Time is Dwindling

Tomorrow begins the last month of my time in Jordan.

I have spent the last couple of weeks dreading this moment and the emotions that come with it.

It’s been difficult having to imagine that there is a very real possibility that the people I’ve met here I might not see either for a very long time or possibly never again.

While I could certainly live with not seeing a few people here ever again, my only fear is that it will be the people that mean the most to me.

However, even as small as the world is now, life easily gets in the way when we go back to reality.

A study abroad experience takes you out of what you know and throws you into something completely new, different and hopefully exciting. The fun in it is that it isn’t home and that’s the point: No one knows you.

It’s a new start. You get to discover and maybe even recreate yourself.

I guess studying abroad did what college should have done for me from the beginning. It was just four years late and took living in a Middle Eastern country to do the trick.

It changes every person in different ways, though. Some people discover new interests and hobbies, some people discover new ways of thinking.

This experience has changed me in ways that I think are ultimately for the better. Those back home can form their own opinions once I return, but I’ve come to realize through this journey that this is called my life for a reason: these changes apply to no one but myself.

While I still have a month left to learn so much more, about Jordan, about its culture and about myself, I know time won’t slow down simply because I want it to.

One month seems like quite some time left, and while it might feel like that to those not personally experiencing the things I have and continue to experience in this country, there just seems to not be enough hours in the day for the time I want to spend with the people I love here.

I’m trying, though.

My friends and I seem to have the same thoughts.

Many of our conversations lately involve this topic of leaving and potentially forgetting each other.

That possibility remains unknown for the time being, but these last two months from the very beginning keep replaying in my mind on a daily basis.

I never thought the people I stumbled across on orientation day in some swanky hotel in Amman would be the people I’m afraid to leave.

And there are constant reminders that I am, indeed, leaving.

While a few of us will be returning to Jordan come January, quite a few will be leaving indefinitely, myself included.

I think what I’m struggling with the most right now is having to go back to life the way it was in America.

I never imagined my life in Jordan would look the way it does now, and what life is like now will certainly be very different back home.

I could have taken the easy route of blending easily into a European study abroad experience, but I will never regret coming to Jordan and the Middle East.

Life here is how I wish my life could be back home.

I’m just afraid that the differences between here and home will be too drastic to cope with.

I don’t want to have to go back and fall back into the swing of things.

I don’t want to go back to living every day without the echoes of the call to prayer filling the streets of the city five times a day.

I don’t want to have to go back and pretend that the religion of Islam doesn’t mean something special to me, despite the stigma that comes with it.

I don’t want to have to go back to a country that will never understand this region, its peoples and its cultures.

I’m content with going back and telling everyone I meet that my time in Jordan was great, but the ways it has changed me has struck deep enough inside me that I feel like no one will ever be able to relate.

I guess I’m already experiencing reverse homesickness before I’ve even left.

After all, Jordan is home.

Here’s to one month left.

I’m going to spend it with the people I love, starting tonight with a stroll through the streets and tea with my Sri Lankan.

I think that’s a good place to start.

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وادي رم

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Spent the two month mark of my journey in Wadi Rum,

one of the countless and endlessly beautiful places Jordan has to offer.

I am so, so blessed.

الحمد لله

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Shot through the window of the bus on the way to Aqaba, Jordan.

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Eilat, Israel, in the distance and the Gulf of Aqaba.

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Eid, our Bedouin guide, pouring us tea.

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Fathi (faht-ee), Eid’s eight-year-old son.

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Bedouin dog which I later kicked in the face

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Jack’s new companion.

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Camel footprints

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Goat skull

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Sunset

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With our Bedouin camp host, Sultan.

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Potatoes, chicken, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, yogurt and spices

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Smoking hubbly bubbly with Luyi, Sultan and his friend Ali.

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Sunrise

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Another boy named Fathi that I met on the way home.

Spring Rolls & Jerash

Jack and I ventured off to Luyi’s apartment on Thursday night with Junior to enjoy an evening of East Asian cuisine. I took up the task of making spring rolls from scratch (as Luyi says no one in China ever makes them; they buy them so they don’t have to) and Luyi made two types of chicken wings.

Junior was unfamiliar with the art of spring roll making, as he says spring rolls are more of a Chinese item than Thai, although they have them in his country. Nevertheless, he was keen on learning a new skill, as were Jack and Luyi, and yet again the white girl taught the Asians how to make something not even native to her own continent.

Junior was horrendous at it. Just like our dumpling making two weeks ago, he was sloppy and rushed with his rolling. Luyi and Jack, on the other hand, did well and we ended up making twenty for the evening.

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I tweaked a recipe I had found, like I usually do, and made a filling of minced chicken (or as minced as it could get by whacking it repeatedly with a butcher knife), carrots, garlic, green onions, soy sauce and ginger. I left Junior to do the frying, as I figured he could at least manage that.

He always seems to prove me wrong.

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Junior spent the majority of the time screaming and jumping back as he dropped the spring rolls in oil, at one point grabbing and holding onto the plastic bag on the ledge of the counter for what I could only assume to be a way of coping with the stress and/or fear of frying something two inches long.

Nonetheless, he eventually got the hang of it and it turned out okay only after burning a few.

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I brought Thai sweet chili sauce for dipping, as that’s what I grew up with when having two Filipino best friends whose mothers would fry up egg rolls every weekend. Junior was appreciative because he loves the stuff as much as I do.

Luyi made Korean wings, basically chicken smothered in gochujang or a Korean fermented red chili paste, and another type of wing served with potatoes and rehydrated mushrooms from a recipe from her grandmother that she refuses to give me. All I know is the chicken starts out marinated in soy sauce and you cook it in oil until ‘dry.’ I wish I would’ve paid attention to how she made it but I was busy chaperoning Junior.

The best part about the night was that her flatmates are Taiwanese (plus Nasser who’s Lebanese) and they don’t own any forks, so the utensil of choice (by default) was chopsticks. Luckily everyone eating that night was experienced chopstick users so there was no issue with eating. However, I know a few people back home who probably would’ve starved to death or just eaten with their hands if faced with having to eat a meal with chopsticks.

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We spent the night laughing and singing and discussing our plans for the next day when we would be going to Jerash. Jack and I left around 10:30 and I spent the rest of the night in Anfas’ room where he sang to me in his native tongue of Sinhala.

The next morning Jack and I met Tiziana and Asmeret, our Italian and Ethiopian classmates who double as nuns, who would be joining us on our excursion to Jerash for the day. Junior and Luyi pulled up in a taxi, Tiziana hailed a second one, we all hopped in and were on our way to the north station.

As soon as we pulled up a man started yelling “Jerash! Jerash! Yala!” but we noticed that the bus looked full. Jack said “Sitta?” which means ‘six,’ asking if there were six seats available. Urgently, the man responded “Aywa, aywa, sitta” which is ammiya for “yes, yes, six” and herded us onto the bus.

We had a slight predicament, though, that almost had me commit a big cultural no-no.

When boarding I’d noticed that the only seats available were by men. Speaking for Jordan, although it probably applies elsewhere in the Middle East, women are not supposed to sit next to men unless they’re related or if you’re left with no other choice but to sit there. Even then, men will stand before they have to sit next to an unrelated woman.

Jack and Junior had already sat down and luckily remembered how this culture works and quickly got up and rearranged our seats to where Luyi and Tiziana were together in a seat, Asmeret and I were in the back of the bus in a row separated from the man at the end of the row by Junior, and Jack ended up further up front in a seat next to a stranger. Thirty seconds later we were on our way.

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For some reason we seemed to stand out a lot more on this bus than on our previous experiences on minibuses. The man at the very front of the bus spent the majority of the ride staring at me and Jack and the man at the end of our row stared at Junior, Luyi and I as we conversed in English, turning his head to each of us every time one of us spoke like he was involved in the conversation.

Regardless, an hour later we arrived and were dropped off in Jerash in the middle of the street.

Some man standing outside of his car yelled “Jerash! This way!” pointing us tourists where we needed to go. However, all we had to do was turn around and we were right where we were headed.

On our walk to the Roman ruins we were visiting for the day, we came upon grass.

You wouldn’t think grass would be such a big deal but when you don’t see grass in this country unless it’s dead or fake, you become really intrigued when you come across it. IMG_4296

We were all yelling “Is it real?!” to which Jack went to investigate. He went up, touched it and ran back saying, “Guys! The grass is real! It’s really real!” All I could do was laugh at the fact that something as minute and insignificant as green grass was enough to having us running around a park in Jerash, Jordan, yelling as the locals stared at us.

With the whole grass thing out of our systems, we made our way to the entrance of the ruins, paid the entrance fee and we were on our way.

I don’t really care much for the historical significance of the places we go to. I really just enjoy that I can climb all over history and no one tells me to get down or get my hands off of something. Like previous places I’ve been, this trip was no different and we did a lot of climbing.

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Attempting to take a photo of the Arch of Hadrian, Luyi thought it was appropriate to throw herself in the frame.

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Walking through the Arch, we were taken back in history — to 130 AD, to be precise.

We wandered around for a bit before we wandered into the hippodrome where chariot races were held. The practice is not lost, though, and there are recreations of the chariot races every Friday at 11am. It was 10JD to watch, though, so I skipped out on that.

We made our way into the stands, pretending to be ancient Roman spectators. Jack had something else in mind. He preferred to act as the dude from the movie Gladiator who decides who will be put to death in gladiator fights.

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When in the stands, some little Jordanian kid came up to us with a box full of gum hoping to get some money from us. However, he dropped a piece in Luyi’s lap and said “gift” and walked away. This is usually used as a guilt trip strategy so the person receiving it will feel bad and give the kid money. It didn’t work, though. Luyi ate the guilt gum and we carried on.

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I have no idea how spectators of such events could ever get out of the stadium. When getting down from the stands, we had to go down a staircase that was not even two feet wide. To put that into perspective, if 1,000 people filled the stands to watch chariot races back in the day and the event ended, it would probably take an hour to get everyone out.

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To go further than the initial sites, we had to pass our ticket on to the police. One of them took my ticket, looked at me and said “Where you from?” As an American, I’m a little reluctant to say where I’m from just from the stigma that comes with the name in the Middle East. Hesitating, I said “America.”

He said, “The US?”

“Yes,” I said.

“The United States?” he said.

“Yep,” I replied.

With a brief pause, he smiled and said, “One thousand welcomes” and sent me on my way.

Confused and frankly dumbfounded, I scurried off to my friends and said “Oh my God, they’re gonna shoot me.”

Equally confused, Luyi and Junior asked why. I told them what I had just experienced and they were surprised. “What the heck. I didn’t get “one thousand welcomes” when they took my ticket,” they said. Jack chimed in and said that although it was interesting that I’d been told such a thing, Americans are surprisingly more well received in Jordan than one would think. Regardless, receiving one thousand welcomes from a police officer was interesting.

After the whole ticket thing, we made our way further into the ancient city, wandering into the Oval Forum.

All of a sudden Mustafa, the taxi driver from Jerash who took us to the Dead Sea last week, popped up. Turns out Luyi had been texting him back in the chariot stadium and he said he’d be down in 10 minutes to spend the day with us. She thought he was joking until he actually showed up. Turns out he lives about a two minute walk from the ruins. How convenient.

The gum boy emerged and approached Mustafa, now a fresh face in our group. Shoving the gum box in his face, Mustafa simply looked down at the boy and said “Kayfal hal” (what’s up) and smirked. The boy just smiled, looked at up at him, handed him a piece of gum, walked away and we carried on in our conversation.

He told us that the Oval Forum is used each summer for the location of the Jerash festival, filled up with little shops, food stalls and live music. Jordanians know how to party, ancient Roman-style.

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We started walking when all of a sudden Mustafa said he had to show us something. “Hopefully the cops aren’t there,” he said as he lead us up a hidden stairwell. Twenty steps later up a steep Roman staircase, we emerged through a teeny tiny opening in some rocks about 30 feet off the ground to a view of the whole Oval Forum and a panorama of the city of Jerash.

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How we managed to squeeze seven of us up on some rocks, I have no idea, but it worked out and we all had a great view of the city, both ancient and modern.

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After somehow miraculously, and successfully, making it down the ridiculous stairway (which seems to be a running theme in ancient Roman ruins), Mustafa took us toward the sound of drums in the South Theatre.

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Word on the street is (according to Mustafa) if you poke your head in a circle on one side of the wall of the bottom of the stadium, someone on the other side doing the same thing can hear you. For science and the chance of looking like idiots, we conducted the experiment. While there were some echoes, I think we looked like idiots more than anything.

Pretending like we didn’t just stick our heads in holes in a wall, we turned around to listen to the military marching band playing the bagpipe and the drum. At one point they played Yankee Doodle.

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Turns out men who play bagpipes and drums like tips, and the drummer followed us around and said “tips please, yala. Shukran!” with ‘yala’ meaning ‘come, come’ or ‘come on.’ I gave him 30 qirsh (although Mustafa calls it piastres) which is close to 50 cents.

I’m cheap.

The gum boy emerged again and approached Mustafa for a second time. Asking him if he wanted gum, Mustafa looked at him, shook his head, muttered something in Arabic and pointed at the gum in his mouth. The boy laughed and went to find another victim.

On that note, we made our exit from the stadium and ventured on.

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In all, we saw a lot of columns and cobblestone and dirt and the gum boy who followed us around the whole trip because we were nice to him and he thought Mustafa was funny.

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Hungry and thirsty, Mustafa lead us to a nearby shop where he bought all of us water. Unsure where to eat for lunch, he took us to a local restaurant that turned out to be the oldest in Jerash.

Asmeret and Junior had salads, Jack had bread and hummus and Luyi, Tiziana, Mustafa and I had some traditional Jordanian savory pies for lunch. Mustafa explained that the thin pieces of dough with meat on them were called sfeeha and the ones that looked like boats filled with cheese were called fatayer jubna. The triangular shaped ones were filled with sauerkraut-like spinach and onions and are called fatayer sabanekh. There were also ones similar to the fatayer jubna that were filled with potatoes and they were my favorite.

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We paid for lunch and handed Mustafa his money back when he tried to chip in, telling him he was our guest and that we were happy he joined us for the day.

We left the restaurant and went to go find a bus station only to be stopped by a man on the way who was headed to Amman.

It’s common in Jordan for people going to different cities to pick up people on the way for a price. I guess you could call it hitchhiking without sticking your thumb out. As sketchy as it might seem to outsiders, it’s cheaper than taking a taxi from city to city and sometimes your only way home when the buses aren’t running.

The man tried to make us a deal for 1.50 a person back to Amman. However, there were six of us and he wanted to squeeze all of us in his tiny car for a 45-minute ride. After fighting about it on the sidewalk with Mustafa as our translator, we declined and said we wanted to stay together on the bus.

We walked across town, with Mustafa shaking hands with everyone he walked by, getting yelled at by people he knew in cars, and kissing and hugging people he hadn’t seen in a while. The small town feel obviously applies in every country, because Mustafa literally knew everyone in Jerash, even people he’d come across while we were in the Roman ruins earlier in the day.

We continued down the sidewalk where Mustafa pointed out houses that belonged to various people in his family. “See this house? It’s my uncle’s house.”

“See this next house? It’s my other uncle’s house.”

“And the house after that is my grandfather’s house!”

“And the house after that is my uncle’s house.”

Baffled, we continued walking past the houses of Mustafa’s family tree. All of a sudden, he said “And this car is my uncle’s car!” which had his uncle, aunt and cousin sitting in it, about to leave. Mustafa then stuck his head through the window to give his uncle cheek kisses and to catch up with him for a minute.

After saying goodbye, we turned away from the car, walked 20 seconds down the sidewalk and a guy walked up to Mustafa and shook his hand. Turns out he knew that guy, too.

Just crazy.

Arriving at where the buses usually pick up and drop off, we were told that the buses weren’t running to Amman. Out of nowhere, the guy that tried to get us to go with him to Amman popped up and tried again. Three more guys showed up to take us to Amman, as well. We spent the next few minutes discussing prices and debating on whether they were really telling the truth about the buses.

A couple, who I assumed were either Czech or Polish based on the writing on the man’s shirt, approached us asking what was going on. I told him that we were told there were no buses running to Amman to which he replied, “Yeah, right. There’s always buses running.” Mustafa then chimed in, confirming that there really weren’t any buses and that if they were wanting to go to Amman, these men would be their best bet.

Reluctantly, we made a deal with the man who tried to take us before and Junior, Jack, Luyi and I got into the stranger’s car.

Tiziana and Asmeret got into another car with the couple who agreed to take a car back to the city and we were on our way.

We arrived about fifteen minutes earlier than it usually takes to get from Jerash to Amman, attributed to the lack of road rules in this country and the strange man’s excessive speeding.

Regardless, we made it alive and at the same time as the others. It all worked out well and Tiziana and Asmeret made friends along the way.

Now I’m suffering through the last hour of fasting that I agreed to do with Anfas, as today is the Day of Ashura in Islam, the tenth day of the new Islamic year meant for atonement before Allah. However, Sunnis and Shias observe it in completely different ways. Anfas, as a Sunni Muslim, voluntarily fasts for two days. Shia Muslims voluntarily commit self-flagellation, though, or the act of whipping oneself to mimic the suffering of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Hussein, whom was martyred in Karbala, Iraq.

I’m only fasting for the experience….and it sucks. I don’t know how Muslims survive Ramadan, especially because the days are so much longer in the summer. Hats off to them.

Next weekend is our journey into the land of Indiana Jones, also known as Petra! Weeeeee!

Just Kidding

You know how I said Junior, Luyi, Shirzad and I were going to go to Jerash today? I lied.

We went to the Dead Sea, instead!

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We left at noon today once Mustafa came to pick us up.

Funny story: Mustafa was the taxi driver that took us to Rainbow Street for Rosa’s dinner party. Luyi got his number before we got out of the car because he spoke English very well and she wanted his assistance in moving out of her apartment. A friendship formed from there and he was kind enough to drive us down to the Dead Sea this afternoon for less than what his company actually charges for long routes. When he isn’t a part-time taxi driver, though, he’s a student at Jordan University studying biomedical engineering.

Anyway, Mustafa picked us up a little after noon and we were on our way. We brought along Junior’s British friend Charles from class, as Shirzad didn’t want to go to the Dead Sea again and Jack was out with Rosa and her host grandmother for a trip to some desert fortresses in the east. Essentially we replaced Jack with Charles and Shirzad with Mustafa, so really it was just like old times!…except Charles hardly spoke and Mustafa isn’t Kurdish.

Along the way we hit a few checkpoints, which are routine around Jordan. By the second one, Mustafa was laughing. I could hear in his exchanges with the officers essentially what the conversations revolved around, especially when he said, “Ingleezi wa Aseenia” which is transliteration for “English and Chinese.” According to Mustafa, at every stop they ask “where are they from and where are you going?” to the drivers. He says it’s usually no problem but if you’re Jordanian, they have to check your ID and run your name in the system. They didn’t seem to care that he was Jordanian, though (born and raised in Jerash).

After an hour’s drive, we arrived at the beach we picked for the day. The Dead Sea has a few beach options, with the public beaches being the least expensive but with less facilities to use. We opted for the beach above the public one, a beach moderately private but with more amenities to it. It was essentially a resort location.

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I wanted nothing to do with the resort things, though. I was there for the Dead Sea experience, and an experience I received.

Mustafa dropped us off and parked the car. He wanted us to have our own time so he went and hung out with the other drivers in the resort restaurant.

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After security, we made our way through the entrance and to the changing rooms.

For some reason, when packing to come to Jordan, it didn’t cross my mind that the Dead Sea would be a place I would go to. Ultimately, I didn’t pack a swimsuit and I wasn’t going to buy one here for two hours of my life. I made due with what I had and wore yoga pants and a tank top as a swimsuit. The American version of the burkini! (Which looks like this).

After we all changed into our suits, we made our way down to the “beach.” It’s not much of a beach as much as it is just giant, sharp, salt-crusted rocks and random metal rods that I was afraid I would somehow impale myself on. Luckily I only ended up with a cut on the finger throughout my experience, even though I fell over three or four times trying to getting out of the water.

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We bobbed around for about an hour or so, making sure to get plenty of salt in our eyes and mouths before we left. Actually, Charles was the only one to get salty eyes, and I was successful with getting a few good gulps of the saltiest water in the world. Now here are some photos of me being a successful human floaty:

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Swimming in the Dead Sea is honestly a workout. My abs hurt after three minutes trying to balance myself, but then I adopted the strategy of the old men a few feet away from me and just leaned back with my hands behind my head.

The salt content is so high in the Dead Sea, which is actually a lake, that it makes your skin smooth as a baby’s butt.

Once finished with our spa treatment from nature, we hopped out (or fell over if you’re me) and headed up to the infinity pool.

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Junior, Luyi and Charles finally got bored of swimming and we all headed to the changing rooms to head home.

However, Mustafa had something else in mind once he pulled the car around.

He decided he’d take us up the mountain to show us a better view.

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He took us to another beach, as well, where families often go to enjoy the sea while having a picnic.

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And here’s a picture of me taking a picture:

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And here’s the picture of the picture I was taking when the picture was taken of me taking a picture:

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And we ended our day with a group selfie and headed back to Amman.

Everyone fell asleep on the way back except for me and Mustafa (which is good, because he was driving) and we jammed to some music on the radio.

Although it was a spur-of-the-moment trip, it was a very good day with new and old friends.

Next weekend: Jerash.

Update

This week was a four-day week, as the Islamic New Year starts today.

Sunday we had the tajwid instructor (tajwid being the rules governing the pronunciation of letters in recitation of the Qur’an) come in for our afternoon class and help us with our pronunciation. It resulted in awkward facial expressions and movements, and a song sung by the instructor, whom can be found most days walking around our institute singing loudly.

Monday we celebrated Anfas’ birthday. Turning 26 (although he hardly remembers how old he is), we wanted to show him how much he means to us. Luyi and I got ingredients to make Chinese dumplings and she picked up a cake over by the North Gate or Jordan University.

We showed up at Anfas’ apartment to one surprised Sri Lankan.

While we started the dumpling preparation, he made us some ginger tea to tide us over before dinner.

Luyi’s dumpling recipe is her mother’s from back home in China, traditionally made with lamb instead of pork or beef.

She made the dough from scratch and I had the pleasure of rolling out all of them for dinner, mostly because I was the only one in the room, aside from the native Chinese, that had ever made dumplings before. I guess I have my cultured childhood to thank for that.

The only dilemma was that we didn’t have proper utensils to use for rollings, so we adopted the chopstick strategy:

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Junior thought it was his duty as a fellow East Asian to learn to make dumplings, but it ended horribly so I revoked him of his duties and let him chop onions to which he spent most of that time crying with burning eyes.

Once dinner was prepared and cooked, it took about a total time of an hour and a half. With bellies full, we decided to pull out Anfas’ birthday cake.

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It was a hazelnut chocolate cake with creme layers on the inside. Luyi sent me a picture of it before we arrived at his apartment, and I’d feared we might kill the birthday boy that evening because it looked like it was covered in peanuts which Anfas is allergic to. We got lucky that it wasn’t and spent the rest of the night stuffing ourselves with delicious cake.

After everything, Anfas seemed very touched that we’d put all this together for him, repeating throughout the night that he’d never celebrated a birthday like this. No cake, no nothing. All in all, it was a good night with good company and a very happy birthday boy.

Tuesday was mostly a blur, except for the part where I made Filipino food for dinner. I locked everyone out of my apartment so they wouldn’t try to eat it.

Yesterday was our last day of class before the holiday break and I spent my evening with Luyi, Junior and Shirzad at Taj Mall, one of the many, many malls in this city, shopping to replace two shirts I ruined in the laundry and grabbing dinner at T.G.I. Friday’s.

Last night was the first time I’d gone anywhere in Amman by myself. Because Jack wanted to work out instead of go with us, I had to walk to the main strip by myself. Although it was only a five minute walk, it was enough to get my adrenaline pumping. As comfortable as I am in Amman, I still have issues feeling safe as a white, petite girl in a male-dominated country. However, walking alone was no issue. In fact, it was business as usual. Walking through the mall that I’m in literally everyday, it was funny to see the reactions of the regular people I see every morning and afternoon, like the security guards and the boy at the cellphone counter, seeing me alone for once. It all worked out, though, and Junior finally got out of his private lessons at 6:30 to meet me and we crossed the road to meet Shirzad and Luyi as they got off the bus.

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After waiting 30 minutes to get a taxi, almost calling an Uber to come get us, we made our way to Taj and went directly down to the fancier food court for dinner. The mall has a level with regular food court restaurants like KFC and McDonald’s but if you go outside and down the stairs, there’s actually sit down restaurants to go to.

Once we settled in and ordered at T.G.I. Friday’s, I had loaded potato skins as something relatively cheap and small, while Junior and Luyi had burgers so big their mouths couldn’t fit around them. Shirzad didn’t have anything because the restaurant sold alcohol, meaning he can’t consume food or beverage because it’s haram. That, and he ate before he left for our night out.

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After dinner was over, we went to H&M first as it had a 70% off sale. While the deals were good, all the clothes on sale were short-sleeved, tank tops or short dresses, none of which I can wear either in school due to dress code or comfortably out on the street due to staring. Junior found something he liked, though:

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Everyone in the store was staring at him and it was hilarious.

On another note, I find it fascinating that most stores in malls here are Western brands advertising and and selling Western-style clothing but no woman would dare walk out in public in what’s presented on the mannequins. Sometimes I see girls with shoulders exposed but I never see legs exposed like the short dresses or shorts you see back home. Quite frankly, it makes me uncomfortable seeing what’s acceptable back home. For instance, Junior wears shorts sometimes, like in the picture above. Seeing men in shorts is just not a thing in Jordan, but it’s okay for Junior because he’s foreign. Luyi also wears short-sleeved shirts to class or out in public. Meanwhile I’m trying to make sure my elbows aren’t exposed, my neckline isn’t too low and my pants or skirts are close enough to my ankles that I don’t show off too much leg.

Anyway, I didn’t end up buying anything at H&M as it was too expensive and inappropriate for my taste, but ended up buying two replacement shirts at a store called Stradivarius that had reasonably priced items.

After Luyi essentially bought everything at the mall we headed downstairs to Cozmo, an inexpensive supermarket that sells imported grocery items.

Luyi wanted to buy things to make Pad Thai like what Junior made for us a few weeks ago, so she and Junior went off to the Asian sauces aisle. Meanwhile, Shirzad and I wandered over to the sweets counter where a man was selling znoud el sit, the Iraqi dessert I had with my first meal in Jordan in what feels like years ago. Shirzad asked if we could try a piece and the man handed both of us our own to have for free. It was just as delicious as I remembered, which prompted Shirzad to try to convince me (again) to come to Iraq so I could have the real version of it. Nice try, Shirzad.

We were wrapping up our shopping when all of a sudden we heard a crash. We turned around to see that Luyi had dropped a bottle of sauce that completely shattered all over the floor. A manager came around the corner and Luyi started crying because she thought she was going to have to pay for it. Seeing her tears, the manager said “No, no, don’t cry! You don’t have to pay!” It was a 2JD bottle of Pad Thai sauce….and she cried.

Oh well.

We checked out and decided to call it a night, grabbing a taxi and heading back into the city where I was dropped off outside my apartment so I wouldn’t have to walk home alone.

Today, Thursday, we were supposed to go to Wadi Rum for an overnight trip. However, that got canceled as midterms are this coming weekend and Anfas has his on Sunday.

Tomorrow we were supposed to go to yet another castle, but due to some last minute cancellations on transportation and a particular person joining the trip that I’m not fond of, I’m not going and there are only four seats available to go. Ultimately Jack is going with Rosa and the person I’m not fond of, and while Junior or Luyi had the chance to go, they decided they’d rather do something else tomorrow as more of a group and Jack can do his own thing.

SO tomorrow Luyi, Shirzad, Junior and I are going to Jerash for a bit of exploration. We’d been through the city before on our trip to Ajloun a month or so ago but never got to explore the Roman ruins there.

It’ll be weird with the group not traveling together like we usually do but it should be fun. We also get Shirzad as a translator so things should be easier on us than the other group.

Until next time.

Karak

We spent the day in Karak, Jordan, in the Karak governorate today, visiting a 12th century Crusader castle.

We started the day at the usual time for our weekend outings, 8:30AM, and made it to the south bus station around nine o’clock for an hour and a half drive to Karak.

I realized on the journey there just how intolerant I’ve become of certain aspects of Jordanian culture, namely how inconsiderate the general population is of littering. Between the men in front of me smoking and putting their cigarettes out on the bus floor and the man sitting behind me who kept throwing his various food wrappers out of the bus door, I was fed up about halfway through the ride.

Amman is a dirty city, there’s no arguing with that, but Karak was the epitome of a garbage can. The sides of the road are covered in trash.

We made it to Karak close to 11AM, dropped off on the side of the road by the bus driver. We had no idea how to get where we were going, as we were stranded in a new city. Luckily, the food wrapper man was heading into town as well and hailed a minibus for us to go with him. Usually travelers have to pay when taking a bus into town but he managed to convince the driver to let it be free for us and, as usual, Shirzad got his number. He’s notorious for making friends wherever he goes.

We were dropped off right outside of the entrance of the castle where we were greeted by the tourist police who were so nice and asked us where we all were from and tried to get to know us a little.

After a 1JD entrance fee, we made our way through the gates and onto our adventure.

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Clouds low enough, or mountains high enough, to cast shadows.

I’m not much of a history buff, as that’s Jack’s specialty, but from what I do know Karak Castle is the second largest crusader castle in the Middle East, with the largest one being in Syria. Originally it was a seven-story structure but has since seen major destruction. The only reason I know any of this is because of this dude:

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I never got his name, unfortunately, but he was one of the groundskeepers of the castle complex. Probably in his late 60s, he climbed up to where we were sitting to talk to us about our origins, speak a little Arabic with us and tell us a bit about the castle’s history. He was very nice, as is typical of everyone I meet in this country.

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We mostly spent the afternoon exploring every nook and cranny of the castle, climbing all over Jordan’s history. Surprisingly we spent a good three hours wandering around the grounds. It was time well spent, that’s for sure.

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Next week: Wadi Rum.

Night on Rainbow Street

Last night my classmates (and Junior, who invited himself) went to Rosa’s house for dinner on Rainbow Street.

We had a new addition to our class last week, a Turkish guy named Mohammad, who was invited although he speaks absolutely no English. However, Rosa accidentally gave all of us the wrong number and he was unable to contact her for directions despite her drawing a map of where she was located and didn’t end up coming. According to his friend today, Mohammad spent two hours trying to find Rosa’s house but I find that extremely difficult to believe. I have a feeling the phone thing would not have worked anyway, since he can barely say the word “bread,” let alone “Hey, I’m lost and can’t seem to find your house. Is there any way you could come meet me on such and such street?”

Despite an error in information, the rest of us were able to find her place rather easily.

Rosa, who is British, lives with a family friend by the name of Jane from her home country that has been an expatriate in Jordan for a little over 26 years. Her host grandmother, as she tends to refer to her, has been all over the world as a photographer, a writer and a stint in the broadcasting industry. Invited as well to the party was Jane’s friend and fellow photographer Bashar Tabbah, a local Jordanian who looks like the whitest guy ever. Turns out his father is Jordanian and his mother is British, giving him similar roots as King Abdullah II whose father and mother were of the same respective nationalities. He’s been all over the world documenting architecture and landscapes of historical places in the countries he visits and was fascinating to talk to. He is currently set to publish a book on his archaeological photographs of Jordan.

Here’s a link to his website if you’d like to take a gander:  http://www.mapandlens.com/

Our age range for the evening was from 18 to 73, with Luyi, Junior and Rosa as the youngest, Jack and I at age 21, Tiziana and Asmeret, two nuns from Italy and Ethiopia, ages 35-40 and Jane and Bashar, ages 73 and (probably) 32, respectively.

Jane’s house was beautiful, with high vaulted ceilings, a vintage kitchen and walls decorated with items she’s collected from her travels, with tapestries from Eritrea and a mattress couch typical of the Bedouin tents found out in the desert. I wanted to stay forever. Good news is she’s moving back to Britain in December and she only rents the house, so I call first dibs.

On the menu for the night was a British staple: Shepherd’s pie.

Jack brought ingredients to whip up a salad as a side dish and I brought hummus and fresh bread from the bread shop down the road, baked a few hours before we left to go to dinner. Jordanian bread is fantastic.

Rosa made the shepherd’s pie herself, which was apparently shocking to Jane who has at least 73 years of life under her belt and about 60 devoted to cooking. It was delicious, though.

However, what we might see as a typical shepherd’s pie, made with beef, is actually called a cottage pie — shepherd’s pie is historically made with lamb. We ended up having true shepherd’s pie with lamb, though, as Jack has what he calls a “beef with Jordan’s beef.”

In the supermarket, one can usually find imported Brazilian beef or Indian beef. There is local Jordanian beef as well but it usually goes for a higher price, around 9JD a pound or 12 USD. Too much money.

According to Jack, apparently Brazilian beef isn’t the best in quality and Indian beef is simply a contradiction, as cows are sacred in India and the slaughtering of one usually means it isn’t done humanely. Whatever floats his boat.

The drinks for the evening were new for me. I got to experience what’s called Pimms, a British liqueur that’s mixed with lemonade and a variety of fruits, cucumber and mint. It’s usually meant for summertime and although it’s now autumn, we still have summer temperatures here in Amman so it was very refreshing.

We also brought wine for the evening, as well. Junior picked up some local Jordanian wine from Mount Nebo. The unfortunate thing was the Junior drank pretty much all of it.

We enjoyed our dinner out back on the dimly lit, open air porch, sipping wine and discussing topics of the Middle East from the refugee crisis to Yasser Arafat to the late King Hussein. Bashar told us stories of King Hussein and how immune he was to the worries of his own safety. Jane elaborated, telling us of a time King Hussein was giving a eulogy in Britain and suddenly a large bang went off. Usually the Royal Security is to stay as incognito as possible, but as this bang occurred, they all popped up and gave away their status as security. In the meantime, Hussein didn’t even bat an eye and kept going on with the eulogy. His reasoning? If it was his time to go, then it was time to go. Turns out the bang was simply a clash of thunder.

Bashar also told us of one time when King Hussein was being shot at (there were at least 15 attempts on his life while king) and a bullet flew by and knocked his beret off. Instead of taking cover like most people would, he simply bent down, picked up his beret, dusted it off and kept going while his security force was exchanging fire.

What was even more interesting was when Jane and Bashar explained how Palestinians are perceived in this country. For the longest time, Israel has considered Jordan to be the Palestinian state as the majority of Jordanians are actually Palestinian. However, those who perceive themselves as “true Jordanians” seem to have a superiority complex over Palestinians, seeing them as a stain on the country’s history. Jane explained that Palestinians are not permitted to hold high offices in the government and that there was only one time that there was a Palestinian in office as Prime Minister. We commented that Queen Rania is Palestinian and Bashar explained that she is even criticized for her heritage. Palestinians hold official bank jobs, though, and these positions are specifically allotted to Palestinians so there’s an interesting divide and aspect of discrimination from both sides.

To end on a high note, Bashar also told us of the time he met the current King Abdullah II at a funeral.

According to Bashar, nuts are usually offered at funerals and during this particular funeral he was starving. Successful in finding some nuts to munch on, he shoved a few in his mouth and turned around to see the King right in front of him. Trying to be a polite commoner, he went up to the King and gave him a few pecks on the cheek as Jordanians do, all while his cheeks were full of nuts. Bashar will forever remember his first encounter with the King as the time he resembled a hamster storing food in his cheeks.

In all, it was a very nice night with fellow classmates, friends and strangers and inshallah it will happen again.

Madaba

We made last minute plans to go to Madaba today, a city in central Jordan just 20 minutes south of Amman.

One of our classmates, Rosa, had been earlier in the term and had commented on how great the place was.

Jack graduated with a history degree back in England and we figured it would be right up his alley, as the city is known for its Byzantine and Umayyad-era mosaics, so we made the decision to have a day out in a new city.

We caught a taxi around 8:45 this morning to head to the bus station. Anfas and Luyi were supposed to go but due to poor communication from various people within the group, both were left behind. It ended up being just a boy’s day + me but it was a good day, regardless.

We arrived in Madaba around 10:00am at a dingy bus station in town. Straight off the bus we saw a little boy holding a white rabbit by the ears and slinging it around. My only reaction was, “WHAT KIND OF PLACE IS THIS?!”

Terrified and confused, we headed towards the center of town to find the visitors center for information on the sites around the city, as it was a spur-of-the-moment thing and we weren’t sure where to go and what to do.

After some confusion in directions, we finally found the center with a massive crowd in the resting area of what I assumed were locals but Shirzad then informed us that the group was actually a group of Egyptians, Coptic Christians who make up about 10% of the population of Egypt and are the largest Christian denomination in the country. It was interesting that it was essentially an all-male group, though. I don’t think I saw one woman with them.

After Jack finally had his precious time with the toilet, we headed off to our first site. The only problem is that I can’t remember what it was. Something with columns and a mosaic with a large group of Egyptians to go with it.

We tried to go into St. George’s Church but the man out front demanded we have a ticket to enter. He obviously wasn’t smart enough to realize that the doors were wide open so we essentially saw the whole interior without paying.

With that site visit resulting in somewhat of a failure, we headed on to the Shrine of the Beheading of John the Baptist. Quite the mouthful of a title.

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The site, the Acropolis museum, actually sits beneath an operating Roman Catholic church built in 1864, which we had the pleasure of randomly attending Mass at. I later learned that Mass is usually closed off to visitors so I actually feel pretty honored that they allowed us in. The only reason we went in, though, was because Shirzad heard singing. I’ve never seen a Muslim so excited to go to church. I can hardly get him to go to the mosque on a regular basis. Jack and Junior were a little reluctant to go in at first, but quickly joined us as Shirzad and I found a seat in one of the pews.

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The service was in Arabic (of course) but I could pick up some words of what was being said. It mostly consisted of words related to God, the Father and ‘ameen’ which is Arabic for ‘amen.’ Not too much of a difference. It brought me back to my experience in Guatemala this summer, attending Mass there as well but in the Spanish language.

Shirzad had the idea during Mass that we should run up after everyone received communion and get married. His reasoning? “There’s a Father (or Baba as they call them in Arabic) up there. There’s a crowd as a witness. Some women are wearing veils, so they could give you one. We just need a ring!”

No, Shirzad. No.

Overall Shirzad seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself and was fascinated by how a Catholic service works, and I can now say that I’ve attended Mass in two different countries and I’ve also attended church with a Muslim.

After Mass the man who allowed us to attend let us see the sites of the church for free, even though it usually cost 1 or 2JD for a ticket. We went down into the acropolis and ventured upon a functioning well which I later learned is ancient, dating back 3,000 years. We pulled up some water and Junior had a sip. He said it was very pure in taste but I wasn’t keen on drinking from the dirt.

We mozied around the museum for a bit and came upon the shrine for John the Baptist, essentially a head surrounded by currency from all over the world.

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We managed to surface back into the church, turned the corner and ran into theme park-style Jesus:

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After that encounter we found our way to the staircase leading up to the bell tower. We were warned by the guy not to ring the bells. That didn’t seem to work out, though.

The way up to the bell tower consists of seven steep flights of stairs and upon reaching the last flight we came across the bell. Shirzad decided he’d give it a ring and, boy, what a ring it was. It echoed across the city and we took off like bandits up the stairs. I’d decided mentally, if confronted, to blame it on the group of Filipinos that were on their way down the stairs.

After darting to the top, the view offered an amazing panorama of the city.

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The mosque down below was beautiful and Shirzad managed to get a great picture of it on our way up the hill to the church.

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We decided we’d better head down and grab some lunch before we headed off to our next site. We ran into the Filipinos outside the church who were kind enough to give us some ideas of good places to eat nearby. While a discussion of restaurants was taking place, Shirzad asked the man who allowed us into Mass what days and times it takes place on a typical week in what seemed like an interest to attend again, if not in Madaba then in Amman. I think it really made an impact on him.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat and snagged a private taxi to take us to our next site: Mount Nebo.

Mount Nebo is in the Bible as the place in which Moses was granted by God with a view of the Promised Land and is ultimately a place for Christian pilgrims.

On a clear day, you are supposed to see what Moses saw: Jericho, Bethlehem, the Dead Sea, the Jordan River valley and Jerusalem. We weren’t as lucky as Moses.

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We mostly saw what was in front of us. We did get to see some of the Dead Sea, though, and it made me mad that we were so close but couldn’t go because we planned on going with the whole group another weekend.

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We got to see where the Pope stood, though! I didn’t get a picture.

After all that we hopped back in the truck and our driver took us down to Moses’ Spring, one of two places where Moses is believed to have found water from the striking of a rock from his staff.

While I’m sure it would be a fascinating place for those of the Abrahamic religions (Shirzad was very excited, as Moses is a Prophet in Islam), I found it hard to enjoy the experience from the standpoint that I had to trek down a rocky hill, it reeked of donkey poop and there was a large group of guys under the waterfall staring and yelling at me.

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On our final leg of our site visits our driver took us to “Moses’ Journey,” a place that resembled a put-put course with statues of Moses’ journey to Mount Nebo. I ended up with some funny photos of Shirzad.

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I’m glad he can have fun with his religion.

We ended up calling it a day after that, jumped back into the truck and headed to the bus station.

All in all it was a good trip despite how it started.

I got to experience a new city, attended church with a Muslim, saw the Dead Sea and saw a rabbit get flung around violently.

Shirzad got everything for free today. He didn’t have to pay for his lunch (for whatever reason), he didn’t have to pay for his water at another shop (because he told the shopkeeper he loved Saddam Hussein) and he didn’t have to pay for an entrance to Mount Nebo (because the taxi driver told him he was his friend).

Jack got a history lesson or two, can now report back to his Christian mother that he stood where Moses stood AND went to church, and now has a hilarious video on my phone (that I took) of him falling asleep on the bus ride back.

There’s not much to say for Junior. He saw what everyone else saw. He also saw me give theme park Jesus a kiss.

Two thumbs up for Madaba. Next weekend: Karak Castle.

One Month

It’s been one month since I boarded a plane, alone, for the first time, to the Middle East.

I think I’ll remember that day clearly for the rest of my life.

Leading up to this trip, there was this sinking feeling in the pit of my gut that I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

What if all my fears of the Middle East were true?

What if there really are terrorists around every corner?

What if ISIS decides it wants to add Jordan to its acronym?

The only thing I could do was see and experience this place for myself.

Crying as I squeezed my mother goodbye, I headed to security in the O’Hare airport at ten o’clock at night.

I then stepped onto a plane for what would be my longest international flight to date.

For whatever reason, the anxiety I should have had with taking such a big step in my life, especially for someone with a lifetime of anxiety and panic attacks on record, I was so at ease.

I think, in the back of my mind, I knew this was the right decision.

It didn’t take me long to figure it out but I was so right.

It was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Jordan is home.

I know they say studying abroad changes your life and while I believe that there’s truth in that, I knew that regardless of where I went, it would have been life changing.

The difference was that I wanted it to be somewhere that would truly make an impact on not only myself but more particularly on those back home. I wanted it to change me in ways that no other place could.

Jordan has done just that in such a short amount of time.

All the preconceived notions I held before coming here went out the window a long time ago.

I’m more understanding and aware of things around me.

I’m more open-minded, curious and adventurous.

I’ve tackled my anxiety head on. I feel like I can handle anything…except being late.

I’ve adapted to a culture so different from my own.

I’ve learned about numerous cultures in the process of meeting some of the best friends.

I’ve learned about and grown to love what I believe is one of the most beautiful religions.

I’ve learned a new language.

I’m treating everyday as an experience, whether it feels positive in the moment or not.

I honestly feel like a happier person since I’ve come to this country.

I think I could leave Jordan tomorrow and feel satisfied with my experience here.

It might be the hardest thing I’d ever have to do, though.

I don’t want to leave.

Even the thought of leaving, even as prematurely as the thought might be, is enough to bring a tear to my eye.

There’s so much to see, so much to do and so much more I need to accomplish before I leave.

Alhamdulillah there’s still a little over two months left of this amazing journey.

I can’t wait to see what’s in store.

Goodbye Freedom, Hello Classes

The day has come.

The last day of our ten-day holiday break.

My, what a ten-day break it’s been.

I’m sad to see it go but I’ve also forgotten how to read and write Arabic and I’d just gotten to the point where I was even writing English backwards, so it’s probably best that classes are starting up again tomorrow.

Not much has happened since my last post on our time in Dana.

I spent the following day recovering, mostly because I could hardly get out of bed so I stared at the ceiling most of the day.

At one point Jack came by to see how progress was coming along with studying and I had to disappoint him with news that I had yet to even open our book. With that, he didn’t feel so bad that he had no motivation to study and went back to his apartment to do nothing, as one does after returning from two days of trekking across the desert.

The following day, Friday, we had plans to have dinner at Luyi’s place for Chinese night.

While Junior and Luyi prepared for dinner, I skyped with my mom and all the sweet babies from her daycare back home. She got to meet Junior and Luyi and I had Anfas come down to say hello in his fancy prayer gown (actually called a thawb). After hanging up with my mom, Junior had “Pop Goes the Weasel” stuck in his head for the next hour from the songs playing in the background of the daycare. He didn’t seem to mind, as he was glad he’d learned an American nursery rhyme.

We also spent a good hour before dinner texting each other stupid photos. Jack kept taunting me with pictures of deliciously chocolaty cake and then he ruined my cake dreams when he sent me my worst nightmare:

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Tomato cake.

Jack thinks it’s hilarious to tease me about my hatred of pickles, tomatoes and onions and he pokes fun every chance he gets.

I then sent him this:

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And the Putin pictures continued from there:

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We were practically peeing our pants from two separate apartments.

The good thing about coming to the Middle East to study is that everyone else studying here has the same interests, so Putin riding a kitten is hilarious to the politically-minded.

Anyway….

For dinner we had spicy tofu, prawn crackers and a gigantic Chinese hot pot of noodles, rehydrated mushrooms, regular mushrooms, seaweed, Korean rice cake and lettuce. So good.

I intended on taking pictures but I was too busy eating it to care. Luyi sent me a photo of our tofu, though:

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Before dinner Shirzad surprised us, but especially me, when I saw him turn the corner to our apartment building holding a cake. I’ve been pestering him to buy me a cake essentially since the day I met him and he finally bought me one! It was delicious and especially fitting after our previous conversation involving tomato cake.

A chocolate cake with layers of fudge and crisp rice (like in a Crunch bar), covered in a fudgey outside with a sweet syrup-covered strawberry and the words “Hayley Habibty” (Hayley My Love) on it.

I didn’t get a picture of it because I ate half of it before I realized I hadn’t taken a picture. Seriously. I ate half of a three-layer chocolate cake. Shirzad took a picture, though, so maybe I’ll have him send it to me in the next few days.

Yesterday, Saturday, was a day of nothingness. Laundry and a little bit of studying. It was the first day I didn’t see any of my friends so seeing them today felt like I hadn’t seen them in days.

I just got back from a quick lunch out with Shirzad and Jack at Hashem’s Restaurant downtown, stuffing ourselves with hummus, ful and falafel. Their hummus is the best I’ve ever had, hands down.

It also dawned on me that I was literally the only white girl in the whole restaurant, and it was packed today as it’s the last day of the holiday and everyone is still off work.

After lunch we headed over to the Roman amphitheatre so I could stare at a portrait of my future husband, Crown Prince Hussein, for a few minutes.

Just kidding. We went so Jack could see it and so we could walk off our food babies.

While taking photos out in front of it, two boys came up to Shirzad and asked if they could take a photo with me.

I have no idea why they asked because I saw them taking photos of me while Shirzad was taking a photo of Jack, trying to be sneaky with their cell phones.

They probably asked because, in the process of them trying to be sneaky, I hid behind Shirzad once I realized they were pointing their phones at me so they didn’t get a full photo.

Boys are creepy.

Despite that, it was good to get out of the apartment for some fresh air, and on such a pretty day.

It’s currently 85 with a nice breeze blowing through.

At the moment I’m listening to the call to prayer and procrastinating on studying.

I’ve made plans to have a nice evening with Anfas, sipping tea on his balcony and probably staring into his neighbor’s apartment like I seem to be so good at doing lately.

Jack’s making dinner for us tomorrow and the gang wants me to make them a nice Southern American meal sometime soon.

I’ve offered to make them pancakes one morning, even though syrup is so expensive here. 4JD or almost $6 for a bottle of stupid syrup. Don’t think so. As far as an American dinner goes, though, Jack will probably vomit from all the grease involved. We’ll see what I cook up.