The Jerusalem Series

The songbird and I

Once upon a time, on a day that nobody remembers, a songbird was released from its cage. I’m sure that would have been quite a day! I wish that I could have watched her finally break free into the night sky. For that night she had been gifted with a new song.

This is a tribute to my songbird and my sunshine in the wintertime. To Rita.

The first time that I saw her, she was sitting near a table in the garden, humming softly and sweetly to herself. Autumn was coming to an end, so she perched at the side of the tree in order to feel the covering warmth of the sun. I remember marveling at her beauty, her feathers were many shades of blue, yellow and green.

I began to sit down and she looked towards me;  I could have sworn that she was smirking and that her eyes were gleaming with a sparkle. She seemed mischevious, curious and witty.

After a few moments, she began to sing her song.

No creature could outsing her and no sound could intimidate her, her song was one of strength and beauty.

As the day passed and as the weeks slowly turned into months I continued to watch her.

I remember the way in which she danced around a busy courtyard filled with people, with no care in the world, she hummed her tune loud and clear.

I remember watching her fly over and above the many landmarks of the Old City – singing her harmony loud and clear. Passersby were taken aback by her vivaciousness, no note was out of tune as she twirled with joy.

She did not sing to be noticed, she only sang to share her love. She only hoped to share a gift with others. A gift that had been freely given to her.

The songbird found her joy in encouraging others. She sang her song of encouragement to both strangers and friends.

I remember one time watching her in the evening. She was tired and hummed her song quietly to all who would listen. The wind still carried the words through the courtyard and although she was hurting, she never lost her song. She continued to sing.

“Why so downcast, lady songbird?” I asked as she looked up towards the sky.

It was true, she had been freed in the past, but she longed for a greater freedom, one to be found only in the heights.

And as time went on, she kept on singing.

I once asked her how she learned to sing. My question amused her.

She explained that singing was a process and that each day she learns new lyrics to a tune that she still finds a little unfamiliar at times.

Some people laughed at the songbird and sneered at her efforts to love and to share.

“She is ignorant and foolish! She does not understand the realities of a world like ours.”

Even so, love just seemed natural to her, as I watched her mingle, and dance through the crowds; she maintained oblivious to negative discouragement.

Later in the year, I returned to the courtyard and sat underneath the tall palm tree. The blue sky was fading into a dusty sunset. I waited for the songbird. I waited until morning.

It was early when I heard the news. The songbird had gone, she had left us.

There was not a single person who did not miss her presence. The world seemed a little emptier. The courtyard, still full of people, seemed all the more empty.

Later that week, I heard a noise and as I looked to my right I saw a woman folding laundry and humming the tune of the songbird.

“Excuse me,” I said, feeling all the more embarrassed,

“Excuse me, what song are you singing?”

She looked at me and laughed a little.

” I’m singing grace, sweet amazing beautiful grace.”

I smiled.

The humble bird who had sung a simple song had touched the lives of so many.


Jerusalem series

The Jerusalem Series, Travel

The Secrets of the Wilderness – Hike with Dan

Wadi Darga and the Caves of Bar Kochba

This hike has it all. Adventure. Danger. Panorama. History. Spectacular views. Isolation. 

On the Northwestern side of the Dead Sea is a canyon system called the Nahal Darga. The word ‘Nahal’ means dry riverbed. The Nahal Darga  is a very deep, rugged, dry riverbed that flows into the Dead Sea. I gave this place a nickname. The little Grand Canyon. The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth at over 1400 feet below sea level. It is truly desert. The rainfall is less than 2 inches per year. Normal daytime temperatures exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. My kind of hike. I cant wait to start.  I did not know all this the first time I hiked here. That is the thrill of hiking somewhere the first time. One never knows what is around the next bend.

I was alone the first time I explored this section. I have since trekked into this area more than any other. 

I left Jerusalem very early on the morning of May 4, 2014. The public bus system in Israel is incredible. There is a bus stop right on the Dead Sea highway at Metsoke Dragot Junction. From there, with my very detailed topographical map in hand I began the climb up the access road to the top of the mountain which is a climb of  about 1000 vertical feet. At the top of the mountain, the road turns into a dirt track for another mile or so. I found the trail and began the descent into one of the most spectacular places I have ever seen. Down, down, and down. Not a technical descent, but steep enough to put the fear of God in you. One misstep and you would be seeing God. The trail snakes its way almost to the bottom and then turns to follow the canyon upstream. Not too far along is a sign which indicates another trail up. This one is technical. There are handholds put in for safety, but this trail goes straight up the cliff. At the end of an exciting climb are two very large caves. The Bar Kochba caves. 

Simon Bar Kochba was the leader of  a Jewish revolt against the Romans in 132 AD He was such a charismatic leader that many thought  he was the messiah. He was not. And so the Romans under Hadrian defeated this revolt in 135 AD. Most people know of the Jewish revolt of 66 AD with the ensuing Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. It is interesting to note that when Hadrian put down the Bar Kochba revolt in 135 AD, the destruction was greater and the numbers of Jews killed, far exceeded what happened in 70 AD. The estimate of Jews killed exceed 580,000 by the end of 135 AD.

In the early 1950’s archaeologists discovered letters written and signed by Bar-Kochba himself in these very caves.  These caves were one of the last strong holds of the Bar Kochba revolt. I can see why he chose them. They are very hard to get to and very easy to defend. But, I am also sure that by the time Bar Kochba arrived to these parts, the  had reached a location of last resort. 

I very carefully descended from the caves. 3 of every 4 climbing accidents occur on the way down.

From there I continued to the bottom of the dry stream bed and climbed up the other side of the canyon.  Once up the mountain, I was treated with more spectacular views, and a level track straight through the desert to the top of another  descent back down to the Dead Sea. I always plan my hikes as a circle, and not an out and back. 1000 vertical feet down to the outskirts of Mizpe Shalem.  If you have ever used the Dead Sea fashion product called Ahava, you should know that they are produced at Mizpe Shalem. 

What can we learn? We put our faith not in man, but God alone. 

Psalm 65:5,6  I depend on God alone. I put my hope in him. He alone protects and saves me. He is my defender.

Take Care and God Bless.

Uplifting and Encouraging, اللغة العربية

يوم المرأة العالمي: رسالة شخصية إلى قلبك

هذا المقال مخصص لأمي وجداتي المذهلات اللاتي عشنَ حياتهن في تشجيعي وتحفيزي على متابعة أحلامي فحياتي بدون حبهن وحكمتهن تبدو مختلفة جدا.

كل عام في 8 آذار، تجتمع النساء والرجال للاحتفال بالإنجازات المذهلة للمرأة ويعتبر اليوم نفسه مركز تنسيق لحركة حقوق المرأة. إن هذا اليوم مهم جدا ويحتفل به في جميع أنحاء العالم من جنسيات وأعراق عديدة

ومن وجهة نظري، أشعر بالفخر لكوني امرأة. أنا سعيدة وأنا أكبُرُ ببطء أكثر فأكثر في هويتي. والواقع أن هذه لم تكن الحال دوما

ومثل العديد من النساء الأخريات، تلقيت بعض التعليقات القاسية وواجهت بعض الحالات الصعبة بسبب نسويتي على وجه التحديد. هذا ليس صحيح وهو ليس عادلا: في الحقيقة، يثبت أننا نعيش في عالم آثم وغير عادل.

وكما ذكرت سابقا، ليس الأمر سيئاً، فالنساء ما زلن  مذهلات، وبإمكاننا معا أن نبني بعضنا البعض بالحب والقوة

أنا أتذكّر مرحلة مشؤومة من مراحل حياتي فيها عشت مشاعر الحزن . شعرت بانعدام الأمان والوحدة القاتلة للغاية. لقد شعرت بأنني  شخص لا يستحق الحب، وكنت أعتقد أنني ناقصة. في الحقيقة  أنا أعلم الآن أنني لست وحدي: فقد خاضت العديد من النساء هذا الموقف ، أو شعرن الآن بهذه الطريقة. أتذكر أنني أمشي خلال تلك الفترة الظلماء أحاول التمسك بأي بصيص أمل أو أي شيء يبهجني.

لقد شعرت صديقة لي بأن هناك خطبا ما وأنني لست على مايرام . وفي يوم ما جاءتني بصندوق صغير. وأتذكر قولها: “افتحيه حينما أغادر.” فحينما غادرت فتحت الصندوق الصغير وعثرت على أقراط الذهبية على شكل قلب وفاجئتني برسالة زينتها بكلمات كانت كل ما أحتاجه في تلك المرحلة

عزيزي سارة

أولا قمت بشراء ذهب وأنا أعلم أنك تستحقين الأغلى وثانيا اشتريت لك هذا الشكل وهو شكل القلب وأعني به أنك دائما في قلب الله

واسمحوا لي أن أوضح نقطة: كثير من النساء يكافحن من أجل مظهرهن: وزنهن ، جمالهن، ملابسهن حجم وأكثر. وأنا أدرك جيدا أيضا أن هناك كفاح أكثر بكثير تواجهه المرأة يوميا.

وأنا أشارك بهذه القصة لتذكيركِ بأن الكلمة الطيبة قادرة على تغيير مجرى حياة أحدهم. يمكن لفعل واحد بسيط من الحب أن يحول نظرات متعبة من اللحظات المظلمة إلى نظرات سعيدة ممتلئة بالنور الساطع من السكينة.

هذا اليوم العالمي للمرأة وهذا العام، أرجو من الجميع محاولة دعم النساء الأخريات. يرجى دفع نفسك لممارسة التشجيع وحب بعضنا البعض. ونحن أقوى إذا اتحدنا.

لكل من تقرأ هذا المقال، سأدعو لكِ بأن تتلقى اليوم إدراكاً راسخاً لمدى قيمتك وقيمك. أنت محبوبه وغالية وانا أحبك.

Uplifting and Encouraging

International Women’s day: A personal letter to your Heart

This article is dedicated to my incredible mother and grandmothers who spent or have spent their lives encouraging me and motivating me to follow my dreams. Without their love and their wisdom my life would look very different.

Every year on March 8th Women and Men come together to celebrate the amazing achievements of women. The day itself is considered a focal point for the movement of women’s rights. The day is so important and celebrated throughout the world by people of many nationalities and races.

Please watch this video!

From my perspective, I am proud to be a woman. I am happy and I am slowly growing more and more into my identity. In truth, this has not always been the case.

Like many other women, I have recieved some harsh comments and experienced some hard situations specifically because of my gender. This is not right and it is not fair: in fact, it proves that we live in a sinful and injust world.

As I said earlier, it’s not all bad – women are still incredible and together we can build each other up in love and strength.

I remember one dark time in my life when I trully felt terrible. I felt so insecure and very alone. I felt unworthy of love and I believed that I was not enough. Truth be told, I know now that I was not alone: many women have felt, or currently feel this way. I remember walking through this dark time trying to hold onto any hope or uplifting comment that I could find.

A friend of mine had sensed that something was wrong. One day she came to me with a small box and a card. I remember her saying : “Open this when I leave.” I opened the small box to find two golden heart shaped earrings.

Dear Sarah,

I bought you these earrings because they are beautiful, like you. I also bought you these earrings to remind you of something, firstly these earrings are made of Gold. I actually believe that God sees your worth as more than gold. Secondly, these earrings are hearts – Sarah, don’t forget that you are always in God’s heart: he sees you as his daughter.

– My Friend

Let me clarify a point. Many women struggle with their appearance: their weight, their beauty, their clothes size and more. I am also well aware that there are far more struggles that women face on a daily basis.

The point of sharing this story is to remind you that even the smallest act of encouragement can really bless someone. One simple act of love can lift someone’s eyes from dark moments into hopefulness.

This International Women’s day and this year please try to support other women. Please push yourself to practice encouragement and love one another. We are stronger if we are united.

For everyone who reads this article, I will pray that today you recieve a firm realisation of just how worthwhile and valuable you are. You are loved and treasured and I love you!

The Riyadh series, Travel

Riyadh’s Most Beautiful Historical Secret: Old Diriyah!

“We were meant to explore this earth like children do, unhindered by fear, propelled by curiosity and a sense of discovery. Allow yourself to see the world through new eyes and know there are amazing adventures here for you.”

Laurel Bleadon Maffei

Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia, is filled with interesting and unusual things to see. From quirky restaurants to interesting historical sites, this rich city offers something for everyone. With the new tourist visa opening last year, the Saudi government has a goal of radically boosting tourism in the next ten years.

If you ever find yourself in Riyadh, or find yourself planning a trip to Riyadh, I reccomend that you pay a visit to the one and only Diriyah.

Diriyah (الدرعية) dates back to the fifteenth century and was the original home of the royal family of Saudi Arabia. It is located on the banks of Wadi Hanifa and it was the original capital city of Saudi Arabia. Now Diriyah is recognised for it’s historical value and beautiful surroundings.

I had heard many things about Diriyah from both my Saudi and Expat friends, so one afternoon I decided to pay a visit to Diriyah. After drinking a lovely cup of tea in the Tea Club, we left Riyadh Park mall and drove to Diriyah. It took approximatly eight minutes to drive there.

The biggest problem that we faced was parking: this is something that could be improved, as we found there to be very little parking space. We did manage to find a parking spot about fifteen minutes away, but this may not have been suitable for everyone.

After we found a space everything else was plain sailing. We walked down the road towards Bujairi and we could see Diriyah in the distance. As it was Friday, locals were out in full force to eat together in the park: I really love the way Saudis picnic together!

It is worth noting that Bujairi is filled with lovely coffee shops and it’s the perfect place for an afternoon stroll or wander. Please remember thought that like many places in Saudi, the shops and restaurants will remain closed until after 4pm on Fridays because of prayer.

When we walked through Bujairi, the sun was slowly setting which somehow made the Saudi architecture seem even more beautiful. There is something magnificent about the clean cut stone walls against a pale blue sky.

After walking for just under ten minutes we were able to see the Old city of Diriyah and it was beautiful. Unfortunatly, we were unable to enter Diriyah but we heard that is possible to enter after obtaining permission from an office in the Diplomatic Quarter.

Have you visited Diriyah? Let me know if you enjoyed it in the comments below. Please also write any questions that you have about Saudi Arabia, I would love to answer them for you.

Charity, The Amman Series, Travel, Uplifting and Encouraging

Hands on Hope – A Friend to those facing dark times.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

– Martin Luther King JR

In 2017 I spent six months in the incredible country of Jordan. As a student based in Amman, I was quickly overwhelmed by the generosity and hospitality of local Jordanians. The country is filled with beauty, from the glorious countryside to the bustling cities. I would certainly recommend that you pay Jordan a visit. Throughout my time in Jordan I came into contact with the organisation Hands-On Hope and I would love to share with you about their projects to help local Jordanians.

Hands-On Hope is a local Jordanian NGO based in Amman. Founded in 2015, the NGO prides itself in being committed to helping the poorest of the poor, no matter what the nationality. Under the leadership of Jacki Scott, the organisation seeks to provide critical support to those suffering under hardship.  Jacki and her team of volunteers pride themselves in taking time to invest in the current and future generations of Jordan by providing support with the aim of helping people become self sufficient.

One thing that I personally appreciate about Hands-On Hope is the feeling of community. Supporters and volunteers come together and unite as one to make a difference; this feeling of community is something truly unique and special. The Hands-On Hope community is in reality a family.

Some people say they work to help needy people, but I think we work to help ourselves: we are the needy people! We need the feeling of joy that they give us when we help them. They need money or food maybe, but we need something more important: we need happiness!

– A quote from a volunteer from Hands-On Hope.

The Hands-On Hope team is a perfect example of ordinary people coming together to make an extraordinary difference; for that reason I would like to encourage you to support their amazing projects.

January bread drive

One such project is the monthly bread drive. A bread drive ensures that families receive enough bread: a major staple food of the local diet. It also serves as a way to ensure that children are eating foods of nutritional value.

Hands On-Hope are requesting support so that they can extend their drive further in order to reach more communities throughout Jordan. Can you help with this incredible project? Even a small donation goes a long way.

Baby formula provided to the children

Another project is the baby formula drive; a new project designed to provide families with nutritional baby formula with the aim of preventing malnutrition and anemia. This baby formula helps the children get the vital nutrition that they need.

If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed just one.

– Mother Teresa

If you are interested in learning more or if you feel that you can donate to this incredible organisation, here are some ways to get in touch.

First, contact Jacki Scott at jkiscott@gmail.com to find out more information about upcoming projects or required items. Jacki would love to talk to you about her vision and would love to connect with you.

Then, become a member of the Facebook community; share your support and encouragement and celebrate when people receive the aid and support that they require.

Join the Facebook community: web.facebook.com/HandsOnHope/ 

If you wish to contribute to Hands-On Hope and their projects, you can send a payment to Jackie via pay pal: jkiscott@gmail.com

Finally please spread the word and share about Hands-Of Hope. With your support lives can be changed and a real difference can be made in the community. Please share this organisation with your friends, colleagues and the community and together let’s make a positive difference to impact the lives of many people in Jordan!

The Amman Series, Travel

Desert Castles in Jordan

As a little girl I spent time walking through the ruins of castles and forts with my family so naturally I had to do some exploring whilst in Jordan and to be sure, Jordan has many castles and ruins worth exploring.

If you are prepared to hire a car and drive for just over an hour from Amman to reach the dessert, then I highly reccomend a visit to the castle ruins in the dessert and the city of Azraq.

Qasr Amra

 Qasr Amra (قصر عمرة ), a UNESCO world heritage site, is possibly the most well known of Jordan’s desert castles. The castle was built by Walid Ibn Yazid some time between 723 and 743 before became the Umayyad caliph Walid II. The castle now stands alone on Jordan’s main East – West highway, roughly 85 kilometers away from Amman. Today the castle is considered a key example of Islamic art and architecture.

The remaining building is more of a remnant of a much larger luxury complex that included a castle: it did not serve any military function, it was merely a luxurious royal retreat.

My favorite part of the building certainly had to be the remaining frescoes on the ceilings and wall which tell the tale of rulers and hunters. Above one of the bath chambers lies the first representation of heaven painted onto a hemispherical surface. Constiliations have been ornately painted onto the ceiling and are accompanied by paintings of zodiac figures.

Qasr Al-Karaneh

Qasr Kharana (قصر خرّانة‎) is located 37 miles of east of Amman and lies in close proximity with the border of Saudi Arabia. Historians and Archaeologists believe that the castle was built some time before the 8th century AD. The castle however contains some Sassanid influences (read about the Sasanian Empire here.)

Qasr Kharana is very well preserved and is today one of the most visited desert castles in Jordan. Historians debate the original purpose of the castle: many argue that the building’s layout does not suggest that the castle had a military use but suggests the castle may have served as a resting place for traders. Other historians disagree as the castle is far from a water source and is not located on any major trade routes.

Qasr Hallabat

The complex of Qasr al-Hallabat is located in Jordan’s eastern desert. Historians believe that the castle was originally a Roman fortress that was built by Emperor Caracalla in the late second century AD. It is believed that the fortress was constructed to protect its inhabitants from the threat of Bedouin tribes. The castle is located on what was once the Roman highway connecting Damascus to Aqaba.

In the Eight century the Umayyad ruler Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik gave the order for the all Roman structures to be demolished and redesigned as grand Umayyad complexes. The new, renovated fort included a mosque, a complex water system and a bathhouse.

Today, the three wall sections of the mosque remain visible and intact. The palace itself is constructed of limestone and black basalt has a square floor plan with towers at each corner. The palace is decorated by beautiful mosaics of animals, frescoes and stucco carvings.

Qasr Al-Azraq

Qasr al-Azraq (قصر الأزرق‎) is a large fortress located in Jordan approximately 100km East of Amman. The Fortress was strategically built next to the nearby oasis; the only source of water in the region. The Romans were the first to use this site and later a mosque was built in the center of the grounds. The Fortress was renovated later in history by the Ayyubids, who used basalt to reconstruct the building.

During the years 1917-1918, T.E Lawrence based some of his operations in the castle.