Thursday, January 28, 2010

Driving in Kuwait

I went with Aaron and several others today to get my Kuwait driver's license, where we learned that we are the only emabassy in Kuwait required to take their written test. Now before any of my family and friends get their hackles up at those. Know that we are required to take the test because that is "the reciprocity between our nations." Additionally know that the test is unbelievable easy, a multiple choice test of sign meanings, when the the signs are universal and the other choices can be somewhat crazy. For example, they have a picture of a stop sign with the word STOP and one of the choices is that it means stop and another option is that it is the end of a prohibition. So, needless to say not very worrisome.

Last week, while coming home from the mall with a neighbor and friend, we heard the sound of an ambulance. When I realized that it was coming from behind. I did what you do in American and I slowed down and angled my car away so that I could make an extra lane for the ambulance. No one else did this. We were at a light and everyone just sat there. The was actually several emergency vehicles and in addition to their sirens, they began to honk and speak over a loud speaker. Eventually the cars in the lanes in front of them moved out of their way, but no one in my lane or the next one to me gave way at all. At the next light we came to, one more emergency vehicle came along and again had to honk and honk and honk for people to move. The people in the front cars did move, but used this as an opportunity to go through the light and onto the highway still obstructing the emergency vehicles. I was completley appalled.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

New Steps in the Jordan Desert

While I went to the bathroom before we visited the massive desert inn, Aaron let Philip explore and captured a few photos of his new steps. I'll just let the photos tellt he rest of the story.


So I've not used one of these yet. I'm always taken aback when I happen upon one of this hidden behind the bathroom door, especially in very modern places like the airport. I'm always impressed when I notice very nicely dressed women going into one that I have rejected. How do they keep their suit pants clean?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Random Bits from our trip to Jordan

I'm still working through our 1000+ pictures and getting them uploaded to the blog, but in the mean time I wanted to share some things I learned while in Jordan that don't require pictures. Our driver was very nice and willingly answered all sorts of questions for us. Two things we learned were that Muslim men do not wear gold as it is not allowed in the Khoran.

The other thing we learned was why dogs are not pets in Middle Eastern countries. Apparently dogs are unclean animals since they "sweat from their mouths." This was the phrase our driver used, which I'm assuming is a euphamism for panting, since both indead are ways of keeping cool, rather than the issue being the amount of spit that dogs have since I believe camels are far worse. As we drove around we would see Bedouin having dogs with their sheeps and goats. Apparently it is acceptable to have a dog for work purposes, such as guarding or herding, but not for pet purposes. Cats on the other hand are perfectly acceptable. Having learned this fact, I realized that neither Aaron nor I could ever be Muslim.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Daytrip to Desert Castles

Walking to the first castle, Qasr Kharana, which was really a desert inn, on a very windy day.

The 2nd castle was full of beautiful mosaics. Qusayr Amra is described by our Lonely Planet guidebook as being "famous for its hedonistic (and somewhat risque) 8th century frescoes of win, women and wild good times, but I loved the geometric style of this floor and the animals best. There were frescoes of woman that may have been naked or artfully, but I was drawn to the animals more. Oddly we overheard one Spanish tour guide saying that Jesus was on the ceiling of the frigidarium. The guide who took us to the room showed us the man as representing middle age, there was also a young boy and an old man. I think our guide was correct. Why would someone put Jesus in an Roman/Islamic bathroom, especially over your head staring at you?
The artwork was eveywhere, floor to ceiling and included pictures from throughout their daily life. I also like all the camel pictures.

Who doesn't appreciate the artistry of a bear playing the banjo?

The guards in the front gate of Castle Azraq entertained themselves by playing this game they carved into the stone. I think it looks a lot like a Mancala board.

A room with a view of a mosque.

Aaron in the room where T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) hid out during a very cold winter.

It's a beautiful day for visiting the desert castles. The sky is as blue as Bubby's eyes.

Day Trip to the North from Amman

We met our tour guide yesterday. He's a nice Jordanian-American who spent the past 15 years living in Chicago driving taxis and long-distance trucks named Mohammed. It's nice to have a tour guide who understands American culture but is proud of this beautiful country we're visiting. Yesterday, we visited Ajloun Castle and Jerash. These historical sites are both in the North, the biblical Gilead. Although we found no balm that day, it was gorgeous weather and we had a lovely time.

In addition to seeing a well preserved Islamic military spot, we had some of the best mint tea we've had so far from a little mint tea seller at tehe base of the castle.

Philip was quite the trooper and gamely was worn throughout the day. It was a warm day and he and I both felt the heat in our Moby, but he was quite secure as I walked up and down the castle steps.
After lunch we went traveled on to Jerash, an equally magnificently preserved Roman city. We had a wonderful tour guide for the duration of our time there. She actually has a grandson named Akram. As we walked with her we were near a group that was receiving a tour in a Italian. I was surprised by how much Italian I remembered and how similiar their spiels were. Although our guide had some good perspective on modern life. We ran into some teenagers wanting to speak English with us and generally being teenagers. Aaron surprised them and their "harassing" of us with some pretty good Arabic.

Modern Jerash in the background covers more than 50% of the original city.

Goats help keep the grass well groomed.

11 of the 12 original Ionic columns are still standing. Roman architecture continues to astound. We were able to see the seismic "cushion" that they used in their earthquake proofing. She placed a spoon in the base of one of the coumns and we were able to see how much natural movement is present and that the column could withstand.
Since Jordan spent some time within the Empires upon which the Sun Never Set, the playing of bagpipes has become a part of their national culture. Here the bagpiper was playing Ode to Joy. It was definately a unique mish-mash of cultures and times

Here I am standing next to the wall that was built for Hadrian's visit. We're all standing in the Oval Plaza.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's in Amman Jordan

When I learned that we were going to be moving to the Middle East, I'd asked Aaron if we could go to Bethlehem for Christmas. Unfortunately, that isn't possible as it would make travel to other areas next to impossible. Instead, Aaron booked us for a 10 day trip to Jordan. I'm a bit embarrased at how ignorant I was about Jordan, especially regarding its history. I wasn't very excited. I was impressed by Queen Noor on the Daily Show and Colbert, but that's not enough of a reason to visit a country. Then I realized that the country Jordan shares a border with Israel and that border is the Jordan River. We were going to a place with biblical significance afterall. A view of the sun rising from our hotel window. Philip wakes us up early, but to see this makes it almost seem worthwhile.

Amman, the capital of Jordan has about 2.5 million residents, many of whom are Palestinian. Like Rome, it was a city built on 7 hills. Now there are about 20 hills within the greater city area. Driving in from the airport, Aaron and I wer impressed by how much the land looked like Italy. However, the city is much hillier and densely packed than any place we visited in Italy.

We took Philip for a long walk yesterday up and down many of those hills, all over this city, getting a taste for the town before our tour starts. Highlights of the day included having coffee with caramom from a street vendor, eating wonderful hummous and falafel,where for the 1st 15 minutes I was the only woman in the packed restaurant. (You can see a picture of Philip eating a falafel on my facebook page.)
We went to a Nature Conservatory that was at the top of one of the hills on Rainbow street. It was a pretty street.
Along this street we also found several bookstores. We went into one called The Good Book shop and were surprised that it was a Christian bookstore. I bought several Arabic books for Philip including one that is a picture book telling of the Prodigal Son.

We also visited Durat al Funun, a complex dedicated to contempory art, but which includes the remains of a 6th century Byzantine church. It's also know for being one of the places that TE Lawrence (of Arabia) lived.

We visited another art museum in the afternoon that had a really fascinating exhibit on the 3 Mosques in Jeruslam, Mecca and Median. About 20 artists were commissioned from mulitple Islamic countries to paint pictures of the mosques. We saw some really great interpretations.
I love being in a place agin where you can see the history all around you.

Philip continues to make friends wherever we go, whatever his mood. Last night a relatively cranky Philip, who knew he should be in bed and not at dinner, still seemed to impress the Italian couple sitting near us. I pulled a little Italian out and was able to apologize, but they still thought he was cute.

Today, Philip, accurately used his new found waving skills, to say hello to a woman walking in the lobby. She came up and beginning chatting with us. Her son is 10 months old. She took Philip over to meet him and they played touch each others face for a bit. We went to lunch and on returning from lunch we ran into them again. She already knew that we were here from Kuwait, but also from California. We learned that she was from Israel.

She'd been worried that Philip was too cold, and I'd said tempature is relative. I was actually amused a bit yesterday as Aaron and I wondered around the city in a single layer long sleeve shirt and watched the natives wear multiple layers including sweaters and winter coats, plus goves, earmuffs and hats on occasion. The tempature yesterday was in the upper 50s or lower 60s. I might have wanted a coat if I wasn't hauling 22+lbs of Bubby all up and down town.