Saturday, May 30, 2009


This past weekend (weekends in the Middle East are Friday and Saturday) a member of the church put together a two-day trip to some beautiful remote areas south of Amman where many Jordanian Beduins live .  The trip was about $75 per person so we had originally decided to not do it.  Well Thursday night we got a call from the guy and to make a long story short there were two open spots and he offered them to us.... FOR FREE!  So we said yes, packed our backpacks, and left with the group Friday morning after church.

Our first stop was the Shobak castle which was the first castle to be built by the Crusaders in Transjordan.  The castle had all sorts of cool things like chapels, tunnels, and secret passage ways that we messed around in.  It's most famous for a huge pitch-black tunnel that goes down in the ground forever.  It ends at a ditch with the clearest water we've ever seen (especially in the Middle East) running through it.  After the Shoback castle we traveled to Dana Village which is a small Bedouin  oasis overlooking the rift valley.  When it's dark you can look across the valley and see the lights of Palestine (Israel).  We watched the sunset, made some beduin friends who showed us their gardens, ate dinner (which was.... interesting) and then had a little dance party.  Our beduin buddies played the bongo drums and sang Arab music for hours.  They made us dance with them which was a real cultural experience.  Our rooms for the night were tents on the roof of the hotel because they didn't have enough rooms inside the hotel.

The next morning Andrew woke up early and went on a little adventure walk, then we had breakfast (which consisted of stale pita bread, jam, tomatoes and cucumbers) and then drove to the Dana nature reserve which is just below the little village.  It was a beautiful area and we did a couple hours of hiking.   Then we drove to a city called Karak where we had a big traditional mansaf lunch waiting for us (mansaf is the Jordanian national food that we experienced with Ahmed's family in the previous post).  Only this time we ate with utensils and there was no goat brain and tongue (darn).  After that we had a couple more hours on the bus back to Amman.  

Overall it was a pretty awesome deal for getting to go for free!  

The Crusader Castle

Beduins in their traditional clothing
(These ones were on the side of the road next to the castle.)

A beautiful home in Dana Village

Our tent on top of the roof of the hotel
(The hotel is from the middle ages so it was terrifying sleeping on the roof... you never knew when it was going to cave in.)

Sunset over looking the rift valley

Us watching the Beduin party

Dancing with the Beduins

The Beduin Band 
(The one in the hat is the man from our branch. He grew up as a Beduin.)

Part of the Dana Nature Reserve where we hiked

Monday, May 18, 2009


We’ve been in Amman for about two weeks now and recently had our first experience at a traditional Arab family’s home.... and it was quite the experience to say the least!

As part of Andrew’s homework and quest to learn Arabic he is required to speak at least two hours a day outside of class and make Arab friends.  On one of our first days here he met his first friend Ahmed.  Ahmed is a student at the university (so Andrew is able to practice Arabic with him almost day) but is from a small village just outside of a small town called Salt which is just outside of Amman.  Last Saturday we were invited to his home for “mansaf” which is a famous Jordanian dish.  Little did we know we were in for a cultural experience of a lifetime.

Our day started by meeting Ahmed and his brother who drives a big van at about 1:00 near the university in Amman.  In order for Chana to not be the lone girl we invited one of our married couple friends to come along and another one of Andrew’s friends from the program also came.  Although you always risk your life with an Arab at the wheel the drive was beautiful and we eventually made it to his home and instantly became the greatest celebrities the village has ever seen.  When we first arrived we met some of the family members and were taken to their front room where we sat around on small mats and pillows that line the walls.  The dad and some of his brothers sat with us smoking and drinking their tea.  We warned Ahmed ahead of time that we don’t drink tea and coffee so they had water and juice to ready to serve us.  From the moment we arrived to the moment we left we were constantly being offered something.  Because it was a very traditional Islamic family we didn’t see the women much and as soon as dinner was ready Chana and Gloria (the other American wife) headed off to eat with the women....

Eating with the women: As soon as we left the men we were ushered into a small room with more mats and pillows. Before we could sit down we asked Ahmed’s sisters if we could go see the kitchen and final meal preparations. That’s when the surprise came for us... two huge plates of mansuf with a boiled goat head on each plate sitting on the floor. Ahmed’s mother was finishing pouring the yogurt sauce in the bowls. We then went back to the little room and ate with three of the sisters and their daughters. Two girls showed us how to peel the meat from the bones (the men got both goat heads so we didn’t have to deal with those) and pour the sauce. We were women so we actually got to eat with spoons. Also because the room was only filled with women the girls didn’t wear their hijabs. The girls were so kind and did everything to make us feel comfortable.  

Eating with the men:  Before I (Andrew) knew it we were brought two huge platters of mansuf.  Mansuf is basically rice flavored with sour yogurt sauce and some kind of meat (sounds gross but it’s quite tasty).  What was different this time, however, is in the middle of both platters was a goat head.  This was one of the most generous families I’ve ever met and we are pretty sure they killed two of their goats just for us.  In their culture it’s a big deal to get that much meat, and considered a great honor to eat the head.  The traditional way to eat mansaf is to sit on the floor and eat with your hands.  You only use your right hand and you basically make rice balls mixed with meat and nuts and pop it into your mouth.  After eating for a while the dad came in with a knife and started cutting up the head.  He started by cutting off the tongue and dividing it up between the three of us.  Then he cut a hole in the head and pulled out the brains.  It wasn’t the easiest thing to eat but they didn’t stop serving so we ate until we couldn’t put anything else down.

After dinner they brought the wives back and we sat and talked and were served more drinks (Arabs sit a lot).  Then we went outside to see the family’s goats (they had sixteen) and they took us to the roof of their house were you get a good view of the village.  Then we went to the brothers house on the second floor and sat some more....and we were served cookies, fruit, drinks, etc.  We sat in a room and listened to the Quran being recited on the TV for about an hour. 

Then we went outside and they showed us their land where they grow grapes, olive trees, tobacco, etc. We kept walking and they took us to some caves in the foothills.  One of the caves had a bunch of holes in the wall that they claim to be former Roman tombs.  No kidding we saw human bones.  After some time we headed back to the house and everyone told us goodbye.  The women were so cute and all wanted pictures with Chana and Gloria.  But that wasn’t the end.  We told the family goodbye and got in the van with Ahmed and his brother Sayel to head up a mountain to a view that overlooks Palestine (Israel.... but Arabs don’t like to call it Israel).  We spent the next 3 hours watching the sunset, sitting around a campfire, drinking more juice and Pepsi, talking, cooking wheat in the fire, watching them smoke tobacco from their massive pipe, and we even had a little dance party.  Finally at about 11:30 we told them we should probably get going.  They wanted us to just sleep at their house and offered us to take us to school in the morning.  That wasn’t going to work out so well so we talked them into taking us back to Amman that night.

It was a long day but truly a priceless cultural experience.  We were touched by their generosity and sincerity and hopefully learned something from their example of the importance of the family and what’s most important in life.           

This is just a few members of the family on the roof of their house.  Ahmed is sitting to the right of Andrew

Chana with some of the girls

They taught Chana how to open the petals of the flowers and make earrings

Andrew with Sayel (Ahmed's brother) in one of the caves

Sayel, Colby, Andrew, Chana, Carl, Ahmed

Lounging on the mountain before sunset 
(don't worry.... we didn't smoke that huge pipe behind us)

Ahmed teaching Chana how to release the seeds out of the wheat

Friday, May 8, 2009


After a day of bliss in a posh Hilton hotel on the coast of the Gulf of Aqaba we woke up to a huge windstorm (In Arabic its called a "Khamsiin").  As a result our scheduled touristy ferry ride to Aqaba city in Jordan was cancelled.  At the last minute we got tickets on a poor man's cow ferry. It was a joke trying to get 45 Americans with all our suitcases through security and on the boat. After getting kicked out of a restaurant because we didn't want to order meals they finally found seating for us on an area of the boat without air conditioning.  Apparently these boats don't have scheduled departure times so they just leave when they feel like it.  We ended up sitting on the boat playing scum for about 3 hours before we even left the dock.... rocking back and forth.  Finally we left and the actual boat ride was about 5 hours (the original ferry was supposed to be 2-3 hours).  We passed most of the time with more scum.... except that I (Andrew) got a terrible headache and had to walk around.  I ended up on the top deck taking pictures.  When I tried to go back down all the doors were locked.  To make a long story short I had to squeeze through two guys and run past a security guy to get back to Chana and my bags. Unloading the boat and getting through customs is another story in itself.  We arrived in Aqaba late in the evening, stayed the night in a hotel, and got on a bus the next morning to Amman.

So now we are getting settled in our new home in Amman for the next 3 months.  Amman is very different from Cairo.... much calmer and cleaner (not clean.... just cleaner than Cairo).  The Jordanians are super nice and we haven't had any problems.  We live right next to the university in a pretty nice neighborhood.  I'm trying to get used to a new Arabic dialect (and just trying to understand and speak Arabic in general!) and Chana is trying to get used to life in a totally foreign country not speaking the language at all.  She is a trooper though and even took a taxi to Carrefour (like a Wal-mart but nicer) with another wife who doesn't speak any Arabic.  I'm so proud of her.  She's put up with a lot of hard things and has been so willing to accompany me on this adventure and has such an awesome attitude.  

Sorry this post was so long!  We finally have internet now so we will update more often and not cram so much in one post.... Inshah Allah (that means "God willing" and the Arabs say it after everything.... so if something doesn't work out it's not our fault, God just didn't will it).

This is a shot of the Gulf of Aqaba from the top deck of the boat ride from Hell.  That's my friend sleeping.

This is our hotel room in Sinai.  It wasn't top of the line but it was fun.

Back patio of our hotel room at the Nweiba Hilton.... it was pretty nice.

In Nuweiba, on the coast of the Gulf of Aqaba 

From our apartment complex in Amman.  Jordan University is just down that street.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Andrew and I have been in Egypt for officially one week and it has been crazy. We arrived in Cairo last Sunday after twenty-four hours of traveling to turn around and board a night train to Luxor. We spent a couple days in Luxor where we saw a few ancient temples, tombs and rode on a sailboat down the Nile. After Luxor we headed on another night train to Cairo where our first encounter with our hotel bellboy was him saying to me (Chana) "Hello Miss American." From that point on I became the "Miss American" (it was never Miss America but ALWAYS Miss American) of the Pyrimisa hotel in Cairo. Our first day in the city we went on a tour of Islamic Cairo and saw the progression of the Islamic mosques in Egypt as technology and culture changed. The way the tour worked was we started at one mosque then rode the bus a ways to another mosque and then we all got out and went on a death march as we walked through the slums of Cairo looking at many of the smaller less known working mosques. It was hot, dirty and we walked for miles... The mosques were amazing but the part that really hit Andrew and I was the poverty level. While in Cairo Andrew and I also went to the Pyramids at Giza, the Egyptian Museum, went to church at the Cairo branch and did some souvenir shopping. Yesterday we went to Sinai and hiked Mt. Sinai (or so the people claim it is Mt. Sinai). This again was another death march... hot, dirty (there was camel poop everywhere), and long (it took two and a half hours to hike up and an hour and a half to hike down), but the view and experience was amazing. Today we came to Nuweiba (a little town on the Gulf of Aqaba) and it is amazing. After a long week of traveling we finally got a break. We laid on the beach, swam in the Red Sea and played in the pool all day long. The adventures will continue tomorrow with a ferry to Aqaba and then a bus to Amman on Tuesday. We'll post again when we can but for now, here are some pictures to aid in the description of the adventures we have been having...

A peasant man sitting in a window of the Karnak Temples in Luxor

Andrew helping the native row our sail boat because there wasn't enough wind to get us down the Nile River

Sunset on the Nile

The second mosque of the day... it is a working mosque so the girls had to cover their hair with scarfs

At the Pyramids Andrew and I rode a CAMEL

Mt. Sinai... we hiked from way lower than where this picture was taken all the way to the top

 On top of Mt. Sinai