Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ich Liebe Deutschland, David Guetta, und Dich!

Where were you at 12:00 GMT on 12/12/12?

I was waiting for my loved one in Frankfurt Airport because, once again, delays were working against us. However, in the hall leading from Frankfurt Airport to the train station, I found him holding a large red rose and could finally give him that long-awaited hug. After a familiar trip on the ICE we got to Kalrsruhe, where we dropped my baggage at his apartment and proceeded to Café Extrablatt for some much needed food. Café Extrablatt is a chain of high-quality restaurants in select cities around Germany that serve a continental menu of American diner food and pizza.

After that we made a thorough exploration of the Karlsruhe Christmas market, where we could find everything from kissing salt and pepper shakers to revolutionary cookery to iPods made out of chocolate. We stopped of course for hot cups of gluhwein to chase the cold from our frozen fingers, and for potato pancakes fried in mountains of butter and topped with apple sauce. Deliciously unhealthy!

Eventually we got too cold and returned home, with a quick stop in an electronics store where we got photobombed while fist-bumping batman. I love Germans!

After freshening up and getting warm, we ventured back out into the cold to have Indian food at the restaurant down the street called Punjab. Our plan was to eat there and then move on to see Skyfall at the cinema. However, the Indian restaurant held us hostage, causing us to have to give up on Skyfall. No, really, we were hostage victims. They refused to bring us our food until absolutely necessary, first handing us just a bowl of plain rice, and even forgetting the biryani we ordered. In between asking to get our food wrapped up and getting the bill, the waiter tried to convince us that he had given up a bollywood career to study to be a doctor in Spain, but the economy had forced him to move to Germany. We were unconvinced, since he spoke perfect German and showed horrible service skills. He decided for us that we will be getting married and start a Pakistani restaurant in Stockholm, and of course when we did we could come back to Karlsruhe and beg for him to work with us. People can dream I guess.

We finally emerged from the restaurant half past midnight, 3 hours after we entered and an hour after the movie had started, so the rest of the evening was spent talking and listening to music. But what more do you need when you’re in such good company?

The next day we slept in, had fish sandwiches for a brunch-on-the-go at Nordsee, and decided to be a classic 21st century couple and get coffees at Starbucks. I had the Lebkuchen (gingerbread) latte.

After that we decided to explore the Karlsruhe zoo, which was surprisingly impressive in its array of animals. We started off by encountering the first hippo that either of us had ever seen. It was enormous! We also saw elephants, camels, kangaroos, cheetas, and peacocks pacing around on the frosty German ground. It was such a strange setting in which to see these exotic animals! We also witnessed a polar bear bobbing for apples, a monkey meditating, and sea lions doing what looked like synchronized swimming. We decided that one day we have to have a pet meerkat, because they are absolutely adorable. We heard what a cheetah sounds like when it’s hungry – a mix between a crying baby and a distraught monkey, with a slight roar to it. We finished up by passing by the owls. It is a fantastic zoo, and I highly recommend going to the zoo on a date!

We got thoroughly frozen at the zoo but decided we could tough it out for a bit longer in order for mu boyfriend to give me a tour of his university, the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (KIT). KIT is one of the top three elite universities in Germany, and one of the best in the world for Business Engineering, my boyfriend’s major. It’s basically a degree that prepares you to be a CEO, and there are few others like it in the world. All instruction is in German so international students have the added challenge of needing to learn a new language, but the degree is supposedly worth it in the end and the faculty makes sure the students have a memorable university experience. The day after I left a movie made about the orientation was being shown at a local cinema!

That evening we relaxed at home for a bit and I baked Swedish cardamom cake. It is one of my favorite cake recipes, and I will post it here so you can make it too:


• 1 (115ml) stick butter, softened
• 2cups (250 gr) flour
• 1 1/2 t. baking powder
• 1 cup (245 gr) milk
• 1 cup (200 gr) sugar
• 1/2 t. vanilla extract (1 t. vanilla sugar)
• 2 t. cardamom seeds, taken from pods, coarsely ground

1. preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. cream together butter and sugar. stir in milk and then the remaining ingredients.
3. mix well and pour into a greased cake pan
4. if desired, sprinkle top of cake with a mixture of pearl sugar and coarsely ground cardamom. bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Later on we met up with some of my boyfriend’s friends from KIT to explore the other Christmas market in Karlsruhe. Our plan was to go ice-skating but just as we arrived the ice-skating rink closed so we chose to drink Gluhwein instead and tried not to fall too many times on the way home. Since the night cold had turned the sidewalks into sheets of ice, we did ice-skate after all!

The next day we slept in and then made cheese fondue for breakfast. It was my first time having cheese fondue and I loved it! It was then time to prepare for our trip to Mannheim, where we would visit our third Christmas market, drink more gluhwein and attend a David Guetta concert. We arrived in Mannheim around 2pm, where we started off with a few drinks in the Christmas market by the "Wasserturm", Mannheim's most famous landmark. The Karlsruhe Christmas markets were cozier, but over all I just love any Christmas market and Germany is full of them! After that we trekked out to the location of the David Guetta concert, which was at a large venue a little bit outside of the city. We didn’t have to wait in line for too long and once we got in we quickly disposed of our coats in the expansive coat room. The opening DJ, Nicky Romero, spun a few tracks to warm us up but the real sound and light show started when world-class French DJ David Guetta came on stage. Most of the tracks were from his most recent chart-topping album Nothing But the Beat 2.0, but he even spun a few new tracks he has mixed. I didn’t stop dancing and neither did my boyfriend or friends!

We finished off the evening by unsuccessfully trying to get into a number of bars and clubs (it was already 2am by then) and then settling for shisha at a Turkish café where there was a live band complete with an oud player and live singer. I felt like I could have been in Amman! We then got the last train to Karlsruhe, a night train going to Basel. I couldn’t help but think back to all my favorite old movies that have scenes in night trains.

The next day it was unfortunately time to leave. It was sad to say good bye, since I may not come back to Germany until summertime, but the trip was worth every penny. When I returned to Amman I only had five days left in beautiful Jordan! My next post will cover my last few days in Amman, as well as my short stays in Istanbul and Stockholm on the way home to the States. Auf wiedersehen!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Souqs and Castles

Sorry for the long delay. Here is a post I drafted weeks ago that I finally had time to publish:

I am going to quickly post about my previous weekend exploring the famous Souq Aljum3a (or Friday Market), the modern holiday art market Souq Fann, and five fascinating castles in the desert of Eastern Jordan, while I continue drafting my post about my unforgettable four days in Deutschland. While I’m working on getting these weekend posts up, I am spending my last week in Jordan finishing up academic and professional commitments, saying good bye to all my amazing Jordanian friends, and preparing for my next weekend adventure which will cover the supposed end of the world in Istanbul, (if we all survive) a 48-hr stop in snowy Sweden, and finally (after a short layover in London) holiday celebrations with my family back in southern Maryland. After that I may continue this blog to track my reverse culture shock, though who knows how long that may last. However, inshallah, I will return to the region next summer and my Middle East meanderings can continue on this web space. ☺

Ok now it’s time to get down to business. Abdali is an old part of Amman that is best known for being the main bus terminal for the city and is now being rejuvenated as the city's new downtown. However, every Thursday night it is turned into haggling heaven as the whole strip of pavement that is usually a parking lot for the bus terminal is turned into an enormous market, where people bargain over hideous Christmas sweaters for 1JD or tatty leather boots for 5 JD as the adan, call to prayer, echoes from the mosque next door. As someone who loves to argue about the price I pay, it was like one huge party to me. I will now give you my step-by-step guide for bargaining.

Step 1: Set your goals
You need to know what you are looking for when you enter a market, or else you will get overwhelmed. This is also important since digging for the right item will likely be necessary.

Step 2: Browse the selection
Check out a few stalls and don’t be afraid to listen in on the prices locals are bargaining for. Once you have scoped out the territory you should be ready to start the hunt.

Step 3: Show interest
When you find an item you feel attached to, or fulfills your initial goal, observe it for a while until your careful consideration of the item captures the salesman’s eye. Say something in the way of “This is exactly what I was looking for,” loud enough so the salesman hears.

Step 4: Ask for an initial price
The salesman will usually give you an inflated price at these markets because he expects you to haggle (unless you are a tourist waiting to be ripped off – which YOU are NOT).

Step 5: Attack!
Respond with at least 30-50% the amount of the asking price. For example, when the salesman told me 12JD, I said 5JD. Now he is going to be adamant, and you stay on 5JD for a while and eventually go up to 6JD. Start mentioning that you have a budget and you don’t want to cross it.

Step 6: Retreat
This is part of the act, but timing is vital. First you need to make sure the salesman takes you seriously and you need to seem serious about the purchase. When he has gone down a bit on the asking price (like from 12JD to 10JD) but refuses to bulge, start walking away. If he doesn’t come after you either find something new or go back to raise your price. If he does come after you then congratulations, YOU WON!

I first went to the Friday Souq on Thursday night, and after successfully purchasing two sweaters and a pair of black boots for 10 JD in total, I finished off with warm DIY sandwich at Salah al-Din’s Bakery. This sandwich should also have a step-by-step guide! I mostly just imitated the man standing next to me.

Basically you walk in and order a piece of freshly baked sesame-coated bread, a packet of soft cheese, and a rather brown-looking egg. Then you move to one of the wooden counters on your left to assemble your sandwich, where you will also find plastic bowls full of zaatar, hot sauce, and various dirty metal knives. You wash the knife and then use it to cut the bread open, but don’t open it completely. Remove some of the soft insides of the bread as the steam emerges from the roll, still hot from the oven. Then smear on the soft cheese, sprinkle it with a nice fistful of zaatar, then bang the egg against the counter and peel off the shell. Once the shell is gone, cut up the egg with your knife and mash it into the cheese and zaatar smeared bread. Once this is done, pour some drops of hot sauce over it all to add some zing, close the sandwich and take a glorious bite. Dinner is served.

The next day I ended up returning to the souq! After spending the morning using the speedy internet at Zodiac, the Jordanian lawyer I met at Vivid the other night drove me to explore the parts of Amman I hadn’t checked out yet, which is mainly Jabal al-Weibdeh. However, everything in al-Weibdeh was closed except for the Chocoholic Café. So my new friend and I grabbed some delicious hot chocolate (but I warn you – the chili chocolate is spicy!) and headed down to Abdali. The lawyer had lived in Amman almost his entire life, and yet had never been to the Friday Market! It proved to be a valuable experience for him. He walked around, speechless, and emerged saying how much more grateful he is for his socioeconomic background. He had never understood how close he was to poverty, where the only way people can afford new clothes is if the clothes cost 1 JD. In West Amman, with it’s American fast food restaurants and fancy cars, it is easy to forget that some people live on minimum wage in other areas of the city.

After that it was time for the next market – Souq Fann! This was a drastic switch from the old and conservative to the modern and creative. This special market showcasing the works of local artists is sponsored by Art Medium and is only held once or twice a year. This time it was holiday themed and I was very successful in finding some unique Christmas gifts for my family. I even had a chance to meet the famous Jordanian cartoonist, Abu Mahjoub, and see his most recent cartoons depicting the Jordanian people’s response to the recent rise in gas prices. In Mlabbas I found a shirt I had long been looking for: a man dressed in a suit and a kuffiyeh, dancing gangnam style, with “Abu Ghannam Style” written in English and Arabic in the corner. This will be the one souvenir I purchase for myself from Jordan.

After the arts market I had a delicious meal of Mansaf with some Jordanian friends at Jabri by 5th circle, followed by shisha, tea, and watching Jordan’s favorite show, The Voice, at the cozy lounge Cushions. The Voice is shown all over the Arab world and contestants can come from any country. One of the contestants sang a very old Arabic song and the whole café started singing along, including my friend’s 10-year old daughter. I love how every generation here is connected to the songs of their heritage.

The next day I woke up early to join four girls and one guy from my CIEE program to explore different desert castles as part of Farah Hotel’s Eastern Desert Tour. For a mere 16 JD we were driven around in a private mini bus to various castles in Eastern Jordan, starting with Qasr al-Harrana. This castle, solitarily situated in the middle of sweeping desert next to a foreboding prison, was probably one of the first inns of the Islamic period. The 8th century building looks small at first in comparison with the wide expanse of flat desert, but when you get inside you enter a large square courtyard and its tremendous fun to explore the two levels surrounding the courtyard and find various hidden chambers, charred fireplaces, and Mesopotamian stucco discs.

Our next stop was Qasr Umra, a world heritage site that used to be a hunting lodge for the Ummayad rulers. This building, also 8th century, looks even less impressive from the outside and is certainly smaller in size than Qasr Harrana, which adds even more to your surprise when you enter to see the entire interior surface covered in the most magnificent murals, the brilliant colors beautifully intact. The images of voluptuous half-naked women, animals playing, and colorful swirls brought alive a world when the surrounding landscape wasn’t desert but rather a popular hunting ground for the powerful Umayyad Caliphate.

After that we continued on a road that dramatically splits off in the directions of either Iraq or Saudi Arabia, where we find Azraq Castle. This castle has been geostrategically valuable for a number of armed forces, most recently the Arab revolt led by Lawrence of Arabia during WWI. The castle is huge yet in ruins, and the museum space in one of the lower chambers is very poorly lit.

Finally we were on our way to our last castle, Qaser Al Halabat, which we happened to have all to ourselves. As dramatic grey storm clouds rolled in over the sand-swept desert, we climbed staircases leading to nowhere, pretended to be Umayyad statues, and treaded on thousand-year old mosaic floors.

After that we finally returned to Amman, where we stopped to have another egg and cheese sandwich at Salah Al-Din – a welcome alternative to the over-consumed falafel sandwich.

Friday, December 7, 2012

شكرا الأردن!

As my time in Jordan comes to a close, I cannot help but begin to thank the people and places of this country that made this semester my best semester yet. I’ve had countless incredible experiences during my time here and learnt so much about both the multifarious Jordanian culture and the real politics of the Middle East thanks to its unbelievably hospitable people and its incredible diversity of environments. I am already making plans to return to the region next summer on an archaeological dig (انشالله I get a spot on the expedition!).

I have been busy since I returned from my week in Europe. Not long after I got back thanksgiving was upon us, which CIEE celebrated by hosting a luncheon for the program participants and their peer tutors. I came half an hour late so I missed the turkey, even though I heard they cooked three! However, I had a pleasant conversation about football and engineering with some University of Jordan students over hummus and apple cider. I had a chance to have turkey that evening finally! Some family friends from Rhode Island happened to live in Amman and had invited me to spend thanksgiving with them. The couple was incredibly kind and had an adorable 14-month old baby who had just learned how to say, “What’s that?” and was now constantly posing all sorts of existential questions. The family are members of the evangelical church in Jordan It was a surprise to find myself among Christians after so much time only being surrounded by Muslims, mainly because drinking alcohol was completely acceptable and even encouraged.

The couple were related to the owner of the Regency Palace Hotel, so after watching a bit of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off at the couple’s spacious apartment while they dressed the baby, we headed to the hotel for a full gourmet buffet of typical thanksgiving food like turkey, stuffing, and sweet potatoes and typical Jordanian dishes, like hummus, moutabbal, and kibbeh. All of it was served in a private area of the hotel dining room for all the relatives. It was such a friendly and beautiful family! I was thankful to have such good family friends on this auspicious day for Americans.

A few days later I was invited to quite a different dinner experience. My peer tutor, who I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, was kind enough to invite me over for dinner at her family’s house. I knew from my friend from the CIEE program who lives with the family that they are very conservatively Muslim. Men and women live in separate parts of the house and while my peer tutor can socialize with her brother or father, she cannot socialize with my friend, who is her own host brother, because he is an unmarried male from outside her immediate family. He has lived in the same house as her for months without even having a conversation with her.

However, I had a wonderful time at the house. The many women of the household welcomed me with open arms. They showed me wedding pictures of themselves or their siblings (two of whom live in Germany) and prepared a huge feast of kuza (stuffed zucchini and grape leaves), rice with nuts and dried fruit, and roasted chicken. Afterwards we played with the one-year old baby, Laith, who was obsessed with my hair, and one of the women did my nails. She explained that they need to repaint their nails every time they pray, since you are not allowed to pray woth nail polish on because it prevents complete ablution. After watching a Turkish soap opera and drinking Turkish coffee (Am I in Jordan or Turkey?) with them I headed off but promised to visit soon again.

That Friday I jumped onto a trip with some other CIEE students to the much-needed natural spa that is Hammamat Ma’in. These naturally hot waterfalls fall not far from the Dead Sea, about 3 hours drive on the stunningly curved King’s Highway from Amman. We had a taxi driver with Mumayaz Taxi take us for a flat rate of 35 JOD for the whole day, including a side trip to Madaba to have a late lunch and check out some mosaics. While we were at the waterfalls, the driver also took the opportunity to swim and was actually the last person out of the hot springs!

The hot springs were male-dominated, so as a woman you should either stick to the 10 JOD fee for the public hot springs (but swim in shorts and a t-shirt) or wear your bikini at the more expensive hotel complex further down the valley. The waterfall created a natural steam room in a cave behind it, and if you stood right under the waterfall you had nature giving you a shoulder and back massage! It’s the most ecological spa treatment I’ve ever had. The entrance also included access to the slightly dingy Roman Baths up the hill and to the right from the hot springs. On the way back to Amman we stopped off in Madaba, where we satisfied our growing hunger at the 7 JOD buffet at Dana Restaurant. This was followed by an exclusive (and free!) tour of the 6th century mosaics in the Church of the Apostles down the street from the restaurant.

That night I got a good night’s rest before my next day full of activity. I woke up early to meet the CIEE staff, students, and peer tutors that had gotten a spot on the final volunteering trip of the semester at Iraq al Amir School for Boys. Iraq al Amir is a breathtaking area of Jordan an hour outside of Amman that is home to a poor community of farmers. CIEE had been coming to the school the past couple of weeks to paint it, in order to encourage the students’ learning and brighten up their environment. I came fortunately during the final phase of painting murals on the walls! Together with a student from the University of Jordan writing a master’s thesis on the evidence of toxic chemicals in lamb meat sold in Jordan (important work!) I painted a tree. After all the painting was done, another university of Jordan student and I tried to lead the children into a game of charades, which just ended in all the children trying to touch my blonde hair.

However, the children showed capacity for organization when it was time for the national anthem and they all stood in perfect lines according to their grade, backs held straight and hands to their foreheads in nationalistic pride. After the ceremony we had a football game where the university students suffered a horrible defeat to these elementary students, losing 2-5. It was then time for gift-giving. CIEE had us give out winter jackets they had purchased for the children, as well as space heaters for the school. After every kid got their jacket we made a victory tunnel and cheered the kids on. The smiles on their faces were priceless. Some of them were even skipping through the tunnel of cheering university students, and all the kids hurried to try on their new jackets despite the heat.

We were also given a gift! I got a mug with smiling hearts on it, which perfectly describes how I felt about the day. If my heart was a cup, it would have been full that day, and if it was a face, it would have been smiling. We were also given cake and cookies! Any day where dessert comes before the main course is a good day. However, CIEE still wanted to treat us to a local meal, so we were driven to an orchard where we had delicious kebab and shish tawok. The whole way back to Amman the students from the University of Jordan and I sang Jordanian wedding songs and danced in the bus. I love Jordanians’ ability to party anywhere at any time!

This week was the last week of Arabic classes and my internship, which is bittersweet. It’s sad to see it all end, but it’s nice to have more time to do all the things in Amman I haven’t been able to do yet. This weekend I’m planning to check out Souq Abdali (the big Friday market), alWeibdeh (a historic neighborhood buzzing with art galleries), Souq Fann (the Christmas art market in Amman), and do a tour of ruined castles in Eastern Jordan. I will try to update you on that before I fly off to Germany to see my habibi on Wednesday.

Finally, shukran to all you readers of this blog who have followed me on my eventful study abroad journey. I hope, if I haven’t inspired you to visit Jordan, I have at least entertained you. However, I have gotten some feedback from various people that they like what I write, so shukran ktheer.

Monday, December 3, 2012

I Recycle Love

The problems with excessive waste are far from unique to Jordan or the region that FoEME works in so sharing FoEME’s experience and learning from best practices elsewhere in the world is an important part of our work. From November 12 to 18 FoEME was invited by The East and West Center for Human Resource Development to learn more about waste problems abroad and how to solve them on a practical level at a training course in Murcia, Spain. The training course focused on the “three R’s”: how to reduce consumption, reuse domestic materials, and teach youth about recycling in southern Spain. The training course, part of the EU-funded Youth in Action Program, brought together 21 participants from 10 different countries: Spain, Italy, Slovenia, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Turkey, Egypt, Palestine, and of course Jordan. During the course of the week we learned how to deal with waste problems in our countries and shared with the participants our work and experience in these areas.

Since the training course would cover 70% of transportation costs (and all room and board costs in Spain), I decided to manipulate flight times in order to make a 24-hour stopover in Germany to visit an old friend from Malta. My friend and I had dated in high school and had remained good friends ever since we last saw each other, almost three years ago! I ended up having 24 hours going to Spain, and more than 24 hours going back! I flew with Air Berlin, operated by Royal Jordanian, to Frankfurt. My friend was waiting at the airport for me with a sign saying my name in Arabic! We proceeded to head into Frankfurt and catch up a bit over a butter pretzel and beer, typical German food-on-the-go. After that we explored a little bit of Frankfurt and tried to crash MTV EMA, but that failed! Apparently you don’t just buy tickets, you win or you’re invited, as the very amused security officer outside told us. We decided to throw some leaves in the air instead and have an impromptu autumn party!

After realizing that Frankfurt is boring we moved on to Mannheim, grabbing ice cream on the way (it’s never too cold for ice cream, right?). We eventually got comfortable at my friend’s favorite bar, Stars, where we enjoyed cocktails named after famous personas like Charlie Sheen and Megan Fox while admiring the fantastic view of Mannheim at sunset. I recommend the place!

After that it was finally time for my final German town of the day, Karlsruhe, where we quickly passed by the major landmark of the city, Karlsruher Schloss, and stopped off at cozy Café Bleu for a nightcap before heading home to my friend's apartment. After a short nap I was awoken by my friend strumming the guitar to an amazing candle-lit dinner of Rindergeschnetzeltes (beef) with Spätzle (thick German spaghetti).

After dinner we danced salsa and talked until the bakery opened at 6am so we could go get fresh bread. The woman at the bakery was so sweet and gave me a free bread bun so that I would have a good impression of Germany. After that it was time to head over to Frankfurt-Hahn airport for my Ryan Air flight to Alicante. Give lots of time to get to Frankfurt-Hahn because it is not close to Frankfurt at all! It was sad to say good bye to my good friend after such an amazing time but I would see him again in a week. In Alicante I grabbed the bus to the train station and sipped a café con leche until my train to Murcia, the location of the training course, arrived.

The training course took place at the CEMACAM Torre Guil , an environmental education center near a nature reserve in southeastern Spain, for the practical workshops but finished off with two nights in Murcia, an Andalusian town 15 minutes away, to expose the participants to the local culture. The environmental education center was beautiful and cleverly designed, possessing a natural heating and cooling system through its unique architecture. Our accommodations were built into a mountain and we were treated to traditional Spanish breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the cafeteria, which was also disguised as part of the natural surroundings.

The first day we took turns to present the waste problems in our country. I presented on Friends of the Earth Middle East ’s work in trying to rehabilitate the Jordan River and save the Dead Sea. I explained that the most valuable resource in Jordan is water, and therefore FoEME is working to reduce the consumption of water through water saving strategies, reuse water e.g. through grey water systems, and recycle water e.g. through rainwater harvesting. Each country had their specific problems with wasteful consumption, such as lack public sector support in Palestine and Egypt and lack of financial incentives in Latvia and Spain. In the afternoon we shared environmental education activities that our organization employs to educate youth about environmental stewardship, and I shared some of the educational toolkits I had developed for the youth programs at the Sharhabil bin Hassneh Park .

There were six practical workshops, besides a teambuilding workshop in the beginning and a future projects workshop at the end. We first learned how to make soap from used cooking oil, although my soap slightly failed and coagulated too quickly.

After that we made jewelry from old CDs, by putting them in the microwave so they get a cool design, cutting them and then melting pieces together in an oven. The jewelry turned out beautiful and you would never guess it was from a CD! The woman who led the workshop and had refined the technique had gotten the idea from a youtube video of a crazy person microwaving CDs.

We also learned how to make bags and skirts out of old t-shirts, although sewing is certainly not my forte, and make decorations out of books and magazines, which was simple but arduous. The last day we met a Spanish artist named Angel Haro who had bee inspired by the resourcefulness and creativity with which third-world children make toys. We got to try our own creativity in making toys out recycled materials, after getting inspiration from a video of a toy-making workshop Haro led at a school in rural India. Finally we made puppets. Cultural activities included an intercultural night, where everyone gave a presentation about the traditions of the country they represented and brought a food, beverage, or gift from that country.

The last morning at the environmental education Center the Egyptian representative and I scrambled up one of the hills in the nature reserve to watch the mist rise over the surrounding landscape. It was an adventure! We were given a tour of the environmental education center CEMACAM Torre Guil and a city tour of Murcia, showing us the medieval Arab King’s palace and his cleverly irrigated garden that had stood the test of time. On the last two evenings they treated us to local food at favorite restaurants in Murcia. The food was amazing! It was usually a selection of typical Murcian small dishes, complemented by plenty of local wine and beer.

After dinner we went out to explore Murcian nightlife, where the Slovenian couple showed us their incredible Latin dance skills. The last day we brainstormed projects for the future, and I thought of one to promote ecotourism through youth exchanges. When we said good bye it felt like saying good bye to a family! The whole training course was amazing, but the most amazing part of it was the people, and I am blessed to have so many friends across Europe and the Middle East because of it.

After Spain it was time for Sonntag in Deutschland Part 2. This time I arrived into Karlsruhe-Baden Baden airport, two hours delayed but worth the wait. My friend and I grabbed the bus, train, and tram into Karlsruhe, where we stopped at Lehners Wirtshaus to have some schnitzel and more delicious German beer. After the food we quickly freshened up at my friend’s apartment and went to have a few cocktails with his friends at Hotel Santo Cocktailbar, a classy establishment that even offered a cigar menu. We then returned to my friend’s place for some Gluhwein and salsa dancing. In the process my close friend, who is also my high school sweetheart as I mentioned before, and I felt the old sparks fly and had the conversation neither of us had dared to have the last weekend I was in Germany. By the morning, we had decided to enter a relationship, figuring we were fortunate enough to be single best friends with a connection that transcends friendship. Why would anyone throw that away?

We spent the day walking up to the beautiful but damaged Heidelberg Castle and admired the magnificent birds-eye view of Heidelberg from its gardens. On the way back to the train station to get to the airport, we met up with another couple and had gluhwein. Finally we got on the train to the airport, thinking we were right on time for the flight. Unfortunately, somewhere between Mannheim and Frankfurt Flughafen someone “interfered with the train”, or in other words jumped in front of the train to commit suicide, causing an hour delay and me missing my flight to Amman. There was no way to get another ticket until the next day so I had to put out some cash at the last minute desk and spend another night with my new boyfriend. As new romance goes, we sang our way through this mishap and decided to make the best of it by buying döner kebab and getting a good night’s rest in Karlsruhe.

The next day I flew via Bucharest and Beirut to Amman with TAROM, which has horrible airplane food but was bearable. During my 10 hour lay-over in Bucharest I decided to go into the bleak gray city and found refuge from the cold in Kafeteriya, a Turkish Cafe in the university district, where they started playing a huge harp next to me. When it came time to find my way back to the airport, I found no one who spoke English, but I did end up sharing the mutual language of Arabic with a Romanian popstar at the bus stop, who proceeded to guide me on the fastest route to the right bus station through Bucharest streets, that are riddled with wildly barking dogs who I swear had rabies and prostitutes who were being cautiously followed by the police. On the final leg of the trip I sat next to a fascinating Lebanese-Romanian businessman who had lived all over the world and recommended that I visit Samarkand in Uzbekistan sometime. Once I got to Amman I didn't stop making friends! While waiting for my friend to pick me up at the airport, I chatted with this elderly Iraqi man who invited me to visit him in Baghdad. That is not on my list of places to go right now, but we had a nice conversation. Once I got home I had enough time to unpack, change clothes, and head to Arabic class, but after a sleepness night of flying through three countries I could barely keep my eyes open and was sent home by my kind professor to get some rest.

In my next post, which will hopefully be up soon (I’m falling so behind!) I will tell you about visiting the home of a conservative Muslim family, day-tripping to some naturally hot waterfalls near the Dead Sea, and spending a day painting murals at a boys’ school in a poor rural community. Auf wiedersehen! Hasta luego!