The Final Post for Summer 2014

I safely landed in New York a week ago, but I’ve been busy spending time with my family and also a tad jet lagged to publish my final post for this summer.

As I’ve written in many instructor reviews, reflections, and texts to my friends, it was really an amazing and transformative summer. My Arabic got significantly better, I was exposed to a really different but really awesome culture, and I met so many wonderful new people, American, Jordanian and European.

 

I wanted to give a particularly giant thank you to my language partner and now lovely friend, Hiba Robin and her family. Rabia and I got incredibly lucky to be paired with her, and she welcomed us into her family with open arms. We played with her tiniest cousins and were fed mountains of food at Iftar by her mother and aunts, and even dressed in their clothes to go and experience prayer at a mosque. I am going to say thank you again to Hiba for showering me with presents of bracelets and lipstick and special delicious Eid sweets, and a giant thank you to her mother for making me a wooden set of prayer beads. It took me 2 bus rides and 2 routed taxis (servees’s) and more than an hour and a half instead of the usual 20 minutes to get to their house, but I spent my entire day from the early afternoon to 11:00pm with them, chatting and cooking. We had fried chicken – Jordanian style and Maisa made the traditional Arab kunafa, a dessert of baked vermicelli noodles prepared with spices over a layer of cheese, while I prepared the sugary syrup the kunafa gets doused in, I’ve honestly grown to like this dessert after this summer while I couldn’t stand to eat it my first week. Thank you Hiba and Maisa, who I’m happy I grew close to over this summer.

Thank you to the rest of their family, every relative had told me that “I was now part of the family” and I was “one of their sisters” and all of the other comments that made me beam with joy.

I’ve fully realized the kindness and hospitality that is engrained in the Jordanian culture and I am very lucky to have experienced it. I’ve learned a long list of other things that come from traveling and communicating with very differs people on the other side of the world, and I recommend this experience to everyone.

This summer I’ve finally used a few pieces of advice that I heard throughout my life but always disregarded, and they are: Always walk down mountains sideways. A good attitude can make a world of a difference. When learning Arabic, the most important thing to hold on to is positivity.

 

And I will leave this blog with that. I hope that I will hold on to the positivity I’ve adopted during my summer, and I hope I return to this blog. I called it 5709 miles and counting for a reason.

 

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Finishing Up: Petra and the Final Week

Today, I took my 4 hour final exam, had 2 interviews for proficiency in colloquial and formal Arabic, and so I officially completed my Georgetown Arabic Language minor.

I didn’t talk at all about the second half of my Eid Break trip, which was a visit to Petra. It is definitely an amazing landmark and it is absolutely huge and impressive that the Nabateans built the site (and only for use as tombs and temples), but some of its novelty was lost on me because of the previous natural beauty I saw in Rum.

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In the week that followed Eid Break, I started and finished my 1800+ word Arabic research paper about the human rights crisis in Syria, studied about 700 vocabulary words and Arabic expressions, did a lot of miscellaneous homework and tried to hung out with my friends as much as possible.

I have one final day in Amman tomorrow, without class, studying, or exams, and I will spend a large portion of my day with my friend Hiba and her family, so I’m really excited for that final sendoff.

The Red Sanded Desert – Wadi Rum

After getting back from a week of traveling Friday evening, I somehow managed to plow through handwriting and then typing an 1800 word research paper in Arabic, going to an engagement party and catching up on my regular homework assignments. I am now in the middle of my last week in Jordan, studying for my final exams and reflecting on all my great memories.

I have a few days left here in Amman, but I think I’ve made up my mind about the best thing that you can see in this entire country, and that’s Wadi Rum.

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Three of my friends here and I decided to ditch our planned group trip to Dhana Reserve, get in touch with a bedouin living in Rum village and instead spend two nights in the magical red desert that is usually referred to as the set and inspiration for the movie “Lawrence of Arabia” and the very fictional book “7 Pillars of Wisdom” by T.E. Lawrence.

Wadi Rum is absolutely the biggest must of Jordan because it is incredibly fun while being awesomely serene and beautiful. The teenaged son of our bedouin contact led us around for several hours a day in a jeep tour, pointing us up mountains and saying “hike this trail all the way and you will find Nabatean inscriptions,” “that tree you can see way up the mountain is Lawrence’s spring! climb up!” and so on and so forth. We saw various sites that get their importance from the legend of Lawrence, but also a variety of beautiful natural sites, and then the remains of Nabatean temples and Nabatean and 1600 year old Islamic inscriptions on canyon walls.

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Nabatean Inscriptions

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There was a lot of riding in the jeep just taking in and enjoying all of the sites, the red and yellow sand of the desert, the sandstone mountains of the most unique shapes and colors punctuating the landscape.

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The sunsets in Wadi Rum are absolutely gorgeous, and I’m really lucky and glad that I got the chance to watch two. By night, we ate dinner cooked in our camp by an Egyptian man that spoke slang in a thick accent. As soon as the clock struck 9pm, the stars would begin coming out. I’ve gone star gazing before on a few occasions, but these were absolutely the best and brightest and most plentiful stars that I had ever seen during my life. The night sky is absolutely one of the best reasons that everyone should want to go Wadi Rum.

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In the mornings, the sun woke us up in our raised tents around 7:00am. The highlights of the second day were climbing to the top of a land bridge, watching my friends attempt sandboarding down some very tall dunes that were very hard to climb, walking through a caravan of camels, some of which were curious and some of which were ready to bite me, and finally, getting my long-awaited camel ride through a portion of the desert.

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The day was followed by a sunset more beautiful than the first and another night of stargazing. Leaving to Petra the next morning was rather sad, because even the tremendous Nabatean temples, tombs and ruins could not compare to the natural beauty of the Rum desert

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Day Trip to Wadi Hidan

Before I go off to Wadi Rum and Petra this week, I wanted to write about my last weekend day trip of the summer. A group of my friends and I went with a tourism company (a bunch of cool guys who love climbing around canyons) called Tropical Desert to Wadi Hidan.

Wadi means “valley” in Arabic, so there are an assortment of them in Jordan, but I am extremely glad we chose to go to Hidan.

For about 4 kilometers, we climbed, hiked and swam quite a bit to go through a portion of this valley, and it was an awesome experience. I also wanted to mention how impressed I am by myself that I’ve managed to be in water for 3/6 weekends that I’ve had in Jordan so far, and that’s rather impressive for a country with an extreme water crisis.

It was an awesome hike where I jumped off boulders and small cliffs a handful of times, slid down a natural water slide and spent half of the journey swimming with a lifejacket, helmet and pack on, resulting in me looking like the construction workers from fisher price’s “little people”

Here are some photos of the day, and I just wanted to mention that the photos do this location no justice.

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The view hiking out of Wadi Hidan
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Just floating around in Wadi Hidan

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The car to Wadi Rum leaves at 8am tomorrow, and I am so excited for the journey to the most beautiful locations in Jordan! I hope to tell some great stories when I’m back.

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From a friend of mine also living abroad this summer and working in Spain

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“Don’t ever give up on the places that mean a lot to you. Keep them close, regardless of how far they might be at any given moment. Same with those people you admire and trust.” 

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The Ultimate Thrift Shop: Souk Abdali

People have blogging schedules, maybe they wake up early to write or jot down ideas during their morning cup of coffee, or they blog after dinner as a way of letting out the stress of the day. But sadly, my blogging schedule usually consists of blogging an average of 5 days after the fact, and I’ve fallen into that unfortunate habit.

We are currently in our last days of Ramadan, and coming up quickly is the end of my summer program here in Jordan – there are only 5 more full days of class left!
I still have 2 weeks here, and will hopefully get my 800 word research paper on human rights abuses in Syria (in Arabic) out of the way soon, as well as a handful of other annoying assignments, because I am SO EXCITED that I am going to Wadi Hidan after tomorrow for a hiking, climbing, and swimming day trip.
And then come Monday morning, I am finally off to Wadi Rum and Petra, the crown jewels of Jordanian tourism, and from everything I’ve heard, for good reason.

However, since I’ve gotten behind on my blogging, I wanted to share one of my favorite experiences in the city of Amman so far – going to a giant flea market called Souk Al-Jumaa or Souk Abdali nestled in the center of Amman.

Saturday through Thursday morning, the giant area that is at least 350m long and 100m across is used as an enormous parking lot for large tour buses, but come late Thursday afternoon, dozens of venders begin unloading their wares onto racks and folding tables under their giant canopies. This ritualized flea market is filled with everything from children’s toys to accessories, to shoes and fresh fruits and vegetables. And naturally, there are mountains and mountains of second-hand clothes for men, women and children. IMG_0899

One of my favorite things about Souk Abdali was its authenticity, since so many of the shopping areas in Amman that are fun to browse are targeted towards tourists and foreigners. Locals are regulars at the market because of the deals you can get at this secondhand market. Finally, I felt like my deprivation of cheap and fun thrift stores in New York City had been rectified.

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I had the most fun browsing through men’s and boy’s sports jerseys, looking for familiar sports teams, colleges, and just reading the ridiculous stuff off of shirts that had found their way to this market. Lots of clothes had “housing works” tags on them, and a lot of the clothes looked like they had found their way from the west, particularly from the States, and onto the racks of this market. I browsed for the first hour without speaking to anyone or asking for prices, just listening to the colloquial, laughing at the random clothing that I saw, and eventually making my way through rows of fruits and vegetables and into a quiet “shop” filled with flashy ball gowns (yes, you can find anything at Souk Abdali).

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My goal was to find myself a pair of light, colorful cotton pants because I had grown bored of knowing every pair of pants and every skirt I had brought with me to Jordan. I probably turned over a minimum of 300 pairs of pants that were mostly all absolutely gigantic before finding my diamond in the rough. I finally found a pair of extremely airy, orange and red pants with drawings of leaves on them that I paid 2JD for – that’s $3.40.

Earlier that day, I had parted with another pair that after arguing with the shopkeeper’s son, I was told was 3JD and no less. I found my bargain!

I also picked up a funny t-shirt as a souvenir and a few beaded bracelets with pretty charms that a man was making by hand right in front of me.

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The deals, the zany variety of shopkeepers and their wares, the noise, the heat in the middle of the day during Ramadan (I did not drink water in public during this period out of respect), and the range of sounds and smells (sometimes there were delicious spices and sometimes I was reminded of New York City in the summertime) made my lazy Friday exciting and refreshing. IMG_0892

The best part was that I had left my apartment with only 16JD in my wallet, worrying that I would have to skip out on some cool purchases because I had forgotten to get more cash, but truth be told, if you aren’t trying to buy several outfits, a budget of less than 20 JD is completely reasonable budget for this venue.

For anyone traveling to Amman and reading this, make time between traveling out of town and your academic and professional responsibilities to drop by Souk Al Jumaa!


After shopping I came home and not finding any watermelon in our refrigerator, dedicated myself to making a pitcher of lemonade and listening to dance music. In the evening, I went out with some friends to Rainbow Street, the popular, westernized street full of cafes, galleries of traditional wares largely for tourists and restaurants – for all of my fellow Hoyas, its ambience is very reminiscent of M Street. We ended up browsing one of the galleries filled with beautiful items that were all unbelievably expensive and rare, such as this mother-of-pearl covered jewelry box in the shape of a mosque. There was a showroom of rugs, but my favorite were the gigantic mother-of-pearl encrusted sets of chairs and mirrors.

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After eating my Nutella, peanut and banana crepe that night, I was fully satisfied with my lazy but very culturally and flavorfully fulfilling weekend spent in Amman. IMG_0888

“You are now leaving Amman” – Iftar in Mariyaah

Wednesday of last week, Rabia and I were invited to another Iftar with another member of Hiba’s large family. We spent the evening at Hiba’s mother’s sister’s (this distinction important in Arabic culture) beautiful house in an area a few kilometers outside of Amman. The 55 cent bus we took there took us outside of the city and Rabia and I kept looking around nervously worrying that we had taken the wrong bus or we had missed our stop, but we made it, after asking the bus driver and locals multiple questions that we couldn’t understand the answers to – they spoke a more rural type of colloquial. The ambiance of our meal was different than the previous Iftar at Hiba’s house – we ate outside where the family had planted a variety of flowers and fruit trees. And in true Arabic storytelling fashion, I will explain the most important thing first – what we ate.

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There were small bowls of salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley and mint in sauce, there was handmade tomato puree sauce that tasted delicious in rice, and another giant dish of rice with spices, raisins and grapes, there was roasted chicken and french fries and there was baked fish with salad greens. We broke their fast by each eating the traditional date, and were each handed two entire pieces of pita by Hiba’s uncle (these would be followed by two more pieces of pita).

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The couple’s oldest son lived with his wife and 8 month old girl in the apartment above his parent’s house, so there was another adorable baby for us to play with. In a house with 3 sons, (rather than Hiba’s family of 1 son and 5 daughters), it was really interesting to observe the cultural differences and similarities that exist between sons and daughters. The greeting that the 16 and 19 year old sons had to their parents when they came home, and the way they acted around their parents was entirely different than what we had seen in a family of mainly daughters, but the way the boys treated their niece was just like what we had seen in Hiba’s immediate family – all babies are treated like a sibling or even their own daughter. And on an unrelated note, I saw the little girl’s mother let her have sips of Arabic coffee at 10pm at night. No wonder so many Jordanians say they can drink a cup of coffee and fall right asleep!

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Our hostess and her granddaughter!
Our hostess and her granddaughter!

It was a great evening and I enjoyed meeting and talking to so many new people, it’s really great how much culture and understanding can be shared over a meal.

Oh, and their mother (Hiba’s aunt) made me eat about a third of the rice for the entire family by means of friendly refillings that I could not turn down. Happy Ramadan everyone!

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Last Week’s Weekend Trip: Aqaba and the Red Sea

Wow. I am so unbelievably bored right now. Which is a sharp contrast to the past week when I couldn’t afford myself an hour to blog or even take a nap despite being chronically exhausted. Those are usually things that people don’t write in travel blogs or tell their friends and family about but sometimes there are moments that are very very dull.

But nevertheless, what I didn’t have time to share last week was that a week ago, I spent a few amazing days in Aqaba on the Red Sea! A few friends and I were at the Movenpick Resort and it was just a relaxing and wonderful experience.

There was a lot of swimming in an assortment of infinity pools, tanning, more swimming, indulging in an awesome water slide at the resort, swimming in the Red Sea, (which to my amazement was an incredibly deep blue color), diving and jumping off a dock for hours into the ocean and talking with some locals in Arabic until I got to sail for the first time in my life!

It was an awesome short vacation and the story is best told through photos. The land visible across the sea is the Sinai Peninsula and when we went to get dinner at night, the lights of the Israeli city of Eilat were glowing brightly about 5 kilometers away.

I wish I could be in Aqaba right now!!!

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My Fascinating Fasting Experience

While going to Iftars is an awesome experience of good food and spending times with (new) friends and family, 12 days of Ramadan passed before I decided to experience the spiritual, trying process of fasting.

All of the girls in my apartment have been fasting since the very first day of the Holy Month, and for some reason or another, I picked July 9th to be the day that I would go from sunrise to sundown without food or water. I am really happy to say that I was entirely and wonderfully surprised by the experience I had, and that it was probably much easier than the experience of those who have been fasting daily for almost two weeks now, and I will probably participate in the Fast several more times before the end of Ramadan.

Fasting during Ramadan is definitely a lot easier being located in a country that has an overwhelming majority of Muslim inhabitants. During the day, almost all of the restaurants, cafes and stores are closed to accommodate the fasting public. At sundown, after the Edhan sounds and the fast is broken (around 7:50pm every day), restaurants open for Iftar and coffee shops, stores and a variety of other places for leisure are open until the early hours of the morning, when people have their Suhoor (around 3:30am) and then do not eat or drink until Iftar the next day.

Ramadan definitely works wonders in changing one’s daily schedule. Our classes continue during the mornings and afternoons but I’ve spent many days coming home to sleep after class, doing some homework and then heading out past 9 to eat, shop, etc.

So that’s basically the jist of Ramadan. Here is the story of my experience fasting.


Suhoor:
My alarm went off around 3:20 am so that I had time to roll out of bed, make a big pan of scrambled eggs with my roommate, and then proceed to fill myself with eggs, dates, yogurt, bread with jam, Arabic sweets, juice and bottles upon bottles of water to the point that I thought I would burst, all before hearing the Imam at about 3:48am. The yogurt helps with thirst, according to one of my friends, and the dates have fiber which is supposed to keep you full for the long day ahead. Though the mad rush in the middle of the night to fill yourself with food for the next day is pretty hectic, I really loved the sense of community that’s grown between all of the Georgetown students who are fasting to have Suhoor together, and it was awesome to take part in this meal with them.

Daytime:
I will admit that I was struggling all morning. My throat started drying out and hurting after talking for half an hour in my first Arabic class, and I had to gargle once or twice to get through it. But miraculously, a little bit before noon, I forgot all about my thirst and the hunger didn’t even dawn upon me. As I’ve heard some of my friends and roommates describe, my body actually felt lighter and I was in a really good mood all day. I took a short nap after getting home, and after a few hours, went to meet up with my language partner Hiba, her sister Maysa and my friend Rabia once again. This time we decided to cab to Jebel Webde (Web-dai), one of the mountains of Amman that is famous for having interesting artisan shops, art galleries and hip cafes. This was the part of my day I was most worried about, after making it through my 10 minute presentation earlier that day in class on the Arab League’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

To my incredible surprise, I walked around talking with my friends, peering into shop windows that would open at Iftar time, and even successfully maneuvered our little group through Webde to the cafe that Hiba wanted us to eat at.

Evening and the Search for Iftar:
Originally, Hiba had a great idea to eat at a quirky place in Webde perched on the side of the hill that had couches and tables placed between plants, trees and flowers on wooden platforms at different levels. It was almost like being in a giant, open-air treehouse. But the restaurant was mahjooz, or entirely reserved for the evening. This was my first attempt for getting to eat the Iftar that I had fasted all day for – the first Iftar that I rightfully deserved.

We managed to get a cab down the hill from Webde which was a feat of its own, since many cab drivers do not want to be driving across the city without water or dates to break their fast. We took the taxi across Amman to a busy street of restaurants and cafes next to the University of Jordan, to a Turkish restaurant that both Jordanian girls kept telling us was extremely, extremely delicious. Though it may have been delicious, this restaurant was also mahjooz. Slightly frustrated but still in a fantastically good mood, we began a long walk to the third candidate for our final destination.

While walking alongside the giant University of Jordan campus, we saw young men giving out small cups of bottled water, factory sealed with aluminum lids, and small packages of dates to the cab drivers in plastic bags. We walked by their operation and picked up these Ramadan goodie bags. Which was lucky, because I spent my first deserved Iftar walking through the middle of the University of Jordan campus. The irony of the moment, as well as the pleasant simplicity of 2 dates and several well-deserved sips of water is something that I will not forget anytime soon. It was a great breaking of the fast though, because the giant campus was absolutely empty of people except for us four girls cutting through to finally get our meal.

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The third and final restaurant was not one that took reservations, but we did have to wait for about 10 minutes before a table to fit all four of us cleared out. And by 8:20pm when we ordered, there was already not beef left in the whole establishment. But I wolfed down my kebab sandwich and soup and fries when they came, and even though I was about to fall down from my food coma, Rabia and I split a twix McFlurry afterwards. It was a glorious Iftar.

And that is a day in the life of an non-Muslim American student fasting for Ramadan in the Middle East! I have an Iraqi carp Iftar to get to now, so I am off, bye!

Meanwhile in Jordan… Independence Day

Happy Fourth of July everyone!!!!

So today, along with some of the people in my group, we decided to go take a day trip to the Baptism site. This place on the same road to the Dead Sea, but instead of descending to the lowest point on Earth, the baptism site is in the direction of Israel.

Funny story because my friends and I wanted to beat the morning rush of tourism at the site, so we got taxis to arrive at 8:00am when the Baptism site “opens,” however the ticket booth didn’t open until a half hour later and the bus promised to arrive at 9:00am made an appearance at 9:20 and finally started driving to the site at 9:40am. Well, when in Jordan.

The reason that we had to wait for a specific tourist bus is because the site where Jesus was baptized by John is less than half a kilometer away from the current Jordan river, and the border with Israel.

It was a very cool spot to see, even though it would have been more fun to get to walk around the assortment of churches built in the area around the site, ranging from Catholic to Greek Orthodox to Russian Orthodox.

The best part was definitely the actual Jordan River. It was so ridiculous to see Israel 15 feet away, across this very very narrow body of water. The river has fallen away over the years because of the dry climate and use for irrigation etc. There is a special pool in the shape of a cross built at the location that numerous scholars and religious leaders have confirmed that Jesus was baptized, but the water has fallen extremely low because this year was incredibly bad in terms of rain in Jordan. This place where the Jordan River once ran is a 5 minute walk away from the narrow piece of water that the Jordan River is today.

So now I have officially dipped my feet in and spread water from the Holy Land onto my arms.

It was quite a cool experience, and we were back by noon when I proceeded to take a four hour nap. Now it’s time to go to a cafe in Wast-Al-Beled (downtown) for dinner.

Independence Day Pilgrimage!!!!