Thursday, October 28, 2010


There is a small market about 10 yards from the front door of my building that sells necessities, plus a whole lot of candy and cookies. Each time I have gone in, the owner gives me coins from other places. Today, I got a Euro from Spain and 10 dinar from Saudi Arabia.

A Brazillian woman who owns a bikini shop in Aqaba is hosting an event at the Intercontinental Hotel tonight with a swimwear fashion show. This is only acceptible because it is in a hotel. The land of the foreigners is a little less Arabic (thus, I can also wear shorts at the hotel gym). I am getting henna painted on my hand by my work's helper/coffee maker/cleaner/serious lady who I am just starting to crack.

Rather than have an Arabic lesson this morning I went for coffee with my teacher. We had a lovely time, talking about marriage and relationships in Jordan, money and expenses and inflation, and work opportunities.

Speaking of Arabic, I am just starting to put together complete sentences. Some samples of what I can say:
I am hungry. I want to eat please.
Do you want to go?
There are 100 trees.
I am busy.
Are you free?
I am thirsty. I want to drink.
How are you? My name is Katrina. What is your name?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Gulf of Aqaba, Wadi Rum, Nawatef Camp, Wadi Ghuweir, Shoubak Castle (and making up for a long blog absence)

The amazing adventures that I've been having during my free time have been keeping me from posting pictures and writing, but I do want to share what I've been up to, so here we go...

To weekends ago, F and I had some visitors down in Aqaba. They arrived on Thursday night, and after a Friday morning stop at Gloria Jean's, we all went down to the Movenpick jetty to boat a glass bottomed boat that took us to Aqaba's South Beach. The air on the boat was such a nice change from the late summer heat. While cruising along, we were able to see the city from a different, and perhaps more idealistic, viewpoint. For the day, we were tourists, snorkeling in the Red Sea, eating lunch that was cooked on an on-board barbeque, and enjoying the company of other travelers (including two kind English gentlemen who were in Jordan on a singing tour). The highlight of the trip for me was diving from the second story roof of the boat, Edgartown Bridge style.

We passed the Aqaba Container Terminal. Watching those huge chunks of metal being moved around so easily reminded me of the Atari game where the hamburgers fell from the sky. (Dan, what was that?)

That night, we met up with a Peace Corps volunteer who is teaching in a small town a couple of hours away. His stories about Jordan contrasted with the peaceful day that we just had - Peace Corps volunteers are paid a wage that is comparative to the local population. They don't have the luxury of exploring a new facet of the country every weekend. I am very grateful that I can afford everything that I've shared here in this blog. (In case anyone is thinking of visiting Jordan - the wadi trips (including lunch and transportation) cost about $50 each. The day on the boat cost about $40, and scuba diving was a little more than $50.)

On the mandatory walk through the market with our visitors, we of course came across some ridiculous JC Penney castoff mannequins. And J, of course, got a photo.

Packing more into the weekend, we went to Wadi Rum the next day. This was where Lawrence of Arabia was based during the Arab Revolt. The rock formation you can see behind the visitor center is called "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom."

Rather than getting a truck to drive us into the desert, we chose to walk about 5 miles to the Rum Village. We passed by a $13/person buffet and had a great lunch at a small restaurant (hummus, bread, tabouli, salad, drinks) for just a few dollars a person. We skipped a camel ride and T bargained a truck back to our starting point for 5JD.

The bargaining went like this:
Guy With Truck: 20JD!
T: Ha! 5JD
GWT: 20!
T: 5!
[GWT then drives away. Wuh-oh.]
Guy With Different Truck: You need a ride?
T: 5JD!

Whew! Ok, keep going.

This past weekend, I met 10 friends from Amman somewhere near the Dana Biosphere Reserve. When I arrived at the Nawatef Camp it was dusk. There was a fire going with chairs all around, glowing lanterns lighting the paths to the goat hair tents, and some very friendly faces there to welcome me (and bring me tea!). Nawatef is perched at the top of a deep canyon and is one of the most serene places that I have ever been, particularly at that time of day.

The next morning, it was just as beautiful.

Friday, we hired a guide to take us through Wadi Ghuweir. The 10 mile hike started at the top of the canyon, and went from sunshine at the top to the shade of the canyon; from a flowing stream to a dry path; from hopping frogs to tip-toeing millipedes. The canyon walls reminded me of marble cake.

I spent a large part of the day talking with a new Iraqi friend who is living in Jordan implementing security training for individuals who will be working in Iraq. I am very thankful begin to paint a mental image of Jordan's neighbor to the east.

The weekend was capped by a trip to Shoubak Castle, or Montreal, a Crusader Castle built in 1115. The best part of the visit was a long tunnel that went from inside the castle, down into the caves, and down down down until it reached a ladder that led up to the street at the bottom of the mountain. There were also stone wheels in one or two of the rooms and what I can only guess were cannon balls.

Next up: more visitors from Amman this weekend and another boat trip since we enjoyed the first so much. And then I am heading to Amman on Saturday and I'll spend next week working, drinking Starbucks, shopping, and other such big-city things.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Wicked Wadi

In anticipation of the winter rains, we've been spending as much time as we can exploring Jordan's wadis, or canyons - Wadi Mujib in mid-September, then Wadi Hassa two weeks ago, and Wadi Kerak this past weekend. Even though all are within a 100 kilometer radius, each place has been unique. We've climbed up waterfalls, soaked in hot springs, and abseiled down canyon walls. Kerak and the abseiling has been my favorite trip so far because of both the newness of abseiling and the depth and beauty of that particular canyon.

The Kerak trip started with a two hour bus ride out of Amman and along the Dead Sea. We drove up into the mountains and were dropped off at the top of a steep trail that descended into the canyon. I was reminded of the road between Los Angeles and Pheonix, where the bareness is amazing but the rolling ups and downs and then sharp mountains give you something to wonder about.

After a few hundred meters, we reached the first of five waterfalls and got a quick introduction to repelling in the form of "just lean back and go!" I heard a couple of screams and more than a few swears from the people ahead of me, but I was able to control my own nerves by reminding myself of the trust that I had in the tour guides and my general "it probably won't kill me" attitude. (Sorry mom... it definitely, definitely won't kill me.)

The first and second drops were easily manageable - two to four times my height. Instead of hopping down the mountainside like so many videos of repelling show, we actually walked step by step down. It was easy to feed the rope through the metal loop attached to my harness, and just as easy to hold the rope so I would stay put. The initial step or maneuvering at the top of a drop was always the most difficult. I found myself in a precarious position at the top of a ten foot, dry repel when my left leg was reaching down the rock wall and my right leg was between the wall and my face. Not on purpose.

The hike was ten kilometers total, and we stopped halfway through the day to have lunch and hot tea beside a small yet tall waterfall. I wonder what it would be like to grow up beside a place like that. Every time that life got you up, you could celebrate by letting mountain water fall on your head. And every time that life got you down, you could do the same and remind yourself that you are alive. And you could also line the canyon with little plastic army men, or cowboys and Indians, whichever you prefer (to prepare for non-existent-bear attacks).

The landscape of the canyon changed throughout the day. This was most noticeable after lunch as we walked along a curving stream that was grassy and then rocky and the walls changed from white to orange to red to gray. I ran along part of the trail with a mountain-goat-like guide named Hussein (like Barack, or Sadam, as he put it). It felt good to move, particularly in such a spectacular setting. I've been happy lately, and I don't mean about anything specific. It's just a general feeling of enjoying each day and sporadic disbelief that I am here in this place.

I have to offer many thanks to Zach, a Fulbright friend, for the amazing photos. (On wet hikes like this one, someone carries a big plastic pickle jar with the necessities that can't get wet - a camera or two, cigarettes, a lighter for the smokes and to start a fire for the tea, and a first aid kit.)


After the hike, I was able to spend a few more days in Amman. Saturday, J and I walked from Abdali to downtown where we came across a few surprising alleys, lots of silly mannequins (picture Jordan Marsh, mid-1980s, minus something important like hair or a hand or a leg), and a busy market for spices, fruits, and vegetables. A ten year old hawker waved J off as he tried to pay for two tiny hot peppers from a bucket of 500, and I was surprised by the boy's mannerisms and sense.

From the downtown area, which is at the bottom of a number of hills, we walked up a giant staircase to another area of town and met with some rug rats along the way. We had an enlightening conversation or two that went like this: RR: Hello! J&K: Well hello to you! RR: How are you!? J&K: Fine. How are you? RR: Fuck you!! Heh heh heh!!" These kids were between 7 and 12 years old, so I didn't take it too personally... And I remembered all of the snowballs and acorns that I chucked at passing cars on Jan Marie Drive when I was their age.

Other highlights from the past week:

- I started my Arabic tutoring session this morning. I now know about 50 words, which is a good start.
- I had a taxi adventure that involved being asked for a fare that was 5x what it should be, almost running out of gas, and hitting a curb while reversing 100 meters on a one way street.,
- F and I joined the health club at the Movenpick hotel and have found a place where I can comfortably wear shorts.
- J and I found an Indian restaurant with a small menu full of good food and, of course, Amsdel.
- I was at an intersection in Shmeisani and a man in the car next to me littered. Then the man on the opposite side of him got out of his truck, walked around the car, picked up the wrapper, and threw it back in the car. Admirable gall!
- (Oh yeah, and I went to work some of the days in there. Perhaps I will write about that part of my life soon, but there is so much fun to be had and so many pictures to take of more colorful things!)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What he said.

I was lightly reprimanded for not posting enough here and letting people know what I have been up to. So here, what he said:

Another Day, Another Dinar

(Is this allowed?)

Amman Weekend

Bootleg bonanza: 13 movies = 10JD = $14

Downtown Amman

Tinfoil heads. And Franco.