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.


Blogger Steven Kesler said...

Fantastic! I am so glad K and C and S were able to meet up with you! It sounds like you guys had a great time. I can understand how you feel about not being able to be with K for a while :-(. In the meantime you can console yourself with more good food!

9:49 PM  
Blogger kathrynzano said...

I would give anything to hug YOU right now! I miss you. I'm so glad you and K got to see each other, no matter how short it was. Thanks for keeping up with your blog--it means a lot to me to know what and how you are doing.

8:28 PM  
Blogger Weeping Sore said...

Lovely report! We picked K up from Los Angeles International Airport, and he told us the story of his bonus day, but with one additonal detail. He reported beating you back from the airport and meeting you in the stairway, thereby granting your wish to see him one more time. He said he thought you should consider your wishes more carefully before you make them. You could have wished for ten million dollars, and instead you settled for one more day with K!

12:37 AM  
Blogger Miss Carousel said...

good to see your face, lady....

even better to read about your goings-on!

felice anno nuovo!

9:12 PM  
Anonymous Martha in Michigan said...

Nice account of your adventures. Especially enjoyed the serendipitous ending!
Can you tell me ages and genders of A's kids? I'd like to send some stuff.

9:58 PM  

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