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.

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.

Exploring Amman(‘s food)

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!

 

More Ramadan Festivities… Or a lack thereof

This week has already started slipping by so quickly! Not too much to report, but here are some highlights of my doings.

Saturday:

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!

Sunday:

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

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Monday:

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…

Trip to Madaba

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!

First day of Ramadan!

Yesterday I experienced my first Iftar (breaking of the fast), which occurs at sunset (so at about 7:45 PM). It was a fun (and extremely filling) experience, and I am excited to experience the rest of this month!

For dinner, we had Mansaf, which is a traditional Jordanian dish. It is rice that is on a plate of a thin bread, topped with chicken and a yogurt sauce. Delicious!! Before eating, however, we ate some dates (my host mother said traditionally one is supposed to eat three dates before eating anything else) and then dug into the food. Everyone loves this dinner because during the year, everyone in my host family has their own schedules, so people just end up eating meals at separate times. The Iftar, however, brings the family together every night to share this meal. Feeling stuffed, we drank some tea and watched some special television shows that air specially for Ramadan.

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At about 9, Aletta and I went into the city because the world comes alive at night during Ramadan! We went to a fair-type event, in which there were rows of stalls boasting traditional Jordanian foods, spices, clothing, and household goods. I wasn’t really sure of their target audience since we seemed to be the only non-Jordanians there and the items for sale seemed to be directed to non-Jordanians. Regardless, we got to listen to some traditional Jordanian music and see some Jordanian dancing! It was a great night and it was especially nice to be outside in the cooler air.

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We came back still stuffed from Iftar and there were some sweets waiting for us, ay yi yi so much food!!!