On Monday we visited the Negev (the southern desert of Israel), and yes, it was really a desert. I don't think I've actually seen so much desolation in my life than here in the wilderness, away from civilization. We first went to a Bedouin settlement where there is a women's outreach program to help them use their traditional crafts (such as looming and weaving) to support their families. Since the establishment of the Sate of Israel in 1948, the Bedouins have been required to settle down and discontinue their nomadic lifestyles. While this may seem like an improvement to many people, it has been rather devastating to the Bedouins because their entire livelihood and social structure was centered on the ability to move around to different lands and (especially) to be self-sufficient. Now settled, the people have essentially lost their lands, and the roles of the women have been discontinued in this new lifestyle. So, this foundation/program helps women support their families and regain a role in the leadership of their households. One of the Bedouin women who was demonstrating the looming techniques to us was quite the pioneer. She had been able to gain some education (which is reserved for mostly men), and her goal was to be a teacher. However, that profession was not allowed for women, so she made sure that all of her children were educated and now they are nurses, lawyers, and doctors. She was also the first Bedouin woman to ever get a driver's license! It was really cool to hear he talk about the developments and progress that society had made, but also about the problems that still exist. We also went to an actual encampment, which was a culture shock. It was very very primitive, with corrugated metal shacks and tents and dirt mounds. Needless to say, it was a very simple but difficult lifestyle. It made me feel very blessed and grateful for what I have, both here in Jerusalem and at home.
The other sites we went to were more archaeological. We visited Tel-Arad and Beersheba, both mentioned in the Old Testament. By the way, just a little educational note: Most old sites have the word "Tel" in front of the name. This is because a "tel" is an earthen mound that has been built up over the centuries from building cities upon cities. Now, these tels are being excavated layer by layer. These layers are known as "strata". Both sites were interesting to see, and definitely tied into what we have been covering in our Old Testament class. Arad is famous for the Israelite temple in the city, complete with a sacrificial alter, holy place, and a holy of holies. It was really interesting to see an actual set up of a temple similar to the tabernacle described in Exodus. Beersheba is known as the place mentioned in Genesis where Abraham built a well and made an oath with King Abimilech. This is also the place where God appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (at separate times). It was amazing to me to be able to stand in the place and imagine the scene of God appearing to these patriarchs. Brother Huntsman, one of my teachers, gave a really nice message and then we sang. We actually always sing... Papa Hunts (as we fondly refer to him) is a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, so he gets a little song happy at all the places we visit! Which is fine, cause I love to sing, but it's always just funny to see what he chooses and if we know the song. Usually we do, but there have been a few cases where the only person really confident with the melody is Hunts, so we get a little mumbled and confused. It's the thought that counts, right? Overall, it was a long hot day, but definitely interesting and educational. And I'd probably be fine if I didn't go to the Negev again.