Jerash and Adventures on Busses

I was going to write a blog about the second half of my spring break trip to Turkey but after thinking about it, I realized that it only consisted of me sitting on a beach and taking a long overnight bus ride back to Istanbul. The beach was beautiful, but alas, not very interesting. Therefore, I’ve decided to skip ahead a little bit and talk about my trip to Jerash, followed by a separate post about a trip to Petra and Aqaba.

After talking about weekend plans with some of my friends during the week I found myself with a last-minute planned trip to Jerash with my friends Alex and Aliya after our Thursday classes. To say it was planned is kind of an overstatement but we figured we would get there somehow. After all, it’s not that far from Amman so how hard could it be? We took a cab to the North bus station where we planned to catch a bus to Jerash. After exiting the cab we were led by a man (did he work there? Who knows…) from the waiting area with the Jerash sign to another waiting area for another bus which would apparently stop in Jerash on its way elsewhere. One thing I have to note is there are multiple types of busses in Jordan and we were set to take a minibus. A minibus is privately owned by the driver and travels a set route licensed by the government. The bus has no schedule, leaves when it is full, and you basically have to get on as they appear and pay the controller after you’re underway. Needless to say we ended up waiting for a bus for probably an hour or hour and a half.

The entire time we waited the crowd of people waiting for the bus got bigger and bigger. When one finally arrived it was a mad rush to get on. Alex and Aliya got on right away whereas I was being too polite. Of course once it became obvious that my behavior would cause me to miss the bus I surrendered all my politeness and pushed my way onto the bus. I even pushed past a woman who told me her son was on the bus (she made it on anyways, and there was no son with her tsk tsk for dishonesty). Once I was on the bus I looked to the back to see Alex and Aliya sitting by themselves on the bench, most likely because everyone is afraid to sit by western women. I on the other hand have no such qualms so I sat by them and we were off to Jerash.

The bus trip was interesting. It felt like we were driving 100mph down a really bumpy freeway. I might have fallen asleep and then we had arrived and were dropped off at the side of the road. It seems strange to me and I have trouble getting used to the idea of incredibly old ruins in the middle of towns. We made our way to the site and through a metal detector into a small bazaar with souvenir shops of all types filled with all sorts of tourist goodies. We got to the entrance and bought our tickets for something like 1or 2 JD each (thank you residency card, tourists pay 25 I think).

After going through a majestic gate, we walked along a path past some Europeans impressing the local shababies (really young Arabs) with their football (soccer) skills. I quickly realized how it’s much more fun and interesting to travel with a very small group of people. We took our time walking along a stone road which was at least 1500 years old yet amazingly well preserved. The ruins themselves were pretty unbelievable but overrun with European tourists and it also seemed to be quite a hang out for local children. You couldn’t walk very far without being descended upon by children who would proclaim greetings in English and who would be taken aback when we would respond in Arabic. Of course it helped that I was accompanied by two American girls who were constantly barraged with professions of love and requests for their names by the local shababies.

When we were finished looking at the ruins we decided to return to the entrance to look at a few possible souvenirs. When we arrived and walked into the small bazaar there was quite a bit of commotion and yelling. One of the shopkeepers told us there was a shwe mushkila (slight problem) not to worry and it would be taken care of quickly. As we walked we noticed a crowd of people around a boy maybe 12 or 13 years old who was seated holding a cloth to his head with a pool of blood at his feet. We decided not to look at stuff in the shops and to leave. We really don’t know what happened but as we were leaving an ambulance came and took away to boy in question. I can only assume that he got in a fight with one of the other boys or something else of the like.

Once we were outside, we realized we had no idea how we were going to get back to Amman so we went back in to ask a shopkeeper. He lead us outside (Jordanians are amazingly hospitable and helpful) and showed us where we could go to catch a bus. As he was showing us there was a bus full of students (8 or 9 year-olds) and the driver asked the shopkeeper where we were going to which he responded we were going to Amman. The driver responded that we should get on board and they would take us. It was actually a funny situation because the shopkeeper told the driver that his bus was full of students and we wouldn’t want to go. All of this transpired in Arabic and I was happy that I actually understood what they were talking about. After a quick little discussion with Alex and Aliya, we decided why not, so we got on the bus. After that I must say I experienced the most memorable bus rides I’ve ever had. There we were on a bus with 15 or so students and 3 teachers. They asked us all the usual questions (why are you in Jordan, do you like it in Jordan, what are you studying) and after a while invited me to dinner with them which I respectfully declined as I knew we were leaving for Petra early the next morning. Also, the children were extremely interested in Alex and Aliya and asked numerous questions about them. The best part was it turned out one of the teachers was encouraging the kids to ask these questions since he was interested in the girls. The reason for this was that the teacher did not speak English (the other two did) and the children do so they were relaying the answers to him.

Eventually we got back to Amman and the teachers, after telling us to watch out for taxi drivers as they will try to rip you off, got us a taxi and paid the driver 5 Dinar to take us wherever we wanted. Unfortunately 5 Dinar is way more than any cab ride would ever cost going anywhere in Amman. We tried to decline but they insisted and to refuse would be considered a rebuke of their hospitality and considered rude. We ended up taking a cab to Hashem’s and enjoyed a falafel, hummus and fuul dinner. Later that night we went out and met some friends for drinks and then went home early to get up and go to leave for Petra early in the morning.

Published in: on May 7, 2011 at 12:11 am  Comments (1)  

Adventures in Turkification

My spring break began with plans to attend a birthday gathering of one of my classmates, then getting a few hours of sleep before my 6:30 am flight to Turkey. Naturally the birthday gathering turned into an all-night affair resulting in maybe 15 minutes of sleep before departing for the airport. I figured it would be no big deal since I could grab some sleep on the two-hour flight. Oh how wrong I was. I ended up being seated next to a woman and her two children (one on her lap) who baby basically screamed the entire flight. It was the worst flight I’ve ever been on. In one of its finer moments as we were taking off, the woman next to me pulled out her phone and proceeded to make a phone call as we lifted off the ground. I’ve never seen that happen before. On the other hand Turkish Airlines provides pretty good service. The flight attendants are nice, the seats are comfortable, and the food is really good. After arriving in Istanbul the trip got even better. One of the girls I was travelling with was detained because she was using her Mexican passport (she’s a dual citizen) and had not obtained an advance visa. We ended up waiting for about two hours while the police waffled about allowing her entry in the country. During that time we also found out that the airport currency exchange counters did not exchange Jordanian Dinars of Turkish Lyra. So there we were in Ataturk International Airport without any money and a friend detained by the police. Also I remembered the one thing I forgot to do before this trip. I forgot to inform my bank and credit card company that I was going to be in Turkey for a week. Well, two hours and about 230 Lyra later our friend was granted a visa and of we went in search of somewhere to exchange our money. Eventually I was forced to use the ATM and fortunately my card worked so I was able to get some local currency. After an adventures trip in a taxi with a driver who understood nothing we said, we ended up at our Hostel in Sultanahment, Istanbul.

First I have to start off by saying it became readily apparent that we were no longer in an Arab country. Istanbul is very European and very different from Amman. Our hostel was located in the historical area near the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia. I wanted to explore very much but unfortunately I was exhausted and spent about 4 hours sleeping in the Hostel. After I woke up we had been joined by a couple other CIEE students who just happened to be staying at the same Hostel. I joined them for a walk which took us through a park between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia during which call to prayer began. We were buffeted by the call from both sides and it was a completely surreal experience. Once I had exchanged my currency I returned to the Hostel to meet up with the rest of the group.

It was decided that we were going to meet up with a CIEE Istanbul student who happened to be a classmate of a few of the girls in our group. So we set off for our adventure in Istanbul and took the Tram (a European style light rail in the center of the road) down to the Bosphorus where we caught the Furnicular (an underground incline railway) to an area called Taksim Square. There we waited at a giant square for Margot’s friend to arrive. While we were waiting we got to watch a Turkish guy physically abuse what appeared to be his girlfriend for about fifteen minutes while he shook her at times and supposedly punched her in the face. A few in our group stopped some Turks to see if we should do anything but they did not appear concerned. Different culture I suppose but I didn’t want to interfere as I know nothing of Turkish social norms. Eventually Margot’s friend arrived and she took us to a restaurant on Istiklal Avenue (I think that’s what its name was). The avenue was one of the most interesting streets I’ve ever been on. It was full of shops, clubs restaurants, what appeared to be the French Consulate, and the Turkish Communist Party headquarters. The street was full of thousands of people all speaking different languages. It was truly a sight and experience to behold. After having some yummy Turkish Ravioli we then wandered to a chocolaterie where we had gourmet hot chocolate complete with chocolate spoons and ridiculously yummy cheesecake all packed into a tiny room full of tables and people. After desert I decided to return to the hostel as I was still feeling exhausted after the events of the night before. After our time out I was able to get some amazing night photos of both the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia.

The next day we decided to go tour the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia. Unfortunately it turned out to be quite a rainy day. We waited in front of the Blue Mosque for Margot’s friend to show up and then we went into the Blue Mosque. Breathtaking is the only word I can use to describe this place. Wall to wall carpeting amazingly clean as shows are not permitted. The ceiling is majestic and intricately decorated with endless designs. Truly amazing. Words cannot describe it. You just have to go see the pictures on Facebook (if you need my permission just ask). After the Blue Mosque we headed to the Hagia Sofia which proved to be just as breathtaking. In some ways this building impressed me more as it is so much older and has a much more interesting history. It was built as a cathedral by the Byzantines, was later converted into a Roman Catholic cathedral by the Latin Crusaders, and then a mosque by the Ottomans which it remained until it was converted into a museum by the Turks. Once again, words cannot describe this building. Black granite columns, golden mosaics, a variety of stones in the walls, giant marble urns, not to mention breathtaking ceilings. Perhaps one of the silliest memories I will have is when I attempted to take a picture of a cat sitting by a giant marble in order to show the sheer size of the urn the cat got up, walked over to me and climbed up my leg and laid down on my thigh with its head on my knee. Apparently it was cold and wet so I provided a perfect warm bed as I kneeled in a catcher stance. After the sightseeing we went to a restaurant for some kofte (basically Turkish meatballs). Supposedly it has the best kofte in the city and it did not disappoint. Later that night we had some nargileh at a Turkish café and I had my first beer in months. During our time at the café a couple beautiful girls with fabulous legs walked past which resulted in our entire table stopping and staring at them as they walked by. They were wearing short skirts and high heels and I think we were all in shock since none of us had seen that in a very long time. It was actually quite humorous.

The next we went down to the Bosphorus and caught a ferry to the Asian side of the city.

Some of my colleagues decided it was a good idea to go into a communist party rally. I’m not really sure about the pull as you could see everything from outside the rally but whatever. We walked around for a little while and eventually found a restaurant. Naturally it was a restaurant that had nargileh as my companions found that to be the most important deciding factor in restaurant choice (once again, not really sure why but whatever). After dinner we were walking to catch a taxi when we came upon one of the most interesting things I’ve seen in a while. There was this glass case full of furniture and advertisements for a particular brand of Turkish chocolate/dessert. Inside this case was a live model sitting on a couch reading a magazine. I wanted to take a picture but I felt rude about it. It was yet another example of many of the beauty of Turkish women.

On our final day in Istanbul we took the tram to the Istanbul spice market. This was a classic Turkish bazaar full of shops carrying all sorts of trinkets, household items, clothing, jewelry, and all sorts of touristy junk. I walked around for a while and generally was ignored by the shop keepers since I’m not a woman. Apparently I don’t radiate the: I want to buy things please rip me off aura.

After some time in the market we decided to go to the Galata Tower. The tower sits at the top of a hill and offers an amazing view of the city.

To get to the tower we took the tram across the Galata Bridge and navigated up the hill via some narrow and distinctly European styled streets. Once we got to the tower we took an elevator to the restaurant on top and went out onto the balcony just in time for call to prayer. I took a video to try to capture the spectacle as we were under an audio assault of the call from a myriad of mosques around the city. The view was breathtaking and I could only imagine what it would have been like had the weather been clearer. I took a bunch of pictures and some panoramic photos as well so be sure to check them out on my facebook page. After the tower we had lunch and then went back to the hostel to wait for our shuttle to the bus station where we were catching a bus to Fethiye. But I’ll discuss that in the next post. In the meantime, I have Arabic homework to do. Until the next time, cheers from the Jo.

Published in: on April 16, 2011 at 8:15 pm  Comments (2)  

Wadi Rum

I had intended to write a post about my time in Wadi Rum which I experienced on the weekend before my midterm exams however those very exams caused a delay in composition of such a post. Needless to say I’m a little behind. Therefore, the following is written from memories suffering from post-examination brain drain. I will try to recall details as best as I can.

The trip was preceded by an evening of college partying and drinking. The students were celebrating the birthdays of two students, one of which who was my roommate, Adam. The evening was rather anti-climatic and once again I experienced an example of anti-Arab discrimination (I could use a stronger term but I won’t in this post as this really isn’t about that subject). AS I was hanging out with some classmates and some Jordanian friends who I met through my peer-tutor we eventually made our way to the birthday party. Once there I stepped into a time warp and found myself at the age of 18 again. A room full of loud drunk people who had drank all the alcohol by 9 pm. My Jordanian friends showed up eventually and it quickly became apparent that we were not welcome there. Apparently there are some American students (one in particular whose apartment was hosting the gathering of drunk students barely past their teenage years) who do not like the company of Jordanians and eventually we left to go have coffee. It still makes little sense to me that someone would want to study in an Arab country yet had no desire to interact with Arabs. Perhaps there was something deeper going on but either way I found the situation somewhat upsetting. Eventually we ended up back at a friends apartment playing Egyptian ratscrew.

After the evening we made our way to the university to catch our bus to Wadi Rum. I spent the bus ride talking to my friend Dylan about lots of different subjects. Eventually we stopped at a rest stop/tourist shop filled with all sorts or ridiculously priced items which tourists seemed all too willing to pay. There were some rather beautiful hand crafted chess sets there among other interesting things however nothing I really wanted or needed. After being given our lunch in a bag we set off for Wadi Rum once again.

After seeing some beautiful scenery from the bus we eventually were dropped off at the side of the road by a collection of 4×4 pickups which were our transportation into the desert on the first day. We all piled into the back of the pickups and took off into the desert at the brisk speed of perhaps 15 or 20 mph. It was somewhat disappointing actually how slow we drove. The scenery was breathtaking though. Wadi Rum is home to some epic rock formations which jut out of the desert into the sky. It really is not surprising that this was one of T.E. Lawrence’s favorite places in what is now Jordan. We made numerous stops as we drove through the desert to allow us to take pictures and climb all over the rocks. I found good use of the panoramic feature on my camera to take some amazing pictures. I really must admit though that after a while it really all starts to look the same. The ride in the truck was fun though as I was grouped with some fun people. After a stop at a Bedouin tent to hear a presentation on culture and listen to some Bedouin music (not really a fan) we took off to find a spot to see the sunset. It was at this point that the driver of our truck finally decided to drive quickly through the desert which was pretty fun.

After a crazy tear through the desert we arrived at a spot to view the sunset. The sunset was breathtaking. I took pictures but I don’t think they will be able to do the scene justice. I also took the time to write a message in the sand for someone very special to me, took a picture of it and sent it to her. The Bedouin drivers made us tea and then we left for the camp that we would be spending the night at. Our driver drove through the desert in the dark like a madman. It was fun yet slightly scary at the same time. Eventually we arrived at the camp which was a disappointing example of pandering to tourist consumerism. The camp is permanent with complete bathrooms and a restaurant. We had a yummy dinner and then a few of us went outside the camp to view the stars. I’m not sure I’ve seen that many stars before, possibly in the rural areas of Pennsylvania but these may have been the clearest view of the stars I’ve ever experienced. Eventually a Bedouin came out of the camp and offered to take us away from the camp so we could get an even better view. Naturally we accepted. After some stargazing we returned to the camp to sit in a tent with a Bedouin who would sell shish for inflated prices and insult you with one of two words. He did this all night and thought it was hilarious. After that I went to bed and after witnessing Dylan running around the camp like a crazy man looking for his tent I went to sleep and proceeded to freeze to death. Ok, not really but it was unbelievably cold that night in the camp. Of course I forgot to pack a sweatshirt so I ended up sleeping in my jeans and coat.

Sunset in Wadi Rum

The next morning we woke up had breakfast and prepared to set off out into the desert on the backs of camels. As the time came to pick a camel I was chosen by a Sudanese Bedouin who led me by the hand (I’m still not used to holding hands with guys) to his camels where I was grouped with my roommate Pete. His camel was lashed to the saddle from mine and our guide Ali stood the camels up. Staying in the saddle while a camel stands up is an interesting experience as it’s a cross between a balancing act and a test of quad strength. I never realized how tall camels were until I was riding one. I also expected them to smell terrible but I barely noticed a smell at all. First, I have to say that I started out riding the camel like a horse which my inner thigh muscles definitely did not agree with. This is going to sound really silly but I thought about the movie Lawrence of Arabia and how he was sitting on his camel. I emulated this and found it to be much more comfortable. Perhaps Hollywood isn’t completely useless after all.

We set out into the desert and into the canyons of Wadi Rum. The canyons were absolutely awe inspiring. I’ve never seen anything quite like them in my life. While walking on the path you’re surrounded by shear rock faces that stretch into the sky almost straight up in some places. Any loud sounds echoed endlessly throughout the canyons. It was like being surrounded by a great city composed of different shades of red rock. I wondered if such a place could represent what the surface of Mars could look like. Yet in this great canyon the only sounds one could here was that of our own caravan. It was an epic walk through a sea of silence only broken by the occasional grunt of a camel and the sound of their footsteps in the sand. Our first stop was at a small stop where there were bathrooms and which was supposedly a favorite stop of T.E. Lawrence. His face and that of Emir Ali were carved in a rock which the residents held in very high regard and claimed to have been carved during the Arab Revolt (our guide later told us that despite the claims the faces were carved perhaps 30 years ago). The Bedouins served us tea and I’m not sure if I’ve ever had better tea. Their tea is distinct and absolutely delicious. After a short presentation and a peddling of goods for ballooned prices we set off again through the canyons. The walk lasted for about 4 hours during which I was either lost in thought or chatting with our guide in Arabic about where he was from (he was from Khartoum) and eventually came to a close with a walk to the visitor center which we could see from our last stop across a plain. The walk turned out to take a lot longer than I expected since the visitor center appeared to be much closer than it actually was. During the final push the guide took the camel up to a trot which I must say was extremely painful on my legs and rear. Once we arrived at the visitor center we bid goodbye to our guide and went inside to eat lunch before returning to Amman. During our lunch we found out that a protest on the Friday we left had turned violent and at least one person had dies and over 100 were wounded. Out of the peaceful canyons of Wadi Rum we had re-entered the turbulent reality of life in the Middle East in contemporary times. As always plenty of pictures are available on my facebook page. A post about my spring break in Turkey will be forthcoming so until then Cheers from the Jo

Published in: on April 10, 2011 at 11:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Cyber Battle in Jordan

OK, so most of you know the troubles I had acquiring internet here in Jordan. I figured I’d give a rundown of what actually took place. It all started a few days into the trip. My roommate, a fews friends and myself took a trip to City Mall in order to acquire internet for ourselves in our apartments. We ended up discussing internet with one of the providers Mada who seemed to offer the best service. Adam and I went through the sales clerk’s pitch and started the process of activating internet accounts. Then as we were examining the coverage map it turned out there were 8 buildings on our street which were not covered for service. Our building turned out to be one of those without service. So ultimately we had to consider different options.

On February 8th, during a trip to secure a beard trimmer at the mall nearest to us Adam and I decided to talk to the Umniah kiosk in the mall about possible internet options. At first the girl was stand-offish and looked wholely disinterested in actually helping us. That all changed when I spoke some Arabic to her. I explained to her (in Arabic) that I was a student at the University of Jordan which completely changed her demeanor and we ended up discussing her status at the university as well. Since I had a copy of my passport with me I was able to sign up for internet and purchased a usb plug wireless modem. Adam would purchase his a few days later with no problems. Well as soon as I got home I installed the wireless drivers and attempted to log in using the login information they sent to me via SMS. Well, needless to say it did not work. I thought nothing of it and decided to try again the next day at the university. It didn’t work then either. That night I got home and called customer service. First of all, here’s a bit of advice: when the help technician asks you a question, despite your initial instinct don’t answer in Arabic. I answered in Arabic and that opend the floodgates of all sorts of technical questions in Arabic which I could not understand. I stopped him and we continued the conversation in English. He informed me the account was up and working and that I needed to reset my password. So I went through the process of resetting the password and I tried again. I recieved the same error message telling me to check the login information as it may be wrong. I called customer service again and reset the password once again with still no success.

After all of this I returned to the kiosk where I was sold the plug and discussed my problems with the girl whom I bought it from. She clearly had no idea what I needed to do and sugessted that I go to the main Umniah building and have them examine the hardware. She also mentioned that the sale was final and since I had a contract even though I was having problems I would not be able to get a refund for the plug. After giving me the directions to the main building (directions in Jordan are a headache which I don’t want to get into, needless to say every building has an address and every street has a name but nobody knows any of it so essentially this information is useless) she told me that I could just go to the kiosk at city mall and get the plug replaced. She also put in a work order reqeust with Umniah and told me they would call me in 48 hours. I decided to wait for the call. They of course never called so I ended up calling the help desk again. The told me they would reset my password which I toild them would not fix the problem THe technician replied the account was working, he had no idea what the problem was and suggested I go to City Mall and get a new plug.

Back to City Mall I went. I talked to the clerks at the kiosk, they took my information and put a work order in with Umniah and told me they would call me in 24 hours. 48 hours passed and I had received no phone call (other than a Umniah followup call to survey my customer satisfaction). So back to City Mall I went. At this point I think I had spent 10 or 15 JD on cabs in this ordeal. I talked to the sales clerk again, he took my information and put a work order in with Umniah, told me there was nothing they could do there and that Umniah would call me in 48 hours. THis time I actually did receive a phone call and the technician ran me through some troubleshooting (uninstall software, reinstall and try again) which did not work. Basically he told me that I could exchange the plug for a modem. What happened next? Back to City Mall I went. Once I got there I was told they didn’t have any modems and that I should try to uninstall the software, reinstall it and try again. This touched off a wonderful frustration driven tirade towards my roommate about Jordan which despite making me feel better and filled with some pretty funny content did nothing to solve the problem.

At this point I had become extremely frustrated at my lack of progress and I expressed my exasperation to my peer-tutor Muhammed (my tutor at home was named Muhammed, weird). He informed me that his sister worked for Umniah and asked me to give him my contract to see if there was anything he could do about my problem. I unleashed the power of the wasta on Umniah. After a few days of going through some actually intuitive tricks to make the plug work (ultimately they failed but it was still nice to be able to try something new) he decided that we needed to go to the Umniah building and get this working because at this point almost a month had passed since I had purchased the plug.

A couple days later Muhammed met me with his friend Falcon (his name in Arabic means falcon of the skies or something along those lines so he just told me to call him Falcon) and we were off to the Umniah building. Once we arrived and our number was called I stood there while my tutor had a long conversation with the clerk about my problems and the fact that I had paid for a month of internet that I could not use. I ended up receiving a new wirelss modem to use which the difference in cost actually covered the month of internet that I had been deprived of and which is much faster than the modem I had originally purchased. I took it home and voila I had access to the interest.

What’s the moral of this story? Skip bureaucratic nightmares and just go straight to the wasta. It pays to know people. Literally.

Cheers

Published in: on March 21, 2011 at 10:50 pm  Comments (2)  

I ask for patience

Still working on my papers. One is finished, one has yet to be written despite only having until midnight Saturday to finish. Hopefully if I can finish these papers I can write something for here before my exams start next week…

Published in: on March 16, 2011 at 12:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Still here!

So I’m still writing my papers. This is going to be an extreme challenge considering the absolute ridiculous deadline of 2 weeks to write two extensive papers. I hope I’m able to write papers of decent quality in the time alloted. Hopefully I’ll have one finished by the end of tomorrow allowing a few days to write the second. Wish me luck. I have a little less than 8 days to finish both.

Published in: on March 12, 2011 at 2:19 am  Comments (1)  

Kerak and the Dead Sea

After a night of getting maybe three or four hours sleep my roommate Adam and I departed for the University to catch a bus for our trip to Al-Kerak and the Dead Sea. After another quick stop for some breakfast foods (today I ate some sort of hot dog baked inside bread and potato baked inside bread) we set off on the two hour bus trip to Kerak. During the trip I was (un)fortunate enough to sit by a guy who spent the entire trip talking about everything you can possibly imagine to two guys sitting behind us. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone string together so many random topics without a break in my life. He talked about everything from tacos to Harry Potter. Fortunately about an hour and a half into the trip we stopped for a bathroom break and I was given a brief reprieve. It’s kind of strange but rest stops on Jordanian highways remind me of the trips I took to the deserts in the Western United States. There’s a road and basically nothing else around it except for some random building way away from the road with no doors or windows. I jokingly dubbed it a Jordanian urban warfare training building. After a short break we were back on the road to Kerak.

After a little while we approached Kerak. I don’t think I could possibly describe the scenery here in Jordan and do it any justice. It’s simply spectacular. Huge rock formations and giant valleys are only broken by the occasional narrow twisty road (It would be so much fun to blast through some of these roads in the Type-S) and a few Bedouin (and some gypsy) tents. The bus stopped and let us off for some quick pictures (Jordanians call them Kodak moments) of the approaches to the castle and I was able to take an amazing picture which now is the background for my laptop. After a couple minutes it was back on the bus. At this point I have to give a shout out to the Jordanian bus drivers the program hires to take us on these day trips. I am amazed at their ability to navigate the narrow streets of these ancient towns without much difficulty. The approach to the castle was up a single lane (due to parked cars) ridiculous road that the bus took like a champ.

Once we arrived we disembarked and began our tour of the castle. Kerak Castle was built by the Crusader King Baldwin the First in 1142. It was then added to by the Mamluks in the mid 13th century. It’s most famous occupant was Renauld de Chatillon. Renauld was a Crusader from France who had a sadistic nature and was known to cast people over the walls while covering their heads to keep them from passing out from fear. He also had the dubious honor of earning himself the right to be the only Crusader leader to be beheaded by Saladin himself. He was an interesting character in history but I’ll spare you the details here.

Right by where we were dropped off there was an old Ottoman howitzer from maybe the late 19th century which prompted my friend Dylan and me to take some crazy cannon photos. Next, we were taken into the castle itself. We walked down long and dark corridors with vaulted ceilings. All of the rooms off of the main hallway had a skylight and a window for light. The hallway seemed endless until we emerged into the main courtyard of the castle. Kerak is truly a sight to behold. It sits on top of a hill with sheer drops from each side except the entrance. The residence areas were not available to be toured but I was able to see tour all the buildings including the Crusader church, the mosque, and the Mamluk Keep. Sadly the towers have largely collapsed due to earthquakes over the passage of time but it is still clear where they stand and they are still quite impressive. I was able to take some amazing pictures from various vantage points in the castle. Unfortunately our time here was relatively short though so after an hour we had to head back to the bus. Dylan, another student and I made everyone wait while we explored the museum in the castle. I can’t help but be mildly disappointed by the museums in these historical sites. They do contain some interesting items but it seems that most of the best antiquities have long since disappeared. Dylan provided another comedic moment as one of the display cases was empty yet unlocked. He placed a pack of cigarettes inside to provide with more hilarious material for photos. Fortunately the museum curator was not around. After the museum we headed back to the bus and departed for the Dead Sea.

The bus trip to the Dead Sea took us through some of the most amazing natural terrain and rock formations I’ve ever seen. It also took us from about three thousand feet in altitude at Kerak to about thirteen hundred feet below sea level to the lowest point on earth. As we drove up the Dead Sea Highway we came up the Southern reaches of the Dead Sea. The water had a bluish-green hue outlined by a white shoreline which at distance looked like sudsy waves but as we grew nearer to the Sea quickly it became apparent that the white was crystallized salt onshore.

Eventually we reached Wadi Mujib otherwise known as the “Grand Canyon of Jordan.” We stopped briefly on the bridge which crossed the end of the canyon to examine the scale of this unbelievable natural wonder. The walls of the canyon stretched almost straight up on either side with a hiking trail disappearing into the canyon along the Northern face. I tried to take a quick picture of the canyon but we did not get off the bus and I ended up with a picture of a student’s head. I hope that I have time during this program to try and return to the canyon and perhaps the nature reserve within. Time will tell, but for now it was time to move onto the Dead Sea.

We arrived at a resort on the Dead Sea Spa Hotel and disembarked for lunch. Lunch was a buffet style and I think I ate the most food I had in weeks. This may seem kind of silly but for I strangely enjoyed standing in a line for the first time in weeks. People in Jordan do not wait in lines. They simply go around people and congregate at whatever counter they are trying to get to all the while trying to interrupt whatever is happening at said counter to their benefit. It’s actually somewhat comical to watch their frustration build as clerks ignore them and continue to help the person that was there first. I will say though that a similar silly situation occurred as I stood in line as some Europeans became exasperated that some of my colleagues were toasting their bread while we waited in line. In fact some of the people behind me ended up cutting in line in order to get ahead of my classmates only to realize that in actuality they were not the reason for the delays. It’s the little things which keep my sense of humor busy here in Jordan.

After lunch all the students changed into their swimsuits and headed to the beach. Unfortunately I did not remember to bring my suit from back home (if I even own one at all which demonstrates the sad state of my life the past few years in terms of taking vacations, a tragedy which I hope to correct regularly if finances allow after I return). I took my shoes and socks off, rolled my pants headed onto the beach. The entire trip Dylan, my roommate Adam, Nick and a few others kept arguing to me that I was at the Dead Sea and I should simply suck it up and just swim in my boxers. I’ll get back to that later though. The beach was picturesque against the matching Sea and Blue Sky. Pocked with intermittent umbrellas made from what looks like palm leaves, the beach looked more like somewhere in the Caribbean than in the Middle East. Only the imposing cliffs and hills of the West Bank on the other side provided the greatest reminder of where I was. The beach was filled with what I assume to be tourist spreading mud onto themselves and others in order to experience the skin healing qualities of the mud from the Dead Sea. Such mudslinging (Sorry, I couldn’t resist) of which the healing qualities are questionable, at the very least must provide the Jordanians with endless examples of silly foreigners looking absolutely ridiculous while covering themselves in mud. If such a thing is true, what an ingeniously cruel joke indeed.

As I worked my way out on an outcropping of salt, sand, and mud out into the water I stepped into the Sea itself. The water was warm clear and truly inviting. The friends I previously mentioned were maybe 50 yards off shore of this outcropping and they began to yell for me to just strip down and get in the water all the while reminding me that there is no way of knowing when I may ever get another chance. Finally they won me over and I proceeded to strip to my boxers and made my way out into the water over the extremely sharp salt crystals. I have to say that swimming in the Dead Sea is not much like swimming at all. In fact, any effort at a normal freestyle swim results in much splashing of water and very little forward momentum. I resigned myself to flipping onto my back and swam out to my colleagues with a steady backstroke. The water was truly invigorating and I can honestly say that while I was in the water I felt the best that I had felt in weeks. I attribute this more as a mental result rather than any actual healing qualities of the water. On the whole I would say we were maybe 50 or 60 meters from the shore which considering my lack of confidence in my swimming abilities I count quite a personal accomplishment. While out in the water Dylan touched off a friendly wager with Nick in which we all promised a certain monetary sum in order to get Nick to try and touch the Seafloor. Where we were, there is no telling how deep the water was, although the tallest guys there were trying to convince him that they could touch the bottom with their toes, a claim which I doubt. After being promised a substantial amount, Nick made his attempt to dive which turned into a hilarious display of his legs in the air kicking and never descending into the water. In fact, all he ended up getting out of the whole deal was a burning nose and eyes. The salt in the water was very unkind to the eyes and nose.

After a little while I decided to head back to my clothes and camera which were sitting on the salt a decent distance away. At this point I also have to give a shout out to Citizen as I forgot to take off my watch before getting in the water. The watch is water resistant to one hundred meters but I figured the salt in the water would be its doom. Fortunately I was wrong as my watch made it through unscathed. The same cannot be said for my feet and wrist though. As I was swimming back to shore I scratched my wrist on the salt crystals on the seafloor. Also as I slowly picked my way back to my clothes I shredded my feet on the crystals on shore. Perhaps this was due to the softening of my skin due to the salt water. Standing by my clothes I looked down and saw a decent amount of blood at my feet and I remember thinking: “Oh wow, someone really bled a lot by my clothes” only to realize that this was my blood. I sat down by my clothes and most of my colleagues eventually worked their way to the shore by me only to experience the same bloody lesson. At this point I have to say that my experience in the Dead Sea was definitely a memorable one but I must advise you to bring your swimsuit. Since I was in my boxers I decided not to partake in a shower onshore. This was a really big mistake as the salt leaves a pretty disgusting residue on your skin and especially in your hair.

After about an hour I had sufficiently dried out and I put my clothes back on and headed back to the bus. We eventually departed and I was able to return home to a well deserved and much desired shower. Thus we draw to a conclusion for my Kerak/Dead Sea daytrip. Unfortunately I have two substantial papers due in about 13 days so I’m not sure how substantial my blog entries will be over that period. Academics always come first. I will try my best though.

Cheers.

Published in: on March 7, 2011 at 1:10 pm  Comments (1)  

Operation Rescue Kitty

So I was standing in the kitchen listening to my headphones when my roommate Adam walked in and exclaimed: “WHAT THE &%#$!?!?!” I turned and looked and there was a cat sitting on our window sill meowing at us. It was an orange tabby with medium to long hair. I didn’t notice because I was listening to my headphones. Apparently it had jumped from the railing of our garden to our kitchen window which is actually above the parking area so it’s basically on the second floor. Somehow it had climbed through the bars and was now stuck between the bars and the window. I decided to undertake operation rescue kitty before it became frantic. I put my coat and gloves on just in case it decided to try and bite me (I don’t want be back at the hospital for rabies shots). I opened the window and let it enter the kitchen on its own. Although hesitant at first, it eventually walked in and rubbed on my hand. I picked it up and took it to our front door and let it taste freedom once again. Operation rescue kitty was a success.

Published in: on February 28, 2011 at 12:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

February 25, 2011

Today, Muhammad, my peer-tutor, invited me and some others to his home for some wonderful Arabic hospitality. Originally it was planned for the group to be about 12 -15 people but unfortunately I had fallen ill for a few days and was unable to get people to commit. Fortunately I was feeling a little better today and was able to organize a group of nine students from our program and Muhammad was able to invite some of his friends as well. My roommate Adam and I were picked up by Muhammad’s friend Firras (sp?) and after an adventurous drive (we got lost and also reversed on a busy highway) we arrived at Muhammad’s home. Disaster was averted and dinner was served. Dinner consisted of chicken, two huge platters of rice with beans meat and almonds, some carrot based salad (tasted like cole slaw), an Arab/Asian fusion of pepper steak, a sour cream and chicken dish, and some bread. Dinner was delicious and was followed up with Arabic coffee, tea, and kunafa for dessert. After dinner we decided to go to Rainbow Street to play some cards. After another adventurous drive (Jordanian drivers are a breed of their own. I wish I could take on the challenge but alas the rules prevent me) we arrived at our destination.

Rainbow Street is a street full of cafes and bars and is very popular with westerners. There are also a bunch of consulates on it as well. After parking we entered an argileh (shisha, hubbly bubbly, whatever you want to call it) café and sat at a table. We ordered some hubbly bubbly (I love that name) and proceeded to play cards. Some of our colleagues left to go get some drinks (with alcohol) but returned after a while. My hubbly bubbly was grape and mint flavored but it also had a taste of licorice to it. Firras explained to me that licorice flavored shisha makes all shisha taste like it after it has been smoked in a pipe. I guess it taints the flavor. He proclaimed that the shisha at this place wasn’t very good. It tasted ok to me but I had not sufficiently recovered from my flu yet and I think it made me a little ill. After a few hours Muhammad’s friend Omar took us home so I could get some sleep. Overall it was a fun experience; I just wish I had been in better health for it.

Published in: on February 26, 2011 at 6:54 pm  Comments (1)  

February 24, 2011

I woke up today at about 7:30am shivering in my bed. I felt terrible with a fever, chills, a headache, and achy joints. It felt like to flu. Of course there’s no way I could get the flu because I got a flu shot in the States before I left, right? There I was shivering and feeling terrible faced with the dilemma of going to class. If we miss class, we lose two points off of our final grade and on top of that I had a quiz scheduled for that day in my Modern Standard Arabic class. I decided to suck it up and went to class regardless of how I felt.

Once I was there I talked to my professor and explained I was sick. In response she decided to give us the quiz first thing so I could leave early. I’m sure I did terribly on the quiz because I simply couldn’t concentrate on anything. After I finished I left class and headed to the Khalifeh Building where the CIEE office is located so I could fill out an absence form. I felt like I was on a death march it took so long.

Once I was there and filling out a form the Director of the Program walked in the door and informed me I didn’t look too good (really?). She told me to talk to Jennifer who handles our dealings with doctors among many other things. Jennifer came to talk to me and proclaimed that I looked terrible (really?) and that I should go to the doctor. Actually she decided that I should go to the emergency room since most Jordanian doctors don’t get into their offices until 11am (sounds like a nice gig). She had one of the CIEE drivers take me to the Arab Medical center near the 5th circle.

Upon my arrival to the hospital I went to the triage area and described to them my ailments. I was told to wait in the examination room and that the doctor would be there in a couple minutes (everything in Jordan is 2 or 5 minutes which can mean anywhere from 2 minutes to never). A nurse (a male nurse of course) came in and took my vitals. To this point it was just like being in a hospital back home but without having a long wait in the ER. The doctor arrived and gave me a routine check up. He told me (he spoke spotless English) my tonsils looked good and there didn’t appear to be anything caused by bacteria. The diagnosis: viral flu. Apparently US flu shots don’t cover all types of flu. He prescribed me some Panadol (Tylenol), some cough syrup (wasn’t coughing but ok), and a third pill which I’m not sure what it’s for (Xyzal). After all of this I had to pay the staggering amount of 12 Jordanian Dinars for my emergency room trip and 17 Dinars for my medications. That’s about $40 and some change. Take that US healthcare.

Published in: on February 26, 2011 at 6:52 pm  Comments (1)  
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