I rode a camel. NBD.

Jordan was a whirlwind, a completely different perspective of the Middle East, and heaps of fun.  I’ll give a thorough run down later, but for now the most important thing to know is that I rode a camel.  I saw Petra, I camped with Bedouins, I swam in the Dead Sea, and I rode a camel.

The school sent a group of teachers to Jordan for visa paperwork and another teacher, Emma, and I extended our trip by three days and toured ourselves (and I rode a camel).  The vast majority of photos you’ll see are Emma’s work; without her, I would have little evidence of having been anywhere. (Or having rode camels.  Which I did.)

Jordan is so different from Kuwait, both the people and the land.  The people are poorer but more relaxed; the women cover here as much as in Kuwait, but with more color, not in black.  The men are amorous to say the least; on the street, shopkeepers call out at you, “Beautiful lady!”, “Beautiful eyes!”, “I love you!”, “Welcome to Jordan!” which is mostly salesmanship, but there’s underlying good humor to it.  The women are friendly and helpful, too, which I find far more comforting.  On the other hand, men got a bit handsy with both Emma and I during the busier part of the evening, and we were glad to retreat to the hotel at the end of the day.

Jordan’s terrain is more rock and earth than sand, and you can see surrounding mountains in the distance.  Vineyards, olive groves, shepherds and goat herds line the roads outside of the cities.  Geographically, it reminds me a lot of a less verdant California.

I’ll give a history lesson and a detailed itinerary soon, but here are the highlights:

Amman itself is a mish-mash of tourist shops, hotels, businesses, apartment buildings, Roman ruins, and bars, all perched and carved into the sides of mountains.  It reminded me a lot of San Francisco in more ways than one.DSC_4357IMG_0570Petra was astonishing.  My words fail me, but it’s staggering to imagine an entire civilization carving out their homes, their temples, their theaters, their aqueducts, their monasteries from cliffs and crags.  We hadn’t nearly enough time, but we climbed up and overlooked the valley.  It was breathtaking.

IMG_0662 IMG_0663 DSC_4520We saw the sunset and camped at Wadi Rum, “The Valley of the Moon.”  Bedouins certainly capitalize on tourists, but the natural beauty was striking.IMG_0810 DSC_4683

In case you missed it, I rode a camel.  This guy was my buddy.  We’re pretty tight.IMG_0807 DSC_4722The Dead Sea was mostly comical.  You physically cannot dive under the surface (and when you do, the salt in your eyes burns like no dried contact ever could).  I felt like a bit of styrofoam in the water; I wish there were a more romantic simile, but there you have it.  Lumineers appropriately ran through my head as I drifted.DSC_4738

The last key difference between Kuwait and Jordan?  alcohol is legal.  Believe me, we put the law to good use.  There is nothing like six dry weeks to make one thoroughly appreciative of the finer things in life, even at 8 am in the airport on our way out.IMG_0432 IMG_0463 IMG_0812

 

 

 

Oh yeah…. and I rode a camel.

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In the details

A final word on Morocco, and then I’m overdue to tell you about Jordan, plus an aside on camping in a bombed-out Iraqi bunker last weekend.  There’s not enough time!

I feel in Morocco I saw tourist attractions and took my pictures, but really I peeked a glimpse of daily life.  Buying onions, playing with the kitten, visiting the one English bookshop, passing the same doorstep every afternoon that’s what persuaded me that I could live in Rabat.  It’s a shame you don’t take pictures in your everyday life because it’s what you really remember of a place, but you don’t forget it, either.  These are the last pictures of Morocco and they don’t nearly capture it, but I earnestly hope there will be more someday soon.

Sunset from the top of the Kasbah:

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A Muslim graveyard; the graves are so small because all Muslims are buried facing Mecca, which in Morocco means they’re on their side:

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The souq, the medina, and the river:

IMG_0226 IMG_0227 IMG_0143 IMG_0162 IMG_0233 IMG_0160 IMG_0159 IMG_0234 IMG_0237 IMG_0207My welcome gift to Morocco- traditional house slippers.  They are the most comfortable footwear on the planet, and everyone wears them, not just tourists.  I love mine; they are as agressively cheerful as I am:

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The sweethearts of Morocco:

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Morocco, continued: Hassan Tower, Mausoleum of Mohammed V, and Chellah

Hassan Tower was meant to be the tallest minaret in the world.  Began by Sultan Yacoub al-Mansour in 1195, it was intended to be nearly 200 feet tall and wide enough to allow a horse to carry the iman to the top for the call to prayer.  A mosque was to be built around the bottom of the minaret, but construction on both the minaret and the mosque stopped four years after it started due to the Sultan’s death.  It’s still impressively tall, and as a ruddy-brown sandstone tower it stands out against Rabat’s mostly white buildings.  I didn’t think to take more pictures, and this doesn’t truly do it justice.  Go look at Google images to get the full effect.IMG_0196In the shadow of Hassan Tower is the Mausoleum of Mohammed V; the grandfather and the father of the current king are entombed here.  The architecture of intricate carvings and white gleam is a striking contrast to Hussan’s ancient tower and ruined columns.  The Mausoleum was built in the seventies, but happily avoids concrete and shag carpeting.  Inside is entirely covered in breathtaking mosaic patters, and from a balcony tourists can look down on the marble tomb itself.IMG_0195 IMG_0184 IMG_0183 IMG_0182 IMG_0186 IMG_0187

The Chellah is the oldest human settlement on the mouth of the Bou Regreg river, from the time of the Phoenicians.  Romans built a major port city on the same site, and after them, Arabs used the abandoned city as a necropolis.  Later a mosque and a zawiya (Moslem monastery) were built on the site.

On the tally of personal victories, I figured out the panorama feature on my iPhone, so you can get something closer to the full effect.

Chellah overlooking the Bou Regreg river:
IMG_0240 IMG_0241Inside the walls, the ruins of the mosque.  Stork nests were everywhere (you can see one atop the minaret):

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IMG_0302 IMG_0300By far my favorite picture of the trip; a room of arches under the sky (I wish it could be bigger, but you can click to enlarge):

IMG_0294At the bottom of the ruins, gardens are kept, and wild cats come to make friends:

IMG_0296 IMG_0301 IMG_0305(Sidenote, on my last day, friends from college, Laura and Theresa, came to spend a night at the Stewart Hostel for World-Travelling Women, so we all saw the Chellah together.)

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The Roman section of ruins was difficult to comprehend.  I’m on a quest for history and beautiful things, but looking at a Roman tombstone, touching a Roman tombstone… it didn’t click, it felt otherworldly.  The best my brain can do is a theoretical sense of awe.  I saw artifacts two millennia old!

IMG_0318 IMG_0309I’m not nearly as snuggly as the stray cat, but I have just as much affection for my tour guide:

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To finish it off, we caught a glimpse of a traditional Moroccan dance on our way out.  Note the pointy slippers; everyone wears them in Morocco, and they’re the most comfortable shoes ever.  More on that another time:

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J’adore

There is far too much from Morocco to fit in one post, so consider this the first installment.  More to come soon.

I visited my dear friends, Muireann and Will.  Will, who grew up in and around the Middle East, works in Rabat overseeing students studying Arabic immersed in Moroccan culture.  Muireann, a true epicurean, Latin scholar, and fellow DC traipser and boxed wine consumer, met her love and moved to a castle in Morocco.  (I hold this makes dubious her claims of not being a princess.)  Their home is in Kasbah Oudaya, built in the 12th century between the Atlantic and the Bou Regreg River.  I’m sorry, let’s review that, shall we: built in the 12th century.  They live in a UNESCO World Heritage site.  That’s what delights me about Morocco: ancient history is used and lived in and trudged upon.  One can pick up milk and walk home on a street that’s seen nine hundred years’ worth of similarly prosaic errands.

I wish I had more substantial history to share on the kasbah, but Wikipedia was less than forthcoming.  In lieu of knowledge, I offer beauty:

Oudaya seen from the river

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The walls up close with the somewhat confusing date of 1315; things seem to be built in stages on top of each other:

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Inside the walls, the streets of the neighborhood:

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Their home is a charming two-story, with tile floors, wood beam roofs, a and traditional Moroccan atrium.  There’s more natural light than the average Moroccan house; houses in the old quarter have no air conditioning, so sunlight is the enemy in summer heat.

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The river view from their balcony.  Please note that precipitation still exists in the world, a fact easily forgotten in Kuwait.  Clouds have never before moved me so deeply.

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Gardens, a museum, and a selection of lovely doorways are kept at the bottom of the hill:

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But by far the frenzied, endearing, absolutely maniacal star of the home was Zenga (Arabic slang for crazy).  We cuddled, we scratched, we laughed, we cried.  J’adore tu, fou petit chat. (And you too, Google translate.)

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Six Quick Bits

I returned from Morocco yesterday and have abundant pictures and stories to share.  The summary is, I am seduced.  I feel about Morocco how I felt about my first boyfriend: completely, deliriously, irrationally infatuated based purely on good looks and circumstance.  I’m done for; the only way out now is happily ever after or a tearful ice cream binge watching Casablanca on repeat.

While I collect myself, here are a few quick bits on Kuwait I wrote before I left.  While you read, I photo edit and dream of Africa.

1) Cory and I went to the animal section of Friday market.  Once again, we come to a topic that deserves its own post, at which time I’ll lecture about animal rights, empathy, and first world problems, but in the meantime, hey look, birds!  And bunnies!  And snakes!  And a goat!Bird Parrot

Snake Bunny Goat

2) We had “Dress like a Fairy Day” because there is truly nothing on earth loved more by elementary school girls than fairies and princesses.  It almost helped them pay attention… and then their wings got tangled.  Sadly, pixie dust blocks iPhones, so photographic evidence was not obtained so skeptics and believers will go on debating the existence of fairies.

3) Arabian Dress Day: the girls were so proud of themselves, and so, so adorable:

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Infinitely less adorable, but just as proud of ourselves:

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4) That. Face.

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5) Downton Abbey: is killing me.  Someone, please, start watching….. throw me a bone.  Give me an ear to lament to, or a shoulder to cry on. (Muireann and Dorothy, I’m looking at you.)

6) Zumba classes: I chaperone that now.  High school seniors couldn’t find another teacher so they showed up at my door because someone told them I was “nice” (nice, pronounced “can’t-say-no”).  Nothing has made me feel more white than a room of eighteen-year-old belly dancers and a Russian dance instructor.

But seriously, though... I look just like this

But seriously, though… I look just like this

 

Morocco pictures will come soon, I promise.  I’m too smitten not to talk about it.

History Lessons

We’re in our last day before Eid holiday, and I’m counting down the minutes until I land in Morocco (3,075).  Distracted or not, I have to stay at school another period, so I sit watching my clock tick; as a fellow teacher put it, “I’ve never been so excited for an Islamic holiday.”  Thinking about it like that, I wondered why we get the week off in the first place.  I present the cliff-notes of my queries.  I promise I’ll write something other than a history lesson next time.

Disclaimer: This is about as accurate as I’ve gleaned from conversations over a week, and whatever research I did in half an hour.  If you take this as gospel truth, I don’t know what to do with you.

In Islamic tradition, Eid al-Adha is a celebration of Abraham’s faith in sacrificing Isaac, Hagar, and Ishmael: at God’s command, Abraham nearly killed Isaac in sacrifice until God stopped him; also, Abraham led Hagar and Ishmael into the desert with faith that God would not let them die.  In both cases, God rewarded Abraham’s faith and spared the lives of those he loved.

Eid is the culmination of Hajj, or “the pilgrimage”- the famous pilgrimage to Mecca.  Before Kuwait, I was under the impression the pilgrimage originated with Mohammad, but Hajj comes from the exile of Hagar and Ishmael: Abraham sent them into the desert where they wandered the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwa (now, Mecca).  When Hagar and Ishmael were about to die of thirst, an angel brought water from the rock for them to drink; the spring- the Zamzam Well- is still in Mecca, and historically it’s the reason Mecca actually exists as a city in the desert.

At school, we had a Hajj ceremony.  The girls dressed up as pilgrims and mimicked the path of Mecca, we drank water from the Zamzam Well, and in sacrifice I kid you not- they slaughtered a lamb.  (To be fair, they didn’t slaughter the lamb in front of the whole school, just in front of the soccer team during practice the day before.)  I enjoyed the ceremony and the prayers, even if I couldn’t understand them; it was traditional, it was ancestral, it was a chance to see in what all the students- in what this whole country- is rooted.