Getting oriented in the Middle East

Syrian refugee children asking for more food during
Ramadan last summer.

 Niños sirios refugiados pidiendo más comida durante
el Ramadán el verano pasado.
My room in Amman was big and comfortable, but needed A/C!

 Mi habitación en Amán. Era grande y cómoda
¡pero necesitaba aire acondicionado!

Challenges
The main challenge I encountered was the weather. In Jordan, where I stayed during summer, the temperatures were very high and there was no air conditioning in the convent nor in my room. The fan that I was given was not enough, and at times annoying, especially at night. Whereas in Israel, where I stayed during fall and winter, there was a lot of wind, the temperatures where very low and the central heating in the rooms and house was only turned-on for one week in January because it was expensive. The house and the rooms were usually very cold. The electric heater I was given was not enough to warm my room at a comfortable temperature for me. I fell sick five times from September to January. After living in Miami for 15 years with A/C all the time and with no winters, my body had a hard time to adapt to those extreme temperatures.

My room in Nazareth one day in January when my electric heater
broke. 
Fortunately, the sisters turned on central heating that night!
 Mi habitación en Nazareth un día de enero cuando se rompió mi
estufa 
eléctrica. Afortunadamente las hermanas encendieron la
calefacción 
central esa noche!

Food
Although Middle Eastern food is one of my favorites and meals were delicious in every community I lived and in the Caritas Restaurant of Mercy, I didn’t eat as healthy as I was used to and had some digestive issues. In the school in Nazareth, for example, students, teachers, and employees usually brought sweets and cakes to celebrate births, birthdays, weddings, and other life events. Furthermore, in the Arab culture, you have to eat even if you don’t want to, to show appreciation to your host. As a result, I gained weight, something I never thought it could happen being a missioner!
A typical breakfast, tea or coffee with milk, whole wheat pita bread
with labneh (a type of yogurt)
zaatar (thyme and sesame seeds), cheese, and olives.
 Un desayuno típico, té o café con leche, pan pita integral
 con labneh (un tipo de yogur)
 zaatar (tomillo y semillas de sésamo), queso y aceitunas.

Language
One of the many reasons why I wanted to do my mission in the Middle East was to improve my Arabic language skills. I studied Arabic at the university as part of my graduate studies at FIU in 2010 when I was interested in peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but I hardly used it. At the beginning of my mission, I was happy the official language of the Salesian Sisters was Italian since they are an Italian congregation, and I am fluent in that language. But, it didn’t play in my favor since the sisters from the Middle East never spoke to me in Arabic. And in Jordan, the majority of the people with whom I interacted spoke English very well. It was only in the school in Nazareth when I could improve my Arabic. The students helped me a lot!
On a normal day, I was speaking and writing in Italian, Arabic, English, and Spanish, in that order, plus Hebrew when I had Hebrew classes, plus Portuguese the few times I met with the consecrated lay groups Shalom and Canção Nova in Nazareth. I always liked to communicate with people from different cultures and knowing languages is very helpful.

Community life

After living by myself for so many years, it was a challenge to live in a community as large as 9 members, with unknown people. I stayed in 5 different communities, some for only a couple of weekends. I had to adapt to different people, personalities, cultures, ways of doing things, convent superiors, and schedules (wake-up, daily mass and prayers, meals, bed-time). I always wanted to know how leaving in a religious community was, and I had the chance to experience it. The nuns make a lot of sacrifices to dedicate their lives to God and to serve others, and I admire them for that.

Blogs
Being a blogger during my mission was something I really enjoyed. I had never written a blog before, and I found it to be fun. I actually enjoyed going through my pictures and writing about my experiences; it was like living them again!

Being selected to write for Global Sisters Report was also a wonderful experience, although it took a lot of my time during the four months I wrote for them. I was fortunate to work remotely with Pam, the managing editor, who guided me through the editing process for each blog post in an enriching manner and with a great attitude.

Something I discovered during mission: I love writing!

Cultural                                                                                                                                                  Jordan, Israel, and Palestine are very similar. I was shocked to see so much street garbage in Jordan and in Nazareth, the high levels of dust in the air -that I found daily in my rooms- as well as seeing people smoking in bars and restaurants. The reckless driving, disorganized transit -and excessive honking in Jordan-, and the hostility of the people in the street was also shocking. On the other hand, the Arab culture is generous, affectionate and welcoming; people always invite you to their homes, even if they hardly know you, and like to offer you food and give you gifts.

Safety
Although I felt safe at all times in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine, there were a couple of situations that worried me and that are worth mentioning:
1) Last May, I visited a Syrian refugee camp for the first time, which was located in the north of Jordan, near the Syrian border. I had read there were ISIS members infiltrated in the camps and the US Embassy had warned US citizens to avoid the area, so I was hesitant to go. But my Iraqi friend who organized the visit assured me the camp was inhabited by a single family (of 150 members) and it wasn’t dangerous. When I got there, I saw the camp was safe so I felt relieved and visited it for a second time about a month later.
2) I was in Jerusalem on Friday, July 14th, when the attack on Temple Mount. The sisters’ house where I stayed was few blocks away from the Old City and we could hear the helicopters and police after mass was over by 7:30 am and they told us to avoid the Old City area. In fact, the Old City was closed and nobody could get in nor get out.
3) I left the school in Cremisan (Bethlehem-Palestine) on December 5th, the day before Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. I was lucky to leave since Israel closed the check-points to and from Israel to the West Bank for a couple of days. Two weekends later, I was traveling to Cremisan again to spend Christmas in Bethlehem, so to be safe, I had to take a shared taxi from Nazareth to Cremisan (about a 3-hour ride). I had to avoid the demonstrations in Jerusalem near the Palestinian bus station in East Jerusalem and to arrive in the West Bank early on Friday in case Israel closed the check-points.
4) On one of my last Sundays in Israel, February 11th, we went to the Golan Heights as a fun day with the Don Bosco Oratorio and some of the sisters. The day before the trip, there was an incident between Iran, which is currently in Syrian territory, and Israel (Iran sent a drone into Israel on Saturday morning and Israel sent a Jet to strike on the Iranian base in Syria right after, which Syria shot down and fell within Israeli territory). I was afraid of an escalation of events as the Golan Heights is a Syrian territory occupied by Israel since the 1967 war and is the border between both countries. Thankfully, nothing happened on Sunday. I imagine that if there was a safety issue the Don Bosco church would have canceled the trip, but nevertheless, I was worried.

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