Sunday, October 27, 2013

Another day in paradise

Have I ever really talked about the stuff I’m studying out here? My blog probably makes it sound like I wander around doing tourist stuff all day. But I only do that once or twice a week. The rest of my time has been spent studying like the dickens. Or trying to recover from all the studying and test-taking we do. Let’s see if I can paint a picture of what our student life is like. Ahem.

Imagine you’re drowning… and then someone hands you a baby.

No, sorry… That’s Jim Gaffigan’s description of what it’s like to have 4 kids. As a side-tangent, I think anything less than 4 kids in my family would be boring! So sign me up for the drown club. I’ll learn to scuba dive! I’ve already been snorkeling. More on that later J

Well, I’m sure I could throw in a sarcastic remark about the designers of this program trying to kill us, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Our teachers here are incredible. We just finished studying through the Old Testament class in one block. Now, we did just cover over a thousand pages of scripture in about 8 weeks, but when going that fast, we obviously didn’t read every page. That being said, I’ve still spent easily a good 2 hours studying for each day of Old Testament alone. Now, combine that with comparable reading and/or assignments and class time for Field Trips class, Israel, Palestine, Ancient Near East, Hebrew and Arabic, along with 3 meals a day and an absolutely vital daily nap, and maybe you’re starting to see how much of a pressure-cooker school has been.

Good news, however! Next week is finals week for half of those classes, since they are on block schedule. So while they were all crammed in super-tight this first 8 weeks, that means that we’ll be done with everything but Ancient Near East and Field Trips as of next week. Then we’ll start New Testament, and start going on even more field trips! Next week we go to Jordan for 4 days. Guess what’s in Jordan, folks? Petra. I’m excited!

In addition to the adventures and schoolwork, life has also been intensely spiritual. I will never be the same. With 2 hours a day of scripture study, I’ve come much closer to the Lord than I’ve been in a while. I receive promptings every day as a rule. My journal is filled with impressions about myself and the world around me, and God has been molding me into a better person in such a way I can look back and see how fast he’s changed me! One of the most powerful spiritual experiences I had here was last Sabbath in a home teaching visit. My companion, Jared Sybrowsky, and I prepared specifically for the people we taught, and handled it like missionaries would prepare a lesson, really. As a result, we had the most powerful home teaching experience I’ve ever had in my life. Prayers were offered, testimonies were shared, priesthood blessings were given, and the spirit was present. I truly will never be the same again.
And with that, here are some of the fun things we did this week!

Hezekiah’s Tunnel

A water tunnel cut through 1770 feet of solid limestone rock. This brings the waters of a nearby spring inside the walls of Jerusalem to the pools of Siloam. This would give Jerusalem a water supply while under siege. (See 2 Kings 20:20, 2 Chronicles 32:4, 30)
Hezekiah's Tunnel, with Stephanie Leigh and Joey Nelson in the background

Red Sea

The very southern tip of Israel touches the Red Sea. So we drove down there in buses for 4 hours each way. On the trip, I finished Brandon Sanderson’s latest book Steelheart. I recommend it for fantasy / sci-fi lovers. Then we got there and went snorkeling in the Red Sea! Ah, good times. I swam around, realized how tiring swimming without a lifejacket can be, dropped my snorkel to the bottom, found a lionfish, and went to the aquarium. What a great day!
This cat was the security guard for the ticket booth. But you can bribe him with attention and he'll turn a blind eye.
Red Sea. That's Saudi Arabia behind us. We also saw the mountains of Egypt off to the south!
(Left to right: Jessica Steele, Amanda Vogt and me)
I became a temporary addition to the Red Sea Aquarium!

Olive Harvest

It’s olive season, folks! Last week we wandered all over the campus grounds to climb trees and pick olives. It made me miss rock climbing a bit. Anyway, we used those (and some more we had to purchase) to process at our on-site olive press to make authentic olive oil with our own hands! There’s tons of symbolism involved with olives and the olive tree, but the one thing I want to touch on is this: Olives, like sardines, are super gross.
IT BURNS! With Angela Cheney
So you soak them in brine to get rid of the bitter flavor and burning sensation. Then they are less gross. Then you pour them in that giant stone bowl you have sitting in your backyard (everyone has one of those, right?) and roll your favorite giant circular rock over the top of them until it looks like mush.
Olives before getting crushed
Me and Cam Cardon crushing the olives in an ancient-style... olive crusher.

Once they are mush, scoop it all into a basket with a hole in the bottom.
Sheri and Megan with some olive mush
But where do you put this olive mush once you’ve scooped it into a holy basket? On a rock, of course! Preferably the kind that has an olive press nearby. It makes the job a lot easier
(Pretend you see me at the olive press... low bandwidth is )
Then, as you can guess, you squish all of the baskets! And everything oozes out into a multi-level filter system. Each time the oil falls into a new container, it’s a little purer than before. This stuff isn’t nearly as bitter as eating an olive straight from the tree.
(picture with oil)
Olive oil is special because it separates itself from water and impurities. So you leave it in that hole in the ground for a day and it will separate out all of the impurities until it finally resembles that yummy stuff you put on your salad! Or in my case, it resembles the stuff I can use to give a priesthood blessing. What an adventure! And what an awful flavor I had in my mouth that day…


Even though the Passover takes place in the Spring, we celebrated it Thursday for the experience. Our wonderful Israel teacher, Ophir Yarden, lead out the whole thing. Now if your seminary experience was like mine, you may have celebrated a “best of” montage of the Passover in seminary class, where you read a couple scriptures and eat a few funky things. That night, however, we celebrated the whole Passover in all of its intricate, detailed glory. Actually, that’s not true. It took us 3 ½ hours with dinner included, and we still skimmed over some of the scripture reading that would have been done. It was quite the experience! Oh, and they ordered wine instead of grape juice.
Anyone feeling tipsy??
Luckily they caught that before too many of us took a sip. In that silly sort of way I kind of wish we would have found out after the fact! Wouldn’t it be hilarious for a bunch of Mormon students to accidentally get tipsy while celebrating a Jewish holiday on the wrong day? Ah, the stories we could have told…

Well, that brings us up to date! The people here are incredible. The friendships I’m making are wonderful. The food is exquisite. My feet stink… exquisitely. Something about the food and environment does that. Well anyway! The bottom line is that life continues to be an absolute pleasure out here. Every day I wake up in Jerusalem is another day in Paradise.

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