The situation that the entire world is in has certainly made my experience living overseas for the first time, quite different than what I’d envisioned. Being a plane ride away from my daughters is no longer true because the airport in Jordan has been closed since March. Being able to explore this country was no longer a reality, at least for 3 months, because inter-governorate travel was stopped. But what I didn’t expect from the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lock down that Jordan instituted so swiftly, is that I would get to see and contribute first hand to how USAID keeps working (AMAZING) and how a government can be agile in the face of the unknown. I was keenly interested in how it uses data, paired scientists and politicians to make and communicate decisions and did it’s best to try to protect the people living here. If you are interested to learn more about Jordan’s response, I’ve included some links to news stories from March and April.
At the start of May, we could go to the supermarkets within walking distance of our house, wearing masks and with limited numbers allowed in at once. Eventually that gave way to driving on odd/even license plate days within our ‘states’ between 8am – 6pm, gradually businesses started to slowly open back up, restaurants were delivery only for a bit and could then add outdoor dining after being inspected by the health department, curfew hours were changed to 6am – 12 midnight, schools and universities are still closed.
As of July 4, 2020 – there is still no commercial travel in and out of the country as the airport is still not open. The local transmission of the virus is low, daily numbers hover between 0-5 and the cases are typically traced back to a known infected person. In Jordan, a country the size of the US state of Indiana with the population of the state of Michigan (coronavirus cases 71,678 and deaths 6,212) the count of cases since the onset of the pandemic is 1, 147 with 10 deaths. This Washington Post podcast laid it out well, as host Linah Mohammad – who has family and friends in Jordan – said “you’re pitting individual liberty against public health. When you’re pitting individual good versus communal good. In a country like Jordan, it appears to be that the communal good was winning out.” We followed the rules; we wore our masks, washed our hands and stayed home. Please, wherever you are – do the same, I want my daughters to be healthy and able to visit.
What we’ve been up to; in January back in Jordan at our favorite breakfast restaurant we were surprised that the staff noticed our absence! Welcomed back with smiles and questions about our trip, we were treated to a special manakeesh and tea before our breakfast came out.
Chinese New Year, the year of the Rat, was celebrated at my coworker Mia’s house. I had so much fun at my first ‘outside of work’ event with my team. Mia prepared an amazing spread, including vegetarian dumplings just for me, I feel so lucky to be a part of the Education and Youth office!
The same night as my birthday this year, the Black History Committee at the Embassy hosted a Lip Sync Battle event; dinner, drinks, friends, music, lip synching and then karaoke. We went with just about every friend we have and had an absolute blast. The icing on the cake for me, was a stage full of friends singing “Happy Birthday”, so lucky to have met such an amazing group of smart, dedicated and FUN people!
February was busy, I took a trip mid month with my friend Margaret to visit Haifa and Akka/Acre and I had work trip to Bangkok at the end of the month. I will do separate posts about those trips. One of my work events was a Youth Roundtable that involved a walk down Rainbow Street, it was a gorgeous day. We started at this building…
…and ended at the building below where we held the discussion. I also found a painting by a Jordanian artist here that I liked and since I got a cash award at work, I bought it a few months later!
March. Everyday, my Luma and I meet for our Language Exchange – one day we practice Arabic and one day we practice English, we almost always sit outside during our 30 minute chats so we can get some sunshine. On this day, March 12th, a coworker snapped a photo of us – I like to say we are solving all of the worlds problems, or doing our best to.
My April and May were spent inside my apartment, learning how to cook new dishes, working from home, watching new shows and movies with Mike, listening to music, reading, painting and going for walks when we weren’t under curfew. Below are some photos from my Curfew Cars collection LOL.
June – We celebrated Iris’ one year birthday/anniversary with us. You can read her origin story here, I call her “Finn’s kitten” because he just loves to play with her, and she loves to pounce on him. I’m so thankful for those two, my ‘coworkers’ during work from home who are fun to watch. Once we were allowed to travel outside of Amman we took the Dead Sea Highway (the times before we took the Desert Highway) south to Aqaba for a change of scenery. Since I’ve posted about Aqaba with a photo of the Gulf of Aqaba to the Red Sea before in my Welcome to Jordan post I thought I’d show you the other view!
Finally, a new place in Jordan to share with you all! We visited Madaba, a little south of Amman early one Friday morning. It’s been on my list of places to see because it is known for amazing mosaic art and ancient artifacts.
We had the town to ourselves, shop owners were opening up as we walked from the Map Church up to the Shrine of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist which is underground in the Acropolis Museum of the Catholic Church.
On our way back to the car we stopped at the final place on my list, Madaba Archaeological Park.
That wraps up my first year and a half in Jordan, the time is going by so fast and now I am officially in my countdown to move back to Virginia in July 2021. I’ve mentioned my minimalism in previous posts and one of the promises I made to myself was to only buy clothing that I needed, to do my best to ensure it was made humanely and if I needed a new t-shirt, that it shared a message that I cared about. A friend at work designed this t-shirt, made by a local company and shared it with our Embassy community. Thank you for reading, bye for now.
Our Christmas Day flight from Germany to DC was smooth sailing, we quickly got our luggage and made it through customs and caught a cab to my mother-in-law’s house where both girls had parked their cars before leaving. I drove Jillian’s car and Mike drove Amelia’s car back to Fredericksburg where Mike and I were staying, at our friend’s AirBnB. Jillian helped us unload our luggage and then she was back on the road to her place in Richmond, but not before opening her gift that was under the tree that my friend and hostess with the absolute mostest, Bobbi put up for us.
It didn’t take us long to get back into the swing of things. We walked the Rappahannock River Heritage Trail/Canal Path in the mornings, went to breakfast at our favorite places, drove by our house, got some shopping done for things that we needed to bring back to Amman, chilled out and relaxed a little because we had a few low key visits planned. First was a lovely get-together at our friend Caroline‘s house, lots of fun, yummy food and drinks; I couldn’t wait for the blue bowl to be filled with bread before I got this picture of her festive and beautiful blue dining room.
One of the most important trips was back to our neighborhood so we could look at our house again LOL and visit with our neighbors and hope that we’d get to see our darling kitty, Gracie. You might remember her from previous blog posts where I bought a litter box in anticipation of her coming with us, (she didn’t (second picture)) and another (she’s way down at the end) where I mention that my next door neighbors were caring for her. Her backstory: she moved to our neighborhood in 2011 and I discovered this as I was outside doing yard work and taking pictures of these cool mushrooms that were growing around an old stump.
As you can tell from the vantage point of the photo, I had to crouch down to get a good shot and this little gray kitty came out of nowhere and ran right up to me.
I hadn’t seen her before and she was the friendliest outdoor cat I’d ever encountered. Every time I knelt down, she would rub up against me, practically knocking me down. I kept waiting for one of the girls to come out so they could see her before she ran away. When no one came out, I just kept trying to take as many pictures of her that I could – which was difficult because as you can see from the pictures below, she kept rubbing against me!
So this day – June 18, 2011 is the first day that we met our next door neighbor’s ‘shop cat’ Gracie! He brought him with her to their new house where she lived outside and visited our house often – eventually she started having occasional sleepovers! We got Finn in December of 2012 and though Gracie wasn’t crazy about him, she tolerated him because she loved visiting with us. We made sure to have a bag of cat food around in case she visited for a while, but otherwise – her care was the responsibility of our neighbor. That is until 2013 when he moved and she became ours, I took her to the vet and made it official! She remained the most affectionate cat, she would play with Finn sometimes, she was my buddy when Amelia went off to college, when Mike worked overseas and when Jillian went to college. She liked to have coffee with me on the front porch while I watered the plants, have a beer on the back deck while I read a book, she’d roam the neighborhood then sleep for hours in one of her many spots inside the house so when it turned out that I was going to move overseas, too, I just assumed she was going with me.
Turns out that my cat people friends didn’t assume she was going with me and when I started to worry that maybe I was making the wrong decision, my friend Judy told me that they wanted to keep her so she wouldn’t have to experience such a stark environment change. Good thing I have those smart cat people in my life because it would have been a disaster for her here, it broke my heart because I was going to miss her but we decided to leave her with Judy who is our left side next door neighbor. So now Gracie has gone from one house, to mine, now to Judy’s.
Except there’s one more chapter to the story, while Judy was on vacation she asked one of our other animal loving neighbors to feed the cats (she has a cat, too), enter George – the grandpa of our cul-de-sac, who (before his dog passed away last year) could be seen taking one to two LONG walks everyday with his senior Golden Retriever. Well, much like how she adopted me and my family – she decided that she was going to move in with George, another person who had never had a cat and now those two are in love. George and Gracie, isn’t that great? I happen to be best neighbor buddies with George’s daughter who ALSO lives on the court, so when we visited with her on New Years Eve – we went over to Gracie’s and it took her a minute to realize what was going on but once she knew it was me and Mike, she purred and let us love on her. I know she is bringing George such joy, he belongs to her now, she goes where she is needed and with George she will stay. ❤️
I needed a beer after all of that and headed to Red Dragon and met up with friends, then I took my beer buzz to Dragonfly Yoga for an amazing evening Restorative Yoga class. A quiet New Years Eve was just what we needed as the next few days were going to be delightfully busy!
HAPPY NEW YEAR! We had 5 full days left to visit before we were scheduled to fly back to Amman. I am not one to shy away from driving all over so we hopped into Amelia’s little Nissan and got on with it! January 1 2020 – Mike, Amelia and I drove down to Richmond to visit with Jillian and meet her boyfriend and enjoy some delicious pizza at Pupatella https://pupatellarva.com . We got to see some of our Richmond family as well. No better way to start the new year than with my three.
We went to Carytown so I could get a few things from Ashby the resale clothing store where Jillian works. Since I started practicing minimalism in 2016 I have purchased very few newly created items of clothing and since moving to Amman in 2018, just about everything has been recycled. For this trip I had a list and some photo ideas of what I was looking for and told my personal shopper, Jillian what I needed. She searched and brought pieces to me to try while Mike and Amelia sat in the lounge on a comfy couch and people watched. If you go to Richmond you really have to visit Ashby and Clementine (more upscale consignment (sister) shop) you can get up to date items to freshen up your existing wardrobe!
January 2 2020 – I woke up extra early so I could carpool to DC with two of the best KM/Intranet systems analysts ever, where we joined the other best analyst ever, so we could all be together with the best engineers as a whole team for just one day! Being back at the GEICO HQ felt like no time had passed, seeing familiar faces, chatting with old colleagues and of course lunch at Clyde’s, we had so much fun!
Just like a year prior for my going away/retirement party, Estee came down from Buffalo for the day and since her flight wasn’t scheduled til later in the evening we went to Lia’s for dinner and more laughing before we headed off to National Airport to drop her off for the flight back.
January 3 2020 – let’s go somewhere! My classic mom tribe (plus the classic dads) took a scenic drive out west to Sperryville, Virginia to have some pizza and beer at Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen and browse the artwork at Haley Fine Art, a gallery that I found a few weeks before moving to Jordan when the girls and I took a Sunday drive. There’s also a brewery in Sperryville Hopkins Ordinary Bed Breakfast Aleworks, but they were closed so we went to Copper Fox Distillery and had some whiskey hot toddies before heading back to the ‘Burg.
January 4 2020 – let’s go see my sisters! The girls and I drove north to New Castle, Delaware for a meet up. My two sisters and I have been doing these road trips for the last few years as a way to make time for us to see each other for a day to talk, laugh and to check a place out. We strive to find a good halfway point between Fredericksburg and mid Long Island, scope out a place to eat ahead of time so we know where to meet and then we free from the rest of the day in the hopes we find cool places and meet nice people. We thought we would meet and have lunch at Wheely’s… well that didn’t happen! The only sign on the side of this big red building was:
After our brunch we headed towards the river which had so much fog that we could not see across, but we could hear boats passing and then experienced the wake hitting the shore moments later, it was a pretty cool sensory experience.
We checked out some of the shops on the way back to our cars, gave big hugs and away we went with another roadtrip under our belts.
Our last full day in the States was spent kicking around our town, meeting my dad and Shirley for brunch, picking up any last minute items we wanted to bring back to Amman with us, cleaning up the apartment and doing laundry. We had a nice dinner out, got a good night’s sleep and the next morning we packed and Amelia drove us to the airport. I feel like I took full advantage of the rest and relaxation of both legs of our trip, (my mother will appreciate this) but I can’t help but hear Elmer Fudd say “west and wewaxation at wast” from Wabbit Twouble whenever someone says R&R.
Our first summer in Jordan; before arriving here I thought that it was going to be stifling hot and that I was going to be expected to wear long pants and long sleeves, but neither have been the case and we have had a pretty typical summer! No, I don’t run errands in shorts and a tank top but only because that is not the culture here for anyone – not just women. The heat isn’t stifling but it is hot with temperatures that vary between the 80s and 100s, the wind is almost always blowing and there isn’t any humidity like in Virginia. One of the pros of our housing assignment being directly behind the embassy is that the pool is in our backyard. Most weekend mornings Mike and I are the first there; where we can get a breakfast sandwich, sit under the umbrella and read(me)/listen to the Howard Stern Show on the Sirius/XM app(Mike) and take a dip(Mike). One of the cons of our housing assignment is that we don’t have an outdoor space other than a small balcony that fits a Weber charcoal grill and a little ledge where I’ve put some planters of geraniums. We are lucky to have friends with a gorgeous rooftop patio where we’ve been invited for dinners and another friend with an outdoor patio on the ground floor that spans the depth of the building where she experimented with her Big Green Egg and made a brisket that was a big hit with the meat eaters. Since we don’t have a spot for Finn to run around we’ve met up with Big Gene, the retired bomb sniffing dog that our friend adopted here in Jordan. He’s a big ol yellow Labrador that you can see getting his run on in the pup parade photo in this post.
We had a week off of work at the beginning of June for Eid al Fitr (Festival of Breaking the Fast) which marked the end of the month of Ramadan. Lots of celebration – giving gifts of sweets and Eid baskets to friends and colleagues, it has been wonderful to experience these customs and to be a part of the goodwill.
What I’ve been doing: I had a great opportunity to work for 3 weeks with smart, dedicated people who care about building relationships and helping Jordan’s economy and environment. When I had time I continued to help the HR group to redefine their SharePoint site to make the content better suited for their customers to ‘self serve’. I’ve been pretty impressed with the knowledge management at the State Department – when I need to know something (which has been pretty much constantly LOL) I have been able to find my answer in one of many knowledge bases. Hearing snippets of ‘after action reports’, ‘put that document in both places (me:NO, DON’T!)’ and ‘make this email an official record’ find me missing my days in KM at GEICO, but thankfully knowledge management is everywhere and there are lots of opportunities for me to offer my wisdom in the hopes that it makes work-life easier for others.
I rescued a kitty! It wasn’t in the plans because 1. we have Finn 2. we have Gracie (at home) and 3. we’ve never raised a kitten. But, much like Gracie choosing us – this little girl invited herself to a goodbye party at the embassy outdoor eatery next to the pool one evening. Street cats are in abundance here and even with trap-neuter-release programs – kitten season is real. This little girl was very vocal (begging) and very friendly – she hopped onto my lap and made herself at home.
We went home that night and I kept talking about that little kitty we met, I texted the girls to tell them all about her and they both IMPLORED me to go back and catch her. At that point it was dark, I had nothing to feed her and no plan for her immediate care if I even could find her. I told them if she was there the next day I would do what I could. In the meantime I texted my new friend/veterinarian to ask him if I did catch her, could he come see her the next day – to which he replied “of course, my dear”. At lunchtime (I was home having lunch with Finn) Mike texted me to say the little kitty was back begging at the outdoor eatery so I raced over there to find her lounging under a table and drinking water from a bottle cap and I told her “if you are here when I am done at the gym tonight, you are coming home with me”. My friend gave me a kitty carrier, our neighbor loaned us a litter box, litter and food so I went down there after my workout and she wasn’t there because the eatery was closed. I looked around for her and didn’t see her so before I left I asked a man who sits at the back of the ambassador’s residence if he had seen a little black kitten around and he said “you mean that one over there?” and he pointed to a garden and there she was sitting pretty and I said “oh yes that’s the one” and she came running over to me so I scooped her up and held her at about arms length as she yelled and squirmed the whole way back to our place. I put her in one of the bathrooms – set up her litter box (she used it right away) and her food dishes (she chowed down) and hoped for the best.
The next day at lunch Dr. Ziyad met me at my apartment and gave her shots, cleaned her ears, squirted on some flea/tick treatment, clipped her sharp claws and determined that she was a good social girl and would make a nice addition to our family – especially since he said “Finn loves everything”. In honor of her home country I named her Black “Iris” of Jordan after the national flower. She and Finn have since met and absolutely love to play together.
Jillian visited! Perfect timing with work as one job ended and the next one scheduled to start on July 3rd. During that break Jillian crossed the world for the first time alone and she did great; a layover in Vienna and arrived in Amman right on time! This was the longest she’d gone without seeing her dad and her dog, she settled right in.
We had a great time together, checking out restaurants, shops and an overnight trip to the Dead Sea. It was a REALLY hot day with temperatures at 114 degrees so we swam and had drinks by the pool. Then headed indoors to treat ourselves to massages and to watch the beautiful sunset over the mountains. The evening view from our room was stunning!
The next morning we got up early so that Jillian could experience floating in the sea. We saw lots of large salt deposits and watched a group of young guys slather on the mud.
We made it back to Amman in time to be able to check out Souk Jara which is a street market held on Friday mornings just off of Rainbow Street. Soooo many awesome vendors showcasing their artwork, jewelry, clothing… As we were leaving we got to experience (what my internet research revealed is Dabke) a Levantine folk dance group performing to the sounds of a bagpipe and drum!
We went downtown with a friend who was going to buy a Jordanian dagger at The Dagger man, the visit did not disappoint. We learned that the different shapes of daggers are associated with geographical areas and uses, that daggers and sheaths are made together to match and cannot be used interchangeably even if they are the same size and kind.
Jillian’s last night in Amman we went to The Boulevard, an outdoor shopping and dining area, for Free the Fork ‘s gourmet tacos and sliders then watched as our ice cream was created at Four Winters.
Jillian travelled home to the US successfully – back to her apartment, social life and work. I missed her the moment she left my sight but we are super proud of her resilience and independence. Both she and her big sister have amazed us with how well they have managed this time apart from us, 6 months down!
Continuing to be mindful of my footprint on the planet; I brought my own bowl to one of my favorite places to walk to dinner – Fish Face – where I get a veggie poke bowl served in a 20oz plastic container. I’ve been reusing them for my painting but realized I only need but so many containers for my supplies. Mike and I had gone to IKEA recently for frames and I picked up two 25oz glass bowls with wooden tops. Well, this week I brought one with me to FishFace and the sushi chef was perfectly happy to fill it with poke goodness.
Even though they did have to take an airplane to get to me which isn’t the best for the environment 😔 I’ve decided to get vegan shoes to replace the shoes I donated before I left the US – they are comfortable and oft complimented so I wanted to share since last year when I checked Zappos for vegan shoes they did not look this good. Search BC Footwear to find retailers near you if you are so inclined.
What I’ve been watching, reading and listening to: we watched season 3 of Stranger Things in about two nights – loved it. Finished Dead to Me – loved it. Started season 2 of Big Little Lies. Re-watching Deadwood in between shows so that we can watch the movie. Jillian brought two books for me to read that I really enjoyed: The Girls by Emma Cline and Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield. Listening to Anima by Thom Yorke (over and over) it is perfect to paint to! My painting is coming along nicely, I hope to dedicate more time during the evening to do more painting instead of waiting until the weekends – which can be just as busy as the workweek. Speaking of work – I applied and interviewed for a different job at the embassy and I was selected! On July 21st I will start work in USAID as Program Management Assistant in Education and Youth. Super excited and thankful that I get a chance to learn something totally new and impactful. Next blog I will let you know what my new role is all about!
Hope everyone is enjoying their summer, thank you for reading! bye for now.
…while you are living your life! I can’t believe I didn’t blog at all during April, I experienced so many moments that I’d love to share with you! As per usual I will provide a status update of my pending items: Our house is rented and the tenants are moved in! Our household effects were delivered shortly after my last post was published and finally, I started my job at the embassy. I am also happy to report that I have been going to the gym and following my tried and true Body For Life plan, I named my calendar on my phone where I’m keeping track of my progress – BodyForDi, LOL. I started it as soon as we returned from Italy because…mama mia…was I eating and drinking with reckless abandon but we can get to that later. In a nutshell, BodyForDi is 6 days a week of 6 meals a day consisting of a portion of protein and a portion of carb with serving of fruit or vegetable for 2 of the meals and 8 glasses of water. 6 workouts following the Upper (45 min)/Cardio (20 min)/Lower (45 min) schedule and for each muscle grouping you do 4 sets with progressively less reps (12, 10, 8, 6) and increasing weight (if you can, sometimes I do the same weight for all the reps). On the 7th day no workout and you can eat as you like. I make bargains with myself though hence the name BodyFor Di, like yesterday – I followed my plan but had two slices of pizza for dinner, didn’t do my cardio either. Today, I added my cardio to my Upper day and was only in the gym for a little over an hour, but I’d skipped breakfast because we were busy and I had a grilled halloumi sandwich and a side salad for lunch. I started on May 6th and am 3 days short of “21 days and you have a habit”. I do feel SO much better, not achy – which has been my biggest reason for getting back at it. OK so blah blah blah about exercise, lets talk a little about Jordan and throw in some Italy!
What I’ve been doing: April was a busy and bittersweet month for me. CRP had it’s Spring Break which gave Lareena and I two free days to do something and since the car was delivered in March I thought “why not drive us somewhere?” My first time behind the wheel in 4 months, let alone in a new country and I decided to drive to the Dead Sea, EASY (as our students like to say). We went to the Amman Beach which was interesting in and of itself – it is the beach where tourists to Amman go (are bussed?) so it is a little worn but we really weren’t going to be pampered – we just wanted to get a float in the sea, catch a few rays, people watch, study arabic and chat. Down at the sea we saw a cute couple documenting their Dead Sea mud experience for (I can only assume) their Instagram followers, a really boisterous group of big and tall men – calling to one another in what sounded like Russian from within and out of the water, and then this one guy – someone helped him to put the Dead Sea mud on his entire body, he waited the requisite amount of time and then found himself back in the water. I watched him from our chairs and in my persuasive way said “that poor dude has a big group of friends sitting up there on the beach and not one of them is going to help him get that mud from between his shoulder blades?” Now Lareena is watching with me as this guy crouches down into the water a few times and splashes and reaches to no avail. “Poor guy” I say “you should go help him, I mean you are a Reflexologist” (which had nothing to do with anything we are involved in at that moment!) and the kind hearted Lareena goes into the water and I can hear her gorgeous Australian accent “sur, SUR? Would you like some help?” His answer is quiet but from my vantage point I can see him crouch back down as Lareena takes some water and rubs off the bit of mud from between his blades.
We went up to the pool to sit under the umbrellas and study but the people watching up there was just as good; a topless sunbather, a couple of guys in their Calvin’s (underpants party), a group of older, tan, Italian ladies rolling up their pants and sleeves to get maximum sun exposure… we did study but all in all, just had a really nice day out. Drove back to Amman and Lareena told me I drove like I’d been living there my whole life. Let’s hold off on that determination until I’ve gone through some of these traffic circles at rush hour, but I do love to drive and it felt good to be back in the saddle.
I talked a little in my last post about being happy to have found an indoor hall for the dogs to play, we did a couple more dog play dates so I am going to share a joyful picture because the pups had so much fun. Our playgroup ended up having a big scare with one of the dogs, she was being boarded at the facility and got loose in the wilds of Jordan for two days!! Thankfully, she was found and returned but I have to say that was the scariest thing I have experienced since I’ve been here. Here’s a fun pictures of Finn and his friends and a few of Finn in Repose for his fans who have put in special requests for “more Finn”
Finally went to the amazing, vegetarian Shams El Balad restaurant and while exploring the gorgeous building I captured some poppies that sprang up. Is the sky bluer in Amman?
April also brought my volunteering as an English teacher at CRP to a close; the semester ended with a final exam and that was that. The teachers went out to another dinner so we could celebrate the successful semester and to say goodbye to our intern Hannah.
With our volunteer commitment behind us, each of us made plans – mine to visit Italy with Mike and our friend Abby and Lareena to Greece to volunteer in a refugee camp. Here is her fundraising page if you’d like to help.
Once our household goods were delivered I had to figure out where I wanted to hang our stuff! Mike put in a request for help hanging the artwork and they showed up at 8:30 on a Saturday morning (oops) but most of the stuff is up on the walls save for about 10 pieces – I still need to figured those out but here is a quick look at our place:
So enough about Jordan, as much as I have loved living in Amman and learning as much as I can about the city, the country and the people – it was time for Mike and I to take a trip. With a combination of US and Jordanian holidays we could take a weeklong vacation and only use a day or two of annual leave. As we were starting to taxi for our flight to Italy, the pilot came on the speaker to tell us that we had to stop because there was a warning light on for one of the engines – we needed a part – it was in Dublin, Ireland – and wouldn’t be in Jordan until around 1pm the next day. I gotta hand it to our fellow passengers – almost all Italians – because they carried on and got their things and boarded the busses and went back to the airport without batting an eyelash. Mike, Abby and I grumpily went home only to turn right around the next morning to find all of our Italian friends back in check in, security, at the gate, waiting…waiting…waiting… we could see our plane from where we were waiting, the crew were working on something for sure, there was a commotion around the belly of our plane… time ticked away as we all watched the plane and the departure screens and listened for the airport announcement telling us that it was finally time to board around 3pm. Bologna Italy is a 4 hour flight from Amman once we landed we hopped onto a train to Rimini which is a little beach town on the Adriatic Sea so we could spend a few quiet days away from the big city life.
We went into the charming old town of Rimini and learned that it was the 2nd most destroyed city in Italy during the second World War and has the oldest Roman Arch…
We loved the heck out of Rimini for a couple of days and then headed to the Republic of San Marino, which is a country that is surrounded by Italy and let me tell you, it was pretty cool – I felt like we were in Minas Tirith.
After some Limoncello we headed back to Rimini to visit our favorite new local spot to have some more pizza and beer with Leone, the proprietor of Angolo Blu – we went there twice during our three days in town! Next day found us on the train to Bologna where we fell in love; the architecture, the food, the drink, the gelato! Bologna is a foodie city and we absolutely dove in with both feet, clocking in around 7 miles per day!
The basilica above is dedicated to Saint Peter and remains unfinished outside; it was beautiful inside as were the other cathedrals in the city center. I think we went into 3 or 4 of them!
We had amazing meals in Italy, of course. Mike and Abby had the dish that is famous in Bologna, Tagliatelle alla Bolognese. This was my dish, tortellini with sage and butter sauce,mmmmmm. The next day we went on a food tour of Bologna and Mike rolled a perfect tortellini after we watched the women at Le Sfogline working their magic!
I’m getting ahead of myself, first we went to a coffee shop where I had a coffee/almond milk drink that tasted like marzipan (which I love).
…and had a cute repurposed way of offering up sugar!
Our guide for the 4 hour tour walked us through shops and alleys all the while teaching us about the food of the region. We went in and out of markets and stalls and gathered ingredients for our lunch as we went to each place. We finally stopped at the oldest pub in Bologna – Osteria del Sole – which was marked with a sign above the door that just said “WINE”. Click here for a look and to read about the place, it’s been around since 1465!
~ INTERMISSION ~
May: Back to Amman and to our Finny boy, I had a week before it was time for me to report to work! Ramadan started on May 6th and being in Jordan during Ramadan has been so interesting! Most stores and restaurants are closed during the day and people who observe Ramadan fast from sunrise to sunset, but once the sun sets – it is a time of celebration! To break the fast the meal is called Iftar – we have attended two Iftar meals and they have been just beautiful. We are attending another tonight with the teachers and students in the Arabic classes! A lil excerpt about Ramadan from Encyclopedia Brittanica “God forgives the past sins of those who observe the holy month with fasting, prayer, and faithful intention.” Since I am a student of the arabic language and maybe some people reading my blog don’t know arabic; Allah is the arabic word for God. Many greetings and exclamations in Jordan are faith based so you hear a lot of “God willing/Inshallah” “Praise be to God-Thank God/Alhamdulillah” so that is my religion lesson.
My friend Margaret asked me if I wanted to attend an evening walk/fundraiser in one of the cool neighborhoods of Amman. Of course I said yes – on the evening of my first day of work from 9-11pm… SURE! I am so glad I did, we paid our money towards scholarships for bright students without a means for a college education and went on a walking tour that consisted of art and food! In Amman if you are in the street, cars just have to wait until you move out of the way – regardless of how long you take. Well, Margaret and I were Jordanian on this night, taking our time walking in front of cars, talking with our new friends and just enjoying the sights and smells of the neighborhood. The leaders of the event were woman local to that neighborhood who talked nostalgically about the buildings, meeting a boyfriend (who turned into a husband) at one house, going to dinner after a dance at this restaurant – it really was a wonderful way to experience the neighborhood. They were classy and cool and well, we fit right in!
We went inside to see the art gallery and learn about the Petra National Trust, click on the Iink above to learn more about what they do!
I was excited that we were going to Bunni Roasters Coffee because I had been there before and the coffee was delicious and I had met the owners and their baby daughter on an EcoHike (see the link above for a picture of this cute family) – so I was pleasantly surprised when I walked up to the counter and Shireen recognized me and gave me a big hug, I felt so local! I had an even bigger surprise as Margaret and I were walking to the car and someone else I’d met on an EcoHike called out to me. Amman is not a small town, so it was pretty surreal to hear my name and it was another pleasant surprise to get a big hug from someone I’ve met here.
Parenting from the other side of the world has it’s interesting moments – Amelia’s car wouldn’t start, Jillian needed to sew a button onto her shirt – but technology is great and we send pictures, videos and messages in our group chat. We get to enjoy the occasional FaceTime when everyone is available or so I can give Jillian a sewing lesson…
My awesome neighbors have been taking care of Gracie, and by neighbors I mean everyone on my court! I got the reminder from the vet that Gracie needed her shots so off she went with her Guardian Judy and like a good girl told her when it was time to go by getting back into her crate (before getting her shots!) Again, technology for the win – I could send the money right away and have pictures of my good girl whenever Judy can snap one of her being still.
Final picture for the epic-ly long blog post is my cute “Moroccan Lady” painting that I did with a fun group of ladies this week led by Lucy Roman – we had a great time at Patricia’s house, eating, drinking and painting. I think I will do another one at home and give her brown eyes so I can have one for each of my girls!
What I’ve been watching: finished up Game of Thrones (I liked it!) then watched and finished True Detective, getting ready to watch Big Little Lies in a couple of weeks. Started watching Dead to Me on Netflix and I need to finish Riverdale. What I’ve been reading: what I read on the trip to and from Italy was Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X by Deborah Davis. What I’ve been listening to: FKA twigs new song Cellophane is just beautiful. The video is stunning (and maybe a little NSFW). Love the new Interpol song Fine Mess, too.
Happy June, happy Pride and I will be making sure I stay on a better schedule for my blogging… thank you for reading. bye for now.
I have now been a resident of Jordan for three months, time has gone by so quickly and I realized that it has been one month since my last blog post! I have been keeping busy and taking pictures so that I can share with you! Updates on my outstanding items: my house isn’t rented yet but with the coming of spring I anticipate that will resolve soon! My big shipment of our household effects are in the country and awaiting customs sign off so that they can be delivered to me and my job is still pending my clearance which is in the works. So with that admin business out of the way, lets get to the fun stuff…
What I’ve been doing: still exploring and LEARNING! One of the nice things about being at a big embassy like the one here in Amman is all of the people you meet. I have become involved in a few “groups”; vegetarian/vegan diet people, dog/animal lovers, yoga people, moms, work people, volunteers and with each group comes different outings and invitations. We did our first brunch with the work crew at the W hotel. Mike and I had gone there for my birthday and going back with the big group was fun! I snapped a gorgeous shot of the dessert table before it was eaten! This is a great brunch, the food is amazing and the drinks are bottomless!
We went to visit Carakale Brewery again with a big group of Mike’s work friends to celebrate a birthday and had a great time!
As I mentioned in my last blog, the girls and I had tickets to meet each other in Londontown and I caught this scene as I was packing… Finn started to get a little bit of suitcase anxiety after Mike started traveling a few years ago. His body language says it all… sorry bud – mom needed to visit her human children!
I was so excited to see the girls in London, it had been since January 10th that we’d last seen each other and we were more than ready! I arrived on Tuesday night and booked a hotel close to the airport so that I could go meet them there in the morning. I set my alarm early, checked their flight and found out it had been delayed for three hours out of Dulles which meant more sleep for me but a long day/night for them! Seeing them come through the international arrivals gate at Heathrow was such a great moment, my good traveling girls. They rested a little at the airport before hitting the Underground (where more resting occurred) to Kilburn where our AirBnB was in Northwest London (for more rest!). I was properly rested so I ventured out and took a look around.
Since we had 2 full days to explore we decided to go full on tourist and bought tickets for the Big Bus. We took the local bus from right outside our flat to the city center where we took the Red Line tour (Piccadilly Circus, Big Ben, London Eye, Tower of London, London Bridge, etc…) atop the classic double decker. It was a great experience and we learned a lot from the tour guide. Once back in our neighborhood we walked to the pub – North London Tavern – which had great local Camden Brewery beer on tap AND an awesome vegan selection, which Amelia appreciated! Day two we got a lovely breakfast in the ‘hood and bussed back down into the city where we ventured into Kensington to the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. From the bus I saw this art installation, was intrigued by the concept of “even nothing changes”, took a picture and researched.
The ‘retrospective’ exhibition of the Mexican artist Stefan Brüggemann entitled Text Pieces (1997 — 2014), consists of twenty-six works in total, drawn from the extensive corpus of the artist’s works with language from his early career to the present.
While in Kensington Gardens we came upon an area where parakeets were landing in people’s hands so they could have a bit of seed. So we joined the crowd and the girls had a great experience feeding the birds!
Next up was to visit Brick Lane, a funky area of London that had tons of thrift shops and art – then back to the flat to watch kooky British TV shows and rest up. The following day was our flight out and we had one last place to visit before checking out of the AirBnB and catching the tube to the airport; Abbey Road Studios. I have been a fan of the Beatles for as long as I can remember so it was very special for me!
We walked across that famous crosswalk, visited the gift shop and then off to the airport. The girls flew out of terminal 2 and I flew out of terminal 3 so we said our goodbyes in the train station and headed off to our respective departure zones.
Back to Amman and back to the grind of the retired life – learning Arabic, teaching English, exploring new neighborhoods, art galleries and restaurants as well as attending a fundraising event and going on my second Ecohike. The weather in Amman has been unseasonably cooler and rainier than past years, it sounds kind of like the weather in Virginia – gorgeous and sunny one day, rainy and cold another. Here is a map that I used in my English class when we talked about seasons, I put a black dot for where I am so that you can see the temperature here is comparable to southern Georgia/northern Florida in the US and since I’m in the northern hemisphere – it’s Spring in Jordan!
During a recent excursion I found some great urban murals while I looked for the cafe where I was to pay for an upcoming Ecohike! I also found a great art gallery that I hope to visit more during my time in Amman.
This might be a good place for me to post a video of the “visitors” we had to the area behind our apartment recently. Throughout Jordan you see flocks of sheep and goats sometimes with a donkey and often with Canaan dogs and always with one or two shepherds. They come to the green areas (which are aplenty due to the extended rainy season!) so that the animals can eat and rest and then they walk through the streets.
My favorite thing to do in Jordan so far has been to participate in the Ecohikes, if you really know me then you know why! Aside from taking care of our planet, I have gotten to meet so many cool people, clocked in some hiking miles, seen amazing views and beautiful landscapes. This past hike had a bonus of eating traditional food made by the women of the Bader area where we hiked west of Amman.
English class at CRP is going very well – still maintaining 13-16 students in attendance and we have grown very fond of each person. I love this new installment on the stairs that lead to our classroom and enjoyed helping one of my students, a lady my age, read each step in english before class this week. After class my co-teacher and I poked our heads into the beauty school graduation party and found that two of our students (who weren’t in English class that day) were GRADUATES! I was so proud of them, strong and beautiful women.
Had a nice outing with some of the other English teacher volunteers at the world famous Hashem’s in downtown Amman this week.
Speaking of sweet, one of the guards at the Embassy who knows I’m studying and tries to talk to me in arabic had this for me:
That was just the sweetest gesture, they all smile and light up when I try to engage with them in arabic but really – I am just now learning letters, vocabulary words and conjugation. (yuck) I need to learn how to say in arabic “it’s gonna be a while, people!” LOL.
Finally, I was able to put together a group doggie play date this weekend at a new place that has an indoor hall. It felt good to make some plans with new people and get to learn about them as the dogs played – and they played so well together. We have another date set up for next Friday so more pups can join in the fun. Finn REALLY needed to get out of the apartment and have a good tear.
What I’ve been watching: we watched (finished) The OA, The Umbrella Academy, After Life. Started the new seasons of our Bravo shows(shhh). On the plane to and from London I watched Bohemian Rhapsody (liked! it was soooo hard to not sing), Crazy Rich Asians (liked!), Table 19 (This wasn’t bad – I’d never heard of it and it served its purpose of passing the time!) Next up for travel is a trip to Italy at the end of April – we will be going to Bologna and Rimini with a jaunt to the Republic of San Marino squeezed in there. In the meantime, I need to get back at my fitness, I had a good run going and then I got a bad sore throat for like two days and I was a baby about it and it knocked me off my game. I mean, I DID hike for 6 miles last weekend… I hope everyone has a great week, thank you so much for reading! bye for now!
Yesterday, I realized that it was exactly a month ago that the girls went back to the US and today was my second hair appointment in Amman, it is good to have a point of reference so you can think back to how you felt during a moment in time and see how far you have come. I can remember pretending to be confident as I left the apartment by myself for my appointment that morning to catch an Uber alone for the first time, I’m pretty sure it was the first time I did that in any country! But, I was scared because I didn’t know where I was going, I didn’t recognize the road names, the landmarks were completely unfamiliar to me and I couldn’t communicate with my driver. Once I arrived I did feel a little sense of accomplishment and by the time I left with my fresh cut and color I was feeling 100 times better. This is an example of mindfulness – if you are mentally present during the moments of your life as they are occurring then you can go back to them and acknowledge the feelings you were having and hopefully celebrate a bit of growth that you see in yourself. Today, I was cool and collected as I looked out the window recognizing so many landmarks! It’s easy for me to say because I’m experiencing so many new things but if you find yourself experiencing a negative emotion to something new like I did – let yourself really feel it in that moment because the next time you do it, you will be proud of yourself for how far you’ve come.
What I’ve been doing: so I had a birthday since my last post! Fifty-one woohoo! It was nice to be on the same continent with Mike for my birthday since we’ve been apart for the last 2. The following day I met Lareena for coffee before we went to teach class and she and our barista at Beard&Woman Coffee (LOL) sang Happy Birthday to me, it was so sweet!
Class has been going great, we have had 16 students pretty steadily and they are reading, writing and speaking so well! To get a look at our classroom and read about the teaching/learning experience, this post can give you a feel of what we do. See my last post if you are interested in helping from afar, the more advanced English speakers are looking for native speakers to have conversations with over Skype. If you want to try it but are scared, my advice is to try it – you will only be adding value to the student and helping them to achieve their goals. I also mentioned in my last post about Hope Workshop, since then they’ve added some cute gnomes for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter. Check them out here and if you buy something you will be empowering refugee women and the families that they are supporting while living in Jordan. So, good feelings all around!
One of the troubles we ran into is that the classroom is small and (thankfully) we have a lot of students. We have a window on one side of the class (you can see it in the post above) and we use a whiteboard – the glare from the window onto the whiteboard makes it impossible for students sitting on one side of the room to see what we are writing. I stood with a scarf blocking the light one time which gave us the idea to buy some fabric to cover the window. After class one day Lareena asked if I wanted to get lunch at Hashems, a well known falafel place downtown and to see if we could find some fabric. She can speak Arabic pretty well but to ask “where can we buy some fabric to cover a window” was tricky, but she spoke it into Google translate and we were directed to the area of town that was basically – the garment district! On our way there we walked through where the spice shops, the golden jewelry sellers and sugar cane juice stands are! We stopped for a glass and it was different, not what I thought it would be – but it was good!!! A blue door caught my eye so I stopped to take a picture and I called to Lareena to see if she wanted to go inside since it said “open to visitors”.
We walked up the steep, well worn stone stairs to the residence; art and books were everywhere, jeweled colors, stained glass and billowy fabrics – we were so glad we checked it out.
We followed the directions to the fabric shops given to us from the man on the street and after a few stops in some vendor booths, we were able to find a nice fabric that fits perfectly over the window and our students can all see the white board!
I have been missing my houseplants, they are my leafy children and thanks to my friends back home in VA they are being cared for. There is a cactus and succulent shop in our neighborhood (Cacti) that we have passed by a few times…
…and I decided to go in and check it out this week and came away with a new crew of babies!
Finally, today after my hair appointment in Weibdeh I walked to the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, which is two buildings separated by a lovely sculpture garden park.
I went into the first building and once I reached the top floor I stopped for a vanilla soy latte and sat in the cafe – people watching and listening to music – “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” by Pink Floyd came on and I thought about my dad. As I was checking out the view of the beautiful King Abdullah Mosque an older women walked into the cafe and smiled at me so I said “you should see this nice view” and she looked in the direction I was pointing, looked back at me, smiled and returned to her crew.
After I finished my latte and bought a nice museum print to hang in the apartment, I walked out of the museum and down to the street. There, I saw a snazzy car picking up my new friend (LOL) and by the time I walked through the sculpture garden to the other building, her car was passing by being driven by a decked out military man. I thought “hmm guess she’s some kind of special” and headed in and checked out the gorgeous Mohanna Durra exhibit.
Now that I’m back home and writing (and researching) about my day, I checked out the FB page for the museum and while scrolling I recognized the women holding Queen Rania’s hand in this picture! She is a Jordanian Princess, artist and art historian – Wijdan Ali. So cool, my new friend is someone special and I’m guessing she has seen the mosque plenty of times but it was nice of her to humor me!!
What I’ve been reading: I finished “Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover, very interesting and fast read! What I’ve been watching: RUSSIAN DOLL – Mike and I watched it in one sitting on Saturday – SOOO GOOD! We also finished Sex Education, which is just a great show! I’m still keeping up with Riverdale on the CW app! What I’ve been listening to: XMU – streaming it here in Jordan on my Sonos and staying current on the new indie stuff. What I’ve been doing to keep active: free yoga on Sunday at the Embassy and some upper body weights once a week (I know that is a lame schedule, I need to start going more often) and my walks with Finn. Hey, it’s more active than I was at home – I’m averaging about 5,000 steps a day (if I have my phone with me every time I walk) so that’s about 4,000 more than what I was averaging. Still lame. I haven’t gone to a painting class yet, but I did find one closer to me. Word on my air freight delivery is that it should be here the last week of Feb/first week of March. Hope it is the last week of Feb since the first week of March I have arranged to see my girls in London! It is Jillian’s Spring Break from VCU and I miss those faces more than I could ever have imagined and can’t wait to see them! I’m proud that we are all doing our thang, but looking forward to kicking around London with my travel buddies. Thanks for reading, feel your feelings, and meet art princesses if you have the chance – it is exciting after the fact. Bye for now.
This Thursday was my 4 week “anniversary” living in Jordan and it is going by quickly. I’ve been filling my time with volunteering, sightseeing, learning and meeting new people. I think I just outlined the topics for this blog post, nice… so let’s begin!
What I’ve been doing: I was a guest speaker for my cousin’s third grade class on Long Island – they are learning about world geography and religions. She had a great idea to FaceTime with me using our iPads and displaying me over the Smartboard in her classroom! I went up the roof of my building so they could see and hear Amman and talked with the students about what is different and the same (as the US) about living in Jordan. It was nice to be able to show them the landscape, architecture, the sky and listen to the sounds – they could very faintly hear the evening call to prayer. They asked the best questions and what I didn’t know the answer to, I did a little research! If any other teachers are interested, just let me know!
Volunteering I went to the Collateral Repair Project for the new volunteer orientation and met 12 like minded people from all over the world. Some were students themselves – studying Arabic abroad in Amman, some were previous recipients of the services that CRP provides, others were living in Amman like me and wanted to use their time towards a good cause; teaching English to refugees that are living here, too. I wasn’t sure that I was going to be doing any teaching because I am not certified but the very next day I got a message that the Pre-Intermediate class needed a co-teacher on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11-12. I’d already met Lareena (from Australia) during the orientation and was excited to begin this chapter in Amman with her. We decided that we would meet for coffee to plan our first class and then Uber together to the community center, we decided it is a nice ritual that sets a collaborative mood for the lesson. Read here about what it is like for a refugee and how the structure of taking classes and learning a language that they want to speak in a country where they hope to be resettled, is so important to them. As of this writing, Lareena and I have taught two classes and… so far so good. We are very focused on bridging the basic lessons they have previously learned with the more advanced practices of speaking/reading/writing English. CRP has a wonderful volunteer opportunity for native English speakers who don’t live in Jordan to help over the internet. If you have an hour a week and want to help the advanced english students to practice, read here on how you can contribute by volunteering with the eLearning Language Exchange. If you are interested in TEFL, this could be a great first step. You can also donate to CRP so that they can provide food vouchers to refugee families living in Jordan. I will be sharing more about the Hope Workshop next month, they empower women by teaching them how to create beautiful crafts – and I heard that they sell out fast!
Sightseeing Even though Jordan is a small country, there is so much to see. Mike had planned for the whole family to visit Jerash while the girls were here but the weather didn’t cooperate – we will surely be returning.
Our next stop was to Ya Hala restaurant in town for lunch. We had the WHOLE place to ourselves and this is a big place! I’d love to see it bustling sometime so hopefully when we go back, I will.
I knew that being a vegetarian in Jordan would be easy but this Halloumi cheese is SOOOOO GOOD. It is high in protein and low in carbs and can be grilled like a meat or tofu. It *is* a high sodium cheese but since my blood pressure is on the low side, I think I’m safe (if I don’t over do it!). We had other dishes and I had a freshly squeezed Pomegranate juice (YUM) and Mike had Limonana.
This last weekend we were invited to visit the only craft brewery in Jordan; Carakale Brewing Company. It is about 20 minutes from where we live and a really lovely drive with a stunning location overlooking the hills of the Jordan Valley. During our earlier stay at the Red Sea, we ordered Carakale since we thought it was cool that Jordan even had “a beer” – and it was so good! I had no idea the source was right around the corner from where we live, I already can’t wait to go back. Great article on the trials and tribulations of establishing a brewery in Jordan it was particularly interesting to me since I am well aware of the hard work it took to stand up a brewery in Fredericksburg, VA thanks to my best friends’ place: Red Dragon Brewery.
Learning I have enrolled in a free Arabic language class that is being offered at the Embassy. Today was my first day and we went over common greetings and phrases, I think I will have plenty of opportunity to use them since I frequently chat with the guards at the embassy when I go over for class or to see Mike or to get mail or to get lunch… it is so close! About 20 minutes after I got home from class 6 facilities guys were here to check on something in my bathroom! I was able to practice a bunch and they were so helpful and fun. Shukran, guys!
Meeting New People Everyone I have met here has been friendly; at CRP, the people I’ve met in my building, at the Embassy, at coffeeshops, the brewery and restaurants. I went to a ladies Bunco Night and had a blast, Finn has been invited to a doggie play date and he can’t wait, we had cake and “bubbles” with our building neighbors to celebrate a birthday. The last thing on my agenda is to attend painting classes at the Creative Art Center – Amman. I did send a message and got a quick response that there’s an Oil Painting class on Mondays and Wednesdays from 6:30-8:30. With my busy “retiree” schedule I think I can squeeze in a Monday night class! 🙂
What I’m waiting on: I mentioned in my last post that our air freight was delivered so next up is the household goods shipment with all of our artwork and kitchen (plates, glasses, COFFEE MUGS, glass water bottles and more silverware!) stuff, last word was it was set to leave on 1/26! Our Pathfinder is going to be shipped here as well and that was set to leave the US on 1/24. Still looking for a nice family of renters to live in and take care of our house while we are gone. We’ve had a few showings but the weather in Virginia has been snowy, rainy and/or freezing cold! If you know anyone looking to rent for two years in Spotsylvania VA let me know and I can share the info!
Hope your January was everything you wished it would be (LOL I’m a January birthday girl and cannot take the hate on my month!!) My grandmother is a January birthday girl too, and turned 90 a few days ago. I hope she gets the notification that I did a new blog post – Happy birthday Grandma, you are such a funny and interesting person, with such a great sense of humor and a beautiful singing voice LOLOL – I hope you have a spectacular 90th year. Amazing. Thanks for reading everyone, bye for now.