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!