we are to move as freely as we may. As Kris and I go through the gate in The Wall which divides Jerusalem from Bethlehem, however, I will be thinking also of another Wall (built by the U.S.) designed to separate us from Latino immigrants. That Wall, also, must one day be dismantled and the immigration laws in the U.S. reformed.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Week 29: The West Bank

The West Bank of the Jordan River is an area (along with the Gaza Strip) that has been militarily occupied by the government of Israel since 1967.

The photo above was taken in Bethlehem, a city included in the West Bank. It is a study in contrasts: Built by Zionists currently controlling state policy in Israel, the ``Security Fence`` (known as The Wall by Palestinian Christians and Muslims) is in the left background. Where it divides Jerusalem from Bethlehem here, it is 30 feet high and full of protest graffiti on the Bethlehem side. On the right in the picture is the building housing Wi`am (``cordial relationships`` in Arabic), a Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center devoted to nurturing a just peace among the peoples of the Holy Land. In the left foreground a playground for children has been built by Wi`am as one of many projects serving a refugee camp where oppressive circumstances are a normal presence. The Wall is a dramatic symbol of this oppression. The playground is a sign of hope that nonviolent action may overcome all that divides the human family.

``WE ARE IN A LARGE PRISON`` was the message of Syed, a Palestinian Muslim who I had randomly met at a tiny restaurant in Bethlehem after my exploration of a wonderful public marketplace. As a citizen of no state, Syed is at the mercy of the Israeli government as well as other governments who decide whether he is worthy of traveling abroad -- or even if he can walk into Jerusalem, less than 100 yards away. For years both he and his Christian friend (also named Syed) have been denied permission to leave the West Bank. Both Syeds have quite muscular bodies (they desire to be personal fitness trainers) and are visually perceived as dangerous persons by Israeli authorities. Both have family members in the U.S. who were allowed to relocate there prior to 9/11/2001. The Christian Syed is unable to see his father, mother, sister, and brother who are legal residents of New York since he has no right to travel beyond the West Bank, and if they come to see him they fear being denied exit again themselves....

The Muslim Syed is a trained sightseeing tour operator, but has been unable to find any steady employment. Most tours of the Holy Land hire no Muslims out of concern that the Israeli government might restrict their operations. So it is that most tours come to Bethlehem (for example) to see religious sites -- and avoid even the public markets, let alone accept invitations to visit one of the many refugee camps. Our 4 day stay at a favorite tour accommodation, Casa Nova, allowed Kris and I to confirm how carefully scripted most tours are -- as we talked with the tourists! So it is that I hired the Muslim Syed to show us around his city, including at least one refugee camp. He happily obliged, and by cell phone secured a taxi (as Syed cannot afford a car) and arranged for us to visit the home of one of many refugee families know to him.

The refugee family included Jamal who, together with his wife, six children, and two young nephews from Gaza, share a small three bedroom and one bath second story flat. As the breadwinner for 10 persons, Jamal has had no employment for 4 years. They are all dependent upon such charity as the underfunded Palestinian Authority and various U.N. agencies and NGOs provide. Their most basic physical need are met (though water pipes are turned on only two days a month) -- but what he most wants is the ability to freely walk back to Jerusalem where before he had ample employment. Like the Syed friends, Jamal is denied such freedom: he (and his entire family) ARE treated like prisoners. Still, he and his smiling wife served us tea and cookies and we also talked about his favorite world cup soccer team (whose flag he had flying from his roof): Brazil. No doubt he is today quite sad as that team lost its game to the Dutch yesterday. Trivial things like sports become more important when there is little else is none`s life to look forward to....

After some effort we made contact with Wi`am and its founder/director Zoughbi Zoughbi who is several full-time people rolled into one: A Christian member of the City Council of Bethlehem (a city which is 2% Christian and 98% Moslem), he also coordinates the staff and volunteers at Wi`am, a speaker expert on the Middle East, and a mediator with an M.A. in Conflict Resolution from Notre Dame (U.S.A.), and a part-time professor at Bethlehem University. For the better part of two days Kris and I observed activities at Wi`am ranging from children`s programs to seminars on Nonviolence, to selling crafts as a means of income for refugees, to simply greeting guests who randomly drop in. One such guest we all quickly suspected of being an Israeli undercover operator, though she might have been better coached in her response to the question: ``Are you from Gaza?`` ``No, I am not a terrorist`` was a little too obvious display of her bias.

One of the more interesting forays into the community occurred when I accompanied Zoughbi to a Muslim home, a child from which had been hit by an automobile driven by a Christian. About 10 Palestinian Christians came as witness to one side, matched by a similar number of Palestinian Muslim observers for the plaintiff. We were all cordially greeted at the door and offered coffee. My presence was accepted without any question and soon advocates from the two sides outlined their concerns. The child was brought in sitting in a wheelchair, his right leg in a cast. His parents wanted any decision on compensation to be postponed until September 1st so as to know in full measure what medical costs might amount to. After about 30 minutes of occasionally passionate verbal exchange, the September 1st date was accepted and the groundwork for reconciliation of the families had been laid. There would be no lawyers involved, no expensive court battles, just people working out their differences in a civil manner. Very impressive, yes? At one point someone had remarked that perhaps they could bring Barach Obama in to resolve their dispute (and the joke was met by chuckles from all sides).

Several good conversations were had with staff and volunteers at Wi`am. Laura, a elementary school teacher from South Carolina, is spending here summer vacation working with the Wi`am summer program for children in Bethlehem. Ryan and Hope, a young couple from Birmingham, Alabama (and friends with our friends Jim and Shelley Douglass there), are working with Janet and other Wi`am volunteers relating to political education and action. Lucy, a staff person who translated for me to communicate well with a group of teenagers at Wi`am one afternoon, told me how her father had died as a result of being beaten by the butt of an Israeli soldier`s rifle, and other family members had been killed when her grandmother`s home had been bombed. Many intense sharing opportunities left Kris and I often in need of the quiet sanctuary provided by our inexpensive lodging at Casa Nova.

For the four days in Bethlehem Kris and I stayed at Casa Nova Pilgrim Guest House, located literally right next to the Church of the Nativity. Tradition says that this church was built on the site of the stable where the baby Jesus was born. Archeologists agree that its foundations date from the 3rd century (making it the oldest church still in existence). A narrow passage of stairs underneath the altar go down to a small room where a star on the floor marks the believed birthplace. It was in this small room that Kris and I were surprised the next day to find ourselves celebrating a morning mass at 6am. Only twelve were in attendance, including two priests and three sisters. That mass would have to count as one of the most beautiful (and simple) religious services I have been associated with… It was in stark contrast to the Sunday Mass the next day at St. Catherine`s (next door) where most pews were full and professional video cameras and sound equipment were apparently recording the event for broadcasting.

So it is that our time in Bethlehem was exceptionally eventful. Our visit to the Shepherd`s Field (where angels are said to have proclaimed the birth), multiple meals with Hatam at the Al Sufara Restaurant off Manger Square, many excellent conversations with staff and other people at Wi`am, as well as other experiences are here neglected. One thing, however, is in great need of mentioning: Tourist Groups. Most stay only a few hours, and few longer than one night in Bethlehem. Talking with these folks indicates what most Palestinians in Bethlehem confirm: Internationals almost always enjoy scripted tours with no significant free time, visit religious sites and a few sanctioned stores for gifts, and depart. Almost no contact with locals occurs – and normally none with refugees or human rights activists that might help them understand realities felt by most Christian and Muslim Palestinians. If ignorance contributes to bliss, most tour groups work well to promote a blissful experience.

From Bethlehem we traveled by minibus to Ramallah, traveling through West Bank (territory militarily occupied by Israel since the 1967 War) to Ramallah (now headquarters for the Palestinian Authority to which very limited autonomy has been granted in preparation for an anticipated future separate state of Palestine). Near the Ramallah bus station Kris and I were picked up by Issa Khouriya who, with his wife Rawda, established the first Palestinian Family Guest House on the West Bank just over a year ago in the small village of Jifna. There their guests enjoy the privacy of well-furnished rooms in their home, and are treated as family by this lovely couple and their daughter Ragat (age 14) and son Hannah (age 15). So it is we ate breakfast together, watched world cup soccer together, had many excellent conversations, and were given guided tours of surrounding areas in the family car (with our insisting upon at least paying for the gasoline). Together, our three days with this Christian Palestinian family taught us much about life under the Israeli occupation.

A most touching story involved an attempt by a local Catholic family to celebrate Mass at a church in Jerusalem on Easter of 2008. This family had all been given papers granting them permission to enter Israeli controlled Jerusalem (special permission being necessary for stateless persons from Israeli occupied territories). They were very excited as they had been given no such permission for many years. After waiting two hours in line with others at the military checkpoint , the grandfather was allowed to pass, along with the wife, husband, and daughter – but the son (aged 13) was refused entry. In spite of attempts by the parents to convince the female soldier that their son was only 13 (showing the birth certificate) and no danger to anyone, the young soldier (arbitrarily, on her own authority) categorically refused to change her mind and threatened to call the police and have them arrested. Under the State of Emergency declared in 1948 (and continuously in effect since then) any person here can be arrested and jailed (without charge or trial) indefinitely. So it was that the entire family returned to their home together, unable to worship in Jerusalem. They are still bitter about this humiliating experience and have no plans to be enticed by permission papers to travel anywhere in Israel in the future. Like so many others, they feel like prisoners in their own land. Unlike refugees displaced when Israel seized lands now within Israel (in 1948 and thereafter), the Khouriya family have had homes in various locations near to Ramallah for many generations. They own their own home now. Yet in the occupied West Bank they, like millions of others, have citizenship in no country, and have few rights nor equality under Israeli law.

Issa and Rawda drove us to visit several places within a few kilometers of their home: to the refugee camp of Al Jalazun (where 14,000 people reside in poor conditions that include no comprehensive sewer system and platooned classrooms to allow some time in school for most children), to Taybeh (where a relative operates Taybeh Brewing Co. , the first microbrew operation in Palestine – with non-alcoholic as well as several varieties of alcoholic beer), thru Bir Zeit where crusader ruins are being renovated in hopes of future tourism, and to pay a social call to Issa`s aging mother and other family members. Time was also spent in nearby Ramallah, seeing the tomb of Yasir Arafat (founding leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and its political party Fatah) as well as various other parts of the city including the Quaker Meeting House (home to the Friends International Center in Ramallah: FICR with its Director, Kathy Bergen).

On Thursday evening, July 1st, Kathy Bergen organized an evening event at the Quaker Meeting House featuring me speaking about ``Understanding some Misunderstandings of Gandhi``. Responding to my presentation were Thuqan Qishawi (American Friends Service Committee Middle East Regional Coordinator for Youth Programs) and Zoughbi Zoughbi, travelling over an hour from Bethlehem with Janet, Ryan, and Hope who we had met there. 40-50 people were in attendance (maybe to hear Thuqan & Zoughbi?) and all went quite well. Several people seemed to enjoy my more animated style of speaking and I was especially happy that Kathy Bergen seemed pleased. A well-known Palestinian businessman, Sam Bahour, was impressed enough to ask if I might be able to come back to Ramallah in October to speak again – but it seems silly to me to have any group pay my airfare for such an event, when the money spent could be so much better used to help people in need here.

One of many indications of need, I am embarrassed to say, was quite unknown to me before this week. Since 1997 (by law) and 1967 (by conquest) all water relating to the West Bank (including the Jordan River and underground sources) have been declared the property of Israel. While a new well may be drilled for individual family use, no organization can do so without the expressed permission of the Israeli Government. So it is that 9 million Palestinians (Christian and Muslim) receive only 15% of the water (and the pipes are turned on for purchase only once per week in Ramallah, only twice a month in some other areas), while 500,000 Settlers (Israeli citizens) use 85% of the water allocated (and never have their pipes turned off). Most Palestinian homes and businesses can easily be distinguished by the multiple water storage tanks clearly visible on their rooftops: these store water for daily use when the pipes are turned off. A little reflection concludes the obvious: the poorer you are, the fewer water tanks you have, the less water you can buy, the more difficult is your life. Even our host family, the Khouriyas, ran out of water on the last day of our stay with them. They, like so many others, are not really in control of their lives. The Israelis are. Palestinians are subject not only to the military occupation, but to water dependency…. It would seem that water is to them what the issue of salt was to Gandhi and the people of India under British colonial rule….

On the last day of this week in the West Bank, we accepted transportation to Bin`In, a small town with a checkpoint at The Wall separating Israel from some of its occupied territories. Regular Friday afternoon protest marches occur here. Kris and I visited with some of the 40 internationals and others (Palestinian Christians as well as some Jewish Israeli citizens who came this day). We learned that while Israeli`s are ``not allowed`` to travel to the West Bank (unless they are settlers), no soldiers prevent them from doing so. Those who drive their cars are aware that auto insurance coverage ends at the checkpoint and that they could we subject to arrest if caught demonstrating – and these factors among others deter most from such travel. Still, there are some who attend these events in solidarity with civil rights concerns and a vision of harmony that transcends religious and political divisions. With the completion of Friday prayers at the nearby mosque, those who are assembled swell to over 200 in number. Sadly, Kris and I could not stay to the end of the demonstration as the Jewish Sabbath will end all public bus transportation from Jerusalem to Tiberias after 4pm and this timing requires us to depart for Jerusalem.

We catch a ride to another, less protested checkpoint and from there take an unmarked taxi (a private car, which, it turns out, is driven by a Christian Israeli settler from Ramallah)! Our conversation with this driver is cordial on the superficial side until I raise the issue of water. After confirming that he and his family receive fresh water from the tap every day, I asked him what he thought about Issa and his family (who the driver knows) running out of water the day before. After a tense moment, the driver just shrugged and said nothing. While it was then possible to return to less controversial subjects, his silence about the water issue told me much. Perhaps such silence is more the enemy than even the discriminatory policies themselves, or even the military presence. It is the silence of many that allows injustice to flourish.

Next week we will be more religious than political pilgrims. Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee should be a good base from which to visit Nazareth, Capernum, and other areas where Jesus lived, developed, and delivered his message of love…

Friday, June 25, 2010

Week 28: Italy to Israel

The featured photo this week is from the home of Alvaro`s sister Brunella and her husband Bruno as they hosted us to a lunch (and, the day before, a dinner at their apartment) . Pictured are (left to right), Bruno, Brunella, Alba (Alvaro`s wife), and my Whitman College friend Alvaro Tacchini. There were so many courses of food that even the additional family members and friends who were invited could not consume it all. Most conversations were in English (for our benefit) with Alvaro and Bruno translating for those who could not easily follow. It was in this apartment where, 39 years ago, I had been similarly feasted by Alvaro`s mother and father. Fond memories of those days were shared, and many new conversations covered topics ranging from the Congo (where David, Alvaro`s son has worked with children threatened by violence) to the Middle East (where Bruno has traveled extensively), to midwifery (practiced in Australia by the girlfriend of an Australian young man who is friend to David), to food, to World Cup Soccer, and, course, always back to food!

During our three days at Ostia Antica (on the Aegean Sea near Rome), Kris and I were preparing to travel to Palestine. Mostly rainy weather blessed us with more time to reflect than to sunbathe. I, for one, remain embarrassed by the (occasionally very stubborn) generosity of my friend Alvaro last week. His sharing time with us was easily the highlight of our three weeks in Italy. As he will soon retire from many years of teaching English to high school students high school students, it is telling that Alvaro will continue to supervise the editing of the student newspaper. This shows that while, in ``retirement``, he may well add to the 28 books he has already published, Alvaro will but will continue to be devoted also in service to people directly. My bet is that he will be more busy after retirement than before!

Alvaro: when you and Alba become free of current family obligations, you two really MUST come to the U.S. – let there be no maybes about it! Please spend at least two weeks with us in Portland, Oregon!

The Ostia Antica Park Hotel graciously stores luggage for its guests who are on the move! We are booked to return to this place on July 31st – and leave three large pieces of luggage behind. Our last night in Italy included a simple meal at a beach front inlet facing south, where Kris and I watched the sunset over the Mediterranean.
It was a fitting final memory over a wonderful 25 days in Italy. Rome, Assisi, Florence, Venice, and Citta di`Castello. Wow.

Spending 7 hours at the Fiumicino (Rome) airport was not much fun – but I managed a short nap on the floor and there was good time to read! The flight on Air Israel was very pleasant, following a careful security screening during the boarding process. We arrived in Tel Aviv at 10:30pm (9:30 Italy time). More security, customs, etc., with a $40 tax ride to our Hotel Dizendoff Sea Residency, had us crashing into our bed about midnight…. As our three days in Tel Aviv come to a close tomorrow, Kris and I will be going to Bethlehem well organized to see share with human rights activists there, as well as later in the week at Ramallah. Time spent on the computer and using pay phones should soon bear fruit.

Tel Aviv seems surreal in many ways. The ultra-modern airport, for example, is in four levels – with a huge open area complete with a pool of water in its center. Much of the downtown area (where we stayed) is full of expensive boutiques, an occasional fruit stand, and sidewalk restaurants with a European feel – though without any old buildings which, apparently, can be found in the Jaffa area of the city). The pristine sandy beaches are full of people soaking up the heat (and humidity), undisturbed by the occasional over flight by a military helicopter. By all superficial appearances, there would seem to be no conflict in Israel and life in Tel Aviv would appear rich.

Most any conversation, however, reveals deeper concerns. The young man (who has just completed his compulsory 3 years in the Israeli army) and his Finnish girlfriend at the beach complain about a western media that does not understand the dangers posed by Hamas in Gaza. An old man in a shop tells me that Islam is the greatest danger posed to the world today and how it has been so for a thousand years! A university professor observes that President Obama is weak and that his less than complete support of the current Israeli government has allowed a flood of anti Jewish sentiment to flow out of places like Britain, France, Italy, and Turkey, In other words, it is clear that a great many people enjoying ``the good life`` in Tel Aviv share a kind of siege mentality when it comes to the outside world. It is this mentality that accepts military conscription for all Israeli citizens, male and female, and budgets for a military that has the 4th largest air force in the world (after the U.S., Russia, and China).

The main bus station in Tel Aviv is a six-story structure (busses on level 6), with four levels serving as a gigantic shelter (in case of attack). Within this structure is a huge shopping mall – almost a city within itself – with music often sporting a Disney theme! There is the old Popeye the sailor man tune, followed by ``It’s a Small World``, and (a bit out of the genre) ``Old Suzanna``. Later in the day Kris and I are treated to a seaside dinner by Brian Polkington (an American Fulbrighter in Israel) and his friend Ava – at a restaurant named ``La La Land`` (that was for real, no joke). Although he has traveled to them before, so far during his Fulbright in Israel, Brian has yet to visit the West Bank or Gaza (areas occupied by Israel since the war in 1967), and has been told that even travel to Egypt is not acceptable! He says that Israel`s relationship with Egypt is more of a permanent cease-fire than one of friendship. That helps to explain why the Egyptian embassy (visited by Kris and I earlier in the day) is located in a very simple building far away from the beach properties where the U.S. embassy and most others can be found.

As we leave Tel Aviv (and La La Land) behind, we certainly are grateful for the kindness shown to us here by Lisa (hotel manager) and others, for the tub in our bathroom (our first since leaving India, where they were also very rare), and for abundant pita bread and hummus! It was also good to catch up on global news, with plenty of TV channels devoted to it (including BBC, Al Jazerra, and two others in English with Asian and Arab anchor people). Had it been up to me, I certainly would have advanced Italy into the final 16 of World Cup Soccer instead of the U.S., as most Americans could care less and few Italians could care more. Still, the whole sports thing is really part of La La Land as well, yes?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Week 27: Venice & Citta di`Castello

The featured photo this week is from Venice, though the better half of the week was enjoyed with friends living in Umbria. The picture was taken on the Grande Canal and shows activity around the Realto Bridge.

Our three days in Venice were colored more darkly by the fact that it often rained during our stay -- which may have contributed to my developing a near-continuous headache and aching body plus an accompanying fever and sore throat. Kris did not sleep well partly because I did not -- but we both went out each day anyway to see such sights as we could. After all, how often do most folks have a chance to see such a magical city?

Ca D`Orfeo Residencia is a three bedroom flat on the second floor of a medieval building with windows overlooking one of the 45 canals branching off of the Grande Canal which snakes its way through the islands that make up the old city. Our room was the smallest (and least expensive), with a private bath (much used) and a small kitchen that was shared with the other rooms. As even this arrangement cost about $110/night (expensive by our budget standards), it may come as no surprise that we used the kitchen a lot (eating out maybe once a day, making use of groceries to cook breakfast and prepare coffee or snacks). While it would be tiresome for us to continue to harp on how expensive Italy is, this is not only by comparison with India: the ibuprophen tablets for my headache here cost over $1 per tablet, while the same medication in the U.S. can be found as cheaply as 4 cents (or 2 cents in India).

No matter the prices, Venice is magical. No land vehicles were to be seen anywhere in the old city -- just boats of kinds and purposes. Walking was the main mode over cobblestone streets that would make even wheelchairs difficult. Picturesque buildings divided by pathways sometimes only 3 feet wide often made walking single file necessary! Though not every building was well maintained, all would have historical status if it in Portland -- with few having less than an age of 400 years! Locals greeting one another with a kiss on each cheek, dogs walking their masters who usually (not always) picked up after them, and tourists from all over the world all leave a lasting impression also....

Like other tourists, we went to the Piazza San Marco and nearby Doge`s Palace as our primary must-see place. The Basilica of St. Mark was the seat of religious authority for centuries in the city, while the Doge (not DOG, but leader with most of the political power) presided with other government officials and judges in a Palace that is far more impressive inside than out. Fabulously ornate rooms are found in what seems an endless array of gilded ceilings and huge paintings depicting its rulers and their history of great sea victories over the Ottoman Turkish Empire and religious scenes in which they are in the company of Christ and the saints. Thankfully we were able to secure a wheelchair for Kris as even my strong legs began to tire with all of the walking and gawking! After this, perhaps due to poor sleep, we both confessed to being ``arted out`` and were reluctant to visit more galleries that are to be found throughout the city. During one of my ``sick days``, we spent most of our time just touring about the Grande Canal (while also circumventing the entire of the old city) by water bus.

Following a pleasant 4-hour train ride from Venice, we were greeted at the Arezzo station by my college friend Alvaro Tacchini (who then drove us the 45 minutes to his home town of Citta di` Castello). He had made arrangements for us to stay in the old downtown area, in a remodeled convent dating from the 13th century, The Residencia Antica Canonica building is still owned by the Catholic Church but is leased/managed by one of Alvaro`s many friends: Elisa Mambrini. She welcomed us warmly and we were able to rest in comfort in an inexpensive suite complete with bedroom, bathroom, and a large living/dining area that included a kitchen (with granite countertops)! Kris and I continued to be treated like royalty in the evening when Alvaro and his wife Alba returned to take us out to a fancy (by my standards) restaurant.

During the next three days, Alvaro`s sister Brunella and her husband Bruno hosted us to a lunch and a dinner at their apartment – with so many courses of food that even the additional family members and friends who were invited could not consume it all. Most conversations were in English (for our benefit) with Alvaro and Bruno translating for those who could not easily follow. It was in this apartment where, 39 years ago, I had been similarly feasted by Alvaro`s mother and father. Fond memories of those days were shared, and many new conversations covered topics ranging from the Congo (where David, Alvaro`s son has worked with children threatened by violence) to the Middle East (where Bruno has traveled extensively), to midwifery (practiced in Australia by the girlfriend of an Australian young man who is friend to David), to food, to World Cup Soccer, and, or course, always back to food!

As he had in Assisi ten days ago, Alvaro drove Kris and I around the surrounding countryside, having arranged (so he claimed) for perfect blue skies with scattered fluffy clouds. For two daytrips he showed us his beloved Upper Valley of the Tiber River which is half in the territory of Umbria, and half in Tuscany. From Citta di`Castello (at the center of the area) we traveled short distances to beautiful medieval towns and sites frequented by St. Francis but rarely seen by people who are casually visiting Italy. The breathtaking vistas to be seen from Monta S. Maria Tiberina, alone, were enough to convince Kris and I that those who only visit Florence (one hour to the north) are missing out on a natural beauty beyond anything the masters could paint or sculpt. It was like living in the 13th century and experiencing some of the environment which had inspired the artwork! Fortresses on so many hilltops each making claim to competing territories; towers within cities advertising the wealthy status of families in power struggles with one another; grand Cathedrals and isolated hermitages reflecting both the power of the Church and the extreme spirituality of many of its revered saints. All of this set among forested hillsides and an expansive valley where carefully cultivated fields, even today, remain colorfully dominant.

The biggest among a great many WOW moments with Alvaro came when, on a whim, he took us to the Hermitage frequented by St. Francis at Montecasale. There a priest (who had lived there for 70 years!) allowed us to wander throughout the humble sanctuary, to stone cells with stark wooden beds (and log pillows) had served as places of rest and prayer for St. Anthony, and St. Bonaventure! The thin blankets used by these early Franciscans were still in the 6x8 foot rooms where they had slept! In another prayer area was enshrined two skulls – remnants of two of the three murderous thieves who St. Francis had inspired to become monks! Francis had left Rufino in charge of the hermitage while he was away, and Rufino had refused food and drink to these 3 known murderers. Upon returning, Francis had scolded Rufino and sent him to find and apologize to these men – and to give them the bread and wine Francis had begged for that day. The men`s hearts were so touched by this act of love and humility that their lives were transformed. Francis was always eager to forgive and so to give any person an open opportunity to live a new life. Like Buddha had taught 600 years before Jesus: Hate cannot destroy hate, only love can destroy hate. Unconditional Love.

These lessons will be fresh in our minds next week as Kris and I depart for Palestine.