Thursday, September 07, 2006

The holy land called ~and I stayed ~

Well I wished for more time in Amman and I got it! After hearing news of a fresh wave of bombings in Turkey last weekend, I decided to delay my trip to Istanbul to spend more time with friends here.

This decision made me sad because I don't want to live a life that is restricted by my fears, and because I am in love with Istanbul already even though I haven't been there (yet!) ~ the minarets, the architecture, the belly-dancing and music, the history and culture, the Bosphorus, the Blue Mosque, the spice market, the Grand Bazaar, Aiya Sofia, Turkish piping hot coffee and warm hospitality - I have a feeling I will be enchanted with the vibrant colors, fragrances, sounds, tastes, and the feelings and spirit when I go - I can feel the energy of the city swirling around me already, even from here.... And what place could be more romantic and more melancholy in the summer, as a Turkish friend once told me?

But as an American woman traveling alone, with friends here who I had yet to spend time with and with Amman still tugging at my heart, it felt better to stay for now. Ironically, the day I stayed was the same day that a crazy man shot at a group of tourists here in the Roman ampitheatre in downtown Amman, a site I'd visited just a few days before. I guess it goes to show you that there is some madness everywhere - here, the US, around the world - and sadly there is no avoiding that. Despite all of the love and good people here and everywhere there is still random violence in the world.

Yet in'sha Allah my travels will continue to be blessed and safe... Every friend we make across international and cultural lines is another victory for peace, and I was happy to stay here longer for this reason... Also, staying in Amman made for a relaxing and replenishing week...

Time dissolves here like sugar stirred into into hot tea... The days are a blur of happy meetings with friends at cafes, restaurants, bars and inside people's homes. Time slows down, and is about enjoying meals and conversation... This is how I spend my days, with friends... I have been to a high-end rooftop sushi and salad restaurant called Vinagrette with views of Amman, the famous international Blue Fig Cafe, Tche Tche Cafe known for its argileh ("hubbly-bubbly" as they call it here, or hookah pipes!), trendy Books@Cafe and Le Calle Italian bar, even Salt & Pepper, a new Arabic fast food joint where I ate delicious spiced rice and okra, frekka soup and a taste of mansouf - rich goat's milk yogurt with butter that is poured over rice. Yum.

Today I enjoyed a feast of a lunch at the groom's family's house in Shmeisani neighborhood - homemade lasagna Arabic style with white sauce and lots of cheese, salad, fried meat dumplings, Turkish coffee, green tea with honey, wine from Mt. Nebo and of course Arabic sweets for dessert. Ana nabateeya is how you say "I am a vegetarian" but here I've ventured outside my usual culinary restrictions a bit, as I thought I might - How can you avoid eating meat entirely when the best schwarma stand in Amman is across the street from my hotel, for example, and when one schwarma sandwich costs 1/2 dinar? (About 75 cents!).

Today I visited with Lama and Renna, Basel's sisters, his brother Akhmad and Lama's American husband, Patrick. As we wrapped up a lazy afternoon of eating sumptuous food and talking politics, music wafted into the room - a wedding outside, an Egyptian one, Lama said, from the sound of the singing and the band.

The weddings here are lavish, traditional, magical, as Salma's was - with a traditional Jordanian band to announce the arrival of the groom at the bride's house, then a procession to the hotel with cars honking horns - More singing and dancing at the hotel when the bride and groom descended from the staircase toward the ballroom! And of course, at the wedding, and the parties all week long beforehand, we danced, and danced, and danced....

I say, God gave me hips for a reason. My given nickname here was that of the best belly dancer in Jordan ~ An exaggeration of course but for an American girl I can shake it with the best of them! It was a revelation how the women cheered me on and danced with me, many of them veiled.

I didn't know culturally how it would go over to have a redheaded blue eyed Westerner baring my arms and body-rolling, but apparently, I was a hit... I learned new moves from the dancers here as well.

And the music moves me in a way I can't explain ~ I feel it inside me and it moves through me. I even love the Arabic pop especially the catchy rump-shaking songs by Nancy Ajarim. In'sha Allah, more belly-dancing lessons when I return to the US!

The rest of last week was filled with parties, meeting the bride and groom's friends - more and more and more of the warm Arabic hospitality. The parties were numerous and over the top ~ dancing in the open air at Action Target outside Amman to Arabic pop, where Basel's sister Lama tied a scarf around my hips and taught me belly-dancing moves - go slow and sexy she coaxed, and I did...

The party at Lana's parents' home, where we danced on top of the pool, a glowing surface covered by sheer plexiglass panels and lit from underneath - The atmosphere was absolutely magical...

The wedding itself of course, which took up the whole day, since we spent time in the salon getting our hair and nails done, putting on shimmery eyeshadow, being sure we were sufficiently glamourous to blend with this elegant crowd!

The other highlights of last week included the rose-red city of Petra, which leaves me nearly at a loss for words... It is so spectacular, you must go there yourself, in'sha Allah - It is a spot in the world not to be missed. Add it to your list of things to do before you die.

For 700 years Petra was a "lost city," like Atlantis, known only to local Bedouins until it was rediscovered by Swiss explorer JL Burckhardt in 1812 when he disguised himself as a Muslim holy man to gain access to the mysterious site he had heard rumors of... There is archeological evidence on the site of a village dating back to 7000 BC, but the heyday was from around the 6th century BC to about 70 AD.

The Nabataeans, master engineers and artists, carved royal tombs and treasuries and theatres and places of worship into the soft red desert rock with spectacular results. The entrace into Petra is the 1.2 km Siq, a gorge formed by tectonic movement that is only a few kilometers across in some spots.

Our guide Ali who was a very spiritual man told us that walking in the Siq "strengthens your soul" and that Petra is a holy place. Interestingly, most of the city was built in homage to the dead, with marvelous tombs - The living Nabataeans were nomads who lived in tents, like some modern Bedouins still do.

Thornton Wilder once said, "There is a land of the living and the dead, and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning." This philosophy to me was at the heart of what made Petra beautiful ~ The views and vistas in Petra are beyond belief, especially when you get the first glimpse of the Treasury from the Siq, and when you climb the rock paths...

We hiked where the signs said "Do Not Climb" to get close up views of the Royal Tombs, and to stand and look down over the Roman theatre. Hundreds of feet below us, a line of Japanese tourists with umbrellas open to shade them from the sun wandered by in a parade of pastel color, and camels sauntered loaded with packs and people in the blazing sun, their long legs like matchsticks viewed from so high above. Petra is simply awesome.

The Roman ruins at Jerash, where we spent the day on Monday, where marvelous as well, especially with the backdrop of a small modern day city which surrounds the ancient site.

And floating in the Dead Sea is all it's cracked up to be - Your limbs pop to the surface as you float like a bobbing cork in all the salty water with it's slick, oily feel - It is warm as bath water and you can lie on your back, belly, or even your side in fetal position and stay on top of the water.

It's the lowest point on earth at more than 415 meters below sea level. Before heading into the water, you coat your whole body in mud and let it dry for 15 minutes - good for the skin! It itches a bit but feels so soft afterwards - Just don't go into the Dead Sea with any open wounds unless you are ready to feel a real sting!

The Marriott Resort where we hung out at the Dead Sea was posh, too - Three levels of pools with man-made waterfalls and even a waterslide, with the last pool overlooking the Dead Sea ~ The edge of the pool visually blurred with the edge of the sea. Restful, peaceful, beautiful. We lounged in our bikinis and had drinks poolside for hours, soaking in the hot sun...

All in all, an incredible week ~ And this week was the time to be with friends, rest-up and recover - Tonight I head out to a reggae dance party with my new friend KK, who is a bartender, Arabic tutor, English teacher and all-around cool guy - He is also strikingly handsome and doesn't look like he is "from here," since he dresses Western style and is tall with dreadlocks. He's a walking example of a person whose style transcends a certain time and place and he's a world traveller, too. So many fascinating people here.....

Must go dance! Tomorrow, the Turkish baths here (hammam) and hopefully an art gallery at lunchtime before flying to Dubai tomorrow evening for a weekend with Masuda- then to Athens and Mykonos next week with Xenia...

What a blessing it is to be here. Il-Hamdu lillah - Thanks be to God! As one would say here... in an expression of love that I also love... I have felt like family here, treated with kindness and embraced as a sister or a cousin, with love ~ and will return again someday for sure. In'sha Allah.

© Lisa Powell Graham 2006

1 comment:

Bashar said...

it is just a great post .. i really enjoyed reading it ... i dont know how i got to your blog :) ...

one important tip ... next time, maybe you should consider going to Wadi Rum ... its one the of the best places on earth .... where silence rules in the desert :)