Hello Friends – After ten days in the Holy Land, I finally find myself with a few free hours in which to write. EAPPI “boot camp” has been a whirlwind. So many people to meet, villages and schools and organizations with which to familiarize myself, Arabic phrases to learn, cultural awareness and protocols to absorb. My group of 24 Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) is as diverse, interesting, and committed to human rights and the work we will do here as I had hoped. They have come from the United Kingdom, Uruguay, Finland, Sweden, Canada, Argentina, South Africa, Germany, Switzerland, Norway. And of course, I am one of two Americans.  They range in age from 24 to 68.  Only five are men.

Our orientation and training began here in East Jerusalem, where we are staying in a guesthouse near one of the gates into the Old City. After our initial two days here, we traveled to our placements for three days of on-the-ground training, before returning to East Jerusalem for four more days in the “classroom.” Tomorrow, my team will return to our placements to begin work in earnest.

I am assigned to the Bethlehem team, joining Fumane from South Africa, Lucie from Switzerland, and Sanya from Germany. At 64, I am the team matriarch. Fumane (pronounced Foo-mah-nee) is 60, while the “girls” (I can’t help thinking of them as my EAPPI daughters) are 24 and 30.  Our three days in Bethlehem were spent in training with the out-going Bethlehem team. That training included accompanying them on their normal activities, so we have already participated in “school runs,” where we provide a protective presence for children as they travel to and from school; visits to two Palestinian villages located near Bethlehem; and checkpoint duty, where we monitor the early-morning crossing of Palestinian men on their way to jobs on the other side of the separation barrier.

Our apartment is basic but comfortable. It has three bedrooms, a little dining area, a kitchen, a very pleasant (if small) sunroom, and one bathroom. This made for tight quarters during our three days of training there: eight adults, one bathroom! My team and I are anxious to return and get moved in and settled. As I had been warned, the apartment is chilly, though space heaters do an adequate job. We’ve been very lucky in the weather department: Israel and Palestine are enjoying a bit of a heat wave, with temperatures in the 60s and bright sunshine. All of us agree that if this weather continues, we’ll have to do some shopping; the sweatshirts and wool socks we packed won’t get much use.

The food is wonderful. Our meals here in East Jerusalem are all served in the guesthouse and feature lots of vegetables and salads. Meat is available at every meal for the carnivores, but I focus on the vegetables and the ubiquitous rice. I can’t get enough of the tomatoes – larger than our cherry tomatoes but smaller than a regular tomato. They are served at breakfast, lunch, and dinner and are super sweet and flavorful – like a mid-summer Ohio tomato grown in your garden.

As I write this, I am sitting at an outdoor café in the Old City, sipping tea and eating some sort of little baklava-like pastry. The tea here is served with fresh herbs…not just mint, but other herbs as well.  I can’t always identify the herbs, but the tea is luh-deed (Arabic pronunciation of the word delicious).

I had heard that no people on earth are more hospitable than Palestinians, and this seems to be true. At each school and each home that we visited in Bethlehem during our three days there, we were served strong Arabic coffee in small cups. In one case, the home was primitive in a way that is hard to describe, but the lady of the house had pretty porcelain cups in which to serve the coffee.

I don’t drink coffee! But I am learning to enjoy a few sips of this brew, which is very dark and strong.

I will close by saying that I feel so lucky to be here. When I walk through these ancient streets in the morning, on my way from the guesthouse to the EAPPI offices for training, surrounded by such a variety of faiths and languages and nationalities and styles of dress, I can hardly believe that this opportunity has come my way.

Yesterday evening I stood in the courtyard of the Basilica of Saint Anne, shut away from the bustle of the street outside by a stone wall with heavy wooden doors. Dusk was falling. The Palestinian flag fluttered from the top of the Basilica and the Muslim call to prayer echoed over the city, as it does five times each day, reminding all who heard it of God. For me, such magical moments of reflection and awe have occurred each day. I know that challenging times and tasks lie ahead, and I crave your prayers for those moments, but I feel deeply privileged to be part of this effort in this place.

Susan Brodgen serves with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel. Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, WOC, OGHS, and your special gifts.