Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Trains, Planes, and Passport Theft

Every once in a while a person's passport is stolen out of their lap while they are in a foreign country the day before they are scheduled to leave that foreign country.

This is such an account. (We originally told it as a birthday present to our mutual friend, hence the 'happy birthday' remark.)

Here is some Arabic vocabulary for the occasional references we make:
Inshallah- God willing
La- No
Inti Mtjozay- Are you married?
Shebab- Teenage guys
Sheb- a teenage guy


The incredible thing about it was that we were able to see provision every step of the way after  the purse was stolen as various people offered assistance in the post-theft process.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reflections on the Roof :)

This is a picture I took three years ago on my first night here.

My first night in the city as the call to prayer rang out, I was in awe. The etherial sunset behind the famous blue mosque, its Adhan (call) echoing the others, and the smell of shwarma below enchanted me. I couldn't miss the chance to capture it on camera. Beautiful.

This roof became the place where I would sleep on hot summer nights, hang my laundry, grill Arab barbeque with my neighbors, make penny wishes with visiting college students, sing with my roommate, and listen to the call to prayer.

Over time, listening to these sounds on my roof became an act of faith... trusting that one day His voice will be heard. Not because of me, who neither began the work nor will finish it, but because of His faithfulness to a work that is ancient.

My roommate and I often stood on the roof overlooking the city, imagining our songs and 'thoughts' mingling with those ancients (Moses, Aaron, the 12 tribes, and many whom we have never heard) who lifted hands on this very same sand just a few thousand years earlier. We pictured Him, who exists outside of time, receiving all of our praises as one as they rise up together from the desert.

As I remember those who have gone before us, my 'faith eyes' can almost see the completion of 'Ancient Work' when one day my neighbors and friends will join with us in the great multitude of lifting hands.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Silly Signs Around Town

If you want a haircut, stop by the 'New Look' barber shop. I LOVE it!

Ready for a night on the town? Check out the Big Big Party!

My favorite: a huge poster displaying a baby smoking hookah! (This tobacco-water pipe is more damaging than regular cigarettes!)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Little Explosion, Morning Prayer

With chopped hair and a husky voice, her studded earrings are the only sign that she is not a little boy. Her skin is unlike the olive shade of most Arab girls, but is blackest black, meaning she came from a Bedouin tribe in the Jordan Valley. My first day at the orphanage last November she only spoke to yell at the other girls, and during the game of Go Fish she steathly switched the cards in her favor. When I attempted to give her a hug goodbye, she slipped out of my arms and refused to look at me. Her name is not easy to forget. "Fajer." "Explosion."

The change came gradually, perhaps after my friend praised her for not cheating, or as she calmed and warmed to the presence of both Jordanian and American women who came to love her. A gentleness began grow in her spirit.

Fajer doesn't have a mom to brag on her, so I will brag on her. I want people to know that she is the best color-in-the-lines eleven year old in Arabia. She loves approval of her pictures and points out her ability to color Sponge Bob in perfect shades of pink and purple. At the end of the day, she is a superb helper and often scrapes away at the play dough stuck deep in the carpet and gathers paper clippings. When other girls cry, she runs up and whispers in my ear that someone is in need of help.

The statistics of Fajer's future is not in her favor. Fifty percent of all girls who leave the orphanage at 18 become prostitutes, and 10 % commit suicide. In this culture, decisions about who to marry and even who to hire are based on family. Businesses are hesitant to hire a girl 'without a name' even if she has the skills and capabilities. Money is not the solution needed for Fajer right now- its hearts that are open to accepting a girl without a family name, Arab women that encourage their daughters to play with her at school, and local businesses that risk hiring girls without any name or honor.

Last night as Fajer and I finished an Arabic cartoon, I asked again, "Your name means 'explosion?"

In her beautiful, raspy voice she answered, "It can also mean 'morning prayer."

We said goodnight, and I watched her walk down the hall in her over-sized coat and in steps that had the sway of a tired old man, as I thought about the real meaning of her name.

Morning Prayer. Little Explosion is really a morning prayer.

"His mercies are new every morning."

I am brought to my knees in grief for Fajer and for her future, yet I place my hope in the One whose mercies are new every morning and the One who adopts sons and daughters as His own.

"In the morning, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation." Ps 5:3

Sunday, November 6, 2011

"Thank you! Thank you, so much... we love all of you Americans! Please, will you take our picture with us?" exclaimed a misty-eyed Libyan girl on the top of Mount Nebo.

Slightly embarressed at the un-deserved thank you, Sabra and I gathered with the family, making peace signs at the camera. They handed us buttons with Libyan flag and an Arabic inscription, "Free Libya Revolution."

It was the day after Gaddafi died. They have the chance to begin anew. While I do not support the cruel death of Gaddafi, my heart celebrates with this sweet family and their countrymen with hopes that better changes await.

The gratitude shown by the Libyan family was the first time being American has had a positive impact with my Arab friends. The typical response from families in this part of the world is to welcome me with hospitality, while assuring me of their distaste for my government. Because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, foreign policy that supports Israel, the Crusades, and a long history of colonization by the French, British, and Italian, governments in the West are seen as exploiting other cultures and countries for their own interests in oil or water or the Holy Land. No one EVER says, "Katie, thank you for being American and thanks to your government." Until now and until Libya. Do we deserve their thanks?

Well, whether or not the thanks was deserved, it was fun to celebrate Libya's freedom with Libyans. I will never forget their joy and hope for a new beginning. It is an interesting time to be in the Middle East.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

College Friends

"Your friend is your needs answered. He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving." Khalil Gibran

Nine years ago when I made the standard welcome call to a girl visiting our college program, I never imagined that a friendship would form during our college years and continue through countless emails and letters across the country and finally across the oceans! Often I love Sabra's emails so much that I print them off and carry them with me.

Sabra came to visit recently, and it was a reminder of Father's kindness and His ability to bind kindred hearts together. While our lives have taken different paths, it is our faith and the desire to know Him that unites our spirits.

Standing on Mount Nebo where Moses overlooked the land of Canaan (the dark spot in the background is Jericho)

Standing in the Jordan River!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Another Blog about Running!

My favorite thing about races here... its all about the party! I just ran another 10k through Amman, and more energy is exerted into the pre-race and post-race celebration than into the actual race. I love it! The chaos and confusion, the music, the smoke, the little kids, and Arab running attire....

Top 10 Differences

1. Pre-race cigerrette smoking
2. Running in jeans
3. Stage with choreographed dancing at the start line
4. Additional celebratory pre-race dancing among the runners
4. The Royal Family in attendance
5. Running out of water at the finish line!!! (Marathon runners were arriving parched and the water was gone!)
6. Running out of medals
7. Bagpipes!
8. Everyone under the age of 20
9. Women running in skirts and boots
10. Runners making zig-zags through the streets
11. Random men on roller blades skating against the traffic of runners

I will miss the celebration and randomness of running with friends through the streets of ancient Amman!

Wearing jeans at the Start Line

Running in boots and skirts

Bagpipe Celebration

Thanks for the pics, Julia!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Olive Orchard Retreat

Njoud and I spent the weekend at her family's holiday home in the countryside this past weekend, reading, napping, walking through the olive orchard, and eating Maqluba. It was a retreat from our busy city life.

Meanwhile the world watched as Mahmoud Abbas petitioned the UN for a Palestinian state. Though we didn't have exposure to the latest news via TV or internet, the subject was on our hearts and we could see Palestine over the tops of the olive trees. Olive trees are everywhere- in orchards waiting to be harvested, city sidewalks, and down into the valley past the border into Palestine. They grow as a symbol of peace and fruitfulness and righteousness, but its a symbol not yet experienced in this region.

Njoud's neighbor, a sweet Palestinian girl came for tea one evening and described the oppression of her family. "My people have no peace," she explained. I was reminded of a Palestinian man I met in Bethlehem last winter who suffers under the oppression but told me something different, "We have no political peace, but we have Peace in our hearts that enables us to love our oppressors."

My desire for Palestine is not only that it might become a sovereign state, but that one day the oil and fruit of eternal Peace and abiding Righteousness will flow into and from the hearts of the people as the pastor in Bethlehem, no matter the political circumstances.

The olive trees are a sign of encouragement to me, that the Creator would choose a place with HARD soil to plant a fruit tree that symbolizes peace and righteousness.

In front of Njoud's home- this girl is a BLESSING and awesome friend!!!

An olive tree in her orchard... its almost time for harvesting!

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Arab Hospitality

"Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.." 1 Pe 4:9

The past several months I have been reading about about hospitality and what it means to welcome others and offer them a place to be themselves. In the midst my search, I found myself a recipient of Arab hopsitality this past Eid.

By the third day of Eid (the holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan), I was shaking from countless cups of tea and coffee and sick from the trays of fig cookies that had been served to Judy and me as we went from home to home, but my heart was glad.

During these three days, families and friends visit one another, drinking coffee and tea, eating sweets, and handing out money and gifts to children and single women. While we didn't receive any money, we received sweets and drinks and kisses! Hospitality here extends beyond just gifts and food. Guests are given seats of honor... so we were seated farthest from the door. Throughout the visit, our hosts continually ensured our comfort and urged their guests to remain longer. We loved every minute!

I hope that my appreciation for the hospitality of this culture will also develop in me a hospitable heart.

Here are friends and I enjoying a traditional Eid sweet.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


Last week I met up with my family for vacation in the Caribbean! It was a week of bliss... the beach was wonderful, but best of all was hanging out with my sisters and parents! I cherish time with my family, knowing that the last few years have been a bit harder for us to see each other. Usually on each vacation or holiday, one or two things stick out and become a 'theme' or 'joke' that will continue for years to come. If I had to think of a word or theme for our Caribbean vacay, I think I'd choose 'planking' and 'owling.' If you don't know what that is, don't worry, neither did I until Laura and Dillon sat me in front of youtube the first night in the hotel. The rest of our time was centered around when and how we could plank!

Besides planking and owling, Laura and I walked and read on the beach for hours. Dillon focused on tipping our float each time we were in the ocean. My dad treated us to amazing meals every night and went with us out on the boat to swim with the string rays, despite his aversion to water sports. My mom convinced us to snorkel, and then she and Mollie were kind enough to go with me to see the final Harry Potter movie. Harry Potter was definitely a highlight since its impossible to see it in Jordan! (Jordan has been boycotting all Hollywood new releases.)

Here are a few fun pics! My sweet family!

Summer Students

This summer we had over 30 American students come to teach English, learn Arabic, learn culture, and volunteer at an orphanage. Summer is one of my favorite seasons because of these young, energetic, passionate, and encouraging faces that join us for a brief time. Here are a few pics of new friends that came into my life for a moment.

(Click on the pics to make them larger.)
Visiting a friend for a meal:

De-briefing back at their house after a long day:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Call to Prayer

The Call to Prayer goes off five times a day, along with a 'warning' call 15 minutes before the actual call. In the summer, the first one is at about 4:30am (this is usually when I wake up and close my window) and the last one is about 9:00pm. Here is a glimpse into my life...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mint Lemonade

Enjoying Jafra Cafe downtown with my Arabic teacher.

Just add a little bit of lemonade to mint. I could drink this everyday of summer.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things...

I love my life here. Its hard, and sometimes I am not so good at it. Yet for every challenge, He gives me joy by broadening my understanding of Him through His Word; meeting people who reflect His love... gypsies, refugees, shepherds, and neighbors; and through adventures in His creation as I walk through herds of sheep or cleanse my skin with mud from the Dead Sea.

This week He encouraged several friends and me with time at the Dead Sea!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Rockin' the Fast Walk

It is a rare occasion to see athletic Arabs. Yet several evenings ago, one hundred locals set out to walk the streets wearing bright neon reflective vests. Jordanians of all sizes and shapes ventured out into the wind and rain to exercise and lose those shwarma and filafel calories… covered women, uncovered women, young and old men alike. Loners and pairs and groups. Every Sunday and Tuesday evening they set out and stop traffic wherever they may be. I have become one of them and love it!

Saturday, April 9, 2011


We sat around the table mashing play-dough into animals when 9 year old Sheyma asked me in Arabic, “Do you ever cry?” Immediately the ‘house mother’ of the orphanage shushed her for asking a ‘shameful’ question.

Turning to the girl, I answered her, “Sure, I cry sometimes.” Suddenly every little eye in the room was on me, as well as the shocked house mother. (Islam and the culture have little room for expression of authentic emotions, and especially little room for tears.)

“Why do you cry?” Sheyma pressed.

“I might cry if I am sad. It helps.”

“Do you cry when someone dies?”

“Yes, because I am sad when someone dies.”

She paused.

“Do you cry because your parents died too?”

Not a girl breathed as they waited to hear my answer.
I knew I didn't have the answer they hoped for.

Sometimes my heart aches so much for the people in darkness here and for these sweet girls, I have to ask Father on a daily basis to give me faith to believe that one day He can restore and redeem broken hearts and make glad His people. That one day they may come to know Him and He will tell them that He never despised their tears, but instead He held their every tear in a bottle as their culture shamed their weeping.

"There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God." Ps 46:4

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Gulf!

Desert is still desert. Sand stilll sand. Beautiful girls wearing head coverings are still beautiful girls wearing head coverings. Arabia is still Arabia in whatever country you may find yourself.

This past weekend I was able to visit my dear friends from Texas Tech who are living in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates as university professors. Cindy and Jeff poured their lives into mentoring others and building community when I was college student at Tech, and it was a joy to spend time with them! We compared our lives in the Middle East and the similarities between our resident countries.

Despite similarities, I also saw just how different the Gulf of Arabia is from the rocky hills of Jordan. In Dubai I saw girls wearing the flowing black abiyah but trimmed in gold and lace. They carried Gucci and Louis Vuitton handbags and drove Bentleys and Lamborghinis. I wish I had a picture of this!

Young Arab men drove Landcruisers up and down the sand-dunes like four-wheelers.

My friends brought me to their university, where they instruct wealthy college students of 30 plus nationalities on a gorgeous campus. The palm trees were planted by the local sheikh to shade the girls on their walk to the dorm.

We also went to a private fundraising party at a house on the Palm Islands, which was the most posh party I've ever attended! The backyard opened up to a private beach on the shores of the Persian Gulf and waiters serves us hoir deuvres and mint lemonade as we mingled and strolled the beach. Here is our party according to the GPS.

I loved being with old friends and gaining a deeper understanding of Arabia and all the diversity that expands across it!

Friday, March 18, 2011

My Favorite Little Girls in Arabia!

At the girls' orphanage that some friends and I visit each week, I lost my camera and found it later in an empty room. The girls left this video on it! If you are curious what they are saying, they are 'interviewing' each other. I'll continue to post more pics and videos..

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


This afternoon I walked straight past my usual treadmill at the women's only gym and instead followed the blaring Arab music, leading me to the jam packed room that was shaking from the speakers. I slid in the back of the exercise class and glanced around.

I was under-dressed. At the gym.

Every girl was wearing a short skirt with jingling bells, tight shirts that stopped above their mid-drift, knee high workout boots, wild hair, and TONS of make-up. (I was wearing baggy sweats, t-shirt, and running shoes. My hair was slicked back in a pony-tail.)

Drums began. My hips did not. (Maybe I just needed a cool skirt?) For the next hour I was caught in the middle of a mass group of Arab women belly dancing. I LOVED IT. Women of all different ages and shapes and sizes seemed to suddenly transform into a newfound confidence once their hips started wiggling. They were all GOOD! I was the tallest and least-curvey woman in the class and felt pretty awkward at first. Until I realized that all the stress of the week (particularly being shamed and yelled at by two policemen in Arabic yesterday) was all forgotten once the music began.

One hour later, exhausted, I went to the locker room to change back into my street clothes with the women in my class. They replaced their jangling skirts and hoop earrings and tight tops with head-scarves and long skirts and wiped off their make-up. Once again they had become modest, respectable, passive, and temperate mothers and sisters and daughters.

On the way home, I passed several covered women walking quietly to the fruit market and wondered... how many of them are secretly belly dancers underneath their conservative hijabs?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

We Set Out to Win a Race... and We Won Hearts!

5 Rules for Foreign Women Living in the Middle East

Rule 1: Don't speak to or engage Arab men. Ignore their hissing and cat calls.
Rule 2: Cover your legs and arms and hips with loose clothing.
Rule 3: Women should exercise in the gym and not run in public in daylight hours.
Rule 4: Single women should be accompanied by an adult male relative or married couple at night
Rule 5: Women should not pee openly in public (okay, so maybe this also applies to the States)

This weekend our 10 person, all girl team broke every cultural rule as we dashed through the desert of Arabia, but we still managed to win a few hearts!

It all began three months ago when an American girl was recruiting team members for a 10 person relay race that began at the Dead Sea (the lowest point in the world) and ends at the Red Sea. Despite the fact that I haven't seriously run since high-school soccer, I secured a spot for myself, and we spent the last couple of months training and strategizing how to divide the 242 km.

Our team name? 'Bad Idea.' I'm pretty sure no explanation is needed. We were the only all girls team in the race.

We split up into two vans of 5 people each and had an okay start with each person running 3 minutes. After one hour of this, the other van drove ahead 35km and our van then split up the 35km between the 5 of us and took turns running sprints of 500 meters each, until our van's 35 km was complete.

As the sun was setting, our sprints carried us out of the Dead Sea terrain and up into Wadi al Arabah, the southern part of the Jordan Rift Valley, through villages where Bedouins had come to sit and watch the scantily clothed foreign women run by. Occasionally Bedouin children would leave their flocks of goats to run beside us! "Are you winning?! Are you winning?!' they cried in Arabic. (The team that placed 2nd was actually a team of all Bedouins that ran barefoot!)

At the 2am hour, we had more visitors. An ambulance full of Jordanian men was on our heels. Unfortunately, this was the ambulance sent to trail the last team. Although no one had passed us in hours, the 4 other teams behind us dropped out. Spirits started sinking. Little did we know this ambulance of Arab men would be our saving! During the next ten hours, they used their loud speaker to shout encouraging words to us in Arabic and cheered our names, held their cell phones up to the mircophone to play Arab music after one of our girls began to cry from knee injuries, and three of them even got out to run beside me. (They couldn't keep up for long though!) We occasionally took them banana bread and water to show our gratitude!

Slight complications occurred during bathroom breaks. We were stopping every 20-30 minutes to go to the bathroom and the desert is FLAT! We had to send our ambulance friends ahead every so often.

We continued our 500 meter sprints through the night and into the sunrise. By this time our muscles were shocked and confused- just as they were warmed up, we'd be sitting in the car again, wait a few minutes, and then hit the pavement again. As the sun rose, we entered more villages as people were waking up for the day and herding their flocks through the wilderness. Our bodies were weary from lack of sleep. We pushed, hollered, sang, danced, high-fived, honked, and laughed at each other in effort to forget the pain.

About an hour and a half from the finish line, three American girls that had driven from Amman pulled up in their car with goodie bags and home-made posters with our names! They kept with us the entire time, getting out to cheer and blare music. If it wasn't for them, we may not have finished!

FInally, as we entered Aqaba, we were met with a police car that escorted us through congested traffic. We finished at 23 hours and 13 minutes as we ran through a toilet paper finish line and were cheered on by friends from several other teams. We even made it onto the local news station!

Our team was officially the last to finish, but we made it before the 24 hour cut-off and owe it to those Bedouin children, ambulance drivers, police escort, cheerleaders, and the newscast, who all spurred us on through our dehydration and muscle pain! Despite our immodest bathroom breaks, bare shoulders and legs, and cultural oddities, we had won the hearts of the people around us, who in turn cheered us along and escorted us to the finish line!

"We set out to win a race, and we won their hearts." So said team member Julia Wallin, halfway through the race.

The sunset at the Dead Sea a few hours past the starting point.(= (Thats my braid!)

Here are typical Arab men. Can't miss an opportunity to be dirty...

Bedouin children keeping up with us!

Running through the night. Ambulance men trying to keep up with us...

Morning comes, and so do the 18 wheelers!

Camels grazing...

Locals are pretty curious!

The last stretch... almost in Aqaba city limits!

28 Years!

"We turn not older with years, but newer everyday." Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson and I have become re-aquainted with each other the last several months. While I lack the words to express my thoughts, she has captured them perfectly for both of us, including my thoughts on my birthday. As I celebrated 28 years last week, I celebrated the relationships I've made this year, the things I've learned from my family and co-workers, the discoveries I've made about Father and His faithfulness, and the challenges and joys that are developing me into the daughter, sister, friend, and servant that I want to be. In the last year I think I may have cried more than I ever have. Yet, I think I have also laughed harder and drank deeper and ran faster (literally) than I ever have! All because of Father's faithfulness and love.

What exactly does one do on her birthday in the Middle East? Well, on my birthday, my roommate Amanda took me out to breakfast where I ordered a cream cheese and honey pita! Following that, I had an Arab-style dance party. (In this culture, girls don't dance in front of boys, so my party was culturally appropriate and only included girls.) We had belly dancing skirts (colorful skirts with dangling bells), and henna. My American friends and I all wore blue jeans and t-shirts, but my Arab friends showed up in stilleto high-heels and fake eyelashes. The Arab girls taught us belly dancing, and we taught them some hip hop and line dancing in return. That night, my co-workers took me out for Italian food. Dancing, henna, italian food, a package from home (thanks, mom!), and time with friends... I cherished every moment. I didn't deserve a birthday filled with such laughter and dancing! (I grew up dancing- ballet, tap, lyrical, country two-stepping, and the high-school dance team, and its something I've really missed while living here.)

That night I reflected on all the undeserved blessings of the past year- which included the wonderful people in my life in Arabia and in the States, trips across the U.S., time with my sisters and parents, increase of Arabic, a chance to make a home in Arabia, and even times of trial and bruising in which Father was taking me to a deeper, newer place with Him. I look forward to more years of growing older, or as Emily says, turning newer.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

And there were shepherds in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night...

I see shepherds on a weekly basis- herding their sheep and goats down the street, through the McDonalds parking lot, and in the valleys outside the city. Cars at honk for them to move out of the way, their shabby beards match the dirty wool of the animals, and while they push and beat their sheep through upscale neighborhoods, their education and status is far beneath that of the Arab families that live around me. In the city shepherds are a nuisance, and in the surrounding desert, they are simple people on a continual search for water, traveling from oasis to oasis over dirt and stony paths.

This holiday season when I read Luke 2, I have a new understanding.

Desert Hike

"As hard as it to believe that the dry desolate desert can yield endless varieties of flowers, it is equally hard to imagine that our loneliness is hiding unknown beauty." - Henri Nouwen (Reaching Out)

A few weeks ago some friends and I ventured out on a hike in the desert. What began as a walk through a dry and rocky valley became an ascent up scattered waterfalls. I was refreshed to find that there could be a place so beautiful, and at the same time so unexpected and hidden! As I read Reaching Out, I am reminded that the same is true in our lives.