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!

11659561_10152887621195723_477298799399950651_n

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!

IMG_3493

Trip to Aqaba

This past weekend, some of the CLS participants and I went to Aqaba for the weekend. Aqaba is a city in Jordan located at the northeastern tip of the Red Sea. In fact, from our hotel, we had a clear view of both Palestine and Egypt on the other side of the Red Sea! Our trip was amazing as Aqaba’s beaches are gorgeous.

We left for Aqaba Thursday evening after school and got there by bus from Amman. The bus that goes this route is actually quite nice, with air-conditioning and a few TVs from the ceilings. As it was Ramadan, people did not eat until the sunset, so it was such an interesting experience to break the fast with everyone on the bus (they even sold some food on the bus). A passenger on the bus walked around to give each person a date (one eats a date at the start of iftar), so it was such a pleasant group experience.

We got there in the night (it’s about a 4 hour drive to Aqaba) and went to a restaurant to eat some dinner before going to our hotel. Our hotel was quite cheap, and the accommodations reflected a bit of the price, BUT we had a wonderful view of the beach, as we were situated right on the beach! We hung out on the beach a bit before going to bed.

The next morning, we made some phone calls and got a deal at another hotel with a private beach. We made a few stops at some local shops to pick up some breakfast (as nothing is open during the day during Ramadan– the main souk was completely deserted!) and then headed to the beach.

The beach was so beautiful! There was a pool that overlooked the beach so we switched between swimming in the sea and pool. The water in the sea was so clear; it was amazing! In the afternoon, we went snorkeling which was so so so amazing because once one swims father out, the floor suddenly drops, and one can just see bright blue deep water as far as one can see. It was overwhelmingly beautiful.

The next day, we went to a public beach and got snorkeling gear once again. We went to see the “Japanese Gardens”, which is along the coast. It has its name because the floor is covered with different plants and fish, so it looks just like a garden. This was absolutely stunning as well. Some Jordanians started talking with us and then gave us a tour of the poisonous fish in the Red Sea (I guess good to know..?) as well as showed us a sunken tank. Not only did we also get to see an eel, but they dove down to pick different things deep in the sea and I touched various fish as well as snake skin. The craziest part was when they brought an octopus and I held it and put it on my head!!! The weirdest (and of course most fashionable) hat I’ve ever worn!

We finished the evening by eating iftar at Lebnani Snack (a Lebanese fast food place). Outside of the restaurant they were giving out free juice for people to take to break the fast and the policemen were even handing out little boxes of dates!

All in all, I love Aqaba. It is very walking-friendly as the main roads have sidewalks that are not broken or have trees planted in the middle of them (unlike the obstacle courses in Amman) and the people were so friendly. An overall great trip!!

Petra and Wadi Rum

Two weekends ago (yep, I’m late in writing this), we had a CLS overnight excursion to Petra and Wadi Rum. It was an amazing weekend that finished entirely too fast!

Petra

We left from Amman and drove to Petra, which is a 3 hour ride, but our bus broke twice, so the time was a bit longer. When we finally got there, however, it was worth the wait because Petra is amazing! Listed as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Petra is famous for its architecture cut directly from its rose-colored rocks. It was the capital city of the Nabataeans, though was abandoned in 106 AD.

One of its main sights is Al Khazneh (“The Treasury”), which is an elaborate temple carved from the rocks. It was so amazing to see such a huge structure that was carved out of rocks. I felt tiny in comparison to the massive temple!

The inhabitants of this area are mainly Bedul Bedouins, who have ancestors from this area. Many of the Beduls there give tours, run restaurants and stores, and give camel rides in Petra. They, therefore, live and work there.

We became friends with a little boy, Sulieman, who lives in Petra, and he accompanied us the whole day, showing us the best routes. Sulieman is one of the cutest children I have ever met and he taught me so much about the area. He told me that his dream is to become a tour guide, and I have no doubt that he will make an excellent one in the future.

We got to see a lookout point of a gorgeous view of the surrounding mountains and then saw the monastery. The best part was that no one was really there at this time (since it is during Ramadan), so we got to climb the monastery to the roof! That was truly an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience.

It was pretty late by the time we finished in Petra, so we hugged Sulieman goodbye and then got to Wadi Rum.

Wadi Rum

We were staying in Wadi Rum in a “traditional” Bedouin camp, though it was more of a very fancy tourist “glamping” (glamorous camping— there were beds and bathrooms). We did, though, have delicious food and learn some dance steps from the men working there.

Some people and I in the program hung out late into the night– until 5 AM– and then had to wake up at 5:30 to go watch the sunrise! We got into pick up trucks and drove through the sand to first watch the sunrise and then see some various spots in the desert. We came back for a quick breakfast and then headed back to Amman, exhausted.

It was a wonderful trip and the desert was gorgeous! It reminded me of the desert I visited in Oman, but this was more hilly with large rocks breaking up the landscape. Both are truly gorgeous!

Meditation

This past week has gone by really quickly. With class midterms, eating Iftar with my host family, and going to a cafe with friends every night after Iftar, I haven’t had much time to relax!

A highlight of my week, though, was on Wednesday. Some friends and I went to an event at the Thai Embassy, which was a meditation event in honor of the full moon during Ramadan. It was held after Iftar in the courtyard of the Thai Embassy and we each received a candle in a flower-decoration. After a brief speech by the ambassador and a short video about world peace and empathy, the stretching and meditation began! At first it was a bit amusing because there were different stretching exercises that were competitions between men and women (not exactly the most relaxing), but once the meditation part began, our laughter subdued. The meditation involved a lot of incorporation and references to the full moon and it was quite a beautiful ceremony— though I did not and still do not know a lot about how to meditate! After there were refreshments and snacks provided, to end such a lovely evening!

Birthday!

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!