Biblical Jordan / CIEE Sponsored Day Trip

After a painless taxi ride to the university my roommates and I met with our fellow program participants. Essentially a big group of Americans gathered in front of the university. We garnered stares from the locals as usual. Sometimes I wonder if I stare a lot at foreigners back home. I suppose it’s something to think about once I’m back at home. I bid my roommates a good day (They were going on the other trip to the Eastern Desert) and joined the group going on the Biblical Jordan excursion.

Once I got on the bus I already knew it was going to be a good trip since we got assigned the more entertaining CIEE interns (Greg and Alisha). Once we were all on the bus Greg got on the intercom (never one to turn down a microphone) and proclaimed that we were going to have a lot more fun because the other trip is boring. Joining us on our trip was a friend of Greg’s who was previously in the CIEE program with him. He was a very interesting guy from Philadelphia who now was living in Jerusalem working for a human rights organization (I feel really bad about it but I can’t remember his name now). I made sure I sat by the interns on the bus because they have the most entertaining stories plus they have experienced so many things that I want to experience and peak my curiosity. It’s also a plus that Greg is hilarious.

We got underway and made a stop at Piggly Wiggly (Y’all come back now ya hear!) to buy some breakfast items for the bus trip. Breakfast consisted of little pizzas (Apparently a popular Arab breakfast?) some cheese filled pastries, and some zatr (bread with oil and spices on it). I passed on breakfast since I wasn’t feeling that well (Probably contributing to the fact that I’ve lost 10 pounds since I’ve been here). We had to surrender our ID’s to the guide in order to pass through a bunch of police and military checkpoints. It’s par for the course when you’re so close to the border with Israel. We were on our way to some of the lowest points on Earth and it was steadily getting hotter.

Our first stop was at Bethany Beyond the Jordan where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and also where Elijah ascended to heaven on a chariot of fire (because a normal chariot would be too worldly) just a few kilometers north of the Dead Sea. In addition to our own tour guide we were graced with a personal tour from the man in charge of the site. The first stop was at the spring of John the Baptist. The water was clear and cool to the touch and the site was tranquil. It provided a stark contrast considering the violence that has plagued this area for thousands of years. It was soothing just to stand there and listen to the trickling of the water from the spring.

After viewing the spring our guide led us to the site which scholars and Pope John Paul II proclaim is the site of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. The site now is basically a muddy ditch. The site guide explained that the water of the Jordan River diverted from this location to its current location so there no longer is any water here. There were the remains of some Byzantine churches close to the site but they had since been destroyed by earthquakes. All that remains was the tops of a few columns and some mosaic pieces. Nearby, there was also a hilarious mosaic portraying the King, Queen, and the Pope on a golf cart (the picture is on my Facebook page if you want to see it). There was also a pavilion housing a pool which can be filled for modern baptisms. Greg called it the party house and his friend proclaimed it as the site of the first Christian Loo-ow (sp?).
Next we were led to the Jordan River in its current location. Near the river there was a beautiful Greek Orthodox Church with a gold roof. It might have been the church of Saint John, but I’m not sure. Inside the church there were beautiful paintings (frescos?) on the wall and the ceiling. There was also a skull and bones in a glass box but unfortunately I can’t read Greek so I couldn’t read the description. After taking some pictures I descended down the wooden stairs to the Jordan River.

The stairs led to a small platform with a small pool for the baptism of babies and a small stairway down to the river itself. All of this is under the watchful eye of a Jordanian soldier who looked all of 18 years of age. At this point we were maybe 15 feet away from Israel and the Palestinian Territories. I could see two Israeli soldiers guarding their side of the border. Also on the other side there were some Russian Orthodox who appeared to be preparing for a baptism. There was a sense of calm over the site yet you could feel a strange tension about the whole situation. It’s interesting how such a holy place for the Christian religion is kept under such a watchful eye of Jewish and Muslim soldiers to prevent any border incidents in their respective countries. Sometimes I wonder if the third religion is lost and forgotten in all the regional tensions. It’s truly sad that such holy places for the three major monotheistic religions need to be “owned” or controlled by anyone (food for thought). Moving past such intellectual tidbits, the river actually had quite a bit of water in it due to the winter rains. This was not the stagnant ditch I had read about and was expecting. The water was muddy and smelled like oil or some other combination of chemicals. Despite this, I placed my hand in it to experience the cool holy waters of the Jordan River firsthand.

After our time at the Jordan River came to a close we boarded our bus and headed for Mount Nebo. Mount Nebo is the mountain where Moses is said to have seen the Promised Land and also where he died at age 120. The views from this location were absolutely amazing. From here you could see Amman, the Dead Sea, and if it wasn’t hazy Jerusalem as well. In fact, I would argue that the view towards Amman was the most breathtaking. On the mountain top a new church is in the process of being built so the mosaics are all housed in tents. The mosaics depicted the various stages of men and the introduction of Christianity into their lives (they are apparently interpreted in many different ways so there is much debate as usual). While in one of the tents there was a curator giving an explanation of the mosaics in what sounded like Danish to a bunch of tourists from Denmark (they all had matching blue hats that had Denmark printed on them). I believe he might have been from the original excavation of the site since he looked a lot like one of the archeologists in the photos of the excavation. Once we finished at Mount Nebo it was back on the bus and off to the City of Madaba.

When we arrived in Madaba I couldn’t help but be reminded of a town in the southwest of the United States. In fact, our tour guide said that he hears many Americans compare Madaba to towns in Mexico. One third of Madaba’s population is Christian and it is the home of many Byzantine mosaics. Our destination was the home of one of those mosaics, St. George’s Church. St. George is the home of the oldest map of Palestine in existence. This map was one of the tools used by scholars in identifying the location of the baptism of Jesus previously discussed. According to my tour guide, during the Ottoman Empire, when Christians wanted to build churches they had to use a site where a previous church was built. This started a search for Byzantine era churches. When St. George’s Church was being built in the 1880’s the mosaic was discovered. The map has been damaged and much has been lost but there remains enough to imagine how the original looked. The areas around the Dead Sea, Palestine, and Jordan remain but the areas depicting Egypt and Syria have mostly been lost. It was truly an amazing sight to behold. Also it seemed somewhat alien to hear Christian church bells once again. After our time at the church it was time for lunch. We ate lunch at a restaurant called Haret Jdoudna. We were served a variety of dishes including fattoush, salat, hummus, baba ghanouj, fuul, kibbeh, chicken, and lamb. We tasted all this local fare in a covered courtyard on a beautiful warm Jordanian sunny afternoon. After lunch we boarded a bus and departed for Machaerus, our final destination for the day.

Machaerus was the castle of Herod the Great and his successor Herod Antipas. This site is notorious for the fact that Herod Antipas beheaded John the Baptist there at the request of his step-daughter, the dancer Salome. The castle is separated from the parking area by a stone staircase and a path which leads up the mountain clockwise. It was actually a somewhat difficult climb as the footing was loose and the grade quite steep in places. Once on top of the hill all that remains of the castle are some columns which mark a part of the palace where Salome danced for Herod. There were also some remains of the walls as well as some chambers below the surface. I was told that we were actually on the second floor of the castle and that the lower levels had been completely covered by dust over the passage of time but I’m not sure of the accuracy of this claim. The views from this mountaintop palace were breathtaking. The surrounding hills were eerily quiet and all you could hear was the whispering of the wind through the valleys. The Dead Sea was also visible and was actually sparkling in the sunset. I could have sat on that hilltop for hours lost in my thoughts. After spending about two hours on the mountaintop we had reached the end of our day trip. We boarded our bus and headed back to Amman.

I hope this has provided a window into my trip to some of the biblical sites in Jordan. I have photo albums of the trip on my Facebook page and you’re welcome to view it. If you don’t have access please contact me and I will grant you access.


Published in: on February 26, 2011 at 6:48 pm  Comments (5)  

February 18, 2011

It’s been an exhausting week. Classes here are very demanding. It’s funny because during our orientation the program informed us that we would be getting less homework to allow us to go out and experience the city and use it as our own 24 hour language lab. That’s funny to me because I’ve had so much homework I don’t have time to do anything. In fact I can’t get all the reading done. Between my area studies and my arabic courses my language lab consists of taxis to and from school. Otherwise I’m reading Area studies or doing Arabic homework. Right now I’m getting about 5 hours of sleep a night. Someone in the program mentioned that our courseload is the equivalent of about 20 credit hours back at home. I wish I could get that in writing to send back to my home school because I could use 20 credits…Oh well, such is life.

After a trip to the kiosk who sold me my internet I was informed my usb internet plug is broken. I’m so glad I’ve paid for almost 3 weeks of nothing. I’d ask for my money back but there is no consumer protection here. It’s simply my problem to deal with. Supposedly I can get a replacement but we’ll see. Nothing surprises me anymore. My only source of internet right now is to either use the super slow private study center network (I mean like 56k dial-up slow) or public spaces like coffee shops or restaurants. At this point I can’t download or upload any pictures because I don’t have 6-8 hours to spare while everything moves at 1 KB a second. I hope I’m not destroying anyone’s dreams of study abroad with this blog. I’m simply just trying to portray things as they are here.

Friday was an interesting day. Today was the day that high school seniors found out if they passed their standardized tests which determine where and what they can study in a university. It began at 8 am. Thousands of young people driving around screaming and honking their car horns. Oh and they also like to shoot guns here. So to celebrate they shoot them in the air (where do the bullets land?) So my friday consisted of trying to read my gazillion pages of area studies reading and listening to screaming young people, blaring music, honking car horns, and periodic gunfire. Needless to say it’s hard to get things done that way. This all went on until the wee hours of the morning. Oh well, tomorrow I get to go tour the biblical sites with a bunch of my colleagues. Should be fun.


Published in: on February 20, 2011 at 1:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

February 10, 2011

Well, I’ve reached the end of my first week of classes. I have a Modern Standard Arabic course and a Colloquial Jordanian Arabic course. I also have two area studies courses; America and the Arabs; and Jordan and the Arab Israeli Conflict.

I think I will enjoy my Arabic courses as the professors seem very nice and easy to follow. However the week got off to a rough start as I had my Arabic placement test. The test was brutal. I only scored a 20% on it which means I have a lot of work to do. The caveat to this is I did not study any material prior to this test since I wanted to make sure I was not placed into too difficult of a course. Unfortunately I’m going to be going over a few chapters that I already went over at home but this should help strengthen my base and will make me much more proficient overall. It seems as though my biggest weakness is in vocabulary which is something that I just have to practice on my own.

My area studies courses are going to be very interesting I believe. My professor received his Ph.D from Durham University in the UK. He spoke a little about his university’s inferiority complex when it comes to what he called the “Oxbridge” (Cambridge and Oxford), something he was not aware of until after he got there. The classes themselves should be very interesting as the material is fascinating and we are also going to have the opportunity to interact with Jordanian students and discuss political issues during the term. This is something that is simply not available back at home.

Overall it’s been an interesting week. We’ve been fighting a battle with the hot water and heat since we moved in. The landlord came over on Tuesday and basically turned the heat and hot water on. It might have been nice for that to have happened when we moved in but whatever. I took my first warm shower in over a week last night. I felt like I had been baptized or just got home from the best date ever and that the roomies and I should sit and gossip about the shower for a while afterwards. Call to prayer still wakes me up every morning at 4:30AM. Also every morning there is a truck that drives around playing extremely loud annoying ice cream truck like music which apparently notifies people that the gas truck is coming. If you run out of cooking gas you can exchange tanks with this truck. I bought a USB internet plug but it doesn’t work still even after three password resets. Now I have to take it back and attempt to get my money back. I can’t wait for that argument.

Now on to some memorable moments. One of my roommates got asked by a cab driver for his girlfriend’s telephone number back in the states and why he didn’t have a girlfriend here in Jordan also. Seriously. My other roomie was in a car accident while in a cab. The cabbie got out and was pretty much about to exchange blows with the 3 kids involved. Needless to say, my roommate left money for the cab and took off. I walked into a shwarma shop and no-one would serve me yet they served my roommate (who looks much more American than I do). People who ask for money speak really good English when they do it. No-one in Amman knows a street name. Amman’s sidewalks are brutal (I sprained my foot today because I stepped on an uneven section wrong). A Lebanese worker (I think he might have been the manager) at Lebnani snack asked me why American students only come to Jordan to study Arabic. Then he only talked to me because he proclaimed I spoke better Arabic than my roommates. He asked for my Facebook account (I politely explained that I do not have it memorized). Some Arabs make really good pizza

That’s about it for today. Cheers.

Published in: on February 13, 2011 at 3:23 pm  Comments (3)  

February 5, 2011

I didn’t feel well last night so I slept for about 12 hours or so. I feel better this morning. We tried the water heater again and I took the coldest shower I’ve ever taken in my life. I think I almost went into hypothermic shock but I managed to make it through. It felt so good to take a shower and wash my hair. It had been a couple days (yeah I know gross, whatever, welcome to Jordan, deal with it). Well today a couple of the other students called and we decided to go to a gym called Sports City. It was truly an eventful cab ride. Adam sat in the front and directed the cab driver to take us to sports city. We almost got there and then he directed the driver to go to the University (He was convinced he saw it from there. But he was wrong as that was in the complete opposite direction). The driver turned around and took us to the University main gate. I told them to let us out there and we crossed the street to hail another cab. We grabbed another cab and the driver took us back to where we were when we had turned around before. Turns out we were about a block away. We met the others and then took a long walk through the streets of Amman exploring and looking for internet cafes and somewhere to eat, preferably somewhere that had both. Eventually food won the argument and we stopped and ate. After eating we bid our goodbyes and headed back to the apartment. Tomorrow is the first day of class. It’s not a real class per se, but a Modern Standard Arabic review session. Then in the afternoon we have the U.S. Embassy safety briefing. Hopefully between those I’ll have a chance to talk to the residence advisor about the issues with the apartment. Time will tell if I find success.

Published in: on February 6, 2011 at 1:16 pm  Comments (1)  

February 3, 2011

Last night we moved into our apartments. I’m in the Rabieh neighborhood of Amman. It seems to be a somewhat upscale area. The apartment is a basement apartment in a building which otherwise houses Jordanians. I have two roommates, Pete from the College of New Jersey, and Adam from the University of Tennessee. This should be interesting because it’s obvious these guys have never really lived in a situation where they are solely responsible for everything they need. We took a quick walk up the street to a local market. The owner spoke no English and I let the roommates do the talking. After a struggle to communicate we managed to secure a few basic necessities for the apartment. The apartment is freezing and the hot water heater is hot in name only. We’re lucky if it warms the water to 50 degrees. So we have basically no heat and no hot water for showers or any other use. I’ll have to talk to the residence advisor about it but I have a feeling that she’s just going to tell me to work it out with the landlord or guard (code for leave me alone and figure it out yourself). Oh the guard! We have a migrant Egyptian who is called the guard. He basically cleans the public areas of the building and changes our kitchen gas or the water in the water cooler. He speaks zero English and communicating with him consists mainly of hand signals and broken Arabic. It’s somewhat upsetting that we have paid so much money to come here and live with no heat or hot water. I guess this is their idea of total immersion. Survive basically on your own in an alien country but if there is an emergency call them first, then call the police.

Moving beyond my complaints, the apartment isn’t that bad. It’s actually quite picturesque. There is some nice Victorian style furniture and a lot of burnt out light bulbs. There is a television with a satellite that doesn’t seem to work. The nice thing is we have our own entrance through a courtyard so we don’t have to go through the main door for which we only have one key (makes perfect sense since there are three of us). Luckily we each have a key to the courtyard entrance. We have a normal toilet which in Jordan people do not flush their toilet paper (the pipes can’t handle it) so you use it then place it in a waste basket next to the toilet. I just can’t imagine how a disease like hepatitis b could spread with hygiene like that! Basically hand sanitizer is your best friend here. Also it’s a good idea to carry your own toilet paper with you as there is no guarantee there will be toilet paper at a toilet, especially at the University. No-one else has seemed to figure that out yet. Oh well, I feel better now that I’ve complained about this, but I may as well leave it at that. I’m in a developing country and I’m going to learn to live as such. I have a new humble appreciation for the life most take for granted back in the United States. I have a feeling I will learn all sorts of patience living here these four months.

After spending the first night in the apartment under a sheet, blanket, and two comforters, we had to set off for the University on our own. We hailed a cab (there’s like 15000 yellow taxis in Amman) and I let Adam and Pete do the talking again. It’s become apparent that I’m the best Arabic speaker in the group as I’m the only one who ever has any idea what people are saying to us. Dr. Tayyara would be so proud. I can’t wait to tell him when I return. Perhaps I should send him an email. The cab ride was mostly painless as the driver spoke English pretty well. He gave us the standard Arab taxi driver interrogation. “Where are you from, where did you learn Arabic, what do you think of my country, are you enrolled at the University?” We arrived at the gate and met with the other student and the CIEE interns for our tour of the university. Our tour guide was a Jordanian girl who spoke Greek, English, French, and Arabic obviously. After our tour and lunch we had more lectures at the CIEE office on the program and safety. The director asked us if we saw the tanks and soldiers in the streets due to the King sacking the Prime Minster that was reported by CNN, AP, and others back home. It’s amazing how woefully uninformed and inaccurate our news reporting is of this region. No wonder our parents worry. It was just another normal sunny day in Amman where everyone went about their business as usual.

After we finished my roommates and I decide to go grocery shopping. We went to Carrefour which is basically a French Walmart on steroids. We did some shopping (everything here is expensive) and used the opportunity to break some of our large Jordanian bills. The secret (not really a secret) is that nobody has small bills and change in Jordan yet you can’t do anything without them. It’s virtually impossible to get anyone in a normal store to break any bill over 10 Dinars. Taxis won’t even break 5s. Every transaction is an exercise in trying to obtain the most small change as possible. It makes things challenging indeed.

Published in: on February 6, 2011 at 1:12 pm  Comments (2)  

February 1, 2011

After spending time in the hotel for orientation we took a tour of the city in a bus. Our first stop was the Roman amphitheatre. Our guide gave a tour of the site and informed us of the history of the theatre and described how it is still used today. After the theatre we walked to “Wild Jordan” for a lecture from the Program Director as well as some coffee and pastries. We departed and I was exposed to my first Jordanian winter rain. To say it rained is an understatement. It poured and Amman does not have any drainage sewers so the water just cascades down the streets. In fact, the streets have a groove in the center of them to allow the water to flow down the hills. After we made our way to the bus, we proceeded to a restaurant named “Jafra” for lunch.

Lunch was incredibly delicious. Our lunch consisted of hummus, baba ghanouj, and plates of chicken and lamb. I also had my first cup (or glass actually) of Arabic mint tea and there may not be a better tasting tea in my opinion. After lunch we were served a Jordanian dessert of some sort of which the name I cannot recall. It tasted good but unfortunately I was stuffed at that point.

After lunch, we hopped back on the bus and headed to the Citadel. The Citadel is an old ruin on top of a hill that was used by various empires (Roman, Byzantine, and early Islamic) to govern the city. We toured the site with our guide. Some locations of note were the Temple of Hercules, the Byzantine Basilica, the Umayyad Palace, and the Giant Cistern. While in the Umayyad Palace, the 3pm call to prayer started and the sound came from all sides, through the four open entrances and reverberated up into the renovated dome. My words can do it no justice. It was truly incredible. At that point, it was back to the bus for a ring tour of the city during which I was unfortunately reminded how I should never ride in the back of a bus, especially in traffic and on bumpy streets. Luckily we made it back to the hotel without incident.

Published in: on February 6, 2011 at 1:07 pm  Comments (1)  

I haven’t disappeared

I haven’t disappeared.  I’m trying to sort out a reliable available internet connection.  I might be forced to use the university study center’s connection which makes me unable to connect to facebook unfortunately.  I will be accessable by email then though.  I’ll let you all know 🙂

Published in: on February 4, 2011 at 1:07 pm  Comments (1)  

The Long Trip to Another World

After some difficult goodbyes I set out for my adventure on Sunday January 30th, 2011. 

After a short uneventful trip from Cleveland to Newark (Yeah my flight arrived 45 minutes early) I was able to enjoy the charms of Newark-Liberty Airport.  I sat at the gate and watched the NFL Pro Bowl while I waited for my plane to arrive.  As I sat there I couldn’t help but wonder why anyone would watch that game by choice. 

The plane arrived and we set off on my first trans-Atlantic flight.  I had the entire row of seats to myself as the plane was half empty.  It seems there aren’t a lot of people flying to the UK on a Sunday evening.  I selected “The Social Network” to watch from a collection of 60 movies via the swanky touchscreen on the back of the seat in front of me.  Two hours into the flight the service crew was asking for a doctor since apparently someone passed out from sinus pain.  First trans-Atlantic flight and my first in-air medical emergency, all in the same flight.  Other than those events the flight was relatively uneventful.  I tried to sleep but I think I was only able to maybe put together 2 hours of sleep in 15 minute increments.  As we flew over the UK and on into the airport it was already very clear I was far away from home.  The layout of the land, roads, and even the buildings were all very different. 

We landed at London-Heathrow Airport at about 9:30 AM local time.  I stepped off the plane only to find that Heathrow is basically a huge construction site.  Being tired, disoriented, and in a foreign airport I did what any good American traveller would do.  I got lost.  In fact, I proceeded to the Continental Terminal to go to my connection flight.  After a memorable experience of trying to pass through security with a watch and change in my pocket I was subjected to an extremely thorough pat-down by the security agent whom after finishing he proclaimed in true British fashion “Cheers!” with a smile.  After this jolly good time I found that despite my ticket having Continental written all over it (I booked it through them), my flight was with BMI (British Midland) and I was at the wrong terminal.  The terminals are not connected so I had to take a bus to the correct terminal.  Despite all of the problems it wasn’t a bad experience.  Once I was in the correct place, I was able to find some of the other students in my program (Thanks Facebook!) and we sat and chatted about what is to come. 

After a slight delay,  we set off from London for Amman on a packed airplane.  We get airborne and the movie screens deployed (this plane apparently wasn’t as swanky as my previous flight) and began the in-flight movie.  Today’s movie was…you guessed it: “The Social Network.”  Now, while the movie was pretty decent (Worth a rental I think), I certainly was not in any hurry to see it again less than twelve hours after I saw it the first time.  I used the opportunity to meet my fellow row mates; Another Study Abroad student from a different program, and a former soldier from the British Army.  I spent most of the flight staring out of the window at things like the German/Austrian Alps, and talking to the Brit about his job as a commercial security consultant in Jordan and about the country itself.  I’ll spare the details but it was very enlightening.  The flight got bumpy at times but we arrived without a hitch about 5 hours later. 

After landing at the Queen Alia Airport, we de-planed and proceeded to Immigration for entrance in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  The process was very easy (Get your visa before you go, it makes your life so much easier) and for the first time in my life I got a retinal scan.  After passing through customs (another simple process), I exchanged some Dollars for Jordanian Dinars and gathered with my fellow program members (I think there were about 40 or so on my flight).  The members were split into two groups, those staying in apartments and those staying in homestays.  Once all were there and finished calling their families to inform them of their safe arrival, we headed for our respective hotels.  I’ll be staying in a hotel for two days until we move into our living accommodations.

Published in: on February 2, 2011 at 1:24 am  Comments (8)  

The Night (or morning) Before

So here I am patiently waiting for the departure time.  My flight is at 4:55 PM today.  I’m anxiously nervous I suppose.  I’m excited to be going and looking forward to what I will experience.  On the other hand, I find that I’m somewhat sad to be leaving all of my friends and family.  I’m also nervous about the current political climate in the region.  I pack in the morning even though most everything is out and just needs to be put in the suitcase.  It’s late, I have a REALLY long day tomorrow with tons to do, and I’m tired so perhaps I will be writing more from an airport or at the hotel in Amman.

Published in: on January 30, 2011 at 8:34 am  Comments (4)