Oh Dana

A couple of weeks back Katrina and I organized a trip down to Dana Nature Reserve. Dana, pronounced like the Ritchie Valens song, is the largest reserve in Jordan and located around three hours South of Amman. After getting lost a couple of times and dead ending at a group of tipsy, sneering shebab, our two car caravan rendezvoused with Katrina at the campsite just after dusk. We were greeted warmly by our hosts and escorted down the hill to our tents overlooking a wide valley. The location of the camp was incredible. We were a good distance from town and several miles from any paved roads. After dropping our packs our group convened in the large communal tent at the North end of the camp. After a simple dinner of stewed vegetables, hummus, and pita we smoked arguile at the foot the canyon under a full moon before heading to our tents.

Camp

The next morning we awoke to catch the remnants of the sunrise, eat a light breakfast, and hop into a pimped out van to take us to our trailhead above Wadi Feynan. There were around ten of us that crammed into the silver Korean made van with pastel shaded geometric shapes and phrases like “turbo intercooler” decaled on the side. I sat up front with our driver Mahmoud, and our Guide (Mahmoud) who looked ready for a jungle scuffle in his full fatigues. Mahmoud and Mahmoud blasted a mix of Arabic pop, rap, and top 40 and looked to all of us for approval, they seemed content by the the dance party in the back of the bus.
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I’m on a Boat… plus waterfalls & wadis

The past two weekends we’ve done a few excursions which I’ll present mostly in the form of pictures. Two weeks back we did Wadi Kerak and this past weekend I and a couple friends drove down to Aqaba for a boat trip on the Red Sea, and a bit of hiking in Wadi Rum.


Wadi Kerak would be our the most involved trip yet: A 10km hike with five abseils, including a 35 meter waterfall. As we made our way down the into the deep canyon one of our guides, Hussein, skipped and ran down the shale as the rest of us tip toed down into the wadi, within five minutes someone nicknamed him the Goat.

Victoria making her way down
Hussein with some other local wildlife

Key Club

After making it home from Wadi Hasa the week before last Paco, Katrina, and I shoveled the contents of the car into our arms and started for my apartment. At the door I dug through my bags to find the keys to my apartment and realized they weren’t there. Katrina reminded me we put them in the glove box for the hike, so I went back to the car still carrying my stuff. I opened the car, set down a couple of things, grabbed the house keys, and locked the door. Then I rifled through my stuff and realized that I was missing my keys again, but this time my car keys. I went back to the Sunny, wiped a circle of dust off the passenger window and peaked onto the seat where my car keys were sitting.
I cursed myself a couple of times mostly because I knew I was going to have to call Ghazi at Diplomat Rental Car and tell him I locked my keys in my car, again. The first time I did it I walked around a mile to the Chili’s on Mecca Street and got a virgin margarita in a sugar rimmed glass. Ghazi picked me up at Chili’s drove me to my car and told me to use my key to lock the car door from the outside to prevent this from happening again. I told him I would do so diligently from then on and then didn’t. Ghazi also gave me a small card and told me that the next time anything happened I should call the number on the card and someone would come to help, Arab AAA I thought to myself. This time around since I had my house keys and was home I decided to deal with it in the morning.
At around 11am the next morning I pulled out my trusty Jordanian AAA card and dialed the number. I told the guy on the other end that I locked my keys in my car and that I lived in Abdali between the Mosque and the Church. He told me to write down a number and call it. This next guy spoke less English and I gave him the same story. He said, “okay, someone call you in five minutes.” Thirty seconds passed and someone called. This guy started rattling off in Arabic without pause, I cut him off briefly and said slowly, “Do you speak English?” He replied to my question without without a breath– “NO!” I started to laugh and he did too. He went on in Arabic for a while longer and then hung up. A few minutes later another guy called, he spoke English well and kept calling me “Boss” and “Chief,” I liked him. He asked me what was wrong and where I was. “I locked my keys in my car, I’m in Abdali between the Mosque and the Church.” Everytime I repeated this the person on the other end appeared to know what I was talking about, I talked to around six different people in the span of fifteen minutes. The Chief guy called me again and said, “okay Boss, someone will be there in five minutes.”

Another Day, Another Dinar

Greetings from the capital of the Hashemite Kingdom. It’s been a good fortnight over here and I’ll share a bit.

I’ve been working quite a bit lately, which I like. With little experience with green building, the various regional and international standards, and technical & political aspects of this process I’m learning a great deal. I’m in the midst of bringing together the component parts of a document which will, inshala, be the first draft of a comprehensive Jordanian regional standard for green building. Water and Energy are the two most important aspects as Jordan is one of the poorest water states in the world and they import over 95% of their energy. By the way ‘inshala’ translates more or less to ‘god willing.’ People say it all the time and a lot of times it just means it’s not going to happen- kind of like when you were a kid and you would ask your mom if you could get ice cream after going to the grocery store and she’d say “we’ll see.”
A few weeks back I drove up Pella to hike up through some ancient ruins. At the foot of a group of columns I met a shepherd, who kept telling me he was a shepherd, with a handkerchief full of Greek, Roman, and Byzanntine coins that he wanted to sell me.
The hike was hot and dry with steady elevation climb. The view to the west overlooking the ruins, Jordan River Valley farmland, and across that all important imaginary line was spectacular.
I included this picture with me in it because a) I like it and b) I know it will make Gonch roll his eyes which Malcolm Gladwell tells us is the tell tale sign that a marriage won’t work.
So the food is good here–> my chickpea consumption is through the roof and there’s no end in sight. I also regularly visit the sharwarma (arab burrito) stand.
Paco and I saw them bringing a fresh, plastic wrapped, meat punching bag to the back burner rotisserie a couple of weeks back. It took four guys to carry and you should have seen the way that thing parted the crowd waiting out front. I tried to take of picture of the meat Moses but it didn’t turn out.

Amman & Ramadan

After a mix of planes, trains, and automobiles and just over 24 hours of travel time I arrived in Amman, Jordan. I was on a flight from New York to Amman with three of my colleagues from the program: Katrina, Meridith, and Zahra. During the flight a flight attendant came on the PA and said “We want to inform you that smoking is still prohibited during the flight… we know someone smoked in the lavatory because we can smell it.” We all got a little scolding but I don’t think anyone suffered the wrath of the Federal Aviation Regulation Commission.

After clearing customs, grabbing our bags, and picking up a couple of bottles of booze at duty free we walked out into the main terminal and were greeted by our smiling driver, Rami. We loaded up the car and were on our way. As he honked and weaved through traffic, Rami informed us that everyone was “kind of angry because of ramadan, no smoke, no drink.” He also said that if the police saw a muslim driving and smoking or drinking they would go to jail. Non-muslims are encouraged to be respectful of the fast by not publically eating or drinking.

We arrived at our hotel in the fifth circle, dropped our bags, and set out to explore a bit. Amman is a city of around 2 million inhabitants, quite developed, and buzzing with activity. There are a lot of Burger Kings. We cabbed into the downtown area and arrived just after 7:00pm which marks the beginning Iftar and the time when Muslims can break the fast. It’s quite incredible to experience: all at once the city is remarkably calm and everyone is seated and eating. Restaurants set up tables which spill nearly onto the streets, shop-keepers sit on the floors of their shops with hot plates of food, and people of all ages set up makeshift tables on the sidewalks and share large plates of hummus, rice, chicken, falaffel, and pita. Not a piece of cutlery in sight, not a person seated alone, and all the food is shared. You can feel a sense of relief as everyone sits quietly and eats. Within about 45 minutes almost everyone is finished, tables and chairs are picked up, cigarettes and hookahs light up, and folks go back to their routines.

Over the next couple of days I will start to look for an apartment before beginning an in-country orientation this Sunday with the folks in my program and a crop of Fullbright students and scholars. Eid is scheduled to begin in six days and marks the end of Ramadan. The word on the street is that there is an exodus from the city as folks flock out of Amman towards the coast on the Red and Dead Seas. Should be a good time.