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.