Trip to Wadi Hidan

This past Saturday, I went on my last trip outside of Amman to Wadi Hidan, a wadi located near Madaba. A few of my friends and I from CLS went with a tour group, Jo Hiking. The cost for this hiking group included the transportation to and from the wadi, guides, photography, and lunch, so it was a pretty good deal.

We met at a hotel in Amman (there were other people who went on the trip too, so we totaled about 14 people) and then took a bus to Wadi Hidan, stopping along the way for a quick breakfast.

At about 10:30 we started our hike. Wadi Hidan is a hike that focuses on swimming, so for a lot of it, we were swimming in deep beautiful clear-green water, with tall rocky cliffs on either side of us. The wadi also had many areas where we had to jump off ledges into the water, slide down waterfalls, and climb down the sides of the slippery rocks using ropes– good thing we had guides with us to help us through it all!

The second half was the “harder” half, though personally I thought the first half was harder since it involved more heights. The second half was mainly climbing over rocks to make our way through the wadi. We ended by looking over a huge waterfall that let out over a gorgeous area of water surrounded by hanging trees. It truly looked like something from a fairytale. We couldn’t keep going because only professionals can climb down the waterfall, so we turned around and climbed the rocks to get out of the wadi and then started the long walk back to the bus by walking on the rocks that overlooked the wadi.

We got back to the bus at around 8 PM, thoroughly exhausted, and ate a quick dinner (that was supposed to be the lunch). The walk, though, was beautiful, and I loved the views the whole time. The only issue was that the guides said they were providing lunch, but they did not tell us that the lunch was given at the end of the hike once we got back to the hike, so no one ate a large breakfast and no one brought snacks or a large amount of water. The hike was supposed to end at about 3 pm, and we were all very hungry and thirsty by then (because they did not tell us to bring food for the hike), so when we got back at 8 without really eating all day and with limited water, we were quite exhausted and very dehydrated. Well besides the tour group’s not-amazing planning, it was a wonderful day and I got the visit the last wadi on my to-do list in Jordan. Though I am still partial to Wadi Hessa as my favorite wadi ever, Wadi Hidan was still quite beautiful.

Speaking of, from the wadis I have seen, here is my list of my rankings of the wadis I have visited in Jordan:

1. Wadi Hessa

2. Wadi Mujib

3. Wadi Rum

4. Wadi Hidan

Even though Wadi Hidan was last, it was still so amazing– it is basically a list of beyond perfectly beautiful to perfectly beautiful because all the wadis here have wow’d me so much.

Jerash and Ajlun

This past weekend we had our last CLS outing and spent the day on Friday in Jerash and Ajloon.

We first went to Jerash, which is one of the world’s largest and well preserved sites of Roman architecture. It is a magnificently huge site, with theaters, baths, main streets, and ruins of houses. The weather was insanely hot, so that made walking around exhausting, but the time there was well spent exploring the area. We missed this event because it happened at night, but that night was the first night of the annual Jerash festival, in which there are music shows, performances, and stores lining the streets of Jerash, with the main amphitheater hosting a large musical performance. Next time!

After lunch, our next stop was the Ajlun Castle, which is a 12th-century Muslim castle. It had amazing views of the surrounding area and was surprisingly cool inside for the thick stone keeps it well insulated.

Wadi Mujib

Today my friends and I went to Wadi Mujib, which is listed as one of the best things to do in Jordan as it is known for its natural beauty. Wadi Mujib is a wadi near the Dead Sea, so we took a bus from Amman to the Dead Sea and then got a taxi to take us from a spot at the Dead Sea to Wadi Mujib (there are not buses that go to Wadi Mujib). We opted to not do the longer guided route because the entrance fee with a guide is very expensive, so we haggled a lower student entrance fee, put on the mandatory live vests and were on our way!

Wadi Mujib was gorgeous. My photos cannot capture its true beauty (and the last 2 photos are of the Dead Sea) and I could only take limited photos because I wrapped my phone in about ten ziplock bags so that it would not get water damaged. A lot of the wadi involved swimming and full immersion in water, so everything we were carrying got completely soaked– thank goodness for my plentiful ziplock bag protection!

A lot of the route was quite challenging and involved climbing up small waterfalls using ropes, shimming up slippery rocks, and sliding down steep tall rocks in waterfalls. Luckily there were some ropes provided to help with the process, but many parts were quite challenging and daunting. I was glad for the challenge though, because it showed me that I can handle this type of physical and mental challenge!

At the end of the wadi is a huge waterfall (if one has a guide, one can actually go up the waterfall) so we hung out there for a bit and ate lunch before heading back. Heading back was a little more difficult because its easier to climb up a rapid than to slide down the rocks to descend, but we made it in one piece!

I probably enjoyed Wadi Hessa more, even though it was far longer and more challenging because it had similar landscapes to Wadi Mujib as well as more landscapes that were all in all, more breathtaking. I also liked how natural Wadi Hessa is– though Mujib is also natural, there are clear manmade constructions, like the ropes attached to rocks, some stairs at some parts, and nails attached to some rocks to keep them in. Wadi Hessa seemed almost unexplored and untouched, which added to its awe.

Overall, though, I had a wonderful time at the gorgeous Wadi Mujib and a great last day of my long weekend. Time for school tomorrow though; can’t believe I only have two weeks left in Jordan!

Eid!

“Kul yom wa antee bikhayer” (a greeting about how you are well every year) was the first thing I heard from my host mother Friday morning as I walked into the living room. Music was playing in the living room and a lovely spread was set on the table.

I have celebrated Eid al-Adha in Oman, but was very excited to celebrate the other Eid, Eid al-Fitr (the 3-day celebration at the end of Ramadan) in Jordan.

In the morning, we sat around the living room, eating homemade delicious ma’amoul cookies (they are so amazing– soft cookies filled with dates) and drinking coffee. Then, everyone started getting ready (people buy new clothes for Eid) and my host family gave me a necklace as a present, a necklace that both my host sisters have; it was such a sweet and thoughtful gift!

IMG_4270At about 6, after lunch (lunch is heavy and eaten late in Jordan), we headed to Irbid, which is the city in which my host mother’s family lives (my host father’s family is all in Palestine).

The drive was only about an hour away, and on the way, we stopped at a cemetery, to briefly pay respects to my host father’s parents, who are buried there. My host mother explained that during Eid, one should do this, but the visit should be short and should not be filled with sadness, but with happiness for it is Eid.

We got to Irbid and went to my host mother’s parent’s house. Irbid reminded me a lot of Bahla in Oman, for there are more simple houses, scattered (as it is not a city as Amman is). We spent the evening sitting in the living room, socializing (reminded me again of Bahla and how the days were spent sitting in the living room, with the family talking and catching up). Women also kept their hair covered, unless the males in the room were brothers. The only biggest difference I found from Oman was that both males and females sat in the same room, though this may simply be because everyone there was family (though it seemed more appropriate for gender mixing). I also found the decorations in houses in Bahla to be more present (a bit generalizing, but this is simply from my experience), but this may reflect the wealth that is more present in the Gulf. Otherwise, I almost felt as though I was back in Bahla, for there were so many similarities.

We sat around in the living room and ate falafel sandwiches and drank tea. My host grandfather and some of the other men in the family smoked hookah (they had at least 2 hookahs in the house as it is a big part of Jordanian culture). Later, we finally went to bed. I shared a room with my host sisters and we slept on little pads on the floor. I also found it interesting as the toilet in the house was a Turkish toilet!

The next day was similar to Friday evening; we sat in the living room and hung out the whole day. We had lunch at 4:30 and it was delicious! It was interesting because my host mother’s brother cooked the whole meal (he apparently loves cooking) and unlike Oman, where the men would frequently be served first in another room, we all went to get food at the same time and sat all together. We also ate with individual plates and silverware, which was another difference from Oman, where we would sit on the ground and eat from a shared plate. The meal was delicious– probably one of the best meals I have eaten so far in Jordan (there is a photo of it below as well as a photo of one of the sitting rooms in the house).

After a pleasant evening drinking tea, we drove home and I immediately passed out in bed. I am so grateful for my host family to bring me to introduce me to their family. Everyone was so welcoming and kind and made me feel right at home. I also loved being able to experience Jordanian life outside Amman, and really was able to experience part of Jordanian’s culture that one would not experience without a host family. Truly a wonderful experience.

Arab Film Festival

Last week was the Arab Film Festival in Amman, so each day a different film was shown. Most of them were documentaries or films that addressed political issues in the Middle East that had been regionally recognized or won various awards. The event was free, so of course we went, especially since the setting was outside with a gorgeous view of the city and everything was in Arabic (great chance to practice!).

We went one of the nights to a film called “In the Sands of Babylon”, which was about the Gulf War. The film, in my opinion, was beautiful and the director cleverly captured a collective narrative of many Iraqi soldiers by weaving their stories through a narrative of a fictional character.

After the film, we heard from the director (he was present) and the audience had time to ask him questions or give their opinions on the film. Many in the audience praised him, but there were also many passionate people who criticized the film for various reasons (such as ignoring other parts of the war or not discussing the problems Iraq faces today). I found this so interesting, because in the US, there would be many people criticizing the movie, but the people here were so much more passionate, because the Gulf War has affected everyone in the region. Many people who spoke were from Iraq or had family from Iraq or knew people who had died in the war. The issue, then, became personal and people were speaking from personal experiences.

Overall, the whole experience was extremely moving and I was able to see another side of the Gulf War than what one sees in the US.

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Ramadan Experience

This past Monday and Tuesday, I decided to fast and celebrate Ramadan with my host family. I chose these specific days because Monday was Leylat al-Qadr, the most holy night of Ramadan in which it is believed that this was the night in which the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the prophet Muhammed. I wanted to do two days because I feel as though simply fasting one day does not allow one to fully experience fasting as a part of it is during Sahoor (the meal eaten before dawn), in which one wakes up to eat and drink a lot of water to prepare for the next day.

I began Monday morning at 3 am for Sahoor. We ate a typical Jordanian dish, which is watermelon with salted cheese and bread. After filling up and drinking lots of water, I went to sleep and then woke up for school.

When fasting, one cannot eat or drink anything until sunset, so when we had Iftar, I was so much more excited about it than I had been any other day. Drinking my first cup of water felt amazing and I could literally feel the water going down in my body (there’s a saying in Arabic about this).

That night was special for Leylat al-Qadr. After we ate, my host family invited me to the mosque with them, so we went from 9-10 for the prayer that happens every night. In the mosque, the women go through a separate entrance and pray on a level above where the men are praying. One can not see the other gender, but one can hear the Imam leading everyone in prayer. I followed my host family’s motions for the next hour and from what I understand (I was just following so I am not sure of the significance and meaning of the movements), it was a cycle of certain actions of different types of bowing.

We came back to the house and I slept for 2 hours and then at 1, we went back to the mosque for the special Leylat al-Qadr prayer. This prayer was from 1-4 am, and was similar to what we had previously done but a little bit different (again, not totally sure of the meaning of the different positions). By the time we were done, I was exhausted (some of the positions really hurt one’s legs!!!). It was a great experience to see everyone doing something in conjunction, as all the women were in lines and doing the same movements. In between different sections, there were quick breaks for people to get water.

At 4, the prayer ended, and we all sat on the ground with plastic sheets on the ground. We all ate sahoor together (small pastries provided by the mosque) and by 5, I was heading back home, exhausted.

School the next day was hard as I could not drink water or eat and I was so tired. After school, though, I came home and napped until Iftar.

Fasting was a really interesting experience and I am glad I got a glimpse of what it is like. I now have a lot more respect for all millions of Muslims around the world who fast every day during Ramadan. It is a hard thing to do, especially in such a hot climate! I found that the hardest part was not actually the lack of food, but that one cannot drink water. It is also hard to see other people eating food/drinking and to keep one’s mind from thinking about Iftar. The hardest part that comes from not eating and drinking is the tiredness, as I felt a bit foggy the whole day. I have a lot more respect for my teachers who have to teach while fasting every day! Though I am not sure that I’ll be fasting again, it was a great experience and though I can not at all claim to understand what it is like to fast a month, I am so grateful to my host family for sharing so much of their culture and religion with me.

Last week snippits

I’ve been so busy this past week, but here are some highlights/interesting finds of my past week:

Praying in the gym

Like in Oman, praying seems to not be a very private thing as in the gym I saw a woman bring her prayer rug and pray in the changing room. I found that interesting as with many other religions, one can pray publicly, but it is a very different fashion.

Ramadan

As Ramadan is a holy month, many Muslims focus more on Islam during this time. My host parents, therefore, have spent a little time each day to read the Qur’an. Now that it is the end of Ramadan, they have both finished re-reading the Qur’an.

Ramaz

Speaking of daily activities during Ramadan, every night after Iftar, my host family gathers around the TV to watch the show, Ramaz. Ramaz is a special series that only airs during Ramadan and though aspects of it changes every year (like the location and mode of transportation), the overall gist is the same every day and every year: Ramaz, the producer of the shower, dresses up as some character and invites an actual celebrity on the show (though he/she does not know they are on a TV show or being filmed). We watch as they have a plane “accident” and laugh as they scream and almost have heart attacks. At the end, Ramaz reveals himself and the guest goes from hysterically crying to hysterically screaming to hysterically laughing. Overall, very hysterical. So hysterical, in fact, that Paris Hilton, a recent guest on the show, is allegedly planning to sue Ramaz for the trauma!

Driving in Jordan

So the driving here is kind of crazy and very different from the US, in which there are not tons of rules and seatbelts are not worn and people drive very quickly as they zigzag through the lanes. Luckily, though, the driving is better than what I’ve experienced in India and Oman so that’s good!

The main/cheapest form of transportation is with taxis, which are found everywhere. The only problem is that during Ramadan it’s really hard to get taxis in my neighborhood during the morning and night, but otherwise, I’ve had no problems using them. You just have to make sure that the meter is working, otherwise they may greatly overcharge. There also aren’t street names that are widely used, so giving an address to the driver won’t help you. Instead, people give names of landmarks that are near their final location and then direct from there. Finally, I’ve had some drivers drive backwards (even on the highways) for a few seconds when they’ve missed a turn, so always gotta be prepared for something crazy!

Random Game

The other day, after Iftar, some friends and I went to Eastern Amman to walk in the souk. Towards the end, we saw some guys playing what looked like ping pong without a net. Turns out, they didn’t have a ball, they were just pretending to jump and run around to hit an imaginary ball!

Bhangra! 

Turns out that our Resident Director also teaches Bhangra, so we went after Iftar to a Bhangra dance class she was hosting! It was in the back of a nice cafe, in a large outdoor square. We had lots of fun and there were people in the class from Jordan as well as the US. So fun!

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Getting visas renewed

We had to get our visas renewed, which was a whole process.

At the office, we had to fill out various forms and give our fingerprints. It was funny because the wall is covered with fingerprints as many people use it to get the ink off their fingers.

All in all, the process would have been very difficult had we not spoken any Arabic and had someone with us to tell us what to do as there were two buildings we had to go to (one about 5 min walk away) and everything was in Arabic of course!

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