“The great glory of travel, to me, is not just what I see that’s new to me in countries visited, but that in almost every one of them I change from an outsider looking in to an insider looking out.”
― Clara E. Laughlin, Traveling Through Life
In front of the Treasury at Petra
Yes, I realize it’s been a while since I last posted. Sorry about that. Ramadan started a couple weeks ago, and I was fasting along with everyone else, and so after work most days the only thing I’ve wanted to do is take a nap. So yeah, I haven’t written on here for a while and I’m behind on my homework. Happy Ramadan!
Honestly though, Ramadan is pretty cool in a lot of ways. If you’re not super familiar with Ramadan, it’s the holiest month on the Islamic calendar (which is based on the lunar cycle, so Ramadan falls at a slightly different season each year). It was in the month of Ramadan that the prophet Muhammad received the first revelation of the Qur’an. During Ramadan Muslims fast from sunrise til sunset. Fasting includes abstention from food, drink, smoking and sexual relations. Because we’re at the height of the summer right now, Ramadan this year includes a longer fast each day than other times of the year. Each morning around 3am the masaharji (the Awakener) walks around the neighborhood banging on a drum and yelling “La ilaha ila Allah! (There is no god but God)” to wake people up so they can grab a bite to eat before sunrise. Once the call to prayer for the dawn prayer sounds, the fast is supposed to begin. People fast until the evening call to prayer at dusk. Work hours at the Ministry have been shortened during Ramadan, and a lot of people simply become nocturnal throughout the month. It’s kind of funny to walk around at midnight and see kids playing soccer in the street, or find major traffic jams on main roads at 1am. A lot of Muslims set a goal for themselves to read the entire Qur’an during Ramadan and it’s a time when people are supposed to be more conscientious and kind to the poor. Zakkat, or Islamic alms, are usually given during Ramadan and people are often eager to invite guests to share Iftar, the evening meal to break the fast, with their families. I’ve had Iftar with a couple of people and it’s really cool.
Obviously, I’m not a Muslim. However, I wanted to participate in the fasting of Ramadan because, well, this is what I’m studying, right? I’ve been learning about the culture, religion, and language of the Middle East for years now, but reading about and discussing a topic is never the same thing as living it. So this is my chance to truly experience the month of Ramadan in an Islamic country. That being said, after fasting for two weeks I think I’m gonna have to call it quits. The end of this summer is quickly approaching and I need to be thinking of things like PT tests looming just around the corner, and it is unfortunately difficult to stay in shape while you’re fasting. But I’m glad I’ve had the chance to experience these past couple of weeks.
This last week on Tuesday I was invited to have Iftar at the orphanage. It was nice because I didn’t have to go in to work until 3pm that day. Alright! Also, it was great getting to spend time with the kids in a slightly less structured environment. The meal was delicious (shawarma and Papa John’s pizza. How’s that for a combination?), and after everyone finished eating there was some kind of performer who played some extremely loud music and sang along. He had the kids come up front with him and dance. They seemed to be having the time of their lives and it was great seeing them so happy. There’s a small crew of 7-10 year-old boys who seem have attached themselves to me, and so while most everyone was dancing around they were using me as a human jungle gym. Good thing I have lots of practice with that thanks to my little brothers. Anyway, after an hour or so I decided to leave, but the party was showing no signs of letting up any time soon. That was a fun night.
The siq that serves as an entrance to Petra
Up until this weekend, things were going along pretty normally without much change. Work, speaking appointments, a nap if I could get it in and oftentimes going to the restaurant across the street in the evenings to watch the World Cup matches. This past Friday morning (early morning) we headed off on a three-day trip to Petra, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba. Yes, I went to all these places last fall, but that trip was one of the highlights of that semester, so I’ve been really looking forward to going back. We got to Petra around 10am and only had 4 hours to spend there. This was pretty different from last fall when we had an entire day to explore Petra. That was a little disappointing, because there are so many cool hikes there, and I didn’t get to re-visit my favorite places. It was still really awesome though. The other big difference between this trip and the one last fall is that the last time I was here it was late October, not the hottest part of the summer. It was HOT this time around. Well, it was hot last time around too, but not like this.
The Monastery at Petra
We left Petra around 3 in the afternoon and headed to Wadi Rum. I loved Wadi Rum last time I went there and was disappointed that we only spent part of a day there. This time we spent the night, and it was really, really cool. Wadi Rum is where the movie Lawrence of Arabia was filmed (along with several other major films) and, in my opinion, is the paragon of desert beauty. We got there in the early evening and settled into our “campsite.” Really, it was more like a desert resort, with small wooden “tents” for sleeping in. We then went on a jeep ride out into the desert, and watched the sun set out there. It was seriously so great. We went back to the camp for dinner and then most of us decided to go out on a night walk around 10pm. I had heard that the stars out there at nighttime are amazing to see. I was a little disappointed though, because the moon was nearly full and drowned out most of the stars. It was seriously so bright. Even though we were out in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night we didn’t need flashlights at all and were able to see everything very clearly. I don’t really know how to describe it, it was almost a surreal experience: walking out into the vast immensity of the desert at night, completely illuminated by the moon, nothing moving but the wind. It was like I almost expected my spirit animal to walk out of the distance and come talk to me about my life quest or something. That was a really cool experience.
Overlook of our campsite at Wadi Rum
The following morning at dawn we went on a short camel ride out a little ways into the desert and then back. While I didn’t appreciate waking up that early after spending a good part of the night walking around, I did appreciate catching the cool hours of the morning before the heat of the day could strike. Camels are weird. Watching them stand up, lay down, walk around, even just sit and chew you can’t help but wonder where these weirdos came from. They’re seriously total goobers.
Just some normal traffic
About mid-morning we loaded up and headed the rest of the way down to the south end of the country, the city and gulf of Aqaba. You would think a coastal town would be cooler, right? Not in Aqaba. That place was roasting. It’s a beautiful place though. That afternoon we spent on the southern beach, which was very rocky and almost impossible to walk on barefoot. My favorite part of that day, and probably one of the highlights of the whole trip for me was after we headed back to the main part of the city and its much-nicer-to-walk-on beach. There was a guy there with a glass-bottom boat who offered to take us out for an hour for 15 dinar. We puttered around the gulf for a while, looking at coral and fish and even a tank that was sunk a little ways off the shore. The best part though was when he took it out to some deeper water and anchored it and let us jump off and swim around. I dunno what it was about that moment, but I had such a great time. I’ve decided that if my career aspirations don’t pan out the way I hope I’m just gonna move to Aqaba and work on a glass-bottom boat for the rest of my life. I think I’d enjoy that immensely.
The nearly full moon at Wadi Rum at sunset
After heading back to our hotel and showering, we went out for dinner. Surprise, surprise, contrary to expectations it somehow seemed to get hotter once the sun went down. That wind blowing off the desert was fierce. It was seriously like walking around inside an oven. Anyway, we still had a good time. After a good night’s sleep, we spent most of the following morning/early afternoon snorkeling at the south beach. This was the second time I’ve ever gone snorkeling (the first time being the last time I was in Aqaba), and while I accidentally swallowed more salt water than I care for it was a lot of fun. The ocean is a pretty incredible place. Totally worth getting my back sunburned (to my mother: yes I did put on sunscreen, but it only did so much for me).
Jeep ride in Wadi Rum
After about a five-hour bus ride we made it back to Amman about 9pm last night (just in time to clean up a bit and watch the World Cup final. Yeah yeah!). You know, despite the tedium of it, I really enjoy long drives. I love seeing different landscapes and passing through small towns and wondering about the lives of the people who live in those places. And I have to say, there’s not much to compare with driving up the east coast of the Dead Sea, watching the sun sink behind the Judean hills on the other side as you listen to some good music
you recently discovered. Life is pretty cool sometimes.
Sunset at Wadi Rum