First E-mail to Samford

Dear All,

As I write this it is 3 pm in Birmingham and 11 pm in Israel.  We had an uneventful trip from Atlanta to Tel Aviv.  Our greatest challenge was getting everyone (our group plus others who arrived in the country the same day) up to our hotel in Nazareth, since we ended up being short a van, but that was easily solved by a sherut: a van-sized taxi that offers service to and from the airport. I and some of our group plus one other veteran took the sherut north to Haifa where we caught a cab to the Hotel Galilee.  It seemed there were Stranges everywhere: my father, who goes by “Abuna” in this country, my mother, my sister Joanna, and me.  Joanna is already taking over the mothering of Samford students, and when she’s not my own mother is.

At the hotel we were greeted by old friends (we first lived here in 1983 when I was a college sophomore!) who fed us very good food, with a first course of hummous and Turkish salad, that the students exclaimed about.  Dessert was apples served with a knife for slicing.  We have since retired to our rooms after some brief announcements, but the town is all astir because of a football victory in a national championship. I forget whom Nazareth beat for the title down in Tel Aviv, where we just were, but in any case many young men are driving through the town, playing loud music, and honking their horns.  Others are walking by, shouting, beating drums, and shooting off fireworks.  It seems to be getting louder.  Our students appear pleased to be here; some are even excited, but I think spirits are dampened a little by jetlag.  For my part, I’ve been reading every sign I can from the vehicle windows to retrain my eye to read Hebrew.  I’ve also been eavesdropping on conversations and am pleased to be able to decipher about every 5th word.

It seems that every year there are more new towns on hilltops and more highways.  Nevertheless, it still takes around two hours to travel from Tel Aviv to Nazareth, a distance of around 90 miles.  It is a strange country in which little green spaces are carved out of unlikely urban areas, unimaginative concrete structures can stand next to pre-1948 stone buildings, and antiquities appear everywhere.  On Highway 1, for example, one can see the Roman aqueduct to Caesarea Maritima running up to the northbound lane.  It seems to disappear there, but it certainly emerges more spectacularly on the beach north of the ancient site.  No one seems to notice the trash that is everywhere.

Students understandably have a hard time telling Jewish Israelis from Arab Israelis and have to be told who’s who.  At dinner, for example, a student used her one Hebrew word, “Todah,” to thank the man who served her soup.  He smiled and told her the proper Arabic term, “Shukran.”  On their free time students will be able to walk three minutes in one direction to a traditional Arab suk (bazaar) and the Church of the Annunciation, and three in another direction to the brand new mall that opened just two weeks ago in time for the Pope’s visit. Nearby are shops for everything: sweets, coffee, ice cream, and even an Office Depot.  I spotted a sign for an Ikea store on the way up.

Work should begin on Monday, but there has been a SNAFU, as the Parks Authority wants each person to be insured for $1,000,000.  Yes, that is not a typo.  We’re trying to hammer that out now. If we’re delayed getting into the field, we may begin with one of our tours rather than a day of digging.

Be well, everyone.

Sincerely,

James

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