Category Archives: Travelling

Turkish Bath #4

Pretty much every other weekend since I returned from the states for 2010, I’ve been to some sort of Turkish Bath or Spa – one here in Madaba, one in Amman, one at the Dead Sea and one in Damascus. This is about an infinity times (approximately) more than I had ever been to something of the sort before. I’m beginning to become somewhat of an expert, and by expert I mean that I’m not 100% bumbling and awkward.

Each one operated a very similar way, but it’s a complex procedure and they don’t really give you any instructions. Step 1: Dudes only, no ladies. Once you prove your manhood and gain admittance, you sit in the steam room, which is my favorite part. The one at the Dead Sea had steam with menthol in it, which just chomped right through all your pores and cleared out your sinuses. Pretty sweet. Then, after that, you sit in the jacuzzi for about 20 minutes to soften your skin up for the next step, which is the rubdown. They take a really rough sponge thing and rub off all the dead skin on your body, and then lather you up with camel hair. It’s kind of gross because you can see the skin peel right off, and you feel like a snake or a lizard or some other type of reptile, except that they don’t make boots or belts out of your extras. It’s fun playing “Broken English vs. Broken Arabic” to try to figure out how he wants me to sit or lay down. After that, you get a mini-massage, which is more like a rubdown with soap (much more gentle than the other rubdown). Then you get 10 minutes to think about all the weird things that just happened to you in the sauna, before showering and enjoying some tea in the lobby.

Overall, very relaxing, but much more so after you have done it a few times. I kept imagining that the awkwardness was like going to a prostitute for the first time, but I imagine they might give more instructions. “Should I lie on my back now? What are you rubbing me with? Do I shower now, or later? Is this extra? Do I pay at the end? Why don’t we speak the same language?” Good times. If you come visit me, we need to go, and I’ll be the pro that can guide you through it…

Habitat for Humanity and Mansaf (منسف)

I just spent a wonderful day with a group of awesome students volunteering with Habitat for Humanity here in Jordan. We worked on a family’s home who was building a new story above their current house for two of the brothers that just had gotten marries. It’s customary here for people to live with their parents until they get married, and then often when they do get married, instead of buying a new house, they just build another story on their parents’ house. How would you like that Mom and Dad?

The whole experience was really fun, but the highlight was probably the meal at the end. The homeowners cooked us a huge meal of mansaf (منسف), which is a very traditional Jordanian dish – in fact, the national dish of Jordan. It’s usually lamb (though this was chicken) with a sauce called jameed (جميد), which is fermented dried yogurt, all served over rice. If it sounds gross smelling, that’s because it kind of is, but it is still really good. The best part though, is that you are supposed to eat it with your hands. Jackpot. Check out a picture of the meal to the left.

Dimashq دمشق

Living in Jordan instead of the US reminds me of living in New Hampshire as opposed to Texas – from my home I could drive about 2.5 hours and reach 6 different states or Canada, where Texas is more than 12 hours across. From here in Amman, it takes only a few hours driving to reach a different country, and instead of just being in Upside-Down New Hampshire instead of right-side-up New Hampshire, you end up in a completely different culture. That’s what I did this past weekend when I took a two-day trip to Damascus (Dimashq, دمشق, in Arabic).

The trip itself was very smooth, only due to the help of a Syrian student here. His family helped us get visas (we met Americans at the border who had been waiting 9 hours!) and offered us a ride to and from the city right from school (since he goes home nearly every weekend in a pretty big car anyway). Then, when we were there, his family took us out to one of the biggest meals I have ever eaten. Truly Arab hospitality, very hard to beat.

But Damascus was a really wonderful place – it feels like you are transported a few centuries back into the past with the old, wandering streets filled with people. Highlights included being invited into a backgammon board (and other handicraft) workshop, watching the sunset and the lights come up over the city from above, taking a Turkish Bath, visiting one of the most magnificent mosques in the world and Syrian ICE CREAM! Below is a picture of me trying to fight the crowd to deliver the Syrian Ice Cream, which was a delicious vanilla-type flavor rolled in pistachios. I posted a ton more pictures on the pictures page, in addition to an album of pictures that I have taken from the windows of planes. Cheeeck it out.

I Got Wheels

Yesterday, my life improved a lot. I started leasing a car through the school so now I have some mobility. The campus is kind of in the middle of nowhere and it gets very suffocating to be stuck here. It has already been amazing just to be able to get a haircut, or to buy lemons for science, without a making a huge ordeal out of it. Driving is a little stressful because it’s somewhat every man for himself, but I’ll take that over being stuck on campus any day.

It’s a silver Toyota Corolla (كرولا as they write in Arabic). It doesn’t compare to my car sitting in the states (Webster!) but it does the job. The people I’m sharing the lease with and I are thinking about pimping it out Jordanian style – a lot of people have full back windshield stickers of the King holding a sniper rifle with a huge hawk in the background. I have a short paragraph of three sentences to describe how I feel about that: I. Want. That

Wrong Airport

It’s 1:30 am in Jordan now, which is unfortunately only 6:30 pm in Washington, DC (where my body clock is currently set). On top of that, I was back on the college time zone (up real late, sleep kind of late), which sets me back even further. Even though I have had more than 24 hours of travel including an 11 hour flight from Chicago to Amman, and even though I’ve already had a few Advil PMs, I’m not really tired at all. Go figure. Waking up early and teaching will probably solve this dilemma for tomorrow night.

My journey went fairly smoothly except for one major hitch – my friend Brian drove me to the airport yesterday a few hours ahead of my flight. Now, one issue with Washington, DC is that there are two airports, Reagan and Dulles. Brian lives right next to Reagan so he would have preferred to drive me there than Dulles,  but unfortunately, I was flying out of Dulles… or so I thought. I got to Dulles and tried to check-in but my reservation was nowhere to be found. It dawned on me while I was waiting in an incredibly slow-moving people-with-problems-with-their-tickets that perhaps I was at the wrong airport. My blood pressure rose steadily as I waited for the airport people to slog through the line in front of me (yet I was still too non-confrontational to ask to cut someone). After the person working the desk informed me that I was in fact in the wrong airport, I sprinted downstairs and took a 40 minute, $60 cab back to Reagan. When we were about 8 minutes away, we drove right past Brian’s house. Wonderful.

Luckily, there was no one on the road and no one in the airport and for the first time I was thankful that the school made us travel back on a holiday. So I made it, and I’m excited to be back. Now hopefully I can get to sleep soon.

You’ve Got a Friend in Me

In the Dana Nature Reserve the weekend before last break, where I met Hussein with his wonderful Bedouin Jokes, my friend Molly (a recent Williams grad also starting her adventure in the Middle East, blog here) and I went on an epic 6 or 7 hour hike up through the Wadi there. On the way back, we encountered a little girl named Afaf, a Bedouin who lives in the reserve with her family. Afaf, who is 12, immediately offered us tea, so we sat down to partake, when she realized that she didn’t have a lighter. Then she invited us to follow her to her tent and we had a little adventure along the way collecting sticks, water and hanging out with her donkey. She spoke very little English, but we communicated well in Arabic, good practice for me. We eventually got to her “house,” which was actually just a half tent, where she made a fire and brewed us up some very sweet tea. As we waited we chatted and met her brothers and a slew of other fun little kids from the area. It was an incredible gesture, very touching, and a very fun end to a grueling hike.

Well, Molly was stealthily documenting the entire blossoming new friendship so she put some of the pictures to Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” in a funny little video called “Rami’s New Friend” – in case you forgot, I’m Rami. Check it out.

If the embedded video doesn’t work, here’s the link.

Meeting up with Friends where East meets up with West

As I mentioned previously, I spent Eid Al-Adha ’09 in Turkey with one of my best friends from college, Sam. We spent 4 days in Istanbul and then decided out of the blue to go to a place that we hadn’t heard of before we got there – Cappadocia. We took a 10-hour overnight bus to this very strange place which turned out to be this other-worldly landscape where early Christians carved all these churches into these weird structures that people kept calling Fairy Chimneys – what?

Overall, an extremely interesting country that is on the bridge between East and West in almost every sense. The geographic is obvious; religiously, 98% of the country is Muslim but there is a similar secular feel to it as a European country, though you can hear the call to prayer booming 5 times a day; ethnically, Turks are nearly exact middle ground between Arabs and honkeys (for lack of a better term); landscape-wise, the country was a strange middle ground between a desert and a more lush; linguistically, Turkish sounded very Eastern European but had many elements similar to Arabic (but was ultimately completely incomprehensible – see DUR sign above)… I could go on – but it was interesting as a Westerner living in an Eastern country to travel in this strange transition land. Check out my friend Napatra’s post about East/West and everything in between. Experiences like this, and insight from people like Napatra, make me really rethink our broad generalizations of the world around us. I think they are more dangerous than they are useful.

Anyway, in case you found this post boring, my favorite thing I saw in Turkey (of many, many things that I saw) was a guy selling Cialis and pirated copies of children’s movies, most prominently Turkish Ice Age 3, at his little street stand. That sounds like a sweet afternoon. Christmas is coming up, Mom…

If you would like to see some of the actually beautiful and cool things in Istanbul and see the Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia, check out the Pictures page for my new album about Turkey (pictures taken by Sam though). I also added a photostich of the Hagia Sophia, one of the most prominent landmarks of Istanbul, which was just TOO TALL to capture with one image! Check it out, yo.

Turkey Day in Turkey

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday. This is the first time in my 22 year existence on this Earth that I haven’t spent Thanksgiving with my extensive extended family. We usually spend time with my Dad’s side of the family, feasting and then playing our traditional Thanksgiving game of… floor hockey. A little strange, but an absolute blast.

Coincidentally (because the Islamic calendar is lunar and hops back about 11 days every year), Thanksgiving coincides this year with the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha (عيد الأضحى‎), which is a holiday marking the pilgrimage to Mecca. To commemorate the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismail as an act of obedience to God (copyright Wikipedia, ha), Muslim families all over the world sacrifice some sort of animal, usually a sheep – not that different from Thanksgiving, eh? We make pilgrimages to our families houses and sacrifices turkeys. But there is a big difference – the actual Eid is tomorrow, but today is a day where many Muslims will fast for the entire day. So this year, our day of feasting ironically coincides with their day of fasting.

Nothing reminds you more that you are an ex-pat than Thanksgiving. I was invited to 3 or 4 separate feasts, all from people trying to keep alive in their hearts the most genuine of our annual holidays, even if it would be with randos and not their families. I decided to celebrate right here on campus with the American faculty, and it looks like it’s going to be a gathering of a few dozen. We are all thankful of this nice calendar coincidence because we actually get a week long “Thanksgiving” vacation, just like we normally do.

Then, later tonight, I’m headed off to Istanbul, Turkey to meet up with one of my best friends from college, Sam Davies, and travel for a week. The flight was only $300 and will only take a little more than 2 hours – crazy! So to add to the irony and weirdness of this day living outside of the States, I’ll be ending my Turkey Day in Turkey. I’m thankful that I have this opportunity to live, teach and travel abroad, and I’m thankful for all my family and friends who won’t fade even though I’m 9,000 miles away.

Cheers, I’ll write again in a week…

Bedouin Jokes

Meet Hussein. Hussein is a bedouin from Southern Jordan who works at Dana Nature Reserve. I went last weekend to this beautiful place where they are working to preserve the environment and the unique culture of the people there. We stayed at an Eco-lodge – no electricity, amazing vegetarian menu, only accessible by a 25 minute drive with a pickup truck. We mostly just hung out on the roof and watched the intense stars, and then spent the entire next day hiking around some really cool rocks. Overall a really cool experience.

What made it even cooler was the ridiculousness that is Hussein. Hussein is absolutely hilarious. When we first met him he told a string of absolutely hilarious jokes with his wonderfully colloquial English that he’s picked up from tourists. Then he came and hung out with us and entertained us for a good two hours, after which he added to his colloquial arsenal “Dope, dude.”

Here are my two favorite jokes that he told:

1. [This might not make sense, but try and think about it or maybe do what I said he did] The question was “Why don’t Jordanian men kiss their wives during sex?” To demonstrate the answer, he pulled up the bottom of his dishdash (his long dress-like robe thing) and held it in his teeth. So funny. He told us that one time he told this joke to a group of French tourists, but he took off everything he was wearing underneath, so when he told the joke, they got even more of a show.

2. [This might only be funny to people living here] A Jordanian, an Egyptian, a Saudi Arabian, and an American are on a plane and it’s going to crash unless they get rid of some of the weight. The American starts throwing bags of money out and the other three protest, so the American says “Don’t worry, we have a lot of money in my country.” Then, the Saudi starts throwing barrels of oil out of the plane and the other three protest. He responds by saying “Don’t worry, we have a lot of oil in my country.” Then, the Jordanian takes the Egyptian man and throws him out of the plane, after which the other two start freaking out. The Jordanian says “Don’t worry, we have a lot of them in my country.”

Tying a Keffiyah (كوفية)

Keffiyehs (كوفية) are extremely beautiful traditional Arab head wear found throughout the Middle East. They protect from the harsh desert sun and also do well in the bitter desert cold. They come in many colors, which often signify various groups and countries – the red ones are associated with Jordan. Most have a very distinct, stately checked pattern. They have come to really represent the region and are a symbol that is still a huge part of Arab life and a point of genuine, unassuming pride. Students at school wear them as scarves when it’s cold out, many older men wear them daily and they are found often in elements of design (like pink breast cancer ribbons here are designed like little keffiyehs!).

One great thing about keffiyehs is that they can be worn in literally hundreds of different ways. Often they are seen worn un-folded with a black rope-like thing circling the heard, though they can just be tied on the head, which is how I prefer to wear it. Now, some of you that knew me 3rd year in college, or that have done manual labor with me on an ASB trip or something know that I am a little bit enamored with bandannas. Naturally, I just as enamored with keffiyahs, which are big, pretty, glorified Arab bandannas. Awesome.

Here’s how I tie mine:

  1. First, fold it in half to make a triangle and put the middle part of the big side of the triangle in the middle of your forehead right below your eyes.
  2. Then, let the top of the triangle hang down behind your head and grab the other two corners.
  3. Take each one and wrap it all the way around your head and tuck it into itself.
  4. Then, take the part covering your eye and fold up around the parts that you wrapped around your head.
  5. Tuck all the frillies into this fold, adjust and ENJOY!