Have you ever found yourself in the arrival room of an airport waiting anxiously,
pacing, glancing at your phone, the electronic motion sensor doors opening and closing as nameless people come through.
You see families and friends as they greet their loved ones with flowers, signs, balloons and a lot of hugs and kisses. It is a place of complete paradox; as you feel everyone being surrounded in love by their arriving people.
Than their are those of us who are left waiting, feeling as though we are stuck in a painful temporary state of loneliness as we wait to see that familiar face.
This is where I found myself in the Ben Gurion Airport as I waited for my parents, Timo and Cherokee Rova, to come through those electronic doors. Searching, pacing hearing bits and pieces of Hebrew, Russian, Arabic and English being spoken the different languages expressing words of love and happiness.
I was nervous. After a coke and 2 cups of coffee I was jittery.
Many things ran through my mind as I waited searching each person that came through those doors. Waiting for that familiar face I hadn't seen in over 9 months straight.
I thought the worst, they were detained, their plane never took off, the weather......
and then some....
and then....I see a man in a New York Yankees Sweatshirt and my heart leaps... AMERICA
Two very blonde white people, my father first appears than my mother. Both of them in stark contrast to the darker haired Jewish and Arab people arriving. That deer in the headlights look as the electronic doors open revealing to them the world of Israel/Palestine.
One week into my life here, welcome Mom and Dad Ahlan Waasalan to this craziness that I now call home.
Here is how it went from their personal experiences:
I have to say that the best part about visiting Israel and Palestine was seeing my beautiful daughter! I sure missed her after 9 months away. She is an amazing young woman--so brave, compassionate and smart. Things that are very necessary in the complex world of Israel/Palestine.
I was quite surprised by how crowded things are. There really is little open space in the cities and not much more out in the country. I couldn't believe all the cars and pedestrians sharing the narrow roads with bikes and motorcycles and little room for error. How there was room for big tour buses too I will never know. Fortunately, everyone uses their horns to announce there presence, to merge or to admonish other drivers. And, small miracles were happening all the time as we did not witness any accidents, only near misses.
One of our first stops was to see Annela's school. I was impressed with the care and dedication of all the staff and teachers there. Most everyone speaks English. The students were all very respectful and seemed to be enjoying their studies. We enjoyed eating watermelon with the kindergarten class. They really seemed to enjoy the antics of my husband as he was impressing them with his sound effects including a vicious cougar. I was happy to see the newly constructed field for athletics and recess, a welcome addition to the campus. All expressed their appreciation of Annela and the work that she is doing there to organize the library and teach English. Several books were added thanks to the generosity of a few Lutheran women back in Minnesota. I hope the students did well at their Spelling Bee competition.
I was sad to see all of the trash in the area. On the streets and sidewalks and even in the Sea of Galilee. Still, even the trash could not hide the natural beauty of the area. Azaleas and roses were in bloom and vineyards and olive groves were found in all kinds of places. We certainly enjoyed all of the fresh fruits and vegetables. The nectarines were my favorite next to the most delicate little cucumbers that I really hope to grow back here in the states. And tomatoes that actually have flavor! The wine from the Cremisan vineyards was a nice addition.
I was struck by the hospitality of the Palestinian people. All of them so eager to have us come to their homes in order to have a meal. We couldn't accept most of the offers that were extended. And when we did go to a home, the food was plentiful and we had to be careful not to finish our plates as more food would then be offered. I enjoyed meals with Dina and her children, Shareen and her family, second dinner with Shireen's parents! and dinner at the hotel. We ate like kings and queens. I also really enjoyed having coffee after church with Zshed and Sonia and their family. Zshed's great grandfather helped to found the Lutheran church in Beit Jalla more than a hundred years ago and his home had been in the family for 200 years. And I thought my 100 year old home was old!The Arabic coffee is quite strong but very tasty. The little touch of cardamom makes it especially delightful.
I appreciated being invited to a baptism by Annela's friend Amira and her family. How fun to see the whole family celebrating the baptism with music and food. The Arab women dance so beautifully. I would love to learn even a few of their moves. And it was quite fun to see the men all dance together. The little baby that had been baptized was quite tired by 11pm. Earlier in the day we had all been waiting together for the arrival of "the light" which appears to be an old Orthodox Easter tradition--the streets of Beit Jala had been packed with anticipation. It was a long day.
Floating in the Dead Sea was also quite an experience. If you've never tried it, I highly recommend it.
I think the most relaxing day I had was the day that we spent in Nazareth. I'm not sure why the atmosphere was so relaxing--it seemed immune from all of the tensions that exist throughout the country with all of the Israeli military presence and the multiple checkpoints here and there. One storekeeper told us that there was not one single Jew in old city Nazareth so I wondered if that made a difference in a land where there is little peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
The most remarkable thing that happened to me was while riding in a taxi in Jerusalem. We picked up a Muslim woman as taxis often transport more than one party. She was well covered but dressed very stylish including a Burberry plaid purse. Not sharing the same language but having a similar fashion sense, I showed her my wallet which matched her purse perfectly. We could speak fashion! Little did I know that this would move her to offer me her purse. I didn't understand and at first wondered if she wanted to sell it to me. Annela explained to me that she was offering to give her purse to me. I reassured the Muslim woman that I wasn't asking her for her purse. Annela explained further that it isn't that uncommon. Again, I certainly didn't want to take anything from this woman out of respect. I worried later that I may have insulted her by declining her offer.
Later, Annela shared with me that the Palestinian people are so very anxious to show the world that they are kind, generous and eager. Mostly eager to show the world that they are not the selfish, violent people that they are sometimes portrayed to be. And indeed, we found the Palestinian people to be just that--kind, compassionate, generous and hospitable, whether they were Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox or Muslim. All of them welcomed us and more important they have welcomed my beloved daughter as one of their own--a daughter, a sister. I will always remember their kindness to me, to my family and their sincere desire for peace and a place to call their own.
Shukran Katir to all the wonderful people we visited!
I left on April 27th to Israel with my wife Cherokee to visit my daughter Annela who is spending a year in Israel working teaching school on the West Bank in Bethlehem. It was a full many beautiful sites, experiences and people.
Many things struck me while there. The land where Jesus came and ministered was one of them. It is now full of people and development is everywhere. But it reminds me of eastern Montana, hilly, dry and with many hidden oasis’. While at the Sea of Galilee I pondered the lake and fishermen working it just like when he was there and how it is such a peaceful place compared to the cities. The same with Mount of Olives where Jesus often went to be alone and pray. It was such a peaceful and beautiful place amid all the noise and turmoil surrounding it. No wonder Christ retreated there to communicate with his father and experience peace.
Another thing that hit me was the food. So different in many ways then what I’m used too, but so good. The fruit and vegetables were fresh and had such flavor even if they didn’t look perfect like our in the grocery store. The act of purchasing from the local vendor, eating and serving was such an event each time. I felt like the sustenance was more then just calories, it was community and being together and the land. The coffee was strong Arabic coffee served in small espresso cups, thick, with a touch of cardamom and sugar. Little sips taken and savored.
But it was the people that struck me the most. These Palestinians (many who are Christians), who’s fore-fathers were the original Christians. They are pushed around by everyone, a wall is being built separating their homes from the olive groves that have been in their families for hundreds of years and hills they graze their sheep and goats on. They have no official country because they have no passports and they find it hard to travel to see their extended families or visit other churches do to the restrictions put on them. They are a hospitable people, filled with joy in sharing their food, family and homes with us. They love their families, their children and old people. They live and experience daily life together.
And they love our daughter. They call her sister, daughter and aunt. We went to a baptism as honored guests because of her friendships with one family and always were told how special she is to these people. And she loves them, cares for them and works with them. Christ is evident everywhere there, in the people we met and in the love and acceptance they have shown Annela.
I come home with my priorities challenged. I was convicted by my busy life where I am surrounded by nature, but seldom retreat to it to find peace like Christ in the garden. Convicted by my individualism, of not focusing on the people around me. The people God has put in my life to share food, work and home.
Thank you Annela for your sweetness, your strength and you make a great tour guide.
So there you have it told from their point of view. It ended up being a very successful and wonderful experience for all of us. Some crazy times yes of course. Dad trying to drive....lets just say he did an awesome job.
Mom talking to everybody about their differing health problems and offering her healing physician assistant advice.
Both were loved and cherished and are missed here. Thank you for coming and witnessing here. I know I can't wait to come home and share our stories and experience from here.
Not going to lie.....
I need a lot of sleep after all the adventures...may just need sleep for a month when I get back stateside....
Above: Dad and his swharma. Yes he loved it!!! good old slow cooked meat with all the dressings :)
Below: Dad driving in the Galilee, Mom in the backseat!