Sunday, July 17, 2011


Hello everyone! I want to apologize for my lack of blogging these past two weeks. I ran out of internet about a week ago and purchased another gigabyte today -- I should be all set for the duration of my stay. While I have been without internet, my life has been filled with incredible memories and experiences since my previous blog post. 

Two weekends ago, eight of my friends in CIEE and I traveled to Jerusalem ( القدس pronounced Al- Quds). It was sort of a last minute decision for me to go, and in hindsight, I cannot believe that I even debated not going. Due to this spontaneous decision, I spent very little time researching about Jerusalem prior to our departure, but I think that this made my time there even more memorable. Without expectations, I was fascinated by everything.

First, I would like to recount our border crossing from Jordan to Israel. The distance between Amman and Jerusalem is only 45 miles, yet it took us at least five hours to complete our crossing. We took a van to a bus station close to the border, and then a twenty minute bus ride to the border terminal. That part was easy. The actual border terminal was pretty chaotic. The beginning went pretty smoothly....they checked out passports, screened our luggage, and asked us each a few personal questions (i.e. Why are you traveling to Jerusalem? Why are you in Jordan? Where are you staying in Jerusalem?...standard questions for the most part). Then, it got a bit tricky. We were standing in line under the "Other Nationalities" section to get our passport stamped, when suddenly an Israeli border official told us that we were being relocated to another part of the terminal. We stood in line for about 2 hours with virtually no one getting through. One women kept yelling at us to sit down and come to the passport window one by one; as you can imagine, this was thoroughly ineffective, as no one could "remember" his or her place in line. In addition, there were times when it seemed like absolutely no one was working. The good news is that we managed to not get our passports stamped; we filled out a slip of paper and they stamped that instead. This is good because some countries in the Middle East will not let you enter if you have been to Israel (i.e. Syria), and thus my future travels would require me to get a whole new passport. In addition, one of our friends named Waleed is of Pakistani descent and Muslim, and so he was detained in a special interrogation room, separated from us the entire time. He had to answer to four different officials asking the same questions with long waiting periods in between each interrogation. While the border crossing was long and a little disheartening, it made me appreciate being able to travel so freely in my own country. It also provided my with firsthand experience regarding the degree of seriousness of Israeli security. While I was initially angry that Waleed was detained, I realized that was looking at the situation from an American standpoint; I soon began to understand that profiling people seemed like a necessary measure to ensure domestic security for a country wrought with political tension.

We took a van from the border terminal to Jerusalem, lasting only about an hour. Once we arrived in Jerusalem, our memories of the tedious border crossing seemed trivial and so worth the wait. The Old City of Jerusalem is so full of life. It is completely walled, and within these walls are a serious of cobbled streets bursting at the seams with tiny shops lined side by side and people from all over the world. The roofs of the shops extend over the street, so it feels as if the entire city is covered. It is a giant marketplace interlaced with the most significant religious sites in the world.

During our first afternoon and night in Jerusalem, we spent most of our time just getting our bearings and exploring the streets of the city.  Today, the Old City is divided into four quarters -- the Muslim quarter, the Jewish quarter, the Christian quarter, and the Armenian quarter. While traversing through the corridors of the Old City, we would encounter Arabs, Hasidic Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians within minutes of one another. No other city on Earth is like Jerusalem.

My favorite site in the entire city of Jerusalem is the Western Wall or Wailing Wall, located in the Jewish quarter. This wall has been a place for Jewish prayer for centuries, as it is the only remains left of the Holy Temple. The wall is divided into a men's and women's section (much smaller). All prayer is silent. Like millions of people before me, I wrote a prayer on a small piece of paper and stuck it within the crevices of the wall. It was very emotional for me. I kept thinking about how fortunate I am and how much I love the people in my life. Surrounded by so many people all placing their hopes and prayers into the wall, I felt a sense of unity with everyone around me.

Women's side of the Wailing Wall

While we were unable to visit the Dome of the Rock in the Muslim quarter (only open to Muslims on Fridays and closed Saturdays), we were able to visit the Church of the Holy Selpuchre. Located in the Christian quarter, this church was built by Constantine as the site where Jesus was buried and resurrected. The inside of the Church was absolutely magnificent, with beautiful mosaics covering the walls and high ceilings. Like the Wailing Wall, this site was thronged with people praying and showing their devotion to their religion. 

Inside the Church of the Holy Selpuchre

View from the Mount of Olives -- Dome of the Rock in the background

In conclusion, Jerusalem was unforgettable and pleasantly overwhelming. Inshaallah, I will return in the future. Also....

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Desert الصحراء Al-sahharra

Happy Fourth of July! It is definitely strange to be in a foreign country today and lacking BBQ, fireworks, and Old Glory....I had a midterm instead. However, we might make a trip to downtown Amman tonight, as there is an American wings restaurant hosting a celebration for Americans here.

As for this weekend, my mind was totally blown by all of the incredible places that we visited. Our first stop was Dana, a small, 500 year old village situated next to a natural gorge -- Wadi Dana. We made it just in time for sunset, climbing to a phenomenal view and lingering for dusk. We returned to enjoy a traditional Arabic dinner and the best tea ( شاي pronounced shayy) that I have had in my life.

After a night in Dana, we ventured to Wadi Rum, comprised of massive sandstone and granite rock formations amidst a vast desert. This wadi is famous for its connection with British officer T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), who resided and planned his military operations here in the Arab Revolt of 1917.

Exploring this area was my favorite part of the trip and possibly my summer so far. Starting off with a wild, bumpy, and reckless desert jeep ride, we traveled a few miles into the wadi and were able to climb some of the rock formations. Then we embarked on an hour long camel ride to our destination for the night -- a Bedouin camp in the middle of the desert. The main word for camel in Arabic is جمل  (pronounced jamal) and has the same root as the word for beautiful. Camels are highly valued in Arabic culture, serving as modes of transportation for thousands of years. Riding a camel was easy -- cross your legs in the front and hold on for the ride.
 Zach with his fez -- conquering the elements

The night spent at the Bedouin campsite was one of the most memorable of my life. Encompassed by a tranquil desert with no human life for miles, I was able to truly appreciate the beauty of Wadi Rum. The desert evoked a calming yet awing feeling for me, and I loved just sitting atop the sandstone to take it all in. After just relaxing at the campsite for a couple of hours, the Bedouins cooked us a delicious meal -- first grilling the meat and vegetables over a fire, then burying it in the sand to preserve the warmth and prevent any animals from eating our food. We enjoyed our meal, danced around the campfire listening to the Bedouins play music, and gazed at the seemingly infinite amount of stars. We slept outside on mattresses and woke up when the sun came up. I felt like a real Bedouin girl haha

The next and final day of our trip, we visited Petra, the most famous tourist attraction within Jordan. Established in the around the 6th century BC by the Nabataeans, Petra flourished because it was a crossword for numerous trade routes and thus was a center of commerce and culture. It is absolutely astounding how well this city has withstood the test of time, as the original structures still show intricate carvings and designs.

Claudia and I in front of the Treasury building

I am exhausted....and so happy.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Diving in Aqaba

Several of my friends and I traveled to the city of Aqaba this weekend, located on the southwest coast of Jordan on the Red Sea. We started the trip off joining 15 other people on a party bus, blasting music and dancing for almost the entirety of the four hour drive. The next day was spent enjoying the beauty of the Red Sea. We were able to go on a 20 minute scuba diving excursion (despite having a license), and it was simply amazing. It was scary at first, but we all dove one-on-one with an instructor who guided us the entire time. Exploring a sunken military tank, I caught a glimpse of a moray eel, numerous lion fish (potentially poisonous to even humans), and beautiful tropical fish. After the dive, we snorkeled and swam for a couple of hours, delighted to be in the clearest and most vibrant body of water I have ever witnessed.

Harbor of Aqaba

 Pre-Dive with my equipment on!
Elliot, Zach, Sam, and I chillin on the boat....Elliot hates candid pictures but loves his kafeea (male head scarf)

It is interesting to note that my group of friends were the only Americans on board the ship with an exception of one man from Atlanta who was working in Amman. Most of the people were Jordanian or European. This holds true to Amman as well, as the only Americans I have encountered have been students studying Arabic at the University or interning. Most of the non-Arab people here are European, and most Jordanians are surprised when they discover that we are Americans...just something that I have noticed in the past few weeks.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Biblical Jordan

Yesterday, CIEE took all of the students on a Biblical Jordan excursion, where we visited famous biblical sites located less then two hours from Amman. Due to my limited travel experience beyond America, it was fascinating for me to be able to visit places that were significant thousands of years ago.

The first site that we visited was Makawar Mountain, the location where John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod Antipas. According to the biblical account, John the Baptist denounced the marriage of Herod because Herod had stolen his brother's wife, Herodious...scandalous :). For this denouncement, Herold imprisoned John the Baptist on top of Makawar Mountain. On Herod's birthday, the daughter of Herodius, Salome, danced in front of the whole party; Herod was enthralled by her dancing so much that he told Salome that she could have anything she desired. Salome chose the head of John the Baptist on a platter at the request of Herodius, and her wish was granted.

Prison that Herod kept John the Baptist

Janet, Laurel, and I atop Mount Makawar

The whole group!

The next place we ventured was the city of Madaba, which is famous for its Byzantine-era architecture and mosaics. Within Greek Orthodox Basilica of St. George Church is the oldest map of the Holy Land, made entirely from mosaics and dated back to the 6th century. The people of Madaba continue to create beautiful mosaics in honor of its history.

 Basilica of Saint George
 Oldest map of the Holy Land preserved on the floor of the church

Artist from Madaba

Laurel and I in traditional hijab

Next we traveled to the most significant place of all -- Mount Nebo. On the summit of Mount Nebo is where God gave Moses the view of the Promised Land.

View from the summit of Mount Nebo

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Dead Sea البحر الميت

This past Saturday, a big group of us ventured to البحر الميت (AlBahhr Almayt), the Dead Sea, which is only a 30-40 minute drive from Amman. The claim that it is impossible to sink in the Dead Sea...completely accurate. I felt like I was in an anti-gravity chamber! I could only stay in for about 15 minutes at a time because the salt was burning my skin, but the experience was unforgettable.

 Alyssa, Janet, Sam and I covered in the mud of the Dead Sea, claimed to possess healing powers. If anything, it was a good sun block!

Janet and I with our Jordanian friends -- Ghassan and Fuad 

Palestine right across the Sea

Friday, June 10, 2011

منسف‎ Mansaf

For lunch today, I was blessed with the chance to eat the national dish of Jordan called منسف‎ pronounced "mansaf". Here is a description that I stole from a Jordanian cuisine website:

"The national dish of Jordan is Mansaf: lamb seasoned with aromatic herbs, sometimes lightly spiced, cooked in yoghurt, and served with huge quantities of rice. Feasting on Mansaf is taken seriously, and hours are spent in its preparations.
Mansaf is cooked in jameed (the Arabic word for dried yoghurt), which is then mixed with water in a tray to produce a creamy sauce. This is poured into a large stewing pot with chunks of lamb meat. The pot is put over an open fire. As the stew begins to warm, it is stirred to prevent the yoghurt from separating.
Large trays are covered with the doughy flat Arabic bread and dampened with yoghurt. On top of this, a layer of rice is heaped. The meat is then piled on top. Almonds, pine-kernels and other nuts may be sprinkled over the dish, which is then ready for serving."

The traditional way to eat the dish is to eat standing up, use only one hand, then roll the mansaf with your hand into a ball. Then pop it into your mouth, and eat it all in one bite! Traditionally, only the men eat in this manner, but they insisted that we try the messy way. It was absolutely delicious! But as you can imagine, I was full after six balls because the jameed is so heavy.

As you can see, we have made Jordanian friends! Laurel, one of my friends on the program, has a connection through a family friend, and she was able to introduce to a group of locals. They are some of the friendliest and most hospitable people that I have ever met. They are eager to show us different parts of Amman, and I truly love spending time with them. They speak almost perfect English, so there is no language barrier whatsoever. However, they are more than happy to help us learn the local dialect and let us practice our Arabic with them. Tomorrow, they are driving us to the Dead Sea...ن شاء اللهI I will not get too sunburnt!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


The butcher جزار (jazzaar) taught us the names of the different parts of the lamb خروف (kharoof) that are eaten....including brains, tongue, and kidney.