Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wahid + Wahid + Wahid = 3

I am finally getting settled in Aqaba - I have an apartment, I've found a few good stores and markets, and I can figure out where I live and work without getting lost (sort of). Aqaba has been a little difficult for me to navigate (even more so that Amman) because the commercial district and the residential areas are completely separate. This means that on the way home, my landmarks are white three-story apartment buildings, beige three-story apartment buildings, and slightly-yellow three-story apartment buildings. Luckily, the mosque near my house has a blue top, so if I am stumped I can look for that.

This week will be my first full week of work, and things have been going well. I am working at a micro-business incubator that assists people both in starting new businesses and bettering existing businesses. A new business training workshop just started, with 26 participants. I was able to attend two nights of the training, and even though the instruction was entirely in Arabic, I understood a lot of what was happening. My organization seems to be well-received in Aqaba, and the staff does a lot of work to build awareness of our services. I am still working on figuring out my own role. Lately that has involved quite a bit of online Access training so I can design and build a fabulous (Arabic) database in the next few weeks.

Since moving in to our apartment a week ago, Frank and I have already had two visitors. I really enjoy the company, so I am looking forward to many more over the year. We also spent the a few nights with our friend Rami. We went to a restaurant called Jaffra for appetizers, and accidentally ordered an enormous amount of food. Lesson: when the waiter looks at you like he is confused, don't have two other people repeat what you just said. "Wahid hummus. Wahid hummus. Wahid hummus." = three hummus. The food below is only 2/3 of what we were served, and this is for three people.

Francisco and Rami


I had a really great first weekend down here. Friday, F, J, and I went snorkeling in the Red Sea. At first I was wary of wearing a swimsuit, and next time I go to that particular beach I will probably wear a t-shirt and shorts. While there were a couple other women (tourists) wearing less than me, I still don't enjoy being stared at. I also don't want to make anyone else uncomfortable if I can avoid it so easily.

The Red Sea. Downtown Aqaba is to the right, the Saudi border about 10km to the left, Israel across the water to the right, and Egypt across the water to the left. What an amazing meeting of places!

On the way to the Saudi border. My sense of adventure failed me as I told J to turn around every 10 meters as we got closer to the checkpoint.

On Saturday, J and I went SCUBA diving with our new Australian dive instructor / friend. The day started with some paperwork and a description and demonstration of the equipment. Luckily, it was just the two of us and the instructor, so there was plenty of time to ask questions and no time waiting for other people to gear up. We walked from the dive center down to the water (me leaning forward 30 degrees to make up for the weight of the tank on my back), put on our masks, and under the water we went. My only problem with the dive was in the first five minutes (and the first two meters). I felt that my mask was too loose. I tried to use signals to tell the instructor that I was having a problem, but when I got the universal signal for "what" three times and he ignored my "I want to go up signal," I just went to the surface to take care of it. He told me that I am spastic.

After that, we went under and stayed under for about 45 minutes. We learned how to take the regulator out and clear it of water before we started using it again. We also learned how to clear a mask that is 1/4 full with water. And finally, we practiced adjusting our buoyancy by adding and removing air from our dive vest. (There is a word for that...B-something-D...) 12 meters (almost 40 feet) under the surface, the Red Sea is amazing. Tons of colorful corals and fish and enough light to see everything clearly - parrot fish, clown fish, little families of fish and big schools of fish. I hear there are also turtles, but we didn't see any this time. When I finally get Internet at my apartment, I am going to do the online portion of the PADI open water certification so I can do the rest of the dive training in the water. And then, to go on a dive will be inexpensive enough that I can go whenever I like. I am really looking forward to this part of living in Aqaba.

Other highlights from the past week: N stopped by for a quick visit when work brought her from Amman to Ma'an; F and I played ultimate frisbee with a group of locals and expats, finally getting some exercise; we stocked up on stuff for our apartment at the Chinese market; we started to navigate our 500+ television channels, finding at least four in English and one in Spanish; I am getting used to the 100 degree heat.

This weekend, we are heading to Amman to visit with our friends, have brunch with a kind host, and go on a hike. Looking forward to getting back to the big city for a bit...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In and Around Aqaba

Check out the size of the guy standing at the bottom of this flag pole. The flag stands for the Arab Revolt.

One of the streets in the market area. Things you can find here: blankets, nuts, shoes, gold, liquor and cigarettes, electronics, clothes, more blankets and shoes and nuts... Oh, and meat (both with head attached and detached).

Monday, September 20, 2010

New friends

Zahra, Nicole, me, Jonathan, Ravi, Francisco, Kaley, Michael, Meredith

(Photo credit of Nicole, I think...)

The First 18 Days

Alright, alright. If everyone else is going to have blogs, then I guess I will too. Not just because I want to join the bandwagon, but also because I enjoy reading other people's accounts of our time here in Jordan so much that I feel like I should contribute. So, here it is.

Today is Monday, September 20, which means I arrived in Jordan two and a half weeks ago. Since then I've slept in a nice (but too expensive hotel) in Amman, on a mattress on the floor of a very generous Couch Surfer's apartment, and on many different couches/beds in a pseudo frat house in the lovely neighborhood of Abdoun. All of these places offered me a welcoming and entertaining view of Jordan. Our Couch Surfing host epitomized a phrase that I have heard so many times since I've been here: Welcome to Jordan. His welcome was genuine, but I am still navigating the "Welcome" and "Here is my mobile" offers that I receive so many times each day. (Which also come in the form of "You must try this and eat this and drink this and please sit and eat eat eat!") In Abdoun, I was fortunate to stay with three Fulbright dudes who all speak Arabic (Egyptian American, Jordanian-born American, and Middle-East-ophile American), share my love of Subway, and took me up on my offer to cook and chauffeur for a place to sleep. I think I had intended on staying a couple of nights, but that turned into ten very fun days.

A little bit about my time in Amman - I arrived during Ramadan, which meant the city was packed with people but moving slowly because of the daytime fasting. In my first couple of days, I visited the Citadel ruins, ate mass quantities of hummus and foul, and drank quite a few $5 cans of Amsdel. I also took trips to the Dead Sea and Wadi Mujib (which = one speeding ticket, whoops!). Wadi Mujib is the Grand Canyon of the Middle East. 15 of us drove there in an Italian Job-like caravan of Nissan Sunnies. With our sexy life vests on, we trekked up a 6"-18" deep river, climbing some short waterfalls along the way, and ended up at a giant waterfall where tiny little fish bit at our ankles. So far, I think this is my favorite place in Jordan, and I definitely plan on going back.

One of Amman's many hills as viewed from the Citadel

The Roman Theater

Woah. Big old stuff.

Six travelers-worth of luggage, at the Abdoun elbow-in-the-road.

Blue Fig, Amman

Dead Sea Spa
Dead Sea Monsters - Jonathan, Francisco, me, Meredith, Nicole, Laura, Victoria, Sharief

Looking across to the West Bank

Tom and Tariq - P90X at the Frat House

While most of my colleagues are based in Amman this year, I will be in Aqaba with Francisco, a classy dude who represents the fastest growing minority population in Iowa. Francisco and I intended to head down to Aqaba on September 15, but due to a notice of "imminent threat" from the US Embassy, we waited until September 18. This notice put us slightly on edge, and perhaps caused my heart to start beating a little faster when we saw a hundred members of the military running down the street as we were viewing a potential apartment. But again, it all comes back to the Sunny. Either Francisco's black Sunny or my silver Sunny would make excellent get away cars! (Come on Mom, I'm just joking!)

We drove along the Dead Sea Highway, which is a longer route from Amman to Aqaba, but also calmer. Fewer trucks, more camels. On another trip, I look forward to taking more time and visiting the few villages and many biblical sites that we passed, like Jesus' baptism site and Lot's cave. I am also sure I will get some amazing close up photos with those camels!

On the way to Aqaba, finally! (And another view of the Dead Sea and West Bank)

Aqaba is really beautiful. It's right on the Red Sea, and a short strip of empty land separates it from Eilat, Israel. It is much more quiet than Amman, and because of that Francisco and I are eager to get settled and figure out what is what. We are definitely missing all of our friends, the kids, and the frat boys (is anyone reading this offended by being labeled??). We had a tiring day of apartment hunting yesterday, which was made 1000x easier by a very kind Jordanian friend named Rami. This morning, with help from another new friend, Francisco found an apartment that suits us both. Visitors are welcome, though the two requests for this weekend might have to be turned down if we are still in a hotel waiting for the place to open up. (If this is a sign of things to come, once the weather turns cold in Amman we will be running a hostel.)

Um, really?

The lights of Eilat, Israel, from Aqaba

Me and Francisco, aka Fernando, Paco, Enrique, Franny, Frank, etc.

These last two pictures were taken from the roof of my hotel, called My Hotel (this has made for some great/stupidly annoying phone conversations). Like I said, it is really beautiful, particularly toward the end of the day. I can't wait to unpack my suitcase and start planning trips to the beach, snorkeling, camping in Wadi Rum, hiking....

The Aqaba lighthouse and port area

Amazing Aqaba mountains