Back at the screen and ready to spill with two weeks of the Middle East under my belt. It feels like I’ve been here a lot longer.
Looking towards Downtown perched on Jabal al-Qal’a
I love this jazzy mother
I noticed on the first day when you walk around in this city, looking obviously foreign, people will often look at you and say “Welcome to Jordan.” Kids and adult men deliver this message with sincerity and it accentuates the sense of hospitality in this place. On the other hand it feels a bit like an ingrained marketing campaign for the country. In Jordan English is omnipresent as is the use of the word “welcome.” Thank you is often answered with “welcome” and less so with “you’re welcome.” When you enter a restaurant or hotel you are greeted with “you are welcome” more often than “welcome.” Either way when you speak to someone you are responded to and unlike most of the places I have lived people tend to say hello and/or acknowledge you with a smile or a nod frequently. Of course these sorts of interactions are wholly different if you are a woman, where eye contact or a nod has an entirely different meaning. Anyhow, Welcome to Jordan.
A few recent highlights: Ramadan ended and we celebrated the Eid, I found an apartment, started work, may have found a burrito substitute, and got a car. That last one means that I have begun driving in Amman and also started getting out of the city for some much anticipated road trips through the once fertile crescent and beyond.
Eid ul-Fitr just ended, a four day holiday which marks the end of Ramadan and the month long fast. From my eyes the Eid felt like a mix of Christmas and the Fourth of July, both holidays I enjoy immensely. You’ve got lots of family time, fireworks going off in the sky & blowing up at your feet, special religious ceremonies that are packed to the rafters, scorching heat, houses decorated with lights, and a festive happy atmosphere. I spent the bulk of the holiday with two folks in my program, Katrina & Francisco, and two Fullbright students: Sharief and Tom. Katrina, Francisco, and I went couch surfing and landed at the spacious house of some gracious Fullbrighters- Sharief, Tom, and Tariq. Without hardly knowing us they took us in and happily let us cook and clean for them. They also became our unofficial guides to the Middle East. Tom has lived in Syria and Lebanon, Sharief is half Egyptian and has spent time in his motherland, and Tariq has family here in Amman. As a non-Arabic speaker with only a superficial knowledge of this complex region, I am fortunate to have met these guys and will continue to rely on them to learn about regional history, culture, and swear words.
King Abdullah Mosque
Late last week I found an apartment in an area near downtown called Abdali. After looking at around twenty different apartments throughout the city, we stumbled upon a for rent sign near King Abdullah Mosque (more on that to come). I was looking for places with two of my colleagues, Meredith and Zahra, and this building had a one and two bedroom available. The apartments were clean, simple, in a good neighborhood, and inexpensive. After a bit of discussion we decided the girls would take the 2 bedroom and I would move into the cozy third floor flat. The building is owned by and lived in by a multi-generational family. The ground floor houses the Matriarch of the family and her Indonesian live in housekeeper. On the second floor is Grandma’s adult son Mohandas Taher, his wife, and their 12 year old son. Mohandas is a title given to engineers in this part of the world and a highly respected position. On Saturday we showed up to sign the lease. A few friends came along to check the place out as well. The seven of us were greeted warmly by Mohandus Taher and invited into his mother’s home. We were seated in the living room and offered tea and cookies. The family was incredibly gracious and truly made us feel welcome and at home. We visited for more than an hour before taking care of the lease. Grandma had a bell that she used to summon the housekeeper. We signed the papers, paid our Dinars, and hauled our stuff up.
Our street in Abdali
Addresses and street names are a newish phenomenon in Amman and landmarks are still the preferred way to navigate the city. Using Google Earth or Google maps, enter the following coordinates and you can find my spot:31°57’35.71″N, 35°54’45.13″E (it’s nerdy and shows that geographer in me is still alive and well)
My apartment is small, with false ceilings, a lot of opportunities for concussions, and a 90210 sticker of Brandon and Dylan on the bedroom door. I’m on the third floor of the building which is at roof level. It came with a washing/spinning machine that Francisco described as a Barbie model. The washer worked pretty well but when I put two towels in the spinner I noticed a small flood on my kitchen floor. I opted for hang drying instead which is convenient because my kitchen door opens onto a terrace which looks directly to the north at the beautiful King Abdullah Mosque and wraps around onto the large rooftop deck area which faces the city to the south and east. This is the best part of the apartment. The downside to the beautiful mosque right outside my window are the daily calls to prayer, or more precisely the 4:30am wake up call to prayer. Luckily, I think I have already trained myself to sleep through this thing, if not I may just give in and start going down to the mosque to pray.
This week I began working at the Jordan Green Building Council (JGBC). The JGBC seeks to promote and grow the green building sector within the country and ultimately the region. Just as the US Green Building Council developed energy efficient building standards with LEED certification, the JGBC will utilize existing green standards to develop their own local standards, build awareness about green building, and become a brand for energy efficiency in region. We’re a small office with a capable team and we have a large challenging project ahead of us. One of the projects which I will be working on will be to build a case for the Jordanian Government on why it should provide incentives to businesses & individuals that utilize green building. We will incorporate economic, environmental, and social impacts in addition to the perspectives of various stakeholders in order to build the case. It’s a great project and a tremendous opportunity for me personally and professionally.
For food, I’m doing well. One of my biggest concerns was transitioning into a life without Mexican food. On the second circle of the city I was pointed to a shawarma stand with a water heater sized rotisserie. For around a buck you get a hot off the spit shaved shawarma wrapped in warm pita and garnished with tomatoes, onions, and sauce. Francisco calls it an Arab burrito and for the time being I think I can live with these things. Pictures will come soon.
Last but not least, the car. It’s a 1.6 liter three speed 2009 Nissan Sunny. I don’t really know what color to call it but it sort of reminds me of that ethereal reflection you get when you look at spilled oil in the right light. All eight of us got this model and this color is by far the least manly. Driving in Amman is pretty sweet. Traffic lanes do not exist and therefore the best way to get to where you’re going is to anticipate openings and squeeze between cars. I don’t really understand the logic of so many roundabouts but they are challenging and I still am learning to use my horn in the proper Jordanian manner. I get lost frequently including one trip into an area where signs were only in Arabic and another where I led a caravan of cars beyond the city on a road where we started seeing signs for the Iraqi border.
My radio station is Play FM 99.6, based on the set list and morning show I’m pretty sure it is for 13 year olds, but when I hear We No Speak Americano by Yolanda Be Cool & DCUP and I’m weaving around cars in my Nissan Sunny it’s worth the all the Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and I Wanna be a Billionaire songs to which I now secretly like.
We’ve done two excursions out of the city, both to the south and towards the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth at around 1200 feet below sea level. Due to massive evaporation the Dead Sea is drying up at a rate of a meter per year. There is a project to pump water up from the Red Sea in the South in order to save the Dead Sea. Due to the tremendous heat and evaporation the Dead Sea is also the second saltiest body of water in the world behind the Lake Assal in Djibouti. When you touch it, it sort of feels like oil and when you get it in your eyes it sort of feels like pepper spray. It was good for a short float but better appreciated from the resort pool overlooking the Sea and across to the West Bank.
Obligatory mud shot at the Dead Sea
This past Sunday we organized a trip down to Mujib Nature Reserve which is about an hour out of Amman. I heard it alternatively dubbed the Grand Canyon of Jordan and Petra with Water. Either way it was spectacular. We did the “easiest” Siq Trail which is a 4km roundtrip hike, wade, and scramble up a canyon with immense sheer sandstone walls, through a meandering river, and ending at a dramatic waterfall. At three or four points hikers climb up the falls with ropes and/or holds affixed to rocks. As I have found doing outdoor activities in other emerging and developing countries the rating of “easy” a) is not easy, b) leaves you wondering what more advanced hikes will be like. When we reached the end we waded behind the falls, standing in waste deep water, looking up at the canyon through the cascading falls, while tiny fish nipped at our legs. I tried for around 15 minutes to catch one with my ankles as bait but was unsuccessful. On the way back we floated down river at certain points, but the water level was low so we mostly just trudged through the shallows. There are two or three small falls and one good little rock slide. Wadi Mujib is a beautiful spot that I will visit again in the spring after the winter rains, to do more hiking including a more involved trek where you repel down the canyon walls. Though Jordan is a relatively small county it has a tremendous amount to offer in terms of historical sites and outdoor activities. On weekends I am excited to jump in the Sunny and head out.
Group shot near the falls and my failed attempt at fishing