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It's not often you look death right in the face. But there we were, and there was death. They say your whole life flashes before your eyes, but in truth, all you can really remember is the last two weeks.
The visions of freshly planted olive trees sprung forth in our mind. It was a brisk, misty Saturday morning as we adorned our newly acquired FREE PALESTINE t-shirts (free of charge). We piled onto the rickety, old Beit Sahour public bus and departed from the YMCA towards uncertain hostilities. We left the bus and walked along the newly built "apartheid" fence, which often separates farmers from their own land. Small olive saplings were thrust into holes in the pristine land. 80 trees later our smiles of satisfaction from serving the community overcame the pain from the bloody, mangled pulps which used to be our hands (but seriously, we had at least one blister between the two of us).
Then came the memories of dragging luggage up endless flights of steps to our hotel room for the next week. The 31 of us were the only ones in the entire hotel, and it was four of our birthdays in the next four days. The perfect equation for trouble and fun. Lots of trouble and fun later, we traveled to Jerusalem to witness the devastating effects of house demolition, and to visit the Efrat settlement. There we engaged a short, fiery man in a heated discussion. He offered up "interesting" viewpoints concerning the conflict.
The memory of sitting around the Gaza Strip entrance for several hours only to be denied access was still vivid and fresh in our minds. The frustration felt was partially mitigated by our quick trip and dip into the Mediterranean Sea. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise, as we found out the next day tanks had moved into Gaza City (where we had planned to spend the night) and 15 were killed and many more injured in the Israeli incursion.
If we recollect correctly, which we do, we were quite confident we had escaped certain danger in Gaza by changing our schedule and then spending the next day at Mount Herodian. What suckers we were. As we entered the ancient tunnels inside the mountain, we thought we were far from danger. But at our first stop and lecture, we were humbled and corrected. There was a low hum as the room and all those (those being us) in it began to rumble. Seconds later, the rumble became a full-fledged shake down. Now, at this point, one would imagine that the tour guide would promptly command everyone out of the tunnel and see to it that even the last among us makes it out safely, before even considering his exodus. HOWEVER we have never seen a homo sapien move as fast as Ayman (our guide) did that day. Some may call this leading by example, but we like to call it, "every Mennonite/Palestinian for themselves." Luckily, we all made it out safely (three minutes after Ayman) only to turn around and go back into the moutain several minutes later. We later learned this earthquake's center was in Jericho and registered roughly a 5.0 on the Richter Scale. We finished the day with some hikes in Mar Saba. Once again, we thought we were in the clear .HOWEVER, we were not. We had a great hike down to some disgusting, putrid sewage water that ran like a river, through a beautiful canyon. (thanks a lot Israel.) Could it get any worse? Yes. As the group of weary, quaked-out travelers returned to our humble abode, we realized we were a couple apples short of a pie. That's right, we had a lost wallet, complete with Canadian credit and identification cards, we had a lost wad of cash, and worst of all, a lost cell phone! Our fearless, intrepid seminary professor managed to have it swiped off his belt without him even knowing it (neither Hamas nor Fatah have claimed responsibility for this action).
As death comes even closer, yet even more memories inundated us. We see the light at the cessation of the tunnel.
We can see the light again, just like we saw it three weeks ago, the day we first arrived in Beit Sahour. The light shone down on us from Bethlehem, and came to greet us. We had to avert our eyes as we stuck our hand out and exclaimed, "It's nice to meet you Ed Nyce!!" He is no ordinary MCC worker there in Bethlehem. This man is a seasoned veteran of service and lives up to every letter in his last name, even the capital N. He taught us how to live, love and make peace. It's no coincidence that his birthday is on the day of love, February 14th.
We remember the bittersweet feeling of departing from the 3 Kings Hotel, Bethlehem, and all that dwells therein. It's a beautiful place with a beautiful people.
Now, we have embarked on a new journey, like the proverbial birds flying south. What lies ahead? We know not. Oh yea, we found this cool saddler's shop tucked away in the Old City that handcrafts the most amazing leather goods ever. We recommend it, and ask for Sa'ad. The other thing is, it snowed a bunch yesterday here in Jerusalem and that was crazy cool. But even that was short lived as it all turned to slushy mush the next day.
But we will go on.
We will always go on.