Food/Drink, General, Jordan, Knowledge Management, Mindfulness

Six Months!!

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.

Finn shows that he is both an American and an ally.

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 look good together!

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.

Her new home for the next two weeks while she took her deworming and ringworm medicine.

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.

Finn’s new sister, Iris. Finally a cat that likes to play with him!

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.

Loved having my little heart 💕 here to pal around with me!
I’ve missed her gorgeous singing, now she’s teaching herself electric guitar – so talented!!

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.

Our descent to the lowest point on earth.

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!

Just so gorgeous and joyful, I’m really looking forward to going back soon.

One of the sights we hadn’t yet visited in Amman was the Roman Amphitheater which can be seen from the Citadel where we visited with the girls in January.

“The theater, which was built during the reign of Antonius Pius (138-161 CE), is cut into the northern side of a hill that once served as a necropolis—or graveyard. It is very similar in design to the amphitheater at Jerash, and can accommodate 6000 spectators. The theater is still used periodically for sporting and cultural events.” Ref: http://www.just.edu.jo/OptArch2019/Pages/Amman.aspx

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 chose a little silver Jordanian/Bedouin dagger and had her name engraved in Arabic جيليان in a beautifully etched sheath. We already know what Amelia wants when she visits next!
We went up a ladder to a little loft area where the fabricating is done! Zaid al-Muhaisin is the Dagger Man.
🖤Black beauty🖤 She’s kookoo! You can see some of her antics on Instagram #blackirisofjordan or on my highlighted story FinnGracieIris.

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.

There was also this pretty horse greenery statue! 🌺

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!

The Embassy of the United States of America looked glorious for Independence Day. We enjoyed seeing the fireworks from our little patio!

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.

Mmm mm mm!

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.

Jordan, Mindfulness, Travel

The lowest I’ve ever been.

…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.

Stopped @youarehere during our descent to let it sink in.
The blue dot is where we were.
KM in the real world – a knowledge article posted in three languages for the best Dead Sea experience!
Early morning mud for these two! The urn contains the harvested mud.
After the mud dries it is time to get back in the water and float!
Though the sea is “dead” there were many living sculptures along the shore from the salt deposits.
Salty!
Can’t wait to go back!

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.

A ‘still’ from the many crazy videos I got from Kerry of Finn and Champ playing.

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 retraced Lareena’s steps and took a break at Zajal. My warm drink “Ginger”!

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.

Between the street levels as we walked down the stairs, we found lovely stone courtyards and beautiful homes. http://www.mmagfoundation.org

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.

I’m looking forward for my painting supplies to arrive! I hope I haven’t forgotten everything I learned because I would love to paint this image!

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.”

Why would anyone leave garbage HERE?

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!

Overlook of the Jordan Rift Valley. On a clear day you can see to the Dead Sea off to the right! The road in the back of the picture is the one we took there the week before.

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.

Wildflowers along the roadside!
Up to the overlook, if you look closely you can see a person about halfway up the picture. It was a big hill!!

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!

Art, Food/Drink, Jordan, Mindfulness

Out and about.

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!

Vanilla Almond Milk Latte, mmmmmm.

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”.

The Duke’s Diwan: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/the-dukes-diwan-amman-jordan

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.

Visually stimulating!
I’m already looking forward to going back.

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!

I’m planning to do some repotting when they get bigger.

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.

Some sights along the way.

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.

I thought it was pretty cool.

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!!

Lots to look at in this one.
The museum.

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.