Sunday, July 31, 2011

Recent doings.

It's been a few weeks since my last post. Losing many important things wears on you a bit, and I haven't dedicated any amount of time to blogging. I'm sorry to you, person who follows me, for having deprived you of such blogging bliss.

"And then there were few."

The summer has been very dynamic with many departures and arrivals. The Zaytoon group staggered their interns throughout the summer. Some have been here since April. Others were here for only 2 weeks. At one time there were about 16 of them here. Now that things are winding down there are but a few. So few, in fact, that they have consolidated all into one apartment. I am fortunate enough to be living in that apartment, though I have nothing (legally or internship-ly) to do with Zaytoon.

One of the interns who went home was kind enough to lend me her camera for the remaining three weeks. I'm glad she did, because if not, I wouldn't have been able to capture this:

Mansef. The traditional plate of Jordan. Me (with my buzzed head) and Skye (with his old-man goatee) traveled to Aghwar, an area to the south of Amman. We were their on behalf of the Ministry of Social Development to help with a training presentation. Afterwards, they provided lunch, hence the mansef. It's a rice-lamb combo with some sort of yogurt sauce all piled onto some tortilla-like flatbread. Delicious. Here's the best part: although they brought out some plates and spoons, only few were needed. Why? Because that's not how you eat mansef.

After this picture was taken, the men "dug in," as we say. They use nothing but their hands to scoop the rice into little piles and squish it into meatball sized balls. They do a few tosses in their hands and pop it into their mouths. It's pretty bizarre, actually, and seems primitive at first. But then you realize that these people grew up this way and it has worked their entire lives, so why change now? They are proud of their heritage, and eating mansef utensil-less is another small way of preserving that heritage. As for me, I used a spoon. Lame, I know, but that's how I roll.

I didn't shave for 2 or 3 weeks and had the acceptable beginnings of a beard. I wanted to try a stache because if Tom Selleck can do it, so can I. It lasted about 20 minutes before I shaved it off in shame. There really is something eerie about upper-lip hair.

Here's Tyler, Joel, Matt, and I waiting on Rainbow Street for this place to bring us our something-I-can't-remember-the-name-ofs.

Look at the size of this thing! It's a mosque near Jabal Hussein that is beautiful from the outside. We haven't been able to go inside yet, but this is one of the prettier mosques around Jordan. Most have green neon lights on the outside because that was the Prophet Mohammed's favorite color.

Yesterday I spent a typical tourist day in Amman. We went downtown, visited Book@cafe, ate at Hashem's, and saw some sites. This is a food market that I think is fun. If you look closely you can see someone making a face at me. Apparently he didn't like me taking the picture.

Then we went to see the Roman Coliseum in the middle of the city. I've seen it before but was never able to actually go in. It's overwhelming to see this huge structure carved into the rock, and I like to imagine it full of people ready for a show or presentation. Those stairs get steep.

I have just under three weeks left. Most of my remaining nights will be in a room with this painted all over the wall:

an evil image of Winnie the Pooh. I'll be tired when I get home...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Waterfalls, canyons, and theives

In the immediate weeks after graduating high school, I was able to join a group of friends on an extremely fun trip to southern Utah. We were able to stay in some condos in St. George and party around town. The main purpose of the trip, however, was to hike through the Narrows. Located in Zion's National Park, the Narrows is described as "one of the best, if not the best, hike in the National Park System." I found its reputation to be true as my friends and I journeyed through the canyon with hanging gardens and perpendicular walls. I have never forgotten that trip, and I plan to make other visits throughout my life.

Last weekend I discovered that the Zion Narrows are not alone in the world. Jordan is home to Wadi Mujib - a Narrows-esque canyon located on the banks of the Dead Sea. As the only Americans on the trip, Amanda, Natalie, and I enjoyed the company. We have become friends with a girl named Abeer who invited us to join her and her family/friends on the hike.

I don't mean to sound blasphemous, but I enjoyed this hike more than the Narrows. We walked upstream, the water sometimes reaching my thighs, and encountered several waterfalls that we had to scale. I don't remember Zion's having quite the adventurous taste to it. Looking up from the bottom of the Wadi Mujib canyon, I beheld beautiful rock formations and colors. The twisting of the canyon maintained the mystery of the hike, as only section was revealed at a time. After climbing up and over one obstacle, it was only a matter of minutes before reaching the next obstacle. Birds and bats flew over our heads while little sucker-fishes nibbled on my legs and toes.

About two hours into the hike, we reached the destination: an amazing waterfall. It was odd to see so much water in the middle of a desert - especially in water-poor Jordan. The canyon above seemed to spit the water into the pool beneath where hikers rested before returning to the entrance. I have since learned that Moses may have walked through this canyon, which made the place even more wondrous. It was great to spend time with so many Jordanians, and I'll never be able to repay Abeer and her family for providing me with this excellent experience.

"Brady, why don't you post any pictures of Wadi Mujib? It sounds incredible!" Yes, friends. It was incredible. Luckily I'll always have the mental images I took because my backpack was stolen. In it: my camera, wallet, passport, cell phone, and everything else essential to my identity and financial well-being.

We returned to the apartments after Wadi Mujib. It was still a perfect day: sitting in the shade, chatting in the courtyard, and simply enjoying ourselves. After an hour or so of good conversation, my afflicted bladder caused me to go inside to use the restroom. Yes, I left all my belongings in the courtyard in the care of my fellow Americans. Leaving the restroom, I found an intern inside and we began to chat. It was several minutes later when I realized that everyone had come inside. I quickly stepped outside to retrieve my items, but was too late. They had been snatched. Gone.

How could one be so stupid to leave all those things in a bag? You shouldn't "put your eggs in one basket," as it were. It's true - I usually had at least my cell phone and wallet on my person, and I never carried my passport around. My camera usually remained in the bag. Again, why was everything in there? As you recall, Wadi Mujib requires treading through a river. I had been soaked earlier, and my shorts were not yet dry. So I put everything in my bag. Well, it was someone's lucky day because instead of stealing a bag full of boring food items and clothes, they got my money, identity, and memories. While it's true most of my belongings can be replaced (though frustrating and time-consuming it may be), some cannot. I'll mostly miss the pictures I took, my little orange Portuguese dictionary that was with me everyday on my mission, and my favorite hat that I won in a lunch basketball tournament. Those can never be replaced.

I have been surprisingly calm about the whole thing. While I lost some material things, I haven't lost the most important things to me. Whoever took that bag probably has had a much sadder life than I have. Maybe they thought they would be happier having so many things without paying for them. This person has made my life much more complicated (being in the Middle East without ID or a passport? Seriously...), but everything will be fine.

Don't get me wrong. If I ever find out who stole my bag, I will gladly slug him right in the face. More than once.

Look up Wadi Mujib.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Olive trees, women, and me.

This last weekend reaffirmed to me that I know very little about the culture here. You get glimpses of true Jordanian/Muslim culture in Amman - the head scarves, the robes, the call to prayer, etc. But being around Americans all the time prevents one from truly experiencing Arab culture. My most recent mini-vacation was a great experience and one that I will never forget.

I received an invitation to go visit a member of the Peace Corps who is staying in a small village near Ajloun. Recognize that name? Yep, Ajloun is the place I visited about a month ago with the majestic castle atop a hill. We were to stay with the Peace Corps member (named Natalie) in a village called Ourjan. I went with Jini, Kinsi, and Amanda, and since we were visiting Natalie...yes...I was the only man spending the weekend with four women. Winning!

After the most frustrating taxi ride I've ever experienced and paying over triple what we should have paid for a short trip, we finally made it to the bus station. We boarded the "bus" (really a van) to Ajloun. From Ajloun we took a cab on tiny roads to Ourjan. It was like that scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where Butch, Sundance, and their woman arrive in Bolivia. Stepping off the bus, we stared at the nothingness before us as the sputter of the taxi faded into the distance. There was no way, I thought, that we would be connected with our American Peace Corps friend. I was proven wrong when Natalie came down the street with her red hair aglow and big smile.

The five of us (remember, I was the lone man in the group) chatted for an hour or so in Natalie's home. It was actually quite nice - so nice, in fact, that Natalie considers herself to be part of the Posh Corps rather than the Peace Corps. She made a 24 month commitment to work at a school for disabled children in Ourjan, and she'll be alone the entire time. What a commitment, and congrats to her for doing a big thing to change the world in a small way!

We had a dinner appointment with a family across the village, so we took off. Since the village was a lot more conservative than Amman, the women had a few rules to follow:
1. Speak quietly
2. Don't speak to men.
3. Keep heads down.
4. Wear clothing covering arms to wrists and legs to ankles.

Me, the man? I could do basically anything I wanted. Natalie suggested that I walk in the front of the pack and say hello to the villagers. It was interesting, and though I felt invincible, I didn't like it.

We had an excellent dinner with this great family. Since the people in the village do not use furniture, we sat/laid on these foam pads. They made mansef for us, though it was served with chicken rather than the traditional lamb. It is served on a big plate on the floor and we were welcome to go at it. I ate so much food quickly that my stomach did not let me forget it all night.

After dinner we went on top of their roof where they had a little hut made out of bamboo. The temperature was perfect, and we had a great view of the rest of the village and beyond. More family members showed up, including Abu Yousef - the top dawg in the family. He came in his traditional garb - robe, red-checkered scarf, etc.

The family was great, and it was so good to see a family in the comfort of their own home. Sometimes I get the wrong idea about the people here because I only see them in public. They are very hospitable...and funny! I never realized that Arab women could be so funny. Maybe because I'm not really supposed to talk to them in most situations.

The next day we walked to the downtown of the village, picked up some falafel, and made our way to a olive tree orchard. Olive trees are absolutely incredible. They have so much character - you can almost see the hardship they go through. And they feel so old. These are the girls I spent the weekend with walking up a hill lined with olive trees:

And another tree:

I was surprised that there was a Christian church in such a small village. Only about 6% of Jordanians are Christian.

As I contemplate my time here, I feel growth. Life has a way of taking us along without asking for our permission. I mean, Jordan? How did I end up here? I don't know if this was part of my calling or destiny, but here I am. I don't know the precise reason that life took me to Jordan, but this I know: I have done things, been places, and met people that have changed my life. This summer will be one that I never forget.

(The above paragraph was meant to be dramatic. I needed something to go along with this photo.)