Monday, April 25, 2011

Matzah and Falafel: Pesach in Jordan

Doing my best to commemorate the exodus from Egypt on Pesach last week, a group of friends and I chose to make an exodus from Israel during the holiday and visit Jordan. At first glimpse, perhaps it is ironic that I left the Holy Land after commemorating my ancestors’ departure towards it. On second thought, it is a remarkable expression of freedom and progress to safely visit friends in a land alongside our own. Travelling with an accordion-style group of 4-12 friends, I visited the families of two wonderful Jordanian friends and went hunting for the Holy Grail in the footsteps of Indiana Jones.

More than any other motivation, I wanted to accept invitations to visit my friends in their homes. After a three hour bus ride and a tremp to the border crossing, two hours waiting to cross, and a long care ride, we arrived at a friend’s home in Irbid around 10pm. His family welcomed us all (at this point ten of us) with an incredible feast! Gathered around in their living room, my backpacked Matzah made a nice addition to the falafel, hummus, salad, and rice in grape leaves. When we woke up the next morning, the family started our day with a breakfast even more delicious than dinner, fueling us up before a combination of six buses and taxis brought us to Amman.

In Amman, we visited a classmate’s office before dropping our bags off in her home. Relaxing with her family, I brought out the Matzah out again so that we could have an afternoon snack. Her mom fell in love with the stuff! Later that day we walked through Amman and bumped an alumni of our school who lives in Amman, and he treated us to dinner at the best falafel place in the city (where the king and his late father both have visited). Food and hospitality became the reliable highlights of our trip.

After two nights in our friends homes, four of us continued southward and rented cabins at a Bedouin campground for the night. Early the next morning we headed to Petra, where the third episode of Indiana Jones was filmed. There is enough incredible Petra history to write another blog-post twice the length of this one. The Nabateans carved most of the city out of the cliffs, starting over two millenia ago, and the entrance is a beautiful slot canyon 2 or 3 km long. The city was ultimately conquered by the Romans, and after the 1400s it fell into ruins. Petra was unkown to the west until its discovery in 1812. Now it's one of the new seven wonders of the world, and there are many expensive things for tourists to purchase.

Backpack o' Matzah! ...ready to cross the border.

Erev Shabbat (friday night) by our campground.

I completed my pilgrimage to Israel two months ago, in Jerusalem. When I left America, my roommate gave me this hat, which has been with me during all of my travels. On Saturday, it came home to the filming site of Indiana Jones 3, in Petra.

Monday, April 11, 2011

King Havdalah

Delayed update! I wrote this entry just about a week ago, and I still need to find time to post pictures to go with it. I'll do my best to post more regularly, as I'd promised. So please forgive this slowness and enjoy some thoughts from not too long ago:

"Hey Yara, do you want to join us for Havdalah?"
"Do I want to join you and Abdullah?"
"Yeah, we're going to Havdallah right now."
"You're going to meet King Abdullah?! What??"

When we get lost in translation here, some moments are funnier than others. Last week I invited my friend Yara, who's from Amman, Jordan, to join us for the Havdalah ceremony that marks the end of Shabbat and beginning of the new week. She thought I was asking if she wanted to come with me to meet King Abdullah, the Jordanian monarch. Unfortunately, I'm not that good at networking!

As the immediate region became increasingly fragile, with saddenning cycles of violence on the Gazan border, we redoubled our dedication to learning together, and to working together. As Shabbat closed with coming of evening, I hoped that this week would bring more peace than the last. I am hopeful that the ceasefire established yesterday will last, and my friends and we will share together more moments of joy and togetherness that mirror calmness in the region.
Last week we all boarded a bus for our first group trip, for a three-day adventure engaging issues of water management; the bus was full constant drumming, singing, and group games, between planned stops that kept changing due to rain. On our first day we learned about sinkholes near the Dead Sea, and had a picnic lunch by a public beach. As soon as the tables were set, the skies let loose torrential bucketloads. By that afternoon, our schedule had already reached plan D, which turned out to be the beautiful nature reserve at Ein Feshka. Even with cancelled hikes and soggy sandwiches, our group was generally as upbeat as our bus was musty!