April 28, 2009

Post Peace Camp Reflections

Peace Camp - Jordan ~ April 2009

When Peace Camp began I welcomed the Peace Campers to the beginning of the rest of their lives! Little did they know what a life altering experience they would share! Each of them is a part of the Peace Camp Puzzle! We needed the unique qualities of each student and leader to make the puzzle complete! The different pieces reflected our various cultures, families, religions, education, and life experiences that helped define the shapes in the puzzle. We began to understand the importance and interconnectedness of each individual and how our similarities and differences helped create a global picture. The puzzle we created was critical to our understanding of the world. I like to compare the Peace Camp participants to a wonderful buffet! We each brought something different to the table, but what a delicious "meal" of individual tastes, flavors, textures and aromas we created!

I shared with them the familiar saying, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." But my version is, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. But when life gives you opportunity, make a difference!" Each Peace Camper has been given the opportunity to make a difference and impact their communities and the world around them! I believe in the power of one! They learned that one person is powerful enough to effect change. They have been given the daunting task to help improve the world, one person at a time!

As a delegation leader, the greatest gift I receive is to watch the students learn and grow. I saw them develop into mature, independent, responsible, wonderful, young adults. At the beginning of Peace Camp, many of them found themselves relying on leaders, family, and friends. But by the end of the journey, they realized one must ultimately depend on themselves, and the strength, character, and good judgment that has been instilled in them throughout their life. As teenagers, they did something most adults only dream about. They should be proud of their accomplishments. Each of them, in their own way, contributed to the tapestry that wove our delegation together. We've all learned, Peace Camp isn't a place you visit, it's a place in your heart! These 48 students from 27 countries exemplified what President Eisenhower's dream is all about! With Mary Jean Eisenhower leading the way, People to People International's mission to promote Peace through Understanding has been realized!

I left the Peace Campers with the following words that Arum Gandhi shared at PTPI's Global Youth Forum in 2007.

Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words.
Keep your words positive because your words become your behaviors.
Keep your behaviors positive because your behaviors become your habits.
Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values.
Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.

Everyone involved in Peace Camp will always have a special place in my heart!

Barbara Capozzi,
Peace Camp leader
Buffalo/Niagara Falls, NY

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AMMAN, JORDAN—Here at Peace Camp, it’s hard not to think about war.

48 teenagers (high school and college students) from 27 countries have gathered in Jordan for Peace Camp, sponsored by People to People International. One of these students is from Israel, while another is from the Palestinian territories. (In addition, there are students from both sides of other nations in conflict, like Russia-Georgia and Serbia-Kosovo).

Our Israeli girl, a very bright, energetic young lady, is one of the most open teenagers at Peace Camp. We recently discussed peace in the Middle East, and what she said was very consistent with what I have been hearing throughout my stay in Jordan—that there are dark clouds hanging low over the peace process here. Why the pessimism? The chief cause seems to be the new Israeli government, led by conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Our Israeli student says a new peace agreement will not be possible under the Netanyahu government, and statements by his foreign minister seem to bear this out. One recent news article states, “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman began his new job Wednesday by declaring the death of U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. ‘Whoever thinks that concessions ... will achieve something is wrong,’ Lieberman said shortly after being sworn in before a crowded room of diplomats at the Foreign Ministry. ‘He will bring pressures and more wars.’" (bellinghamherald.com)

Our Israeli student is not alone in this pessimistic assessment, which I have heard echoed by Jordanian after Jordanian during my visit here. While the Israeli student seemed exasperated and disappointed by Lieberman’s comments, the Jordanians seem angry. One Jordanian-Palestinian, Fawaz (brother in law of Parkville restaurateur Jehad Selah), said, “How can we have peace when we have no partner for peace?”

This, of course, lead to a larger discussion between Fawaz and myself about the nature of the conflict here. Fawaz’s observations are, of course, colored by his experiences, which include being exiled from Palestine by the 1967 war. Still, I was impressed by his ability to see both sides of the issue, and his willingness to admit wrongdoing not only by Israel but by Hamas and Hezbollah and the Palestinian leadership. We agreed that the recent war in Gaza was awful; but moreover, foolish for all parties.

Despite the gathering clouds, our trip here to the holy land was not without its inspiring, optimism-inducing moments, such as a seminar on religious tolerance and inter-religious cooperation that the campers and I attended. A Christian priest (5% of Jordanians are Christians) and two Islamic Mullahs discussed the role of religion in bringing people together. The religious leaders did genuinely seem to respect, and like, one another. They spoke at length about the fact that both Christianity and Islam command them to peacefully co-exist. The priest was adamant in stating that Islam is not a religion of violence, a fact that he said he has made clear on many occasions. Indeed, the students received a copy of the Amman Declaration, which has been endorsed by dozens of Muslim leaders in the Middle East. In no uncertain terms, it spells out the responsibility of Muslims to forsake violence and to embrace a life of peace and harmony.

As comforting as the religious session was, I couldn’t help but wonder if this interfaith goodwill has any depth beyond these educated, respected leaders. Do the average congregants in a Christian church or worshippers in an Islamic mosque in Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East also respect other religions, and believe in peaceful co-existence?

One other hopeful sign was provided by our Israeli student and our Palestinian student. Without any prompting from the adults, the two joined forced to plant a tree together in a peace park on the outskirts of Amman. If these young people’s actions are any indication, perhaps peace can take root in this troubled part of the world.
Steven Youngblood - USA
Steven Youngblood is an associate professor of Communication Arts at Park University in Parkville, MO USA. This column appears courtesy of the Parkville Luminary, where he is a weekly columnist. Youngblood is teaching Peace Journalism to the Peace Camp students in Jordan. He has taught Peace Journalism in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and the U.S., and will also be teaching for USAID this summer in Uganda.

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It all went by in a flash. Now when I reflect upon the past two weeks it seems like they were counted in seconds not days. I am sitting at home surrounded with all the things that make up a place where I feel like I truly belong, place where I always felt whole and complete, but there is a feeling of unease within me, a feeling that I am missing something. The more I think about it the more I realize I left a piece of myself in the Middle East, a piece of myself with all the people and all the places that came together to form People to People International's Peace Camp in Jordan, my newly found family from all over the world.

I started my Peace Camp experience dizzied with all the affection which the leaders showered upon us from the moment we arrived. "Welcome to the beginning of the rest of your life!" were the words of Barbara Capozzi at that first meeting we had in Le Meridien hotel in Amman, Jordan. I sat confused, surrounded with happy but unfamiliar faces wondering will I be able to reach out to them all, wondering how will our relationship evolve. As days passed my confused feelings started to settle and with each new morning I felt a stronger connection with the campers, the leaders as well as the amazing country we were exploring. The land of caramel colored mountains and smiling people embraced us with warmth and hospitality and slowly opened its wonders to us with each new sight we were visiting. I listened to the whispers of the warm arabian wind caressing my face during evening conversations with insightful friends from the United States and shared breathtaking moments at what seemed like the top of the world at Kerak castle with people from Uganda, Egypt, Mexico, Israel and many other places. I felt the stomping feet of desert camels beneath me as it raced to bring me to the center of Petra while laughing it off with my Peruvian twin and Kosovar frenemy, and had heart to heart conversations during our long bus rides interupted with concerts and jokes that would bring tears to my eyes from laugher. The last moments before I departed home were spent in Istanbul airport where we held hands, hugged and listened to Jonh Lenon's Imagine, singing without words, saying goodbye with our hearts. All these moments made me feel truly blessed to be a part of this amazing experience, to be one of the puzzles that come together to create this living, breathing, loving entity we call Peace camp.

Words seems so fragile when they need to depict such strong bonds, when I need to explain how in ten days I managed to find a soulmate, a twin, a little sister, a best friend, a singing buddy, a family member, dancing partners, future colleagues and much more. It seems impossible neither of these people existed in my life just a few weeks ago and how they hold such an irreplaceable place in it today. Nothing I can say can epitomize the feelings and memories, so I will stop talking. There are things that trancend borders, that trancend distances and go beyond words, things that go from one person's soul to another and can be seen and heard only with heartbeats. For me, Peace Camp is one of them.

With all my love,
Katarina Kohen, Serbia

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Peace Camp – The event of our life

Dear world,

This is what we want to share with you. Today is our last day in the peace camp. Time is up. We have spent ten days together. Ten great days full of joy, friendship, open talks which we never imagined before. Everybody stepped out of his comfort zone. Everybody has grown over his/herself. Everybody has changed in the most positive way. This change was not a sudden effect, it was a slowly process which has infected each of us like a virus. This infects from the first day, but don’t feel it yet. Instead with each activity you do together it grows, infecting you more and more. Until it reaches your heart and then without any warning it explodes, spreading irresistible amount of love, which no man can resist. This happened to us on the 5th day while exploring Petra. Now this love is deeply embedded in our blood. This love will flood, pulsate through our body for the rest of our life. We wouldn’t say that we have become peace makers but everybody of us will at least sprinkle a little love to everybody he/she met.

Till Rzesnik - Germany
Vadim Toader - Romania

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It’s indescribably hard to start writing this knowing that one of the best adventures of my life is over. I do know that it’s better to focus on the positive, but the emptiness that I am feeling right now is too big to make place for any other feeling. I had to go back to my normal life right away, starting with school early morning on Monday. It’s been two days and I haven’t done absolutely anything but stare like I a sedated patient and think about Peace Camp, or better said about the people of Peace Camp. I am addicted.

I feel it’s a sin to try and describe this journey with words as there is no word in any language that could express the true atmosphere Peace Camp brought to our lives during those 10 days. It is the definition of fun and the definition of personal growth. I’ve learnt many things. The most important one, it’s not about where you are, it’s about who you’re with. There isn’t anything else in this world better than people. Interestingly enough, the organization that made this possible for us is called People to People. Not caring one bit about objectivity, I can wholeheartedly say that for me, it’s the best organization in the world. I am so grateful to have had the chance to be a part of this and I am endlessly envious to future participants that will get the privilege to live this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I’ve been Facebooking like crazy since I came back. It’s the only thing that is helping me get through this. I am totally indifferent to anything happening around me and it’s probably the rush of the moment and the effect of having had such a great time, but Peace Camp was my life for 10 days. I could only wish everyday life was like that. A life where you learn and never get bored, where you wake up at 6 am, go to bed at 3 am and wake up again after three hours feeling as relaxed as ever, and a life where you get to hang out with people that you wish you had near you everyday. That’s what Peace Camp was to me. Almost utopia.

Earlier today, my friend Camellia wrote a beautiful quote by William Shedd, saying “A ship is safe in the harbor, but that is not what ships are built for.” Then she said that sailing from Peace Camp is hard but we will weather the storms. Physically, I have started sailing but my mind and soul are still on that island and won’t leave for a long time to come. I can only wish that while sailing through the troubled ocean called life, when we least expect it, our ships will meet and together raid through the storm and not stop until we reach the shores of that island we left two days ago. Until then, one of my biggest wishes will be made of one word. That word is reunion. That’s what I want.

Noar Sahiti – Kosovo


JOFEH, KINGDOM OF JORDAN—My respect for these kids grows by the day.

These kids are 48 teenagers (high school and college students) from 28 countries who have gathered in Jordan for Peace Camp, sponsored by People to People International.

At Peace Camp, students 16-19 are engaged in a cultural exchange, including moderated dialogue about culture, religions, gender roles, and peace journalism. An important part of the camp is building lasting, cross-boundary friendships. Campers “start the peace process within themselves and then apply it to their own communities and nations.” (ptpi.org).

I respect these youngsters, first, for their bravery. Imagine going to another country, and diving head-first into what are often difficult dialogues with people from different cultures whom you have never met. Throw in a bit of homesickness, and you have a difficult situation. Yet, these young people seem to have handled it all with grace and aplomb. Notably, I haven’t heard any of them complain about anything. (I did hear a rumor about a few scattered complaints, but that the complainers were quickly admonished into silence by the “no negativity” police.)

My warm feelings about this great group of kids was confirmed on one of the last days of the camp, when we visited the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf in Jofeh, near the Dead Sea in Jordan. The institute is awkwardly named, since they serve more than deaf kids. Indeed, they teach not only vision impaired children but also those with mental disabilities. No one was quite sure how many children the institute serves, but the number is in the hundreds, since some children are taught on site, while others are taught in their own homes or in schools.

We toured the Holy Land Institute, and saw the wonderful work the all-volunteer staff does with youngsters of varying abilities from pre-school to high school. There were art classes of various kinds, classes where blind children were doing puzzles to enhance their dexterity, a sewing workshop, and another area where the students made paper using recycled materials. I tried one myself, but my paper looked pretty sorry.

After the tour, our Peace Campers were each assigned a classroom and some children to work with. This is when the Peace Campers’ true colors came shining through. They dove right in with these differentially-abled children, helping them draw, color, make paper, do needlework, and so on. The art rooms were the most fun. In one room, our students sat on the floor and helped the children create some water color paintings. I scared a boy whom I sat next to, but the students in our group were much gentler, and their kindness eventually erased the shyness of some of the children.

In the second art room, our students sat at a table next to their more youthful counterparts. The students in this room were as engaged as I had seen them all week as they focused entirely on their partner’s needs. I was especially touched by one young man, Elliott, a native Missourian, who was having a great time with an energetic hearing impaired boy. They did puzzle after puzzle together, their smiles growing larger after each task was completed. It’s impossible to say who had more fun, or who benefited more from their brief time together.

It doesn’t take long for an outsider to figure out that our Peace Camp students are academically gifted. Indeed, those who aren’t already in college are headed to some of the world’s most prestigious universities. What’s less apparent, but even more important, is heart—what’s on the inside. That’s usually harder to see, although it was wonderfully evident during our visit to the Holy Land Institute. So, while I admire our Peace Camp students for their academic acumen, I respect them for their big, open hearts.

Thank you, Peace Campers, for reminding me of what is truly important.

Steven Youngblood - USA

Steven Youngblood is an associate professor of Communication Arts at Park University in Parkville, MO USA. This column appears courtesy of the Parkville Luminary, where he is a weekly columnist. Youngblood is teaching Peace Journalism to the Peace Camp students in Jordan. He has taught Peace Journalism in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and the U.S., and will also be teaching for USAID this summer in Uganda.

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April 9, 2009

April 4, 2009 - Peace Walk, Closing session and leaving Peace Camp

Although, this day iss a sad one, since we are all leaving in few hours, but we have started the day with such an inspiring event. We had a peace walk that started from our hotel in Amman, to the Amman Stadium. Lead by Mary Eisenhower, Father Nabil and Amman's Mayor. We definitely have enjoyed waving at people during our walk as well as looking up high with flags in our hands, and hope in our hearts.

Later that day, we had our closing session with our leaders. Everyone of us had the chance to share something. Something about their feelings, ideas, what they have learned, who has impacted them, and how each and everyone of us will go home with so many friends, change and definitely a vision for a better tomorrow.

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April 3, 2009 - Tree planting and learning about the world

Today, we headed back to Amman. Before we arrive to the hotel, we stopped by one of Amman's public parks and planted Peace Trees. It was such a great experience to be among the locals as well as 90 adults from PTPI's Global Peace Initiative participants planting trees symbolizing friendship and love representing many countries from around the world. After getting back to Amman's hotel, we had another chance to listen to few other country's presentations by our fellow peace campers.
I believe I am luckly in a sense to be blogging about a day when we didn't have much overwhelming sightseeing. So I had some time to evaluate the whole experience while still here, among all of you.
Today we left the Kempinski hotel. The hustle and bustle of the shopping spree lingered soon after lunch. We had our last sessions, most importantly peace journalism. This evening was one of those full of tears and emotions. You cannot really feel it without tears. It was meaningful for sure to hear Jessa telling me: "Thank you for coming to Peace Camp and having a heart-to-heart conversation with Raaz and me" I really hope to see you guys in the future and I am sure that life will bring our paths together again!
Thanks you for making this peace camp a special place for me and the other 47 fellow peace campers.
Kalina Cherneva - Bulgaria

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April 4, 2009

Peace Campers' videos

Three more videos today:

Aya from Egypt

Brandon from USA

Maia from USA and Taryn from South Africa

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April 2, 2009

Yet another extraordinary day passed by quickly, however this day is never going to be forgotten by any of the Peace Campers. Followed by a delicious breakfast at the hotel we went to Jofeh Community Rehabilitation Center where children with disabilities spend their time, learn new things and can simply spend time with others, make friends and enjoy themselves. We could see and experience how the children try to live normally. Even though it was sad to see how they suffer from disabilities our hearts were full of joy to see how happy they were in the center and we were grateful to all the people who volunteer at the center to help the children. After this very emotional visit we had the opportunity with the adult Global Peace Initiative participants during lunch. This was an interesting experience as even during this short period of time we could learn from the adults that the message of Peace Through Understanding is everlasting and doesn’t end with the Peace Camp but stays with us for the rest of our lives.

Back in the hotel we had a session on religion. It was very intriguing talks as all of us there were representatives of many different religions. We didn’t argue but learned from each other how we practice our faith and how important it is for us in everyday life. Following the session we attended an interfaith talk. We learned how crucial it is to accept other people’s faith and let them practice it the way they want in order to achieve peace.

Adam Naskretski - Poland


During the time while in Jordan, I have had many dinners in various places. Whether it was formal or casual, held at a restaurant or hotel, every single Peace Camper would look forward to it with the utmost pleasure and delight, but what we experienced tonight was beyond the power of words. Being the guest of the former Jordan’s Ambassador in multiple countries, we found the dinner at his outstanding farm (I apologize for the word “farm”) exceptional.

As a person to whom food plays a major role in his life, not only had I stuffed my hungry stomach with random products. I also tried many exotic foods as I could handle. I ended up coming back to our table with three plates. One of them got filled right after the starters bar. Curiosity made me try the special Jordanian falafel made with the creamy sauce with scallions. Fortunately enough, I got to grab some pieces of grilled shrimp with sweet and sour sauce after a tremendous wave of seafood lovers. I also got to sit next to Michelle who does not like seafood, which meant that her delicate pieces of shrimp were generously moved to my plate.

To follow up, I creatively filled my second plate with the unique delicacies for the main course. I could not literally go past the kabob station which was in the corner of the hall, so I had to invite a juicy home-made kabob into my pleasant company. Following the kabobs I approached the Italian pasta bar and ended up leaving the station with a half-filled plate of various kinds of pasta. On my way back, I instinctively reached out for a couple more fried shrimp which ultimately completed the colorful composition of my meal.

Last but not least, my third plate involved some delicious desserts. One of them was the delicious kanafi with the cheese inside which I could not help dreaming about the following night. The chocolate cake with a strawberry on top also made it onto my table of desserts and I enjoyed it very much. The final part was the mango flavored ice-cream covered in pistachios and hot chocolate.

I would be a liar if I refused to admit that I devoured the food. In these situations however you simply have to do it. You have to attain peace in your stomach prior to welcoming peace in your mind!

Benediktas Petkevicius - Lithuania


I didn’t imagine anything like this. I never imagined that in ten days I would feel happiness, joy, love, peace and safety, but also sadness, disappointment and insecurity. What I felt today was new for me in Peace Camp. I experienced how it felt to make a child smile for you, how it felt to give hope, love and passion for life to someone you just met, who often can sometimes doubt there is love around the world. We went to the Jofeh Community Rehabilitation Center where I met my new friend Rania. Although we were speaking different languages, we understood each other. We played games, we laughed, we painted, we danced, and we even sang (my voice is horrible so the singing part makes me very proud :))

What I love about those kids is that their faces never lie. They say yes when it feels right and no when it feels wrong. They never fake it, their emotions are pure and true. With Rania, I was safe, although she was 12 years younger than me. Rania opened my heart and found a place there. A person can never be really free if he or she can’t let himself be loved by a child.

Sophia Dievolova - Bulgaria

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April 3, 2009

More Videos!

Here are the most recent videos. (Click on the below links to be directed to Youtube)

Peace Camp Delegates from Waddi Rum

Shirley from Uganda

Elliott from USA

Michelle from USA and Gustavo from Colombia

Camellia from USA

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April 1, 2009 - Baptism site, Madaba and Peace Murals

The trip so far has been sensational and beyond imagination. The magnificent sights of natural and cultural wonders, the wonderful talents in each of the individuals and the close friendship amongst us are only a few examples of what I have experienced over the course of the past six days. These experiences have been inspiring and touching, but none more than what we did this morning.

Setting off from the luxurious Kempinski Hotel in the Dead Sea, we headed north to visit one of the most important sites in humanity, The Baptism Site of Jesus, located in Bethany. The site, located on the Jordan River was where Christianity started, and is a holy site for all religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam alike. Walking on the grounds that were once walked by Jesus Christ himself and thousands of pilgrims, I felt that I was being part of history.

The Baptism Site, set along the Jordan River was a very small and subtle site. Beside it were the ruins of five churches, all constructed at different periods in history, but all destroyed due to reasons such as earthquakes and floods. This showed the importance throughout history and in 2000, the site was visited by the late Pope John Paul II. Interesting enough, we visited the site exactly 40 days before the scheduled visit of Pope Benedict XVI.

Religion has long been a major part of people’s lives and this particularly true in this part of the world. It was thus interesting to see a Christian site being so well preserved in an Islamic country. Many of the churches were in fact built during the period when the place was ruled by Muslims, which was a sign of the coexistence between different religions in the same region. Moreover, history is repeating itself with different churches all building a church in the area, just as people had in the ancient times. It is amazing to see how the world can be united by religion yet also fighting because of religion.

As a Christian, I was deeply touched and shocked by this experience. Being able to walk on the ground that Jesus was baptized and receiving a blessing by Father Haddad with the Holy Water by the Jordan River was a dream come true. Peace Camp has been amazing in so many ways. It would beunimaginable for most, and each day impacted me in so many different ways. Peace Camp forever!

Adrian Lo – Hong Kong


I have never seen anyone glow as much as they did today. After applying sea mud from the Dead Sea, our skin was amazingly transformed from being ordinary to extraordinary. We gathered in the lobby at about 6:45 P.M. and had a beautiful walk to the nearby hotel to have our dinner. Actually, the exact restaurant where we had the “American cuisine,” particularly chicken or beef burgers, had a mid-80’s setting. The music was old yet familiar and television sets were countless, all showing a sports activity.

I sat with Liam, Brandon and Karapet because during this trip I have wanted to participate in a male conversation. Fortunately, it was extremely interesting and we had lots of fun, danced to Jordanian tunes and basically freely expressed our emotions.

Our session was immediately after dinner and it was based on individual understanding of culture and its influences on today’s generation. Then we were put to task to paint a peace mural that portrays our understanding of peace in the world today.

It is eight days since the Peace Camp started and I can confidently say that these have been and will always be the best eight days of my life.

Shirley Ochan – Uganda


In the courtyard of the restaurant, Temwanani, a slight girl from Malawi, fooled us into believing she was a martial arts master. I laughed as we walked through the bright, narrow streets. Talking to Eric, I discovered that he's a musician. There's so much beauty within others. The bus wound through Madaba, the city of mosaics - red, black, yellow white stones of the mountain. As we leave town,w e see a dome, a minaret and a church spire on the skyline. Churches and mosques are located next to each other in Jordan. There's enough room.

At Mount Nebo, we climb up a paved walkway lined with trees into the hazy sky. Out of the silver shadows, to the cream stone monument to Moses. The mountain falls away, steep caramel slopes. I remember Martin Luther King, Jr.'s voice - raw, powerful, eloquent words torn frmo a weary throat - the night before his murder Despite years of struggle, he never witnessed the changes he sought. He preached and prophesied, "I've been to the mountaintop. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I tell you tonight, we as a people will get there." Moses and MLK - liberators. Is failure falling short of your goals, or not reaching high enough? I think the latter, but it seems so painful. Brave, though.

Joshua led the twelve tribes of Israel across the Jordan Valley into Jericho. The vista - I try to imagine Moses' people during the last leg of their journey, from Mount Nebo to Jerusalem. We see Jericho, the oldest continuously inhabited city. The Dead Sea gleams, a dove wing blues and grays in watercolor. Here's what I was hoping: the sky blazing cerulean cold openness clear to the horizon, and the Holy City in the distance. Instead, the bowl of mountains was brimming with steam. As a leader, sometimes the way forward is uncertain...That's a corny interpretation, but Katarina advised me to frame situations in a positive light. Maybe everything happens for a reason.

On the bus, the sepia-toned window, the twisting precipitous road. Stones and red rocks comb the contours of the mountains, a scruffy moonscape. Herds of goats with shampoo-commercial hair move slowly, like the 48 Peace Campers, a couple always drifting ahead and behind. I bet it was the same with the Israelites - a headache for Moses. Look-camels, a long Bedouin tent. Stone house crumbling, olive trees arranged like dancers, cucumbers, a garden.

My ears pop, and I'm sleepy from a long day. Many of them, wonderful ones. David tells a joke: "What's brown and purple and has wheels? A grape. I lied about the wheels."

Our hotel in the Jordan Valley - holy ground. Time to swim! I navigate through our hotel, a warm honey-rock city, the sound of fountains in my ears. From every staircase and terrace, the expanse of pearlescent blue. Is it periwinkle? A cheesy name, but I think that's the closest description of an impossibly tranquil color. At last sand! I glimpse what looks like seal heads - Peace Campers shining in the expanse of water.

I race to the sea (no waves, emerald, the rocky beach massages my feet) and step in. Chilly. Can't splash or dive...some people already have. Ouch. At first, I don't notice that I'm floating. I think I must just be holding my breath and closing my eyes, as my parents taught me many years ago. I'm supported and suspended. Run? Dog paddle? Frog stroke? Backstroke is the most successful. Swimming out, lapping waters, scoops of sunlight. I look down, see my feet in aquamarine. No fish. No seafloor. No waves. Prickling skin. In the sun everyone's faces glow from within.

We see Tyler from the sea. Why is he dressed in a surfer suit? He looks like Batman in swim trunks...no, he's covered in black mud! Let's go. It's once in a lifetime. Our whole group gets in line for the Dead Sea mud treatment. Because of the long line, some of us play beach volleyball, making many mistakes. It's all good. Tyler runs to get the ball every time it an amateur hit sends it bouncing down to the sea. I get mud - it tingles, then stings. As it dries, my face tightens in a mask. We take pictures as a band of burglars/monsters. Wash in the dead sea. I feel like a squid, inking clouds in the water around me.

Shower to get the last lumps and streaks of mud off. We check each other and help everyone get clean. After drying and lathering myself in the Dead Sea lotion in our hotel room, I feel fresh, new, open. Molted - a new beginning?

Camellia Lee - USA

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April 1, 2009

Article by Steven Youngblood about Peace Camp

DESERT HIGHWAY, SOUTH OF AMMAN, JORDAN--I usually put bus rides right up there on the entertainment scale with dentist visits and estate planning seminars. Thus, you can imagine my surprise and delight at a remarkable "motor coach" trip that I recently took.

The journey, from Amman to Petra, Jordan, was with a bus load of 20 or so high school and college students from around the world who had gathered for Peace Camp, an event sponsored by People to People International.

Before the bus trip, I had the privilege of visiting with the students about peace journalism, and assigning stories, photos, videos, and podcasts that we were using to assemble a multimedia peace journalism project. I was impressed by the level of the intellectual discourse (theirs, not mine) during my presentation. Many students were from war-torn countries past and present like Serbia, Israel, Georgia, and Uganda, and thus had a number of insightful comments about what journalists can realistically do to create an atmosphere where peace becomes possible. I was also impressed by the students' eagerness to tackle a demanding assignment, putting together a multimedia newspaper for the web.

The real fun began after my lecture, when we piled into the bus for a 3 ½ hour trip first to Kerak and then to Petra. En route to Kerak, one of the Peace Camp's group leaders, the effervescent Barb, decided to spice things up a bit. Barb seized the bus' microphone from the tour guide, who wasn't really sure whether to relinquish it. Wisely electing not to cross Barb, the guide handed over the mike, and Barb began to emcee Peace Camp's own version of "Jordanian Idle" by crooning a few bars of that Kermit the Frog standard, "Rubber Ducky." Then, one by one, she called upon the students to stumble to the front of the bus and sing a song in their native tongue.

As the students began singing, I started to get that feeling in the pit of your stomach, much like when your Visa bill arrives each month. You see, I can't carry a tune in a bucket. Without exaggeration, I am the worst singer ever in the history of mankind, including future unborn singers.

As I listened to the students sing, my anxiety grew, particularly since most of them were very, very good. It was cool to hear the pride in their voices as they belted out songs in their native tongues, which included Chinese, Arabic, Serbian, German, etc. The audience was loudly supportive of each singer, regardless of ability. Still, they hadn't heard me yet. Visions of being thrown off the bus and left for dead in the middle of the desert danced through my head as my turn finally came.

I decided not to sing anything in English, figuring that would reduce my chance of utter embarrassment. I wanted to sing something in a language not represented on the bus, so I decided to croon "Multi Ani Traisca", the Romanian language version of the happy birthday song. I figured it was short, and even if I butchered it, no one would know. I finished my task quickly, not lingering, the way one wouldn't linger over a newly cleaned toilet.
Everyone applauded, a sure indicator that politeness won out over taste.
Still, I thought I had survived.

Moments later, to my horror, the Peace Camp's only Romanian student bounded towards me down the aisle of the bus. I had thought this young man was on the other bus, or I never would have publicly sung in Romanian. One again, however, politeness won over taste, as he complemented me on what he said was a good rendition of the song.

Before you know it, those 3 ½ hours had melted away into the desert landscape, thanks to Barb's ingenuity and some energetic, fun loving teee teenagers.

Peace Camp and People to People's motto is "Peace through Understanding." I figured we would all gain some understanding of one another during our sojourn to Jordan. I just never thought it would happen on a bus.

Steven Youngblood is an associate professor of Communication Arts at Park University in Parkville, MO USA. This column appears courtesy of the Parkville Luminary, where he is a weekly columnist. Youngblood is teaching Peace Journalism to the Peace Camp students in Jordan. He has taught Peace Journalism in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and the U.S., and will also be teaching for USAID this summer in Uganda.

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