Thursday, June 30, 2011

They're Heading Home... Soonish

Today I got to accompany three of our Iraqi patients (Hezhan, Chera, and Joman) to the hospital for Echos.  We expected Hezhan and Chera them to be released, but knew it was not likely for Joman to be allowed to return home so soon after his surgery. However, as we played in the waiting area, his mother would look over me with a question in her eyes, "Iraq?" Translation: "Will we get to go home to Iraq tomorrow too?" But it was a question I couldn't answer.
The other two patients had their Echos and came out excited that they were officially released to go home. After each one emerged with a huge smile, I would do a victory dance around the waiting area. They LOVED this. Who knew me acting goofy and singing, "Iraq, Iraq. They're going to Iraq." could bring so much joy? Or maybe the fact that they were going home made them smile more than my dancing. Well, either way. They did join in though until they realized that other people were noticing our little dance party and quickly settled down. They were horrified to think people might think they were crazy. 
Finally, it was Joman's turn. The Echo only took about ten minutes, but it felt much longer as we waited, wondering if he would also be released. When I couldn't wait any longer, I headed over to the door into the Echo room. As I looked in, I made eye contact with Joman's mom. She peaked her head out the door, gave me a thumb's up, and whispered "Iraq!" Joman was also released! This was very unexpected considering he arrived less than a month ago, but the doctors believe his surgery and recovery have gone well enough that he can return home in record time.
With joy in our hearts, we knew it was time to celebrate while we waited for the official discharge papers. We headed down to McDonald's and ordered ice cream for everyone! Joman probably only ate half of his; the rest ended up all over his face!
Unfortunately, the official papers from the hospital were not able to be completed today. Wolfson discharged more children than normal and the nurse in charge of the paperwork was too overwhelmed to get them all done. The families were disappointed to hear they will not be heading home tomorrow, but understood that there was nothing else to be done. We hope to get the discharge papers on Sunday and send them all on their way Monday.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Bubble Girl

Bubbles make the world go round. Or at least solve a multitude of children sized problems. Today was another Hospital visit. 5 kids. 4 echo appointments. 1 in for a special diet program. That kid, Yahya (or in English, John), is missing a certain enzyme that helps digest food so he has constant diarrhea. GROSS! The doctors helped his parents figure out what he can and cannot eat so now all is well.
But anyway, back to bubbles. Usually this can be kind of traumatic for the little ones, so a big part of my job on hospital days is helping them to smile. So I have learned one of the quickest, easiest ways to solve this problem... Bubbles!
Example #1: Little girl is sitting. Her mother has to go get something and walks off for a moment. Child starts crying! Yikes! Other parents are glaring. We're on the verge of catastrophe. Solution: bubbles! I walk over, whip out my handy dandy to go bottle of smelly bubbles (Yes, they are really scented. In fact, one of the other kids today tried to eat them!). So I blew a couple of bubbles and the problem is solved. Tears have stopped and everyone settles back in, happy that the crisis is averted.
Example #3: We are having trouble engaging one of the older (14 years old) boys who is in for an Echo. Apparently he is too cool for coloring and paper airplanes. The solution: A bubble blowing contest! Three guys from another organization were there so they all took each other on blowing the biggest bubble. The patient also felt comfortable joining in with all these other older boys enjoying themselves. 
Example #3: All the other patients have left for the day. Things are quiet. Yahya is the only kid still around that is awake. So to keep boredom at bay... bubbles! We had a glorious time blowing and popping bubbles for at least twenty minutes.
Bubbles solved a lot of troubles today. Thanks to my constant carrying of my scented bubbles, my coworker has dubbed me "The Bubble Girl". I'll take that as a compliment! They really are great. But I will need to restock soon. We are nearing the end of my current supply and I would hate to not have them if another crisis comes up!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Time of Transition

The beautiful thing about working in a small community like this is how close you get to everyone. In some ways we are like one big happy-some-of-the-time family. Everyone loves each other and wants good for each other, but every so often you drive each other crazy. But in the end, you figure it out because you have to.
Right now though, our little community is quickly changing. One of our volunteers just left, another will leave on Wednesday, two new ones arrive on Thursday, one of our kids went home last Thursday, a couple more will go home Friday (hopefully!), and we will probably get new kids soon after the other leave. Wow! And to think I'm only here for three months! I can't imagine what it is like for the people who are here for years at a time. It would be so hard... getting attached to people and having them leave so quickly.
Before each volunteer or child leaves we have a little party for them and one of the long term staff member makes a DVD with some memorable moments. It's a really cute way to sum things up. We all have the opportunity to offer some encouraging words, give the person leaving a couple small gifts, and then pray for them as they head out. It's a really sweet time. Last night for the good-bye party went to a nice hotel and ordered dessert and coffee. The view looked out over the the city, the sun was setting. It was one of those picture perfect moments.
Now as we transition to get ready for new volunteers and kids, I also remember that have just over a month left. The time here as flown! I can't believe my six month adventure is heading towards the home stretch. But even as I catch glimpses of the finish line, I try to focus on the path right in front of me. There is a lot still to do and I want to use my time wisely!

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Day to Top Them All

Definitely not a normal day at the office. Mostly because we weren't at the office! Yippee! Today we had a staff field trip! Isn't that precious?! On the schedule: the Church of the Nativity, Mar Saba Monastery, Shepherd's Field, and the Herodium. I thought this would be a normal, uneventful event. How wrong I was....
So we started out heading towards Bethlehem which is only a few miles away in the West Bank. We made it through the checkpoint with no problem and headed to the Church of the Nativity. Well... we thought we were headed there. We ended up taking the "scenic route" around Bethlehem. But hey, twenty minutes later, we stumbled across the Church and we all got to see a bit of the town in the meantime! At each of the sites, we had arranged for someone to read a passage of Scripture that goes with the place and  one of my coworkers who is ubber smart gave us some more history. At the Church of the Nativity we started out with the history, which was fascinating, but too long to go into here, then headed inside. As you enter the door is really short. Architectural error? Ancient people were actually really short? Nope! It was done on purpose so that everyone who enters no matter what their rank in society will have to stoop. This shows that every person is humbled before God. Cool, huh?
Once you get inside there are several different chapels all decorated in different styles since several different denominations run the Church. There is also an area that tradition recognizes as where Jesus was born and then where Mary laid him. (We don't know if that was it for sure, but it is nice to sit and reflect there.) There is also a tiny, dark, musty chapel way down in the bottom of the Church. Ok, I will give you a little history because it is so cool! Once upon a time, (like around the late 300's AD) this really smart guy named Jerome decided the Bible should be translated so that the normal old Joe could read it. Good idea, right? So he studied Greek and Hebrew extensively, headed to the holy lands, and holed up in this little chapel and did his translating. The result: the Vulgate. The Latin translation of the Bible. The word Vulgate actually means something along the lines of "common speech" since at the time Latin was the language everyone spoke. Well, fast forward a few centuries to Martin Luther. He freaks out at the Catholic Church because they refuse to translate the Bible into the common language. The translation the Church uses that Luther dislikes: the Vulgate. Latin is no longer the language of the common man, but nobody had taken cues from Jerome and re-translated it so that everyone could still use it.
So after wandering around the Church for awhile and reflecting on the fact that GOD humbled himself and became a human (WOW!), we met outside for a little Bible study. We read the beginning of John 1 in order to get a fresh look at Jesus coming to earth. (We're all so familiar with the Christmas story it seemed better to mix it up and think of it in the greater context of universe history.) Then we sang a few Christmas Carols! The funny thing... it is June 24th. We are exactly halfway through the year to Christmas Eve!
Then it was lunch time! We grabbed a felafel sandwich, downed some cokes, and headed to Stars and Bucks (Yes, you read that right! Funny isn't it!) for some ice cream! Then we were off to our next stop! Oh wait, slight problem. It's Friday. Muslim holy day. The Church of the Nativity and the parking lot where we had left our cars is right next to the biggest mosque in Bethlehem and they were having their afternoon service. Every inch of the parking lot was filled! So we hung out for a bit and waited for them to finish their prayers. Then we were off!
Our next stop was Mar Saba Monastery. We followed some signs and started driving and driving and driving. We stopped and asked for directions three times because we thought we must be lost! But no. We were going the right way. So once we had officially found the middle of nowhere we found the monastery. The scenery was beautiful! I know this may be weird but I think rough, desert, rocky terrain is some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. We camped out for a bit and read Psalm 63. Let me tell you, "O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water," takes on a whole new meaning when you are sitting in the desert and all you want is water.
Then it was time to move on. Unfortunately, we had been moving a bit slowly so we ran out of time to see all the other sites. Some people needed to go back, but a good number of us decided to press on and see one more place. So the drivers were swapped around and we parted ways. Well, tried to at least. The first car took off with the only person who knew the code to unlock the other car. And in the middle of the desert, none of our cell phones had signals. Yikes! So this Palestinian on a motorcycle pulls up and tries to help us. At first we are resistant, but we realize we are out of options. So when he offers to give the only guy in the group a ride to the top of a mountain so he get a signal on his phone, we have to accept. So off he goes and the six of us ladies are left wondering if we will ever see them again.
Thankfully they did return about ten minutes later. We got the car unlocked and headed home. The guy on the motorcycle lead the way and we headed down some winding roads and up a mountain, only to realize our van was not going to make these tight turns easily. This resulted in a lot of shouting, praying, and me laughing quietly in the back seat. We did eventually make it up the road and stopped to get cokes to revitalize our weary souls.
Our last stop was the Herodium. Sadly, it was closed when we got there, but we still did a little bit of a history lesson. This was a mountain that King Herod (the Herod from Jesus' time) decided to build. The man (Herod, not Jesus) was crazy, but a brilliant architect and designer! It really is a remarkable structure and that was only one of his many works. He also had Masada built (another desert palace that we think he might never have used), many many aqueducts, and the Temple in Jerusalem. Plus others, but those are the ones I remember.
So yeah, that was pretty much our day. We came back, had a nice Shabbat meal and now we are officially in rest mode. As for me, I think a nice cup of tea, a movie with the girls, and maybe later a good book will be a great way to kick off our day of rest. Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I Luv Youuuu Na-Ta-Leee

The day I arrived at the beginning of May so did little Kosar and his mother. Maybe it's because of this connection, but I have definitely fallen in love with this little two year old. I'd like to think the feeling is mutual. I'm the only staff member who's name he knows and says. And the mom's taught him to say "I love you" in English. So the last couple weeks I would walk up and hear, "I luv youuuu Na-Ta-Leeeee". Precious!
And while this child is adorable, it hasn't been all beautiful moments. This mother has been probably one of our harder ones to love. She hasn't necessarily understood why there are certain rules in place, and one night a confrontation took place that resulted in a lot of tears. But slowly I've seen her transform. I think a lot of her behavior was due to the fear. Fear of what would happen to Kosar. Fear of all the new cultures and experiences she was having. Fear of the unknown. Without the security of God, I can understand how scary the whole thing is. Hopefully we were able to share with her the peace and joy that comes with being God's child.
Well, today, Kosar went home. His surgery went smoothly and in only six weeks, he was all finished. I had the privilege of accompanying him and his mother to the Israel-Jordan border. One of our other staff members accompanied them across the border and then we have a contact on the other side who met them. He will get them on a plane tomorrow to go home.
While I'm sad to see them go, I know it was time. They both miss their home and have been ecstatic all week when they heard Kosar was almost ready to fly out. I hope the things they have heard here will stick with them and someday they will learn to love Jesus.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Other Side of the Coin

Last week when I was at the hospital I met a Palestinian girl and shared some of her story with you. Well today I met a couple Israeli kids from the same organization that is working to build relationships between Israeli and Palestinian youth. Unfortunately, I did not have nearly as much time with them, so I don't have the same amount of information to share, but I do want to throw out one little story that one of the girls shared with me. I know this doesn't "balance" out my story telling about the people involved in the conflict, and to be honest, that isn't really my goal. I just want to share what I have learned from real people who live this every day. It is easy as Americans, sitting on our couches at home, to listen to American newscasters tell what they think. Why not let the people speak for themselves? At the end of the day, we are not trying to judge who is right and who is wrong, but learn the whole story and see how we can help in the reconciliation process... if at all.
So her story... I was telling her about the ministry we work for. How we bring kids from Gaza to the hospitals for surgery. She responded, "My dad did the same thing!" He was in the Israeli military, but saw a huge need in Gaza and the West Bank. There were lots of kids who needed hospital care that they could not get in the Palestinian territories. So he arranged to transport the children to the Israeli hospitals so they could have heart surgery. What a beautiful thing that the news doesn't usually highlight! It was her ending comment that really stuck with me though. "I don't understand why Palestinians hate all Israeli soldiers. My dad was a soldier and a good man. He was helping them!"
This is where the discussion between both sides is so important! There are good people helping people on both sides. Unfortunately, in war and conflict, the good people are overlooked and the bad people make the newspaper headlines. Something needs to change there.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Most of the holidays and festivals around here are connected with at least one religion. I mean, when you've got three religions colliding in one place, it's hard to have time for any other kind of holiday! But for the past week, this small miracle did happen and we have had the Festival of Lights.
It is not connected to any religion so there aren't a lot of tourists to the city. Instead, it is mostly put on for the locals and whatever lucky tourists (like myself) happen to be around.
The festival itself is kinda hard to explain. Most of the city has lights running through it and there are different stations that have shows that combine light and sound. It's really sweet. It looks a lot like Christmas time in Minnesota. All the lights strung up. The crazy neighbors that go all out and put up enough lights it feels like daytime even in the middle of the night. All we are missing is five feet of snow and I would have felt right at home!
Anyway, we were walking down the streets admiring the displays, ooing and awing over the whole thing, when I made the comment, "This is so beautiful!" Then some random guy with a long scraggly beard and baggy, messy clothing looks over and says (much to our surprise) in an crisp accent, "It is ugly! I hate it! This is the worst year yet!" Our mouths dropped open and it took great effort to not let the laughter bubbling up inside spill over. My coworker, always ready to take on a challenge, replied, "Really? Well, if you were on the committee what would you have done." This resulted in a five minute conversation about the changes he would have made. Unfortunately, then we reached a fork in the road and parted ways. So we never got to hear the end of his stories. But he did make the event more lively.
Despite his complaints, I really did enjoy it. There were fantastic light displays, flame throwers, and strange interpretive dancing. Very entertaining to say the least. And while I don't have the energy to go out every night, it was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity that I'm glad I had.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Oh, Baby!

The Mission: throw a baby shower in a culture that doesn't normally have them for a large group of people that don't all speak the same language.
Status Report: Successfully completed!
One of our Arab coworker's daughter is having a baby in less than five weeks! A few American friends thought it would be fun to throw her a baby shower. But due to some strange circumstances that I don't even know about, they had to back out, placing all the planning and responsibility on the mom (my coworker). However, this isn't a culture that typically has baby showers. They are becoming more common as women here learn about the tradition, but for this mom, the whole thing was overwhelming.
That's where community comes to the rescue! We stepped in and took different responsibilities. A couple of the girls made decorations, others bought gifts, and someone went and got a couple cakes since there wasn't going to be enough desserts. My job- games.
I spent most of the afternoon researching popular baby shower games online. Let me tell you, there are some strange ones out there. But now I feel completely confident in planning games for a baby shower in America. Doing it here, that was a different story. I had to take into consideration, cultural differences, the language barrier, and age range (I think we went from age 9 to around 70). This meant very different mobility levels. Did I mention there were about thirty in attendance? Yikes!
So here is what I came up with... the every popular, put a whole bunch of baby items on a tray, briefly show the audience, then recover it up and have everyone try to remember as many things as they can that were on the tray. We decided to use this as our icebreaker game. It actually went really well! I didn't have all the normal baby items, so I printed out pictures of a pacifier, bottle, booties, stroller, and crib, attached them to a little stand I made out of a cut up toilet paper roll and added other items like a diaper, Big Bird Toy, safety pin, baby spoon, baby lotion, etc.. to a tray. The Arab women really liked it! They all laughed at how few most were able to get. But our winner got 14 out of the 17 items! I was really impressed. She was the Aunt of the mom-to-be and is sharp as a tack, despite her age. (I am not saying that old people aren't smart. I'm just saying that it is common knowledge that the memory starts to slack off once you get past sixty. )
After a yummy dinner or various Arab foods, we brought it back in for Baby pictionary. I brought a little white board and markers. I split the group in two teams. Arab speakers on one team and English speakers on the other. I would have preferred to mix everyone up, but it was too hard to know if they guessed the right answer! Thankfully there were also a few girls on hand to help translate. This also went over well! I was really happy with how willing they were to step up and participate. Everyone really enjoyed it and was sad when I ran out of phrases or words.
To conclude the night we gave this first time mom some essential baby items and some blessings for the baby. Each of us from Shevet prepared either a song, verse, poem, or prayer to say to the mom and baby. The challenge: some of the women in attendance are very strong Muslims. We were requested not to rock the boat by using Jesus' name or pulling out a Bible. So when I read part of Psalm 139, I had it written on a sheet of paper and didn't say the reference. Others who prayed, read their prayers with their eyes open. Also since God's name translates directly to Allah, a lot of what we said the other women really agreed with. I know this is a great ministry opportunity for my Christian coworker and her believing daughter. I think the things we shared helped to break down cultural barriers so their witness can continue.
All in all, it was a great night! The women thanked us as we left. One even invited us to her daughter's wedding! It was so cute. Who knows if we will get to go. If we do, I'll bring my white board and we can play some wedding  pictionary! Ok... draw a wedding cake, flowers, wedding gown. No, those are too easy. I'll have to keep brainstorming....

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I got the oxygen tank!

On a normal trip to the beach, you might want to make sure you have swimsuits, a beach towel, sunscreen, and maybe a beach ball. Around here, before we reach for any of those things, we make sure the oxygen tank is packed in case someone needs a boost before we rush to the emergency room. We also check to make sure all medication that is taken three times a day is packed. And of course, we could never leave without a first aid kit. So you know, just a basic fun day at the beach! Thankfully, our latest outing did not require any of this emergency equipment, but is crazy to think these safety precautions are in place because they really really really might be needed!
But there are other things about life here that we do in order to help the kids heal faster or as a precaution so they don't get sick or hurt. Since their hearts are already broken (literally, not figuratively) it is so important the rest of them stays whole.
For example, teeth brushing. Who knew that this little act could help so much! But it really does keep a lot of bacteria out of their bodies and help them stay healthy. However, teeth brushing is not common in Kurdistan, at least not with most of these families, so teaching proper technique is often a battle. Tonight I had the privilege of assisting our normal kids staff with scrubbing the kids pearly whites. Let's just say, when gentle words don't work, sometimes you have to just dive in and scrub away!
Play time is also done differently. We have to be really careful with how we pick the kids up. The heart surgeries open up their chests, so post surgery it is important not to lift them up under their arms. This can cause too much strain on the newly closed incision... I don't want to be graphic so let's just say we want those stitches to stay closed! So instead, we have to scoop them up under their bum. This also becomes interesting when working with little kids that should be in diapers. Sometimes staff members have had to go change clothes after handling a poopy baby.
So on that lovely note.... I hope this entry has given you a look into the finer moments of life with little children. It really is a joy to work with them, but there are some moments where we just lift up our hands and say, "God, thank you for the promise of heaven, where everyone is whole and clean!"

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Right to Survive

Reading a book about someone’s life can never compare to actually hearing them tell it. Skimming newspaper articles about a political situation is nowhere near as personal as hearing it from a victim. Watching the news on television cannot convey how much the people who live in these circumstances every day are suffering. And that is why when I had the opportunity laid before me to hear a Palestinian girl’s story, I knew I needed to listen. In the course of twenty minutes she told me more personal stories than many Americans will hear in their lifetime. I’m not a journalist. I don’t know how to do a proper interview, so I just listened to her talk. When I asked questions, sometimes I suspected what her answer would be but wanted to hear it from her, other times, I was shocked. I wish I would have had a tape recorder, but here is the gist of our conversation.

Why are you here?
She was with an American organization that brings Israeli and Palestinian youths together. They go to a three week camp in America where they get to dialogue about their situation. Afterwards, they come back here and continue to do community service work side by side in hopes of increasing reconciliation and peace. She actually had to go to the camp late. Why? The government. In order for Palestinians to leave their region they need permission from the Israeli government, paperwork in order to enter Jordan to catch a plane to other parts of the world, and what she called “coordination”. I think this refers to exact travel plans: who will pick her up, where, when, etc. She had the first two, but the coordination wasn’t figured out all the way so she was only able to go to the last two weeks of camp. On the last day of camp, she asked one of the Israelis. “In two years you will go to the army. You know me. You know my thoughts and desires. You know I want peace. If you are in West Bank and you see me and your commander tells you to shoot me, would you do it?” The Israeli said yes.
Where are you from?
Originally, she was from Gaza, but it got so bad there they had to move to the West Bank. Now she cannot go visit her relatives in Gaza. Currently she is from a town called Ramallah. I asked her where that was. So she drew a map of Israel…. “Ok, so here is Palestine. This is West Bank. Here is Jerusalem and here is Ramallah.” “How far away is that?” “Because of the check point, about two hours.” “What if there was no check point?” “About 17 minutes.”
Why does the check point take so long?
In order to come into Israel, they have to have special papers with permission and IDs. I have seen them from when we pick up families to take them to the hospital. If they don’t have these, they don’t enter. Once at the check point, it takes forever. Why? She could not give me a reason. They are humiliated at every turn. They go through many security scans even though they could not have picked anything up as they go through. Sometimes the official will go on break and leave dozens of people waiting in between scanners, or what she referred to as “cages”. She also told me that “if they are in a bad mood” they can ask you to strip right there. She saw them do this one time. They told a young boy to take off all his clothes. He did and they took his clothes away. Then they told him to go home; he could not go through today. Another Palestinian woman gave him a jacket to wrap around himself.
Your English is very good. Where did you learn it?
“Really?” She didn’t know how good she was, but her English was almost flawless. Probably the best I’ve heard by a non-American since being here. We learn it at school in Gaza. Everyone does now. “Why English? Why not learn Hebrew since you are right next door?” “I don’t think anyone would think to do that. We would not want to learn the ‘enemy’s’ language.” She had two older siblings that are currently studying in the US and England at universities. I asked her if she will go as well. Probably, was the reply. She knows her brother will most likely never come back. He likes America so much better. “What would you study?” “My mom wants me to be a doctor. But I don’t want to. That is a lot more school. I’m just not as dedicated like my brother.” “Well then, what would you study if you could pick?” “Politics.” “That’s what I study!” I got a high five for that.
Do you think peace is possible?
“I don’t know.” After the response of the Israeli at the camp last summer she says she has lost hope. But all she wants is freedom. “We are denied the basic rights. The right to live. The right to survive. Every day I am afraid I will be killed.” She told me one week when it was really bad, she puked three times simply out of fear and stress. I asked her, “Are things getting better?” “No. They are actually getting worse. There are more houses being destroyed. More settlements being built.” At the camp, when the Palestinians told the Israeli students all the things that were being done, all the people (including children) that were killed in the Gaza Wars, their response was, “Sorry.” “Sorry isn’t enough.” And she’s right. Saying probably won’t be enough. I don’t know what will be. But I know America needs to wake up and hear this side of the story. There is so much going on here that most people aren’t aware of.

I read a book last year called Occupied Voices. It is simply Palestinians like this girl telling their stories. I highly recommend it for anyone who is trying to gain a perspective on what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is like from the Palestinian side. And while that book really touched me, I know that this conversation has even more so. As we parted today, she turned and gave me a hug. All she wanted was for someone to listen, someone from the outside to hear and know the truth. So I share her story with you, so that you can also know. Will you listen?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Funny Moments

It was just one of those days that things I didn't expect to happen or ever see did.
I was cleaning the downstairs kitchen and living room area and one of our little boys was following me around. He is about eleven years old. Too old to want to do the kids activities, but young enough that he is easily bored by adult conversations. So instead, he has become very mischievous. While I was wiping stuff down, he kept picking up bottles of cleaning supplies I had sitting on the counter and threatening to spray me or himself or drink the liquid! I couldn't fully express to him how terrible an idea this was, so it was time for a distraction. A few moments before, he had picked up the windex, sprayed one window, and wiped it off with a paper towel. Then walked away from the project. So I grabbed the bottle and enough paper towel for both of us, and set off to do the windows. He quickly followed and within seconds we were standing side by side, almost in unison, wiping the dirt and grime off the windows to the garden. He was enjoying it so much, I just kept going and we did a whole other set of windows that I usually do a different day.
We eat lunch upstairs with our Kurdish families every week day. So I went up a few minutes early to see how things were going, see if they needed help, and see the kids. Lunch was under control so I turned my attention to Kosar and Joman, both are little boys abut age two. Kosar immediately put up his arms to be held (I swear this kid thinks the floor is made of lava because he never wants to be put down). Then I started singing a children's song to them in Kurdish. "My God is so big, so strong and so mighty. There's nothing that He cannot do." The songs ends with each child pointing at the other saying "Bo To" (For you) and then lastly "Bo Me" (For Me). Well, the other words to this song are kinda big, but these two little boys love the last part. I think we said "Bo To!" for a five minutes straight. Even if I said, "Bo Me" they would repeat, "Bo To!" Isn't that cute? It's almost like they were so excited for the other person, they were not as worried about themselves.
Then this afternoon I went to the gym. Yesterday, my dad and I decided to do a local bike race when I get home later this summer. Except it's not really a race cause most people just enter for the fun of it. We are either riding 40 or 70 miles, so I've decided it is probably in my best interest to start building some of those muscles. Anyway, that isn't the important part. The funny moment is while I was sitting on the bike people watching. There was an interesting bunch on the workout machines. To the far right, was a guy in his mid twenties watching Oprah. He was pretty entertaining. He kept chuckling to himself and then getting this goofy smile on his face. Coming from someone who has seen one episode of Oprah in her life, I do not understand his amusement, but I sure found him amusing! Continuing down the line of treadmills, there was nothing too outrageous until the guy on the far left side.Once again, probably in his twenties. He happened to have some pretty outrageous dreadlocks and he was watching a cat and the hat cartoon. Hm. Then he got sick of that show and switched the channel. Alright that makes sense, the cartoon was just a little comic relief. But no, he then settled on another cartoon. This one looked like it was about a British police officer. I guess some people like to listen to loud music and others prefer to watch amusing cartoons while they work out. Hey, whatever floats your boat.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Who would have thought?

So when I planned my trip to the Middle East, a lot people asked me who I was going with. Well, no one. But I'll make new friends when I get there! Which I have! Thankfully. But apparently this isn't a normal thing to do.
However, a few weeks after I planned my trip, I found out one of my really good high school friends was also going to be here this summer studying at the same university I did when I first came a year and half ago! Then I found out another friend and her parents were coming. Who would have thought all of us would plan a trip at the same time to the same part of the world?
Well, my first friend finally got here tonight with her parents. I was able to have dinner with them and catch up on life. It was wonderful to see familiar faces, catch up on life, and answer any questions that I could about the land and what to expect.
No matter where I go in the world, God has been so faithful to give me friends. Even when I am flying solo, I always have Him to talk to! But He also has created us for relationships with the people around us, and I have always seen Him provide just the right people at just the right time in my life to push me closer to Him. And I just have to say, I love Christians! It's like no matter where you are in the world, if you both love God, there is this instant connection. The other day I was out for lunch with a couple of my coworkers and met a guy from the states who was here doing a tour with a church group. We chatted for only five minutes, but it was wonderful. At the end, he prayed for us and our ministry here. It was so sweet. Conversations like this happen all the time here. It's wonderful. It's God.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Strange Sight

For my university soccer team, we have summer workouts to do so that during pre-camp we don't die. No, I'm not exaggerating. Today, was day one. Each day we have something different. Sometimes it is longer runs, sometimes it is sprints, some days are just straight soccer skills, a couple times a week we lift weights...  you get the idea.
If I was at home, I would do these workouts at the local track, gym, and fields. Well, I have yet to find an open field and the roads generally are not flat and safe. You can get one or the other. So I have joined the local YMCA. Now this is no ordinary Y. It is a castle! I'll have to take a picture of it. It is amazing.
Today's workout was running two miles and record our time. So I got on the treadmill and realized my first problem... everything was in Hebrew. Well, after pushing a few random buttons I found the time, speed, and distance. So far so good. Thankfully the start button was big and green. That was no problem. And I made note that stop was the big red button. Also good to know. So I set the speed for what I calculated to be a good mile pace and started running. I got about a minute in before I realized I was not moving anywhere near as fast as I wanted to.  "Wow I am either in really good shape, or something isn't quite right...." Oh....I bet this is in kilometers instead of miles. Yep. Got that one straightened out, upped my speed a lot, and kept on going. Now the treadmill faces a wall that has a mirror on it, so I could see everyone walking behind me. Mostly it was men. There must not be many young, western, fit girls wearing soccer t-shirts that come in there because they seemed very surprised to see me running, and at such a fast pace too.
Then it was time to weight lift. I started weightlifting two years ago for soccer, so I have a pretty good idea of what I am doing. But they must have thought I was new at this, because the staff worker comes up. "Hello. I am Hythum. That is like 'hi' and 'thumb' (he makes hand motions to demonstrate this). What is your name?" "I'm Natalie." "It is good to meet you. Now if you want to adjust the weights..." He proceeds to show me how the machine works. I have used this same machine at home at least a hundred times, but hey it's always good to refresh!
I'm glad to have a safe, friendly place to work out for the summer. It sure should be an interesting experience. I just hope they get used to seeing me there so I don't feel like the animals at the zoo!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Joy in Abundance

While sometimes I like to think I am super human and can do anything and always be happy, every so often I do hit a wall. But thankfully, when this happens, God always manages to come through and lift my spirits. Yesterday I collided with that wall but today God helped me find a new path around it.
Friday, as always is hospital visit day. Sometimes this can be very trying. While I always want to assume every child will come through surgery easily, this is not the case. Each new perfect heart is a miracle. So when we visited today I braced myself for a hard day. Instead, we were greeted with one good report after another.
Of our four Gaza kids that were at the hospital today, two were out of surgery and back to the normal children's ward. Both should go home soon! One little girl, Rahaf, who has been in the ICU for over three weeks now, was finally stable enough to move into the intermediate ICU today! Praise God! And our fourth child just completed surgery yesterday. He is in the ICU for the next couple days (this is very normal) and all his reports are great! His recovery should be swift and easy!
All in all, it was a fabulous day at the hospital! I have never had so much fun. All the mothers were relaxed and laughing. This may sound odd, but even though I only know a handful of words of Arabic, I can track with a lot of their conversations. I could never translate them for you, but after spending enough time around these mothers I can often figure out what they are saying. It was so fun to sit and chat with them and have all of them smiling. There was not a furrowed brow or teary eye in sight.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A surprise holiday means we have time to be tourists!

In case you weren't aware, today is Shavuot. (Sha-voo- oat). Got it? It's a Jewish holiday, which means.... holiday for us! Woopee! Our offices were closed in the middle of the week so we had some extra free time. I and two other volunteers decided to take advantage of this opportunity to do a little exploring. Our top pics were all in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, so we spent over 6 hours today walking to these famous sites.
For those of you that don't know, I first visited Israel a year and a half ago. I came with my university and took a three week Bible course here. I fell in love with the cultures and people here and believe God might be leading me to work here long term somewhere in my future. All that to say, I had been to all the places we visited today when I took that course, but it was wonderful to return and see them again!
Our first stop was the tourist office. Although we were all excited to set out and see the sites, we had not brought a map of the city... kinda important so you don't end up in the wrong areas. So we grabbed a map and headed to our first stop: the room of the Last Supper/Pentecost/First Church and David's Tomb (at least the site where we remember it). Crazy right! It is amazing to think that all these huge events happened right where we were standing. As time past, the actual room of all these events has gone and others have been built up on top. There is this weird mix of cultures with the Tomb on the bottom level, room with Muslim and Roman influences on top, and then a minaret on the roof, but the whole site is historically very Christian. That's Jerusalem for you!
From there we decided to walk to the Mount of Olives. We got halfway up the hill and found out that the church on the Mount had closed until later in the afternoon, so we headed back towards the city. As we walked we past a huge gate that is currently sealed off. At the end of time, when Jesus comes back, he is supposed to enter Jerusalem through that gate. The Muslims don't believe this will happen, but just in case it does, they have sealed off the gate so no one can get in. They also have created a  huge graveyard in front of the sealed gate because no holy person would walk through a graveyard. But really, they don't believe it  will happen?!
So we headed back to the Old City and walked the Via Dolorosa. This is the route that Jesus walked to the cross. Unlike our Savior, who made it all the way from his sentencing to Golgotha, we stopped for pizza along the way. But we did ultimately make it to the Church of the Holy Seplechur which is recognized as most likely being near where Jesus was crucified. And we were there! But I will say, for all its grandeur, the church isn't where I can best remember Christ's sacrifice.... it is much too touristy. I would rather sit in a quite garden with my Bible.
We then headed back to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane. The Garden is beautiful and has olive trees that probably date back to the time of Jesus. There is also a church next to it where you can sit and remember the event. It was so cool to sit and read the story in all the Gospels! Throughout the day whenever we got to one of the places mentioned in the Bible we would all pull out our Bibles and read about it! The stories really do come alive when you are standing right where it happened.
The first time I was here, as I was exiting the Garden, a man in his twenties stopped me and told me I dropped something! I didn't think I was holding anything, but I looked around, trying to figure out what he was referring to. What are you talking about? "My heart!" he then went on. "You dropped my heart." Thankfully, he was not there today.
We continued our hike up the very steep mountain and finished our tour by looking out over the Kidron Valley and the City of Jerusalem. It was the perfect way to spend Shavout

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Peace of a Child

Hospital Visit again today! Usually all our kids are at the same hospital, but due to their varying needs and conditions, we are floating back and forth between two different ones. Today, rather than send one group to two hospitals we split in half so we would have more time with the kids.
I visited Chera and Joman. Chera is an adorable little ten year old girl. Scratch that. Eleven year old girl. She celebrated her birthday in the hospital yesterday. Her surgery was over a week ago now. We had hoped she would be back at our complex by now, but due to some complications, the doctors have kept her at the hospital longer than normal. This cutie is about as sweet as they come. And as small. Since she her heart has been so weak for so long, her growth has definitely been stunted. In Iraq, she had surgery three different times in an attempt to fix her heart defect. All of them failed. In many ways, this is her last chance. The doctors were initially pleased with her surgery, they still are. But her rapid heart rate is making them cautious. For Chera's mother, it is a reason to despair. Her downcast face shows her lack of hope. I don't think she believes her daughter could ever be well.
Today at the hospital, two clowns stopped by to cheer the girl and her mother up. They were completely ridiculous and hilarious. It was just what the doctor ordered to lift Chera's spirits. They even danced around with one of the other fathers. I feel like this might have broken some Middle Eastern proximity rules for men and women... But hey, what do I know? Once they left, Chera and I hit a balloon back and forth to each other and then blew bubbles. It was so great to see her smiling and giggling again!
In the middle of the day, I made a quick run down to the ICU to see Joman. This adorable little boy went straight to the hospital after entering the country. He was losing consciousness every day at home so the doctors felt an emergency surgery was necessary. When I saw him he was sleeping soundly. For part of my job, I'm supposed to take pictures of the kids and their families and write about them for the website. I love it! Except when I have to get shots in the ICU. Those nurses don't like foreigners in there and they really don't like cameras. I always try to move fast, not use the flash when I can, and be respectful.... but I think I'm going to need to start finding creative ways to hide my camera so they can't tell I'm documenting the inner workings of the Intensive Care Unit.
I went back and hung out with Chera awhile longer while the other two volunteers and I waited for our ride to come pick us up. The mothers all sat around chatting and I was perched on the edge of Chera's bed. As we sat, she slowly scooted over close to me, laid her head on my lap, and held my hand. I just rubbed her back and played with her hair as her eyelids struggled to stay open.
One of the biggest things I have learned here- kids need comfort. They will react however the adults around them are reacting. If the parents stay calm, the kids will be too. If the parents freak out, the kids start to cry and get nervous. Right now, the worry in Chera's mother's eyes is echoed in the little girl's face. But throughout a day, if we can be calm and cheerful, slowly I see her relax and her spirits begin to rise. I pray that her mother finds the true peace that Jesus offers. I know He can heal all her pain and relieve her anxiety.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Field Trip

During our morning meeting, we were informed our director was preaching today at Christ Church which is the oldest Protestant church in the Middle East. Crazy cool, right? So we decided to show our moral support and take the morning off to go to the service.
The Church/cathedral is absolutely gorgeous. It is very simple, which makes it even better than some buildings that go from ornate to gaudy. It is made of large cream colored stones and the ceiling has dark wood. There are also several beautiful stain glass windows. Today's service was a lot more traditional than services I go to at home. There was a lot of liturgy which I love and hate at the same time. I appreciate it because it is usually beautifully worded and allows all the believers to praise God in unison. However, I find that often it worshipers who have repeated these familiar phrases every Sunday for decades lose their enthusiasm. Today, though, I was so overwhelmed at the joy and beauty of the things we were praying to God! Elena and I had a long chat last night that covered a million different topics, but we spent a great deal of time focusing on heaven. The mutual encouragement and joy we received from that conversation has definitely carried over into today's work. We've decided this is a conversation that needs to happen daily! It is amazing how much easier the burdens of life seem when you are constantly reminded that this world will soon end and we have a perfect one waiting for us!
Jonathon did an excellent job of sharing from God's word, his testimony, and the story of Shevet Achim. Even though I have been here for almost a month, there is a lot of the history of this place that I don't know. We heard how he was first convicted to help Palestinian children after meeting one who was dying of leukemia. Later, he learned of hundreds more that desperately needed heart surgeries but lacked access to the medical facilities. Thus, Shevet began! Pretty cool. I know that's the abbreviated version, but the long version is long and I don't want to get any of the details wrong. Maybe someday he'll write down the whole story so that future generations will remember what God has done.
At the end of the service, the whole Shevet team was called up and they prayed for us. It was so strange to be recognized as part of this ministry. I felt so unworthy. I only pray that God will continue to use Shevet to spread his love and increase peace and reconciliation in the Middle East.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Shabbat Shalom

Keeping with the culture here, we celebrate Shabbat starting around sundown on Friday to Saturday evening rather than have our day of rest on Sunday. Every Friday whoever is around gathers for a nice meal and Shabbat traditions.
Tonight many of our team members were out, so there were only 7 staff members, one local friend, and we invited one of the Kurdish patients who is 22 to join us. So we decided to have a picnic! We laid out blankets, nice glasses, plates, and a huge spread of food in the backyard. Elena made Brinner (Breakfast for dinner) and we all enjoyed a relaxing evening.
But before we dove into the delicious meal, we had to complete a few Shabbat traditions. First, a woman in the house covers her head, lights two special Shabbat candles, and prays over them. Usually there is a special prayer done in Hebrew, but we don't know it and most of us can't speak Hebrew, so we just thank God for his blessings and say whatever is on our hearts. I had the privilege of doing this the first Shabbat I was here. After the prayer we break bread. Ryan, another staff member, usually blesses in Hebrew and English. The bread is this really nice loaf of hallah which is kind of sweet. Each person breaks off a piece, salts it, and then eats the bread. Then Ryan blesses a cup of wine (in our case, grape juice), again in Hebrew and English, and we pass around the cup, each taking a sip. And then we all say, "Shabbat Shalom!" We also have started singing the Shabbat  song which is really fun. You basically just say "Shabbat Shalom" over and over and over. I know it sounds kinda weird, but it is super great!And that is a typical Shabbat!
This evening after we ate, seven of us hung out in the garden awhile longer, enjoying the evening and singing some songs. There were also some impromptu performances of an Australian Romeo and Juliet and Southern Rapunzel. I can never explain the humor they provided to us, but I'm sure you can imagine it.
I must confess, my first Shabbat here, I didn't like it. Having a whole day off just to rest was really boring. But the longer I am here, the more and more I appreciate it. When you work six very full days, having one entire day of nothing is such a blessing! I'm starting to realize how lazy most of us are to only work five days and then have two days for the weekend. I am going to try to never again complain about the heavy weekday workload I have at college. It is in no way as intense as this. I also am going to try to do a better job at keeping the Sabbath holy and resting, even once I am back in America.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Mail time!

During our break.... which surprisingly actually did happen today.... usually there is no stopping from 6am to 8pm... but anyway, during our (Elena and my) break we decided to go to the post office. Pretty exciting, I know. But hey, everything is more exciting when you don't know the language and don't know exactly where you are going.
We headed down the main street and actually made it to the post office pretty easily. We went through security as we entered... yes, you have to go through a body scan and have your bag checked before you can mail a letter. We cleared without any problems, big surprise there. Then we headed for the "automatic mailing machine". This thing was cool. And confusing, even though we got it to give us directions in English. You select the country you are mailing to, weigh the parcel, and then put in cash. Then is spits out a stamp and you take it to another box to mail it. Sounds simple? Well, it was after we did the whole process three times! However, we learned the hard way that this machine does not give change! You need exact cash. So there goes half a shekel (about 15 cents).
Then we had to go check the mailbox. We found them towards the back, used our super special key, opened the door, and found two sheets of paper with lots of writing on them... none of it in English. But we were warned this might mean we had a registered package. So we walked up to the desk and hand the papers to the man behind the counter. He took one and walked away. Alrighty.... we waited. And waited. Then he reappeared with a package for me from my mother! Isn't she so sweet! I used our special Shevet Stamp, signed my name, and we were good to go! Except there was still that other sheet of paper from the mailbox... we held it up and motioned "what do we do with this." "Over there," the man said, pointing towards a different desk. So we walked over to another desk and received another package for one of our coworkers. I still have no idea why those were not together... but hey, it's not like I could ask and find out! There are some things that will always be a mystery here...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A 1950s Housewife

I now understand the stereotype of the 1950s American housewife. She was the woman who cooked and cleaned and took care of the kids all day. Why were these her only responsibilities? Because that is all she had time for!
In so many ways, today felt like a blast to the past as I cooked, cleaned, and hung out with kids. I actually didn't even finish all the cleaning because I had so much else to do. Plus I had First Aid training in the middle of the day so that took up some time. It was really interesting and I'm glad they finally got around to showing us newbies some important basics. Since we are working with kids with some major heart defects it is so important to know how to measure their oxygen level, take care of cuts or scrapes so they don't get infected. and do CPR. We didn't have a victim to practice CPR on, so one of the couch pillows had to serve as our patient. Sadly, we were not able to revive him no matter how many compressions we gave our how many times we blew on him. Hopefully if we ever have to give CPR to a human, it will go over better.
After... and before CPR.... basically all afternoon I worked on dinner. Whoever said making soup is easy is a liar. Do you know how many different things you have to chop up for soup? It is incredible. Anyway, a couple of our star cooks coached me through the art of Minestrone Soup, which surprisingly turned out really well. I'm not going to lie, I was really proud of myself! I will go confess about that later. But for now, I'm living in the glory of a not-burnt-actually-pretty-tasty meal.