The Jerusalem Series

Lighting candles in the Old City

The Old City of Jerusalem is always a hive of activity. As the sun gently rises over the distant hills, shopkeepers begin their commutes towards the city centre. Long days lie ahead, setting up shop in the empty streets.

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It does not take long for the crowds to appear -in their hundreds. Tourism in Jerusalem is very seansonal, depending on the events. As a holy city to three of the main monotheistic religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism – Jerusalem welcomes over 3.5 million tourists a year.

One particular afternoon three friends and I were making our way back home after a drink sage tea in the sunshine under a palm tree. It was a Friday, one of the busiest days in the week. We weaved our way through the crowded streets of Muristan, up towards Christian Quarter Road and as we turned onto the road we heard a voice call to us.

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“Hello, lovely family!” 

I have to confess that when we arrived in Jerusalem, we were instructed to avoid conversation with shopkeepers and to just continue walking. The four of us were used to ignoring this instruction.

“We are in spirit, mate” Mal replied.

“How lovely!” The friendly shopkeeper said smiling as he laid out his coloured scarves for display.

I started to smile to myself as we continued walking. When I arrived in the Old City of Jerusalem all those years ago, I was told to keep my head down and walk straight from place to place, I remember being warned that I should not talk to anyone and that I certainly shouldn’t entertain the idea of conversation.

Time passed and our friendship with this particular shopkeeper had grown. The shopkeeper and his shop became a safe haven for some of us when we were walking home. I should stress that it is very unusual to not feel safe in Jerusalem, however, if we ever felt intimidated or at risk of being followed we would calmly walk to the shop and wait there whilst the shopkeeper would send some of his relatives to investigate.

One afternoon, we discovered that the shopkeeper’s birthday was in the following week and we decided to bake him a birthday cake: this soon became quite problematic as we remembered that we did not have any oven.

So, we set to work on preparing a toffee cheesecake and to our surprise, it was a big success. After hours of searching online we found the perfect recipie.

Navigating the Old City thta busy Friday morning turned into more of a challenge than we had anticipated. We tried our best to make the occasion a surprise. As we turned off the bustling David Street onto Christian quarter road we stopped at the first shop and asked if we could borrow a lighter.

The shopkeeper looked at us quizzically and cautioned us not to smoke as it was not good for our health: we continued to explain the plan. The poor shopkeeper only seemed to be more confused by our explanation as we uncovered the cake and began to light some candles.

However much we had planned for this event to be a surprise, our shopkeeper friend had seen us coming from a distance. Unbeknown to us we had gained a following of roughly twelve shopkeepers who slowly followed behind: I am sure they were following us for a piece of cheesecake.

The best moment was seeing a smiling face emerge from the shop and stare in utter shock at the crowd of people who were singing happy birthday. Even some tourists joined in to sing with us. We sang together in Arabic and English and then we all sat down and began to eat. The street was filled with laughter, fun and of course – thousands of tourists.

I am so grateful for that one conversation with a shopkeeper in the Old City, as it led to our hilarious friendship which still exists to this day.

I understand an appreciate the caution of the organisation that I worked for, and I would advise you to walk around the Old city in groups or pairs if you have any concerns. I really do believe that the Old City of Jerusalem is safe, however I would not advise single girls to walk around the city alone at night. Please, exercise caution; there are always exceptions to every rule and although the characters in the story are lovely (and real) there will always be people who sadly wish to take advantage of others.


Jerusalem series
The Riyadh series

The National Museum of Saudi Arabia

As somebody who has grown up in a house full of history lovers, I have a firm appreciation for museums and history, therefore, when I moved to Riyadh one of the first places that I wanted to visit was the National Museum of Saudi Arabia.

I booked my first taxi in Riyadh and off we drove into the chaos of the city! I remember that the traffic was so bad that day, but I didn’t care! It was so interesting to drive through the city for the first time.

When we arrived at the museum I was taken aback. The building was huge and appeared empty (I later learned this was because I had visited on a school day.)

When I started to walk around the museum and visit the different exhibits I have to say that I was really impressed. The exhibits were filled to the brim with detail and interesting information.

One of my particular favourites was the timeline of Islamic history; it was very informative and useful as I often struggle to remember dates.

I also enjoyed learning interesting facts such as the fact that there used to be elephants in Saudi Arabia -who knew?

If you do go to the museum, be sure to check the opening times online on the museum website.

Also, the museum is also located next door to Murubaa Fort. The two sites are seperated with beautiuful green gardens – I loved exploring the area in the sunshine.

The National Museum of Saudi Arabia would make a fun family day out and I would certainly reccomend a trip if you have the chance.

The gardens that separate the museum from Murubaa fort.

 

The Riyadh series, Travel

Diriyah Season

Saudi Arabia has been experiencing an immense ammount of reform and transformation in the past few years. Recently Diriyah Season and Riyadh Season were opened to the public. I had the opportunity of visiting Diriyah season (موسم الدرعية) in Riyadh and I have to say that the experience was nothing short of magical.

What is Diriyah season?

Diriyah season was a combination of international sports and entertainment events which were based at the beautiful UNESCO world heritage sight of Diriyah. The season opened from 4pm each day and stayed open until the early hours of the morning. Crowds poured in each evening to experience the fun and games.

Why I enjoyed it?

From the moment I arrived I fell in love with the colourful lights and the buzz of excitement. It was lovely to see so many families and friends having fun together. From the moment that I entered it was clear to see that Diriyah season had something special and unique to offer everyone. I was so grateful for the opportunity to be present.

Interesting activities that I loved

I really loved the upside down house and the water bumper cars. The butterfly garden was so colourful and was filled to the brim with flowers and trees. I really enjoyed the thrill of jumping off a platform onto a bouncy landing area: it made me feel like a stuntwoman for the first and only time in my life.

The restaurants and food choices were superb, and I even had the opportunity to grab a drink from my favourite coffee shop – Caribou Coffee.

Throughout the evening there was also a variety of interesting acts and performances from singers and entertainers from all around the world.

Who would love this event?

This event is perfect for families, friends, children and adults. If you love adventures or evenings in the cool Saudi Arabian winter weather then you should check out Riyadh Season. It may be better to attend the event on a week day or on a Saturday evening if you wish to avoid long queues.

Guest Posts, Uplifting and Encouraging

Release

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This is a poem that reflects the courage that one may need to step out, let go of old things and embrace new beginnings; it is dedicated to anyone who is on the verge of change. 

The child stood alone for a time,
Balloons in hand,
And quietness flooded the place,

Could she dare to let them go?
Blue, Yellow, Green.
Would she ever see them again?
Where would they go?

When would they arrive?
What adventures would they have on their way?
She could not know,
She would never know!

She only knew that the time they had spent together
had come to an end. 
With trembling hand, she raised up the first,
be blessed wherever you go!
So, gently was the string let loose
a gust of wind and it was gone. Forever.

The second seemed easier, a flash of yellow,
blurred by the sun.
Then it too was gone.
Drifting lazily along and up

With confidence now, the last balloon was raised,
and, with a small pause of reflection
and a thoughtful stare, 
it too was caught up by the breeze.
And its final course was set.

Still, she stood there, time being still,
contemplating,
remembering,
then, at last, she turned – and there they were,
the new balloons
orange, red and purple.
How beautiful they looked!
Waiting and bobbing in the breeze,
waiting just for her!

Slowly, she reached out
and took hold of the strings,
stepping forward
she let them move in the breeze,
ever so carefully, not letting them go.
Then, moving faster, she let them bob behind her
as she ran down the hill, 
into what the new day would bring.

 

The Jerusalem Series

The man with the warmest of smiles

Click here to read more stories from Jerusalem.

Ours was the unlikeliest of friendships. After all, he and I were from two completely different worlds.

I was an eighteen-year-old redhead, who had left home to find herself and her ‘calling’ in the exotic-sounding city of Jerusalem: ‘the center of the world’.

He was a long-standing resident of a village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. He was short and smartly dressed in appearance and his warm smile was sure to melt the very hardest of hearts.

We were two very different people.

My first few days at work were spent washing what seemed like endless amounts of dishes and cutlery – this would soon become a normal, familiar and easy routine.

Our shifts would begin at 6:30am in the morning – we would arrive exhausted from the 5km walk and we would begin by laying the tables for breakfast.

At precisely 6:53am the kitchen door would swing wide open and he would walk in wearing his faded gray jacket and a sleepy grin – he would always carry his Al Quds newspaper underneath one arm.

His cheerful ‘Good Morning’ set the tone for the day.

We would scurry around preparing the room whilst he set the radio to play. Each morning we were treated to a mixture of Fairuz or Ulm Kulthum. Both artists seemed unusual and somehow elegant in their own right. If only I knew then how much I would appreciate their songs in the coming years.

One afternoon, in particular, we were sat outside at a table, underneath a large lemon tree in the courtyard. Our working day was coming to a close and had been quieter than usual – this was a welcomed novelty.

As the tourists began to slowly continue on to new places he turned to me and asked me about my family, my home and my life. I confess that I was hoping to avoid a long conversation: it had been a tiring day, I felt bereft of all energy. Even so, I answered and his questions continued.

He then opened up his tattered leather wallet and showed me a picture of his wife, he called her his angel. They stood next to her in the photograph and both shared that all too familiar joyful smile.

He began to talk about his family, his culture, his country, his children and many other things. It did not take long for this to become a long-anticipated weekly ritual, most Sundays and Wednesdays.

As the months progressed I would find myself scribbling my name in Arabic and learning some quotes and expressions. His relentless efforts and passion for learning helped me to discover my interest in Semitic languages and this was only the beginning.

I stayed in Jerusalem for two years, I became a secretary, I studied at a local university and I learned to love the Arabic language. On a daily basis, I would arrive at work early to leave my things and prepare to walk to university. Each morning I was met with a packed breakfast and a takeaway cup of the weakest filter coffee in existence – which I appreciated greatly.

Eventually the time came to leave Jerusalem and return to England, our conversations were among the things that I missed the most. I would often call him and his wife to check on them and he would often send messages through our work colleagues. I met him in future years when I returned to Jerusalem and each and every time I spoke in my mistake-riddled Arabic, he beamed with pride.

I asked once if I could write about him, and he asked me: “why?”

I explained that I had learned so much from him and that I wanted to recount my memories and adventures.

Now I look back, there is something else that I wanted to mention about the life of this man. In all of our times together I barely heard him complain – like all of us I am sure he is no saint but I only ever remember his encouragement, laughter, and praise. He was and is still very patient and very considerate. Our friendship has taught me the importance of looking after the people that you’re surrounded by and living with a simple heart, making sure to value those that you hold dear. This is the story of how two people, from two completely different worlds, became family.

الأسرة هي واحدة من روائع االله وعندما تقع في المتاعب، انها عائلتك هي التي تدعمك.

Family is one of God’s masterpieces and when trouble comes, it is your family who will support you.


Jerusalem series

Uplifting and Encouraging

Hope, can you hear me?

Click here to read more encouraging and uplifting content.

I made a mistake today, like yesterday and the day before.

I imagined that I was not lovable.

One thought triggers another thought.

Before I knew what had happened, what I had imagined became a belief.

I am unlovable.

The silent contemplation of my broken soul and the whisper of fear in a dark night’s dream had convinced me.

So I began to fear.

With each night’s painful turn, I summoned a cry with all of my might, in the hope that someone, anyone, would hear me.

And all I saw was a faint silhouette.

A man, perhaps?

A ray of light.

And thus it continued.

Once or twice a rare flicker of light lit up the darkness like a burning flame.

But still, nothing.

There were no answers to my prayers and there was no comfort for my tears.

Only bravery.

BRAVERY.

Call it what you will, it is all that I have.

And faith, the faith to believe that as impossible as the situation would seem…

I am lovable.

We are lovable.

You are lovable.

And for the brave soul that is holding on for the answer that they so desperately need.

You really are loveable. 

My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life. Psalm 119: 50

Uplifting and Encouraging

Listen, even the silence is whispering!

Click here to read more uplifting and encouraging content.

It had been a long month. Come to think of it, it had been a long few months. I leaned against the sea wall and stared out into the distance. The blurry waves were dancing along with the wind. The winter sun had long since hidden himself behind the clouds that touched the surface of the horizon. The sky was a fusion of unsuspecting colours – shades of blue and red which blended into each other like a piece of artwork.

I wish I had been able to appreciate the landscape more, it was beautiful, but my mind was a mess of tangled thoughts.

An empty, lonely, frustrated mess.

I closed my eyes and asked my heart, how would I define myself at this moment?

My heart answered within seconds.

I am pain’s captive, my feelings were the product of a hope that felt too big and a dream that was too easily shattered. I had grown accustomed to the voices of those whom I had loved, and the time had come for them to leave.

Some voices left quickly in the night, like a strong puff of breath onto a flickering flame. Gone in seconds.

Others left over time.

Once they had left it was necessary to gather the moments and the stories – all that had been shared and convert them into memories to be stored away for a rare reminiscent occasion, such as today.

The first few stars were shining in the sky.

I missed the old me, the girl who danced in the rain laughing and singing. I missed the girl who had the energy to soar through her dreams. I missed the girl who always knew the words to say. The same girl who drew big smiling faces on the steamed-up windows of cars. She seemed like a distant memory, one never to return.

I lifted up my head and watched the birds, flying in unison, shooting into the distance. Like some sort of orchestra, the waves lept higher into the sky and crashed down into the water beneath them with a magnificent voice. More stars were starting to appear. The moonlit up the sky like a flame and it’s shattered reflection danced across the water’s surface.

Within a second or two, a shooting star swept the sky.

I swear it was for me!

Everyone knows how much I love the stars.

Pain is a captor, it’s deadly grasp is very real. It convinces you that you are alone, that you were never loved and that you never will be loved. It snarls and tells you that you were an accident, a mistake and that what you are feeling is normal. It tells you that every beautiful thing you thought you had – every gift, skill and life lesson was and still is worthless. Pain says yes to hate and revenge and tells you how to fire the weapon. Pain knows what it needs to grow.

I don’t know where I am in the course of my life and I don’t know what will happen in a few days. But I do know that pain is an antonym of peace. I know that pain is often a response of the harsh realities of life, a natural response that needs to heal. Pain can lead to fear of the unknown future – the one that was not hoped for. I know that pain can often lead to anger, the antonym of love.

And I know that there is no fear in love.

Love is something pure, something often undeserved. Like it’s antonym anger, love is a choice. Love is stronger when it addresses the truth. Love chooses to protect, it chooses to trust, it constantly hopes. Love is not inward-looking, but it looks outward and pushes onwards towards a higher purpose and greater glory.

Pain is real, hope is often very distant, trust requires insecurity and waiting takes time. Everything needs time to grow. Take hold of your memories, acknowledge the losses, record each triumph and count every blessing.

Spring is coming.

I will praise the Lord no matter what happens. I will constantly speak of his glories and grace, I will boast of all his kindness to me. Let all who are discouraged take heart.  Let us praise the Lord together and exalt his name. (Psalm 34)