Friday, December 25, 2009

How far is it to Bethlehem?

I feel somewhat guilty writing this post for it is not everyone who gets to experience Christmas in the Holy Land. We have had a wonderful few days and offer these photos in gratitude to good parents and loving family and friends who we are missing this Christmas season.

One of our favorite Christmas carols this season is "How far is it to Bethlehem" Its lyrics fit much of what we have felt and experienced this Christmas season:
How far is it to Bethlehem?
Not very far.
Shall we find the stable room
Lit by a star?
Can we see the little child,
Is he within?
If we lift the wooden latch
May we go in?
May we stroke the creatures there,
Ox, ass, or sheep?
May we peep like them and see
Jesus asleep?
If we touch his tiny hand
Will he awake?
Will he know we've come so far
Just for his sake?
Great kings have precious gifts,
And we have naught,
Little smiles and little tears
Are all we brought.
For all weary children
Mary must weep.
Here, on his bed of straw
Sleep, children, sleep.
God in his mother's arms,
Babes in the byre,
Sleep, as they sleep who find
Their heart's desire.
On Tuesday the 22nd the Mahaba Kindergarten at Augusta Victoria put on a Christmas program. It included three costume changes and carols in Arabic and English. Most of the Palestinian children were Muslims so at the program there were a lot of mothers with heads covered with hijabs watching their children singing carols while dressed in nativity clothes or as little Santas. Will and Nirvana (to his left) sang a duet of "We wish you a Merry Christmas". Marie helped a lot with the program. Miss Margaret knows that Marie can do anything and so she has made Marie her right hand volunteer. During the fall Marie taught the children to sing "I'm bringing home a baby bumble bee" and "Five little monkeys" so Miss Margaret had Marie lead the child at the Christmas program. Marie also helped by hemming Santa costumes.

Miss Margaret (at right) is the sister of the Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem (left in photo). He and the director (right) of the Lutheran World Federation of Jerusalem, which runs the kindergarten and Augusta Victoria hospital, were the honored guests and had front rows seats.
For Christmas Eve we journeyed to Bethlehem. We had hoped to spend the whole day there, but ended up having to scale back our activities. What we did get to do was awesome (and that is not a word I use very often). Our first stop was at the security check at the Wall. As we drove up in our hired van we smiled at a sign posted on the Israeli side by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism wishing all the pilgrims passing into Bethlehem a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Next we were greeted by smiling Israeli soldiers who upon seeing three kids in the van offered them bags of treats. Amazing! We loved the good will toward men and hope it will continue each and everyday. The final security stop was equally friendly and easy.
Once in Bethlehem, graffiti on a wall reminded us of reality: two peoples inextricably linked and yet unwilling to work together.

By previous arrangement we spent a few hours at the Holy Family Children's Home (Creche de la Sainte Famille) playing with Palestinian Arab children (infant to five years old)--some are orphans but others have been abandoned because of health problems or because they were born out of wedlock and thus rejected in order to restore family honor. I love the statue of Jesus with outstretched arms.
Sister Sahar (in red) is the Relief Society President and helped spear-head the visit after several families expressed interest in making the visit. She brought new items of clothing for the children. She is being helped by branch members.
Marie made bubbles and salt clay for the children to play with.
The children had a hard time figuring out how to wave the wands to make bubbles, but this little girl improvised and had a great time blowing a bowl full of bubbles.
Joel using a bottomless water bottle to blow a bubble.
Sarah was wonderful with the children and bonded with this girl while playing with salt clay.

After playing outside for a while we moved inside for the highlight of the visit--holding the little children.
I held Ehab--he shares a name with my good friend and Nazareth roommate Ehab Abunuwara. He was a happy content little boy who enjoyed looking at Christmas tree lights and bouncing to "trot trot to Boston"

The "orphanage" is a beautiful facility with a dedicated staff. We were all impressed with the women caregivers and with how clean, healthy and happy the children are under their care.
It was hard to leave. If travel conditions were better Marie and I would love to make visiting the Holy Family Children's Home a weekly tradition. Back in 1982 we BYU students visited a different orphanage in Bethlehem every week. Since then, one of my secret desires has always been to run an orphanage. Anyone want to provide the funding?
We then traveled through the crowded streets of Bethlehem to the town of Beit Sahour to the home of Sister Sahar. She invited all of the Latter-day Saints in Bethlehem that day for a wonderful Christmas Eve gathering--half of the crowd were Bethlehemites who could not go to a branch outing on the other side of the wall. Here is the view from Sahar's street looking north to "shepherd's field". In the distance is the southern Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa. Interestingly, at the same time I took this photo other members of the branch were gathered on the Jerusalem side of the wall near Har Homa for a shepherd's field nativity program. This gathering included U.S. consulate employees who are not normally allowed to travel into Bethlehem.
We ate delicious stuffed roasted chicken. Then wonderful Sahar treated all of the children to gifts. This gathering with family and friends was a great substitute for us having to miss the annual Tueller and Emmett family Christmas gatherings. Our return drive through Bethlehem felt a lot like Christmas--there were lighted decorations on the streets and many of the homes. As we approached the Israeli checkpoint we all pulled out passports, but there was no need--the soldiers upon learning and seeing we were Americans waved as through with a smile. Nice. On this side of the wall the lighted decorations were blue and menorah shaped for Hanukkah. For the twenty minute drive back to the center the Emmett and Allen families enjoyed singing a host of Christmas carols.
For our tree this year we borrowed one (after the students had departed) from the lovely decorations at the Center. This one was in the main office. Sarah then spruced it up with home made decorations.
Christmas morning with new scarves and hats for our day after Christmas trip to London.
Christmas morning view. At midnight all of the bells of Jerusalem's churches peeled out loud. It was a wonderful sound.
Christmas breakfast: Swedish pancakes (with fresh strawberries and cream or lemon and powdered sugar) in honor of great grandmother Elva Geneva Carlson Tueller whose parents came from Sweden; sliced oranges with powdered sugar (an Emmett tradition), chocolate milk from Kibbutz Yodvata and real Hormel bacon bequeathed to us by departing nursing professor Susan Dicus and her husband Ken. The kids have enjoyed staying home today playing with gifts and watching DVDs. We'll have pot roast for dinner and then a carol sing-a-long with branch members this evening. At 2:45 AM we'll leave to catch our 6:15 flight to London, where we're hoping to see some snow.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

December Activities

December has been a fun, busy month so far. It even looks like Christmas in a few places. This is a Christmas specialty shop in the Christian quarter of the Old City. I think they have the same supplier as K-Mart.
For Will's birthday Marie baked 5 cakes and invited all of the students and faculty to help celebrate.
It's not often that 82 BYU students sing Happy Birthday to a five year old. They all love Will. They came up with some cute presents for him. One of the security men (Mahmoud) at the center gave Will a remote control car that he loves.
On December 11th The Anglican International School of Jerusalem primary school (Grades K-5) put on a wonderful Christmas production called the Peace Child (I took videos of Joel singing and dancing, but I have been unable to upload the large files. Joel is third from the right in brown). It was very refreshing to attend a Christmas program that focused on the real meaning of Christmas and that had no singing of Frosty the Snowman or Jingle Bell Rock. This program had no familiar Christmas carols but it did have the kids singing such songs as "Our God is an Awesome God" and "Peace Child". It started out with two rival African tribes who eventually became friends when one tribe gave the chief's son to the other tribe. The second half included biblical stories and prophecies from Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac to the birth of Jesus. After wards we enjoyed walking though Mahane Yehuda--the main market of West Jerusalem that was full of pre-sabbath shoppers. We bought fresh strawberries and gummy bears. Then we had falafel on Ben Yehuda street.
Later that day Joel and dad joined with most of the BYU students for the weekly Friday Via Dolorosa walk. At each station of the cross Franciscan monks read accounts in Italian, Russian and English of the events of Christ's journey to Calvary.
On Sunday December 13th we journeyed to Bethlehem to meet with a group of West Bank saints who are not permitted to enter Jerusalem and are thus not able to attend Sabbath (Saturday) services with the Jerusalem branch. Their home teachers and other branch members now meet with them weekly. This is a view from the fourth floor apartment of one of the part-member families. The wall in the distance is what keeps them hemmed in.
Their home was decked out in Christmas and Christian decorations. We really liked the cave-like creation.
The Emmett kids were great playmates with the Bethlehem children. Everyone enjoyed Marie's snickerdoodles.
On Wednesday the 16th we attended Joel's third grade classroom presentation about all they learned the past few months about Chocolate (Aztec's, African cacao, rain forests, fair trade, etc). The class told us a little about what they had learned, sang a Mexican song in Spanish about chocolate and then treated us to homemade chocolate and Aztec hot chocolate which included chile and cinnamon.
That night was the last night for the BYU students. Richie Beck (nicknamed Elmo by Joel) was one of the many students who loved to play with our kids.
For their final night they watched slides and had an open mike. Students sang funny songs, quoted poems and played instruments. Earlier in the day Joel had been practicing Jingle Bells on the recorder so I asked if he wanted to participate. He said Yes! He played well and garnered a standing ovation.
Sarah--inspired by all of the talented BYU students and not to be outdone by Joel--then volunteered to play "Night of the Tarentella". She too got a standing ovation. Always wanting to do what his siblings do, Will then wanted to participate. Just as we have often done in our home teaching/ piano room in Springville, I played Spinning Song while Joel and Will spun and spun at ever quickening speeds until they finally collapsed on the floor. It was a fun night and the kids got to stay up way past their bed time. As we left the students for the last time tears were shed by all three children who will miss their many friends.

The next morning while Marie stayed home with a sick Will (he threw up several times during the night--perhaps too much spinning, but more likely the 24 hour flu) I attended the Anglican carol service at AISJ. Sarah's Arabic class of six students and teacher Miss Rania Husseini sang a carol in Arabic (recorded, but unable to upload) and the elementary kids reprised a few Peace Child songs.
On the 18th, while Marie attended a district Relief Society dinner in Tiberius, I took the kids to Kyler and Melyn Kronmiller's for a delightful, Christmasy evening of Santa, pizza, making graham cracker houses (complete with American candies left over from a consulate party), decorating their tree and watching the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
She (standing) is the Primary president and he is the Elder's Quorum President. They are a real asset to the branch and will be missed when they move on to a new State Department posting in January.

For our after church walk on Saturday the 19th we visited the church of Pater Noster on the south end of the Mt of Olives. This site has long been associated with the location of the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 and Christ's ascension. It is now most known for its many (perhaps a hundred) tiled renditions of the Lord's Prayer in many languages--including recent additions of several regional languages from Indonesia--that grace every spare space on the the walls of the courtyard, portico and church. Biak is spoken in West Papua.
Toraja is from Central Sulawesi.
I read the Indonesian version out loud to some of the students during one of the final field trips.
On Sunday the 20th Center organist Walter Whipple invited us to join him for his weekly playing of the Carillon at the tops of the tower at the West Jerusalem YMCA. The building was designed by the architect of the empire state building. There is a shortage of organists in Jerusalem so Brother Whipple has been playing weekly at the "Y" as well as occasional concerts at various churches in the city. BYU students go most Sundays to help out. This week the Emmetts joined in. It was great fun. We all got a turn at playing a carol on the carillon. I played Angel's We Have Heard on High and We Three Kings. Marie played Away in a Manger. What fun to know that our playing was ringing out across the city.
Here are the bells we were playing
With a little help Joel played Silent Night.
Even Will got a turn to help play.
Sarah played Oh Come all Ye Faithful
That afternoon we visited the Saints in Bethlehem again. The children enjoyed decorating ice cream cones turned Christmas trees. Someday we'll write more about these wonderful gatherings.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Birthday Will

Today in anticipation of Will's fifth birthday we went on a family outing to Toys R Us. He got to pick out his own presents (twice the cost of what we would pay in Orem). We then had an excellent lunch of hummus and pita bread in the old city followed by the kids all buying lambs wool slippers to wear on the cold tile floor of our apartment. Tomorrow Will will celebrate with cupcakes at his pre-school and then when the students get home from the Dead Sea/Masada field trip we will celebrate with the students--Marie plans to bake 5 chocolate sheet cakes for the occassion.

For more fun photos of Will go to Beit Emmett.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Happy 5th Birthday Will

In celebration of Will's fifth birthday, I invited the students to submit favorite photos of Will. He is quite the star of the center. The students miss younger siblings and nieces and nephews, so our three kids get a lot of attention.

For the non-formal talent show, the Emmett Family Singers led off the three hour event with our rendition of "Oh We're from Nairobi" complete with actions. When we sang "we're seven feet tall" I lifted Will up onto my shoulders. Will then pumped his arms to the umph ah umph umph ah section and then in a Nixonesque pose flipped the audience a double peace sign as we walked off the stage. The crowd went wild. We practiced our song and came up with the choreography during Family Home Evening on Monday night. Will was wearing longish athletic pants and as I went to lift him up on my shoulders, I stepped on the hem of his pants, so Will went up and his pants stayed down! It was a funny moment. Will however was very embarrassed to be pantless on his dad's shoulders and started to cry, but by morning he was able to join in laughing at an entertaining dress and "undress" rehearsal. We had no wardrobe malfunctions in the actual performance.

Today in anticipation of Will's fifth birthday we went on a family outing to Toys R Us. He got to pick out his own presents (twice the cost of what we would pay in Orem). We then had an excellent lunch of hummus and pita bread in the old city followed by the kids all buying lambs wool slippers to wear on the cold tile floor of our apartment. Tomorrow Will will celebrate with cupcakes at his pre-school and then when the students get home from the Dead Sea/Masada field trip we will celebrate with the students--Marie plans to bake 5 chocolate sheet cakes for the occasion.