Sunday, June 10, 2012

My final post: Jerusalem

I am back from Jerusalem, sitting in my apartment preparing to fly home at 1:30 a.m. It’s amazing how fast time has passed. Part of me doesn’t want to leave, and part of me is excited to spend time with family and friends in Utah for the next two months before I move to Houston.

I will miss Jordan. I’ll miss the noisy and active neighborhoods, the people who randomly shout “welcome to Jordan”, the semi-tasty food, the chaotic driving, the community of Arjan, the late nights with fellow interns, the awkward moments when the person I’m speaking to doesn’t understand a thing I’m saying, waking up to multiple bug bites on my body each day, and just being in a new and foreign culture. Most of all, I’ll miss my friends at Zaytoon International and all the fun we’ve had together. Thanks for a great month!

On to Israel. Traveling to the Holy Land was a fantastic way to end my journey. I went with five other friends, and we stayed at a great hostel in Jerusalem. They even had breakfast with Nutella! I’m a little obsessed with that stuff if you can't tell.

After having passport control question Stephen Kenny about his mysterious travels throughout the Middle East (he has visas from all over), we made it to Jerusalem on Thursday afternoon. We spent our first day walking along the Via Dolorosa, which highlights the traditional path that Jesus Christ walked between His condemnation and crucifixion. It was surreal to walk around and think about that last day of the Savior’s life.

Our group (minus one who is taking the photo, thanks Jacob)

Friday we took a bus down to Masada, which was the last Jewish outpost against the conquering Roman Empire. After a siege from the Romans, the people in this mountain fortress chose to take their own lives instead of become slaves to the Romans. The views from the top of the mountain were incredible.

 Steve showing me my inheritance

Our group at Masada

Friday night we went to the Western Wall to watch the Jewish people pray, worship, and celebrate the Shabbat. I loved that experience. I felt something very special about these people praying at the base of the Temple Mount, waiting for the day when the temple will be rebuilt there. 

 Steve and I at the Western Wall

Saturday, we went to church at the BYU Jerusalem Center. The room that they hold sacrament meeting in overlooks the city, and it was a fantastic experience. After church, we went to Orson Hyde Park, which honors the Apostle who dedicated the Holy Land for the gathering of Israel. After, we had the opportunity to visit the Garden of Gethsemane, Golgotha, and the Garden Tomb. 

 Garden of Gethsemane

We had a fantastic tour guide at Golgotha and the Garden Tomb. His name was Alistair, he was probably over 70 years old, from Scotland, and a devout Christian. As he took us around the sacred area where the Savior was crucified and resurrected, he shared his personal feelings about those events. He told us that although they aren’t completely sure that those events took place at the location we were at, all that mattered is that they did happen. He spoke of his love and gratitude for Jesus Christ. It was a spiritual moment that I will never forget.

 The empty tomb

I’ve learned and experienced so many things during my month here in the Middle East. However, the most important things I have experienced are those things that have brought me closer to my Savior, Jesus Christ. I’ve felt the love God has for the people in this part of the world. I’ve been amazed at how much the language and cultural nuances of the Book of Mormon resonate so powerfully with our Arab friends who have read from it. I’ve loved reading the New Testament and thinking about how the events that took place during Jesus’ short life have changed the world. Most of all, I’ve felt the Spirit confirm to me that Jesus Christ did live here 2000 years ago. And not only did He live here, but He lived His life perfectly. He suffered, died, and was resurrected so that we all can return to live with Him and our families again.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Indiana James

I am back from a three-day trip full of tales of adventure.

This weekend, the Zaytoon group, along with some BYU and University of Utah students, went to Petra, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba – all located in Southern Jordan. Our journey started at 4:30 a.m. on Friday as we went to the bus station to catch our ride to Petra. Luckily, I had ample amounts of pita bread and nutella to help me last the morning. We arrived in Petra at about 11 a.m., and had a few hours to explore the ancient city. It was incredible to see large buildings, tombs, and houses carved directly into the sandstone. There was also an old aqueduct system that was built into the side of the slot canyons we hiked through. My favorite part of Petra was seeing the Treasury, which is the site of the final scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

I passed all three tests to make it to the Holy Grail

There are tons of merchants all throughout Petra trying to sell you things. From donkey and camel rides to jewelry or rocks, this old city is not short of souvenirs. One kid tried to threaten us by saying he would call the police if we didn’t buy one of his postcards. Apparently the fact that a lizard that we had caught had lost its tail was enough reason for him to call the black and blue. We didn’t buy it, and made it out of Petra clean and clear.

 Some new, state of the art, apartment complexes in Petra

After a few hours in Petra, we went down to Wadi Rum, which is a famous site from the movie Lawrence of Arabia. It was a beautiful area of sand surrounded by huge sandstone mountains. Most of Southern Jordan looks just like Southern Utah. We went Jeeping, jumped off some sand dunes, had dinner, and enjoyed a night in the desert. The weather was perfect, and I spend a couple of hours just laying out on the sand looking at the moon and stars. I loved it.

I look like a ninja

Just cruising around Wadi Rum

The next day we drove to Aqaba, which is a city on the shore of the Red Sea. We had a fantastic hotel to stay in, with a hot shower and comfortable beds. That evening we went on a cruise around the harbor, on which there was a serious dance party among the Arab men. They love their dancing here, and it was quite the experience to watch.

 That guy in the blue shirt was all over the dance floor

We finished off our last day in Aqaba with some snorkeling in the Red Sea.  I had a blast seeing coral, jellyfish, and your good old regular fish. After our time at the beach, Steve and I topped it all off with a visit to the authentic Jordanian restaurant of Burger King. While many of our travel party got sick from some kind of food over the weekend, my Whopper Jr. treated me well. 

 That, my friends, is the Red Sea

I only have a couple more days in Amman before a few of us take off to Israel for three days. It’s crazy to think I’ll be home in a week. I’ve had loads of fun here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dead Sea and the River Jordan

Saturday was awesome! You shall find out why through reading the next few paragraphs and taking a gander at the accompanying photos.

A few of us went on a journey to visit some historical sites and take a dip in El Mar Del Muerto. Or as it is known by the English speaking world: the Dead Sea. We started off the day by meeting up with our energetic driver, Shawki. He knows everything about Jordan and is an excellent tour guide. Our first pit stop was the town of Madaba. It’s an old Christian city with a basilica dedicated to Saint George – the patron saint of England. The town has these old mosaics that date back to the 1400s. I have since learned that mosaics are all the rage here. Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan. I’m not even sure how one gets into mosaics. The only memory I really have of mosaics is an old computer game that was impossible to win and always made me mad. But I have been enlightened and now appreciate them much more.

 Outside the basilica in Madaba

Speaking of mosaics, after visiting Madaba, we stopped by this organization that provides work for disabled Jordanians. We watched them make mosaics (I told you they love them here), and they had some beautiful crafts.

Our next destination was Mount Nebo. The very same Nebo where Moses died  (see Deuteronomy 32:49-50). It was pretty awesome to walk around the same area that Moses had. The Mount itself is not very high, and you can get to the top by car. The view from Nebo was fantastic. You could faintly see Jerusalem, the River Jordan, and the Dead Sea.

 The view from the top of Mount Nebo

On to the most significant site of the journey: the River Jordan. Although no one knows exactly where Jesus was baptized, there are many ancient monuments and churches built around this location that’s been established as the traditional site. It was pretty unreal to be there. Being in this area of the world has brought the life of the Savior closer to my heart. It’s been a great experience that I’ll write about in more detail another time. I loved being around people from all over the world who were all visiting this sacred site.

 Standing in the River Jordan

The traditional site of Christ's baptism

We finished our day with a visit to the Dead Sea. Being from Salt Lake City, I propose we trade the Dead Sea for the Great Salt Lake. Why? 1. The Dead Sea doesn’t smell like an outhouse. 2. You float in the water. Yeah, float! No effort required to keep your head above water to breathe. I usually don’t find swimming as relaxing as most people make it out to be because you have to tread water the whole time to prevent yourself from drowning. I have dense bones, which makes the experience more of an effort for me. Not in the Dead Sea. No arm floaties or water weenies required. 3. The water supposedly has oils that nourish and strengthen your skin. 4. You get to cover yourself in mud. 5. The mud supposedly nourishes and strengthens your skin. 6. You are at the lowest point on Earth. 

 Floating effortlessly in the Dead Sea

Needless to say, I had a blast at the Dead Sea.  We ate at a buffet, floated on the water, covered ourselves in mud, washed off said mud, and then took a dip in the swimming pool to finish it all off. A great time was had by all. Even our driver, Shawki. He just swam in the pool the whole time. I think that’s why he likes to take groups to the Dead Sea.

 I get tan really easily

I’ll finish off this post by listing the very important rules that were on the back of my ticket to the Dead Sea resort I went to. If any of you are planning on visiting the area anytime soon, please take note of these rules (spelling and all):

-Please Keep up the public
-It is just for families
-the administration is irresponsible for the loss of your property
-please don’t sit on she green yards
-don’t enter any kind of animals
-don’t enter tables or chairs or nargniles
-don’t enter balls or bikes
-you will bear the responsibility if you swim after the sunsit
-the ticket just for one use and at the same date
-don’t enter alchoholic beverages pubc
-Prevents swimming for more than 100 meters

Want to know what a nargnile is? So do I.