A couple of weekends ago, Mike and I travelled about three and a half hours south of Amman to Aqaba, Jordan’s port on the Red Sea. It was our second trip there, we’d taken the girls when I first arrived in Jordan. One of our friends was celebrating her birthday and we had a great opportunity to go back with her and her wife and two other friends to enjoy a weekend out of the city. After a fun night at the Kempinski Hotel we drove the next morning to the amazingly breathtaking desert of Wadi Rum. This special edition blog post is dedicated solely to that adventure.
Wadi Rum is a protected area of Jordan that is inhabited by tribes of Bedouins who are the nomadic desert people of this region of the world. We arrived early to the visitors center, checked out the map and decided what we wanted to see. An eight hour tour, to include a sunset, was what we chose and we were matched with a guide who settled us into the back of his Toyota and off into the desert we went!
Our first big climb was up an enormous sand dune to reach the rocks that we climbed up to this view. At first I thought that it would be impossible to fill eight hours but, let me tell ya, it takes time to climb up rocks and once you are up there you just want to sit and rest for a bit before you turn around and figure out how to climb back down!
After three stops we drove to a shady spot to have lunch, well – our guide brought some lunch to share with us but we packed our own not knowing that we’d have lunch provided :)! Thankfully, there were a couple of people in our party that were happy to take him up on his offer. We sat for a bit, ate, talked and then got antsy and back into the Toyota we went!
After our stop in the middle of the canyon our Toyota sped through the sand and came upon a herd of camel, thankfully our guide had some bread left from our lunch and offered a slice to this snacker who then checked us all out. Some of the animals that live in Wadi Rum are camels, foxes, snakes, hedgehogs, sand cats, wild dogs and ibex.
Our next stop was one of the big attractions, the Um Fruth Rock Bridge. Most of our party did not climb up; one of us went half way (not me) and another went all the way to the top (not me).
One of my favorite parts of the day was getting back into the truck, situating ourselves and just driving in the desert. It was a little like sitting in a speed boat that is racing through the water – fast, bumpy, windy and lots to look at.
I particularly liked my view once Mike turned his hat around and I could see the logo to my best friends’ brewery in Fredericksburg; Red Dragon Brewery!
The last stop before our sunset climb was to a formation that reminded me of Skull Island from King Kong. What was the most interesting was all of the stacked rock ‘installations’ up on the flat surfaces and tucked in the nooks! We added a rock or two to the Jenga like ‘artworks’.
At this point we’d been riding around for about seven hours and needed to get to the location where we could sit and watch the sunset. The climb was an easy one and we got there early enough to claim a primo spot. We watched trucks driving back and forth leaving trails of dust in their wake, we saw caravans of visitors on sunset camel rides and we talked about our day.
So, what do you after an eight hour tour of Wadi Rum? Some people camp in the park, either on their own or with a camp company. We stayed at camp outside of the park called Sun City
We got to the camp just before it got dark, dropped our things in our tents and headed to the dinner – meat cooked in the ground which is pretty cool if you like that sort of thing. LOL thankfully there was plenty for this vegetarian to eat; eggplant, hummus, even pasta! After dinner Mike and I took bean bag chairs over to our friend’s deck of the Martian Bubble tents we were staying in and gazed up at the full moon, tracked where the planes we could see were flying to (there’s an app for that), figured out what stars and constellations were in the sky (there’s an app for that), listened to music and chit chatted.
While I stayed in bed, our friends went on a sunrise camel ride to kick off Missy’s actual birth-day.
Needless to say, we enjoyed the heck out of ourselves. After having breakfast at the camp we packed up and headed home to Amman where we picked up Finn from the petsitter and returned to our waiting kitty, Iris. It felt so good to have spent so much time outside, walking and climbing, getting dusty, knotty hair, breathing fresh air and being with great people. We should all make the time to do that. Thanks for reading, bye for now.
I am not going to make any lame excuses about why I haven’t written, I’m just going to dive in – promise you lots of photos and hopefully some meaningful commentary about what has been keeping me busy for the last few months!
What I’ve been up to: Once Jillian left in July, I started my new job at USAID (United States Agency for International Development) in the Education and Youth Office as a Project Management Assistant. What does that entail? Well, I am definitely getting to put my Knowledge Management skills to work and I am loving it – not a Microsoft shop so I am figuring out the G-Suite of productivity tools and it hasn’t been too bad. I do miss my SharePoint but I’ve tinkered around and found a pretty slick way of organizing my new teams’ knowledge into a useful knowledge base, at least the start of one. I have gotten to travel around Jordan with my co-workers to a USAID school where I met some pre-1st graders who had not attended kindergarten and were getting a crash course so that they could transition into 1st grade smoothly. They were so cute, as soon as we entered the classroom they jumped up to show us the artwork they had done, the letters they had learned to write and a cute little ‘fishing’ activity that I am sure was building up that hand-eye coordination. Their enthusiasm and smiles were heart-melting! Next trip, a youth center that was about 2 hours away from Amman in Tafilah for a visit to a YouthPower Facilitator event, where groups of youth (aged 15-30 in Jordan, I think “youth” is 15-24 in the US) met to learn how to be agents of change in their communities from YouthPower trained facilitators. We were able to talk to a few of the participants and see them working in groups to solve problems and present their proposed solutions. I attended an International Youth Day event, and participated in the Jordan Economic Forum – by participated I mean I was a member of the audience LOL. I really love the work that I am doing to help Jordan.
We attended a cultural event – the Jerash Festival with a group of friends. You might remember Jerash from my post in January, it is to the north of Amman and has well preserved Roman ruins of the ancient city that included a large amphitheater – we sat in that theater with a whole lotta other people to watch the Circassian dance! I didn’t know much about the Circassian’s until I came home afterward and did some research, their costumes were so interesting and I learned so much going down the Wikipedia rabbit hole https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circassians.
So, I worked at my new job for two weeks and then went on vacation! After 10 months for Mike and 7 months for me, we returned to the US in August to see our girls, our friends and our families, so I’m including a few favorite shots from the visit(s).
Shortly after returning from our trip home, we turned around and drove (actually our friend drove!) to Jerusalem with three of our friends. We got picked up at 7am and drove about 40 minutes or so to the border crossing where we got out and stood at a couple of windows to have passports looked at and then on to the next border crossing where we waited around, were whisked through security, waited to buy car insurance (yes, you have to buy days worth of car insurance) and then back in the car and onward to our destination. The crossing was a little north of the Dead Sea so it was hot but as we ascended towards Jerusalem the air cooled a little and we arrived just in time for lunch. We went to the famous market – Mahane Yehuda and enjoyed taking in all of the sights and sounds. We settled on Hatch for lunch and it was absolutely perfect; beer, slushie alcohol drinks, omnivore and vegan fare and lots and lots of people watching (and chatting). Our AirBnB was ready for an early check in so we all hiked over and chilled a bit in the AC before we headed back out to the Old City. We spent two FULL days walking and exploring – day one on our own and day two with our friends’ AirBnb host. I’d never really had a desire to go to Jerusalem, could be because I am not a religious person but I have to say – it was an experience of a lifetime and I would love to go back. We had some wonderful meals, some great laughs and walked about 20 miles (with a killer set of stairs up to where we rested in my last photo) all in all, a fabulous trip with stellar travel buddies!
Back home to Amman; back to the pets, work and friends. One of whom had her 4th baby; a little girl after three sons – so a group of ladies showered her and her daughter with gifts. I just loved this dress my friend Kimberly made out of a traditional Bedouin kaffiyeh to present diapers to mama and baby. One of the ladies from work had her father visit and after they toured all of the sites she invited everyone back to Carakale Brewery to show her ol Irish dad a good time. A couple of our gal pals decided they wanted to throw an Oktoberfest party and with that, had them on the hunt for German food, decorations and best of all – German beer. Our hero Kelly scored us some fresh tasty German brews that we all enjoyed along with homemade pretzels, bakery pretzels, german potato salad and brats.
Since Mike and I hadn’t had much chance to get out and explore we decided to head to Jabal al – Weibdeh for breakfast one weekend morning. We wanted to go to a traditional place and stumbled upon Rakwet Arab Cafe just off of Paris Square. It was a stunningly ornate space with delicious Jordanian dishes.
We walked around a bit so I could try to retrace my steps from my evening with Margaret during our Foodie Walk and snapped this photo as we passed by the Petra National Trust. You can see the nighttime version from my post in May. Such a glorious color of stone, I can’t wait to see Petra where this building material was mined from!
As we strolled to Bunni Roasters Coffee to get some coffee for our French Press, we walked by this VW Bug that I’ve walked past before and regretted not taking a photo – so in honor of my very first car that I (kinda) bought on my own (with help from my Oma)… cheers and r.i.p. to my 1974 (dark blue) SuperBeetle. I love seeing all of the old cars around Amman.
Mike had an old buddy come into town with his lovely wife in tow so we had to go out to dinner and thanks to the recommendation of some of his co-workers went to this amazing place., Tal Pine. It felt like Jordanian Swiss Family Robinson – up in the pine treetops, dining on delicious food with great company. I had so much fun meeting someone that I’d been hearing stories about for years and he did not disappoint!
This next section of the blog is dedicated to the animals, my first story is about a light colored pup that showed up one day near the embassy. Mike saw the dog one morning, I saw it the next and then we didn’t see it again until our friend said he saw the dog farther away and darting in and out of traffic. The dog was so pretty we couldn’t imagine that it didn’t belong to someone and needed to be returned. Our friend tried to catch it, and got a couple of photos and we shared it on the Facebook page for the embassy. A bunch of people recognized it but no one knew who the dog belonged to.
After seeing some kids throwing rocks and cornering the dog, our friend was able to catch it and get it to his place. Other friends provided dog accoutrement and SHE slept for hours in a big dog crate in an air conditioned room. She was filthy and scared but she gradually got used to being inside, and being loved by a guy who didn’t really think he had time for a dog but look at her now…
Speaking of friends, Finn and Iris are inseparable. She loves being a part of our family and he could not be more thrilled to have a playmate at the ready. They snuggle and snooze, they battle and bite – they are the ultimate entertainment.
Next up – heading to Aqaba and Wadi Rum this weekend and I’m looking forward to taking photos and having some more things to share about Jordan with you next month, then a trip to Egypt in November! I was asked at work by a lovely lady, Luma if I wanted to do a Language Exchange with her and I’m excited to share more about that, too. Meeting with her three times a week and taking my Arabic language class two times a week – I’ll be fluent in no time haha. I love being able to help her, too. I joined the recently reinvigorated Green Initiative at the Embassy and started a Recycle and Waste Reduction Workgroup in the hopes that we can raise awareness about recycling and reducing our waste both in the embassy and at our residences – a group of 10 signed up and I think we already have plenty of ideas that are easily implementable!
Let me leave you with this happy group of guys, riding in the back of a pickup truck on a Thursday afternoon (the weekend is Friday and Saturday here in Jordan) sitting in traffic and seemingly enjoying themselves (well, maybe not all of them LOL). Look for the joy in life – in this day and age we really need the optimists. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, bye for now.
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!
…on planet earth was a few weeks ago when Mike and I spent a three day weekend at the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the world’s lowest point of land as you learned in school, and technically is a hyper-saline lake. My mood was definitely elevated – and it is usually pretty high – to get to spend time away with Mike in a place that I have been so curious about for most of my life.
What I’ve been doing: Mostly exploring. Dead Sea: is about 45 minutes from where we live so now that we have our car (it was delivered to us today!!) we can visit for the day and enjoy the warmer temperatures, higher levels of oxygen, splatter on some of the restorative mud and take a nice float.
While we were at the resort, Finn got to enjoy some time with new dog pals and pet sitters Kerry and Ameen. Since it was a long weekend for the embassy peeps it meant a busy weekend for pet sitters! Finn made lots of new furry friends but became best friends with Champ. The first morning report was that Finn and Champ were up all night playing – like a real sleepover!! Turns out that Mike knows Champs parents so hopefully there will be some more play time soon.
Jabal Amman – Rainbow Street: while teaching our class on Tuesday last week we learned that the next two classes (Thursday and Tuesday) were cancelled to accommodate medical visits at the community center. Lareena wanted to check out a restaurant she discovered one night when she followed an outdoor walkway that ended at an elevator which she got into, rode it down where it opened up into a cool space that turned out to be Zajal restaurant.
We used our day off to visit a few other places in this area – Wild Jordan Center, Trinitae Soap House, Books@Cafe, and Al-Pasha Turkish Bath. The neighborhood is one of the seven hills of Amman which means lots of walking up and down flights of stairs and steep streets – think San Francisco.
We walked over to the building in the photo above to see if there were more stairs to take us to the street below and the man outside the building invited us in, turns out we were at the MMAG Foundation’s Amman campus. He showed us through so we could see them setting up for a gallery opening for that evening – so we got a sneak peek of Primacy of Plot.
If you plan to check out this neighborhood be aware, sometimes your GPS will tell you to go up a long flight of steps only to reach the top and it is closed off! So make sure you are in good walking shape, my iPhone health app clocked me at 3.7 miles/8,400 steps/27 flights!
Abu Al Soos: the day of urban hiking prepared me for a hike in the wilderness the next day. According to this article; a year ago a local journalist had enough of encountering so much trash while he was out hiking and decided to do something about it! He co-founded EcoHikers and lucky for me, Lareena reached out to see when the next hike was. Turns out it was Friday so we signed up, met the buses at the pick up point and headed south west of Amman. The ride there was great, lots of enthusiasm, chatter and getting to know each other. I’d estimate that there were about 40 of us from all around the world. When we arrived we put on gloves and with three garbage bags each – hit the ground and picked up trash. We all know that single use plastics are suffocating our planet and not every person disposes their plastics appropriately and in the case of the trash we picked up at Abu Al Soos – disposes of it at all aside from leaving it behind. I only wish for the words of Swami Satchidananda to reach those who need encouragement to be mindful of small changes that could one day have a global impact. “Begin with little things daily and one day you will be doing things that months back you would have thought impossible.”
After picking up we hiked to a beautiful location to unpack and eat our lunches and talk, it was a gorgeous spot with wildflowers everywhere!
Once to the overlook we hiked down the rocks to the road and traveled down, down, down to the valley below; zig zagging and sharing the road with cars and motorcycles.
The buses were waiting for us at the end of our hike and drove us back into Amman by around 4:30. My seat partner on the bus is a Jordanian who is studying for his GRE’s so he can attend graduate school for Civil Engineering in the States. He asked me how I liked Jordan and I told him how much I’ve loved it so far, he asked me what my favorite part was and I told him “the people”. I said “what I notice about the Jordanians I’ve met is that they are interested in others, in the US we don’t talk to strangers but here it feels like you can have a short, meaningful conversation with someone” and he said “Good observation – Jordanians like talking to strangers so you are in the right place”.
The yoga class on Sunday night was very much needed because my legs were so sore and now thanks to yoga, the rest of me is sore too! It feels so good, though. I am finally signed up for official Beginner Arabic Classes, my first one starts in 50 minutes so I better wrap this up. 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.