Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Karak and other random adventures

The Museum at Dana... sort of small but cool nonetheless

Pounding the Oregano with a rock
Today was a nice, rather slow paced day where we got to enjoy ourselves and basically do whatever we wanted for much of the day.  We didn't really have a plan for today except we wanted to explore the area of Dana a little bit and also have plenty of time to see Karak and get home before things got too late.  In the morning, about half of the group slept in late while the other half decided we really wanted to explore Dana village and see what we could find.  I packed up all of my stuff for a quick exit and then headed outside.  We had heard that there was some sort of giftshop and craft making area but were unsure of where we could find it.  I headed down an interesting little alley and found a nice bridge to cross over.  As I was crossing the bridge I started to hear pounding and thought it sounded interesting so I decided I would head in the direction of the pounding while taking pictures and enjoying my surrounding. Imagine my surprise when I entered a beautiful little building and found 5 or 6 women pounding the snot our of oregano with rocks to create the spice that we all use in our cooking.  I found it very interesting and was content to watch but was soon invited to join in and take a turn at smashing some oregano.  The dust got everywhere but it was surprisingly enjoyable especially when one of the women began singing a song in time with the pounding.  It made me realize just how cool this experience really was.  I was sitting there pounding oregano  when the rest of the group found me and started laughing because they always seem to find me doing something with the locals and having a great time of it.
Engraving my ring
  Anyway, after the I had taken a few pictures of the Oregano production, the girls informed us that there was silver smith shopped close by a long with a museum that sold all of the goods that were handmade here on site.  Of course I jumped at the opportunity to go see all of that stuff and everyone else wanted to go as well so off we went.  There was a cool little museum explaining the preserve as well as a guest house where we found that we had been royally ripped off with our accommodations and hadn't even seen the nature preserve or entered it!  We were more than a little mad with our tour guide but decided that we would simply come back later to enjoy the preserve and see some of Jordan's beautiful wildlife.  Also in the center was an awesome little gift shop with tons of hand made items for sale and two really nice ladies that informed us that a lot of the silver was made on site and we could go see the silver shop down stairs.  The silver shop was not very busy, they said they didn't have any orders, but it was interesting to see how they cut our and shaped everything by hand.  I have discovered, in Jordan at least, that if you stand around looking at something long enough the person doing the job will invite you to do it with them and teach you how to do it which I find is really cool and very nice.  Today was no different as they promptly placed us in a chair and showed us how they flattened the metal, cut it out by hand, polished and a number of other things.  As we were watching they showed us a polishing wheel and then asked me for my irish ring.  They then polished the heck out of it and made it look better than it ever had when I bought it in Ireland.  It was really cool, however, when they asked me to spell my name in Arabic and then engraved it on the inside of the ring along with a heart.  So now my Irish ring is engraved with " سكاي "    and a heart which I think is pretty cool.  I wonder what other cool things can happen to this ring before the end?  Well, after I got my ring engraved we took a few final pictures and then headed of to the North so we could see the ancient remains of Al-Karak the Castle.
The group before heading out of Dana
The castle from the top of the Umayyad addition 
  As we pulled up to the castle I knew it was going to be amazing.  It was huge and precariously perched on top of a huge hill overlooking all of the surrounding valleys and the dead sea which we could just see off in the distance.  As we were walking about to the gate I saw a little shop that said I could buy an audio tour thing for 5 bucks and thought that it would be sweet so I bought it, the only one in the group oddly enough.  Well, that audio tour was amazing but would end up creating some issues later on.  It turns out that the castle mount had been continuously inhabited for thousands of years but that the earliest fortifications dated back to the time of the Frankish Crusaders.  Since that time they were modified by all of the Islamic Dynasties and had amazingly preserve ruins of the castle.  I found out some amazing stories from the Audio tour about how Salah Din had besieged the castle on multiple occasions and how the castle had traded sides multiple times.  Apparently Karak is located on a major north south trading route and controls a port city on the dead sea.  The Castle was huge with a giant underground market that ran over 100 meters, a mosque, huge kitchen areas, a church, giant underground rooms, a stable, barracks and giant walls.  It was amazing and every step of the way the audio tour explained and directed me along at what I THOUGHT was a reasonable pace.  Something else that was awesome is that you can climb and explore anywhere you want.  So every random staircase I saw I could go up and every doorway leading to a dark hole, I could explore.  It was a lot of fun and allowed me to see some amazing views and spectacular ruins.
The "Bath of the Lily"
  Well, it turns out that although I thought we were supposed to all meet up at 5:00 everyone else had finished exploring the castle in under an hour.  When they were sick of waiting they called my cell-phone which I answered but had no response from the other end.  I figured my friend Austin had but dialed me and so when he called two seconds after that I simply didn't answer the phone.  Also, when they came looking for me in the Castle, much of the time I was underground and so I couldn't hear their calls or see them searching.  Basically it was a perfect storm to make it so that everyone else was waiting for me for about an hour while I was enjoying myself inside the castle having lots of fun exploring and listening to my Audio Guide.  I felt really bad when they finally found me but I stick by my decision to purchase the audio tour.  I think they are so much fun and they make the experience so much better because it is no longer simply a bunch of ruins but actually has meaning, stories, and interesting facts along with it.  I think any time there is an audio tour, people should purchase them.  Just my two cents, also make sure you have a meeting place and time set up with your group so everyone knows the expectation.
Just a cool passageway
I found while exploring
The view from inside the ruined mosque at the temple
  Well, that was pretty much the end of my adventures this weekend.  I'll upload some pictures on this soon so everyone can be jealous of my awesome adventures and I'll keep updating you.  Tomorrow I'm headed off to the Sheikh's house for dinner which should be pretty sweet!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Adventures with Heat Stroke

The Canyon of Heat Stroke

This was just one of the few things offered at the "market"
Today was the first adventure we had as a program and we went off to the Wadi Dana nature preserve and Al-Karak Castle south of Amman.  We were really excited to go to the nature preserve because on the website there were a number of amazing hikes that were promised including one to abandoned roman copper mines, a waterfall, and local craft shops as well.  I was really excited because we were also promised there would be running water at the 'rustic hotel' and I hadn't gotten a shower for almost a week.  Well, we woke up early and all jumped in a van with our driver Mr. Shoeki and headed down the freeway to Dana.  For breakfast I usually eat a piece of fruit or something small like that so I was really hungry when we arrived in Dana village at lunch time.  I hadn't bought any food along the road because Mr. Shoeki had told us that there would be many supermarkets open in the village and we could get food for cheap there.  However, when we arrived in Dana village our tour guide then informed us that all of the supermarkets were closed but that we would be able to eat when we got back from our hike because dinner was provided.  (Anyone who has ever hiked knows that his was a bad idea).  We wanted some snacks or something to eat so we pushed him a little more and were finally able to get him to take us to a 'supermarket' where they were selling only badly refined sugar that had been sitting on the shelf for far to long.  Well, I bought them just in case and then we headed out down the valley.
The sweet ruins I found and explored
  The valley was pretty cool, although hiking down hill was hard on the knees and the whole time I was thinking about how much it was going to suck to have to hike back up this huge hill.  The first part of the hike was pretty boring and quite ugly, it was simply really deserty and boring.  However, as soon as we saw something cool off in the distance we left the path and began exploring for real.  This is how our adventures truly began as we started to climb all over cool rock formations, sun bath, take cool pictues and generally have a great time.  We also discovered some ruins that were perched precariously on the top of a huge rock that were pretty fun to explore as well.  Most of all I simply enjoyed being in nature and being in peace for a small time.  Like always I spent some time simply sitting down and enjoying the peace while taking sometime to ponder (which most other people don't really understand here on the trip and is starting to make me sort of the joke of the group but that is ok).  At this point half of the group broke off and returned to the village in hope of finding a cooler hike with more to see while the other half proceeded further into the canyon where we could see beautiful green flowering plants in the base.  The valley floor was beautiful and quite like a jungle and the half that I was with spent some good time down there simply talking and enjoying one another's company.  Realizing it was getting a little bit late we then proceeded up the mountain and in an attempt to cut a little bit of distance from our trip we took a short cut which caused us to go up a very steep rock cliff.  As we got about half way up the cliff I bega to feel a little bit flushed, winded and dizzy so I sat down and took a little break.  I soon recovered my breath and continued waling, making it another quarter way up the mountain before feeling extremely weak.  At this point I took stock of my symptoms and what may ave been happening to me and decided that I must be suffereing from heat stroke or something related to it.  I was not sweating, my skin was extremely warm, I don't think I was dehydrated since I had drank almost two liters of water and I felt dizzy and extremely weak.  Unfortunately for me I discovered as we crested the rock hill that we were probably still about two kilometers away from the village, food, and cold water.
My 4 wheel drive up the mountain...
  Finally, putting my pride aside and realizing that I was in a dangerous situation I admitted that I was too weak to make it to the top of the hill and to the safety of the village.  Luckily we had cell phone reception and were able to call the village and explain the situation.  Although we were on a nice road they originally told us that they would not be able to send a car down to get us and instead would be sending a mule train.  Well, instead of making me sad I thought this was pretty cool since it would be a really cool cultural experience and after I felt better I knew it would make for an even cooler story.  Just as I was getting used to the idea of a mule train they called back to tell us that a car was on it's way and it was bringing cold water and bread for me because it was likely my blood sugar was low.  Luckily it didn't take too long for the truck to get to us and the scariest part of the entire trip was when he was turning around and backing up to the edge of a cliff in a manual.  I got scared but one of the girls that was with me, Jennae, actually screamed out and bit into her back pack because she was scared.  Anyway, the ride up was great and really saved my bacon so for that I am extremely grateful.
A small view of our beautiful hotel
  The evening passed rather uneventfully with us eating dinner, playing chess in a semi-permanent bedouin tent and talking with everyone in the group who I really like.  The best part of the entire day, however, was the fact that I finally was able to take a shower!  Although the water pressure was horrible and I didn't really have the things I needed it felt so good to finally be clean again after so long of a wait.  It was wonderful and I know that the first thing I do when I get home is going to be to take a really long warm shower and then dry off with a nice, thick, clean towel.  Oh glorious!  Anyway, tomorrow we go to Karak which is supposed to be the best and largest ancient castle in Jordan so I am really excited.  Hopefully I won't be suffering from heat stroke again tomorrow!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Aeed Istiklal " عيد الاستقلال"

  Today was Jordan's Independence Day (May 25th) from Britain and it was most definitely fantastic.  We had originally told our friend Ahmed that we wanted to go visit him in Aqaba but then we found out that there were a ton of celebrations in the city including a military parade where the king and queen might appear.  So Ahmed decided he would meet us in Amman and we would have a little party with him and then we would go to see the parade.  We hoped it would be a fun day and knew that spending some time with Ahmed was always fun.
Ahmed and I in the ampitheater
  We met Ahmed downtown and he promptly whisked us off to see the Roman Amphitheater and museums that are downtown.  He told us that we were supposed to be charged a dollar for entrance fee, the locals are only charged 15 cents, but that he told the guards we were working with the ministry and they let us in for free.  He then told us that he could get us into Petra for free also which is pretty sweet considering it's a 70 dollar entrance fee (unless you entered Jordan that day, then it's a 140 dollars.  They do that so that Israelis can't simply cross the border and go to Petra.  Pretty sneaky eh?).  Anyway, the Roman Amphitheater is huge and absolutely gorgeous.  I'm constantly amazed at the public works they created and the workmanship that has allowed such structures to stand for 2000 years or so.  Also, as I have mentioned before, I find it interesting that the largest theater in Jordan is the one that was built 200o years ago but that is still used today for artistic performances.  Being the person that I am, I of course had to explore every nook and crevice of the amphitheater and take lots of pictures because it was really cool.
  As we left the amphitheater, Ahmed told us we needed to stop at a mosque so he could do his afternoon prayers but on the way I saw a 'dagger' workshop and I just had to stop in.  There we met an older gentleman and his brother who hand made traditional bedouin and arab daggers.  He said the business had been in his family for over 5 generations and that they had even made a dagger for the king (he had an official picture right there).  I got to watch him engrave a dagger and talked with him for quite awhile.  I told him I would come back soon, when I have a better idea of what I want engraved on a knife or what type of knife that I want.  He said alright and probably didn't believe me one bit.  However, I love little shops where they make the craft by hand and would rather pay double for a product I saw made or had commissioned than to pay for a crappy product that was supposedly made by hand by a factory worker in China.  Anyway, he was a really nice man and I look forward to going back and speaking with him in the future.
The mosque where I took a nap "groofwa"
  After we left the dagger place we went to find Ahmed and found him chilling under the front veranda of the mosque talking to his new Egyptian friend.  We talked to him for a while and then because we had some time to spare we all took a short little cat nap under the front awning.  It was one of the most peaceful and relaxing naps that I feel I have ever had and how many westerners can say they took a nap on a mosque's porch in the middle of Amman, I bet not too many.  From there we headed up to the Parade route and this is where the true fun begins.
Myself, Ahmed, Austin and the Bedouin Dancers
  When we got to the circle where we were going to watch the parade we were immediately greeted by a few huge pictures of the king and his father.  A lot of heavily armed military men, an F-350 with at least two 60 cal. machine guns and gigantic masses of chanting and dancing shabab (young men and boys) waving Jordanian Flags and chanting, "Aesh jallal Maleek Abdullah" or long live King Abudallah.  To tell you the truth, it was exactly like the scenes we see replayed on CNN all the time except that this one was an extremely joyous and happy occasion for all involved.  On one side of the road there were a series of Imams and other traditionally clothed individuals lined up shoulder to shoulder while on our side there were people dancing, a stage set up, and bedouin dancing troupe dressed in traditional white that Ahmed said he wanted us to dance with.  Well, Ahmed introduced us to the dancers and we got some pictures taken with them and then went behind the barrier to where their stage was set up.  Here was where the real fun began.  As the crowd grew larger more and more shabab congregated around the stage and they began to play some really loud Arabic music.  I listened at first and then as I was introduced to many new people my age by Ahmed, I began to be dragged into the dancing and taught how to do it.  For the next hour and a half I was constantly jumping, clapping, being pulled into a circle, shimmying or holding a random Arab man's hand as he grabbed me to go off to dance.  I'm pretty sure that if you were to search, "stupid american dancing at Jordan's Independence Day", you would find at least 2 dozen movies and hundreds of pictures.  The arabs were all amazingly enthralled that a huge blonde, blue-eyed American was dancing and having tons of fun with them in the middle of the parade.  They were so enthralled that every time I would leave one group I would get sucked into another and the process of holding hands, dancing, clapping and smiling for tons of pictures would begin again.  It was very interesting, although tiring, and I loved it completely.
  On a side note, I realize a lot better now why Arab boys are so touchy feely.  During the party, there were absolutely no women involved.  The only women I saw were on the periphery and they were not having any fun.  That meant that the Shabab had to dance with each other and have fun in that manner rather that doing the unthinkable in their culture and have physical contact with a woman (btw, that's an exaggeration).  Anyway, it just taught me a lot more about the people I am around every day.
One of my many chances to dance with the Shabab
  When I finally got out of the Shabab, my new friend Luai asked me if I wanted to dance with the Sheikhs out in front of the parade.  The Sheikhs were two arab men dressed in traditional clothing with black overcoats dancing in front of the parade waving flags and dancing with a sword.  At first I thought that I would be nervous being in front of so many people, but my desire to have fun, experience something new, and have a cool story quickly overwhelmed that opinion.  So, like a true Herrick at hitched it out in front of the entire parade, put on one of their black see-through robes and proceeded to be paraded up and down the line of people and meet all types of other Sheikhs, Army Officers and other people.  It was pretty funny, and fun because of how many people took pictures and just how amazing it was.  Also, every time Skeikh Yusef would lead me to one end of the people a lady would give me horrible Arabic Coffee to drink.  I didn't have time to explain that I don't drink coffee for religious reasons and I didn't want to offend them so I just drank it, 4 times!  It was, interesting to say the least.  Anyway, tons of people took pictures and I met a number of important people although I don't really know who.  I was also on T.V. and in the newspaper dancing with the Sheikhs!  It was an awesome experience and Sheikh Yusef invited me over to his house to eat dinner sometime soon. Also, I got to see the King and Queen drive by because I was in the front row and they had to wave at all the Sheikhs around me so they rolled down the window.  It was really cool.
With the Sheikhs again, just a sweet picture
Living it up with Sheikh Yusef and Sheikh Hussin
  After the King went by the parade was over and so everyone split very quickly, including us.  We didn't really know where we were going but Ahmed put us on the bus with all the dancers and we rode with them to the next event where we though Ahmed was going to meet us but it turns out that he went back to Aqaba.  Well, the next event we went to was a huge celebration that was much more modern.  It was hosted by Zain, one of the big internet/phone companies here, and was pretty crazy.  There were HUGE bouncers everywhere and 'big black men' (what every Arab tells us they are afraid of) barring our way through.  It took some convincing by the dancers but finally we were allowed to go back stage with them and watched their performance from the shelter of the VIP tent with all sorts of interesting and powerful people (also free drinks!).  It was awesome and when we finally got home we collapsed into bed!
  Seriously, can you believe the experiences I am having here in Jordan?  I think the key is simply to try lots of things and never be afraid to make a fool of yourself.  It happens to me enough anyway so why should I be afraid right?  Anyway, I have definitely found the Arabic people to be amazingly hospitable and nice in every way and although I miss many things in America I am thoroughly enjoying my time here.  Till next time!

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Arab form of Work...

This is how I center looked
when we got to work this morning
Sunday was pretty uneventful with us going to work for only a couple hours and mainly just watching other people do work.  On Sunday, however, I ate one of the most humble and delicious meals I have ever had with the Egyptian workers at the center.  They bought some pita bread, a can of tuna fish and a box of soft cheese.  The tuna and cheese they poured out onto plastic bags and then you would rip off a piece of the bread and grab some of the cheese or tuna and then drink some tea with it.  Honestly, the entire thing fed five people and it was amazing, and it made me so grateful for the many things I have back in America.  However, after one of our Jordanian co-workers saw us he said that that was a horrible meal and that he would show us a great meal tomorrow and then we would explore the caves that are nearby.  So, the rest of this post is going to be about Monday which was absolutely amazing!
  First of all, we showed up to work late because our boss from the previous day told us there wouldn't be much to do and it was alright if we showed up at 10:30 or later if we wanted.  So, we got to the center a little after 10:30 and then did the obligatory sit around for awhile and make small talk that we can't really do because we (or at least I) don't know enough Arabic.  By the time we started moving furniture and doing a bit of cleaning it was almost 11 and we were told that the painters would not be coming that day to finish it and so there wasn't much that we could do anyway.  So, we moved a little bit of furniture around and swept out the corridor and the front area with horribly inadequate tools.  Once that was finished we decided we would go clean up the play area which was covered in discarded building supplies.  So, we asked Mahmud if he had some gloves and he said, "No".  So then we asked if they had a rake, and he said, "No".  We then decided that we could work with a shovel so we asked him and he said, "No".  Finally we decided all we needed was a wheelbarrow but once again he said, "No".  So finally we said, well then what do you have?  Mahmud then proceeded to hand us a broken old plastic bucket and were able to find a dustpan to use as a shovel.  It was epic.  So, we simply did the best that we could cleaning up the area and after our hour of work was done and there was nothing else to do Mahmud took us on an adventure!
Mahmud and I at lunch
  Our adventure consisted of visiting the local Women's Co-op where they hand-made paper, ceramics, wove and made soap.  It was awesome and they gave us brochures talking about how we could get them to teach us how to make these things for not that much money at all.  It was an amazing place, but it only got better when we sat down to eat lunch. which was also epic!  We had for lunch a traditional bedouin breakfast where everything was in communal dishes that you ate by taking a chunk of pita bread, ripping it off and dipping or grabbing whatever it was that you wanted to eat.  The food included awesome jelly, scrambled eggs, olive oil, yoghurt sauce, cucumbers, tomatoes (which I didn't touch) and the most amazing potatoes ever.  It was amazingly good because of the simplicity, versatility and vitality of the food.  It was so fresh and raw that it was amazing to have.  Quite a change from the processed food that I must normally eat.  Once we were stuffed fool and wanted to go into a food coma from the delicious meal Mahmud led us across the street to explore the caves that had been carved from the solid rock walls.

Some of the caves I got to explore today
  The caves were really cool, and that is an amazing understatement.  Something I love and find sort of disturbing at the same time is that no sights are really protected in Jordan that I have seen so far.  You can pretty much crawl over any ruin you see and touch anything you want unless the government makes it physically impossible for you to do so.  This means that while seeing the caves we got to explore and climb through every nook and cranny looking for fun things to see and talk about.  It reminded me a lot of when we would explore the cave dwellings of the Native Americans in New Mexico all the time as a family.  I was constantly seeing new things and analyzing the things that I saw.  It was amazing, however, because these caves were so much older than the ones I had seen in the United States and they were so much more sophisticated as well.  A number of the caves had carved rectangular doorways and were multiple stories tall.  There was also a sophistacted system of writing that was extremely interesting to analyze and think about what it said.  We spent a solid two-hours there so all together we worked for an hour and then spent the next three chillaxing and enjoying ourselves exploring our region.  It was so much fun and I am definitely going to go back to learn how to weave and make paper, not to mention have another delicious meal!
  Anyway, the rest of the day wasn't really anything to highlight but tomorrow is Aid Istiklal or independence day for Jordan and there are supposed to be some pretty sweet celebrations and a parade by the army that the King might even be in!  I'll tell you how it went tomorrow!

Fun Fact:  It is the arab way to just make do with what you have or fix it as many times as possible until it breaks into a million pieces.  For instance, when I asked for a screwdriver at work I was given a Knife and when a bed broke in our house we nailed it back together and coated it with what smelled like Elmer's glue.  It's very cool.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Saturday... the day for Adventures!!!

The inside of the rebuilt Umayyad dome on the citadel
Saturdays, they have always been quite wonderful to me and in the Middle East it is no different.  I am completely free of all other distractions and have an entire day to do nothing productive except have a TON of fun and cool experiences!  Are you ready for this amazing day?  Read on and enjoy...

The outside, it was my favorite building
  Today I decided that I would explore the city of Amman on my own and have a wonderful day doing tons of different things.  I had a whole lists of things that I wanted to do but I should have known, as I have learned many times, that the best way to be unproductive in Jordan is to make a plan.  The first thing I want to do was to go see "The Citadel" in the middle of Amman.  The Citadel is a giant flat hill in downtown Amman that is full of ruins and apparently has a great view of the city.  All I knew was that it had some Roman ruins up there and that sounded like fun so I got in a taxi and after a bit of trying was able to finally communicate to the taxi driver where I wanted to go (quite a feat when you don't know a ton of Arabic).  The Citadel was amazing, especially for the small price of only 2 JDs (about 3 bucks).  The Roman ruins were probably the least cool part of the entire citadel with caves being used back to the Stone Age, Byzantines, Abassids, Umayyads and everything in between.  Also, in Jordan they aren't very much about actually preserving the ruins... instead you get to climb over everything and look into every little nook and cranny you want.  My favorite part was the Umayyad palace with a rebuilt dome and colonnaded streets.  Also there was an awesome Archaeological Museum with artifacts from all over Jordan.  I saw the first example of sculpture and a ton of other really cool objects before walking outside and hearing the prayer calls echoing through the city.
  Can I just say that this is my most favorite part of being in the Middle East?  It is odd, because in Arabic culture they don't really support the arts of dance, instrumental or voice music (at least from what I have been able to gather).  In fact, the largest theatre in the country was built two thousand years ago by the Romans!  However, the caller to prayer is literally one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard.  I have heard some of the best instrumentalists and vocalists in the world in amazing venues like Philadelphia, Chicago and New York but the simple and humble prayer car is greater than them all.  Perhaps it is because I am a religious man and there is something about the praises of God ringing and echoing through a modern city that is poetic but I think it is more than that.  I think it is a combination of the exotic sound, the simplicity, and beauty with which it echoes and resounds from hill to hill in Amman.  Truly, it is amazing and I don't believe I will ever get sick of it. I think everyone should hear it at least once in their life!
What's left of the Temple of Hercules
  After looking around the citadel for awhile I sat down at a viewing area overlooking down town Amman and just pondered for awhile.  I highly recommend some good pondering time for everyone in the world, it really calms the mind and just gives you some time to be with yourself.  Anyway, I was thoroughly enjoying myself just sitting watching and thinking and then this nice Jordanian fellow came by and sat next to me.  We started talking and I had a great time learning some more Arabic and practicing mine with him.  I couldn't believe it, but I actually carried on a reasonable conversation with him for about an hour!  Who would have thunk it?  It was sad, though, when he asked about my work in America and realized that I make more as a student working part time in a week than he does working 14 hour days 6 days a week.  The inequality of the world order has been starkly placed in front of my face here in Jordan, another thing that I think each of us should do in order to remember the wonderful blessings we have.  Anyway, that was really fun and then as the park was closing I got a taxi to head over to my favorite barbershop in town and get my second wonderful Jordanian shave.
I just thought this was a cool picture
  I got the shave, and it was glorious like always (I've decided to get a shave there every week and that's the only time I'm gonna shave in Jordan!  Heck yeah), and then started walking to the downtown to catch a service taxi home to go grocery shopping and do some of the things that I needed to get down today.  Well, that was the plan until I was walking along and I saw this shop that had beautiful Arabic calligraphy hanging up and the guys were making a frame right in front of me.  I vacillated back and forth about whether I should go in and finally I asked one of the guys how much the calligraphy cost.  He looked at me for a second and invited me in to the shop and asked me to sit down.  This then precipitated them purchasing me soft drinks and talking to me for the next almost 3 hours!  Two of the guys had amazing English, one of them lived in America for a while and the other studied accounting in the American University in Cairo.  We talked about all types of things, they told me about their homes in Jerusalem and what it was like to live here in Jordan.  One of them was a photographer and told me I have to look up his pictures on the internet. We had a great talk and they were amazed that I had any prior knowledge of Islam, I only had a rough knowledge, and said I was a smart foreigner.  I also got to ask them some of their feelings about Palestine and Israel and when I did their entire demeener changed, but I was able to pass it off on being just a stupid American.  It wasn't until after we were finished and they were all getting ready to go home that I was finally able to ask them what the calligraphy cost.  It took five minutes and I got a straight answer, and then I was on the road heading home.
The amazing view from where I sat and pondered
  Now, the reason I loved this experience (in case it isn't obvious) is because of how different it makes me feel.  As a visitor or a western tourist I do not expect be treated like a guest when entering a business, nor do I expect the people in that business to buy me drinks and introduce me to random friends of theirs who live close to me.  In the west, good business includes being cordial but getting me in and out of your store without actually making a connection.  This was amazingly different, and so wonderful.  Also, it shows how we as westerners need to interact with the Arab people.  I am not saying that I am a paragon of cultural awareness, I say and do amazingly stupid things everyday, but we must be patient and enjoy the culture simply for the culture, not seek to be in a country just to take pictures and bring our country with it.  I think in a later blog post I am going to write about the difference between a tourist, and what I have so far called a culturalist (I'm seeking for a better term).  Anyway, it was simply a spectacular experience that left me so grateful for a wonderful day full of adventures on my own, new friends and some great conversations in Arabic.  In the end, I feel like this is what life is really about (excuse my soapbox) but we need to build relationships, gain knowledge, and seek to know that which we find strange or scary.  Life is too short for me to build a box and spend my whole life within it, it is up to us to break our comfortable little boxes and seek to understand others better so that all of us can have better, more vivid existences.
I think this picture turned out alright
  I hope you are enjoying reading about My Journey to Jordan!  If you have any questions or things you have wondered about, please post them here or email me and I would be glad to give my opinion on them or the opinions of the Arab friends I have here!  Ma'sallama!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Friday... a day of Rest?

I just think it's cool to see the name in Arabic Script

Again, I'm a bit behind but that is simply because my life is so dang cool/awesome here that it's hard to write about all of it.

Friday.  The day of the mosque or the day when most Muslims go to mosque at Noon for Friday Prayer.  It is also the day when most political demonstrations occur in Amman but unfortunately I haven't seen any of these yet.  For me, as an American Christian, it is odd to think of going to church on any other day than Sunday but when in Rome we must do as the Romans do.  Going to church is very interesting in Jordan since the Church I attend, the LDS or Mormon church, is not officially recognized in Jordan.  Since we are not officially recognized as a church, any Jordanian Members must be especially careful or they be followed by the Jordanian Secret Police.  However, the church group here is quite small and I enjoy it greatly.  We have services in both English and Arabic and although I don't understand much of what is being said, I always attend the Arabic classes and will begin attending the Arabic Sacrament Meetings soon.  This week in Sunday School I was able to differentiate between the words the Arabs were speaking and got the general picture that we were talking about modern day prophets.  You may laugh, but anyone who has studied a language and then spoken with a native speaker knows just how dang hard it is.  Anyway, church was fun and I got to talk to some of the Ex-patriot members who are currently working at the Embassy.  They said we can get a tour of the embassy and maybe even meet some of the personel.  SO AWESOME!

Ahmed and Aussie strolling down Sharia Medina
  After Church we headed back home where I promptly took a Sunday nap and ate some food in preparation for meeting up with Mr. Ahmed from the previous day.  Because of a miscommunication in time we ended up meeting Ahmed about 45 minutes late but like the typical Arab he wasn't angry at all. We walked around the Roman Ruins downtown for a few minutes and he then informed us that he had to leave to go see a friend, handed us 5 Dinars and told us to go get a drink and wait for him to return in an hour.  It being my Sunday, and eating Pizza on Sunday being a tradition in my home, we found a little restaurant that we like to frequent and I ordered a pizza that looked oh so delicious.  I then, however, found out how Jordanians make their pizza; WITHOUT SAUCE!  Instead they gave me a ketchup packet (I personally think it is somewhat of an abomination to eat pizza with ketchup) so what I ended up eating was basically a glorified grilled cheese sandwich.  By the time we finished eating it was close to 7 so we headed back to our meeting spot with Ahmed and waited.  Then we waited, and waited and waited some more until about 9:00 o'clock we finally decided that the "Insha a'allah period" had ended and we were gonna head home (I'll right about Insha a'allah later).  Of course, right as we were getting Ahmed calls and asks us where we are and what we want to do for the rest of the evening.   We told him that it was late and so we went home and he asked if he could visit us at our apartment.  Being concerned with safety we told him no and then told him we would see him next week.
Desert with Ahmed
  However, as I began to think about it I realized that we may have offended him greatly and I didn't want to burn any bridges with a potential wonderful Arab friend.  We figured that we could see him again tonight and we asked him to meet us at the Kentucky Fried Chicken that is close to our apartment.  There he insisted on buying us a second dinner and we had a great time talking and joking with him a lot.  He then told us that he wanted to go on a walk to get some desert so we proceeded to walk to the local desert store.  On the way Ahmed would stop every few meters and tell us a different story or ask us a different question such that the walk that should have taken about 15 minutes ended up taking about an hour.  Also as we were walking he told us that he wanted to take us to get a massage in Aqaba so we can feel how nice Arabic massages are and then demonstrated to us an Arabic massage on the side of the busy road.  Something you have to know about Arab men is they are extremely touchy with their friends.  It is quite routine to see two grown men walking down the road hand in hand or arm in arm.  It is casual and there is nothing to it, just like how they love to touch your head or side a lot.  Or how you must kiss each other on the cheeks when greeting one another and how many times you kiss is how important the other person is to you.  Well, Ahmed did that with us and I got photographic evidence for which I am so happy!
  Overall, today was amazing and filled with adventure as well as a lot of speaking in Arabic with Ahmed.  It was so much fun and just another wonderful day in my journey to Jordan.

Fun Fact:  If you ever want to find an Egyptian in Jordan, look at the ones doing the dirty work like construction, cleaning, or garbage pick up.  Many times they are in orange jump suits with "sanitation" written on the back.  Egyptians do the menial jobs that Jordanians feel are below them and are treated much like the Hispanic population in America.  Very interesting!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Best day so far!

Thursday was seriously the best day I have had in Amman yet, and exactly what I hoped would happen when I came here.  Let me tell you about it so you realize just how awesome my life is right now!

  Thursday started off as a pretty boring day for me since I didn't have work and all I was doing was translating a survey from Arabic to English that we have to analyze and report upon soon.  I woke up late and did some of the Arabic translation as well as quite a bit of the reading I have to do for my International Development class.  At 4:00 PM we had a dinner planned with all of the interns so around 3:00 I jumped into the shower and guess what?  IT WAS WARM!!!  It was amazing, I had turned on the water heater about two hours before and I got a perfectly warm shower that was the perfect length and I didn't run out of water.  It was glorious and I knew right then that it was going to be a glorious day.
L To R: Brady, Austin, Jennae, Katie, Jensen, Me, Ben
  At around 4:00 o'clock when my last roommate got back from work we jumped in a taxi and asked him to take us to the Armenian Church near the city center.  Unfortunately he had absolutely no idea where he was going and took us a round about way to charge us more money.  In addition, he stopped in the middle of the drive at a coffee shop, without asking, and bought some coffee as well as a pepsi for one of the passengers.  It was a nice gesture but a little unexpected.  2.50 Dinar later we finally got out of the cab, called our facilitator and then got another taxi to take us to the right location.  We met our facilitator, Annie, on the road and then hiked up some massive hills to her home which was simply beautiful and in a nice quite part of Eastern Amman.  There we set to the project of making traditional Middle Eastern Food (Annie is half-palestinian and used to eat this stuff with her grandma all the time) consisting of stuffed Zuchinni and meat in Grape Leaves.  It was an awesome experience and once we were finished with that we ate the most delicious food ever out on the veranda over looking Amman and listening to the prayer call echo around the city from all the different mosques.  It was breathtaking and exactly what I imagined when I thought of coming to the Middle East.

The Breathtaking view from the Veranda
After dinner we ventured down to the city center where we were supposed to meet up with one of our new Arabic friends, Yahya, and have some drinks or something.  As we were waiting for him at the mosque a random man came up to us, welcomed us to Jordan and began talking to us excitedly.  He then told us he wanted to take us out for drinks but we told him we were waiting for a friend so he made us commit to seeing him the next day to which we agreed.  He then kept talking and said that he wanted us to come with him tonight, as well as our friends, and have some drinks so he could be hospitable.  When Yahya got there he introduced us to his friend Anis (haha, I laughed pretty hard when I first heard it to) and we all went to go get some drinks.  Ahmed led us to this dingy little cafe about the street called Rasheed that was full of Arabic men smoking hookah, drinking, laughing and playing a combination of chess, checkers, and cards.  We walked out to the veranda and there we talked for about 3 hours simply having fun, joking around and trying to get through our language differences so that we would be able to understand one another and have a good time.  At about 11 I convinced our hosts that we should move inside and they should teach us an Arabic card game which I thought would be extremely interesting.  We moved inside, cleared off a quite disgusting table and wafted the hookah smoke out the window and then.... they taught us Spades.  Oh well, it was still really fun to play cards with them and to get to know all of them better.  Just so you know, the guy that we had just met that day, Ahmed, paid for all of our drinks and stayed with us until midnight.  He then told us that we had to meet him the next day in the square and we would have some more fun with him.  It was amazing, but that is Arab hospitality.
  On a side note about Arab hospitality, they are extremely competitive.  They always need to look the most hospitable and are extremely protective, even paternal when it comes to their guest.  Although we have taken a taxi many times to Wisit Il-ballad, Yahya insisted on waiting with us to get the taxi, telling the taxi driver where to go and ensuring he turned on his meter just for us.  It was very interesting and an amazing night.  Like I said earlier, this exactly what I hoped would happen when I came to Jordan and it has been amazing!

Fun in the Hookah Bar
L to R: Austin, Ahmed, Yahya, Anis, Me
I'm two days behind on my blogs and it has been absolutely amazing, but hopefully I will be able to get them taken care of in the next few days insha'allah!  Again, I love to hear from you all and have a wonderful day.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Jordanian Bureaucracy ( رتابة الاردن )

ُToday started with high hopes and trepidation, and ended in frustration and a lot of laughter. Such is the life of a westerner visiting Jordan.

Today was supposed to be the first day of my internship and the start of our manual labor out in Iraq Il-Ameer. We were told that we should meet our director, Ali, at the eighth circle at 9:00 AM and he would take care of the rest. So we get to the circle at right about 9:00 AM and Ali tells us that he will be there in a half our to pick us up. At a little after 10:00 AM we are honked at and picked up by someone that we faintly recognized from the Center and took the half-hour drive to hopefully begin our work.

Upon arriving at the center we had the obligatory sit and chat time for about 45 minutes to an hour. They asked us what we wanted to drink and we told them water, so they brought out black tea instead. After another hour of sitting and talking they asked us why we didn't drink the tea which led to a very interesting broken conversation about how Muslims don't drink Alcohol and we do not drink tea, coffee, or alcohol (among other things). We explained it twice in the center within Iraq il-Ameer and would later explain it to another person in another office. It was quite interesting and also funny to hear every time we explained that it was 'haram' or religiously forbidden we would immediately be asked, "Why?" It was quite an interesting conversation to say the least.

After sitting in the office Ali finally led us into the building where we thought we would begin work on renovating the site itself. Well, like most of our hopes in JOrdan this is not to be. Ali explained to us that the center was being worked on and painted and should be finished in 4 days (insha allah=hopefully) but that since this was Jordan to expect 2 weeks. He told us that we weren't supposed to work in the paint and dirt and that we could call him and come back in two weeks! Finally, after a lot of conversation we told him we wanted to work in the dirt and that we would come back and clean up the playground so the kids had somewhere to play during the day that was shaded and safe. So he said we could come back on Wednesday as long as we brought a pair of clothes to change into (Jordanians would never think to travel in or on public transportation in grubby clothes they had done manual labor in). After some more broken english conversation we said goodbye and Ali directed us into his car for what we thought would be our ride home for the day. LIttle did we know our day was only half over.

Ali asked us to ride with him and on the way he helped me to lear Arabic while I helped him to learn English. We soon arrived at the Regional Office for the Department of Social Development where we were introduced to the Assistant-Director who was an amazingly nice man. We once again had to explain our issue with coffee but had a wonderful talk with him, mainly in Fusha or formal Arabic which was much easier to understand. He also spoke slowly and clearly which made comprehension a clearer task. The interesting part of it all is that about 15 minutes into our visit Ali, our director, left us for about 45 minutes to who knows where while we talked with his boss. It was pretty awkward and a very typical cultural experience from what I know of Jordan. After finally being called down to pick us up from the Assistant-Director's Office, Ali dropped us off for a while in the directors office who was a marvelous lady. It was extremely awkward to be there but once we got her talking about herself she really lightened up and we had a great time speaking with her although we could see Ali just down the hall sitting on a couch doing nothing. Culturally, for them, that is alright and expected but for Westerners it seems terribly wasteful and inefficient. Although it was awkward and extremely long it was a wonderful lesson in the Arabic language and the "red tape" or bureaucracy of Jordanian (which is extremely frustrating for Westerners). Our visit to the regional manager's office ended with 10 minutes of flurried speaking and the decision that Ali had waited around for two-to-three hours for, finally being made against him. What an exhausting process, it's no wonder that the Arab people aren't extremely active in their governments they are worse to deal with than our own and Jordan is probably one of the best! Anyway, although it was extremely frustrating and we don't really know what we are going to be doing tomorrow for work except exploring and translating English, it was an awesome cultural experience and helped me to see just how important relationships and hospitality are to the Arab people as well as some of the issues that may come when one is attempting to deal with Arab businesses or governments, definitely an experience that will pay great dividends in the future.
That isn't rain you see, it's either dust or pollution... nasty

Also, today we had horrible weather in Jordan, it was either a dust storm (which I am hoping it was) or the smog was so bad that it cut of visibility and made it look as if it was raining like in the picture below. Hopefully the first of the two because it already was nasty just thinking of it as dust and trash. Anyway, life is good here and tomorrow I'll try to be productive and probably watch a movie or something with our neighbors in the evening. Anyway, I'll continue to keep you updating and if you wanna know more, as always just email me or facebook me or something... it's always great to hear from my loved ones in America!

The Internship Begins

Today was the first day of our internship and I must say I was a bit nervous about what to expect because I really had no idea.  Until last week I had thought I would be working in an office, with all of the expectations of an office job.  Now, however, I will be working directly with the community doing who knows what, with I don’t know whom.  Well, today I got to finally find out exactly what the next three months are going to hold for me and I am EXTREMELY excited.
Some of my fellow interns from L to R:
Austin, Ben, Annie, Me and Katie
This morning we met with her Excellency the Minister of Social Development to start off our internships.  She is an amazing woman who is very new to her job because of the reorganization of the cabinet early this year.  We got to saw a little bit about what the ministry does before we were sent out to the four corners of the earth to do our work and find our people.  Our director with the ministry, Rasha, asked the director of transportation for the Ministry, Nasser, to show myself and two other students the community centers where we would be working.  On the drive there we decided that another student and I would go to the less-developed of the two programs, to provide more help and understand better what it was we need to do to help them.  We were under the impression that we would be working with a community center in Jordan, but we were wrong.  As we drove and continued to cross hills and drive through valleys we quickly left Amman behind and entered the area we would later learn is called “
الاميرعراق” (Iraq il-Ameer).  Iraq refers to an area that has many valleys while il-Ameer means the prince.  It is an extremely rural area full of farmers and Bedouins.  The drive there was beautiful as we got to see amazing terraces, caves, and valley gardens as well as see the countryside of Jordan for the first time.
Two sweet Bedouin (العزادي) men who were either just
chilling at the ruins or were actually the keepers... 
Upon arrival at the community center we met Ali the director or mudiir of the community center.  He showed us the building and we quickly saw there is a lot of work to be done.  The center is in disarray because the old director left in a hurry not to long ago and they are currently under construction that means that the first phase of our work will be manual labor (and we all know how much I love service!).  It is a small community center where we will get to do a lot and help the farmers be more sustainable and the children learn and grow more.  Both myself and the other intern, Aussie, are looking forward to opportunity immensely.  Typical to Arab hospitality they offered us soda and then informed us they would like to feed us lunch that we could not refuse.  That was, however, before we learned that there were Roman Ruins nearby that we could explore.  We all jumped in cars and headed down to the ruins that were awesome.  I am amazed that I will be working so close to them, in the beautiful quite country doing labor that I loved.  Truly I am being blessed so much.
I look forward to showing you the progress we make at the community center and the adventures we have out in the countryside where it’s quite and absolutely beautiful.  This summer is surely going to be amazing!

The ruins in all their glory!
Fun Jordanian Fact: it seems that every person in Jordan knows at least one phrase in English, "Welcome to Jordan!"

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Night on the Town

I started this yesterday, so it's a day old:

The King Abdullah Mosque and look ... a real Christian
church and right next to it!  I guess Muslims don't hate Christians ;-D
Well, today is Saturday and as such it was a day to explore and find out more about the wonderful city I am living in, Amman.  It rained on and off today which we found out is sort of odd for this time of year but that it is because it is changing from winter to summer (No one I've talked to has used the word Spring yet). This evening, Jeremy, Aussie and I decided we would head over to the King Abdullah Mosque that is the biggest mosque in Amman. It is a beautiful and monstrous mosque with towering minarets and gorgeous Arabic script all around it. We, however, did not realize that the hours it was open were 8:00 to 4:00 and so we were quickly ushered off the grounds by a friendly worker there. So then we went exploring on that road and walked by a barbershop. I was in serious need of a shave and a haircut (two-pence?) so I decided to try out the Jordanian experience, it was AWESOME. It only cost 4 dinars, about 5 bucks, and I got an amazing haircut and a wonderful shave with a straight razor that is still smooth today over 24 hours later. The best part was that during the haircut we got to talk (more like listen) to the men in the shop as they talked about politics, religion, and other topics of concern. It was amazing and I am definitely going to go back next week to get another shave and conversation.

My first straight blade shave and it was amazing.
I've decided I'm going to go back every Saturday!
After getting some falafel we again started exploring and found ourselves at the end of a couple of dead ends. This is where I get to go on a tangent about how amazing the Jordanian people are. He we were, three random foreigners walking down streets at night and every person who saw us stopped and asked if they could help us and welcomed us to Jordan. It's like that everywhere; the people love foreigners and love to help us out. I thought that Japan was hospitable but they have nothing on the Jordanians. Take for instance our next-door neighbors the Atmel family, there 16 year-old suns Mahmud literally waits at the door looking through the peephole waiting for us to come back. Tonight they invited us in simply to talk and fed us some delicious tea and hard bread, and one of the worst things I have ever tasted, intentionally fermented milk that I simply could not stomach. They are an amazing family and invited us over again tomorrow night to watch the soccer game, Real Madrid and have some more food. Also, their son Ahmed is going on a small hajj (called an Umra) this week to Mecca with his mother and little brother. He called us brothers and said that he will get all of us souvenirs. Ahmed loves America; he says he loves anything American no matter what it is. In fact when he found out that Jeremy had a Toyota he said that he didn't need a Japanese Car to buy America. He told us that all Jordanians love America and all Americans are welcome here and then he asked a question that made me sad, what do Americans think of Jordan? Do Americans love Jordan like Jordanians love America? How could I answer that? How could I say that most Americans have no idea that the average Arab is just likes them? In America our opinion of Arabs is limited to what we see on television and what we think we know of their history and culture. Even those of us who think we are educated have no idea of the actual people here and it is so heart breaking to tell Ahmed that those that he idol worships don't care a lick about him and would probably categorize him as a terrorist.

The beautiful Al-Hussein Mosque, the oldest mosque in Jordan
It is for experiences like this that I came to Jordan. How can we as Americans be so insulated from what is actually happening in the world and an entire people that occupy one of the most important areas of the world? First hand experiences, where we interact with Arabs and they see that we aren't all gun-toting, beer drinking, loud, angry people who kill each other at the drop of a hat (like portrayed in Hollywood) are how we gain trust and cooperation. I love being her in Jordan and after only 4 days I love these people and I can better understand the struggles they are going through and the passion they have for life. It is awesome, and although I do not begin to think I actually know all about them or understand them perfectly I am already learning and changing much.

Fun Jordanian Fact:  You can buy almost any pirated DVD for a buck 1.50!

Friday, May 13, 2011

اليوم الاول "The First Day"

A sign that caught my attention in the Amman Airport

Today was awesome, long, and tiring.  Last night I arrived in Jordan along with two other interns for the program that I randomly met in the Frankfurt airport.  We got into Jordan about 2:00 PM and then spent an hour going through customs and getting our Visas.  After that we were picked up by Annie and one of her neighbos, an Iraqi named Omar.  They picked us up in an old Toyota van and drove us through the semi-deserted streets of Amman blaring Arabic music and driving like maniacs while we talked about the program and I looked out the window and saw amazing mosques and other buildings.  We got into the apartment and I decided I would take a shower before going to bed.  I went into the bathroom and found out, unfortunately, that our apartment has no warm water! This is horrible for someone who loves warm showers as much as I do so I quickly soaped up and then gently splashed the water on myself as I tried to not to scream from shock.  As I got out of the shower I had to dry myself off with my used t-shirt because I had negated to buy a replacement towel in America before arriving.  As I prepared to slip into bed I heard the call to prayer for the first time at almost exactly 4:00 AM.  It was beautiful and something that I was very much looking forward to.
  In the morning we all woke up and dressed in our best to go and meet our internship director for the first time at 9:30 AM. Her name is Rasha and through talking to her I decided that I would spend my internship with the Jordanian Ministry of Social Development not in the office like I originally thought but out in the community where I can improve my Arabic and hopefully make some more friends.  After we left the ministry we went down town where I saw my first Roman ruins just sitting there in the middle of the city.  I also got wonder in and out of little shops selling everything you can imagine and have my first taste of authentic swarma which filled me up and cost me less than 70 cents. It was amazing.  I also found the second foulest bathroom I have ever been in and had to pay to use it!  This sure it isn’t America.  However, everywhere we went I was enthralled by the Arabic signs and the Arabic people.  I know I am going to love this summer.

  After meeting up with our facilitator we returned to our apartment where we spoke Omar the Iraqi for a good 2 hours.  He taught us a lot of Jordanian and helped us learn concepts and work on pronunciation.  At BYU we learn Fusha or formal Arabic, as wall as Egyptian or Amaaya Arabic, neither of which is spoken here.  So, everytime we would ask him a question with words from Amaaya he would say, “No.  That is Egyptian, it is False!”  It was a great conversation we had with him and it really helped me to appreciate Arabic and the learning I will get to do while her.  Finally after unpacking I and two other interns went exploring for a bit and went to the grocery store which was an interesting experience in and of itself.  I did run into a really nice grocer who taught me some new words and said my Arabic was good which by definition means it is horrible but it still felt good. 

Wisit Il-Balad: Downtown Amman
  Overall, I love Amman already and I haven’t even been here for 24 hours let alone a day where I’m not dead tired the whole time.  The people are amazingly nice and willing to help, the language is beautiful, prices are cheap for the most part and I am going to have many wonderful adventures.  Also, I think at the end of all of these I am going to include a fun fact about Jordan.

Fun Fact 1:  Jordanian Driving is a mixture of a little bit of crazy, a dash of danger, and a whole lot of Horn.