Senna helowa ya jameel is the transliteration of how one sings happy birthday in Arabic (meaning something along the lines of, “happy year, beautiful”).
My birthday was two days ago and I had a great time celebrating it in Jordan!
I went to school during the day, which was not the most exciting thing to do, but luckily, I was out of school at 3:30, and so Nancy, Sosi and I went to Eric and Sam’s house for a bit. We hung out there and then Nancy and Sosi came over to my house for Iftar. Aletta (my roommate) also brought a friend from CLS so there were a bunch of people and it was a lot of fun! After eating and feeling super full, my host mother brought out a cake that she baked for me (chocolate cake with flan on top– so delicious)! It was so sweet of her and my host family, they lit a candle and sang happy birthday for me.
I then went to Rainbow Street with my friends, where we met some other friends and we hung out there for a while. I finally came home, exhausted, but a happy 20 year old!
This past weekend was so wonderful. Truly one of the most amazing weekends of my life as I saw one of the most stunning places I have ever seen: Wadi Hasa.
Wadi Hasa is not in all the guidebooks and in fact, many Jordanians have never heard of it. It should be heard of though, for it is the longest canyon in Jordan and is unimaginably gorgeous.
It is, though, quite a difficult hike (8-9 hours walking/climbing for two days) and you need someone to guide you through it. Luckily, we have a guy on our program who lived in Jordan for two years and is quite familiar with Wadi Hasa, so he offered to lead us through the wadi. 21 of us from CLS went, and I’m so glad that he took us, because without his guidance, it would have been extremely difficult to make it through.
He is friends with a bus driver, so we were able to have a bus drive us the two hours to the wadi at a good price. On the way over, I was constantly reminded of Oman: little coffee shops lined the road and there were small square buildings interspersed in the dusty desert ground. We finally drove through a mountain to get to the start of the wadi and the view was breathtaking. It reminded me of Jebel Shams in Oman with its rocky landscape interspersed with small shrubs. We saw almost no one, though there were a few small houses, tents, and some indoor areas for farming. The landscape shifted to being interspersed with more greenery and then we finally got to a river, tumbled out of the bus, and began our amazing and crazy journey for the next 48 hours.
The way the hike works is that you follow the river that runs through the wadi. The river, however, is interspersed with small waterfalls and strong rapids, so though following the rapids, one has to frequently walk around the rapids by climbing over tall rocks to avoid an even-harder path.
I have to admit, the first time that we had to avoid the river, I was really anxious about the upcoming journey. I have never done anything like it before, so with zero experience, I was worried about how I would fare. We were climbing up rocks, sliding down the sides, crawling through small crevices, and trying to not slip and get our bags wet when crossing the river. Luckily, our group really came together and the more experiences members really made sure that everyone safely crossed each barrier. The journey became more and more beautiful (and more and more difficult), but once I started to get the hang of things, I was able to enjoy myself more.
By lunchtime, we were all extremely exhausted, but there was still a long way to go, so we ate quickly (with the food we packed—there is nothing in the wadi—no people, houses, anything). The landscape became less rocky (yay no more climbing over boulders!) to walking alongside the river. By about 5 pm, we made it to our goal for the day, which is the natural hot springs. The water there is red and is really really warm! We first cooled off by lying in the river and then sat in the hot springs for a bit. The rest of the evening was spent relaxing/swimming and then we slept on a flat ledge near the hot springs. We built a fire and then slept on sheets under the stars. It was warm when we went to sleep but quite cold when we woke up at 5:30!
The next day was more difficult because my whole body was so sore. Most of us were also short on water (luckily, we had a box of tablets to make water drinkable, but it is not advised to drink tons of that water, so there was a lot of water conservation going on).
The walk was even more beautiful on Saturday. It started off as almost tropical, with clear water and green plants lining the stone walks on either side of the river. It then suddenly became more desert-like, with rocky mountain walls on either side of the river. The rocks turned more and more red and suddenly there were smooth ledges for us to walk on and overlook the water. We took various breaks throughout the day to swim in water to cool off and 10 hours later, finally arrived at the end of the wadi, so dehydrated. Luckily, some people from the program went a bit ahead and had water waiting for everyone when we arrived.
I really can’t describe the beauty of Wadi Hessa nor can my photos do justice to show what I experienced. Though this was definitely the most physically challenging thing I have ever done, it was also so fun and invigorating. I know now what people are talking about when they speak of Jordan’s wonderful natural beauty!
Yesterday, after I came home and hung out with my host family for a bit, I went out for Iftar with my friend from Emory and his friends. We went to a restaurant that his friend’s parents designed and ate delicious Jordanian Barbecue (kabobs). It was really interesting because we got to the restaurant at about 7:30 and luckily we had a reservation because the restaurant was packed! Everyone ordered right away and the food was brought really quickly, but the sun sets at about 7:50, so everyone in the restaurant was sitting and staring at their food for about 15 minutes before everyone could finally start eating at the same time. I’ve never seen anything like that at a restaurant before!
We then went to a cafe which is located in his friend’s neighborhood, which is also the neighborhood of the King’s palace! The cafe is on the roof, so we had a great view of the city. When we left, however, my friends told me casually that the PRINCESS was sitting in a group next to us. What??!?! That’s so crazy! In the US, if one of Obama’s daughters left their house, the press would be everywhere and they would need so much protection! My friend told me that normally if she left the house, she would also need protection, but since this is her neighborhood and everyone there knows here, it’s not a big deal. Not a big deal for them…. it’s a big deal for me; I’m still freaking out about that! So since I saw royalty, you could say I’m famous now..?
After that, they showed me some various places nearby (also one of his friends was born in Atlanta— small world!!!) before I went home, exhausted and starstruck.
Lots and lots more delicious food for Ramadan! My host mother is an amazing cook– last night for Iftar we had stuffed zucchini and peppers (stuffed with rice), a yogurt sauce, and lentil soup. And then as if we weren’t full enough, we had cream-stuffed pastries… I forgot the name of it in Arabic, but you can say by the end of it, I was stuffed!
After school today, some friends and I went with the CLS resident director to Wild Jordan cafe, which is by far one of my favorite spots in Amman so far. It is in a center that promotes Jordan’s natural resources and beauty, and hosts a cafe with a patio that overlooks a magnificent view of the city. It is also during Ramadan (until 6 PM), so now we have a great option for a place to go (since most places are closed here during the day). A caveat, however, is that it is a bit pricey, but then so is mostly everything here (as in things are US prices or in many cases, higher). Check out this wonderful view though!
This week has already started slipping by so quickly! Not too much to report, but here are some highlights of my doings.
I had a relaxed day on Saturday; hung out with my host family for a bit (they are fasting, so not much happens during the day), and then in the afternoon, I went to meet some friends at Rainbow Street, but I have never seen it so deserted! The city really shuts down on during the day during Ramadan! We went back to Books@Cafe, which is one of two coffee shops open on the street (so it was mostly filled with non-Jordanians), and hung out there and used their free wifi. I went home for Iftar, and then met with some friends after to go to what was supposed to be a Ramadan event on top of the hill at the citadel. Turns out, this is the ONE year they decided to not have the event, even though the government has a webpage on it! Well, we decided not to waste the evening, and instead explored the city a bit (the Eastern part). It was so alive; the souks were full of people and there were so many pretty decorations for Ramadan!
I just went to school today and then came home and hung out with my family. We had a yummy dinner (Iftar) of rice and green beans cooked in a tomato sauce. Then we hung out and watched the Ramadan TV series that has a new episode every day. An uneventful day, but nice and relaxing
Another day at school! Though after school, Nancy, Sosi and I went to Sam and Eric’s house (all people from CLS) for dinner. We had mansaf (the traditional Jordanian dish with yogurt sauce) and it was absolutely delicious! Their family is Jordanian Christian and they also live in an apartment in Amman and were so kind and welcoming. I had a really fun evening just hanging out with my friends, especially as we sat on their balcony as we drank tea.
Also, at school today, we had a meeting about evacuations in terms of emergencies (such as leaving a building because of a fire). The man who came to talk to us told us that if we are on our computers and there is a fire, we should in fact not just leave it and leave as fast as possible, but instead, make sure to first save your documents and password-protect everything so that no one can hack into your computer!— hmmm I think I’m just instead going to leave the building as fast as possible, so that I don’t get buried in a burning building…
Yesterday since it was the first day of the weekend (the weekends here, like Oman, fall on Fridays-Saturdays), some friends from CLS and I decided to make a day trip to a city called Madaba. Madaba is about 30 minutes away from Amman by car and is the capital city of Madaba Governorate. Known as the mosaic capital of the Levant, the city’s many churches house a large collection of Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics. But enough about the history lesson, for more wonderful than its rich past are its wonderful people. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have never met such kind and welcoming people when travelling as we found today in Madaba. Seriously, every single person I met in Madaba today went out of his/her way to help us, whether it was in finding a location, learning about Jordanian culture, or simply answering our random questions. Hands down, the people I met in Madaba exemplified the hospitality that I have found so far in Arab culture.
Our visit to Madaba was initially a bit of a comedy. We met at a bus station in Amman at 6:30 AM (by bus station, it is on the side of the road next to a pole that apparently marks the spot that the buses come) since we were not sure what time the bus would come (there is no schedule online or an office to go to, so you just kind of find out the times by word of mouth– though during Ramadan, schedules change, so no one we talked to had any idea of the bus timings or if there was even a bus to Madaba that day). A taxi driver saw us and offered to take us but we insisted that we would take the bus, so he laughed and said he would wait until we realized the bus would never come. After us waiting for 45 minutes (and to the taxi driver’s amusement), 7 of us piled in a car made for 5 and we drove to Madaba. Of course, since we had planned on the bus taking us to Madaba (it is supposed to drop you off at a visitor’s center), we had no idea where to go in Madaba right away, so to further the taxi driver’s amusement, we told him to take us somewhere in the center of the town. We finally got there at about 7:30 AM, but of course since it is Friday during Ramadan, nothing at all was open!! The taxi driver certainly must have thought we were crazy as he dropped us off in the middle of a ghost town!
We walked around for a few hours through the deserted city (literally nothing was open, there was not a car in the street, and all the museums were closed) until a few small grocery stores started opening up. We asked one such store’s owner for directions to the tourism office, and he was so kind and left his shop to guide us to the office! At the tourism office, of course no one was there, but we found a kind police man who showed us on a map all the places that soon would open in a couple of hours. As we wandered around some more, we found John the Baptist church, which is a shrine of his beheading and of a former Turkish citadel. We found a man there who unlocked the church for us and he took us down to the cellars, which was amazing because it has the original shell of the cellars. We also climbed to the bell tower which had an amazing view of the city. It also provided a great safe refuge for us to chug water (since you cannot drink liquids in public during Ramadan).
After visiting St. George’s church, which contains the Mosaic Map (the oldest existing map of Palestine), we found a restaurant that was surprisingly open during Ramadan. Then, since by this point some of the stores had started to open, we visited some small stores before bumping into another group of American students studying in Amman (one was even from Atlanta too!).
Our next stop was the Archaeological Park, which contains old mosaics from all over Jordan as well as some original Roman roads and ruins. A man saw us looking at some of the mosaics and then proceeded to give us a free tour of the rest of the exhibit (again with Madaba’s amazing hospitality!).
Finally, we took a taxi to Mount Nebo, which is the location from the Bible in which Moses saw the Promised Land. The view was extraordinary and from the ridge, one could see the dead sea and even Palestine! Just to solidify how welcoming Jordanians have been, when we first got to the site, a policeman at the entrance started talking to us, and when he found out that we were students visiting Jordan, proceeded to give us a tour of the area, help teach us new Arabic words, give us free postcards from the gift shop, and even arrange for a taxi to take us back to Amman. The warmth of the people I have met in Jordan, and especially Madaba, has been extraordinary, and I have found that people are so willing to go out of their way to help me and make me feel at home. It was also a great feeling to be able to put my Arabic to use, as all these conversations were done in Arabic. At least I know that my Arabic is improving and I can use it when travelling!
To top off such a wonderful day, I went home afterwards and ate Iftar with my host family (we ate a broth with chicken and grains) and then met with some friends at Rainbow Street as there was an event called Souk Jara. This is basically an outdoor market that occurs every Friday night during Ramadan, in which local artists sell clothing, pottery, paintings, jewelry, and more as well as food. It was so fun to wander around the souk and I got some beautiful artwork for my room. We then went and sat at a cafe called Books@Cafe, which had a beautiful view of the city. Definitely was my best day in Jordan so far!