An Action-Packed Week

Well, the Petra trip promised to be exciting and it delivered.  So much happened this last week I’m not quite sure just where to begin.  As I said last week, this week is the celebrations of Eid al-Adha across the Muslim world so Dil wanted to get us out of Amman for most of that time.  Last Saturday we met up at Qasid bright and early to get on a bus and start heading south.  We headed towards Petra but spent most of the day traveling since we made a couple of important stops along the way.  First stop: Karak.  As I’m sure you’re all familiar, back in the Middle Ages Europe decided that the Holy Land needed to be taken back from the control of the heathen Muslims and the Crusades were launched.  As a result of those campaigns a number of castles were built throughout the Palestine and Transjordan area, and the remains of one of those castles is in Karak.


We spent close to two hours in Karak exploring the ruins of this castle.  Being the history nerd that I am, naturally I was geeking out and had a great time.  Then it was back on the bus for another couple hours before our next stop in Shoubak for…. you guessed it.  Another Crusader castle!


As you can see from the picture, the castle is on top of a hill out in the middle of the desert.  At both of these castles I was impressed at how miserable it would have been to be a medieval infantryman trying to make an assault on these exceptionally well-fortified and defensible structures.  Those ancient military strategists knew what was up.  Again, we had a good time exploring the ruins before venturing into the old tunnel that runs from the castle at the top of the hill to the very bottom where I think a stream used to be located (it might still be nearby but I didn’t see it).  It was a super steep, long, windy and dark descent on very well-worn steps that caused more than a smidgeon of slipping, but it was a great adventure.  Here I am finally exiting:


After more bus time we made our last stop before checking in at our hotel in Petra.  Right near Petra is a place called Little Petra, which is exactly what its name says.  It’s a smaller canyon that has similar sorts of ruins carved into the sides of the mountains.  As an hors d’oeuvre for what the following day would entail it was perfect.  Piqued our excitement and interest in hiking and climbing around ancient ruins and beautiful landscapes.

After checking into the hotel a small group of my friends and I went out to see a little bit of the town and stock up on water for the following day.  While we were walking down the road we passed a small dusty trash-filled lot where four Jordanian kids were playing soccer with a half-inflated ball.  My friend Jordan suggested seeing if we could play with them and after some debate we decided to see if they’d let us.  We started out with me playing on the same team as the four Arab kids against five of my friends but as the game progressed more and more people showed up, either to join in or just to watch.  I couldn’t help but laugh as I looked up at one point and realized that entire families had come out on the balconies of the apartments overlooking the lot to watch the game and cheer us on.  We had a blast.

The next day was big time.  We left the hotel around 8:00 in the morning and walked to the entrance of the canyon.  I love hiking.  I love history and ancient ruins.  I love amazing views.  I love awesome natural rock formations.  Petra was a paradise for me.


Something about walking through these narrow gorges with the intricate colors and shapes of the rock walls just makes me happy.  When you get to Petra you walk a good little ways through the “Sik” here until at one turn you finally catch a glimpse of this:


It opens up onto the famous treasury (yes, the one from Indiana Jones).  Which is pretty awesome. But ya know what, folks? It’s just the beginning!  There are miles and miles of Petra to explore!  Dil told us there are four main hikes people take at Petra that let you see various things and even with a full day it’s difficult to fit in all of them.  Always up for a challenge, my group of friends and I wanted to see everything.  We nearly did it too.  It was a long and exhausting but sooooo fulfilling day.  I think we made it back to the hotel around 6:30 that night, having spent almost the whole day on our feet.  I know some of you are maybe thinking that sounds miserable, but it was AWESOME!

Some parts of Petra were more popular with tourists than others, but my favorites were walking around the parts with hardly anyone around.  It was so calm and peaceful out there.  One of the things I couldn’t stop thinking about is how this is the part of the world where ancient prophets like Moses and Abraham wandered and communed with God.  Sometimes from our vantage point in history with all the advances in technology we enjoy we look back and almost scoff at the fact that so many of the holiest events in time came to humble, isolated people living in the desert.  With the great nations and civilizations and wonders built around the world it seems ludicrous that God should choose to speak to a sheepherder living in some backwater wilderness.  But it doesn’t seem so crazy when you’re in those kinds of places.  They’re innately spiritual.  Heaven is closer without the distractions that crowd into everyday life.  As much as I love lush green landscapes there is certainly something unique to be said for the barren beauty of the desert.


There were so many things to see at Petra.  One of the things Dil talked to us about before cutting us loose to run around was how certain art forms become popular within certain civilizations and how much of that civilization’s art becomes expressed through that medium (the example he used was the Byzantines and mosaics).  At Petra, the Nabataean civilization became obsessed with stone carvings.  All of their art was expressed in stone carvings.  All over Petra there are carvings on just about everything.  You can find staircases to nowhere all over because that was one of the ways aspiring artisans practiced their art.  Fascinating stuff.


There are these humongous tombs carved right into the sides of mountains all over Petra.  In one of the biggest and most popular ones (called the Monastery) Dil told us we should try singing because the acoustics are amazing.  The group I was with happened to show up at the Monastery at the same time as another large group of students from our program so we went inside, spread out and started singing hymns.  The acoustics really were great, and we sounded pretty amazing if I do say so myself.  While we were singing several other tourists in the area pulled out phones and cameras to record us singing.  It was pretty cool.

We were told they close down the park around 5:00 and around 4:00 we still had one last hike to do.  It’s a hike up to the cliffs overlooking the treasury and was supposedly one of the best hikes at Petra.  The group I was with was divided about continuing to try and find the route up that way so we ended up splitting and I went with Chris, Tyler and Jordan to continue on looking for the overlook, while the rest headed back towards the Sik.  We weren’t sure how to get there and only had a general idea of the direction we needed to head but we climbed up in to the hills searching for it.  We ended up in a maze of cliffs and gorges, trying first one route and then another, only to find dead ends time after time.  A lot of this was up super steep inclines and through narrow clefts in the rocks.  It was exhausting work but thrilling at the same time.  Finally, after wandering for what seemed forever we spotted a Jordanian flag off in the distance.  Jordan remembered having looked up and seeing the flag from the ground in front of the treasury, so we made our way over to it.  It was indeed the overlook we’d been searching for.  And it was amazing.


Totally worth all the effort to get there if you ask me.  Getting back down and out was something of another ordeal.  At one point we found ourselves heading down a gorge that ended in about a hundred foot drop and we had to backtrack to find another way out.  We eventually found the main path that leads to the overlook and used that to get out.  Turns out there is a MUCH easier way to get to the overlook than the route we took.  I’m talking WAY easier.  We couldn’t help but laugh about it.  I seem to do that a lot, make things harder than they need to be.  Still, struggling our way up that mountain was an experience I won’t soon forget.

So we did make our way back down and out.  It was a long, tiring, thrilling, unforgettable day.  Petra.  Such a great experience.


After a night of sleeping like a rock it was up and at ’em bright and early once again for another day of new adventures.  We went to a place in the desert called Wadi Rum.  The first part of the day was spent riding through the desert in the backs of pickup trucks.  I. Loved. It.


After enjoying some of the isolated desert places in Wadi Rum from the back of a truck we stopped, got out and jumped on the backs of camels to continue on across the wadi.  When I was in Morocco last summer I did ride on a camel but it was more of an in-the-city walk-the-camel-up-and-down-the-street-a-couple-times sort of thing.  This time we actually used the camels to get from Point A in the desert to Point B.  I got on my camel and we headed out.  For some reason, everyone kept laughing at me.  I couldn’t figure out why and was wondering what I was doing wrong until I asked my friend Chris and he told me that my camel was really small.  Apparently the Bedouin kid who led me to my camel decided I should ride one of the smallest camels there.  Now, I’m not a huge guy.  But I’m not a small one either.  I guess someone my size on a camel that size looks humorous.  Come on, Bedouin kid.  Get it together.  Despite my mini camel, it was a fun experience.  We finished the camel ride at a Bedouin tent where we had a delicious lunch.  Great times.


We then spent the rest of the afternoon driving down to Aqaba.  Aqaba is Jordan’s only port.  So we spent the evening walking around town and checking out the beach.  Aqaba has a similar feel to a lot of the beach towns in Southern California and there were tons of foreigners there.  The next morning most of us went out on a boat and spent the whole morning snorkeling out in the gulf.  I’d never really done anything like that before, so I’m no expert on these things, but from what I understand Aqaba is known as a great place for snorkeling.  Aside from my snorkel occasionally stopping up, scraping my stomach on some coral and getting stung on my finger by some coral, it was a great time!  I know that sounds like I might be speaking facetiously, but honestly, if I had the chance I’d do it again.  Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of it.  So, sorry about that.

We left Aqaba in the early afternoon and made it back to Amman that evening.  All of our Arab teachers were still celebrating the Eid the rest of the week so we’ve mostly just been hanging out around town the last couple of days.  It’s been nice to have a break from our classes and assignments (though I’m sure we’ll all be struggling a little to get back into it this next week).

Dil had a talk with us Thursday morning about how we’re now basically at the half point of the program.  It’s hard to believe.  There’s still so much Arabic I need to learn while I’m here!  And I still feel like we just got here.  With reaching the halfway point, they’ve made new assignments about who goes to church up in Al-Husn.  I’ll be going to the Arab branch here in Amman for the rest of my time here, but today Dil had me go up to Al-Husn one last time to show the new group of students how to get there.  I’m a little sad I won’t be going up there anymore.  My friend Jessica, who’s an RM and has been going there also, said it kinda feels like getting transferred to a new area.  It’s kinda true.  I trust this will be a great experience as well though.

Welp, that’s more than enough for now.  Have a great week, everyone!


A Regular Week….in Jordan

So last weekend we had no scheduled trips, which means I don’t have any extraordinary sightseeing adventures to report.  This is really just a calm before the storm however, as tomorrow kicks off a multiple-day trip down to Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba.  So I should have lots of exciting things to say next week.  As it is, this past Saturday a group of us went to Jabal Ashrafiyya, one of the poorest parts of Amman where we became familiar with an NGO center where several of us are going to be volunteering over the next several weeks.  This center is a place for neighborhood kids to go for recreation and educational help, as well as a center where women in the neighborhood can go for recreational activities as well as help dealing with difficult home situations.  As I said, Saturday’s visit was just a familiarization trip and the real volunteer work won’t start until after our Petra trip but I’m really looking forward to it.  After visiting the center a few friends and I spent a few hours exploring around Jabal Ashrafiyya and the center of town.  There are a lot of really amazing views and sights all over the city.  We also met a handful of really funny kids in a few different places around town.  It was a lot of fun.

As I’m sure you’re all aware, last weekend was General Conference.  With the time difference, the Saturday morning session started at 7:00 in the evening over here.  My roommates, a few girls in the program and I streamed it live from our apartment.  We did the same thing Sunday night with the Sunday morning session.  I probably could have live streamed all sessions, but with full days of Arabic study following each of those days I figured it maybe wasn’t a great idea to stay up til 1:00 in the morning.  Instead, I was able to stretch Conference out throughout the whole week, watching a session each night after doing my homework and getting in some speaking.  I can’t say enough how grateful I am that the conveniences of technology make it possible for me to watch General Conference from the opposite end of the world.  Conference was wonderful, as always.  So uplifting and instructional.

So, one of my big questions coming into Conference was what to do this next semester.  This whole last year since returning to BYU I’d been made to believe I’d be heading to Afghanistan early next year and it wasn’t until just before coming out here to Jordan that I found out that wasn’t happening.  So what to do now has been on my mind for the last month and a half or so.  There are a number of options on the table, all of which hold at least a level of appeal to me, which only makes it that much harder to make a choice.  However, especially post-conference, my strongest leanings are towards staying in Provo for school.  There are a number of interests I’d like to pursue, but I feel like right now it’s important for me to get serious about finishing up my undergrad degree sooner rather than later.  The thought of staying put in Provo for an extended period of time might cause me more anxiety if not for a great opportunity that I’ve been discussing with the teachers and TAs here recently.  For students who score high enough on the final OPI at the end of the study abroad there is an option of adding a double major in Arabic (this would be in addition to my current Middle East Studies/Arabic major).  The double major involves taking upper level Arabic classes this next semester and then coming back out here to Jordan next summer for an internship.  That idea holds a lot of appeal to me.  There are a number of other factors I’ll have to take into consideration, but the thought of being back here next summer is pretty exciting.  Again, nothing’s set in stone at this point, and there’s a good chunk of time between now and when I’d have to actually do anything about it, but (as most of you know) I have a hard time not thinking forward to what my next step is going to be.  

So all this week in issues class we were discussing issues related to women’s rights, both in the Middle East and throughout the world.  I don’t think I have any super profound thoughts to share.  But shoot, there’s a lot of unfairness and cruelty in this crazy world.  I’m really grateful that all of the teachers with whom I am scheduled for presentation and speaking appointments at Qasid are women, because it’s really the only opportunity I get to speak at length with Arab women.  In all honesty, the women I’ve talked to aren’t displeased with their lives.  A lot of the things that Western feminists point to as male oppression in Arab culture is seen as religious conviction for most women around here.  They do agree however that certain major steps forward could be made in providing for better rights for women (particularly in cases of rape or divorce.  Life is really tough for women in those cases).  

I’ve been repeatedly noticing however, in many regards, that a lot of the things we look at and see as divisive cultural differences between the West and Arabs are really only different on the surface.  Like I said, I’ve noticed this in regard to several different things while I’ve been here, but one conversation in particular serves as a good example of what I mean.  One of the things we had discussed in class this week was the principle of “ikhtilaat” or the intermingling of genders in schools and work, etc.  Culturally and traditionally, ikhtilaat is looked on negatively in most social situations; gender intermingling is often a no-go.  I was talking to one of my speaking partners, a lady named Yusra, about this and it just struck me as really odd.  She was talking about how in visits between friends usually the men will hang out in one room and the women in another.  In an effort to understand I asked her what the reason for that was, why the separation?  Her response was basically, “I think the kinds of things women like to talk about are generally boring to men and vice versa.”  It made me laugh so hard, because when she said that the first thing that came to mind was how at large family gatherings in my own family a lot of the time what ends up happening is the women get together and start talking about pregnancies and child-birth or whatever and the men, wanting nothing to do with this kind of conversation, make their way into the other room to talk about sports or politics or whatever.  While we don’t make the concept of ikhtilaat an issue in our society, in our own way we approach gender intermingling quite similarly.  At first blush, the fact that ikhtilaat is even a thing in Arab culture made it seem like a notable cultural difference, but after becoming familiar with the topic and getting a feel for the opinions of actual Arabs on the subject it seems quite normal, and even something that we as Americans do ourselves.  And I’ve found that to be the case with many things about Arab culture.  Things that seem very different on the surface are less so once you dive deeper.  Yes, there are many cultural differences.  But I think we make a bigger deal out of those differences than they merit.  Honestly we’re all just human beings.  We have more in common with one another than otherwise.

My roommate Tyler and I have been assigned as home teaching companions to home teach a family in the Arab branch here in Amman.  We had our first home teaching appointment with them on Wednesday night.  This family is one that has been relatively less active for some time but has been making some effort to come more regularly as of late.  They have three young children (a nine-year-old girl, seven year-old boy and little boy just over a year) so we decided to try and teach a lesson that would be somewhat interactive and engaging for the kids.  So we decided to teach the first lesson from Preach My Gospel, the Restoration, doing the cups lesson.  This is something we did all the time on my mission, because it is simple, straightforward and really helps people to visually understand the need for the restoration.  What you do is you have a bunch of plastic or paper cups that you’ve written on that you use to build a church.  For the base you have twelve cups with the names of the original twelve apostles written on them, then you have eight cups on top of that with the different priesthood offices written on them and on top you have four cups for Faith, Repentance, Baptism and the Holy Ghost.  Ta-da.  The church of Jesus Christ.  But then you explain how the Apostasy happened and the Apostles died out.  When you pull out the base, the whole thing collapses.  You go on to teach about the Restoration and how through Joseph Smith that original church has been restored.  You pull out twelve new cups with the names of the modern apostles written on them and rebuild the church.  Anyway, that’s a rough overview of how you do the lesson.  So that’s what we did with this family on Wednesday night and it was so great!  And the whole thing was in Arabic too!  Dressing up in a white shirt and tie with my roommate to go to this less active family’s house where we taught the Restoration in another language was giving me some serious mission nostalgia.  And I loved it.  I can’t believe I get the chance to do stuff like this while I’m here.  

So last night I went out with a group of my friends to dinner since today’s my birthday.  I don’t like making a fuss about these kinds of things but once people knew my b-day was coming up there was really no avoiding it.  Which was fine, I enjoy food and spending time with friends.  We decided to be different and go all American with the restaurant.  If you can believe it there’s a Chili’s here in Amman so that’s where we went.  I had a nice big burger for the first time in a while (it had bacon on it.  Shhh! Don’t tell any of my Muslim friends!).  It was really nice.  

Today I went to church up in Al-Husn again.  This very well may have been my last chance to go up there.  There’s been talk about switching up which students go up there after our Petra trip.  It’s too bad, I really like the members there.  Something I didn’t know about our program director, Dil, before coming out here is that in addition to being an Arabic wizard he is also quite a gifted singer and musician.  He has just finished heading up a project to put together a definitive selection of church hymns translated into Arabic.  There are a couple of different unofficial Arabic hymnbooks in existence which the members use at church, but no one really knows quite how to sing them.  Which syllables go with which notes is quite a nebulous affair and it’s rather noticeable when singing in sacrament meeting.  When that General Authority was here a few weeks ago he gave Dil the assignment to teach the members here in Jordan how to properly sing the hymns with the release of this new official hymnbook.  So who did Dil assign to teach the members up in Al-Husn how to sing the hymns?  Yes.  Me.  Why in the world would he ask me to do that?  Because “someone told me you have a nice voice.”  Never mind that the extent of my vocal training covers having been in ward choirs.  Or that before this week I had less of an idea which Arabic syllables went with which notes than the Arab members.  In all fairness, I was given the assignment with my friend Jessica who actually plays the piano, so it really wasn’t too bad.  After sacrament meeting today we worked on five hymns which will be sung in sacrament meeting next week.  In all honesty, despite my bewilderment at this kind of assignment it was a really powerful experience.  With everyone actually singing together, it sounded pretty good and really invited the Spirit.  

So the reason we’re going to Petra this week is because it is the week of Eid al-Adha.  The biggest occasions for Muslims throughout the year are the month of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr which comes at the end of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha which comes at the end of the Hajj.  It would be a longer explanation than I feel up to making right now to get into the significance of the Eid, so suffice it to say that it’s a big deal.  The first day of the Eid is Monday and the celebrations last four days.  So since most things will be shut down around here anyway Dil is taking us out to go see some of the sights that are farther away.  We’ll be spending the next three nights in hotels.  I’ve been looking forward to this trip since we got here.  In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade at the end that building cut into the side of a cliff that he goes into to find the holy grail is at Petra.  That alone makes me excited to go, and there are lots more ancient ruins and buildings to hike around and explore.  I’ve also heard really good things about Wadi Rum and Aqaba.  I can hardly wait!

Everyone have a great week!

Dead Sea, Jordan River, etc.

This week seriously flew by!  I can’t believe it’s over already.  Six weeks in Jordan and living here and studying Arabic all the time has become just another routine.  Well, kind of.

Before I get into anything else I should probably talk a bit about last Saturday’s excursion out to the Jordan River and Dead Sea.  That was a great day!  We met up at Qasid early Saturday morning and hopped on a bus.  Along the road heading west and downward we stopped for a few minutes at a marker indicating the point at which we were at sea level.  The road kept winding downward towards the Jordan River.  As we got closer Dil, the program director, got on the bus’ microphone and started talking about how the Jordan River in reality doesn’t quite live up to the American Protestant mythology about it.  There are so many songs and stories about the mighty, flowing Jordan river that symbolizes the divide between mankind in the world and the promised land of God.  He launched into several of these songs right there over the mike.  Down to the River to Pray, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Michael Row Your Boat Ashore, etc.  It was pretty funny and awesome.  Once we got to the Jordan and saw it for ourselves, it became apparent that Dil was right:


Dil: “In Utah parlance, the Jordan River is a crik.”


It was still really cool to be there at the Jordan river and think about all of the notable, historical events that took place at or near this river.  We visited an excavation site where archaeologists are uncovering the remains of a Byzantine church that served as a destination spot for Byzantine pilgrims and marked the spot they believed to be exactly where Jesus was baptized (going off of biblical descriptions and the fact that a bend in the river created a pool of sorts at that spot).  The course of the river has since changed and there’s no water at that spot now, but we could clearly see the steps that have been uncovered that go down from where the old church used to be into what used to be the river, right to a spot where the foundations of four pillars are left of a pavilion that used to cover the precise place of Jesus’ baptism.  Ancient pilgrims would descend the stairs to this spot and baptize themselves three times.  Cool, huh?



We spent some time walking around the river, walked through a Greek Orthodox church and even sat and soaked our feet for a little bit.  It was lovely.  We then jumped back onto the bus and drove over to the Dead Sea.  We got out at a resort there and headed down to the beach!  It was seriously about as beautiful a day as anyone could have asked for.  



So we got down to the sea itself and got in.  If you’ve ever talked to someone who’s been to the Dead Sea, they all say the same things about it.  And I will say those same things.  The water is disgustingly salty if any gets in your mouth.  And getting any of it in your eyes is asking for serious problems.  I know this first hand.  I was careful not to let my head go under (honestly didn’t have to try too hard, the water is extremely buoyant) but in the swimming around somehow some of the water splashed up into my eyes.  First one and then the other.  It. Burned. So. Bad.  I’m not even kidding, it was worse than the CS gas chamber at basic training (ok, that might be debatable.  But it was really bad).  It burned crazy bad when I closed my eyes but it somehow was ten times worse when I opened them.  I somehow managed to swim back to shore and stumble my way over the rocks and up the stairs to a shower where I was able to wash out my eyes.  I did go back in after that but I was much more careful about splashing and water getting near my face.  No further problems were experienced.  When your eyeballs don’t feel like they’re sitting on Satan’s griddle, the Dead Sea can be quite enjoyable.  You don’t have to do anything to float!  It seriously feels like you’re sitting on a surfboard or something.  




Apparently people all over the world pay exorbitant amounts of money to get mud from the Dead Sea and rub it all over their bodies.  I guess it’s an amazing exfoliant or something (I’m gonna be honest with you folks: I barely know what it means to exfoliate.  Something about skin and..dirt and….stuff).  Anyway, as my mother can readily attest, I’ve never needed special encouragement to cover my body with mud and if other people are doing it too I guess it’s a socially acceptable thing to do so I’m on board with that.  A bunch of us did just that.  I can’t say I noticed anything super different about my skin afterwards.  But hey, mud.  It was fun.  

We didn’t spend a ton of time in the Dead Sea itself since all the saltiness kinda gets to your skin after a while, but the resort there had a killer swimming pool and after all the time we’ve spent sweating on the streets of Amman it felt heavenly to dive into a clear, cool pool of water looking out over the sea.  Unfortunately our trip was only scheduled for half a day so most of us would have liked to stay and swim around longer than we did, but it was still so great.  We had an amazingly deliciously huge buffet lunch there at the resort and then headed back to Amman.  

The next day at school we were telling our teacher, Fadi, about our trip to the Dead Sea and he told us something I thought was pretty interesting.  Apparently a lot of Muslims (or maybe I should just say Jordanians.  It’s often hard to make a distinction) don’t like going to the Dead Sea or spending very much time there.  They believe that it is located where the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah used to be and that the sea resulted from their destruction.  He said they believe the angel Gabriel picked up the land there, flipped it over and slammed it back to the earth before pelting it with fire and brimstone.  They think that evil spirits still reside there.  Fadi himself said that he swam in the Dead Sea once when he was a kid, but had a bad feeling about it and hasn’t been back since (other than driving past it occasionally on his way to other places).  Though my experience at the Dead Sea was very different than that I still find that really interesting.

Throughout the rest of this last week, not much extraordinary is coming to mind.  After the Dead Sea in the evening there was a dinner for BYU alumni here in Jordan (of which there are quite a few.  At least more than you might think.  I think Dil said there are several thousand native Jordanians around here who graduated from BYU).  It was a nice dinner.  On Wednesday night, we had a talent show at the church, which was a ton of fun.  Every act was great but my favorites were our teacher Doug telling the story of Goldilocks and the three bears in the voice of Donald Duck and Dil singing church hymns (in English) in the style of traditional Arabic music.  Maybe you’d have to be an Arabist to fully appreciate it but it was hilarious.

Today I went to church up in Al-Husn again.  It was great.  We had a good talk with Murad, the elder’s quorum president, about life in the Middle East as a Mormon.  I think there are a lot of things I take for granted about my life as a member of the church in the States.  We’re seriously super blessed.  

Life is good, folks.  Have a great week!