Last Saturday I went on the Biblical Jordan day trip that CIEE organized for us. Unfortunately, I was sleep-deprived and nauseous, and therefore didn’t really enjoy the trip. We first went to the Baptism site, which was fascinating for the reality it gave evidence to. The Baptism Site is the only place in Jordan where you can access the Jordan river, which is highly militarized. The very site where Jesus was supposedly baptized is dried up and several meters from where the river is today due to geological shifts and climate change. There was a stark contrast between the Jordanian and Israeli side of the river. Even though the Jordanian side is officially accepted as the site of the Baptism, the Israeli side is much more built-up, with white marble buildings and smooth steps leading straight into the water, while the Jordanian side only has a small church built in 2003 and a rickety wooden structure leading down to the muddy banks of the polluted Jordan River. While the Israeli side was active with people getting baptized and tour groups arriving, we stood silent along the wooden fence on the Jordanian side, as a religious tour group sang Christian psalms behind us. There were only around 5-10 meters between Jordan and Israel, but if anyone had tried to walk across, the military would have had to get involved. It’s the reality of living in a militarized region.
After the Baptism site we went to Mount Nebo, which had views and mosaics that were beautiful but not in competition with greater sights I have seen elsewhere in Jordan. On our way to lunch in Madaba we stopped at a huge tourist trap selling mosaics that benefit the handicapped community in Jordan. After lunch, which was not nearly as good as other food I’ve had here in Jordan, I grabbed a bus home alone while the other students continued onto Mukawir.
This past week I started taking salsa classes in Jordan! It is only 40 JOD for 8 classes, with 4 complimentary classes on Thursdays, through Out&About Jordan who also organizes a weekly book club and monthly hiking trips. The salsa teacher is Colombian and the group is small but intimate. I have already improved my salsa, bachata, and merengue skills. This will be the 6th country I have taken salsa lessons in (the others are Sweden, Malta, Ecuador, Israel, and the US).
On Monday night I made Swedish meatballs for my family, accompanied by boiled potatoes, brunsås with freshly ground nutmeg, and red currants as a replacement to lingonberries. The meal didn't taste exactly like it does back at home in Sweden, bt it tasted good and I was happy to provide some food for my host family who has been feeding me so richly ever since I arrived. On Tuesday I went straight from work to watch the Jordan vs. Oman world cup qualifier, where Oman won 2-1 thanks to a very biased goalie, who kept disqualifying Jordan’s goals. Most of the game didn’t start picking up until the last 15 minutes, but those last 15 minutes were as dramatic as football can get. Another notable world cup qualifying game of that day was when Sweden made history by scoring 4 goals against Germany in the matter of half an hour, ending with a shocking tied score of 4-4. Sweden is back on the international football scene!
While I watched the game, a friend from work called me about a modeling opportunity she had to back out of last minute, to ask if I wanted to take her place as model. That is how I found myself spending an evening at a workshop on light intensity in portrait photography at Jordan Photography Society, having some of Jordan’s most famous photographers flash their cameras at me.
The next day some friends I made at the photography workshop invited me to spend the afternoon with them. I ended up being driven to the house of one of Jordan’s most famous artists by the royal portrait photographer, who has traveled around the world with the Jordanian royal family. The house was located in the Christian community of Fuheis where major drama had just gone down. Supposedly a girl in the community and a Circassian Muslim boy had fallen in love. She decided to convert to Islam to be with him, so her family then said that the Circassian boy had “kidnapped” her in order to protect her honor. Her brothers and cousins proceeded to burn the boy’s car and then dumped it in the round-about in central Fuheis as a warning. When we drove around the round-about the blackened car stood there as if it were some sort of modern art sculpture, a testament to this contemporary Jordanian version of Romeo & Juliet. At the time a bunch of boys were gathering to get ready for the big fight. By the time we left the artist’s house the street was blocked off as the fighting had started, and we had to make a huge detour, which led us to another burning car upon entering Amman! My Jordanian friends’ reaction of course was “Ahlan wa sahlan ale alUrdun!” (Welcome to Jordan!)
The artist’s house was really cool, every surface covered in the most incredible paintings that had a mix of tangible texture and spiritual exploration that was hypnotizing. I by accident stepped on one of the paintings, since they were even scattered all over the floor, but the artist didn’t seem to mind. His greeting to me (translated by the photographer because of the artist’s lack of English) was “Your smile is like oxygen to me, because your spirit is so pure.” The smiling artist had a long thin beard and shoulder-length grey hair, and walked around his cluttered and eclectic house barefoot because “gravity wants our feet to make love to the earth”. You have to love a person who expresses himself so poetically. He loves music, of which he has thousands of pirated tracks (the photographer told me the artist was a “thief of the internet”), and his three daughters are everything to him. He has seen the documentary Baraka over 100 times, and of course, he had to show Baraka to me, so we proceeded to watch its stunning cinematography of magnificent places and cultures around the world while sipping Nescafe on his big brown couch as the sun set outside over the dry landscape sloping down to the Dead Sea. The room was surrounded by over 30 speakers placed here and there between enigmatic paintings, such as one hiding 76 faces in a purplish-blue landscape, or a painting in progress of Isis with a deep black third eye that was supposed to be so intense that if you focused on it, you would immediately fall asleep.
On Thursday I utilized even more connections that I got through the modeling at Jordan Photography Society. One of the photographers at the workshop was a professional model photographer and his modeling agency, Modelicious, had auditions on Thursday. Since he was already putting in a good word for me, said I had potential, and modeling jobs pay really well here, I thought I would give it a shot. After my internship, where we have got the ball rolling on faith-based toolkits for Muslim communities (more on those later), my friend picked me up and we drove down to the modeling agency in the neighborhood of Arjan. There I waited for my turn on a big couch with a few Jordanian girls and quite a few more Jordanian men who were hoping to get their big start as models. After being weighed, measured, and interviewed it was time for the photo shoot, and my photographer friend introduced me to some typical model poses. I never thought I would find myself standing in high heels and skinny jeans at a photo shoot while the call to prayer echoed between the limestone buildings outside.
After that experience I met up with some friends at 7 Barrels (one of the few places in Amman that offers Leffe, my favorite beer). When the reservation for our table ran out we moved on to Books@Cafe, where I now know two of the bartenders. Ironically, Modelicious, the modeling agency I auditioned for, was positioned outside the bar looking for willing participants in the Amman Street Style Competition on Instagram in relation to the upcoming Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. They greeted me with kisses on the cheek and entered me into the competition (please like my photo if you have instagram!). Suddenly I’m posing in front of Mercedes Benz cars with photographers flocking around me, flashes blinding me in the warm Middle Eastern night, followed by an interview with Jordanian public radio. It was fun feeling like a celebrity for a while, and hopefully through working with the modeling agency I’ll have more cool experiences like this!
I stayed the night at a friend’s place since we were all going on the same trip early the next morning. The trip, organized by a student at Princess Sumaya University of Technology, only cost 35 JOD and included transportation, croissants and juice for breakfast, a 5-hour hike up the geologically stunning but sadly littered Wadi Numeira, followed by horseback riding and volley ball at a farm in Madaba, and finally a DJ party. It was such a difference going on a group trip with Jordanians rather than with all Americans, mainly because the party didn’t stop. From when the bus left Amman at 8am to when the bus arrived back at midnight, the music did not stop and everyone was constantly dancing and singing in the bus. Along the way we had games, such as a tug of war, a talent show and bingo with fantastic prizes. Jordanians definitely know how to have a good time! I will never forget this trip and the friends I made. It is after this weekend especially that I want to extend my trip in Jordan. I ONLY HAVE TWO MONTHS LEFT! I won’t think about that though, it makes me so upset.
Anyway, now I have to write a 10-page essay on inclusions and exclusions in the Jordanian national narrative, a blog post on agricultural cooperation between Jordan and Israel, an abstract and outline for my case study on ecological parks in Jordan, study for an Arabic test and presentation, and finish up my extended work on an inventory of all climate change initiatives in the USA. However, next week I have my week-long break for Eid Al-Adha, and my wonderful mother will be visiting. We have an exciting week planned couchsurfing in Jerusalem, swimming in the Red Sea in Eilat, staying at a Bedouin camp in Petra, lounging for a day at one of the spas lining the coast of the Dead Sea, and exploring Amman off the beaten track. The weekend after that I have plans to attend a Jordanian wedding, which is really exciting! Thank you for reading and until next time!