Living in Jedha for a Night


After much anticipation we finally arrived at Wadi Rum! As we stepped out of the bus we climbed into 4×4 pick-up trucks we were met with vast expanses of rock and sand. As we drove into the desert to Rainbow Camp, our Bedouin host for the night, we were enveloped in a sea of dust and towering rock formations. As soon as we left the initial village of Wadi Rum I was surprised as to how desolate and pure the desert was. It was incredibly peaceful and unlike anything I had ever experienced before. As our Bedouin host drove us to our camp, I acutely realized that it would be very easy to get lost in the expanse of this desert. Once we arrived at our camp our hosts began to sing traditional songs and play an instrument similar to a guitar. As we clapped to the beat of the songs the men started lining up in front of us and dancing! After this they were ready to serve us dinner and show us how they prepared our food. They cooked the most succulent chicken and potatoes for us in this underground oven where they place the meat on metal plates that are connected and lowered down into a circular oven that is dug into the earth. As they pulled out the metal trays to let us see the oven it was incredibly long and narrow! Later on in the night, at about 2:30 AM, we hiked to a rock beside our camp to stargaze. The sky was full of stars. I could see the soft twinkling stars and older bright stars, the sky looked like a maze, a sea of variations of light. As I laid on this rock, trying not to fall asleep, I began to see white lights streaming across the sky. I realized that I was watching shooting stars! Never before have I seen that many shooting stars. If you weren’t watching closely enough you could easily miss them for the fall only lasted for about five seconds.


The following morning we left for four hours of 4×4 tours of the desert. Since we had arrived at night the previous day, I recall seeing the desert for the first time and being in awe. The sand was this incredible rust, blood-orange color! We first drove to a spring in the mountains where we hiked up an enormous taupe colored rock to a small plateau with vegetation to reach a spring, hidden like a treasure inside a cave with a narrow entrance, so slight you could almost bypass it. As we continued on our tour we came to another canyon that was recessed. The canyon had inscriptions from the Nabateans, an old tribe that lived in the south of Jordan, at its entrance. There were three tribesmen carved into the top of the rock, higher than was seemingly feasible. As I walked on the ridges of the rock to reach the end of the canyon, I was surrounded by multicolored rock that reminded me of the Siq trail. At the entrance the rock was a rust-orange with lighter sand colored striations, however the color of the interior of the canyon was completely different. The rock was shades of burgundy, chocolate, sand and rust with golden hues. It was beautiful. All along the canyon walls were Arabic words and images.The rock was cool opposed to the hot dusty breeze of the desert. It was a beautiful place to camp out and listen to Arabic music.

Later we arrived at another camp for another Bedouin meal. Since the heat was at its pinnacle, we rested for two hours before going back out for four more hours of touring. We continued on hiking mountains and sand dunes to a clearing where we could see the mountains that separated Jordan from Saudi Arabia! As we toured we lost track of time. Driving around the desert in the back of a 4×4 made time seem irrelevant and illogical.

The most memorable part of the afternoon tours was watching the sunset on the mountains. At the end of the day we climbed to the middle of a large rock formation and directly in front of us was the sun, descending upon the mountain. The as the sun set the sky turned colors of deep purple, soft pink and vibrant orange with tints of golden yellow. It changed the color of the rock, which went from a blanched rust-sand color to a saturated pink-orange. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I had ever seen. It was a perfect end to the weekend full of desert tours.


A Weekend Floating Between Egypt and Israel


This week my parents and sister arrived in Amman! It was so much fun taking them around the city that had become my new home. As they went on their daily excursions and I went to class, I was excited to be able to spend the weekend with them in Aqaba. The drive to Aqaba was quite long, four and a half hours along the Dead Sea Highway. However, the long hours were worth it for Aqaba was a beautiful and much needed oasis. The town of Aqaba itself was filled with eateries and small jewelry shops. Our hotel was twenty minutes outside of the town of Aqaba and overlooked the Red Sea and the mountains of Egypt. It was so surreal to be that close to Egypt. We could have swam over to it!! Our room was across from a marina and the docked boats on the water reminded me of New England marinas. It was easy to forget that I was in Jordan.

Later that day we decided to venture outside into the Red Sea and it was very refreshing. I had anticipated the water to be very hot like the Dead Sea but thankfully it wasn’t because the outside temperature was 104 degrees!! Since we went to the beach later in the day, the sand had cooled off, so it was not as scorching on our feet. The beach reminded me of Cape Cod beaches where the sand turns to a bed of pebbles on the coastline. It was so relaxing floating in the water. I was fully enjoying my weekend absent of the bustle of Amman and the constant stimulation of city living. I very much felt at home. I was though very surprised at the salinity of the water. When we left the ocean we had a layer of white salt film coating our bodies. It felt amazing to submerge into the hotel pools afterwards. It felt cleansing of all of the salt of the Red Sea.

The following day we decided to snorkel before I had to head back to Amman for classes the following day. I was expecting to have to take a boat out to a farther point to be able to see the infamous coral reefs and fish of the Red Sea but fortunately we were able to just take out equipment and walk right out to into the ocean! I put my mask on, walked about forty meters and saw a swarm of fish feeding on coral. The coral was beautiful, it was colors of soft yellows and red-orange. There were bits of light blue and very faint purples. In niches there were burgendy colored sea urchins and when the sun-light twinkled through the small ripples of the sea, the urchins appeared to be moving with the current. As I sat there floating and watching the fish I found myself enveloped in a school of small minnow looking fish. They were golden, just like a goldfish, and very small. I was surprised at how close the fish came to me. I was mesmerized by the colors of the fish. There were fish of electric purple color. Some were half black and half white-gray with a neon orange yellow streak. Others were black and tan striped. Some were bright red and small, feeding on the color or swimming on top of other larger fish. It was so interesting watching the fish swim around each other, nibbling on the coral without a care about these large lurking bodies watching them from above.


Traversing the Seventh Wonder of the World

On Thursday night we left for Petra since it takes three hours to get there because of checkpoints. Due to recent protests in Southern Jordan we had to take a different route to get there that took even longer! Nonetheless the entire bus was filled with excitement and anticipation to see the seventh wonder of the world. I went up to the rooftop of the Petra Moon Hotel and looked out on all of Petra. It was incredible. The landscape was just like Amman, crowded hotels and homes built into the mountain, lining the skyline.

The following morning we left early for Petra to try and escape the heat. As soon as I walked passed the gates I was mesmerized by the carvings on the pale white, limestone rock. As the guide taught us about the history of Petra my mind began to wander and think about how the Nabateans might have used this site as a trading hub. As we approached the Siq trail I felt so small compared to the towering rocks. As I walked through the canyon-like opening of the Siq trail, it seemed as though the rock was stretching above and on both sides of me for miles. I saw fossils of wheat on the walls of the rock and different niches for gods engraved into the rocks. After completing the trail we came to the infamous Treasury. I was speechless. The size and detail of the Treasury building was unfathomable. I still cannot comprehend how these tribes were able to carve and construct this magnanimous building. It took 100 men ten years to carve this magnificent structure.  The rock was incredibly smooth and the color was uniform which was surprising. It was a vibrant rust colored building with clear Roman and Greek influence.

Next to the Treasury was a Roman forum and amphitheater and tombs! The Nabateans carved ornate tombs for the dead at the top of the mountain and today they stand as large cavernous rooms. It was beautiful to walk through the cold stone and through the laid archways. It is still unfathomable that these structures were built in 312 B.C. andthat these ancient tribes were able to construct such a development with seemingly primitive and inferior materials.

We were supposed to go to Wadi Rumafter Petra and we were on a strict time schedule so our leaders decided to call in donkeys for us to be able to reach the monastery, the farthest part of Petra. As forty donkeys came to pick up all of the students, I was placed on the last and smallest donkey. As soon as the donkey started to walk forward I was lurched. As the donkey started to scale rocks and climb flights of carved and rocky stairs, I was falling left and right. As I leaned left and right and ducked under rocks I realized why I was originally told that the donkeys were an incredibly dangerous way to get to the monastery. When I finally reached the top of the mount, I released my grip on the donkey’s metal saddle. As I climbed to the top of the mountain, completely out of breath, the monastery loomed in-front of me. It was similar to the Treasury in design and had ornate detail along the columns. It was incredibly large and cavernous inside. It was interesting to see that the Nabateans carved out the inside of the mount as well. I decided to follow the signs up to another mountain that was acclaimed to hold the “best view in Jordan,” where a small puppy lived and a merchant stall was set up with homemade metal jewelry. At the top of the mountain I looked out on all of Petra and the unchartered rock on the other side. The stark contrast of this underdeveloped and natural land to the American landscape is indescribable.


Brunching, Shopping and Farming in Amman!


This weekend we explored more more of the city around us as well as the Jordanian countryside. My flatmates and I decided to go to brunch in Abdoun, a more Western and wealthy neighborhood, to a restaurant called Blue Fig. It was delicious! We opened the menu and one of the first dishes was avocado toast, so naturally, since we are millenials, we HAD to order some. They made the toast with a layer of labneh, a local type of yoghurt and the sourness that it brought to the creamy avocado texture made it the BEST brunch I have had since being here. It was so interesting to be part of the different culture in Abdoun where dress and style is less conservative than the area of Sports City that we are accustomed to.

Afterwards we wandered over to TAJ Mall, where we found a roller rink at the front entrance! It was one of the largest malls I have ever seen. It was a very interesting experience to see the American stores such as H&M and American Eagle juxtaposed with Jordanian clothing stores. The mix of culture present in the physical stores was representative of the individuals themselves in Abdoun.

The following day we went on a farming tour of the Jordanian countryside. We spent the day traveling to different homes and experiencing life on a farm. At each home there was a specific activity. At the first home, the woman of the house taught us how to make za’atar, a mixture of spices, including sumac, ground wheat, ground chickpeas, oregano, sesame seeds and olive oil. This spread is then put on bread and baked with more olive oil that acts as an adhesive. Za’atar is by far my favorite food in Jordan—its simplicity is delicious, and it’s savory and salty flavors are incredibly unique to the area.

Afterwards we moved to another farm where we learned about bees and got to try some honey. The beekeeper explained to us the process of beekeeping in Jordan and how in different seasons, you can have different flavored honey. He expressed that in April the bees feed off of a sweeter flower so the honey has a more sour and tangy flavor rather than a sweet taste. At first I thought that the honey would be overwhelming sweet but the freshness and gummy-ness of the wax inside the honey was beyond amazing. It was the best honey I have ever tasted. It was good enough to eat by the spoonfuls!

Our next stop was a larger farm where we milked goats, chased chickens, collected eggs, played marbles and are a delicious, farm-fresh meal. We also learned, or at least tried to learn, how to make the local large, thin bread favored here. The oven that you lay the dough on was a large round dome that allowed for the larger shape of the bread. The bread had a salty after-taste and the grain was a darker brownish hue. It was very hard to make the bread into a round circle as the woman of the house did and my bread ended up looking more like a thin breadstick that you find at a pastry shop rather than a larger circle of dough. After that, the woman of the house made us a delicious spread for lunch, including our just-picked eggs and fresh goat cheese. One of the local family members told me to take a chunk of the goat-milk butter with my bread and dunk it in the sugar. It was one of the most delicious desserts I have ever tasted. I have found here that they have simpler recipes and foods that are so enjoyable.

After finishing our meal, we hiked up a hill where we used a wood fire to make mint tea and a stew with lamb in a tomato base. It was a day full of eating and exploring the countryside of Jordan. It was interesting to be able to interact with and be accepted into the homes of so many different families.They were very willing to provide for us such a rich experience and share part of their livelihood with us. It makes me appreciate even more the food that I am able to buy here and the care with which it is prepared.

The Dead Sea is Dying!!


At the start of this second week we were given a lengthy break because it was the end of Ramadan and the start of Eid al-Fitr, a three-day national holiday during which Muslims feast and celebrate with family and friends. On Friday (Friday and Saturday are the weekend days here) our institute went on a field trip to Ajloun Castle and had dinner in Jersah. The castle was built during the Crusades and was a peachy sand color that reminded me of the colors of sunsets at the New Jersey shore. We were able to climb all the way to the roof of the castle and have a 360 degree view of the neighboring towns and landscape. It was breathtaking! This area had the “forests” of Amman—the clusters of trees juxtaposed with the arid terrain of the valleys around Amman was incredible. Being able to see across the mountains to the Dead Sea, the beginnings of Damascus, and outskirts of  Israel was unbelievable.

We then left and went to another Iftar at a nearby restaurant in Jersah where we broke the fast, in a traditional way, with a date. After that came plates of hummus, pita, tabbouleh and meats. It was the most colorful assortment of food! If that was not enough we were served kanafa, which looked similar to a bird’s nest with crushed pistachio on top. The nest was fried wheat congealed with a honey so sweet your teeth hurt.

Having six days off of class gave us ample time to go on multiple excursions, including to visit the Roman citadel. After so many years of Latin and Classical studies it was interesting to see the Roman influences in Amman. As we climbed to the top of the citadel, we were left with a beautiful view of Amman. It was surreal to see how the buildings are literally built into the mountains of Amman so that the city “moves” with the terrain.

The following day we left to go to the Dead Sea with our program, making stops at Mount Nebo along the way.We stopped at a scenic outlook to look out at the vast expanse. As we left the bus we saw colossal mounts at a depth indescribable and unable to be captured with a camera. It appeared as though the mountains stretched out for miles. Their striations were colors of burgundy, slate and deep browns that blended to make a picture of seemingly prehistoric times. The mountains surrounded us. Everywhere I turned I saw vast expanses of rust colored mountains and plateaus. The scene was broken up by the narrow winding roads and the scattered huts and tents of Bedouin, native Jordanian, families. As we continued to Mount Nebo we stepped out to a view of trees scattered in an arid landscape. Our guide pointed out the place where Moses struck a rock and out sprung twelve streams. Farther out, through the haze, we could see the Dead Sea and the outskirts of both Jerusalem and Damascus. It was surreal to see the country at peace from so far away when there is so much internal turmoil. We could even see the two tall towers at the center of Amman! Considering we were at least an hour away from Amman it was amazing to be able to see the city center so clearly. The desolate and quiet landscape mirrored the atmosphere of the Mount where we viewed ancient mosaics that displayed intricate designs of animals and wild flowers.


When we finally reached the Dead Sea, we were anxious to enter the water and coat ourselves with the famous Dead Sea mud all over our bodies. Walking into the water was surprisingly difficult as the salt made my body incredibly buoyant. As my legs floated up, I had to work hard to remain on my back and not get the salt in my eyes. I was surprised to find that after some time the salt stung! As we covered ourselves in mud and sat under the sun to let the mud dry, I could feel it adhering to my skin. As I entered the water once again and washed the mud off, I felt refreshed. My skin was incredibly smooth and fresh feeling. When we had had enough of the salty, hot Dead Seaair, we left to go to the pool. One of my friends described the difference between the Dead Sea and the pool as the difference between jumping on a trampoline and jumping on the hard ground—you fully realized the feeling of sinking into the pool after the buoyancy of the Dead Sea.


Ahlan Amman!

As my date of departure approached, I was filled with anticipation and excitement. I was excited to be immersed in the Arabic language and have the opportunity to study in such an environment, but naturally I was nervous to dive headfirst in a new culture. However, I had heard from many others about the amazing experiences they had in Amman, particularly at Qasid, and I was looking forward to creating my own memories.

Before I even boarded the plane, I was given an insight into the Arabic culture and began to appreciate the hospitality and warmth of many of the locals here. Sitting next to me on the plane was a professor at Providence College and her son. She was interested in my Arabic studies and helped prepare me for my oral interview. Additionally, she shared with me some of her insider knowledge about Jordan and its culture. Her interest in my studies and ambitions was genuine, and I knew from then on that I was entering a society where locals would “look out for me.”

Upon arriving in Amman, I was fortunate enough to be placed in a large flat with six other girls! We quickly started exploring areas around Amman such as the downtown markets and the Roman amphitheater. As we drove to various sites via taxi—an adventure in an of themselves—I would stare out the window and try to pronounce all of the Arabic words to myself. It was so new to see store names in Arabic letters rather than strictly English.


As the first week of classes came to an end I could already sense how much Arabic I was going to acquire. In this fully immersive setting both inside and outside of the classroom I was learning so many new words. I also had my first experience with Ammiya, or the colloquial dialectwhen I accompanied one of my friends on an excursion to the home of a local family who lived on the outskirts of Amman. The family had emigrated from Syria to six years ago. The experience was like no other.

The family lived in a three level apartment building. Although their home was not large and they did not have much to offer they openly welcomed us. They were eager to feed us plates of peaches and freshly squeezed orange juice. They quickly asked us to spend the night and to celebrate Iftar—breaking the daily Ramadan fast—with them and their extended family.During Ramadan practicing Muslims will fast from sunrise to sunset and at sunset they will eat a larger meal with their family to celebrate breaking the fast for the day. Since my friend and I had never met the family, as my friend knew the daughter of the father of the home, we were humbled to be asked to break the fast with the family. There my friend and I discovered the wonders of fattah hummus, a traditional dish with chickpeas, tahini and fried bread. Although the family was not as fortunate as those in other parts of Amman and lived with worry and longing to be reunited with the rest of their family that was still in Syria, their ability to laugh at each other and enjoy their time together was humbling.