Monday, July 21, 2014

Back in the swing of things

Hello and welcome back to Edinburgh. 
Hannah's brother came over to the UK and they are touring the Highlands. I went to church on Sunday, watched some telly, and had a conference call. I'm working every day this week and next in the Open Access office at the uni to make up for some of the time I was gone and help them in their final push, as the project I was hired for is ending. 
And life is in all more or less back to normal. So now that life is back to normal, I really should start work on that blasted dissertation...

Friday, July 18, 2014

There's no place like...


Hannah and I are safely back in Edinburgh, and I've just finished a full day back in the office for the first time in some six weeks.

Edinburgh is home...but it's looking less and less like my beloved, quiet city. Because it's Festival time! Tents, trucks, rides, stadiums, people...everything is everywhere. And it's just going to get worse. Or better, of course, depending on your point of view. ;)

Hello again, you beautiful Scottish capital. It's good to be back.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Burn

A group of Marshall Scholars, along with some plus ones - including Hannah - are spending Monday through Thursday of this week at the Burn, a country manor house in the east of Scotland near Montrose and Dundee. We trained up from London on Monday and, happily, had an uneventful journey - last year, the train got delayed by some three hours.

Tuesday we explored the gloriously ruined Dunnottar Castle, had lunch in a harbor town, and frolicked on the beach of a nature reserve.

Wednesday morning was our distillery tour - anyone for breakfast whiskey?

We are now unscheduled for the duration of our stay until the 2:40pm bus to the Rail Station. Cue the cricket championship!

 Beware of Marshall Scholars playing Trivial Pursuit.

Don't you play croquet in the rain with a designated brolly-holder?

 And if you think Trivial Pursuit is dangerous...just bring out the building blocks.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

13 Miles

One of several pieces I wrote while in Israel last week...
Writing these was helpful to me as I processed and dealt with a lot of emotions. I hope they are read in that spirit - one of agony for everyone hurt by conflict, regardless of who they are or where they're from. Comments and suggestions welcome, but please be respectful and loving when posting. 

13 miles.
On Wednesday 9 July, there were only 13 miles between me and someone I love very much and was hoping to see.
I’ve never actually met her in person. Just hours and hours of Skype and Google+ conversations.
Marah and I met via Dorm Room Diplomacy, a programme bringing together undergraduates through videoconferencing to discuss culture and politics. DRD is meant to show people around the world the faces and personalities behind reductionist stereotypes displayed by the media and mainstream political discourse. And it works – because Marah and I have become incredibly close friends through our conversations, and have kept in touch long after the formal sessions were over.
I flew into Tel Aviv on Friday. I went to Jerusalem to see friends for a few days. Wa’ad, another friend met through Marah and Dorm Room Diplomacy, came into the Old City to tour around with us. And then I was going to go into Ramallah to meet Marah, and travel with her to Nablus, where her mother lives. We were going to celebrate iftar, the feast that marks the end of the fasting day during Ramadan. I was going to see the gorgeous mountains surrounding her home.
But 13 miles.
13 miles between West Jerusalem where I was staying and Ramallah where Marah was waiting for me.
In the United States, 13 miles means a twenty-minute drive. In the United Kingdom, 13 miles means a five-pound train ride.
In Israel and Palestine, that 13 miles means a checkpoint and multiple neighbourhoods in conflict with each other. It means going outside when you heard rockets and sirens twelve hours ago. It means potential harassment by IDF soldiers asking your business and Arabs assuming you’re Jewish. It means worrying your friends and your family while you’re on the road and out of touch.
I didn’t meet Marah that week. I had a younger American friend with me who wasn’t comfortable, and I cared too much for her safety and sanity to go. But I cried that day. I cried with frustration that I couldn’t see Marah. I cried for the fact that her sweet Mama, who was looking forward to guests and preparing an even greater feast than usual, wouldn’t get to host those guests.
But most of all, I cried for the people for whom this isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Those 13 miles interfered with my plans once. And it ticked me off. But those – and other – 13 miles do much worse to many others.
I cried for the mothers whose children are across barriers they can’t easily reach.
I cried for the lovers who suddenly find themselves on opposite sides of a wall, with no guarantees about the next time they’ll be able to hold each other.
I cried for the girls who can no longer go to school safely every day.
13 miles. So innocuous, at first glance. And yet so devastating.
13 miles.
Marah, I’ll be back soon. And next time, Inshallah, those 13 miles won’t mean anything more than 13 miles means anywhere else.

Shalom, Israel!

We are in Ben Gurion Airport, finally through security, and about to take off to London via Copenhagen.

For those of you following the news: You might be aware that Hannah and I did not exactly choose the optimal time to visit the country. We were sent to bomb shelters to the sound of the code red sirens four times due to rockets. We did not get to see my friends in Ramallah and Nablus due to the safety uncertainties.

We have had an incredible, beautiful, obnoxious, educational, trying, inspirational, depressing time. This is not the Israel and Palestine I had hoped to show Hannah, but what an experience! There are good stories as well as bad, and we had amazing moments in the middle of the stress. I'll be sharing more thoughts and stories on the blog, but for now, just a quick note:

Conflict and tension is escalating in Gaza. I am really, really hoping for a ceasefire soon. In the meantime, a note to family and friends that Hannah and I will be out of the region very soon, and a request for prayers and good wishes for everyone who doesn't have the option or inclination to leave. May safety and peace be with them all!

L'hitraot, my loves. Be safe, be forgiving, be loving. May we meet again in happier times.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Old City!

Hannah had her first walk around the Old City of Jerusalem on Tuesday with a Palestinian friend I met through Dorm Room Diplomacy. We wandered the markets, Hannah had (more) freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice, and my friend insisted on buying us dinner at a really cool cafe...even though she herself was still fasting for Ramadan!

Hannah also saw the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the first time. Somewhat ironically, a Muslim showed her the Church and a Christian showed her the Wall. I'll have to have a Jewish friend take her to al-Aqsa Mosque to complete the circle!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Jerusalem Youth Chorus

Today, I got to meet many of the students who sing in the Jerusalem Youth Chorus. The choir is a project bringing together Israeli and Palestinian youth through music. 

I met the choir's founder and director, Micah Hendler, via AMENDS - the American Middle Eastern Network for Dialogue at Stanford. Micah Hendler studied music and international studies at Yale, where he was a Whiffenpoof. 

The Chorus’ rehearsals are open to the public, so Hannah and I went to the Jerusalem YMCA, home of the choir, for a lovely open air luncheon and then a rollicking few hours of fun listening to the singing (during which I only mouthed the words a wee bit). 

Find out more about the Chorus via their website (, YouTube (, and a mini-documentary about the project (