Thursday, December 16, 2010
My friend Lori and I got to talking one day back in the summer. "I want to go on a trip," I said.
"I do too," said Lori.
"Where should we go?"
"Well, I have an aunt and uncle who are missionaries in Jordan. Maybe we could go there."
"Jordan?! I've always wanted to go to the Middle East! And to Petra, ever since watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade!"
And that is how we found ourselves at Petra in November. It was as easy as that. When I haven't traveled for a while, I forget how simple it is to just GO. Well, perhaps not simple, but once the decision was made, all of those other things that seemed like such insurmountable excuses became just things to take care of. Buying a plane ticket, while expensive, was easily bought with the help of miles saved over years of travel on Delta. I work these days in a job where I earn a comfortable living for a single, fairly frugal girl, so I didn't have to pinch pennies. I requested vacation time off, worked a few flexible holidays, and booked a tour with Intrepid Travel so I wouldn't stress myself (or my father) out by attempting to navigate a completely unfamiliar culture alone, and yet have a fun adventurous trip. And that was it. Going is SO EASY, and I forget that. I need to remember how easy it is to travel, because it won't always be that way for me (hopefully, unless I am a spinster forever, in which case I would still have to find a cat sitter).
For a full set of pictures, go here.
We arrived in Amman, and from there wandered about to a few other surrounding cities to see some ruins and make some friends. Lori was the perfect travel companion because she is just about the friendliest person on the planet. And pretty too, so people constantly want to talk with her. For example, on the ferry between Jordan and Egypt, and Lori made friends with the half blind and deaf woman who spoke only Arabic sitting next to us bu smiling and practicing the very few words she knew in Arabic on her. Then the old lady got mad at us for some reason and kept giving us the evil eye (or was that her normal eye?) In any case, she turned her back on us, and we couldn't quite figure out why, though we suspect it was because 1) we started talking to the Argentine man who sat in the same row and she was excluded from the conversation (he was a very nice man); 2) we came on the boat with covered hair because that boat also carried a bunch of people traveling home from Mecca and it seemed slightly inappropriate to walk around flaunting our seductive long blonde locks in front of everyone (read: unwashed and matted). But then the scarves wouldn't stay on very well and it was hot and it is so awfully hard to see peripherally with a scarf on (at least the way I had it on) that the scarves slipped around our necks, and the old lady turned her back on us; or 3)We smelled funny? We didn't offer to buy her a coffee? In any case, this woman was an anolmly, because any other person would've ended the boat trip with an invitation to Lori (and me, as her sidekick) to come home for dinner and offer marriage to their son. Oh man, Lori came home with so much jewelery that she received as gifts from admirers, and I almost came home with a herd of camels but decided to keep her for Bronson instead of selling her to a Bedouin as a wife (though she would've made a lovely Bedouin wife and would've probably succeeded in conveting every last one of them to the gospel in a matter of weeks).
In any case, we met a wonderful family that we called the Sharaf family, because did you know that a family is called after the name of the oldest child? Om Sharaf, we called the mother, and she was darling. My Iraqi friend Haifa was a refugee in Jordan for a few years and she got to be close with this family in Madaba, so when we arrived, we just called them up, told them we had gifts, and showed up at their door at 10 a.m. They were incredibly gracious, smiley, and funny. I couldn't have asked for better people to spend a few days with. While Om Sharaf and her husband didn't speak much English, their two sons did and acted as translators, though often with their own tales to add to the translation. From one of the sons, Odai, I collected the love story in the previous post.
I could probably go through day by day, but I wouldn't want to bore you with a long post (I know how people are about reading things. So, you have the link to pictures, and I'll just mention some highlights and then post individual stories seperately as I think of them (thoughts of my trip have just been simmering in my head). We met with a group and made our way to the dead sea where we bobbed about int he water like little buoys and stung our eyes with salt water, then coated ourselves in dead sea mud for the cost of about $3 (compare this to a "Dead Sea mask" at any fancy spa, and you'll see that it was quite a steal. and way more fun).
We saw crusador castles, and Roman ruins, and of course the highlight were the Nabatean ruins of ancient Petra, which we saw by night by candlelight and the full moon, and then again in the rosy dawn the next day.
I don't think I can say enough about how wonderful Petra was or my feelings about those smart ancient people who lived there. They had these amazing aquaducts and used caves as their homes. I get shivers just imagining the what life must've been like there, and what it would've been like to be Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt in 1812 catching the first Western glimpse of ancient Petra. Oooh, shivers. All of it, covered in sand, and then wandering down the Siq and coming upon the outline of the Treasury, which is actually a tomb. All of the ancient carved caverns are actually tombs, just like the pyramids. What is it about creating a resting place for the body that will last throughout time? A form of immortality? The inhabitants of Petra certainly gained that, as did the pharoahs of the pyramids. Oh the Pyramids!!
How gigantic they are in real life! I mean, i always knew... but to see them in person and touch the stone is just another experience altogether. And to go inside... shivers! I climbed inside od the Red Pyramid, down a deep, deep passageway.
Into the belly of the stone, where it was dark and the air weighty, the breath of countless other visitors hanging around. Or was that the ghost of the king whose body had been removed and whose soul lingered about, enticing those with fragile constitutions to envision their own demise there in the dark, in that small room at the bottom of so much stone... as you can tell, i am slightly claustraphobic. I had those same feelings of sparks of panic when I went scuba diving for the first time in the Red Sea. That breathing would be difficult, panic, and then complete surprise when I could actually breathe and could stop thinking about it. And I swam in a school of orange fish.
Oh yes, I went to the Red Sea! And the Sinai Peninsula! I stayed in a beach camp which is where life should be spent. I saw Ramses II, and he still has hair and eyelashes after 4000 years of death. I went on a cheesy river cruise on the Nile and saw belly dancing. A friend of ours bribed the guards at the Giza Zoo and so I got to pet a lion and hold a monkey. I slept in the desert and starred at the brilliant sky.
I ate the world's best falaffels,
was kidnapped by a Gypsy on a donkey (in the nicest way possible), climbed to the top of Mt. Sinai and communed with God a little bit myself up there.
I was taught the alphabet in Arabic, which I fully intend to learn for next time. I inhaled a lifetimes worth of cigarette smoke and warned everyone of lung cancer.
I picked up trash on the beach and wandered through the bazar, bargaining for treasures. I watched sunrises that made me want to wake up early every day for the rest of my life.
And sunsets that deserved a standing ovation.
My tour group was made up of a delightful ark of characters, everyone of whom made the trip special and I liked immensely. The two weeks went by too quickly...
I am bitten again. The middle east is calling.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
I was in Jordan, visiting the home of some new friends. As I was asking the mother of the family about life and love in Jordan, one of the sons who was translating the conversation from English to Arabic and back told me his own story of being in love with an Indian girl. I had to record his story, but sadly, we were interrupted by a family member and couldn't continue the interview. Though they are in love and he wants to marry her, his family forbids the relationship because she is not Muslim. His parents think he ended the relationship, but secretly, they are still together and he plans to marry her, no matter what.