I've always used water as a point of reference. As a pupil in a suburban Milwaukee school, I learned my directions by remembering Lake Michigan was to the east. As a college student in Missouri, I equated east with the Big Muddy, the Mississippi River. Now living near Chicago, I again use "the lake" to orient myself.
When I traveled to Jerusalem on assignment for The Lutheran last February, my aquatic points of reference became the salty Mediterranean to the west and the Jordan River to the east.
Before the trip, I'd imagined stereotypical desert conditions. I wrapped camera gear in plastic bags to shield it from sand. I packed travel shirts with side vents.
I didn't expect to use an extra comforter against night's damp chill.
Nor did I expect a downpour in Ramallah, on the West Bank.
I was there as part of a group led by Mary Jensen, then-communications assistant to Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan (and Palestine).
We had planned to visit a refugee camp that afternoon, after spending our morning at the Lutheran Church and School of Hope.
Rain clouds gathered as we ate sandwiches and listened to American music on a third-floor restaurant balcony. Our vantage was Ramallah's roofscape, a city of TV aerials, satellite dishes and roof-mounted water tanks; the latter of which are prime targets during incursions, Jensen explained.
Rain made the refugee camp's roads impassible, so Jensen canceled our visit. Instead, we took taxis to see Mukata, a complex of mostly destroyed buildings where Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat has been under house arrest since June 2002.
The rain began to stream across the windshield and pedestrians ran for cover. Despite the downpour, I took photos from the passenger seat.
"Is this a bad rainstorm?" I twisted around to ask Jensen. I meant: "Is this unusually heavy rain?"
"There's no such thing as bad rain here," she replied.
Here, where it was rare, the water I took for granted at home was considered a blessing.
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