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!