The very last place we went will be forever burned into my psyche: Kibbutz Keturah. It is actually an incredibly interesting place. It is an almost completely self-sufficient Jewish settlement at the edge of Israel. The Kibbutz gave us a tour of the entire facility. Everyone works for the kibbutz in whatever expertise they bring to the table, and in return get all their basic needs met (food, shelter, education, etc.) plus $400 spending money (depending on how much the whole Kibbutz makes—Keturah makes $5 million a year, mostly from their dairy farm and a freshwater red algae harvesting center—but all profits from everything are shared 100% equally). For the last event before dinner, we went deep into the neighboring desert—sand as far as you can see. We were invited to play around for a bit, but then our Kibbutz guide, David, gathered us around and talked about how he thought it was no coincidence that all three of the major monotheistic religions had their origins near deserts—that it was almost necessary to believe in something Greater than oneself amid such vastness. He said he wanted each of us to experience the desert for ourselves. He gave us each a pencil and a piece of paper and said to go away from the group—so that we could not see anyone else, and just ponder life until you heard the horn blow. Then we were to open the paper, ponder the prompt, and write about it. The second horn blow would signal that it was time to gather back. I had one very specific, very important question to ponder, and I was very excited to empty my head and see if the vast desert could provide the impetus for insight into my question. So I found a spot, sat down, and began to ponder. I thought about where I was, about the things I have done and wanted to do in my life, the blessings I had received, and the incredible opportunity that I was experiencing—which experience would lead me to Egypt the very next day!
And I continued to think...
And I continued to wait...
And I would have opened my paper and began, but he specifically said to resist opening it until the sound of the horn—and I wanted the 'full desert experience'...
So I continued to just sit there and think
Until one of the students came around and asked me why I wasn't coming back with the rest of the group.
I had missed the horn. Both times.
So I got up and ran to go back to the bus. But I wanted a panoramic of the desert scene, so I took out my camera and took the picture. My camera was the only one that takes instant panoramics, so two others asked me to take their pictures which I did. But I noticed that the lens came out more slowly than normal for the picture, and did not close all the way after the second. As I walked back to the bus, I was examining it and there was sand all over it. I was very confused as to why: I was very careful not to jump around during the entire dune excursion... but then I felt my pocket: it was full of sand. It blew in while I was sitting down waiting for the horn to blow. I blew all over it to get everything off of it, and turned it on again. My worst fear came true: the camera made a soft grinding sound and the lens was stuck shut. The screen said: “Error. Turn off the camera and try again.”
My heart sunk to the bottom of my stomach.
I said a silent prayer of anguish: this couldn't happen right now. This trip meant too much to me. I had researched this camera for three months just to be able to take panoramics, hd video, and GPS-tagged photos all over Egypt... To record the trip of a lifetime for a lifetime. For about 15 minutes I just had this foreboding, sinking, forsaken feeling (I realize that this may sound a bit trivial to some of you, but for anyone that knows me... they know how much technology means to me—I was devastated). But then I kinda snapped out of it: Where was my faith? How could I get down at a time like this? All was not said and done. There was a myriad of things I could do! I asked our guide if there were any camera repair services at the Kibbutz... which there wasn't. I asked our teacher, a picture enthusiast, and he suggested I open it myself and blow it out. And so I tried to put it out of my mind as we ate dinner and swam at the Kibbutz pool. I was mostly successful: I was a computer technician! Of course I would be able to open it up and fix it... There was no way my God would allow me to go camera-less in my only opportunity to go to Egypt...
The moment dinner was over, I got out of the pool and found someone with a small screwdriver and went to work—all during the night. I took my camera apart and blew in each newly uncovered section. I was praying the whole time: please make it work. Please make it work. I got pretty far into the camera—enough to wiggle the lens area, and brushed out all the sand I could. I would have gone father, but I was trying to balance the danger of breaking something permanently. When I put it all back together (it was 2am by this time—it was a lot harder to put back together it turns out), I got to my knees and asked for a tender mercy. I decided to wait until morning to turn it on again—one of my friends said that something similar happened to her camera and she left it alone and when she turned it on the next day, with the lens facing down, it worked and pushed all the remaining sand out.
I woke up early and turned on the camera: the same. Exact. Error. The lens extended a little bit more, but only marginally.
At this point, I would like to say (again, those who know me can attest to this fact) that I am a pretty optimistic guy. I look for positive. I look for the good in all situations. I try to take the eternal perspective with hope, charity, and faith. But I'll be honest with y'all: I was profusely frustrated and genuinely let down. It was more than that, though... I was the type of guy that would to go up to anyone who was having a bad day and try to cheer them up... I would always be so upbeat and happy. I would always think of a hundred reasons that the person should be happy—and I thought I genuinely believed those reasons. Confession: I also... secretly... have the audacity to believe that the only reason that one would not be “cheered up” is because they either did not understand or would refuse to apply gospel principles.
So I tried to hold on to the ideal I had set for myself. I prayed to have a better attitude... and hope and inspiration came: I would find a compressed air blower at the hotel or a repair shop in Cairo and then all would be good again. I went to breakfast with a head full of what-ifs and worries, but enough assurance that fixing my camera was still possible, so I wore a smile: I was just on the cusp of having my faith affirmed—I just had to maintain a good attitude and things would work out according to my righteous desires (really: I am on the memories committee here at the Jerusalem center—I used my camera to many righteous ends!). I didn't have to wait that long. That day, one of my fellow participants felt sorry for my loss and said I could use her camera the entire time we were in Egypt! Yes!! Score 1 for faith in God! Plus, one of the teachers said that there would be tons of repair shops in Luxor and there would surely be a place that could fix it there as it was a huge tourist spot. I was still sad that I had to wait a few days for my panoramics and GPS, but the answer had come. All would be as it was in a few days, and in the meantime, I had a camera for the most exciting time of my once-in-a-lifetime study abroad program.
Or so I thought.
The short version: The very next day... sand got in my friend's camera... and IT broke. Worse, when were at Luxor, me and 3 friends wasted a good portion of our free time trying to find a place to fix them... with nothing to show for it (in fact, as I am writing this, my camera is still giving me the same error after many hours of wasted time and several misadventures of trying to find a place that could fix it). In all honesty, this is the type of thing that would ruin the entire trip for me. I love pictures. I was in Egypt. I researched that camera specifically for this trip. There is no way that this was happening. I was thinking about it... and, barring a death, dismemberment, or other permanently-damaging mishap to myself or fellow participant, I couldn't really think of anything that had the potential to upset me more than my current state of affairs.
And I laughed.
I laughed at satan.
At first, I thought of this as just an unfortunate accident, I also thought it might be God trying to teach me something, but (though my way of thinking still includes the notion that no matter what happens, God can still use it to teach us) now I honestly think that this was satan trying to aggravate and demoralize me and his moment had come—and boy did he take full advantage of it. And I just had to laugh. All at once, several thoughts came to me:
- Satan has the power to crush my heel, but we have the power to crush his head.
- Satan is a loser (See Neil L. Andersen, “Beware of the Evil behind the Smiling Eyes,” Ensign, May 2005, 46)
- A quote by President Kimball: “Your life is your own, to develop or to destroy. You can blame others little and yourself almost totally if that life is not a productive, worthy, full, and abundant one” (“President Kimball Speaks Out on Planning Your Life,” Sept. 1981, p. 47).
- And, most importantly, from Neal A. Maxwell: “Sometimes, the best people... have the worst experiences... If we are serious about our discipleship, Jesus will eventually request each of us to do those very things which are most difficult for us” (Neal A. Maxwell, A Time to Choose (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1972), 46).
I realized that my thoughts were all centered around how God would come through for me... the only way I would be satisfied was with a working camera. In other words, my faith was outcome based—a sort of cheap exchange I was making with God, and I was no true disciple if I was only happy when I was getting what I wanted in the exchange. And so I let it go. And I instantly felt better. Honestly, I did not even know there was a camera out there with such a neat panoramic function or GPS ability—how could that mean so much to me when it did not even exist until just recently? It's absurd! I was caught in the classic trap of transforming wants into needs and basing how I feel off of worldly comparison. Now, I would be lying if it didn't hurt a little bit when we would be at a cool site and I knew I wouldn't have the GPS data of where I was at or when there was a great panoramic opportunity and I knew I couldn't capture it, but I can honestly say: I did not let that control my attitude. I had a great time in Egypt. And I got tons of great pictures. My friends are so awesome. I never had to feel awkward or embarrassed to ask them to take my picture: they were more than happy to. I probably got a lot more great pictures that I would not have otherwise gotten (it got to the point where we would get to a site and people would ask me what I wanted my picture taken with first!) I will post more as I get the pictures from my friends... And you know what else? THAT is what matters most. I could go on forever about this (as you can easily tell by now if you have gotten this far in this post!), but I am the most blessed person on this earth for so many reasons, but one of the big ones is to have the friends that I do. I wake up every morning as a cared about, thought about, prayed about, accepted, and overall loved person. I truly do have every reason to be “cheered up”--if I but focused on this one blessing. Elder Ballard taught that, “What Matters Most Is What Lasts Longest,” (Ensign, Nov 2005) and friends are forever. God bless all of you. One final Elder Maxwell quote: “Sobered and humbled by the grandeur of the Restoration and all that it brings to us, there should be times when you and I leave tears on our pillows out of gratitude for what God has given us” (Neal A. Maxwell, “The Wondrous Restoration,” Ensign, Apr 2003, 30). I likewise am humbled with gratitude and water my pillow at night to be blessed to know each of the people I call friends. Thank you.