Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Reflections: A Year Since Galilee

It is hard to imagine it has already been a year to the day since I was in the Galilee area where Jesus began his ministry. Time flies quickly.

Over the last several days I have been recalling what it was like to tour Bethlehem and Palestine on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Every time the scriptures or a hymn referred to the manger, I thought back to the manger that I saw in The Church of the Nativity. The manger wasn't made of wood like we have always been led to believe, but hard, cold stone.

Whenever I heard of the trembling shepherds, I remember the Judean hillside with a view of twisted olive trees where they saw a host of angels that proclaimed the arrival of their savior.

I remember the the bright colors, the drums and bagpipes, and the festive feeling of the Christmas Day parade that marched through Manger Square in downtown Bethlehem.

Visiting Bethlehem, and Jerusalem the following week, was one of the most enthralling times of my life... an experience I won't soon forget. I feel truly lucky to gain the perspective of actually being in the places where Jesus was born, walked, preached, and died.

Monday, December 25, 2006

MERRY CHRISTMAS

Merry Christmas everyone! We had a great Christmas celebration today. I hope you did too.

My immediate family woke at about 9:30 and exchanged gifts, then prepared for the arrival of our extended family members. We lacked a few family members (Heather, Nathan and Elisabeth, you were missed) but had a good time nonetheless.

Since mom was in her car accident a little over a week ago, and is still sore, we decided we would try to make the day as simple as possible and just enjoy each others' company as much as we could. We had arranged to have ingredients for sandwiches and forgo the usual complicated fare, but I just couldn't do without my great-grandmother's fantastic Brunswick Stew (pictured above).

Several years ago my mother began a tradition of making this wonderful dish at Christmastime. It's always been one of my favorite recipes, so I couldn't just let it go. Instead I volunteered to make the complicated stew and had mom supervise me.

I was so happy that it turned out well. It tasted just like I remembered it. I did have a few good laughs from the sensation of squishing diced tomatoes with my hands, a necessary chore for the stew to turn out right. I also couldn't stop laughing at the sheer amount of fat that separated out of the chicken stock. The preparation of the stew took a few days so we had to refrigerate the stock overnight one night. When I looked in the pot the next morning, the layer of cooled, gelatinous, yellow fat was at least a centimeter think on top of the stock. Now I understand how arteries get clogged! Fortunately I was instructed to skim the fat off and throw it away.

My grandfather told me my great-grandmother would be proud. Deep down that compliment meant a lot.

Thank God for the abundance of love and family in my life! Thank God that he sent his son to Earth so many years ago to be our wonderful councilor and savior. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 22, 2006

An Interesting Week

On Sunday my mother was in a car crash as she was drove to church. She left the house early so she would have plenty of time to set up at the church because she is one of the church leaders, but she never made it to church. She was driving down a country road when a woman ran a stop sign as she exited a neighborhood and drove directly into my mother's path. My mom had no chance to break and plowed directly into the other woman's passenger side.

Dad received a phone call a few minutes later. Mom had called him using her cell phone. I heard in Dad's voice that something wasn't right. "Your mom's been in a car accident" he said. I asked him where, immediately put on my shoes and jacket, and left. I arrived on the scene just in time to see the paramedics attach a collar around her neck, move her onto a backboard and load her into an ambulance. I scurried around the site collecting things from my mother's car at her request and then watched as the paramedics headed for the hospital. My dad arrived about that time and helped me gather the rest of her belongings. We then drove directly to the hospital.

The doctors did several x-rays of my mom and discovered that she had no broken bones, but assured her she would be very sore for the next few days. Since then my dad and I have been helping her shuffle around the house and trying to do things for her as best we can.

I know my mom was disappointed because that particular Sunday was the biggest Sunday of the Christmas season. She had worked so hard to help put the service together, and I know she hated to miss out on actually pulling the service together. It's a devastating thing not to see the fruits of hard work.

She's battered and bruised but is steadily improving. I pray prayers of thanksgiving that the accident wasn't worse, but I also pray that her recovery will be quick. I pray other prayers of thanksgiving for the paramedics and doctors that did their jobs and the kind souls that came from the nearby houses to help my mother. Lastly I pray for the other driver. I don't know her condition, but I hope she is okay.

Thank you to all of you who have prayed for my mother during this difficult time.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Atlanta Sacred Chorale

Tonight I enjoyed wonderful Christmas music sung by The Atlanta Sacred Chorale and The Gwinnett Young Singers. It really helped put me in the Christmas mood. Beautiful!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Shuttle Launch Photos

The pictures from my recent trip the shuttle launch and various national parks are now available for viewing. Click on the photos button above to see them.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

3... 2... 1... Liftoff!!!

Late tonight (or is it early in the morning now) my brother and I returned from a trip to Orlando. We visited with family, saw the shuttle launch, which was fantastic, and saw many incredible national parks on the return trip. I have many neat photos to share, but for now I am going to bed. More to come!

Monday, December 04, 2006

I got home before sunrise

This morning I went in search of another Iridium satellite. I got up at 5:30 and bundled up in my warmest clothes because it was incredibly cold. I think it was below freezing. I found out how cold it really was when I set up the tripod for my camera. The aluminum was so cold that it HURT my hands. I waited probably ten minutes in a small, church parking lot in the middle of nowhere, which was the closest I could get to the center of the reflection path, before I saw the satellite, dim at first, looking like a little star, following its preordained path.

Satellites, which are high above the Earth, reflect sunlight down to the ground. In order to see the reflection one has to stand in the right place at the right time. I recently wrote about a site called Heavens Above that will accurately predict satellite pass-overs at or near your location. I found out about this particular satellite on Heavens Above.

So I'm standing there next to my tripod-mounted camera, which is pointed in the direction where the satellite is supposed to be at its brightest, where it is supposed to "flare", and I'm scanning the patch of sky where the satellite is supposed to appear when I see the dim dot moving steadily overhead from the North to the South. I shouted,"That's my boy!" at the top of my lungs (okay, that's a lie) and I turned to put my finger on the button of my camera, and when I looked back the satellite was in mid flare. I pressed the button and my camera took a 48 second exposure at ISO 100. I caught this cool picture (Well, it is to me anyway. To you it probably just looks like a bug that went splat on your windshield) of Iridium 53 in mid-flare and as it dimmed back into nothingness.

The satellite shown down at a magnitude of -8. Our brightest stars are in the range of 0 to -1. By comparison the full moon is around -12 and the sun is -26. Clearly, the lower the number, the brighter the object.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

My Work Seen in Public

I was in a Target restroom yesterday and noticed that the toilet paper dispensers were the same exact type I designed instruction labels for back when I was doing graphic design for Kimberly Clark. I see them from time to time, but usually they are locked closed and the labels I designed are inside the dispenser. As luck would have it, this dispenser was taped shut, and was easily opened. Sure enough, just behind the rolls of paper was a label I designed. It's neat to see work I've done randomly in public.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Product Over-Saturation

I wrote some time ago about my reaction to the ever-expanding lines of products upon my return to America. It seemed every product under the sun had expanded to 6 or 8 new flavors, or styles. Here's another one... M&M's. The classic chocolate candy is coming out with eight new "limited edition" flavors (read: if they sell well, then they become permanent). THIS is the kind of thing that overwhems me when I walk into the grocery store. I mean c'mon, do we really NEED strawberries and cream Pepsi?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Nerd Alert!

Today I totally geeked out when I saw a satellite in the early evening sky. I have seen satellites from time to time, but this time was different. Whereas I have randomly seen satellites before, I was expecting this one.

A few days ago I found a website called Heavens Above that accurately predicts when and where to view satellites. Feed your longitude, latitude, and elevation into the site and it will accurately predict the paths of satellites through the night sky at your location.

Apparently the most visible satellites are the Iridium satellites. While the word Iridium sounds like an element, (and for all I know it might be) in this case it is a company name. Iridium has over eighty of these satellites in orbit and the reason they are so visible is their highly polished surfaces reflect sunlight really well. While we are on Earth, rotating well into the nighttime side of the planet, satellites are still high above us, bathed in sunlight. The intense light reflected by these satellites is called an Iridium flare.

I checked Heavens Above for any Iridium flares that might be visible from my grandparents' house on Thanksgiving, and it turned out one was scheduled for 7:10pm at 49 seconds in the southern sky. It was Iridium 13 and it was supposed to have a magnitude of -7, which is much brighter than any star.

So I wandered around the neighborhood for a good view of the southern sky and looked up at the appointed time. The Iridium flare appeared right on cue and shown down like a spotlight (well compared to the stars anyway). It was truly bright for a few seconds, and then dimmed slowly into nothingness as it continued along its path to the horizon. Pretty neat what you can do with the internet.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope you have a good holiday and eat lots of turkey. Thank God for all we have!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Jason Clay: The Cook?

If you have been around me for any length of time you know that I am more of the macaroni-from-a-box or a TV-dinner-from-the-freezer kind of cook. But I talked to one of my fellow volunteers at the transitions retreat about how she makes dinner for her parents every now and then since she is temporarily living with them. It got me thinking about how I could help out around the house, since I am also temporarily living with my parents, and find a better, healthier way to eat at the same time.

My first attempt at cooking a real meal came today in the form of one of my mother's favorite dishes: Sausages and Peppers. Yum! It was a pretty good success I think. It's made with turkey sausage, red, yellow and green bell peppers, onions, and has a dash of red pepper flakes and oregano. I put a little more than a dash of the red pepper flakes, so it was pretty warm, but a success nonetheless.

Test Post... Go about your business

Just changed some settings on Blogger and I want to make sure my blog still works. If you see this it's a good indication it does.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Ghost Ranch- Abiquiu, New Mexico

Last weekend I had the privilege of joining all of the Young Adult Volunteers from national and international placements. Well, at least those who were able to attend. We got together for our "transitions" retreat at Ghost Ranch near Abiquiu, NM. Ghost Ranch is a wonderful Presbyterian conference center that is far removed from the outside world... so removed, in fact, that cell phones won't work there. It was a great place to reflect on our experiences around the world from this last year. I'd never been to New Mexico. It was nice. I'd like to go back again sometime and explore a little more.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Providence Canyon

My brother and I visited Providence Canyon in southwest Georgia over the weekend. Often referred to as the "Little Grand Canyon", it is a beautiful network of canyon walls. It was created by accident in the 1800's due to bad farming habits. The walls were a natural work of art, composed of layer upon layer of colorful soil. Georgia red clay comprised a hefty portion of the top most layer, which gave way quickly to white kaolin. Traces of golden hues reminiscent of safron, and purple soils (yes, purple soils) were also visible. The backdrop of colorful fall trees and an azure sky made the scene that much more beautiful. See my pictures on my photos page.

Thank God in Heaven

We might acutually have some real checks and balances in our governement now. Time to end the blatant corruption!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I voted. How about you?

Today I hope we can make some small, yet important changes to get this country back on track. Go vote!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Teri's Ordination in Chicago

I recently had the pleasure of seeing the culmination of my girlfriend Teri's years of seminary education, internships, youth ministering, and mission work in the form of her ordination at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago.

My mom and I decided to fly up for the ordination service and joined many of Teri's friends and family members. It was a wonderful time, and I got to see many dear friends I hadn't seen in some time. I also got to meet Teri's aunt for the first time. She is a very important person in Teri's life, so I was a little anxious about meeting her, but she seemed very nice. Turns out she is a Pisces like me, so that probably had something to do with it. ;-)

It was a beautiful service. Since I am ordained as an elder, I went up for the laying on of hands and made sure that I got my hand on her right shoulder. I know she couldn't see me, but I was glad that I got to experience (not just witness) a little part of the service with her. And then she served communion for the first time! Quite a momentus occasion.

Teri is now serving as an Associate Pastor at Ridgefield-Crystal Lake Presbyterian Church in Crystal Lake, IL. It's an incredible church with wonderful people in the suburbs of Chicago. I am very happy that she is serving there.

Mom had never been to Chicago so we made sure to hit the sites there as well. Fortunately Teri got to join us for a little while, and one of my former pastors, Beverly joined us as we toured around. She had never been to Chicago either!

Check out the pictures on my pictures page.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Having Keys Means You Belong

This is an story I have been working on since the day I left for Egypt. It started when I literally pulled out of my driveway on the way to mission orientation. Just before I got in the car I handed my keys to my father. Keys to the house, keys to my car, keys to my church and all kinds of random keys that I have long since forgotten what they open.

As the car rolled down the street, away from my home, I felt a profound sense of disconnect. It was one of those moments where the staggering realization that I was leaving the country for a whole year hit me in square between the eyes. I wasn't just giving up my keys, I was giving up little symbols of everything I was connected to, signs that someone trusted me, indications that I belonged.

The long flight to Egypt was surreal and gave me this indistinct "fuzzy" feeling, the anticipation of things to come. I was in between two lives. I left one behind that I no longer belonged to and was going to one that I didn't yet belong in.

When I got off the plane and arrived at Dawson Hall, my home for the next year, the process of belonging began again. I was given keys to my flat. I belonged at Dawson Hall.

After I completed my Arabic language classes, I was given another key: the key to my office where I would design publications and archive old volumes of handwritten text. I was entrusted with the computers and property in that room. I belonged at The Synod of the Nile.

Over the year I was trusted time and again with keys and belonged at many places, whether it was an office, a person's home or a hotel.

Fast-forward nearly a year. It was time again to relinquish these little symbols of trust and belonging. I said my farewells to my friends at the Synod of the Nile and handed over the keys to my office. I packed all of my things into two large suitcases and surrendered the keys to my flat. And once again I didn't belong. I didn't belong anywhere. I was in between lives once again. It was just temporary for me though.

What about those people who aren't just in between lives? You know, those folks that never have keys? The poor and homeless. Since they don't have keys society believes they don't belong anywhere... permanently. Nobody trusts them. In society's eyes... they... don't... belong.

There is one person in my life that I argue with quite a bit about the homeless. "Why don't they get jobs? They just stand around outside the homeless shelter all day and wait for handouts. They're lazy!" this person says.

What I have come to realize though is that nobody trusts them. If you were a business owner, would you hire a homeless person who didn't have transportation? Probably not. If you were a leasing agent for an apartment complex, would you rent to a jobless person? Probably not. They can't get a job because they are homeless and can't get a home because they are jobless. So you can see how homeless people are already at a disadvantage by simply not having keys.

Take your keys out and put them on the desk in front of you. Go on... do it. Good. Now look hard at your keys. Those keys to your home or apartment mean that somebody trusts you enough to pay rent or a mortgage. Those keys to your car means somebody trusts you to pay the financing or on a lease. Simply having those keys proves that you belong in this society. They are also a symbol of opportunity that not everyone has.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Confederate Memorial Service

First and foremost I am against slavery. I am totally opposed to the subjugation of people anywhere at anytime. Unfortunately slavery is a part of the history of the south, and oftentimes the focus of southern history. I struggle with that history as I write this entry. I encourage you to read through this completely and not dismiss it based on prejudice.

My father discovered some time ago that we have an ancestor that fought in The Civil War... for the Confederacy. Private Sanford Marion Davis was a part of Company A, 42nd Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry.

Being a military man himself, my father researched Pvt. Davis' military record and this is what he found. Davis was a farmer with a wife and three children and lived in Lawrenceville, GA. He received a $50 bonus when he enlisted with the Confederate Army at the age of 31. During the 18 months of his service he fought in battles at Tazwell, Tennessee; Cumberland Gap, Tennessee; and Chickasaw Bayou, Mississippi. Union forces captured him in 1863 at the Battle of Champion Hill, Mississippi. At the time of his capture he was already suffering from dysentery and malnutrition. He was later swapped in a prisoner exchange and was allowed to go on a 30-day furlough. He returned home to Lawrenceville, GA and died 25 days later.

Sanford Marion Davis never owned any slaves. In fact 99% of Confederate soldiers never owned any slaves. Why would Confederates fight in the Civil War if they didn't own any slaves you might ask. That's because the Civil War wasn't initially fought over slavery.

The reason the South wanted to succeed was unfair taxes. Often times it is referred to as "The Tariff." This site does a good job of explaining the economics between the North and the South and what truly led America into a Civil War: http://www.etymonline.com/cw/economics.htm

I find it interesting that the author has to validate his statements on one page of his site by saying:
I am [sic] born and raised in the North; I have no moonlight-and-magnolias sentimental attachment to the ante-bellum South. I live in an urban neighborhood, and I teach my child to judge the people around him by their deeds and character, not their pigment. I have no moral argument to make in favor of American slavery, though, unlike some, I won't condemn every slaveowner [sic] in history as a monster.

These sort of disclaimers must be made. Anyone, even the most respected historian, who defends or even speaks objectively about the Old South or the Confederacy is liable to be shouted down.
Now certainly the abolition of slavery was a good thing. I certainly must make my own disclaimers. I simply think we are spoon-fed slavery as the cause of The Civil War because the economic reasons are too difficult to understand, and takes more than a single word to explain.

I think this is best exemplified in an episode of the satirical television show “The Simpsons” entitled "Much Apu about Nothing". In this episode Apu, an Indian convenience store clerk who immigrated to America, decides to take his citizenship test. He studies hard and then has an interview with a test administrator.
Test Administrator: All right, here’s your last question. What was the cause of the Civil War?

Apu: Actually there were numerous causes. Aside from the obvious schism between abolitionists and anti-abolitionists, economic factors both domestic and international…

Test Administrator: (Interrupting) Hey, hey.

Apu: Yeah?

Test Administrator: Just say slavery.

Apu: Slavery it is, sir!
So basically what I am trying to say is that not every single soldier that fought in the Confederacy was a bad guy. My great-great-great grandfather likely fought in the war for the reason most wars are fought: money. He fought against the north because he believed that they were unfairly taxing the south… and that fifty bucks probably didn’t hurt either. My great-great-great grandfather fought for what he believed in, and lost. But he still fought for what he believed in.

To honor this, my father contacted the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs and ordered a military headstone to sit next to the original weathered marker. The new headstone lists his military affiliation while the old one does not. Dad even organized a memorial service to honor Davis, which was held on September 24th. A local color guard from the Sons of the Confederate Veterans was also involved and performed a 21-gun salute with muskets and a cannon! Women from the United Daughters of the Confederacy also participated and dressed in period clothing. It was quite a memorial. See the pictures on my photos page.

Upcoming Posts

So, I've got a ton of stuff to write about, but just can't seem to find the time. Here's a run down of upcoming posts. A confederate memorial service, starting a new business, a trip to Chicago and much, much more! Come back over the next several days and I'll make sure to have something new up. Hope you are all well. Drop a line sometime.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Anime Weekend Atlanta

My friend Curt invited me to a local anime convention this weekend. Anime (pronounced ani-may) is a specific type of animation that comes from Japan, and sometimes is even referred to as Japanime. This style of animation has found quite a following in America over the last few decades to the point that many American animators have begun to imitate it.

I grew up with several cartoon series that have their roots in Japan such as Voltron, Tranzor-Z, and yes, even the popular Transformers were originally from Japan. I had no clue what the origins of the cartoons were at the time, but what ten year old boy could resist super-detailed animation, big robots, and big storylines.

Sure, the storylines seem rather simplistic when I go back and watch them now, but anime has grown up just as all of us kids did. You see, in Japan, animation is a mainstream form of entertainment, with storylines for kids, teenagers, and adults. Some are very kid-friendly, and some deal with more adult themes such as sci-fi, and horror. Some are even more akin to soap operas. As we, the children of the 80's grew up, the distributors began putting out these more grown-up-minded series and they quickly caught on. Today these distributors showcase the latest series to arrive in America at anime conventions to show us what's on the horizon.

Going to this convention was a real treat. I got to see many people pay tribute to their favorite shows and characters. The lengths these fans take to duplicate the appearance of their favorite characters are amazing. Check out the photo attached to this entry. It's a picture of a fan dressed up as Speed Racer, yet another classic anime character.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Top of the dog pile

I just discovered that my site ranks number one on Google when I search for my name. I know that probably a little narcissistic, but hey, it's a little exciting for me.

Sorry I haven't posted recently. I've been busy with several projects, one of which is updating my design portfolio site. It should be complete in a day or two. I'm really excited about how it has turned out so far. Can't wait to share it with you.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 Remembered

Five years ago I was being sued for a car accident that I was involved in while I was off at college in south Georgia. We had already attempted the trial once, but my lawyer said something during the examination of a witness that the judge believed had tainted the jury, so he declared a mistrial. We had to start all over again several months later in September of 2001.

At the time I was living in Long Branch, NJ and had to fly to Atlanta, where the trial was being held. In some sense it was great because I got to see my family at the insurance company's expense.

I remember we spent almost all of Monday, September 10th selecting a jury. We got through some questioning by the afternoon, but dispersed shortly thereafter, deciding collectively to start fresh the next morning.

I remember getting to the courtroom to continue the trial at 8:45am. The plaintiff and her lawyers sat and waited with me and my lawyer. We waited and sat, sat and waited for the judge to enter the courtroom. My nerves were already in a tizzy from being accused of something I didn't do. Butterflies were in abundance in my stomach in anticipation of the judge and the jury.

The clock on the wall behind the judge's chair ticked and tocked until it was nine o'clock, and then 9:10. Where is the judge? Let's get this show on the road!

Then I remember the judge, a sturdy man, dressed in long, open, black robes entering the room; his shiny, bald head reflecting the flourescent light from above. He rather unceremoniuously mentioned that the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane. I think my initial thought was exactly what everyone else's was: some small plane, probably a cessna, had gotten off course and run into one of the buildings.

The judge and the lawyers discussed how they intended the trial to proceed that day, and polished up some loose ends and paperwork before getting down to business. The judge left the room once more, intending to come right back to begin the trial, but returned a few minutes later to tell us that a second plane had hit the other tower AND another had hit the Pentagon. I think we all silently hunched forward slightly in our seats at that point, suddenly listening more intently, realizing for the first time that this thing might be bigger than we thought.

The plaintiff's lawyer slammed his fist down on the table and screamed, "This is an act of WAR!!!" to which the plaintiff burst out into tears presumably because her husband was in the military. She stormed out of the room.

After a few minutes they brought the plaintiff back in the courtroom and she seemed to have collected herself. We discussed whether we should inform the jury, because of course, they didn't have any contact with the outside world at that point. We agreed that we should in case they had any family members in New York or D.C. As it turned out, none of them had any relations in either place and seemed willing to continue with the trial.

We began the day's work and went through about two hours of testimony before the judge said we needed to take a break. That's when things really hit home. I remember milling about in the food court where many people had gathered around a wall-mounted television set. I wasn't supposed to speak to any jury members, but how could you not when you're gathered around the same TV set watching that kind of news? That's when we found out the towers had collapsed. Awestruck, we watched our first glimpses of the horrible events of that day.

Our fifteen minute break ended and we gathered back in the courtroom where the judge told us that more important things were going on that day, and we needed to go home and be with our families. He declared another mistrial and sent us home.

My mother, who had been kind enough to join me that day, drove me home. I remember feeling numb. The sun was shining brightly and cars were calmly driving around town; seemingly a normal day. The cheery sun and the calm traffic seemed surreal in light of the tragic events.

When we got home I sat down on the couch and watched CNN all afternoon. I took it all in. At some point in the day I learned of United 93, which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. I couldn't stop watching. Who knew how much more was going to happen? Since the airports were shut down, I couldn't just pop back up to New Jersey for work, so I just sat there on the couch for the next few days and watched and watched.

The airports finally opened back up, and it was time for me to go. My mom had gathered some extended family to see me off. I remember looking at my mother that day and saw fear in her eyes. With false enthusiasm she asked, "Why don't we all just pack up the car and drive you back?" No, I assured her. This day of all days will be the safest day to fly. As I left my parent's house that day, waving at my family members through the window of my dad's truck, the thought did cross my mind that I might never see them again.

My flight was one of the first planes out of Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport after it reopened, and it flew into Newark International Airport, which is just across the river from Manhattan. There were probably fifteen people on that plane. All thrity eyes stared out the right side, fixed on the gigantic plume of smoke billowing up from the southern tip of the famous island. I returned to NJ and heard stories from by bosses who had lost neighbors that worked in the WTC, and a co-worker whose uncle was an engineer at one of the buildings and had escaped the tragedy.

That's my "where were you when" story.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

National Parks Passport

Oh, and one more thing... I got this really nifty guide to the national parks of the U.S. at the national park on Saint Simon's Island. It includes a U.S. map with all of the national parks marked. Also, each national park has a cancellation stamp, so you can stamp your "passport" at each location. Pretty cool. If any of you are up for some trips to any national parks, let me know. These places are fascinating!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Saint Simon's Island

Before I even left Egypt my mother contacted me and told me that she wanted to plan a family "vacation" after my return to the States, so that we could unwind together. She couldn't have planned a better place to relax than St. Simon's Island, just on the Georgia coast.

We stayed at my great uncle's condo and took little jaunts to scenic sites such as the lighthouse, a ruined colonial-era fort, a historic church with an ancient (by American standards) cemetery.

One of my favorite parts was taking advantage of the condo complex's swimming pool. I can't tell you how long it has been since I truly went swimming, but I took advantage of the pool every day I was there... sometimes mutiple times in a day.

I think the highlight of my time there though was my and my mother's early morning trip to the beach. We arrived at the fishing dock at about 5:45am and then watched the sun rise from behind the lighthouse. I don't think I had ever seen a lighthouse actually performing its duty. There was a very distinct beam of light projecting through the humid, sea air.

We met and talked with several fishermen. One of them caught, not one, but two hammerhead sharks while we watched. Pretty creepy little critters. I expect they don't tase very good because he tossed them back into the water.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

George Bush Debates Himself

Despite the lag between the sound and the video, I think this is quite hilarious.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

All Simpsons Stuff Up For Sale

Tonight at Midnight Pacific Standard Time all of my Simpsons toy auctions will go online. You can see them by clicking this link: http://search.ebay.com/_W0QQsassZblamdvdsQQhtZ-1

If you are interested, happy bidding!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Staring at the Sky

Tonight I hauled out my telescope for the first time in a long time to look at a bright "star" on the western horizon I had been noticing just after sunst. It has been rather humid in the evenings because, well... it's just that way in Atlanta during the summer. But tonight it was rather clear. So, I pulled my telescope and its massive aluminum stand out of my closet and and aimed it in the direction of the bright object.

I was pretty sure it was Venus, but since I hadn't been able to look at stars in over a year (Atlanta ain't got nothin' on Cairo's pollution), I wasn't quite sure what was where at this time of year. As it turned out it was Jupiter. I could see the small white disk with two grayish bands across it and four of Jupiter's largest moons, which show up through my telescope as four pinpricks of light. It was great to see an old friend again!

Then I realized I had some new capabilities with my new digital camera. One of the reasons I liked it was its shutter priority setting, which means I can set the amount of time the shutter remains open. I set up my other tripod and mounted my camera on it. Then I opened up the shutter for about 16 seconds and caught the above image of the constellation Scorpius (click the image to see an enlargement). If you don't have eyes for constallations, this second image I found on the internet should help you.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Exercising Milestone

Recently I've been getting up and walking at the local park most mornings. I started off by walking three laps around the walking trail, which is about three miles total. I always walk at least three laps, but every now and then I walk extra laps. Today I went a full six miles! I've never really had any regular exercising regimen in my life, so this is quite a milestone for me. It gives me energy and makes me feel good pretty much all day. It's nice! Hopefully I will be able to shed some weight too.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Survey says...

And the final tally on the number of Simpsons items is: 145. I'll post a link once I actually have the auctions up and running.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Photos of the Georgia Aquarium

In addition to the videos I previously posted, I have posted some photos of my trip to the Georgia Aquarium. Take a look at them on my photos page.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Selling the Simpsons

Before I went to Egypt I collected toys for nearly eight years. I started off collecting Star Wars toys, but soon collecting became an addiction and I was buying all kinds of action figures, from hockey players to The Simpson. In those eight years I amassed a collection so large that I began to feel cramped in my living space. When I ran out of space I stopped collecting toys, and that’s when I looked in my closets and thought, “Oh, no. What have I done?” It had taken years to buy all of those toys, and I began to realize that it would take years to get rid of them.

For a time I simply ignored this problem because it was simply too large to take on. I would just look in a closet and get overwhelmed. So, before I left for Egypt I came up with a plan. I decided I would quit my job two months before the big trip and use that time to try and get rid of a large chunk. I put nearly all of my Star Wars toys on eBay, and within two months, most of it sold. It was a large burden off my shoulders, but there was still a long way to go.

Now that I am home, I am going to whittle away at the stockpile once more. Tonight I took pictures of each item from my Simpsons collection (about 80 items total) and will begin the arduous process of selling them on eBay tomorrow.

It is very easy to get caught up in the big mess that is American commercialism. We Americans want whatever is newest, biggest, fastest, sleekest, and sexiest. We are continuously bombarded with advertisements that appeal to our very desires. Corporations are very good at parting us from our money and driving us to do it again and again. They go for the repeat buy, so they entice us to buy more and more.

I have learned a big lesson about myself from all of this. I have a newfound appreciation for living simply and buying as little as I can. Trying to live simply is still a difficult battle to fight. Everyday I have to struggle against years of conditioning in order to do it, but at the end of the day I know I can find peace without a bunch of stuff. Never again do I want to have a large collection of anything.

The Georgia Aquarium

Some friends of mine from church recently treated me to a trip the brand new (it opened while I was in Egypt, so it’s brand new to me) Georgia Aquarium. The Georgia Aquarium is nestled away in the middle of downtown Atlanta, and is a part of a new development near Centennial Olympic Park. The World of Coca-Cola is building a new building there too, which will make the area one big tourist destination.

Anyway, back to the aquarium. I was blown away! It was unlike any aquarium I have ever seen. I don’t know what kinds of materials engineers have been inventing over the last few years, but they took Plexiglas to new levels of usage at this place. No longer do viewers just stand and look at the fish through a window in a wall. Now the window arcs up and over viewers so that they can look up through the water at the undersides of the fish. They also had a tunnel that permitted us to walk through the water and be surrounded on all sides by schools… nay, swarms of fish.

The Georgia Aquarium also sports the second largest viewing window in the world. It is second only to a viewing window in Japan, which is only four inches larger. Words cannot truly describe it, so I have provided a video of it for your viewing pleasure.

The crown jewels of The Georgia Aquarium are 4 (I think) enormous Whale Sharks. There are two boys and two girls. Whale Sharks are gigantic! I can’t even think of anything to compare them to size-wise. Luckily I caught one in my video. Check it out!

If you are interested in going to the Georgia Aquarium, go to their web site and order tickets. www.georgiaaquarium.org. Tickets are so in demand that you have to reserve a date and time. Apparently the place is always packed. Enjoy!


This is the tunnel through the water.




A Gigantic Whale Shark.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Sweet! I'm Green Lantern! My favorite!

Your results:
You are Green Lantern
Green Lantern
70%
Superman
55%
Spider-Man
55%
The Flash
55%
Batman
50%
Supergirl
50%
Hulk
50%
Iron Man
45%
Robin
42%
Wonder Woman
35%
Catwoman
20%
Hot-headed. You have strong
will power and a good imagination.

Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Life in America

Since I returned home I have had many of my friends and family ask me about how I am adjusting to life in America, what I miss about Egypt and what I am glad to see again. I enjoyed my time in Egypt but I am indeed happy to be home again.

There are several things that have taken some adjustment. It is interesting to understand exactly what everyone is saying in public, almost overwhelming. I have been told that past YAV’s have had nervous breakdowns after visiting American grocery stores. Perhaps by hearing that I was prepared, so I didn’t freak out. But I am astounded by the sheer amount of products we have here. My grocery store in Egypt would completely fit in a third of one aisle at the local Publix grocery store here in Snellville, GA. Why do we need so much stuff to buy? I have gone to Wal-Mart a couple of times just to wander the aisles. I wasn’t there to buy anything specific. I just wandered the aisles and looked at all the stuff that is available to buy. I found it more silly than overwhelming.

What I have found quite overwhelming is driving on the streets and highways of Atlanta. I visited my brother at his new downtown apartment and could feel my heart rate and breathing quicken. I was very edgy by the time I arrived. I used taxis during my entire time in Egypt and even though the driving there was largely unregulated and quite crazy, it was comparatively slow. I experienced several hair-raising moments sitting in the back seat of a Cairo taxicab and barely flinched. I got used to the chaos from the back seat. Here there is less congestion, but traffic moves much faster, and sometimes the roads are much narrower. Plus I actually have to pay attention now instead of blissfully trying to read road signs in another language. Getting from one place to another has become quite an ordeal for my nerves.

Something I didn’t realize I missed, but now I appreciate being around them again, is pine trees. I love pine trees.

Recently I got to meet the newest member of my family: my new baby cousin. She was born back in November and I just got to see her. She is one of the most beautiful babies I have ever seen and I can’t wait to see her again. She’s so sweet and adorable.

What do I miss about Egypt? The friendly people. That’s not to say all Egyptian people are friendly. In fact they probably wouldn’t give each other the time of day most of the time. But in their eyes I am special. I am a foreigner that they want to be around and take care of and protect. They want to make sure I have a good time in their country. I tried my best to not let this kind of attention go to my head. I know deep down that I am not some super special fantastic person; I was just a guy living in another country in a different culture. Still, I don’t think anyone can go to another country and be lavished with attention the way we all were and walk away unchanged. Yes, I miss that kind of attention. Who wouldn’t?

I miss living near fantastic ancient places and artifacts. I think there are the obvious ancient Egyptian artifacts, pyramids and temples, but I have a newfound appreciation for the ancient Christian and Islamic locations. I never knew how much of a presence Christianity had and still has in Egypt and much of the Middle East.

I tell you one thing… it’s very odd to listen to the news or watch a program on Egypt and hear Arabic words and understand them clearly. It just seems so odd in this context.

I’ll continue to write more about my impressions of being home, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Last Two Weeks in Cairo

At long last, a new journal entry…

Teri was kind enough to take me to some Islamic sites of interest in Cairo before we left. Back in February my grandmother passed away and I returned to the U.S. for her funeral. While I was away the YAV group went on a tour of Islamic Cairo so I missed out on that bit of education. I was really interested in seeing some Islamic sites before leaving Cairo, so we went to the Khan EL Khalili once more (I won’t lie… I also used this trip as an opportunity to buy some souvenirs for friends and family at home) and saw several mosques. We also went to the Citadel of Salah El Din (AKA Saladin) to see the large sprawling mosque of Muhammad Ali. The mosque is enormous and has some five gleaming metal domes. Though the Citadel was built in the Middle Ages when the Christians were crusading, the mosque wasn’t built until the 1800’s and is the only mosque that I have seen that was influenced by Western cultures. This one was influenced specifically by French architecture. It has lavish decorations in some areas, but the main prayer space is typically sparse. I was impressed by how the mosque was lit. Suspended above the wide-open area was a large metal ring, perhaps fifty feet in diameter, with glass-globed lamps that were hung every few feet.

We also went to a military museum that is within the walls of the Citadel. We stepped into the museum and immediately found one of the chariots from King Tut’s tomb. Then we jumped forward a few thousand years to the medieval Islamic period and saw mannequins riding fake horses, dressed in the military garb of the day. They had some pretty wicked looking swords and knives. Then we moved on to artifacts from more recent military campaigns. We saw canons and even a mangled tail fin from an Israeli fighter jet. My favorite item in the museum was a painting depicting Jimmy Carter (former U.S. president and fellow Georgian) witnessing the 1978 peace accords between Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin.

We found another mosque within the walls of the Citadel that was much older than the mosque of Muhammad Ali. The Muslim guide asked us to remove our shoes (as we had done at the Muhammad Ali mosque) and then led us to a pillar with a Christian cross near the top. In order to build the mosque, the builders used some materials from churches they had demolished. The cross was evidence of this. You can see a picture of this in my photos section in the album dated July 19th.

Upon finishing our tour of Islamic Cairo, Teri and I agreed that we had enough time to go to Coptic Cairo to go to the newly reopened Coptic Museum. We had been told at the beginning of our year in Egypt (in September) that the museum was being refurbished and it would be open in March. Everyone I knew in Cairo was very excited because the museum had been under renovations for several years and they were eager to visit it once again. March came and went and the museum was still not open. Every time we went we were told, “One more month.” Finally the museum reopened during our last two weeks.

We saw beautiful crosses that were carved into stone alongside carved ankhs, the ancient Egyptian symbol for life, paintings of various saints and sculptures. One thing I found very interesting was a symbol that is closely associated with Islam, a square with another square turned at a 45 degree angle, was originally a Coptic Christian symbol. The museum had one example of the symbol that dated back to the 4th century, long before Islam began.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Back in the U.S.A.

I am now safely home. Thank you all for your prayers for safe traveling. I will write about my last two weeks in Egypt soon. I think I'll rest a little first. :-)

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Quotes from American Patriots

The following are quotes from notable American patriots who lived and live in the spirit of our forefathers, to protect the individual rights of Americans from a tyrranous government.

To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.
-Theodore Roosevelt (President of the United States)

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.
-Edward R. Murrow (Journalist)

The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair.
-H. L. Mencken (Author)

Men in authority will always think that criticism of their policies is dangerous. They will always equate their policies with patriotism, and find criticism subversive.
-Henry Steele Commager (American Historian)

I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.
-James Baldwin (Writer)

The government is merely a servant -- merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn't. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them.
-Mark Twain (Author)

If you want a symbolic gesture, don't burn the flag; wash it.
-Norman Thomas (Co-founder of the ACLU)

Patriotism does not oblige us to acquiesce in the destruction of liberty. Patriotism obliges us to question it, at least.
-Wendy Kaminer (Writer)

Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.
-William O. Douglas (Supreme Court Justice)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Happy July 4th… a little early

Tonight several of my American friends and I traveled to a community called Maadi to enjoy the American embassy sponsored July 4th celebration. In order to get in we had to show our American passports. Our Canadian friends were allowed in with a Canadian passport. But if you weren’t Canadian or American, you weren’t allowed in unless you were the guest of an American citizen who had made arrangements with the U.S. embassy in advance.

For security reasons it was held on July 1st (and conveniently on a weekend) at a college in the mostly ex-pat community of Maadi. The theme this year was Hawaii, so there were life-sized tiki statues and the staff members were dressed in Hawaiian garb. We ate hotdogs and hamburgers and drank lots of Coke. All the food was supplied for free. We missed out on the ice cream though. Baskin Robbins didn’t bring enough. There were probably 2,000 people in attendance. Who knew there were so many Americans living and working in Egypt?

At one point a sharp looking, marine color guard marched down the center aisle, carrying the marine flag and the stars and stripes. We sang the National Anthem (I sang it a little louder than I have in recent years) and then listened to a speech by the American ambassador to Egypt, Francis J. Ricciardone. He mainly spoke about the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence 230 years ago, and the rights and responsibilities we were later afforded as Americans because of their courageous acts.

After that, there were bingo games, rounds of limbo, and the chance to win prizes. We continued to gorge ourselves on hotdogs and hamburgers, and had a grand old time celebrating our Independence.

While I have seen evidence this year that our country does horrible things in the world (mostly without the knowledge of our citizens), I still felt a sense of pride in my country today. Today is the day that we celebrate the ideals upon which our country was created and celebrate the men who practically signed their own death warrants when they signed the Declaration.

Our country does not always live up to those ideals, but the ideals themselves are important. Those ideals are the reason that we have a judiciary that is separate from our presidency. Egypt’s judiciary does not enjoy the same separation of powers and therefore the power of the presidency goes largely unchecked. We enjoy freedom of speech. Recently Egyptian judges were arrested because they spoke out against the Egyptian president, saying that there was a tremendous amount of fraud in the recent presidential election. Massive demonstrations followed in which plainclothes police officers beat unarmed Egyptian citizens in the streets.

I can go on and on about the rights that we, the citizens of America have that are not universal rights on this planet. For that I am thankful that I will be returning to my country in a few weeks. This year has opened my eyes to how far many countries have to go before they have rights on the same level we have.

On the other hand, I am returning to a country where some basic rights have eroded during the last year.

When our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, they did so because of oppressive control by the British crown. You can easily see that the Bill of Rights, passed by Congress in 1789, was a direct response to that oppression. Our basic freedoms include free speech, so that we can speak out against our government if we see corruption; freedom of the press, so that news of corruption can be spread; and the freedom to form a militia, to prevent the government from becoming too powerful by means of force.

Though this is the one I really want to talk about: Amendment IV.

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”


Our forefathers didn’t want the newly formed American government smashing down citizens’ doors and taking citizen’s’ property and personal records without probable cause, and even then officers of the law have to be specific about where they are looking and what they are looking for.

The Bill of Rights was all about limiting the power of the government in order for people to lead free lives. It even says in the opening line,

“The Conventions of a number of the States having, at the time of adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added, and as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution.”


In essence they are saying, we are adding these amendments to keep the government from abusing the powers set forth in the Constitution. Our government, “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” was designed so that the people would be in control of the government, not the other way around.

So when I see news agencies reporting about the U.S. government’s use of wiretaps on DOMESTIC phones and interception of e-mail communications without a warrant or court order, I wonder what the heck is going on in my country. I understand that this is our government’s attempt of keeping people secure since the September 11th, 2001 attacks, but these communications interceptions are illegal and infringe upon our BASIC rights as Americans. I resigned myself long ago to the possibility that the American government was recording my personal phone calls from Egypt to America, but DOMESTIC calls placed by Americans to Americans? That simply goes against everything our forefathers stood for. Our government monitoring citizens is more akin to the control of the British crown than the principles of freedom set forth in our Constitution.

Fortunately we can still speak out against our government. We can write our congressmen and congresswomen and ask what they are doing to preserve our BASIC rights as American citizens, what they are doing to ensure that the American government is still run by its citizens. Our journalists are seeking out the corruption that resides in our government and informing citizens of illegal activities. I can only pray that Americans will continue to use these rights and make sure our right to privacy doesn’t disappear. Once we start losing rights, more are sure to follow.

Today I celebrate the ideals of American freedom and pray that we can get back on track as soon as possible. I hope that justice will be dispensed to those who have broken the law. I love my country and I want it to keep the spirit of our forefathers alive for a long time to come.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Embarrassed

What do you say to your Iraqi friend that emails you a picture called "The Reality" and THIS is what you see? WARNING to parents of youngsters, the image contains profane language.

UPDATE: I found out today from an article on the web site www.snopes.com that the image I linked to was faked. My father was quick to email me and tell me that a commanding officer of an aircraft carrier would never allow this type of thing to happen. While I didn't state it in my original message, I suspected the image was faked for the same reason.

Faked or not, this image still makes our armed forces look bad. Even though members of our armed forces didn't spell out this message, there is still someone out there that intentionally made this. Often the war in Iraq is spoken of as a war of public relations. Well, this small PR battle was lost because the image made its way into the email of an innocent Iraqi.

We celebrate our rights and the responsibilities that come with them. Some American out there flexed his right of free speech and made this image, but was it a responsible action?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Enticing Ads in Arabic

See that harmless looking ad over there on the left? That's not just some random ad. It's a screen capture of an ad I saw on my monitor. I put it there on purpose for you to look at. It is the same type of ad that has popped up on my computer screen all through this year. Apparently internet services can tell from my IP address that I am in Egypt and therefore assume that I am an Egyptian, so they display ads in Arabic.

Normally I wouldn't think twice about it. Companies want to advertise their products and it is only smart to advertise in the language of the people viewing the advertisements.

What is alarming is how many of these ads have to do with immigration to America. While I can't fully read the ad, I can see the stars and stripes and even read the word "America" in Arabic. I can also see two women with long, luxiourious, uncovered hair. At first glance this might not mean anything to you or me, but it could be very important to a woman who feels oppressed by an intolerant culture that holds women back and forces them to cover their hair. Showing hair is a symbol of freedom in this ad.

Understand, I am not alarmed about people from the Middle East moving to America. If they are hard working people, with good heads on their shoulders, if they're yearning to breathe free, I'm all for it. What alarms me is how America is being pitched to these people. America, the land that accepts the tired, poor, huddled masses, is becoming harder and harder to get into. In fact, I believe to immigrate to America you pretty much have to luck out and win the immigration lottery.

I have met so many people in Egypt, especially Christians, who look to America for a better life. They want to move to America, but time and again they tell me that it is difficult to get to America, that they can't win the lottery that permits only a tiny fraction of people to immigrate. These people are desperate to move.

So what exactly is this ad advertising? Is it someone saying they can get people on the fasttrack if they are given a not-so-small fee? Is it someone that is ripping desperate people off by accepting this kind of money and then never following through? I don't know. I can't really read the ad, so my guess is as good as yours. But it does make me skeptical.

So, I clicked on the link and I was taken to a very official looking web site decked out in red, white, and blue. At first glance a person could be tricked into thinking it is a U.S. government website, but what confirmed my suspicions was the domain ending in ".org" as opposed to the U.S. government's ".gov". It even says in fine print at the bottom of the page, "---------.org website is a private entity and is not a governmental agency." I am not linking to the site because that would only give the site credibility in the eyes of search engines, and that's not something I want to do.

I will, however link to THIS PAGE. It shows how much the site in question resembles the U.S. State Department's web site and prooves to me what I assumed from the beginning. The site is "an independent for-profit organization." Does that mean they are ripping people off? No. But I continue to be skeptical. It makes me uneasy to think that someone might be using my country as a pitch in a scheme to separate desperate people from their money, desperate people I have gotten to know personally.

Digital Demonstration

Over the last several months I have been working out a method to digitally preserve old minute books from the early meetings of the Synod of the Nile. They date back to the late 1800’s and go up to the early 1960’s. I discovered the fastest way was to take a digital photograph of each two-page spread in a book, and then compile all the images together using a program called Adobe Acrobat. That way one book equals one computer file.

I would have preferred to use a scanner, but it proved to be a very slow method, especially since many of the books are oversized and don’t fit on the scanner bed.

I feel like I have finally perfected the chosen method as far as I can. Fortunately in the process of figuring out the best way, I digitally compiled some twenty books. The project must continue long after I leave in July though, because there are many more books to be digitally preserved.

That means I must teach someone at the Synod offices how to do this, step by step; from the usage of the digital camera, to transferring the images to a computer, to compiling the images together using Adobe Acrobat.

Yesterday I tapped into some of my old graphic design skills in order to make this happen. While I worked as a designer in Atlanta, I designed instruction sheets for the installation of Kimberly Clark products. Kimberly Clark is a company that does business on a global scale, so often times the instructions could not include written language and had to be comprised of nothing but imagery. That way no matter what language the installer spoke, he or she would understand how to put the product together.

All that practice helped me put together an instruction sheet that is full of imagery so hopefully, with some lessons, it will make sense to the people here at the Synod, whether they speak English or not. The instruction sheet begins with imagery of how to set up the camera and tripod, and how to position the book. It goes through various complicated steps, and ends with the completed PDF file.

Today I gave the first tutorial to Amaal, the office secretary who doesn’t speak but a few words of English. Between the printed instructions and a demonstration, she seemed to get the process quite well. I hope Venise, who knows quite a bit more English, will be here tomorrow so that she can translate the finer points and help me answer any questions Amaal has.

During this year I have come to understand that when there is a barrier in communication, whether it’s a language barrier, a cultural barrier, or even a lack of desire to communicate, a little creativity can go a long way.

It probably won’t make much sense to you out of context, but if you would like to view the instructions I came up with, click HERE.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Yet More New Videos

New videos of Queen Hatshepsut's Temple, The Luxor Temple, and The Karnak Temple are available on my videos page. Enjoy!

Monday, June 26, 2006

What was lost now is found

Recently our entire Young Adult Volunteer group went to Hurghada, a beautiful beach town on the Red Sea with clean beaches and azure water, to relax a little and reflect on our year here in Egypt. After that several volunteers left for home. Even though the year isn’t quite over, several of our volunteers have had to leave early, from sheer exhaustion from being in Egypt, to previous commitments to the next phase of medical school. Of our eight original Young Adult Volunteers, there are three of us left. Stephen is still in a village called Minya, while Teri and I are left in Cairo. Everyone else has cleared out. Fortunately we did get to have some good closure in Hurghada.

I also got to patch some things up with my site coordinator whom I have had a rough time with since she came on in December. I think it started by her saying, “I’ve learned a lot from you this year.” I believe she meant it in a sincere way. Over the last few months I felt that she wasn’t doing her job very well… and I let her know exactly how I felt about that. Sadly, my frustrations of living in Egypt caused me to take out my frustrations too hard on her. I was quite harsh several of the times I spoke with her. I could have handled the situation better. While she seemed thankful for my overly harsh criticisms, I told her that I was sorry for the way I went about it. After that, things seem to be much better between us. Ever since then I have felt a lot better about the situation. I am still frustrated with her from time to time, but mostly now I just let it roll off my back.

Not only have most of our fellow volunteers left Egypt, but many of our other ex-pat friends will be leaving for the States to do interpretation work. Also, most of the Egyptians will be taking a substantial amount of time to escape from the Cairo heat to the cooler coastal areas. That would certainly make it harder to get any work done. So, since we are quickly losing our support network and our reason for working here, we have found it is ideal for us to leave Egypt a little early. In fact Teri and I will be leaving on July 17th for Atlanta.

Last week I helped the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo put together their big summer newsletter. Like many of the layout jobs I have done in my short career as a graphic designer, this one came down to the last minute of the deadline. I haven’t seen the final, printed product yet, but here’s hoping that it came out okay. Click HERE to see the digital version.

Here’s an uplifting story: Today Teri and I took a taxi to work together. I dropped her off at the seminary before heading to The Synod of the Nile (I swap jobs every week now, so I am working at the Synod this week). I couldn’t give the driver exact directions in Arabic to the Synod from the direction went, so I told him to drop me by a park. Once I got to that specific park I could easily walk the rest of the way. I paid the driver, stepped out of the car and walked five steps before I realized I left my wallet in the taxi.

I turned around and saw about 15 identical black and white taxis just like the one I had been in. I had no idea which one was mine, and it didn’t really matter because they were all speeding away much faster than I could run. My heart sank and my mind started racing. I did what any American would have done in that situation. I knew I had to cancel all my credit cards, so I told the folks at the Synod that I was going home to place some calls to America.

I used my cell phone to call Teri and told her what had happened. Then once I got home I called my Dad to get some info (sorry for that 5am wake up call Dad). Then I called Capital One and then American Express to at least put my accounts on hold. I was just using the internet to transfer all the money out of my checking account when Teri sent me a text message from the seminary that said, “I’ve got it!”

The taxi driver had driven all the way back to the seminary, the one place he knew he could find someone, and gave my wallet to Teri. All of my cards were there. Even the 21 Egyptian Pounds in cash were there. The driver hadn’t touched a thing. Of course he wanted a little compensation for his honesty and for driving around in order to deliver the wallet. Teri told me he asked for fifty pounds (about $8.50USD) to which I said, “That’s fine.” That man saved me a lot of headaches by doing the honest thing. I suppose the least I could do is compensate him for his lost time, even if he was directly asking for the money. Thank GOD I got my wallet back.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Graduation at ETSC

My work at the seminary took a frenzied turn two weeks ago as we ramped up for graduation 2006. I attended several functions including a cook-out, which gave the graduates one more chance to get together in a social setting before the graduation, a baccalaureate, and the graduation itself. I did a large amount of work on three PowerPoint presentations. They were primarily directed at a group of visitors from Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, GA who visited with us for several days. One was for their arrival, to familiarize them with Evangelical Theological Seminary (ETSC), another was for the graduation itself, and the last was to explain the future goals of ETSC (read: we need your contributions in order to carry out our future goals).

After I completed the presentations I helped out by shuttling the visitors around to Coptic Cairo, facilitating events with ETSC faculty and students, and by touring the Cave Churches of Moquattam. Fortunately, I had never visited the Cave Churches, so there was something new to see even for me.

The Cave Churches are in a section of Cairo called the Moquattam Hills, in a community commonly referred to as “Garbage City.” The Christians of Garbage City have a very unique ministry. They collect the garbage of Cairo, which is pervasive on the streets of the city, and return it to their homes where they sort out recyclable materials. Then they use the materials in many ways, from making trinkets that they sell to tourists, to shipping large amounts of metals to China, which are in turn used in the manufacture of electronics, some of which might wind up in our homes in America.

It is a huge operation that touches every member of the community. As we drove into the area, our guide told us that often times the residents of the communities fill the first floor of their apartments with garbage that they pick through, while they live in the floors above. Our guide assured us that while the homes look dilapidated, many of the citizens of Garbage City are quite well off. After all, they take things nobody wants and turn a profit out of it. It’s a pretty disgusting way to live, fraught with dangers and health risks I probably haven’t even begun to imagine; after all it was pretty much a garbage dump in the middle of a residential area. Later we saw the reason for this way of life.

We passed out of the community and through a gate. We noticed there was no more garbage in the streets or in the buildings. We had entered a compound that contains a Coptic Orthodox monastery and several Orthodox churches, which were built in caves deep within the hills. The sheer walls of the “hills” that stood on our left were covered with enormous carvings of Jesus and the apostles. I even saw the Ten Commandments carved in Arabic near the top of the cliff. Our bus wound around on the road as we looked up at the gigantic reliefs through our windows before we came to a sunken area in which sat a mosaic dome.

We bounded off the bus, and the first thing we noticed was the faint smell of garbage from the nearby Garbage City community, but I think we were all in such awe over what we were seeing that we didn’t really pay it much mind.

Behind and below the mosaic dome was the first cave church we would visit. Now, when I first heard the words “cave church” I was thinking of a bear cave, a room no larger than a McDonalds, what I saw was a space with arena seating. The space under the tons and tons of rock was enormous with thousands of seats. A Christian man in a floor-length robe spoke in Arabic about the origins of the church, but I couldn’t hear the translation. I am sure it was important so I’ll see if I can look it up and get back to you.

We visited another cave church that had even more seats. My friend, Brice told me that on the World Day of Prayer in 2005, this particular cave church held 20,000 people! There were several more smaller cave churches, but we didn’t have time to visit them all.

Now, back to the people of Garbage City. All those people that pick through the garbage to find recyclable materials donate a significant portion of their income to the Cave Churches and the monastery. At the same time they are working to reuse materials to be kinder to our environment, they are using the profits of their work to support these amazing places of worship. That’s faith! That’s a life in service to the church and to God if I have ever heard of one. Amazing.

I have begun to say goodbye to several of my friends even though I am not leaving for some time. Of course, since the graduation at ETSC, students I have gotten to know are dispersing to be pastors at various churches across the country. One of my closest friends is named Tukei and he is from Uganda. He graduated with a masters degree and has since returned to his home. I miss him greatly.

We did manage to have a party for Tukei before he left, and it was an amazing cross section of the cultures that are present in Cairo. The difference in cultures became really apparent when we were all “required” to sing a song. Tukei began with some very African-sounding Christian songs. Some were in English, some were in his native tongue.

Esther, who is from the Philippines, though she is Chinese by birth, followed Tukei. She sang a lilting Chinese song, and I never would have known it had she not told me, but it was a Christian song. It’s amazing how Christianity has been assimilated into so many different cultures in so many wonderful ways.

The Americans all joined together to sing “Father Abraham,” the campfire favorite. We also participated in a few songs led by a man from Sudan. My friend “Ramsis” from Iraq also sang a beautiful, though sad sounding Christian song, all in Arabic. The Egyptians rounded out the evening with some popular Egyptian songs.

At the end of the evening Tukei told us how much he appreciated us all getting together to see him off. The party was a surprise to him as my friend Brice kept him occupied while we gathered in Brice’s apartment, so I think he was genuinely surprised that we were honoring him. Tukei is now in Uganda, and will resume his position as pastor at his church.

I am also saying goodbye to several of my fellow YAV’s. We are having our “year-end” retreat this weekend because five members of our group are laving for America next week. They are all leaving early for several reasons. Some need to prepare to resume college, another has to get back and complete some requirements in order to begin teaching in the fall. I think a few are leaving simply because Cairo is a hard place to live and they have gotten to an unhealthy emotional state. Teri and I will also be leaving a little early, only because we don’t have much of a choice. Most of Cairo shuts down during July and August because it’s just too hot to work. Many Cairenes migrate to cooler temperatures in Alexandria or other coastal areas for several weeks. Also, most of our ex-pat support network is leaving for interpretation work in the U.S. So, we aren’t left with much of a choice. Our plane tickets were recently changed and confirmed for July 17th.

There’s one last thing that has had me really excited over the last several days. Once I got my web site up and running again, an Executive Producer at MSNBC contacted me. She told me she had seen my videos of the pyramids and wanted to use them on her show, “The Most with Alison Stewart.” She said she also wanted to interview me! I gave her my contact information by email and she called me yesterday to interview me. She asked me all kinds of questions and I was really nervous when I answered them. I hope my voice wasn’t too shaky. And then they aired the segment on yesterday’s show. What an amazing year this has been! Someday I hope I can see the segment.

Make sure to check out the new photos I have posted. They go along with this journal entry.

I hope all is well with you. Drop me an email, as I would love to hear from you. Take care.

Yours in Christ,
Jason

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Videos are Back

The videos I created of the pyramids are back and you can view them by clicking HERE. I have hosted them at photobucket.com to prevent any bandwidth issues like I had recently when they became so popular. Hopefully this will keep my site from being shut down again. :-D

Monday, May 29, 2006

D'oh!

Well, that was interesting. I posted a video to my web site several days ago that shows my journey around the pyramids of Giza, and then a few days after that I posted similar videos of the pyramids at Dashur. Apparently they became quite popular on the internet... so popular that the sheer volume of web traffic shut my site down for nearly two days.

For those of you not into geekspeak... skip this paragraph. My web hosting plan allows for 3 Gigabytes of traffic each month. Normally I don't even scratch that. But yesterday alone, my web traffic burned through 85 Gigabytes, and eventually my web host pulled the plug, ending my access to email and my ability to remove files from my site.

I finally got ahold of the web hosting company and they removed the videos for me so the same thing wouldn't happen again, and then they reinstated the site. I am still getting tremendous amounts of traffic even though the videos are no longer there, but hopefully my site won't be shut down again.

I've been given tips for FREE places to store my videos, so I won't have to deal with all these bandwidth issues. Once I find someplace to put them, I will let you know where to find them. Unfortunately the links to the videos on my site won't work until I find a new home for them.

-Jason

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Different day, different pyramids

This week I ventured to the pyramids of Dashur to duplicate the little experiment I performed at Giza. This time I got the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid in front of my camera.


To see the Bent Pyramid movie, click HERE.

To see the Red Pyramid movie, click HERE.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Happy Days are Here Again

The last several days here in Cairo have been wonderful. My jobs have been going really well and I am excited about the work ahead. I am continuing to work on photographing the old volumes that the Synod of the Nile has so that I can make digital copies of them. Most of them are books containing minutes from Synod meetings that date back to the late 1800’s. It’s really amazing to see the beautiful handwritten Arabic that has since become a lost art. Nobody really writes like that anymore. Emil, the General Secretary notified me that my work, while tedious, is not in vain. He told me he recently traveled to a small town in upper Egypt and used material from one of the books to inform people about a school that used to exist in their town. He used it as an example of the type of ministry that they ought to be doing.

The school was started by American missionaries in the late 1800’s and served Muslims, Christians, and Jews, in a co-educational environment. By comparison, schools run by the Egyptian government are segregated by gender to this day. The idea of teaching children from all the major religions in a gender-mixed environment was revolutionary at the time.

Somehow a Muslim, who is also an ex-parliament member, found out about Emil’s presentation and decided to lend a helping hand. He informed the congregation that his older brother, who was also a parliament member, went to that school as a child. He explained how the school had shaped his brother’s life and how it enabled him to make something great out of his life. He told the congregation how important it was that the church had this educational ministry and how it affected the life of the community and the children who lived there and of all the good that came from that ministry. Sadly, his brother is no longer alive, but the man’s testimony to the success of the ministry drove Emil’s point home: church ministries in Egypt can’t be about evangelism, but they can still shape communities and change people’s lives regardless of their religion. Emil wants to revitalize ministries that aren’t about seeking some benefit for the Church, but for society in general.

I recently completed the update of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo web site. The site still has a kink in that the link to the online card catalog doesn’t work, but that wasn’t a part of my deal. I hope those that are responsible for that part of the site work that out soon. But I am pleased with the way the site looks and how it flows. Check it out at http://www.etsc.org.

Now that my work on the web site is relatively complete, I am plowing full steam ahead into the three PowerPoint presentations that I must complete before the upcoming graduation. I’ll talk more about that as I complete them.

Yesterday evening I went to Al Azhar Park, which is a really nice park that overlooks a portion of Cairo, with three of my friends. Brice, my “supervisor” at the seminary; Tukei (pronounced “2-K”), a Ugandan seminary student; my Iraqi friend that you know by the name of “Ramsis,” and I enjoyed a nice stroll around the grassy areas. We talked about a plethora of subjects from the types of plants that were planted in the park, to the war in Iraq.

Brice had to leave early, so Tukei, Ramsis, and I sat around and watched the sunset and listened to the Muslim calls to prayer that drifted up from the numerous mosques in the city below. Later, we took a cab back to our neighborhood.

Ramsis communicated with the driver about where we wanted to go since he can speak Arabic fluently. The taxi driver started guessing where Ramsis is from since his dialect of Arabic is different from Egyptian Arabic. “Jordan?” he asked. “No,” said Ramsis. “Syria? Lebanon?” “No,” answered Ramsis. Finally he told the taxi driver he is from Iraq. Then a few moments later I started speaking in Arabic to Ramsis, trying to learn the correct pronunciation of particular words, and this caught the curiosity of the taxi driver.

He asked me where I am from. I told him America, and he responded by jokingly holding his hands up in the air as if to say, “Don’t shoot!” We all laughed and I heartily patted him on the shoulders from the back seat. It was a few more minutes before he caught on to what was plainly obvious to me. He had an American and an Iraqi sitting side by side in his back seat. I could almost hear the gears grinding. “He’s an Iraqi… and… you’re an… American?” That’s what I imagined he was thinking. A few minutes later he said, “How is this possible?” referring to our uncommon friendship. I was tempted to say, “Because we are Christians,” but I thought better of saying that to a Muslim taxi driver. In the end we both smiled and shrugged. Later, I reached over and shook Ramsis’ hand and said, “I’m glad you are my friend.”

Yours in Christ,
Jason

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Fun at the Pyramids

Here's a little project I did today. I hope you enjoy it.

click here!

It's a Quicktime file so you will need Quicktime to play it.
A warning to you dial-up users out there: the file is 7.5MB!

Interview with an Iraqi

Well, it wasn’t so much an interview as a conversation, but the alliteration sounds cool.

Ramsis (Not his real name. I don’t know if using his real name would get him in trouble, so I am going to err on the side of caution) is a student at Evangelical Theological Seminary of Cairo (ETSC), where I work. He is from Basra, in the south of Iraq, and is one of the friendliest guys I have ever met. I see him occasionally at lunch in the large dining area for all of the seminary students. He always smiles broadly at me and wishes me a good day. He is living proof of something I never would have thought existed: a Christian Iraqi. I think the thought that all Middle-Easterners are Muslim has been drilled into my head so much by the media that I am continually surprised when I hear about Christians in places such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. If I have learned nothing else this year, I am privileged to have learned about fellow Christians and the way they live in this region.

One day Ramsis invited me to his dorm room, which he shares with an Egyptian roommate, to drink some hot tea and talk. I wrapped up my work a little early that day because I was excited at the prospect of talking with him. Ramsis invited me in and showed me all of his pictures, which were displayed all over the walls and shelves. There were pictures from his home, some of his family, and a few from his trip to Harvard University. He was the only Christian in the contingent of Iraqis that went on that particular trip. The rest were Muslims. He proudly talked about the people he had met at Harvard, and showed me his mug with bright red letters on it that spelled out the school’s name (He later let me use it to drink my tea).

We began talking, and of course I was eager to talk about what it is like in Iraq right now. He is able to keep in touch with family by using an internet café down the street so he stays informed. He said the situation was getting worse and worse, but not for the reasons I suspected. He said the problems in Iraq have more to do with factions of Muslims fighting each other than anything else. Sunnis and Shias don’t get along very well apparently. He seems quite certain that Shias from Iran have been pouring over the border to exact revenge against the Iraqis who won a war against Iran years ago. That’s why you hear things in the news about mosques being blown up. Unfortunately Christians are literally caught in the crossfire.

Ramsis says that during the days of Saddam, Christians were much better off. He agrees that Saddam was indeed a horrible tyrant, and he is glad Iraq is rid of him, but there was much more stability than there is now. He says the security situation in Iraq is becoming worse and worse and the American forces are taking the blame.
But, this is the part of the conversation that I was surprised about: Ramsis also said that since the war began there have been many more Iraqis converting to Christianity. He said that it has been happening in secret, that people aren’t out professing their faith openly, but that more and more people are converting to Christianity covertly; much more than Christians converting to Islam. He sounded very enthused about this. I am sure that if I came from a country where I was one Christian in an oppressed minority, I would be excited about that too.