Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fishes and God

Wow. Never have I been so challenged as I am here, now. The views I am being presented... The questions I am being asked... Then I don't have the time to process it and it all just sits in my head screaming for attention. Then on top of it all these books are being recommended to me and I want to read them so bad... Ah I love reading. But truly... being here has taken me to a whole new level of being...of living...of thinking. I can't even explain. My mind has been pushed farther and to places that are new and scary and mysterious and exciting and uncomfortable... But they are alive. There is a lot of thinking to be had in this new place. I don't know where I stand yet... There are a lot of things to work out, work through. It's like when you're writing a paper and think there's no more information to be gotten from the books you've read, then you're given a huge stack of loaded new information. It's like, gosh Juliana you know nothing. Nada. You think there's nothing really else to know and you're taken to a whole new library. Truth. There's more truth out there than I have.

Our Bible. It's a Middle Eastern book. It's not an American book. A Western book. Yet the Middle East sees it as that. And so reading it is in a way deserting their culture. To a lot of Middle Easterners, its the western book. The Western religion. Um.... Jesus wasn't born in America. As Western Christians, why do we think we "take" Jesus to the Middle East? Heck He was from the Middle East. I have been humbled by this thought. Missionaries come to the ME to take Jesus to people. People need to be coming here to find Him. He is still here. I'm getting to know Jesus in a whole new way. I've put him in a box and thought I new about all there was to know about him, and boy was I so wrong. I feel like every day I get to know a different side of him, and I love it. I will never be able to get my mind around him. I may be able to look at his life and make a set of rules for me to follow that would make my life similar to his, but that is not knowing him. The question of Jesus' place in general revelation has been on my mind a lot lately. If people are able to know Jesus without having to have a Bible, it would make so much more sense to me, and the trinity would be more understandable. The Bible would be more understandable and approachable. If you can know God with out having to have scripture, through general revelation, then you have to be able to know Jesus. Then yesterday I read a verse in John (8:56): Abraham knew Jesus. He did. He came to know him. Jesus has been here, forever. He is knowable by all. Accessible. I can't explain the walls that broke down for me. Jesus is more than a person. An answer to my sin. He is God, the Almighty, the beginning and the end, the Creator of all. He did not appear in the scene for the sole purpose of taking away my sin so I wont go to hell. God was God always, majestic and wonderful and oh so creative. I went snorkeling day before yesterday in Dahab, and the fishes and coral screamed His name so loud I was humbled and honored to witness such praise. The glory His creation gives Him testifies enough to His love. How could a mean god make such beauty? And then allow us to witness it? There is no way. He loved me by creating me and letting me live in this world. By giving me life, He loved me. Then when I screwed it up, He gave me life again. God damned Himself on the cross, so that Life could kill death. He died so He could be resurrected and in His resurrection we have life. The law is our death, and He finished the law. Now we get to live for Him. But His redeeming us is only part of who He is. He is so much more. There is so much more to find out. Ah, how God can be known so much better when we stop thinking that its all about us.


Dahab: amazing chill place. I will post pictures soon. oh food...two words: coconut milkshakes.

fav fish seen- sweet retro half black half white fish, bright pink and green striped fish, then purple coral.

I saw Saudi Arabia across the Red Sea. =-O

Mount Sinai: Moses must have been a beast, my body was dying by the time I got up there. Worst hike ever. Physically. Most amazing experience... to watch the sun rise over the mountains.. to see everything from way up there, close to God... to sleep on a ledge and wake up to find you're on top of the world and its the most calm place you've ever been... I think that was my favorite part. Waking up there.

In one month our travel component starts. The place I'm looking forward to the most: Palestine. Place I'm looking forward to least: the bus. I get motion sickness when I get off buses here. I can deal with the motion when I'm on the bus but when I get off my body is still swaying with the bus but the floor isn't = dizziness and vomit.

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow

Praise Him, all creatures here below

Praise Him above ye heavenly host

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mt Sinai!

In one hour I'm leaving for Mt Sanai! Ah!
We leave at 6:00 and we drive through the night, then we hike 3 hours up to the top to watch the sun rise. How amazing is that going to be. Then we're going to Dahab for swimming and snorkling. I love snorkling.

I just got back from getting a pedicure. I actually hate them, they tickle me to death but my feet were looking horrid, so yeah. I went with an egyptian friend! Woohoo! I met Aya in a store on the corner and she speaks English pretty well, so I got her number and then called her yesterday. I first actually asked her to coffee and then I remembered she was fasting so I took it back and asked her to the salon. lol. It was great. Kate came too. She's a flat mate. We had a blast. Aya is amazing. She looks Lebanese actually.. not so much Egyptian. She gave me a Ramadan lamp key chain! She's so kind. I will treasure it. But yes, she's fantastic. Plays the piano, composes, sings... Plus she lives on the next street over. When I get back from Sinai we're going to go..... well I'm not going to tell, but we're going to go get something done. =)

Arabic and Islam exams today. I think they went well... I'm so tired now tho. Didnt sleep much last night.
Ah short nights. And tonight's going to be shorter. But I am not complaining. Mt Sinai. How amazing...
I miss my family and friends today. I miss them everyday, really. But maybe more today. It's good to know I'm where I'm supposed to be right now though. And I really feel like that. There is absolutely nowhere else I should be.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Al- Azhar

Today MESP went to Al Azhar to break fast with the students. Al Azhar is the most prestigious school of Islamic learning in the Middle East. It took Dr D 2 years to get things worked out of students to visit there, so this trip was a very unique and rare opportunity. I decided to fast the day to make the breaking fast more meaningful and because I felt like I needed to fast (I'll write more about it later, but I'm starting to see the importance of prayer and fasting and how it's absence from my life has robbed me of blessing) so I did and boy was it difficult.. I asked my new friend Jami if it was difficult for her and she said it wasn't because she's been doing it since she was little. I envy her a little. A Muslim's life seems so much more devoted than mine. I wish I could say that I pray 5 times a day and am a religiously disciplined person, but I'm not. Not right now, anyways. Things are changing and I'm working to become a more disciplined person in my spiritual life, but still, I wish it was instilled in me since I was a child. We arrived at Al-Azhar at 3:30 and sat down at this long table in this conference-type room. We were told to sit away from each other, with empty seats by us so that the students could sit among us. Then the students came in. They seemed to be our age... from 18-23 years old.. The women were in conservative dress, which means higab and long sleeves and skirts. Some girls had their face covered. The girl next to me was completely covered. The men were dressed formaly. We were told to dress our best and our most conservative. I wore a purple long sleeved shirt and black dress pants. After they came in and the speaker, one of the directors of the school, was introduced and properly thanked for the opportunity for us to be there, there was a time of questions. We asked different things: the school's opinion of the role of women in Islam, the different sects of Islam, how Islam is being "misinterpreted" by the West, and how Al-Azhar is engaging Egypt's youth. It was not very interesting, honestly. Nothing surprised me about what he said. He said a lot that Christianity and Islam were very similar and there needed to be peace and tolerance (Can I just say that that word is SO overused and misused. It frusterates me a little. It's a loaded word.) and that the Koran teaches that women are equal to men and that that's how it was when the prophet was alive and that's how it should be now (Yeah. That's why women now are allowed to pray with men in the mosque. Oh wait. No they're not.) . He totally ran around the question of the sects of Islam, saying something about... peace and tolerance. I mean, I shouldn't be so critical. Juliana, don't be so critical. At least it's a moderate school, teaching moderate Islam and trying to spread a peaceful kind of Islam around the world. But, really. Is that what is truly taught at that school? I cannot accept that Islam is all about peace. That Jihad is only for defensive purposes and that all Muslims want things to be like they were in the prophet's time. Um, no that's not true. I feel like I've been fed a bunch of modernist propaganda, while the Moderates are the solution, not the problem. I want to hear some of the problem. The fundamentalists and traditionalists... Ok they're a minority but they are out there and I want to know more about them. I know we can't meet with them, I'm tired of being told Moderates are all there is. Ok I guess I'm just spoiled. I've met a number of Moderates and now I wanna meet Fundamentalists. Or at least Traditionalists. Maybe Fundamentalists would be more interested in killing me than meeting me. Anyway, after the questioning time there was a "small group" time where we got together with who ever was around us and talked in smaller groups. I LOVED this method. I'm scared spit less of asking a question in a group of 60 super smart people but get me into a small group and I thrive. I talked with two girls and we talked about the differences between Christanity and Islam and it was so eye-openning to me. One girl thought that our Trinity was Jesus, the Holy Spirit and Mary. I was like, "What?". She wanted to know what it meant when Christians crossed themselves. Then I had to explain the difference between Catholics and Protestants and between Americans and Christians and that not all 18 years old were automatically "free" from their parents and that "free sex" wasnt a truly Christian thing... My gosh, I hate it that the US is looked at as a Christian nation. I was so embarrassed at some of the things I had to explain to her. Shakira is NOT a true believer. I am NOT Shakira. I do not do "free sex". Yes I read the Bible, no I'm not Catholic, yes I believe Jesus died. Yes I believe Jesus is God. No I can't explain the Trinity. Yes three can be one. No there arn't three gods. No Mary is not a God. No I don't fast regularly. No I'm not Shakira. No I wasn't "free" at 18! haha. YES I like Avril Lavigne. You too? Cool. Who else do you like to listen to?... haha. We became friends. Music. It trancends cultures and brings rockers together.
Anyways, at 6:00 after the call to prayer we broke fast. It was amazing but I ate too fast I guess and got a belly ache. And the girl next to me took off her face veil and I about passed out. I didn't notice that she had taken it off and I looked away then when I looked back I was like, holy cow who are you? =) Not really but it took me off guard. It was good to finally see her smile though. And see her mouth as she talked. I rely so much on watching lips to understand people. She spoke English fairly well... enough to talk religion. I really dont mind talking to people who don't speak English. I like using my hands and face and noises to get my message across. We laughed a lot. Words are so over-rated.

So I broke my first Ramadan fast today in an Islamic school and made new Muslim friends whom I hope to get to know better and bond with in the future. Right now I'm in the Columbus café with Rachel, Alli and Sarah. I love this café. Its classy and it has couches. There's a soccer game going on right now. It's a bit more noisy than when we got here. Feels a little like home..

Happy Ramadan!

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Today I galloped on a horse in the desert around the pyramids. Ah!!! I adored it. It was fantastic. Its one of those things you put on your life's "to do" list, but rarely does it actually take place. But it's true... I was there and I bought a beautiful green scarf at the sphinx and so I wore it and.... Ok I just felt like an Arabian princess. :) It was great. And I rode a camel. That was pretty magical. I kept thinking of the peoples of the past and how camels were their form of transportation through the desert... I felt like I fell back in time a little. Maybe some 2000 years. :)Today I got to live in the past a little and that has blown my mind. Seeing those ancient creations reminds me of how small I really am in history. It's comforting, really. I just forget about my troubles when I think about how small and insignificant I really am in comparison to 3,000 years of time and millions of people who have lived here and dreamed here. The people who lived here when those pyramids were being build thought like me. They had feelings like me. Their heart could break too, they could feel sorrow, they could feel joy. They felt the same heat and walked in the same sand as I did today. It makes me think that I am part of something bigger. Yes we change a bit from culture to culture but we have so much in common... Our ability to feel and think and love beauty... We're just a part of time, and there is nothing new under the sun. Plus, God did spectacular things here. I was reading in the Psalms yesterday and David was going over God's blessings to Israel, and he talked about every thing that God did in Egypt... Turning the Nile into blood, the flies, the killing of the first born child...right here. Where I am.

Last weekend I went to Alexandria... That was interesting. It wasnt as beautiful as I thought it would be and the men were such harassers. So much worse than the men here. It was nice being along the Mediterranean though.. It reminded me of Sao Miguel. Plus I got closer to the people in my group, and we made memories. Like being in Radio Shack for an hour trying to buy alarm clocks. Then being attacked at night in the water by about 15 women and children. They love Americans here! Nice people, but very in your face at times! I actually loved that experience though. I talked to the women and they helped me with my Arabic and I could tell they were kind and we were all in good spirits. I went to coffee shop there in Alex and saw a wall clock and was inspired by it. I really want to open a coffee shop one day. I always have. But I think I should. It's what I'd love to do. Any ways Alex was once a center for amazing minds, it should be more taken care of! But the Egyptian government doesn't have enough money to restore and keep up their historical buildings and antiquties. They have more important things to worry about, like the fact that they're severly over populated... Ill post about that sometime. Egypt is very interesting.

1. The view from our hostel room!
2.We chilled on the wall by the sea
3. My hostel mates: Amanda, Kara, Alisson

People have been asking about my classes so here's what and when they are:
-Breakfast and devotions (our chapel/church)at 8:00
-Arabic language at 9:30 (our teacher is a professor at the American University in Cairo. We have an AUC ID and can use their facilities which is great for researching and chilling with westerners when we need a break)
-break between classes when we eat "fishar" (popcorn =), and "aish" (pita bread) with nutella (our new obsession here)
-Islamic Thought and Practice at 11:30(Our professor is an Islamic Architecture and History expert. So far we've had a tour of 3 mosques and one in-class lecture. She is amazing and I love her voice. It's slow enough to take notes which is key to me and she always sounds like she's telling a story. I'm going to know so much about Islam when I leave here...)
-Lunch at 13:00 at the villa.

We will eventually have People and Culture, and Conflict and Change classes... After we finish our Islam class. Sometimes in the evenings we have lectures at the Dave (the director's) flat. We've had 4 so far. They're on different issues.. Poverty, social issues, women's issues, living in the Middle East... The people who lecture are so intelligent, and many of them talk to us "off the record", so we get to hear their personal opinions. One day we went to the Arab Political Strategic center and heard two directors speak. Amazing and controversial. I am incredibly blessed to be able to be studying here. How could I better learn about Islam than from a Muslim Middle Easterner, in the Middle East? And to learn about Middle Eastern politics from a director of the Arab Political Strategic Center, at the center and off record?
I'm also taking tabla (Arabic drum) and bellydancing lessons. They're a total blast.
So yes. This week has been much better than my first week. My first week was terribly hard, I'm not going to lie. I'll talk about it maybe in my next post. I'm doing much better now and I know I'm going to love living here for the next three months.
Oh and I know my sending address now. Send me a letter! =)

Juliana Shepherd
Middle East Studies Program
Po Box 213 Zemalek
Cairo, Egypt.

Sadly no pacages are allowed (customs issues).
Yay for old and beautiful places.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


I've been in Africa a week. Wow. Amazing. It has been more chalenging then I thought it would be, but at the same time, I didn't really think a lot about it before I came. I pretty much kept an open mind on how it would be. I'll tell you what I didn't expect though, was the backwardness of this place. I was talking to Bob about it tonight and he said Egypt is about 20 years behind China. I thought there would be malls. I thought that there would be computer shops. I thought more people would speak English. I didn't know so many women would be waring higabs (veils). I thought it would be more advanced in technology. But alas, I've found no malls, no computer shops (though some internet cafés), and few English speakers. I'm told "I love you" about 5 times a day by random men. No one has grabbed me though. I'm afraid, for their sakes, of someone grabbing me. I just can't see myself passing it off. I'd whack them then give Americans a bad name. People here in general like Americans and are very kind to us though. Men and little boys are the ones who are sometimes disrespectful to us woman, but men have it great. I thought I'd see more women out and about during the day but I see many more men than women. That's hard because it limits who I can talk to- limits practicing my Arabic. Again, the guys have the advantage. MESP sent us a list of things to bring and things not to bring and on it they said to bring 3/4 length to full length sleeved shirts only. We'd be able to wear short sleeves some places but not very often at all. But now that we're here we're told it doesnt really matter. Shorts are innapropriate, but we're allowd to wear jeans whenever and they don't mind us wearing short sleeves. I personally wear a cardigan over my short sleeves when I'm out, and just take it off when I'm in my flat or at the MESP villa. I dont wear skirts very often. I see so many girls here not wearing them, I feel it's not disrespecting their culture to not wear them either. Dr D said something that really impacted me, and that's that we are cultural embassadors. These people don't see westerners that often, so to them we reflect the west, we are America.

I didn't expect to be so close to my group as I have gotten. They really emphasise community and love among the group. Two nights ago we had a commitment service, where we committed to unity and caring for each other. I hadn't really thought about that aspect of the trip before coming. Now it's central. It's not so easy for me, cause I'm a pretty independent person. I need my alone time. I love interacting with people but I can spend hours alone entertaining myself and be perfectly happy. But, getting closer to these people I've started to wonder if that independence is because I truly am an independent person or if I really long for dependence and more people around me but am too shy or insecure to pursue closer reltionships.

I didn't expect to get so sick of the food as I have already. We eat pita every day and for every meal it's there on the table, and after 7 days I'm ready for a break. I've eaten way too much falafel and shwarna... I've been apetiteless for 2 days and that's just hard... Trying to make yourself eat foreign food when you're not hungry...
I need to try kosheri.. I hear it's really good... And yesterday I had a hamburger from Naema which was good. We love Naema. It's wicked cheap and close to our flats. Plus it looks pretty clean. I got sick yesterday from something I eat and it was not fun.. I spent all of last night making runs to the bathroom.

I didn't expect Arabic to be so hard, but it is. While I can understand what people say often, and can communicate my way, through pointing, sound effects, and facial expression, to learn all those vocab words and to try to remember them when you need them is so trying. My memory is horrible anyways (though I did impress myself today by knowing all the 31 names of the people in our group).

I didn't expect to play the violin so much. I play for devotionals and played for the commitment service and will play for the old people in my community service on Tuesdays. I go to the Sisters of Charity orphanage. It was founded by Mother Teresa. My motivation for choosing that place to serve was wrong, but God has used it for good, and I'm finding that though I am not a person inclined to serve in the area of touch (playing with old people and babies) which is what most MESPers go there to do, there is a place for me there. That's encouraging. I spent yesterday making a sign they needed made, and drawing a picture of Mother Teresa on a big chalkboard. It was odd. I was drawing the sign and a sister came in and gave me a picture of Mother Teresa and told me to draw it on the chalk board. It looked really cool afterward, I was happy with it. So next week I'll be playing for the old people. I'm excited.

So basically there are a lot of things I'm facing that were different than I expected. Which, I kindof expected to not expect a lot of the things I'd experience here, if that makes sense. I'm going to work super hard and learn as much as I can here. It will soon be over and it would be a tradgedy to not have taken full advantage of the experience. To have just "gotten by"... I want to push myself and find that I can do more than I thought I could and take risks that I thought I was too scared to make, and see that I can become a deeper and a more mature person in my knowledge of people and Islam and world affairs... my knowledge of God. I want to know the roots of my faith, I want to know why I believe as I do and I want to know Jesus better.. as the Son of God, why He is not just a prophet, why I believe He is God Himself. I watched "the Message" tonight and it was amazing.. It's a movie about Muhammad and his life and the roots of Islam. I have to say, more interesting than our Jesus film. Maybe because I've seen the Jesus film about 400 times. The Message was so informative.
Why do I believe in the Trinity? Where is the trinity in the Bible? Maybe the doctrine of the trinity isnt so correct. What then? Does my faith crumble? What of my faith is the doctrine of man, and what is actual truth? Regardless of what I find, Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and I there's no way to get to God, but through Him. Of that I am sure.
I am aware of the fact that the more questions you ask the more questions you will have. Things dont get less complex as you dig. That's alright. Unanswered questions are better than unasked questions. Asking a question assumes you seeking. At least you'll know when you do find an answer.

peace and grace!

Sunday, September 02, 2007


I can't take being ripped off. "You from Amreeka? We love Amreeka! Come eat here!" They're very excited about us. The vendors treat us very kindly, but when it comes to paying for their product we pay double of what the average Egyptian would pay. It bothers me so much... For instance today Bob and Tara and I took the metro to the Mubarak stop looking for food (after stopping at two other stops that were obviously places where we should not be). We found a place (or the place found us...). If you just glance at a stand a stand tender will come up in front of you and try to get you to buy. We were starving and the food looked decent enough (last night we had a health talk with a nurse so that we know what to eat and not to eat so we dont get parasites or tyfoid like last semester's group) so we got a coke and a water and 3 "shworka" and a "falafel" ( I LOVE falafel). The food was great but when the bill came it was 35 LE. At Naela, the shop next to us in Agouza, sells shworka for 1.75 LE and falafel for .75 LE. They charged us 5 LE for each item! I was like, no way. There was a man standing near by and I pointed at the falafell and said "khamsa genea?!?!" (5 LE?!?!) and he came up to the waiter and talked (well, no one talks here. They all yell.) to the waiter and the waiter kept telling us 35. Finally after some arguing, the man took 20 LE from Bob and gave it to the waiter and the waiter left. Arh! No Egyptian would pay 35 for that, and even 20 was too much. But. Given the fact that 5.64 LE equals one dollars, I only saved like 3 dollars. But still. It's the moral of the thing. And then there was the taxi driver yesterday that after we had decided on 5 LE before getting in the cab, only gave us 3 LE change for our 10. I just looked at him. "itnein genea!" haha He gave us the two other geneas.

I can't wait to go back to the khan market. There you haggle for everything, and I intend on making some good bargains. I want to find a bottle that looks just like the genie lamp from Aladdin. And I'm not paying more than 10 genea.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

women in a muslim world

Today we went on a scavenger hunt that sent us all around Agouza and another part of Cairo. It was fun to see the places that we'll be so used to by then end of our stay. It's so odd to think that we will be able to navigate through Cairo by ourselves and go shopping and haggle in the market and semi understand the language by the end of our stay. Something I noticed and bothered me today was the way I need to act being a woman here. Right now I'm so tired of not looking men in the eyes and not being able to talk to men..... Josh, my scavenger partner, had to be the one to ask for most of the things we needed and stuff. Which sucked, cause we needed directions. =P But really, I'm already tired of being treated as a lesser being. I'll walk where I want, I'll talk to whom I want, stop looking at me and calling to me... stop ignoring my human-ness and rights and treat me as an equal, not as a cheap girl, or an object. Its not all of them.... It's a small percentage, really, of men who make comments, but still I feel it. It's what they dont do, which is respect me and talk to me as an equal and allow me to approach them.
Why would any woman convert to Islam? I understand being born in it... but to willingly be a part of a religion that disrespects you, that hugely favors men.... The space at the mosque where the women pray is much smaller then the men's space. They are not regarded in the services. And what is promised to women in muslim heaven?
My heart breaks for these ladies. Maybe they're happy with it. Maybe they're used to it. But after living such a life of descrimination and limited freedom here on earth, to face an eternity of ever lasting fire..... May God have mercy on them and reveal to them His truth.