Monday, September 17, 2012

"Jordan has a strange, haunting beauty..."

"...and a sense of timelessness. Dotted with ruins of empires once great, it is the last resort of yesterday in the world of tomorrow. I love every inch of it."
- King Hussein Bin Talal of Jordan

Song of the week: Imm el Jacket - Mashrou' Leila

This post is long over due and I apologize for that. During this past week the crazy adventures have been piling up and I have managed to see a lot of Jordan since I last wrote. I will start from the beginning: the football game between Jordan and Australia.

Three of us CIEE students went straight from a movie screening of Captain Abu Raeed, a sweet movie about an old man with a good heart and big dreams. The movie brought up interesting themes of domestic abuse and martyrdom, but I particularly recommend it for the magnificent views over Amman. Now back to the football game: the stadium is in East Amman, near the refugee camps, so I got to see a different side to Jordan’s capital, and get a sense of how big the city is. When we got there people were literally running in every direction so it was impossible to figure out where to buy tickets. Finally we just chose a direction. On the way we bought “I <3 Jordan” bandanas, because being blonde meant that everyone assumed I was rooting for the night’s rival, Australia. The bandana still didn’t stop people from assuming I was from the land down under. When we got into the complex, escorted by a friendly policeman, we were still just as confused about tickets. Finally an Australian Jordanian man convinced the policeman to let us into the Australian fans section, and that is how I saw a World Cup Qualifier for free! The game was exciting, with Jordan winning 2-1, having the stands erupting in earth-shattering cheers. The stadium was small but packed to the brim, people climbing over the walls and up the lampposts to see the game. The royal section had the best view of course. We left early to get a cab back and so missed the last Australian goal, but that didn’t diminish my joy. YALLAH AL-URDUN!

On Thursday the real adventure started: the unbelievable trip to Wadi Mujib. Twenty of us took a minibus to the Dead Sea, where we stayed in gorgeous chalets overlooking the breathtakingly beautiful and ironically vibrant-looking Dead Sea, with the rose-colored West Bank in the background. After a delicious buffet meal I lay out in the hammock looking for constellations in the breezy night sky, and played mafia with the other students on the trip. Around 1 am I found myself dancing salsa under shooting stars on the coast of the Dead Sea.

The next morning we woke up at 6am for a big breakfast and the hike, which started up a steep flame-colored canyon. We then came to a Wadi, where all the fun began. We not only floated down a stream through a canyon, but went down a 25 m waterfall. It was amazing, to say the least, and so much fun. When we got back we still had the whole day ahead of us, which was spent dipping into the Dead Sea, which looks less appealing after you’ve gone swimming in it with a bunch of cuts and scrapes from that morning’s hike. After lunch, we went to the Dead Sea Panorama Complex, which excellently highlighted the unique geology, history, and ecology of the Dead Sea, as well as it’s dire situation. It’s a bit ironic, but the Dead Sea is dying. The Dead Sea water level is being reduced by over 1 m every year thanks to salt-evaporation projects by mineral companies and mistreatment and diversion of its main tributary, The Lower Jordan River. My internship with Friends of the Earth Middle East is a prime advocate for the rehabilitation and conservation of the Jordan River, and thus the Dead Sea since the two bodies of water are inextricably linked. Some of the policy strategies we are exploring involve more sustainable irrigation techniques and better water saving strategies, as well as raising public and political awareness of the issue. I am proud to be working on such an important cause.

Back in Amman we didn’t want the trip to be over, so we extended it slightly by smoking shisha and drinking Turkish coffee. After that I rushed down to the Roman Theater, where I saw the incredible band Mashrou’ Leila perform, their modern beats reverberating through the ancient stones. It was an unforgettable experience.

The next day I woke up early to go to Jerash and Ajloun with my beautiful Jordanian friend and her husband and daughter. On our way out of Amman we picked up deliciously sweet date bread and a bag of about 50 small sour green apples. After about an hour we reached Jerash, an enormous city of magnificent Greco-Roman ruins that is still inhabited today. The city flourished in 3rd to 1st century BC as part of the Roman Decapolis, a federation of major cities in the Roman Empire. On our tour by a local guide, translated to English by my friend, I was reminded of how modern the Romans were for their time, with the technology and infrastructure for street lights, earthquake warning signals, and a system for telling the days of the week. Foreign citizens pay 8 JOD to access the complex.

After Jerash we stopped for a picnic on the roadside in the dusty green hills of Ajloun. The roadside was disgustingly littered, but the peaceful surroundings (as opposed to Amman’s never ending buzz) and the delicious food (flat bread with thyme and goat cheese, accompanied with really sweet tea). After that we continued to Ajloun Castle, a magnificent fortress built by the nephew of Saladin, the great Kurdish conqueror of the Ayyubid dynasty. The castle is situated on a commanding hill overlooking the northern countryside of Jordan, and was originally built to protect against crusader attacks. It was still used for warfare only a few decades ago, but is now open to the public, costing 10 JOD for foreign citizens. Inside the display ancient artifacts in a small museum, and the rest of the large castle is yours to get lost in.

On the way back we stopped at a church which had supposedly provided refuge for the persecuted Virgin Mary. It’s fascinating to be lighting a candle in a Catholic church at the same time as you hear the call to prayer from a mosque up the street. An hour or so later we return to Amman, where we eat an enormous meal of shawarma and chicken in Khalda. After a packed weekend of exploring a huge chunk of Jordan with wonderful new friends I returned, exhausted, to my host family’s home, where they were all eating mansaf, Jordan’s national dish. Unfortunately I was so stuffed from the chicken that I couldn’t try it, but I had some today and it was delicious. We didn’t eat it with our hands though, as is the tradition, since my host family considers that unladylike and therefore only the men eat mansaf with their hands. I finished off an amazing weekend with a cozy movie night with four wonderful girls in my neighborhood, watching Lawrence of Arabia in anticipation of our trip to Wadi Rum, Aqaba, and Petra next weekend.

Be prepared for a post on camel riding, Red Sea snorkeling, and Nabatean ruins next week!

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