Thursday, September 15, 2011

50 Jordan Challenges: The List

So, taking a leaf from my 2010 52 New Things adventure, I've decided to embark on a new one. This one will attempt to pack 50 challenges (and document them) into my ten month Fulbright experience here in Amman, Jordan. That sounds more ambitious than it actually is: some of the things I'm labelling as challenges are everyday experiences I'm going to have to master whether I call them challenges or not, and others are trips I've been hoping to take for years. But as I learned in 2010, thinking of challenges and actually making a commitment to do them, begets more opportunities, more new ideas, and more new friends (and old) who might just be interested in doing some of them too.

So, here's the list so far. It's obviously still in formation, and, as in 2010, there will be things to be added and things that get knocked off. So feel free to make suggestions, sign up for ones that look of mutual interest, or make your own list for comparison!

Things I Need to Do to Acclimate to Life in Jordan

* Learn to use my washing machine. This was the first thing I thought of with the list, and I'm happy to say I've done it (and did a post to prove it).

* Learn to use my oven. My oven and stove are connected to a propane tank, and both the oven and individual burners need to be lit any time you use it. I can't even figure out where you light the oven or what the mysterious dials mean. But as everyone who knows me knows, I can't go too long without baking something, so this is a must.

*Get to know my neighborhood.  A funny thing about Amman is that here, addresses are meaningless.  Give an address to a cab driver and he'll just stare at you. You have to know a nearby well-known landmark that you can direct him to, then tell him how to get to the place from there.  I am, to put it mildly, directionally challenged. So, the recent assignment given by our Fulbright Commission director Alain, to draw maps for him of our place within our neighborhood (to have in case of emergencies) means that I actually need to get out and get to know my local landmarks.

* Learn some Arabic! Everyone has warned me that Arabic is a very tough language, so I am going to set up some baby-step goals. The first: being able to ask Nasser, the guy I've been buying my fruits and vegetables from, for what I want in Arabic.

* Learn some Arabic, part II. I think my second goal will be to learn to write a full sentence that includes my name.

* Learn Arabic, part III. The third, and this one feels pretty tough right now -- but I do have ten months -- will be to try to read a children's story in Arabic. The idea was suggested, like a bunch of things on this list, by my new friend Christina, who is a font of ideas, wisdom and excellent tidbits about the Arabic language for a total newbie like me.

Uniquely Jordanian Skills and Experiences

* Learn to cook a Jordanian main or side dish. There's tons of things I've eaten that I have no idea how to make. I hope to learn from a pro how to make one or more of them.

* Learn to make a Jordanian dessert. Everyone who knows me knows I'm all about the sweets. I want to make one of the pretty and fancy desserts or pastries that get produced here.

* Ride an Arabian horse. Suggested by my sister Katrinka, and complicated by the fact that I've only ever ridden a horse a few times in my life, period. But maybe that makes it that much more of a challenge

* Do a fun run here in Jordan. One of the toughest things about being here so far is that I can't run outside. I'm a painfully slow runner, and running on a treadmill is not only boring, but a constant reminder of that. So, I think a good way to get motivated will be to sign up for a 5 or 10 K during my time here (and no, I'd rather not try the Dead Sea Marathon unless there's something shorter attached to it.)

* Go on a bike trip with Cycle Jordan. This was suggested by Megan, an outgoing student Fulbrighter. The group takes trips to all kinds of cool spots around the country. I think it would be a great thing to do from a biking and an exploring Jordan standpoint.

* Watch a movie in Arabic. Suggested by my new friend Christina. I think I'll need to try to get some Arabic-speaking friends to go with me so I can find out later if I got the gist of the plot at all.

* Visit Petra Three Ways. When I did my 52 New Things, one of them was to do what is probably Vermont's most famous hike, Camel's Hump, in all four seasons. Similarly, I'd like to go to Petra in three different ways. They are: to see Petra at night (the long Siq is supposedly lit by thousands of candles); to visit Petra in the winter; and to visit Petra with someone really well-versed in its archeology. (I just had to post the picture below because it's from the first time I went to Petra, because it features my close friend Siham, who I hope will be taking part in one of these Petra adventures again, and because it's my favorite picture I've ever taken).
My first trip to Petra with my friends Siham and Connor, was one of the best experiences of my life.  We were befriended by a couple of Bedouins, Khalid and Ibrahim, who took us on a hike out of Petra over the cliffs into the desert and spent the night in one of the caves they took us to.  Here is my friend Siham with Khalid.

* Go on an archaeological dig. My new friend Elizabeth knows lots of people working in the antiquities realm. Here's hoping she can swing a tag-along for a day or two at a site somewhere. How cool would that be?

* Go rock climbing in Wadi Rum.  Wadi Rum is the legendary desert of Lawrence of Arabia.  It's full of cliffs and canyons and is said to have some of the best rock climbing in the world.  I am just a novice at rock climbing, so I won't be able to take advantage of all it has to offer, but I sure would love to see and try it anyway.

* Go snorkeling in Aqaba.  Aqaba sits on the coast of the Red Sea and has spectacular coral reefs, which I definitely want to check out.

* Explore the tiles of Madaba, the City of Mosaics. There is a really famous one in a Greek Orthodox church that is a 6th century Byzantine map of Jerusalem and other holy spots, plus a museum and lots of other smaller mosaics in other churches in Madaba.

*See the ruins of Jerash.  Jerash is considered one of the best preserved Roman provincial towns in the world, and you can still go to the theatre, hippodrome, nymphaeum and other sites.  If I'm lucky, I'll be able to catch one of the re-enactments they do of chariot races and gladiator battles.

*Visit Umm Qays. This is another ancient city full of ruins that overlooks the Jordan Valley and the Sea of Galilee.  It's also the place where Jesus worked the miracle where he cast demons out of a man and into a herd of pigs that then ran into the Sea of Galilee and drowned.

* Visit the Desert Castles.  These include Qasr al-Hallabat, Qasr al-Azraq, and Qusayer Amra in he Eastern Desert and Qasr al-Mushatta to the South of Amman.

* Go hiking in one of Jordan's nature reserves.  Mujib Nature Reserve is in a very low altitude gorge that opens into the Dead Sea it offers both dry trail hikes and river hikes. I might try to do that or try a visit to Dana Biosphere Reserve or Ajlun Nature Reserve, both of which have hikes as well.

* Visit the Dead Sea and cover myself in  mud.  I've been to the Dead Sea once before, but it was a bit of an impromptu visit and Connor, Siham and I managed to make do without swim suits.  This time I'd like to actually plan the trip, and find out if my skin really will be beautifully revived after being slathered in mineral-rich mud.

* Experience a Hamman.  This is a Turkish bath, and I understand that the experience includes a steam bath followed by a very vigorous scrub and massage.  I've heard different (including a bit of a horror story from my new friend, Fulbright student Cooper) about them, but definitely want to try it out for myself.

*Visit a Biblical site. Jordan is loaded with them, from Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where John the Baptist baptized Jesus, to Mount Nebo, the final point of Moses' flight from Egypt to Mukawir where King Herod had John the Baptist beheaded.  This is another one off my sister Katrinka's suggestion list. Not sure which I'll visit yet, but I hope to see at least one of them while I'm here.

Because I'm in the Neighborhood: Beyond the Border

*Go to Beirut.  I've wanted to do this for a long time.  It's supposed to be a great city and I really want to see it.

*Visit the wine caves in Zahle in Lebanon.  This one was recently  suggested by my new friend Catherine and she made it sound so fun that all of us at the table were ready to pack our bags immediately.

*Return to Bethlehem.  Kate, Alexsis and I experienced some of the most amazing hospitality of our lives when we visited in May.  I hope to return and see the wonderful friends that we made.

*Visit Tel Aviv. Kate and Alexsis were able to visit Tel Aviv during our trip, but I had to return to Amman early.  They came back with reports of a beautiful and lively seaside city that I'd like to see.

*Take a ferry to Egypt. This is yet another great idea from Christina.  There's a ferry that runs from Aqaba across the Red Sea to Nuweiba, Egypt.  What a fun way to do the crossing.

*Visit Turkey.  My former student and friend Alexsis studies abroad for a semester in Instanbul and her dispatches back home filled me with the desire to see it myself. I'm determined to do that during or at the end of this Fulbright period.

So, there it is.  Anyone who's been counting will see that there's still a good bit of room for some more challenges to hit 50, and I think that's a good thing, because obviously, I don't know what I don't know yet. But I'm putting it out there in the hopes that it will inspire me, as well as other Fulbrighters who are here and people who are contemplating visiting, to dig in and explore.  If anyone sees anything on the list that they'd like to do together please contact me; and if there are other suggestions I'd love to hear them.  Here's to an amazing experience in Jordan!


  1. I think I'm going to have to come for more than a couple weeks if I'm going to do all the stuff I picked out from this list with you. I was reading going "oh I'll do that too, and that!"

  2. Sign me up for everything! Trish, the Hamman's are the BEST. They are probably the only one thing I really miss from my moroccan upbringing. The list is wonderful!