Snow, Wadi Ibn Hammad, and the Dead Sea
Snow is falling from the sky!
I kid you not. Jordan may be mostly desert, but with an elevation of about 2,000 feet, Amman is known to get snow from time to time in the winter.
That’s what I love about this place. As soon as I think I’m getting pretty good at Jordan, something totally unexpected happens. Yesterday was the warmest day we’ve had in weeks. But before we could enjoy the warm sun for more than 48 hours, the weather turned crazy. This afternoon the sky turned orange. It was 2pm when everything got dark and everyone started gearing up for a sandstorm. Two hours later, the sky was even darker and hail was pouring from the sky. The hail soon gave way to thick snowflakes that quickly began to pile up. At that point, CIEE cancelled all classes and advised students to get home as soon as they could. I hung back at the university because I had scheduled up to meet with my peer language tutor, Murad. The two of us braved the freezing sleet and snow to document the weather.
As you can see, the snow began to pour more and more heavily. After a quick bite to eat, I caught the bus home before road closures made things really difficult. Traffic was much worse than usual, but I made it home! I was freezing and dripping from head to toe, but a hot shower and the news that school is cancelled tomorrow warmed me right up.
Murad is my Arabic language peer tutor. Each CIEE student is paired with a student from the University of Jordan so we can practice our Arabic and meet Jordanians our own age. Although I haven’t had much of a problem meeting Jordanians, it’s been really fun getting to know Murad and practicing my Arabic with him a few hours a week. Our first meeting was organized by CIEE a few weeks ago. We completed a photo scavenger hunt of Amman, visiting historic sites and sampling our new friends’ favorite food along the way. This was my first taste of Kanafeh, my new favorite dessert made with thin pastry dough, rose, water, cheese and pistachios. Food is always a great way to get the know a new culture!
The weather feels especially strange after my weekend trip to the warm and beautiful Dead Sea. Lesli has a more complete account of the trip on her blog, in case you’re interested. Last Friday morning, Lesli, Rebecca, and I headed southwest with our Jordanian friend Omar who knew about a beautiful hike along one of the many river canyons that feed into the Dead Sea. The place was called Wadi Ibn Hammad and, although we didn’t get to camp downstream because the ranger was worried about flash floods, we did enjoy a relaxing few hours walking along the bank, wading through the river, and climbing down waterfalls. Maybe it’s just something that comes with being from the Pacific Northwest, but I’m always surprised when naturally running water isn’t freezing glacier runoff. The water actually comes from hot springs nearby, so it was pleasantly warm!
After massaging our backs under a small but powerful waterfall, we had a picnic lunch, dried out in the sun, and headed back upstream. We had gotten a very early start and had lots of daylight left, so Omar took us to the nearby Kerak Castle. I haven’t been to many castles, but it was a very different experience from the impressive structures in Japan and Scotland. Instead of being escorted through rooms that were halfway roped off and glittering with reconstructed scenes of medieval splendor, we got to climb around and explore every passage that caught our eye. We got there a little past closing time, but we were allowed in anyway, meaning that we had just about the whole place to ourselves.
After Kerak, we headed to the Dead Sea to find a place to camp. Since we were improvising, it took us a while to find a suitable spot. (More about that exciting story on Lesli’s blog!) Once we found one, we pitched our tents and spent a warm night on the sandy beach. Since it was already dark by the time we arrived, we didn’t have a chance to enjoy the beauty of the sea until the following morning. As the sun rose, it was a strange sensation to look across the water and see for the first time the disputed East Bank. For one, I always imagined the Dead Sea was much larger. (Aren’t seas supposed to be enormous? Why aren’t the Great Lakes called seas, anyway?) Being so close to Israel/Palestine, watching the twinkling lights disappear as the sun rose, it was hard to imagine how such a peaceful looking place could be wrenched by such violent conflict.
The entire experience was just plain gorgeous. And the Dead Sea was so strange! The surface is 1,400 ft below sea level, making it the lowest point on land on Earth. The Dead Sea used to stretch much farther, covering what is now the Desert of Wadi Rum and beyond. I’m definitely not used to my ears popping on my way to the beach. And with 33% salinity, it’s no wonder that nothing can live in the water. I didn’t have a change of clothes for swimming, but I did put my hand in the water to feel just how warm and oily it really was. The beach was scattered with solid salt-rocks and a general dusting of white salt covered everything. Even at 6 in the morning, there were people bobbing happily, super buoyant in the salty water. I’m looking forward to jumping in next time to see what it feels like.
Traveling with a Jordanian was a new experience. I had a GREAT time going with Lesli to Wadi Rum three weeks ago (Ah! Time goes by so fast!), but it wasn’t exactly great for my Arabic to be speaking English the whole time. Having Omar with us was seriously more valuable than two weeks of class. When we weren’t learning Arabic jokes and pick-up lines, we were discussing touchy but fascinating issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Arab media coverage, and religious vs. national identity. This may sounds pretty dull to many of you, but since these are the things I flew across the world to learn about, it made for a pretty enthralling weekend!
Two more recent highlights:
I had my first Skype conference with the second-grade classroom that is following my Reach the World blog. They students from PS-682 were adorable and had so many good questions! It was a challenge to improvise simple answers to big questions like “What do they wear there?” and “What do people do for fun?” The meeting with the students made me about half an hour late for class, but it was worth every single moment. One of the main reasons I love being here is that so many people get to learn about Jordan and the Middle East through my experience. If you’ve made it this far through my blog, I hope you know what I mean! Blogging for RTW also has a fun side-effect: I’m beginning to see everything through the eyes of an eight-year-old. I’m constantly thinking about what the students would find interesting about Jordan, and I never miss an opportunity to catch snapshots of my experience. For example, after seeing a large gathering of frog eggs and tadpoles at Wadi Ibn Hammad, I dropped to the ground and started clicking away much more enthusiastically than the situation called for. As silly as it seems, I think it’s good to see things from a kid’s perspective as much as possible. Otherwise, we run the risk of taking ourselves far too seriously.
I have a few visitors coming very soon. Georg and Stephen are coming during their spring break in less than two weeks! Both of them just recently bought their plane tickets, so their visits have gone from hopeful musings to swiftly approaching reality. I’ll have class most of the week, so I may be making some strategic decisions in regard to my attendance. It’s not everyday that two such important people fly across the world to visit! Clara is coming to visit after she graduates from USC in May, so even after the two of them leave, I have another great trip to look forward to! My study abroad program will officially be over after Clara arrives, so we plan to travel to Turkey and Israel in addition to Jordan. I’m so excited to see all three of them!