Sunday, November 25, 2012

Eid Break Part 3: Jerusalem, Eilat, Petra, The Dead Sea, and Amman

So much has happened that I am falling behind in my blogging, and I apologize for that. I haven’t even written about eid yet! I will try and make pictures tell most of the story so I can get to the wonderful present as soon as possible.

Our second day in Jerusalem we woke up early to go to the market Makhne Yehuda. However, we were so early that nothing had opened yet so we got a coffee first and then explored the stalls of spices, dried fruits, fresh vegetables, and sweets. We then bought some presents for the family at a local jeweler (they will see what it is when the holidays roll around). After the market we didn’t have a plan so we used my little trick of walking into a bookstore and looking through a guidebook to find the next destination. However, a writer and her poet daughter cannot enter a bookstore without having to buy something – so we emerged with the English translation of one of my favorite Swedish books, The 100 Year-Old Man That Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. It is a hilarious sort-of Swedish Forrest Gump with a dark side that I highly recommend.

Thanks to the guidebooks at the bookstore we choose to go to Ticho House. After a long search we found the exhibition to be closed for renovation but we did visit the spectacular Museum of Psalms where an old rabbi had translated verses from the Torah into incredibly colorful and powerful paintings displaying the message of the texts. My mom and I whiled away the time having deep discussions about life and love in front of those paintings, and then had a cup of tea in the beautiful garden of Ticho House.

After walking to the bus stop, we found out that the bus we planned to take is full, so we booked seats on the bus leaving three hours later and decided to grab lunch somewhere. Holy Bagel provided us with delicious bagels, salad, and free WiFi! After getting our fill of bagels we walked to the Sacher Garden near the Knesset and sat in green grass eating the dates and nuts that we had bought that morning in Makhne Yehuda, returning to the bus station in plenty of time.

We arrived in Eilat late at night and found our way to our tiny room in the kooky Corinne Hostel. We freshened up and decided to explore the nightlife of Eilat. Besides the biggest Ghost House in Israel and a crazy Russian party at one of the hotels, nothing much seemed to be happening, so we returned to the hostel to do our nails and watch a mediocre romcom. Such a cozy mother-daughter evening!

The next morning we went to a local bakery to grab breakfast, packed our bags, checked out, and headed to the beach. It was so nice to spend a few hours in a bikini, dozing off in the sand or swimming out in the temperate blue waters of the Red Sea.

After the beach we grabbed a taxi to the border, where we ran out of shekels and the taxi driver refused to believe that the Jordanian dinar is stronger than the Israeli shekel so we overpaid him. Oh well. The border crossing was very relaxed, with only a couple of families calmly processing their papers so they could walk the few meters over the border to the Jordanian checkpoint. The border crossing cost 89 shekel, and the visa for Aqaba is free to encourage tourism to Aqaba. We passed relatively quickly and on either side they said I had an Israeli/Arabic name. In Jordan I also got my first pickup line from a passport control officer: “Where are you from?” “Sweden.” “Oh I thought you were from heaven.” Welcome back to Jordan!

We got a taxi for 65 dinar to the Seven Wonders Bedouin camp in Little Petra, where we would be staying for the next two nights. We got lost in Wadi Musa for a while, but finally found the camp, which was lit up with tiny candles across the entire side of a small mountain. It was beautiful! We were immediately welcomed into the dinner tent for some delicious local food. After dinner we got settled into our cozy little tent and went to sit around the fire, where we were offered free tea and had an interesting conversation with a slightly crazy woman who had been to Petra many times but never to any other place in Jordan. I told her she has to visit the rest of the country!

The next morning we woke up bright and early to grab a quick breakfast and go to Petra. We got to the Treasury before the fingers of sunlight had reached down the mountain to touch its rosy exterior. First challenge was the High Place of Sacrifice, which is high indeed. We got a bit lost on the way and found some elephant sculptures near a spot where two Bedouin boys were grazing their sheep. We finally made it to our destination, which had a magnificent view. After sharing a buffet platter for lunch at the cafeteria (10 JOD), we moved on to our next challenge: climbing the 999 steps to the Monastery. Once again it was worth it, and we went even higher from there to a viewpoint overlooking the arid Wadi Araba. A Bedouin young man offered us a cup of tea at the Monastery while trying to convince me to climb to the roof of the gargantuan Monastery. Fortunately my mother was there to talk some sense into me, since this Bedouin probably didn’t have the purest of intentions. We did some souvenir shopping on the way down from the incredibly adamant vendors. Both things I bought have already broken, so I don’t recommend buying souvenirs there. We explored the Grand Temple, the mosaics in the Byzantine Church, and the Royal Tombs, before returning back through the narrow passageway leading out to Wadi Musa. For the last part we rode horses to give our weary legs a rest. Nine hours of exploring a natural wonder takes its toll on you!

Back in the Bedouin camp mamma learned how to tie a kuffiyeh and we ate another hearty local meal, this time the famous makhlouba. We befriended a friendly Canadian man who worked in a gold mine in Mauritania.

The next day we woke up a bit later than the morning before to get a taxi, which the Bedouin camp owners kindly arranged for us to ensure we weren’t ripped off again. The ride along the King’s Highway to the Dead Sea was very scenic and we stopped multiple times for pictures, including a pit stop at the Dana Guesthouse where I ended up having tea with some men from Amman on the balcony overlooking stunning Wadi Dana.

The O Beach by the Dead Sea was exactly the oasis I hoped for it to be. What a luxury! We paid the 25JOD to enter and then went to change in the spacious changing rooms. I fashioned a beach dress out of my scarf and we decided to check out the Omara Lebanese Restaurant to see if they took cards, since we were very low on cash. The manager greeted us saying that the machine was broken, so he took us in as his guests and offered us to sit down. We took part in a wonderful buffet meal with delicious Lebanese food, followed by delicious chocolate mousse and Turkish coffee. However, by the time we finished our meal the credit card machine was working again so we were charged for everything except the drinks and the coffee. The food was so good, though, that we didn’t feel to bad about it.

We proceeded to soak and float in the Dead Sea, covering ourselves with the famous Dead Sea mud, and then soaking and floating some more. After that we showered to get off all that salt, lounged in the sun beds, and swam in the infinity pool upstairs. Feeling relaxed and refreshed, we returned to Amman.

After a quickly freshening up at ACOR, my friends picked us up and took us to Books@Cafe, where we had cocktails and lots of fun. By 1am we were all getting a bit hungry, so we decided to find a restaurant that was still open. After much searching we settled for the Yemeni place I had visited with my Colloquial Arabic class. We sat on the floor in a private room at 2am and ate chicken and rice from a large shared platter with our hands. I am so proud of my mom for going along with all this!

The next day was our explore Amman day. We tried to follow an itinerary I found on BeAmman, but of course it didn’t go exactly as planned. However, the whole day made me love Amman even more. We started off by walking down Rainbow Street and getting falafel at Al-Quds. We then walked down from there to King Husseini Mosque, speaking to Libyan children and shopping spices on the way. Downtown was bustling with Saturday shoppers and we whiled away time buying souvenirs and trying local delicacies such as kunefeh. At the Roman Theater, after touring the Museum of Popular Traditions, we were offered cups of tea by the policemen at the entrance. The policemen then proceeded to introduce us to another man who took us to the daggers workshop mentioned in BeAmman. We made new friends and bought some daggers and gold.

After that we crossed to the next “jabal” or mountain to the Umayyad ruins at the Amman Citadel. The Museum was closed unfortunately, but the old Umayyad castle had reopened since I had last been there, and it was amazing fun getting lost in the ruins. After that we took a taxi to the mysterious House of Poetry that I had wanted to visit for so long. The House turned out to not be so impressive, but only for its vantage point that is actually exactly above the Roman theater! We walked back down, past the Roman theater and into the Downtown area where we got lost looking for a restaurant serving Mansaf. We eventually went to Jabri where we enjoyed Jordan’s national dish in a more Western fashion than I have experienced in the past. After that it was time to say good-bye and go home to study. I am so happy my mom visited me and could see the beauty of Jordan and the kindness of its people for herself!

My next post will include, first of all, a short summary of my experience at an all-Jordanian Model United Nations Conference, where I submitted a resolution to solve youth unemployment as the delegation of Iran and met Princess Sumaya.

Secondly I will tell you what I learned at the training course on “The World of Reducing and Reusing” that I attended in southern Spain along with 20 other participants from 10 different countries in Europe and the Middle East, and finally, I will write about rekindling romance in southern Germany.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

8 Reasons Why Today May Be The Best Day of My Life


I was invited through a friend of a friend (of a friend of a friend – Amman is small!) to represent Jordan at a training course on recycling in Murcia, Spain, on behalf of the East and West Center for Human Resource Development. It covers all accommodation, food, program cost, and 70% of travel costs. The training course goes by the philosophy of learning by doing, so we will be making soaps, creating bags out of jeans, and making toys out of trash, among other useful skills. We will be staying at the gorgeous environmental education center CEMACAM Torre Guil and during our free time explore the Old Arab city of Murcia. There are no words for how excited I am!


I have a good friend I haven’t seen for almost three years living and studying in Karlsruhe, Germany, who I have been promising to visit. With some clever manipulation of Air Berlin and Ryan Air flight times, I will finally see him again!


The organization I will be representing in Spain does exactly what I dream of doing with my degree in international affairs, anthropology, and Arabic after I graduate. After I come back from the training course they want my help in developing a project related to environmental issues and their vision of intercultural communication – my help!


My mother and grandmother worked on the campaign, I volunteered in the White House, and my sister and dad went to the democratic rally in Virginia last week. It feels almost like a personal victory and I am so relieved that disaster was averted and that the USA is giving Obama another chance. Even Jordanians were deeply moved by his victory speech!


This weekend I will be engaging in diplomatic discussions with intelligent young Jordanians on these three topics:
• The role of youth in political parties regarding political life.
• Preparations for the Next Global Economic Meltdown; The Aftermath.
• The Jobless Generation: Regional crisis in youth employment.
I will be meeting Jordanians from universities all over Amman and argue with them about current political issues from the standpoint of Iran, in my first time ever as delegate (rather than staffer) at a MUN conference. On top of that I will get to see Princess Sumaya of Jordan, and maybe Queen Rania.


I had a 3-month membership at Aspire Ladies Gym but realized that I wouldn’t use up the membership, so I reduced it to one month and got the refund as credit for the spa. I promptly used this credit to get a much-needed haircut and now my hair looks better than it has in months!


My professor cut us some slack today because he figured we were all sleep-deprived thanks to the election and it had been difficult for many of us (including me!) to find the movie we had to watch for today’s class, Cairo 678, which is a very powerful main-stream Egyptian movie on sexual harassment. About 93% of foreign women report cases of sexual harassment in Egypt, but this movie focused on how local women are taking a stand against this completely unacceptable social norm that exists in the land that its citizens call "the mother of the world". We also discussed Nawal El Saddawi’s controversial literature on female circumcision and honor killings. I recommend all of you to read her seminal work “The Hidden Face of Eve”, especially the very moving introduction.


My friend (who I went to the wedding with) called me up in the afternoon and told me I was invited to his 8-year old cousin’s birthday party that very evening. The food that my friend’s aunt had made was delicious, and for dessert we had crème caramel, strawberry jello, strawberry cake, and chocolate cake, which was all delicious. Afterwards we drank tea and smoked shisha, and the women bonded over the complexities of studying Arabic grammar while the men played cards and smoked on the patio upstairs. There was an adorable baby bumbling around that just about made my night! Thanks to the wedding, I feel like I have two Jordanian families now – my host family and this family.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Yoav's Falafel

Our only night in Jerusalem during eid we decided to have the famous Jerusalem falafel. To our pleasant surprise our couchsurfing host and her friends were making a batch of falafel that evening so we were invited for a home-cooked meal. The home-made falafel, served with tahini and warm pita bread, was the best I had ever tasted. To drink we had home-brewed cinnamon and hibiscus tea. I couldn't leave without getting the recipe, and I will now share it with you. Here is Yoav's Amazing Falafel Balls:

Yoav’s Falafel Balls

1 kg soaked (overnight) dried chickpeas
4 tbsp chopped parsley
3 tbsp chopped coriander
1 tsp hot paprika
6 garlic cloves
1 tbsp baking soda
2 tbsp cumin
½ tbsp cinnamon
½ tbsp nutmeg
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp salt

1. Mix all ingredients, except for the spices, in a food processor.
2. Add the spices and continue mixing.
3. Let the mixture sit for at least two hours in the fridge (can sit also overnight).
4. Use a teaspoon to form the balls with wet hands.
5. After you form the balls, fry them in oil.

Here is a recipe for pita bread that I found on

Pita Bread

ita bread is served at just about every meal in the Middle East. It can be used for dipping, or to make delicious sandwiches in the pocket. In the Middle East, pita is made in brick ovens, where very high heat can be achieved. It is very hard to duplicate in a home kitchen, but this recipe, combined with high heat, comes very close.


1 package of yeast, or quick rising yeast
1/2 cup warm water
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 cup lukewarm water

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Let sit for 10-15 minutes until water is frothy.

Combine flour and salt in large bowl.

Make a small depression in the middle of flour and pour yeast water in depression.

Slowly add 1 cup of warm water, and stir with wooden spoon or rubber spatula until elastic.

Place dough on floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes. When the dough is no longer sticky and is smooth and elastic, it has been successfully kneaded.

Coat large bowl with vegetable oil and place dough in bowl. Turn dough upside down so all of the dough is coated.

Allow to sit in a warm place for about 3 hours, or until it has doubled in size.

Once doubled, roll out in a rope, and pinch off 10-12 small pieces. Place balls on floured surface. Let sit covered for 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 500 deg F. and make sure rack is at the very bottom of oven. Be sure to also preheat your baking sheet.

Roll out each ball of dough with a rolling pin into circles. Each should be about 5-6 inches across and 1/4 inch thick.

Bake each circle for 4 minutes until the bread puffs up. Turn over and bake for 2 minutes.

Remove each pita with a spatula from the baking sheet and add additional pitas for baking.

Take spatula and gently push down puff. Immediately place in storage bags.

And for Tahini, from the same website:


Tahini sauce is made from tahini - a sesame seed paste. Tahini sauce is thinner and used in pita sandwiches, marinades, and dips. Tahini sauce is very easy to make. Store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator and it will keep for about two weeks.

1/2 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
3 gloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon parsley, finely chopped (optional)

In a food processor or mortar and pestle, combine garlic and tahini. Add kosher salt.

Remove from food processor and add olive oil and lemon juice. If too thick, add a teaspoon of warm water until desired consistency. (Add parsley)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Bad and the Good of Culture Clash

This weekend has shown me new sides to Jordanian culture, both the good and the bad. I got my first job with Modelicious Modeling Agency as an usher at an engagement ceremony. I was cancelled for the job last minute and instead went to a Halloween party that my friends told me about. Apparently, in Jordan, you are a Satanist if you celebrate Halloween. Read this excellent blog post about the issue and what happened to the party I went to: Halloween and Satan in Amman. My friends and I got out of the party safely, but I’ve never experienced anything like it. It was exactly as described in the blog post, a really fun and very safe party on the inside (the DJ from Ministry of Sound was spinning amazing tracks all night), but a battleground on the outside, and it all started with an online media rumor. The experience demonstrated to me even more the clash between Eastern tradition and Western culture that is happening in Jordan right now.

However, the melding of East and West doesn’t have to be bad. I had an amazing time last night at a Jordanian wedding at the Grand Hyatt. I will take you step by step through the parts of the wedding so that you too can appreciate the mix of Jordanian tradition and Western influence that was present.

First a little about the bride and groom and how I got invited to the wedding. The groom is my friend’s first cousin (on the maternal side) so I was fortunate enough to get a spot as a +1 at the expensive wedding. The marriage was arranged, but not in the way that you would expect. The families had met and the bride and groom had started talking. They continued getting to know each other on facebook and hung out more and more. They didn’t live with each other but they continued getting to know each other for a year before having the wedding, and of course the families had to give their consent. The signing of the marriage contracts and religious ceremonies took place at the engagement. The wedding, however, is when the marriage is consummated and thus made legitimate. I guess that is how modern arranged marriages happen.

In the beginning of the wedding the groom’s family (and this includes extended family!) picks up the groom from his house and goes with him to take the bride from her house. At the bride’s house they meet the bride’s family and the two families celebrate coming together by dancing a lot. I missed this part though.

On the way from the bride’s house to the hotel where the main wedding party would take place, my "date" for the wedding and his cousin picked me up. We arrived at the Grand Hyatt, one of the best hotels in Amman. This hotel was one of the victims in the horrible hotel bombings of 2005, where a member of Al Qaeda bombed three luxury hotels in Amman, including a wedding, in the name of jihad. Therefore to get into the hotel we first had to go through security, which required me to put my bag through an x-ray, go through a metal detector, and be body-searched for weapons. The banquet hall was beautifully decorated, and ushers who were probably hired by a modeling agency like mine greeted us and took us to our table. I was sitting at the young cousins' table, so most of us were university students. Only the close relatives were present. The friends and distant relatives would arrive later.

After being introduced to all the uncles and aunts and cousins and drinking mango juice (the biggest difference between a Jordanian wedding and an American wedding is the complete lack of alcohol in the former), it was time for the bride and groom to arrive. The groom’s family greets the bride since the groom pays for the whole wedding so it is therefore the groom’s family’s wedding. The groom’s family and close relatives gathered around the stairs leading down from the lobby, where the bride and groom were slowly descending. A traditional band was dancing dabke, playing drums and singing well-known songs that everyone belted out as we clapped our hands and moved to the beat. The noise grew louder and louder as the couple came down the staircase and gradually walked across the floor into the banquet hall, surrounded by wildly dancing relatives.

Once inside the wedding hall we returned to our seats to watch the bride and groom have their first dance together, and for the bride to have her last dance with her father. The Western nature of this aspect of the wedding was emphasized by the use of American songs for both dances. However, when the music switched to Arabic songs it was time for everyone to get on the dance floor and dance with the newly-weds. I tried to move as best as I could in an Arab way, but alas maybe it is something you’re born with. Aunts, uncles, and cousins would come up and dance with me to show me some basic steps, but I fear that I moved my hips too much and my arms too little, probably thanks to my salsa skills. Anyway, what I lacked in skills I made up for in spirit.

After dancing for a while the time was suddenly 10:30pm. Time flies at a Jordanian wedding! The enormous cake was rolled in on a wheeled cart, and the bride and groom cut it with a huge silver sword. The buffet opened up and I filled three plates with traditional treats such as tabbouleh, baba ganoush, hummus, lamb with lebneh and rice, musakhan, and lots of warm kunefeh for dessert. There were also continental salads, fresh vegetables and fruits, smoked salmon and shrimp, Italian pastas, Chinese stews with rice, kebabs, and on the dessert table ice cream, chocolate fondue, cheesecakes, and more. All of it was absolutely delicious!

While everyone was eating, the bride and groom would go from table to table, personally greeting each person with kisses on the cheek and taking photos. After dinner it was time for – you guessed it – more dancing! A tabla player bounced into the crowd on the dance floor and the bride and groom took turns to hit the huge drum. I also got to try, and although my first tries were a bit weak I think I got it in the end. After a while a whole group of traditional dancers came in to give a show, dancing dabke in a circle around the exultant bride and her family.

After impressing some of the relatives with my limited Arabic skills (I spoke for over 20 seconds in Arabic! They thought this was remarkable, coming from a Swede.) it was time to return to the dance floor. After some popular Arabic songs the music switched to American/International music, starting with the already classic Gangnam style. I thought the dance floor would break in the chorus! Even the bride and groom danced gangnam style. After some more international hits where most of the young people broke it down on the dance floor, the music returned to Arabic hits and some of the older relatives returned to the dance floor. I actually recognized some of the Arabic songs! By now it was around midnight and most of the friends and distant relatives had gone home so it was only the close relatives on the dance floor. Every song was just as good as the next one which made it impossible to leave the dance floor, and even though my stilettos were killing my knees, I couldn’t stop dancing or laughing. Jordanians know how to party! There was even a 10-month old baby on the dance floor.

Eventually I took a rest and the music started winding down, cueing the time for the relatives to give the bride and groom envelopes with money and to take family pictures. I was included in the family picture of my date. By now the time was 1:30am and my host family was anxious for me to go home so they could lock the door and go to sleep. I was lucky they even let me stay out so late! I got back at 2am, with aching feet but a happy heart. I think I would rather have a Jordanian wedding than an American one when the time comes…

Eid Break Part 2: القدس القديمة/Old Jerusalem

The next installment, once again by our guest blogger, Amy Brown:
My second day in Amman we rose early—catching the sunrise—for the bus that would take us to the border crossing to Israel at the Allenby Bridge (in Hebrew, Gesher Alenbi, also known as the King Hussein Bridge, in Arabic: جسر الملك حسين‎, Jisr al-Malek Hussein), the bridge that crosses the Jordan River and connects the West Bank with Jordan. Other than through the West Bank, the bridge is currently the sole designated exit/entry point for Palestinians living in the West Bank to travel in and out of the West Bank. On this day, these Palestinians were laden with bulging suitcases and bags, no doubt full of special-occasion clothes and gifts for the Eid holiday to bring to their relatives on the West Bank. We were told the border crossing could take anywhere from four to seven hours—a lot of waiting in various lines, to pay entry and exit fees and have passports checked and stamped—so we were glad that it took only three hours. Entering into Israel, the young woman checking my passport asked if I was going to Ramallah or had any family on the West Bank (No, and no. The first question, I was told later by an Israeli, intended to weed out activists who might be going to Ramallah to “stir up trouble.”). Then she wanted to know my father’s first name before my passport was stamped and I was free to go.

Arriving by a mini bus to the Damascus Gate, we headed straight for the colors and scents and hustle and bustle of the outdoor market in the Muslim Quarter. The tables were brimming with chocolates in gold and silver foil, fruits and vegetables, scarves and souvenirs, the sellers trying to outshout each other to catch the shoppers’ attention and here Arab Muslims, Jews, Christians and tourists mingled as they shopped and bargained for the best price. We stopped for fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice before finding ourselves in front of the Austrian Hospice, an oasis of peace and relaxation after the cacophony of the market. We headed up to the roof for amazing views over the old city but didn’t linger for the famed pastries at the café (their hostel apparently offer some of the best cheap beds in Jerusalem).

We got in touch with our host in Jerusalem—the lovely Adi who had responded so warmly to our couch surfing request—and she recommended that we make our way by light rail and bus to her apartment in the German Colony, a neighborhood in Jerusalem established in the 19th century by members of the German Temple Society. Today it’s known as the Moshava and is an upscale neighborhood bisected by Emek Refaim Street, an avenue lined with trendy shops, restaurants and cafes. As we rode the bus, very young Israeli soldiers in the Israeli Defense Force boarded in uniform, with their guns, and seeing so many young soldiers around the city carrying weapons takes some getting used to. Israel is unique in the world in that military service is compulsory for both females and males. It is the only country in the world that maintains obligatory military service for women. This continues the tradition of female fighters during Israel's War of Independence. Males serve for three years and females for just less than two years. Israel also has one of the highest recruitment rates in the world - some 80% of those who receive summons serve. Those who are exempt from service include most minority groups, those who are not physically or psychologically fit, married women or women with children, religious males who are studying in an accredited Jewish Law institution and religious females who choose to pursue 'national service' - community work.

As we rode the bus, I was also struck by the contrast of old and modern Jerusalem—in the old quarters, steeped in history, in religion and tradition, and in the rest of the city, as modern and efficient and as full of the amenities one would enjoy in any affluent European city. Arriving to Adi’s apartment, she and her dog greeted us, showed us our couch for the night, told us to make ourselves at home, handed us a key and went back to her classes at the university while we gratefully left our bags behind to explore the old city further. *Marielle writing now* Before we did so, however, we grabbed lunch at the little vegan gem called the Village Green, right off of Emek Refaim Street, recommended by our couchsurfing host. Over fresh juice combinations such as pomegranate, apple, and pear, and gorgeous salads, we read the Jerusalem Post and watched the diverse Israelis of all ages that were also dining in the sunny verdant outside area of this popular local eatery. I found this quote in an op-ed piece, which I recorded as it seemed relevant at the time:

Ideological and personal conflicts compete with the desire for unity; fission with fusion. Behind all these attempts at unity lies a serious question: Is the knitted yarmulke a political common denominator? Is a head covering more relevant or powerful than the social and political ideas in the head wearing it?

After lunch we strolled down Emek Refaim Street until we came to a beautiful park sprinkled with various monuments honoring Jewish values and history. Finally we reached the quaint homes and cascading gardens of the Artists' colony leading to the Old City. As beautiful as this colony is, it has a sad story, as our host explained. From the 1948 war when Jerusalem was split between Israel and Jordan until the Six-Day War when Israel reclaimed East Jerusalem from Jordan, this part of the city was the no-mans-land between the old city and new city. Nowadays wealthy Israelis buy the sought-after properties and world-renowned artists show off their crafts in the renovated Islamic stables but there isn't the same sense of life in the colony as we saw in other parts of the city. However we only needed to step within the gates of the Old City to find the hustle and bustle we experienced upon our arrival.*Marielle out, back to Amy*

A visit to Jerusalem is not complete without seeing the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. The area in front of the Wall is divided for males and female sections, and I was struck by how little space the women had compared to the men—and there were far more women at the Wall than men, at least on this day. It was a powerful experience to put my hands on the Wall; it pulsated beneath my hands, like a beating heart, warm and alive. You could feel the fervor of all those prayers captured in the stone, as women—Jews and Christians alike—closed their eyes and placed their foreheads against the stone and prayed, silently or softly, sometimes with their babies in their arms. You must never have your back to the Wall, so we walked backwards once we were ready to leave.

We went to the Jerusalem Archaeological Park to find out more about the history of the Temple Mount but the film they showed was so poorly made it was funny and the audio practically put us to sleep, so don’t bother renting it. Much better to just do your own exploring and imagine how life must have been during the many centuries—from the Temple Period to the Roman to the Byzantine to the Islamic Periods—when so many people occupied this holy place. There are great views all around Jerusalem by clambering up the excavations and walking the remaining walls.

We ended our day in Old Jerusalem by taking a long walk around the Old City (hoping to see the Al-Asqa Mosque, the holiest site in Islam, but not able to enter) and instead outside the entrance to the Mosque, a boy on a bicycle motioned us to follow him and lead us to a church, the Church of St Anne, an excellent example of Romanesque architecture, very plain and unadorned. In the south aisle is a flight of steps leading down to the crypt, in a grotto believed by the Crusaders to be Mary's birthplace. An altar dedicated to Mary is located there. As we entered 15 minutes before closing, we had the church all to ourselves (aside from the cats milling about outside) and could admire the pure lines of the Roman arches and other architectural features. Weary by now from all our walking, we headed back to Adi’s apartment and to an evening with her friends, which Marielle will describe in the next installment: Modern Jerusalem!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Eid Break Part 1: First Impressions of Amman

Long time no write! I had a great trip to Jerusalem, Eilat, Petra, the Dead Sea and finally Amman last week with my mom and it was so much fun to show her the region. We did a lot so my mom and I are sharing the load (my first guest blogger!), and I will publish the posts gradually. PHOTOS COMING SOON! Cue guest blogger Amy Brown:

After a week with Marielle in the Middle East, my excellent and original tour guide always willing to go off the beaten path, I feel like I’ve truly gotten under the skin of this fascinating region in a way I never have before, despite two previous trips to Egypt. Thanks to Marielle’s growing ease with conversational Arabic, we made many friends during the week, from Bedouins to shop owners to children playing on the streets of Amman. Without her insider knowledge of the country, I’d never have tasted so much interesting and delicious food and gotten to hang out with her new Jordanian friends in their favorite cafes or eat Yemini mandi from huge platters seated on the floor!

My journey from Stockholm took me first to Vienna’s Airport, with its sleek black and frosted glass design, and comfy waiting areas, complete with cushioned leather beds for a quick nap or banks of desks and outlets for surfing and working. As we waited for our flight to Amman to board, I heard two young men in the row behind me, stretched out on those sofas, deep in conversation about life, career, cultures. Without a word, one of the men suddenly got up, put a piece of white paper on the floor, and kneeled to pray. Then he resumed his conversation with his friend. Yes, I was headed for Amman!

At Queen Alia Airport, my driver was waiting, thanks to the excellent arrangements of ACOR (The American Center for Oriental Research) where I would be staying while in Amman. I’m not a researcher but they offer a hostel at a great price, perfect for the independent traveler who enjoys communal meals and conversations with American researchers delving into all kinds of aspects of culture, like the survival of traditional bread-making in Jordan. In the drive from the airport, I saw wide expanses of dusty desert on either side and now and then a group of camels or fruit sellers with huge piles of pomegranates, tomatoes, avocados and other yummy things. Clearly, getting fruits and vegetables in Jordan would not be a probem. We drove past a sign informing us that an IKEA was going to be built along the highway-camels and Billy bookcases will have to learn to co-exist. When we got into Amman, we encountered some of the worst traffic I’ve ever experienced. The city has swelled recently, not least because of the influx of Syrian refugees into the country. It was also a couple of days before the start of the big Muslim holiday of Eid, and people were out shopping and making preparations.

When I got to ACOR, Marielle was waiting for me and we checked into our room and got dressed to meet her host family. Her host mom and one of her host sisters and host nephew took us out for a delicious meal. I liked her host mom and sister so much; they were so warm and friendly, thoroughly modern Jordanians while also observant Muslims. Marielle is treated like one of her own daughters and it was so reassuring to know my daughter is in such good hands while in Jordan. Her little five-year-old nephew was sweet and spoke excellent English, and was overjoyed with the toy US Air Force airport and planes I brought for him. Two days of travelling and four flights—Washington DC to Iceland, Iceland to Stockholm, Stockholm to Vienna, Vienna to Amman—had taken its toll and I was ready to get a good night’s sleep to be fresh for the next day’s adventure: Jerusalem!