Elephants and The Segregation Wall

Thursday 10 April 2008

Elephants: gray and towering over humans.  The Segregation Wall: gray and towering over humans.
And they both get old fast.

At least that’s the connection I was making in my head as I rode from Bethlehem to Ramallah, only a few days into my trip to the West Bank.

During one of the days my group was in Africa, we were able to take a day-long excursion to a park and go “on safari.”  The morning was spent on a little “water viewer,” and we got to see lots of nice animals, but the elephants were the most exciting — at least when we first saw them.  We had gone past a spot and then turned around to follow two elephants that had entered the water and began to play and head to a small island in the river.  We were all enthralled, watching them for 20 or more minutes, but we had to move on and check things out further down the river — which meant more and more elephants.  In the afternoon we traveled on land, seeking on new creatures, and when we saw elephants, the sentiment was mostly, “been there, done that.”

That “been there, done that” mentality was kind of how I felt about the Segregation Wall (picture) only a few days into my travels.  I had my first morning went through the large “Gilo 300” checkpoint on my way to Bethlehem, which was my first “up close and personal” encounter with the wall.  After we went through, we drove for a bit and I was able to view the Wall’s construction in the distance, and it looked much the same as we drove past it most of the way to Ramallah.

I’m not sure the exact route we took, but as this map suggests, virtually the entire trip included a view of the Wall, which was nice for the video camera but not so nice for the driving time.  But soon it will be much worse!  Since the car drivers must stay east of the Wall — remaining on the “Palestinian side” — if the Segregation Wall is completed, the route of which is indicated at the top of this map, it will require an extra 25 km (15 m) or more to drive around the snakelike wall as it stretches halfway to Jericho!  You may have heard that this Wall is for protection, but in the way it snakes around it acts to separate the Palestinians from their land and from one another more than anything else and pulls West Bank land into “Israel proper.”  For this reason — as well as the fact that it certainly does not follow the Green Line, the border that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War — it is many times also called “The Annexation Wall.”

It was sad for me as I realized how easily  The Segregation Wall had become an accepted reality of this place for me after only a few days.  The fact that it is not my land that is being stolen and it is not my olive trees that are being cut down makes it too easy for me to accept this Wall.  But accepting its presence as present reality doesn’t change in my mind the illegality and ugliness of its presence or my commitment to the work of ending its construction and the establishment of a situation where the current structure will be dismantled.

The falling of the Berlin Wall in 1989 is one of my first vivid memories.  I pray that the falling of the Segregation Wall will not be one of my last — or worse still, a memory I don’t get to have at all.


the people in your life

Tuesday 19 February 2008

Ever since my blog about 1 million Iraqis being killed in the past 5 years, I’ve been thinking about whether or not I actually might know a million people. The perfectionist in me wants to make an excel spreadsheet list of all the people I’ve met (and remember enough to write down) in the past 25 or so years of my life, but the realist in me knows that would take quite a while and probably not be worth it in the end — and it would likely become just another list I’d want to keep track of as I meet more people, kind of like my ever changing imdb.com list of movies I’ve seen (those I want to see but haven’t just aren’t rated).  Plus, it would kind of be sad, deconstructing the humanity of relationships into simple spreadsheet.

So instead of turning my life into meaningless statistics, I instead try to think about all the lives of others that have intersected mine. There are definitely people I’ve been in the same room with that I’ve ran across but I would not say I “met” and certainly never “knew” them. And there are surely people who’ve “known” me but I never had contact with — those students for who my name came up in conversation and who were aware of my presence but for who I wasn’t their teacher would be one example. If you let the idea of “knowing” someone require the act of an introduction and/or conversation having taken place, the list becomes a little more exclusive, but even then I’m still amazed at the variety and abundance of people I’ve met and places I’ve met them.

School is one of the larger segments of ways I know people. Since I went to such a small school containing pretty much the same people K-12, perhaps I know fewer people than others that way, though with that small town, too, I came to know most of the people in the community in one way or another, and they can’t be forgotten about. I also know a lot of people form college — classes, dorms, and students groups — and if facebook would have came around a few years earlier, I might have a better estimate of just how many people that might have been.

Church and groups with a spiritual aspect are definitely another big connection for me. I’ve attended (regularly) about 4 churches in my life and have built lasting relationships with people in all of them. I’ve also attended many conferences, retreats, assemblies, and gatherings where I added more people to my “list.” I’ve met and formed many amazing relationships with those associated with Lutheran Volunteer Corps — volunteers, LVC staff, and the many people I met during my trip or otherwise recruiting for LVC. And this section would in no way be complete if I didn’t mention Camp Mowana. I’ve probably worked with around 100 people who were on staff while I was there, and then there are the hundreds, if not thousands, of campers and pastors/volunteers who I met during my time as a counselor. Because I have an issue with names, many of those campers would probably be slighted in a name-specific list format, so that’s another reason not to make one.

And then you have all the other somewhat random ways in which I’ve met people — parties, game night, community organizing, friends of friends, rugby/curling/frisbee/etc., jobs/work not listed above — I’m sure I could name many more ways. I invite you to reminisce about the many people who have stepped in (and maybe out) of your life, making it what it is today, for they are the ones who have truly brought it joy and meaning.

And I invite you (as always) to leave some of your comments about ways you’ve met some of the people in your life and why you find them special — be as specific or as general as you’d like, but I think it’s good to really give credit to those who make this life worth living.


Saturday 16 February 2008

Lament is a word that we rarely use in our daily life.  It’s a word that’s gone out of style, so to speak, even though the 25th book of the Bible is named in relation to the process of lamenting (Lamentations).  But I was on the bus today, thinking about some things that cross my mind on occasion, and I realized what I was doing was lamenting.  Dictionary.com defines lament as, among other things, “to feel, show, or express grief, sorrow, or regret.”

As I look back at some relationships and friendships I’ve been a part of that have now ended or turned sour, I lament the fact that there was this time when things were different than they are now.  I look back with fond memories of the things we did and fun times we shared that will never happen again.  I think about what memories and experiences I might have had to have given up to avoid the new status of these relationships, and I wonder if it would have been worth giving those days up to be in a different place.

“Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” —  Alfred Lord Tennyson.  (And I believe this can be applied to more than romantic love, too.)  (Some other good quotes, too)

Sometimes I agree with Mr. Tennyson, and sometimes I don’t.  I was having a good (online) conversation last month, talking about how relationships change, and my friend made me realize that certain situations aren’t made to last, so we shouldn’t be disappointed when they don’t.  A girl confided to someone I know that she really liked “the chase,” and sometimes it was the chase she wanted more than the relationship that might come out of it.  And I would agree that there is something to be said (positively) for that “questioning/exploration” time for two people, but I’ve lamented that sometimes that leads to a souring of things.  And I’ve enjoyed being in relationships, too, but when the end means things are different than when they began, I lament.  But I’m also coming to terms with the fact that things can never (and shouldn’t) stay the same; they need to develop in one way or another — and sometimes the development is negative.

There are memories which I cherish deeply, but as I recognize that they are now only memories of feelings and circumstances which will never return, I lament.

I think lamenting is a healthy and necessary process by which one comes to terms with an issue and looks toward the future.  I wish you all beautiful lamentations as you find peace with your life’s disappointments and look forward to all the glorious memories yet to be created.