Thursday, July 29, 2010

37. Try sea kayaking (and visit the Isle of Skye)

If I needed any further evidence that the best thing to do is the one that intimidates you the most, our day sea kayaking off the coast of Scotland just provided it. It was chilly and it rained, and I was pretty iffy about the layers upon layers of "kit" I was wearing, but all of that turned out to be so inconsequential. For those who know all about sea kayaking (a group of which I'm decidedly not a member), the coast of Scotland is prime territory.

We went to the ultra-charming town of Plocktown after a day of hiking on the Isle of Skye in a town called Sligachan, which you get to by bus when you get to the end of the line by train at Kyle of Lochalsh (and I'm recounting all this in large part just because I think the names are so cool). Just as Plockton is all about the sea kayaking (and sailing), Sligachan is a hiker and rock climber's paradise, and apparently the Black Cuillens in the area have some of the best technical hikes and climbs in the world. I am obviously not technically proficient in either of these areas, but would point out that it's not often that you can take a day hike that includes views of the ocean, lakes (aka as lochs here, of course), and mountain peaks all within a few hour's trekking.

So, after our fabulous day of hiking we hopped on a bus the next morning and headed to Plockton for our sea kayaking adventure. We had been tipped off by our friend and colleague, David, about his friend, Alison's, sea kayaking business, Sea Kayak Plockton (, and so we arranged a day out with her.

I'd been out on Lake Champlain with the Saint Michael's College Wilderness Program (taught by my friend and former student Kate) once a few summers before, but this seemed more intimidating. Besides the fact that we were in the ocean, the weather was cool and rainy, and bit more gear-intensive. As you can see from the pictures, we definitely had the layering thing down, with long sleeve (non-cotton) shirts, wet suits, fleeces, sea kayaking cagoules (basically, jackets), spraydecks (those apron-looking things that you hook onto your kayak), life vests, wet suit boots, hats and probably other stuff I'm forgetting.

But once we were out on the water, all the gear made sense, because even when it began to rain, we stayed warm, and pretty soon I didn't even care about the weather anyway, because being out on the water, was so sensational. We passed the Duncraig Castle, a whole bunch of seals who poked their heads up at various times and swam near us, lots of islands, and gorgeous, craggy hills and mountains. The mist that obscured the Isle of Skye also gave everything an otherworldly feeling that was incredibly cool.

We were also lucky in having a phenomenal instructor in Alison, who talked me through a whole day's paddle out among the islands of the bay, and who, at the end of the day, let me practice capsizing for the experience of getting better at releasing me from the kayak (unfortunately no pictures, but I assure you, all those layers can hold a LOT of sea water -- the clothes I was wearing are still wet). And then she felt so bad that we were going to miss yet another awesome Plockton-area attraction, the Eilean Donan Castle (where they filmed the movie Highlander), that she drove us out to check it out that evening. Talk about going the extra mile -- it was a wonderful bonus to an already-phenomenal day.

Here are some pictures our time in Plockton, on and off the water, as well as a shot from our hike on Skye. In the Skye one I'm standing at the high point of a ridge that was our ultimate destination in order to look out over the ocean and connecting loch. There are also photos of Jerry taking a breather while loading the kayaks at the end of the day, and one he took of Alison and me (blue hat) out on the water. Jerry also took the one of Alison and me after I had dried off from my capsize exercise, and she had taken us up to the Eilean Donan Castle. And finally, there is one of the village of Plockton, as seen from inside the window of the bed and breakfast where we stayed.

My conclusions are these: first, sea kayaking is a fabulous activity that everyone should try and second, if you're looking for a wonderful place to take a trip where you can do world-class hiking, climbing, kayaking and/or sailing with castles, lochs, mountains and oceans as back-drop, the Northwest Highlands and the Hebrides Islands of Scotland are where you want to go. Finally, if you're looking for the most charming village in the world, it just might be Plockton. Come visit, but you might not want to leave.

52 Ways to Say I Love You Scottish Gaelic. Interestingly, all the signs in Scotland are in both English and Scottish Gaelic, and our clerk, Claire, at the Sligachan Inn who very kindly provided these phrases for me, told me that now students have the choice to take their classes in English or, as she did, in Scottish Gaelic.

Hello Feasgar Math (pronounced Facegar Ma)

Good by Chi sibh (Chee shibh)

Can I have two beers, please? Am faod mi da deoch lachir mar sea do thoie(Am food me da deeoch ladir mar se do holle

I love you Tha goal agam art (Ha ghoul agam ort)

Coming Attractions

Still planning to put out a revised list in the next few days...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

36. Try Haggis (and neeps and tatties)

It's a little before 6 am, and it's been light for almost an hour here on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. I've been to Scotland before, but never to Skye, so my new thing #37 will combine a new place (Skye) and a new activity (Sea Kayaking). But for new thing #36 I did a pretty easy one (try a new food) in a place I've been before -- and completely loved. That would be the city of Edinburgh.

I was always hesitant to try haggis in the past because of it's famous main ingredient, sheep's organs (stomach, heart and lungs). But a great thing about doing this list is that now compared to say, ice climbing, eating a plate of haggis seems like small potatoes, so I decided to try it. When I'm not traveling I try to stick to a vegetarian diet, so won't be going out of my way for this one anyway, but my official verdict is that it's actually not bad. I think it's more like hash than anything else, and since it's loaded with fat, it tastes pretty good, and is probably terrible for you. I had it the traditional way, with neeps (parsnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes), and as you can see from the picture below it basically looks like a big plate of baby food.

Of course, I had to post a few other pictures from our time in Edinburgh as well. I'm here with my friend and photojournalist colleague, Jerry. We're presenting a co-authored paper at a conference in Cambridge in a few days and decided to extend the trip to go to Scotland on the front end and Denmark afterwards. I had been in Edinburgh twice before, once with my friend Alex and again with my sister Katrinka, and though both trips happened over fifteen years ago, being back has made me remember how completely much I love the city. It's full of mists and fogs and the coolest Gothic architecture and spires and gargoyles imaginable. We did some of the classic tourist destinations, including touring the castle at the top of the city, the palace of Holyrood (official Scottish residence of the royal family when they're in town and site of lots of 16th and 17th century intrigues and murders), and a hike above the city to the extinct volcano called Arthur's Seat.

There is a shot of the castle from the park below, and another from within the Great Room where they had banquets with the knights and nobles. I love the shot of Jerry at Holyrood Palace because it looks like he's taking some important business call when actually he's listening to the audio tour we were following. And there is a shot of me on top of Arthur's Seat looking over Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth.

I'm going to save the Scottish Gaelic I collected last night for the Isle of Skye/sea Kayaking post, and still need to finish my list revision, so that's it for now. Except to say that Scotland is exactly as great as I remember it from many years ago, and I strongly recommend a visit (but bring your jacket because it's cold, even in late July).

Sunday, July 25, 2010

35. Visit the Rokeby Museum

One of the many lessons I've learned from this year is that, when your plans don't work out, sometimes you just have to go to Plan B and be grateful for it. This weekend was supposed to be one of the hikes I've been looking forward to all year -- a moonlight/sunrise of Camel's Hump. I leave today for my last big trip of the summer -- this one to Europe -- and I was very pleased that I'd be fitting this in before heading out, and thrilled that a whole crew of past and current Saint Mike's students were on board to do it. But alas, the weather did not cooperate, and the hike is now being postponed till sometime in the second half of August.

Happily, though, my good friends, Siham and Leah, co-originators of the whole list idea, had come up for the hike and were staying for the weekend. So, we decided we'd better make the most of it. We tend to get together about every other month to go over our lists, and see what we've done, what new ideas we've come up with, and what joint plans we want to make for the future. So, we tackled some list revisions over some drinks on Friday night, and I'm going to do a separate post of my list update that came from that conversation.

On Saturday we did two New Things -- one from Leah's list and one from mine. Leah is a former student leader of various hiking and rock climbing expeditions with the SMC Wilderness Program. And yet, incredibly, she had never gone up Mt. Philo. We remedied that with a sunrise hike -- partly a consolation prize to me for having to postpone the Camel's Hump sunrise and partly so Leah could finally say she'd looked at Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks from the top.

In the afternoon we stayed with the south of Burlington theme, and went to the little town of Ferrisburgh to check out the Rokeby Museum. It's a historical house, and the exhibits are mainly a family history of the five generations of the Robinson Family who lived there. I think we all agreed that the most inspirational part was learning about the 3rd generation, Rowland and Rachel Robinson, who were devout Quakers and dedicated Abolitionists. They weren't merely reformists, but radicals, working for the immediate abolition of slavery, and living their principles in every facet of their lives. Their home was not only a stop on the Underground Railroad, they openly hired people who had made it there and decided not to go on to Canada (a flagrant violation of the Fugitive Slave Law). Rachel did not buy any products that had been produced by slave labor -- from cotton cloth to sugar and molasses to tobacco and rum (not that the last was much of a problem for them, since they were also part of the temperance movement). And both were active members (and in some cases founders) of local and state-wide abolition organizations. Their children and grandchildren were pioneers in their own ways -- especially some of the women of the family, several of whom became commercially successful artist/illustrators at a time when most women did not support themselves financially. The place is well worth a visit, and I'd certainly go again with anyone who wants to check it out (

The pictures are a bit of hodgepodge from the day. There are two taken at the Rokeby Museum, one of Siham and Leah sitting outside one of the outbuildings of the farm, and another of one of those freaky oddities of by-gone years. It's called a hair wreath and it's made out of -- yes- human hair. And there's a diagram drawn by the maker showing which humans produced the hair of which parts of the wreath, just in case you're curious. I also put in a few pictures from our Mt. Philo dawn hike, one of Leah and Siham at the rock near the beginning, another of Siham and me at the top, and a third (taken by Leah, who grabbed my camera and did a far better job than I would have) of an adorable tiny salamander we met on the way down. And finally, in between Mt. Philo and the Rokeby we just had to be good Vermonters and hit the Saturday farmer's market. Here we are nearby on Church Street loving the idea of summer in Vermont.

52 Ways to Say I Love You

In Czech, with many thanks to Laura Brade, who I've never actually met. She's the girlfriend of the son of our family physician growing up, Keith Davis. And Dr. Davis definitely deserves a special shout-out as well. When I was going to junior high and high school in Twin Falls, Idaho, his practice was in Shoshone, about an hour's drive away. He was a great doctor, but he became a legend in the eyes of my family when he once drove down from Shoshone in the middle of winter to give me a shot of penicillin and stayed for an hour on top of it to make sure I didn't have an allergic reaction. That's what I call an awesome family doctor.

Hello" = "Ahoj" (as in, "Ahoy there maties!" Emphasize the AH part of the Ahoy. I think the Czech have a complex due to the fact that they are a land locked country) or "Dobrý den" Pronounced DOE-brie (the cheese) den.

Goodbye = Čau! Pronounced just as the Italians would pronounce Ciao! The more formal goodbye = Na shledanou (somewhat tricky to pronounce and I usually avoid it) But here goes: NAH SKHLE-da-noooo

I love you = Miluje tě (pronounced MI- lu-yi tye)

I would like two beers please (for a female speaker) = Chtěla bych dvě piva, prosím. (A male speaker would say Chtěl bych...). Pronounced: KHTYE-la beekh dveh PEA-vuh PRO-seem

Coming Attractions

I'm putting out a new, revised list on my next post, so that will get covered there. For now I'll just say that once this trip to Europe is over I'm going to have a little more than two weeks to make the most of summer in Vermont, so I hope lots of people are up for joining me!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

34. See a Band at Nectar's and Eat at Pizza on Earth: A Vermont summer combo

It's been a great summer of amazing new places and new things, but I have to admit that a side of me has been itching to get back to Vermont. I love Vermont, but I especially love Vermont in the summer, and I'm excited to have the chance to do some things that everyone around here associates with summer, but that I've never gotten around to. So, last night and tonight I did two of them. The first was in direct response to a lot of ribbing from some of my students, who think it is very funny, and a little pathetic, that I've done lots of travelling around the world but never made it down the street to Nectar's, the restaurant/bar/club that gave Phish its start. Similarly, some of my colleagues were surprised to learn that I had never visited Pizza on Earth, where you sit on picnic tables outside a barn in the summer and load up on pizza and gelato before climbing everyone's favorite hill that aspires to be -- but isn't quite-- a mountain, Mount Philo.

Connor, with whom I just travelled to Jordan, provided the means for finally getting me to Nectar's, when he invited me to see his band, Fink, play there. As if that weren't incentive enough, two other students, Will and Ben, were playing first in their own band, and Alexsis, who I've known since her first day at Saint Mike's when she was assigned to me as an advisee, suggested that I could join her. It was, of course, great fun to watch students that I know from the classroom and from working together on AIDS and other political issues, show a whole other side of themselves as musicians. Here's a somewhat blurry picture of Connor playing, and one of him, Alexsis and I after the show was over when he was loading out the equipment.

The second new thing was a bit more staid, but equally fun. Pizza on Earth sits in a small but wildly popular building next to a farmhouse and very big barn on the way to Mount Philo. Here are friends and colleagues Katie, Kristin, Drew, Greta, Annemieke, Traci and Zan relishing our dinner on a wonderful summer night. About half of us went up Mount Philo afterwards, and here are Brett, Drew, Kristin, Annemieke and Traci part way up the climb, and Traci and I at the top.

I know I've been very lucky this summer to have visited pyramids and sandstone cities, and taken camel rides through the desert. But I think I'm just as lucky to be able to come home to a lively college town that's loaded with fun, multi-faceted students and great friends and colleagues set in one of the most beautiful mountain lake settings in the world. Vermont is pretty cool, and it's a lot of fun to finally hit some of the places that everyone knows about, but I never made the time to explore.

Coming Attractions

The list I published in the last post is still pretty accurate, except that I'd now add that it's looking like August 14 will be the date for the 24 hours in New York City. Let me know if you're interested and want some more details.

Since it's officially the middle of summer I decided to grant myself a vacation from my language project, or more accurately, I ran out of languages and was too lazy to look one up for this post. Now that the languages are in the 30's it's getting harder, so if people have ones I haven't used yet, I'll gratefully accept them.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

33. Visit Egypt (and ride a camel to the Pyramids)

As you grow older, you'll find the only things you regret are the things you didn't do. -- Zachary Scott

I think I've learned lots of things in my travels this summer, some profound, some not so much. In the non-profound category, here are a couple tips I can now pass on to fellow travellers.
1. The cheapest way to get from Amman, Jordan to Kampala, Uganda is via Egypt Air with an eight-hour layover in Cairo.
2. If you have an eight-hour layover in Cairo, Egypt Air will put you up in a fancy hotel during the layover.
3. There's a catch to #2 (which you won't learn till it's too late). Egypt Air will keep your boarding pass and passport so that the ONLY thing you can do in stay at the fancy hotel and eat way too much free fancy food. It's a very comfortable cage, but a cage nonetheless.

Armed with all these facts gained on my first layover, I took the advice of my friend Gary, a very experienced middle east traveller, the second time around. Rather than spending the day at a luxury hotel that's pretty much like any other luxury hotel on the planet, I bought an Egyptian visa at the airport and spent the day in the suburb of Giza exploring the Pyramids from the back of a camel. In case anyone assumes, as I did, that the Pyramids are way out in the middle of a desert, I can now offer you the same reality check that I got. They're actually maybe a mile at most from the town center of Giza, and the sphinx looks kind of smallish when juxtaposed against the nearby pyramids as backdrop (see the photo above).

On the way back I stopped at a papyrus paper making store where I committed the ultimate travel error of miscalculating currency exchange rates and wound up with a lot of papyrus presents that cost four times as much as I thought they did. (My somewhat weak defense is that in the preceding two weeks, I had dealt with Jordanian Dinars, Israeli Shekels, and Ugandan Shillings, and the Egyptian Pounds are what finally got me hopelessly lost).

Still, it's not every day that a person gets to check out one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and I feel pretty lucky. And in the category of information somewhat more profound than the travel tips I listed above, the day was a fabulous reminder that our lives are what we make of them. I will never think of an airport layover the same way again, and always remember the day that an eight-hour layover was not an inconvenience, but an opportunity to visit a timeless and amazing place.

52 Ways to Say I Love You...

in Twi, a language spoken in Ghana, with a very big thank you to Kate, a great student/friend/fellow AIDS activist who was there this last spring semester.

hello- Agoo (response- Amay)
goodbye- nantiyle
I love you- misumo bo- midor wu
May I have 2 beers please?- mana daan lo- ofaane me nya nsa- mipou wu tsu

Coming Attractions

Wednesday, July 14. Go to Nectar's. This was suggested by my students Connor, with whom I just travelled through the middle east, and Alexsis, who spent last semester in Turkey. Both were appalled to discover that in all my years of living in Burlington I have never set foot in the local bar/music club/restaurant known as Nectar's where Phish got its start. Connor and Will both have bands playing there tonight, and I'm going to go see them. If there's anyone else who's always thought about going but never quite made it (or who goes all the time), this is your chance. Shoot me an email if you're interested in coming.

Saturday, July 17 or Sunday, July 18. Visit the Rokeby Museum. My friend Valerie suggested this one a long time ago, and especially if the weather is gray this weekend and I can find someone else who wants to go, I'll probably make my visit. Anyone in?

Friday, July 23 (rain date Saturday, July 24). Camel's Hump Summer Hike: Moonlight and Sunrise. I think this is one of the coolest hikes I've ever contemplated, and was suggested by friend and former student Dan. Right now Alexsis, Derek, Michelle, Leah and Siham are all on board and there are a couple of other maybe's. Any other takers?

July 25 - August 11. Last major trip of the summer. Giving a paper with my photojournalism colleague and friend Jerry at Cambridge University in England, sandwiched in between excursions to Scotland and the Isle of Skye and a foray into Denmark and possibly Sweden.

Uganda Postscript

During the summer, and especially when I'm travelling, I sometimes tune out of the news entirely. I assume that others might as well, so it's not surprising that some of my friends and family weren't sure what I was referring to when I mentioned the Kampala bombings.

The workshop I wrote about in my last post finished on Friday. Several of the participants live in Kampala, and many of the out-of-towners stayed in Uganda through the weekend, and so I was very concerned when I got a note from my friend Asia, who has been there working with Health GAP -- an AIDS treatment activism group with which I volunteer-- about the bombings. On Sunday night around 10:30 (Sunday afternoon here in the eastern US), during the World Cup final game, three bombs were set off in two different locations where both Ugandans and expats had gathered. One was a popular outdoor Ethiopian restaurant (similar in style to the one we ate at in the picture here) called the Ethiopian Village, and the other was the Kyadondo Rugby Club. The death toll now stands at 74 (Ugandans and expats, including one American), with many more people injured.

Although all of the people pictured in the group shot of my last post are okay, and accounted for, they report that Kampala is in a state of shock. African geography tends not to be a strong point for us Americans, and we sometimes conflate conflicts there. Thus, I think it is important to point out that Kampala is normally a safe city, and has not been subject to terrorist attack before. (Although it is a bit dark, I wanted to include the shot of the beautiful mosque on a hill I took while eating dinner during my last night in Kampala. The large majority of the population is Christian, but there is a significant Muslim minority that peacefully coexists in the city.) But those who follow African politics know that the nearby country of Somalia is what social scientists refer to as a "failed state", and the militant Islamic group Al-Shabaab that operates there has claimed responsibility for the attacks, and say they are a response to Uganda's provision of troops for peacekeeping missions run by the African Union in Somalia.

I'm thankful that I happened to leave Uganda ahead of the bombing, and my thoughts are with the many Ugandans and others who lost beloved friends and family members on a night that should have been marked by celebration and fun. Just as happened after 9/11, there has been a rush of fear and targeting of whole ethnic groups for the actions of a few terrorists, and there is now a freeze on Somali refugees being let into the country. I hope that Americans will take the time to learn a bit more about what happened in Uganda, and that Ugandans will not blame Somalis living in the country,or fleeing to it, for the actions of others.

Friday, July 9, 2010

32. Give a talk in Uganda

In the midst of my preparations for the trip to Jordan in the spring, I got a fabulous invitation from my friend and colleague, Amy, who is a political scientist at Calvin College in Michigan and, like me, studies HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. She was co-convening a weeklong workshop on religion, AIDS and social activism in Africa for the International Research Network on Religion and AIDS in Africa, and she invited me to Kampala, Uganda to be one of the keynote speakers. At first I was iffy because the trip to Jordan was already in the works, but then I realized (I'm a bit slow sometimes) that Jordan is actually a good bit closer to Uganda than Vermont is, so I could go from one to the other, and that's what I did.

As I'm constantly admitting to my students and former students, a major reason I'm an academic is that the thought of not being a lifelong learner fills me with anxiety, but as an academic, I'm guaranteed to be a student pretty much forever. This workshop was one of those opportunities to learn a whole lot from a group of scholars (in fields including anthropology, gender and sexuality studies, history, political science, public health, sociology and theology), religious leaders and graduate students from around the world. There were 25 of us, and between countries of origin and countries where people currently work, there was representation from: Cameroon, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Kenya, Mozambique, the Netherlands,Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, the United Kingdom, the United States and Zimbabwe.

The workshop was hosted by Makerere University's Child Health and Development Centre, which, together with the guest houses where we stayed, are on the grounds of Mulago Hospital, the largest hospital in the country. For anyone who's read or seen The Last King of Scotland (African politics senior seminarians, I'm looking at you), this is the hospital that featured so prominently in the story, where Dr. Garrigan worked when he wasn't dealing with Idi Amin's indigestion.

Halfway through the workshop we took a day off from presenting talks and papers and spent the morning at the Kamwokya Christian Caring Community, which was inspired by the liberation theology communities that we commonly associate with Latin America, and which has developed an impressive array of health, education and social services to a slum area of Kampala. Then in the afternoon we heard from a panel of faith-based leaders from Uganda, and had the opportunity to have extended discussion with them. Students in my global AIDS class, or anyone who has read the book 28, will recognize one of participants, Canon Gideon Byamugisha (Story #21). Throughout East and Southern Africa, Gideon (as he is widely known) has a well-deserved near-celebrity status, as the first openly HIV+ clergyman in sub-Saharan Africa, and a visionary spokesperson and leader on HIV/AIDS issues. The whole discussion, which included religious leaders from Ugandan Christian and Muslim faith communities, as well as a fascinating representation for traditional/indigenous religions from the National Healers and Herbalists Association, was great. But I think meeting Gideon was particularly inspiring, and will stay with me for a long time.

The photos I put in here include: the whole group of us (minus Rijk, our first keynote speaker who had to leave early); Gideon talking to my new friend Rebecca, who has worked in Mozambique for the past seven years; and me doing my talk. The last picture is from a tour of Makerere University when my new friend Jide from Nigeria and old friend Amy from Michigan and I decided we should pose together as three of the very small group of political scientists who have chosen to study AIDS in Africa.

52 Ways to Say I Love You

in Wolof, one of the languages spoken in Senegal, with many thanks to my friend Amy, who was a Peace Corps volunteer there before becoming a political scientist.

Hello: Nange def?

Good bye: Mangi dem.

Two beers, please: May maa naari berryi.

I love you. Nob naa laa.

31. Visit Jerusalem

One of the many things I had not known before this trip is that something like 40 percent of the population of Jordan is actually Palestinian, and that, for most of them, although they or their families left what are now the Occupied Territories of Israel decades ago, most have never been able to cross the border again to even visit friends and family that are still there. In our talks with many new friends and during visits with people working at or living in the refugee camps, we were frequently urged to cross the border and assess for ourselves whether the representation by the American media is really offering an accurate portrayal of the West Bank, and the people who live there. So, although we didn't have much extra time in our agenda, we decided to do a quick trip through the West Bank to the much-disputed city of Jerusalem.

Although the things we saw deserve a much larger discussion than I can do here, I can categorically say that the images in the American media of the West Bank and its largely Palestinian population, as a hostile, anti-American place could not be more wrong, at least in our experience. Every encounter we had with anyone who identified as Palestinian was marked with the same level of courtesy, openness, and hospitable kindness that the three of us came to appreciate so much here in Jordan.

Our first impression of just how different this experience would be came with the crossing, which turned out to be a complicated affair. In order to get there from Amman, you need to take an array of taxis and buses. First, you take a taxi (or bus, which we missed) to the King Hussein Bridge where your stuff is searched and you are processed by Jordanian immigration. Then you take a bus a short distance that seems longer because it is subject to multiple stops and checkpoints, to the Israeli side where you again go through searching and processing, and may be detained, as we were for three hours. Our delay was because, although Siham is an American citizen, she apparently looked and sounded "Arab" enough to warrant repeated seperation from Connor and I, and multiple rounds of questioning and waiting. Ultimately, when you get through processing on the Israeli side, you take another bus or taxi (which is for tourists only -- Palestinians seeking to travel back into the West Bank are placed in a different bus) to your final destination, which in our case was Jerusalem.
Jerusalem has roughly three parts: the Old City (which is the major tourist destination, and which is divided again into four sections (Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian); the predominantly Arab (Muslim) East Jerusalem and the mainly Israeli (Jewish) New City. We stayed just outside the Old City (almost across from one of the major sites, the Gate of Damascus) in East Jerusalem at the Faisal Hostel where things are written in Arabic; ate dinner in the New City where everything is written in Hebrew; and spent most of our time as tourists within the walls of the Old City.

For me, anyway, it's hard to describe Jerusalem. There is a tension there that feels almost palpable, at the same time that it's an ultra-religious place, and the religion comes in many forms. Because there are so many religious pilgrims of all stripes, it also obviously caters to a brand of religious tourism that is a bit jarring, with souvenirs of objects important to Judaism, Christianity and Islam all elbowing each other for pride of place in the scores of tourist shops in the underground maze of shopping that threads itself through the Old City.

Here are a few photos. The picture with all the people in it is of the Western, or Wailing Wall, which got its second name during the Ottoman Empire when Jewish people would congregate there to mourn the destruction of the Temple that the wall had once supported. The picture of Siham and Connor was taken at a pub in the New City (an Israeli area) where you can see from the passers-by, people are much more Western in their dress and habits than in some other parts of Jerusalem. The tower Siham is inspecting is composed entirely of spices, and marks the front of each spice shop (and there are many) in the bowels of the Old City. And finally, there's a picture of Siham and I doing a typical tourist pose near the Damascus Gate as we were saying our farewells to Jerusalem. Our stay was not very long, and our exploration of the city and surrounding area could and probably should have been deeper. But just based on our brief experiences, I would encourage other travellers, and especially Americans, to visit Israel and the Occupied Territories themselves to experience both the hospitality of people of all ethnicities and religions in the region, as well as the complexities, not well-captured (in my opinion) by Western media, of the religion and politics there.

52 Ways to Say I love you...

in Hebrew, but I can't find all the info I collected, so this is my official plea to see if anyone can provide it for me. Here are the Hebrew characters, and if anyone can give me an English transliteration, I'll gratefully edit this one.

Hello שלום
Goodby טוב ביי
May I have two beers, please? במאי יש לי שתי בירות, בבקשה?
I love you.אני אוהבת אותך

Thursday, July 8, 2010

30. Visit Jordan, Part III Water: The Silly and the Serious

Although we've had an amazingly good time here in Jordan, we came with a serious purpose, and that was to do some investigation of Jordan as a country (for me, since I'm using Jordan as a case study for a new course I'm teaching in the fall), and as a place that is host to very large refugee populations at the same time that it suffers from a severe lack of water.

We learned a great deal from interviews and meetings we had with professionals and volunteers working on this issue, but for us, I think the most memorable lessons came from our visit to Baqa'a refugee camp outside of Amman. We owe a debt of gratitude first to Katerina, a student at Saint Mike's who volunteered here during high school and connected us with some of the people she worked with then. One of them, Basimah, arranged for us to visit Baqa'a, and her son, Mazen, who graciously brought us there and facilated our tour of the camp and discussions with some of its residents and administrators.

Connor and I have some serious work to do when I get home next week in terms of writing up what we learned, so I'll just make a very few observations here. Baqa'a is a large refugee camp that started as a tent settlement in 1968. The tents have given way to permanent housing, which have started moving up, because there is no room to move out, and the "camp" is now home to about 140,000 people. There is so much more to say, but for now, I'll let a few pictures tell the story, and here are three that I think say a lot. One is of Mazen, sitting between the director of the camp and another camp administrator, taken after we had been invited in for tea. The Palestinians in the camp, like just about every other Jordanian we encountered on our trip, were wonderfully hospitable, and when we passed, insisted that we come in for tea. In another photo you see the outside of one of the homes at one of the margins of the camp, where the poorest people live, with no water or electricity. The bread drying on the cloth was at the same home, and constituted the attempt at a livelihood by that family. They gather leftover scraps of bread from throughout the settlement and dry them to sell as feed to passing shephards, who buy them because it's cheaper than procuring hay for their flocks.

On a silly note, we did a bit of exploration of water in another way -- by spending a night on the Dead Sea on our way to back to Amman from our visit to Jerusalem. The only hotels there range from pretty posh to extremely so, so we decided to splurge on the cheapest one. The deal with the Dead Sea is that it is SO salty that you literally can't sink in it (and no fish can live in it). You float, and the water feels oily because it's so saturated with minerals. Supposedly, the mud there, like the water, is full of healthful minerals, so you're supposed to slather yourself in it, which we happily did as well. Here are a couple photos from our trip to the super-salty water. In one we're drying off while checking out the sunset, and in the other Siham is taking Connor up on his dare to taste the salt (yes, that's what the white stuff is) coating the piece of wood he pulled out of the water (I thoughtfully chose not to share a photo of the face she made afterwards).

52 Ways to Say I Love You Arabic, with a huge note of thanks to Khaled for not only supplying both the Arabic writing and the English transliteration, but also for quickly becoming the best friend anyone could wish for to Siham, Connor and I during our time in Amman.

Hello - Marhaba - مرحبا
Goodbye - Wada'an - وداعا
I love you - Uhibbak (masculine) / Uhibbek (feminine) - أحبك
May I have two beers, please? - Mumkin ka'sayn beerah, min fadhlik (more colloquial) - ممكن كأسين بيرة من فضلك؟
Or - Mumkin qadahayn min il ji'a, min fadhlik (very classical) - ممكن قدحين من الجعة من فضلك؟

Coming Attractions

I'm writing this from the Farar Hostel in downtown Amman, Jordan. The plan is to fly home tomorrow night, and so I'll put together a list of activities coming up in a later post.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

30. Visit Jordan Happy Hour, Part II

Strong as the desert, soft as sand, move like the wind, free forever.
-- Bedouin self-description

I'm way behind on blogging, largely because it seems like when I have Internet I don't have electricity, and when my computer is fully charged I can't seem to get on-line. But today I think I may have both in the lobby of the Farah Hostel where Connor, Siham and I spending our last two nights together in Amman. So it's time to do some catching up, beginning with a post of a few more details on what the three of us agree was one of the best experiences of our lives -- our trip to Petra.

I could go on for hours about the whole experience, and that's a warning to friends back in the States, because the three of us probably will. But if I were to try to be a bit more succinct, I'd say the amazingness of the experience boiled down to three things: first, the visit to the actual astonishing site that is Petra; second, the following day, our opportunity to do some things that most tourists don't get to, including having tea with the families of our new friends and visiting Little Petra, and finally, and probably most impactful, going on a sunset hike through the cliffs out of Petra and spending the night in a desert cave with our new friends, Khalide and Ibrahim.

Even if we hadn't gotten to meet Khalide and Ibrahim and had our desert adventure, I'd say Petra is easily one of the most astonishing places I've ever been. It's an ancient city, carved into the sandstone cliffs, and with caves, and huge buildings like the Treasury and the Monstery (pictured above) and a road that winds through steep cliffs on both sides for over a kilometer. It's beautiful and breathtaking, and everywhere you look is another cave or structure just waiting to be explored. It is truly deserving of its reputation as a world wonder.

At the end of the path through Petra, up an 800-step path that can wear you out climbing up (unless you get lazy and ride a donkey, which we had the pride to resist) is the Monastery. Across from the Monastery is a cafe and gift shop owned collectively by 5 Bedouin families, and it was there that we met Khalide and Ibrahim, whose families are part of the collective. We drank tea and chatted, and ultimately took them up on their invitation to go up further in the mountains to make dinner and spend the night under the stars. The whole story is too long for a post, but when they closed the shop for the night, Khalide led us on a long hike out of Petra where we stopped to watch the sunset and then went to a place where we could see beyond the Jordanian borders. Ibrahim went into town and bought some food, and then we met him in their truck and drove out to one of the small caves where they like to camp. They built a fire and we cooked a fabulous dinner, and danced and talked into the wee hours of the morning.

The next day after we got up and broke down the camp (in about 5 minutes flat -- those guys know what they're doing), we visited the cave home of Ibrahim's father and third wife (the first two live in town, but the third is in charge of the sheep herd) and then the home of Khalide's mom. Of course, we had tea and all kinds of goodies in both places, and soaked in a culture incredibly different than our own. Then Ibrahim and Khalide took us to Little Petra, another ancient town carved into sandstone, very similar to Petra only smaller, and with no admission fee and almost no tourists. There, we had free rein to climb all over the place, and we did.

Words really can't do justice to the experience, and it's killing me that I can only seem to get three pictures to load onto the blog. But here is the tiniest glimpse of our fabulous time -- one is of the Monastery, another of the sunset we watched together, and the one of Siham and Khalide, I must confess, is my favorite picture I've ever taken.

I think in many ways the Bedouin way of being is about as far away from the American experience as a culture can get. It's not concerned with money, or time, or obligation. It's about being in the moment and freedom, and for 24 hours we got to be a part of it, thanks to Khalide and Ibrahim.