Monday, March 19, 2012

Jordan Challenge 28: Jordan in a Week

So, as I wrote in the previous post, after much cajoling and many empty promises I was able to convince my colleague,friend and honorary cousin Paul that what he really wanted to do was spend his spring break in Jordan.  And once he was convinced, the challenge was on me.  Chris came to visit in November, but he came for almost a month -- here the challenge was to get as much in as possible without it feeling like a relay race.  I guess Paul has the ultimate say on how it went, but my admittedly-biased take was that we did pretty well.  Here Are my Top 5 Highlights of Hosting Paul in Jordan:

1.  Two Days at Petra
So fun, it got it's own post here.

2..  Visiting the Dead Sea
Back when Paul was an undergraduate, he sailed around the world with Semester at Sea and while the group was visiting Israel, got  a chance to take a dip in the Dead Sea.  He wanted to try it from the Jordanian side, and so we did.  We went to the Dead Sea Spa Hotel, which turned out to be a surprisingly good deal. They charge 20 JD on a weekday to use their pool, facilities and beach front, but then give you 20 JD in vouchers to spend, so lunch and sodas all day turn out to be essentially free, as is the mud that everyone applies liberally to their bodies because, well, everyone else is applying it so it must be good for you, right? We also went up to the Dead Sea Panorama for a great view of the whole area and a chance to learn a little more about the history and ecology of the place.

The Dead Sea Panorama is a museum that also boasts an area with sweeping views of the Dead Sea below.  Quite spectacular.

Paul, still covered with the much sought-after Dead Sea mud, demonstrates that everything and everyone floats when they're in the Dead Sea.

3.  Afternoon in Madaba
It's not the site of Roman ruins or Old Testament stories like so many places in Jordan, but I really like Madaba.  What the city has is an array of amazing mosaics from the Christian Byzantine era, most of which were unearthed when a group of new Christian families moved from Karak to Madaba in the early 1900s and started digging foundations for their homes and public buildings. The most important of these is the "Madaba Map" of the region sitting in the floor of Church of Saint George, but there are many others at the archaeological park and even in the private homes of some of the city's prominent families.  The town has a great and easily walkable historic district and made an excellent afternoon day trip.

Paul and I standing in front of the oldest mosaic discovered so far.

4.  Exploring Amman
The first night Paul was here we headed to First Circle in the area of town called Jebel Amman and took a tour down Rainbow Street before grabbing dinner at Books @Cafe.  The next day we went up to the Citadel, and as I posted separately, on the last day, we were able to take a tour of the beautiful King Abdullah Mosque.

But I think one of the best things about having people come visit is that they also make you notice things the everyday things you take for granted in your own neighborhood.  Paul's curiosity led us to make visits to the two closest mosques to my home, both only a couple blocks away in opposite directions.  He also had a blast exploring the balad, the slightly chaotic and grimy, but very lively downtown area where we went on his last day to pick up a few more gifts and souvenirs.

This is one of two mosques within a couple blocks of my place.  All its domes are gilded and its truly a splendid sight.

A street scene from the balad -- decidedly more traditional and working class than the upscale neighborhoods of West Amman where we expats tend to cluster.

Gotta love the cafe -rich environment of Rainbow Street.  By his third day in Amman, Paul was on his way to becoming a Rainbow Street regular, as he hung out there while I was at work.

5.  Food and Friends
As I've noted before, one of the greatest things about this Fulbright year is that I'm sharing it with a remarkable group of talented, engaged and all-around terrific fellow Fulbrighters and their friends. Although we were out of town for much of Paul's visit, and many of them were out of town at a conference in Morocco, I am really happy that Paul got to meet at least a few of them. And of course, what better way to meet new friends, than over a meal of new foods.  While he never got to try the avocado drink that Grace recommended, he did sample (among other foods): mensaf (the quintessential Jordanian dish); musakhan (a fabulous Palestinian concoction something like a flat bread pizza with caramelized onions and chicken); fattoush (a salad with bits of dried bread, tomatoes, cucumber and red sumac powder); shawarma (a popular street food, kind of like a gyro) and kanafeh,a Jordanian dessert.

One of the worst sins of omission I can think of is to come to Amman and fail to get shawarma from the Reem stand at Second Circle.  It is so good that everyone goes there even, rumor has it, the Royal Family. Obviously, we got our Reem fix while Paul was in town.

My Fulbright friends Grace, Cooper, Mike and Christina helped me introduce Paul to mensaf at the Al Quds restaurant in the balad.  The reflection in the mirror is Marzieh, yet another Fulbright friend who obligingly took the picture.

A serving of mensaf, up close and personal.

Afterwards we went to a sweet shop next door.  Here are Cooper and Paul sampling the kenafeh.
Although we didn't get to Jerash, Ajloun or Um Qais to the north, or Aqaba or Wadi Rum to the south for a week, I'd say we did pretty well.  Jordan's not a big country, but its warm hospitality, spectacular landscapes and historic and religious significance make a big impact. And there's nothing like showing off something you've grown used to someone who's new to it to make you realize what you've been taking for granted.  Thanks for the reminder, Paul, that I'm mighty lucky to have landed here in Jordan for the year!

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