28 January 2007

Quick Rain Storm

It's raining right now. There is a light show as well. I'll never be able to snap a picture of the lightening, so you'll just have to trust me on that one. It's really beautiful right now.

26 January 2007

My Office

A view of my office as seen through my new camera: Canon EOS Digital Rebel. Frances is seen on my desk on her 25th birthday (one of the happiest days of my life) taken by me with an old film camera. I'm looking forward to making new memories.

25 January 2007

Downtown Amman

In an effort to lift myself out of a little funk, I’ve been making myself go downtown and walk around every day this week. It’s been really wonderful to learn about the micro-neighborhoods, new places to buy sweets, and odd little shops hidden from those who only pass through in taxis.

Yesterday I started walking from Abdali toward downtown. There are dozens and dozens of garages. In between those are places that sell new and used car parts, and (coincidently?) between those are a few shops that sell new and antique medical teaching supplies. So, next to a place that sells radios and side-view mirrors is a place that sells plastic brains, kidneys and livers. I looked in one shop yesterday, but today I made a purchase. Two friends went downtown with me, and they were both also interested in these shops. We went in and looked around at plastic skeletons, old and new microscopes, and foam models of volcanoes(!). I was kicking around the idea of getting K a part of some sort, but when I saw the eye, I knew that’s what I needed to get for him. The eye is really neat. It sits on a stand and you can take it apart and look inside the eyeball at the pupil.

I encouraged S to buy the large plastic cross section of a Liver Fluke, but he declined. After I made my big purchase, we walked down to Hasham Restaurant and we ate foul and hummus while the eye sat on the table and watched us. It was really busy there today, and we had to share a table with an old man who seemed really unnerved with the eye (he shouldn’t, it’s not an evil eye). However, the waiters gathered around and we all learned about the anatomy of the eye.

Walking back to Abdali from down town is not as forgiving as walking down from Abdali, but it’s worthwhile. There are several flights of stairs that are slapped onto the steep hills that rise out of downtown and head into Jebel Hussein. Some of them seem endless as if they go directly to Heaven. Others look treacherous. Most pass by old buildings with ornately painted doors and windows. In downtown there are a few really old buildings that have not faired well as offices, but those which exist as apartments have done much better.

Heading into downtown past the auto and people parts stores is a bakery where people lured me in with sweets. I could smell the sugar before I saw the building, and when I stopped and looked in the window they came out and began feeding me. This place is really big, and they have breads and kanafa and all kinds of bad things with date filling. A wonderful young woman there helped me pick out all kinds of sweets I don’t need to eat, and then made me take several other things on the house. Past this is a government building where old men sit at desks right on the sidewalk with typewriters. I’ve never seen them type anything. They sit and smoke. Then, once I see all the travel agencies I feel like I’ve officially reached downtown.

Yesterday when I went downtown alone I was so engrossed in what a beautiful day it was that I didn’t realize until I was right in the midst of it that I’d walked through a prisoner transfer of some kind. The military guys shut down the street, and taxis were honking while guards smoked and handcuffed men lined up to get onto busses. As I passed through and disrupted the flow of handcuffed men, I came out of my beautiful day trance, and the guards started laughing and profusely welcoming me to Jordan. Perhaps they should have welcomed me back to consciousness.

I think next week I will explore the numerous flights of stairs and see where I end up in Jebel Hussein.

18 January 2007

Sometimes you have to put up a fence to protect Democracy

Today David Hale, US ambassador to Jordan, came and spoke to the Americans about politics and policy. Again I was privileged to be asked to sit in.

The Ambassador talked for about 30 minutes about the Important Vision (TM) that Bush has for the Middle East. This vision, seemingly centered on liberal economic policies, also includes stuff about democratization and freedom. Jordan is in an interesting position right now since the King seems intent on pursuing liberal economic policies along side a parliament that is anti-liberal. The Ambassador talked about the ways in which the estimated 4 million dollars in foreign aid to Jordan is spent. Many of the programs seemed like good and benevolent things on the surface. Examples included training for promising women political candidates (from all parties including the Islamic Action Front) to help them run for office. There is a program here to encourage “young would-be entrepreneurs” to develop English skills and business savvy. Of course, the US also builds “health clinics” here and there for good (public) measure.

The Ambassador, while generous with his time, spoke like Tony Snow, or any other government representative who is well-versed with his talking points. His explanations of the politics here were so vague as to be meaningless. To say something like, “The Middle East is at a cross roads and faces great challenges,” still doesn’t actually impart information. As I sat in this talk I kept imagining Dr. Evil say, “Throw me a fricken’ bone here people!” The Ambassador talked about Rice’s visit last week, including to Jordan, where she acknowledged, as did Bush, that “…errors have been made in Iraq, and we’re pursing a course correction.” I should acknowledge, of course, that this man has this job because he is a professional at talking without saying anything, and that there is probably no other way to do this job. Still, I find this crap annoying. I was becoming pretty upset in the talk; I could feel my heart pounding in my throat.

I wasn’t the only one. When the Ambassador was done talking about how generous America is with Jordan, he opened it up for a discussion, and certainly he knew what was coming from a room full of academics. One of the first questions came from a Jordanian woman who has (I think) been a liaison between the Americans and the Jordanian community. She taught at a University in America for one year, and she traveled to Washington D.C. during her time in the States. She told us that visiting the National Mall and seeing war memorial after war memorial made her really sad. She wondered not only how many more war memorials Americans are going to build, and ultimately what it the purpose of war. She was choked up; the question about world violence clearly came from the heart. The Ambassador rightly skirted the large question about Why there is war. He talked about the awful necessity of conflict used to achieve peaceful ends. I still think the killing-people-to-make-them-peaceful argument should be mocked. It reminds me of a quote I saw about a year ago in the L.A. Times: “After leveling city, government tries to rebuild trust.” But, then again, as one of my favorite blog commenters once said, my basement is furnished with both the dustbin of history and the fax machine of dialectical inevitability.

Another question pertained to the individual interactions Americans will have with Jordanians when they visit this country. The academic confided to us that she would go home feeling like she forged connections with people that are sincere and friendly, but that there is such a huge gap between the ways that Americans [can] reach out to Jordanians and the way our government reaches out to Jordanians. In other words, thanks for the lip service, but seriously why is there such a disconnect between the way rational Americans would interact with the Arab world and the way our state actually interacts with the Arab world. I feel this burden perhaps better than most in the room who have only been here for three weeks. If America is supposed to promote Democratic Values (what ever that means) why is there a big-ass wall around our embassy. Do other embassies in Amman have as many tanks parked outside as my embassy? This is addressed by appealing to fear of the unknown. There are bad men out there who want to do unspeakably bad things to Americans, and we have to defend ourselves.

Along those lines, the Ambassador asked us if any of us think that we are safer (or at least as safe) if Iran has nuclear weapons. Putting aside for the moment that the US built the refining facilities that we now regret building during the Cold War in Iran, I didn’t take his question as jest or rhetoric. I can’t help but reflect on the real and measurable moves Bush has made that really do put my life in jeopardy. I am thinking about things ranging from weakening the EPA (and thus exposing me to more toxins) to foreign policy decisions that were clearly motivated by greed and hate. I think there is a false assumption that my own State acts in my interests more than other states possibly could. Given also my personal belief that Israel is the terrorist threat in this region, I’m just curious why the same American conservatives who tend to argue that an armed society is a polite society are arguing for disproportionate weapon distribution. Add to this that I am apparently supposed to believe that war brings about peace. Why would we hasten the arrival of peace?

Another person asked the Ambassador to “help me with some rhetoric here” regarding the things that Americans can honestly say to Arabs who want to know from us why our government does the things it does here. He addressed more of the programs that US funding underwrites. There really are a few good things happening here. But…

Then one of my favorite professors directly addressed the “seeming” double standard the US applies to Israel and, say, Hamas, or Hezbollah. The discussion heated up from here out. The Ambassador said that comparison of Israel and Hamas is not fair because it is a false analogy, though he conceded that Hamas was fairly and democratically elected. He also acknowledged that America’s relationship with Israel is “…not objective.” Favorite Prof talked about what he called Politics with a “big P” and politics with a “little p,” essentially arguing that we say one thing and do quite another with regard to Israel and what we permit. The Ambassador argued that Israel is in a unique position in terms of feeling the full impact of terrorism, and that because their security is not stable they should have the right to be disproportionately armed. Favorite prof countered, correctly, that by the Ambassador’s criteria Iraq should be entitled to nukes at this point. “Israel is different,” countered the Ambassador. Further, he said that Hamas is controlled by Iran, and obviously Hezbollah receives a tremendous amount of funding from the same. “Israel is our partner,” and they are entitled to a different set of rules, or they are entitled to break the existing set of rules. The Ambassador told us that Israel is making real strides to demonstrate their willingness to work with the Palestinians. For example, he told us, they pulled out of Gaza. Well all chortled. Did he really just say that?!? He said, “Well, they did!” Then favorite prof said, “There are daily incursions,” not to mention that the borders are shut down and not under Palestinian control (including the border between Gaza and Egypt). Seeing that this was going no where, another professor asked the Ambassador to define what he meant when he said that the US and Israel are Partners. By this he means that we share Common Values (TM) and we heart democracy. Blah blah blah.

What I’m still wondering after listening to Prince Hassan yesterday, and David Hale today is this: does the Arab World (who ever that includes) truly need to suck it up and get along with Israel? And, if not, is the only alternative to illegal occupation and gross human rights violations unending blood-shed? What nation of people would not fight occupation? One taxi driver in Amman asked me last month: “Would you put up with going to the French embassy to get a visa to visit America?” Probably not, yet the policy makers in the Middle East would have this man go to the Israeli embassy to (possibly) get a visa to visit Palestine, his own land! I’ve never been a fan of dichotomous thinking, and I’m not yet convinced that there are only two options here: make peace, or get killed.

The Ambassador was kind and patient with our emotional questions. No one in the room was content with his talking points, and he took that well. The Americans go home tomorrow, and they will be missed. I have enjoyed benefiting from the speaker series, and I have enjoyed their company.

Tonight I’m going down town with S and J and S’s visiting friend from Dana-stan. I will pick up the first two seasons of Carnivále, also from HBO, to binge on this weekend. I ordered the second season of Deadwood too.

17 January 2007

HRH Prince Hassan

Over the last few weeks I have had some interesting, if basic, conversations about the Middle East with a group of Americans that are staying in my building. This group is composed of academics who have no knowledge of the Middle East. I was also told that none of them have ever been to this region before their trip to Jordan. The idea behind the grant that brought them here is to expose university professors in the social sciences to some of the basic issues and history of the Middle East. As one of the men in the group said to me, “We’ll stay here for three weeks and learn, then we’ll go home and declare ourselves Middle East experts.” I have had the benefit of being their neighbor as many interesting talks have been hosted in the library here, and I have been both privileged and honored to be invited.

Today, we were especially honored to have Prince El Hassan come and speak to us about teaching Islam. Though I’m sure world leaders are not coincidently personable and articulate, I found him so funny and pleasant that I think it still bears stating so. Prince Hassan was expected to become king after King Hussein died of cancer, but at the last minute Hussein decided that Abdullah would instead take the throne. I won’t speculate here about what Jordan might be like if things were not changed last minute. Suffice to say that both men seem like compassionate and intelligent folks who truly care about this country. In any event, Prince Hassan’s talk today was interesting, and he is also really funny, making the hour he spoke absolutely fly by.

He began by talking about the Middle East right after 9/11. He said that the Pentagon commissioned a study about what is needed in the Middle East that might stem potential terrorists from becoming so. They recommended more educational opportunities, a more open society, and more religious tolerance, among other things. He told us that he asked them, “Do you have something to tell me that I didn’t already know?” Then he told them “You have presented me with a monologue about how we need more dialogue.” The problem is that the Middle East was globalized, what ever that means, well before the rest of the world. While this region is in many ways well ahead of the world, it is simultaneously well behind much of the world, and the reasons for this are too complex to be patched up by ‘a more open society.’ He said, “Jordanians are Asians, Egyptians are Africans, and Israelis are what ever they want to be,” an apt insight into the complexities that belie identity politics here.

I’m under the impression that Prince Hassan’s politics are controversial in the Middle East. He called for serious reconciliation discussions with the Israelis; he said that women are not given a fair shake in Islam, and he said that Islamists would do well to focus less on the distinctions between Sunni and Shia’, or Muslims and Jews, and more on religious tolerance and progress within a globalized framework. In other words, it isn’t just the West’s (read: American) terrible misunderstanding of the Middle East that has left this place in shambles, it’s also the failure of Arabs to engage with themselves that has exacerbated the problems here.

So what does it mean to be Arab? Well, for many it certainly means being Muslim. Prince Hassan calls this Public Islam. This sort of phrase usually makes Westerners chafe at the thought of a religious-state, while terms like “secular state” do the same to Islamists. Does this need to be the case? Prince Hassan talked about the separation of “church” and state as a theory in which the social sphere and the state sphere do not entirely overlap, and that’s it. He said instead of talking about a Secular State, we can talk about a Civil State, and this won’t make religious people as uncomfortable. “Secular,” Prince Hassan said, “…rings badly in the ears of Arabs.” He went on to say that clearly defining what we mean by the loaded terms we use (i.e. globalization, religion, society, politics) would go along way toward achieving some agreement between communities. He asked, “Do you want to eat grapes, or argue all night with the watchman?”

So what is a community? The problem currently seems to be that if we have an Arabist Community, we cannot have an Islamist Community because Arabs are not heterogeneous, much to the surprise of many Western elites. In other words, pursuing political policy that would sit right with “Arabs” can never work. Thus, co-existence between communities should be the first priority. Easier said than done.

Prince Hassan had a first edition book with him that was printed in 1927. The title of the book is “Baghdad: City of Peace.” He read the introduction to us. Baghdad, the author argued, was only a peaceful city because it had profited from unending regional war. Prince Hassan argued that the Arab self-perception may be one rooted in the spoils of war. So where is the Arab point of reference? Maybe there isn’t one, he said. This kind of identity vacuum allows people to come in and corrupt what is good about the religion and the people. Prince Hassan said, “The Bin Ladins are the deregulators of religion in this century,” and this should not be the case. Globalization and “development” coupled with the deep history of the Middle East has made for a complex group of nations. Yet, he said, the “radius of conflict is just 80 miles.”

It was really exciting to attend his talk. On Thanksgiving another member of the royal family attended dinner. Both then and now I am so impressed with how cool this family is.

13 January 2007

I Can't Escape the Snow

It snowed in Arrowhead, California the day I left for Jordan. It snowed in Amman around X-mas time. It snowed in Arrowhead the night I got home from Jordan. Now it snowed another half-foot, that's about 15cm for you metric folk, last night. The pictures below show the snow covered trees at the first break of sunlight after the storm. I miss the good food and friendly people in Jordan. Drink a chai ma nana for me.

12 January 2007

Teaching and Learning

Yesterday morning I took my final exam at the University. I have 3 weeks off, and then I will return for another punishing semester at JU. This week was nice. It’s cold here, but I like it. It’s Friday, it’s cloudy, kids are out playing on the largely-abandoned street below my window, and I’ve had 3 cups of coffee. So far, so good.

Our teachers canceled a day of class this week to give us time to prepare for our exam. Two classmates and I used the opportunity to have brunch at Wild Jordan again. We are tentatively planning to go to Aleppo and see some of the dead cities, so we met to plan. J walked up to my apartment and we shared a taxi to the first circle. She and I got into the cab and the driver pointed to the meter as we drove off and said “bedoun meter,” (no meter). J told him to stop the taxi, and he said something like, It’s no problem, we’ll discuss how much when we arrive. I pressed the matter and asked him to commit to a figure. He thought 5 JD would be about right. I said 2 JD would be about right. It’s usually 1.6 or 1.7 from my place to the first circle, so 2 is more than enough. I told him It’s 2, or we’re out. We agreed to 2 JD, and we drove into some of the worst traffic I have seen yet in Amman. It took us almost one hour to go from near Jordan University to the First Circle. The taxi driver was furious. If he’d turned on the meter, he would easily have had 6 JD by the end of our trip. By the time we reached the second circle he stopped and turned around to us and said, “Circle 2 nafs ashee circle 1,” (1st and 2nd circle are the same thing). J and I both laughed, and she told him to take us to 1st circle. He pointed to the meter and said that if the meter worked, he’d have 5 JD. J told him that next time he should think about being more honest. Not a bad way to practice our Arabic, huh? I gave him his 2 JD, and he said the only thing he said in English beside the word “circle” as we got out: “Welcome to Jordan!” J and I walked down to the restaurant and we met S who had been waiting for quite a while by this point as we were 45 minutes late.

After breakfast we split up and I went to the American embassy because I needed more pages in my passport. A very nice man who seems to like kids as much as I do picked me up. We headed down steep and narrow streets from Jebel Amman and then back up toward Abdoun. I say that the driver likes kids as much as I do because every time we approached a group of kids in the street he honked (which is standard) but he also sped up. At one point he said something about kids see the car, and still don’t get out of the way, and they are therefore all crazy. I was trying to understand each word he said, and I didn’t respond immediately, and so he looked at me in the rear-view mirror, and demanded, “Sahh?!?” “Sahh!” I said, and he laughed.

I entered the embassy after being searched 3 times and saw the American flag at half-staff. I forgot that Ford died, and for a split-second I wondered why the embassy was honoring the death of Saddam Hussein. Then I remembered that Ford had died, and I assume the flag was for him, not Saddam. I could be wrong. I dropped off my passport, and headed home.

Yesterday right after my exam I headed over to the embassy to pick up my passport. As they close at noon, and it was just after 11, I hoped that traffic would not be as bad as my adventure going to the First Circle the previous day. The driver was listening to the BBC’s Arabic service. We made it there in about 10 minutes. I picked up my passport and called A to see if he could pick me up. I waited for him on the street where there is a tiny gap in the Jersey fence that lets the pedestrian traffic come and go. Many people walked past me while I waited. One family got to the small outlet, and the man picked up his daughter who was barley a toddler and was not going to be able to jump up on the curb and back down onto the street. He carried her over, and his wife followed behind. As she past me, she turned to me and asked, “What about me?” We both laughed. A showed up a few minutes later, and I leapt into the car and begged him to get me out of there quickly.

We drove down the street to the Syrian embassy so I could get a visa before I went. As K learned that my residency card permits me to obtain a visa to Syria at their embassy, I went in and waited. Several things seemed weird to me there. First, the room was like an enormous hallway, and there was only one person behind one widow even though there were three windows each with a dedicated line. This is the other weird thing: people were in lines. When I got to the front of the line, everyone in the room stopped talking and watched me. Seriously, it suddenly became really quite. I spent my time in line trying to decide if I should inflict my terrible Arabic on this man, or assume that he spoke English. I decided that every opportunity to practice this impossible language is good, so I asked him in Arabic, for a visa as I handed him my passport and residency card. The conversation was surreal. I spoke in bad Arabic the entire time, and he responded in perfect English the entire time. He told me that I could have a visa, but it would take at least one month, and it would cost 100 US dollars. He told me I needed a letter from the University stating that I am in fact a student there, and I would need 4 passport photos. I told him I’d rather he just tell me No so I could go to the border with a clear conscious and pay 16 USD for a visa after a wait of only a few hours. I took the form and turned around to leave. The entire room of people was fixed on me. “What?!?” I shouted. I went outside and waited for A to come back from prayers. I told A what happened, and he was mad. He said we should go back so he could talk to him. I chalk it up to having citizenship in an imperialist, violent hegemon, and that if this is the worst treatment I have at the hands of people here, it’s not a big deal. But A stewed for a while over this.

It was at this point that I realized I was really hungry. My last meal had been at Wild Jordan the day before, and it hit me really suddenly. A hurried to Abu Jabara on Gardens Street and picked up two falafel sandwiches for me. Then we had coffee. It took me about 7 seconds to eat the two sandwiches. Then he rightly yelled at me for not telling him when I need food. The problem is that I’m still reticent to tell an Arab that I’m hungry because then I know I’m going to be instructed to eat a meal that is equivalent to half of my body weight. In any event, the food was delicious.

A and I sat outside of my apartment and talked for about 2 hours. We continued having a conversation we began the night before about women in Islam. I finally confessed to him that it makes me mad that men’s sexuality is the burden of women. We had a really lively and frank discussion about the roles of men and women in society and in religion, and how these things are often two very different spheres. I also confessed to him that I know it’s not appropriate for him and me to spend so much time alone together, but that I refused to vilify our friendship in any way. I’ve been wondering if he felt conflicted over our friendship. I certainly don’t ever want to make him uncomfortable. At the same time, we are both honorable people, and what is more, he is a great teacher and I have learned so much from him about Jordan and about religion and about Arabic. I’ve never had a more patient teacher. And, from me he is learning a lot of English. I’m curious to see how he negotiates our friendship over the next several months. I would hazard to guess that he is inclined to trust me because he knows my husband and my mom, and so he has a tie to my family, not just to me. Man, gender is sticky here. A was explaining to me how the 5 prayer times change a little each day when we heard the call sound from the mosque. After another great discussion, it was time for him to go.

Next week I am going to meet a Palestinian woman who teachers at an UNRWA school here in Amman, and I’m excited to meet her. Get this, she is an alumna from my university in California. What a small world!

04 January 2007

K's Visit

It feels like just a day ago I posted about being sick and waiting for K to arrive in Jordan. Now, as I type, he is headed back to California. Our friends from California also joined him, and we spent just over 2 weeks traveling Jordan and Syria.

As our friends had never been to Jordan (or the Middle East) before, we began in Amman (of course) and we headed up to Jebel al-Qal’a. I think this place has a killer view of Amman. Surrounded by dense urban sprawl, this archaeological site is somehow serene. From here we could see many of the places I would take them to visit in the coming weeks. I like the museum there, where we saw the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the eerie ‘Ain Ghazal statues. We walked around downtown, and we ate at Hasham’s. We walked around Jebel Amman, and we ate more.

We planned our time together. Our friends wanted to see Petra, of course, but K and I dined out on that one. I didn’t want to spend my time with K saying “no thank you, no thank you, no thank you,” so we told them we would take them there, and then we would return to Amman. We did this via Madaba and the Dead Sea. We headed to Madaba and stayed an evening there. My friends bought a rug, and we saw mosaics. We had a big and wonderful dinner, and the next morning we headed for Mount Nebo. Though this was my third time seeing Mount Nebo, this was the first time the weather was nice. We had the place to ourselves, and we wandered the grounds and enjoyed the occasional sun. We headed down, down, down to the Dead Sea. We stopped at two archaeological sites (Bab ad-Dhra’ and Dhra’) on the way up to Karak. I’ve been to Karak two times before, but I’ve never gone in. This time, I actually and finally went inside. Again, we had the place to ourselves. We took a flashlight and wandered around for a long time. It was beautiful. From Karak we delivered our friends to Wadi Musa and saw them situated in a hotel after we had dinner. K and I headed back to Amman.

K has been to Jordan many times now, but I wanted to use our time together to do some tourist stuff we have not done, or that I wanted to do again. We planned trips to the eastern desert and to the north, both my preferred parts of Jordan. I invited two of my classmates from JU, an American and an Aussie with whom I first traveled to Syria.

Our first excursion was out to the eastern desert to see the “castles” there. I knew that Qusayr Amra is a World Heritage Site , but I’d never been to see it. It’s pretty neat to go there and see the images in person. Though many are in bad shape, it’s still amazing. Then we went to the Azraq Oasis and walked around.
We found our way to a look-out place where people can hide out and try and spot birds and water buffalo. We sat there and stared out the windows and I noticed that each of us was breathing normally, as if we were relaxing or something. There were beautiful puffy clouds in the sky, and the desert smelled like rain. There did, however, seem to be much less water there since I first went in 2004. Yikes. We saw several other sites that day, and we ended our evening at the Al-Quds Restaurant downtown.

By this time, K was fully weighed down with the flu I’d kindly given him, and we spent a few days in Amman just hanging out and watching movies. We watched the Harry Potter movies, and Blade Runner, and Ocean’s 11 and 12 (the latter sucked) and I knitted a sock. It was really nice downtime, I just feel bad that he was so sick. C and S called from Petra to say they were doing fine and were going to try an excursion to Wadi Rum (another place I have never been).

On Christmas day, my classmates once again joined us to see the north of Jordan. We went to Jerash first. As my friends were there just a few days before, and K and I thought we’d pretty thoroughly explored Jerash on previous trips to Jordan, we drove on. I think A was a little bummed as our exploration of Jerash would have provided him a much-wanted smoke break. We headed on to Ajloun, one of my favorite places in Jordan. S and J had not been there before, and the four of us explored the castle. Most of the time we had the place to ourselves. We didn’t all stick together the entire time, our group fractured and regrouped here and there as we decided to explore a room or staircase on our own. It was beautiful, and to my surprise warm. We headed down into the Jordan Valley, and by the time we reached to bottom all of our phones received messages welcoming us to Palestine. Fastlink hoped that we would enjoy our stay.

We drove right along the border north toward Pella. Pella is probably amazing. And though I have been there, I can’t really say either way. Both K and I were still recovering from the flu and didn’t have the energy to hike all over, as is required to see the site. We hiked down to one part and walked around, and then we decided that we needed to eat. The restaurant at the site had tourist prices, so we decided to head back down to the valley and find a kebab stand. A stopped and asked some young guys where we could get good foul and falafel. We were directed to a place that barely had room for the 5 of us to sit crowded at a table. The two men behind the counter were smoking while they made food. Perfect, I knew the food would be good. It was soooo good. I ate foul there that I suspect was at least 40% garlic. Who could ask for more? They made us eggs with onions, eggs with meat, humous, foul, and gave us one piece of bread that was so big it prompted J to ask, “Is this bread, or a table cloth?” A man came in and gave each of us candy. His son was born that morning, and he was celebrating. Meanwhile, other men gathered in the restaurant to watch us eat. One man behind the counter asked A if he could ask us a question when we were done eating. During the course of our meal, about 9000 men invited us to their houses for tea, and/or came in to welcome us to Jordan. Once done eating, we had coffee and the worker asked A what we think of Israel, Bush, and Lebanon. A didn’t have to translate the question for us, he just answered what we would have. Bush is an idiot, what goes on in Israel and the Lebanon war is appalling and immoral. This man is from Palestine, specifically from Nabilus, as is my friend A, and in fact they even have the same name. Unlike my friend A, the other A has been to Palestine. He had a work permit there, and he even speaks Hebrew. He told us he was treated very badly, and he’s really angry about what is going on there and how Palestinians are treated.

Don’t let this be lost on you. We were 4 westerners, three us of Americans, sitting in a restaurant that obviously doesn’t have a lot of tourist traffic. Most of the folks we talked to spoke no English. They honestly didn’t know our opinions about politics until they asked us, yet person after person came to welcome us, and invite us into their homes. The workers in the restaurant served us one of the best meals I have had in this country, and were kind and funny. We could have told them that we love Bush, and we support the War on Terror, blah, blah, blah. They were obviously prepared for that answer, or they would have assumed that we don’t support Bush Co. Still, there was no animosity at all. The kindness of Jordanians is always above and beyond what a jaded American can conceive of, and it never fails to fill me with hope for this world.

Off the soap box, and on to Umm Qais! After going through a billion check points, we made it to Umm Qais. What a neat site. From this mountain you can see the Golan Heights, and Lake Tiberius. It’s about as north as northern Jordan can get. The site itself is built of limestone and basalt, making the buildings somehow neater than the all-limestone buildings at other sites like Jerash. The amphitheater is all basalt! The columns are basalt! While we were walking around, I saw a man wearing a sweatshirt with my university’s name on it! I had to go and talk to him and ask about his shirt. He said he didn’t go there, and didn’t even know what it was. He said, “I just wear the shirt.” Wild! How did that end up here? We spent a long time at Umm Qais. We finally had to go when the sunlight was really beginning to fade. We headed back through Irbid, and got lost. We stopped in a part of town where sheep and goats were waiting to be butchered. A asked if we could stop so he could pray. He just happened to stop where we sat for a while and watched animals be dragged into a room out of sight while J displayed her obvious unease with being a meat-eater. Back to Amman. Christmas was fun.

S and C returned from Petra and Wadi Rum. Then, it snowed in Amman! I decided we should postpone our trip to Damascus for a day in the hopes that the snow would melt, and we’d be slightly less likely to die. Waiting paid off. We headed down to Abdali the next morning to get a taxi to Damascus. The problem is that K and I had no visas (again), and I knew that the driver would abandon us at the border. I didn’t want to pay for a trip all the way to Damascus that I knew I wouldn’t get. After much arguing we ditched the Syrian guys and met a nice service-taxi driver name Ali who took us to the border. That worked well, since he can’t go any further. At the border a taxi driver took us and another man into the border center where we would wait for visas. The man who sat on the hood of the car for this portion of our trip sat and talked with me for a while at the border. He spoke no English, so he had to be patient with me as we conversed in Arabic. He was to be married over the Eid, and he invited us to his wedding. He told us not to go to Damascus because the food isn’t as good, nor are the people as in the country. Then he asked why we were waiting so long, and I told him that we are American’s with no visas, so we will wait for a while. He said he would call his friend who is a cop and see if he could speed up the process for us. Syrians give Jordanians a run for the money, hospitality-wise. Our visas came through in 5 hours, not bad for a Thursday night at the beginning of the Eid. We stayed the night at the border, and the next morning headed out.

An old man approached us and asked us if we needed a ride to Damascus. We did, and we started arguing about price. At one point another man joined the circle as the old man spoke no English. Our new translator was not exactly impartial. At one point C told him that we are all students on a budget, and the translator said to the old man, “Amerikee.” We walked away and the old man ran after and told us that for 40 dollars he could take us to Damascus. Agreed, he simply flagged down a car and asked the driver to take us, and then demanded 40 dollars. Sheesh, I could have done that! The driver had an SUV and told us that he’d happily take us, and would take no money. He said, “I don’t know what this man is talking about, I won’t take your money.” We jumped in the SUV and left the old man in a rant. Our new friend, M, is a diplomat at an embassy in Syria. He’s from a country in Africa, but spent most of his life in Damascus as his now-deceased father was also a diplomat there. M told K about Syrian sedition laws, and told us that he figures 80% of the country works for the government. Then he told us that he’d just bought a house and was having rooms added on. He took us to his house in the suburbs of Damascus, and we had a tour. From there, he told one of the guys there, also an M, to take us to Damascus and find us a room. M2 drove us around Damascus and went in to see rooms until we found something suitable. I’m just not used to this kind of hospitality where I’m from! It occurred to me about half way between the border and Damascus that we 4 Americans had just hitchhiked from the Syrian border, and I was not at all nervous about it. I would never hitchhike in the States!

We spent several days in Damascus combing through the Old City and seeing a bit of the New City on New Year’s Eve. By this time, S was the sick one among us. By New Year’s Eve she was down for the count. On our first day in Damascus we were walking down the street to go and get some food when we ran into S and J! They had gone through the border at the same time we did; they were at a different border than we were. There, they met two American tourists and they decided to stick together. We agreed to meet that evening for dinner. Small world.

Once again, Syria was amazing, the people friendly, and the food spectacular. At dinner that first night the American guy told us that Saddam Hussein was scheduled to be executed the next day. Yikes. We went out the next day and walked all around the old city. At one point we stopped in front of a rug shop that had Al Arabia on, and we watched the video clip of the execution. It was done. All day people still asked us where we are from, and all day we were treated kindly. In retrospect I realized that if anything were going to happen it probably would have been in Amman where all of Iraq is currently living. S and J headed to Lebanon and they are still there. We stayed in Damascus through the first and then headed back. On New Year’s Eve we had good food and watched Titanic. The next morning we found a Jordanian taxi driver who was certifiably insane and he drove us back to Amman. He spoke no English at all. That’s good for helping me learn and remember my numbers in Arabic, as I bargained in Arabic with him. Underway, he drove like a mad man and we were at the border in no time. I think he must have left his oven on or something because he kept honking at us to hurry as we walked from one building to the next to pay fees or get stamps. At our last stop at the Jordanian side of the border he started driving away before we were all the way in the car with the doors shut. Somehow we all made it, though. He headed into the city via Sweileah (sp?) which was good news for us as he would pass JU and I thought perhaps he could just drop us off there instead of taking us to Abdali where we would have to find another taxi to come back to where we already were. I told him that I lived very near to where we currently were and asked him if he could just let us off. At first he said No, Abdali bas! But I repeated myself and he asked if “here” is ok. Yes, I told him. We came to a screeching stop right there, and we paid him and we were safe and taxi free in Amman. If there is a threat to my life in Amman, it’s from being a passenger in a car driven by guys like that guy. I was happy to walk a bit to save finding a taxi near downtown.

Our last few days in Amman were spent eating. K, S, C and I went to Fakhr el-Din in Jebel Amman. I had never eaten there before. It was outstanding. A came and picked up C and S to take them to the airport that afternoon. They are now in Luxor. Good luck to them. K and I had one more day together. We watched movies and ate more good food. At 2:30 in the morning A came and picked us up to take K to the airport. I sat in the back of the taxi semi-weepy at the thought of saying good-bye to my husband again for a few more months. Good byes suck. We left him at the airport, and A very kindly took me for coffee and distracted me by picking up on conversations we were having two weeks ago before K arrived. A dropped me off at home, and I went into the kitchen to get some water. I stood in the kitchen and cried. I headed to the stairs to go to my room. Now what happened next is really as it happened: I thought, “I would give anything to hug K one more time,” and as I thought that, literally as I thought that I came around the corner and K was standing in front of me. I’ve never had a wish that good come true. His flight was canceled, and he’d taken a taxi back. He beat me there since A and I had coffee. I was so happy. He was understandably nervous about how he would get home. We went to the airline’s office the next day and he was put on the same flight for the next day. We ate at Hasham’s and bought a bunch of DVDs downtown and came back and watched movies. We had delicious Indian food for dinner. Yesterday was really wonderful. There is nothing like the feeling of saying goodbye to someone I really love, and then having a bonus day with him. This morning we again went to the airport to drop K off. This time was easier. I still felt thrilled to have had an extra day with him, and I thought that being sad was no way to pay fate back for the favor. A took me for coffee again. It was so good and sweet. We talked about NASA. It was a good diversion.

What an action-packed 17 days.