Dano, Melissa, Kennedy, Ethan, Erin, Abigail, and Emily

Dano, Melissa, Kennedy, Ethan, Erin, Abigail, and Emily

24 April 2010

Jordan - Day 5

We successfully packed our last full day in Jordan with as much as possible. We began in Jerash, a city noted for its collection of Greek and Roman ruins, the largest outside of Rome itself. Once again, it was incredible to climb on and walk amongst these ancient ruins. Excavation estimates Jerash was built somewhere between 3200 and 1600 BC. The demolishment came from a few strong earthquakes.It was interesting to walk through this city and see that it actually had a structured layout with main gates on all four sides and two main roads running north-south and east-west with defined intersections. It proves simple city planning was evident that far back. There are a couple of temples, a grand amphitheater with stage for performances (Ethan and Erin did a humorously terrific rendition of The Can Can from Beethoven’s Wig), stores, baths, and the great hippodrome.
We were fortunate to be in Jerash on a day they had the RACE – Roman Army Chariot Experience. They performed a reenactment of Roman legion preparing for battle and some of their battle techniques. Following, the gladiators were brought in and also presented a reenactment of gladiator fighting. The kids were fascinated…well Abby was terrified. She naturally does not like any fighting and did not appreciate the gladiators. When one of the gladiators received the infamous thumbs down vote for life, his throat was slit (all mere pretense, of course) and fake blood spewed on his clothing. There were at least two pairs of eyes next to me that popped. Erin leaned over, now more concerned than entertained, with a very bothered look on her face, and asked, “Is that for real? Is he dead?” They obviously did a great job making it appear life-like. Finally, after the gladiators exited, all alive, the music began and out raced three chariots. They raced around the hippodrome several times before stopping in front of the crowd. We had our photographic moments, which Abby would have nothing to do with, except with the horses. It was just a really fantastic experience for which we were repeatedly thanked by the kids.
While in Jerash, we saw some people walking around with BYU Jerusalem bags. We stopped to talk to them and found out eighty-two of them had come down from Jerusalem to enjoy parts of Jordan. These Mormons are everywhere!

We ate at a wonderful restaurant just outside of Jerash which had the best flat bread. We watched them make several, rolling them out from balls, flattening, tossing, and them pushing them on wooden paddles into a brick oven. We had delicious hummus and meat. The kids and I, at Dano’s request, tried the lamb and were quite surprised to find it was somewhat tasty. It’s just hard to get that image of Mary’s little lamb out of your head.

We drove through Bethany and arrived at the Jordan River in time to walk around before the next tour. We saw this thorny bush and thought perhaps it is indigenous to all the land and imagined that from it came the thorns that made up the crown of thorns put on Jesus’ head. It made it a little more surreal for all of us as we looked at these monstrous thorns and talked about Christ’s suffering.
We went with a little group out to the site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ. Over the past thousands of years the river has slowly changed course and flows a short distance from where experts believe the actual site is. Our guide informed us that the Pope had visited the site last May and blessed it as the site of Christ’s baptism.
The water was murky green and Abby was fussy but the feeling there was serene. A short walk down a path we reached where the Jordan River now flows. A man was just concluding the baptism of a young teenage boy, apparently a common occurrence. The kids were able to dip their feet in the river. Remarkably, Israel is just on the other side of the twelve-foot wide river. There were armed guards on our Jordanian side and armed guards on the Israeli side, each waiting to “meet” wayward swimmers. What a marvelous way to conclude our Biblical experiences in Jordan.
We quickly drove to spend some time swimming in the Dead Sea. It was a little chilly for me and Abby, so we watched Dano and the other kids experience true weightlessness in the water. They were amazed to now have a personal affirmation of how easily one can float because of the density of saltwater. Fortunately none of them had any significant water intake, which can’t be said of two little boys swimming next to us. One of them looked at though he was going to die as his mouth frothed, probably more out of shock and disgust than anything else. This picture was taken as they were about twelve yards from shore, in at least twelve feet of water. They had no problem staying vertical in the deep water. It was amusing to watch people completely covered with mud walk down to the sea and “bathe.” The kids actually thought that was a pretty gross idea.
We spent the remainder of the early evening swimming at the Dead Sea Spa pools. The kids enjoyed the many slides, and Dano, well, he could not be left out of the fun.
We watched the sun set peacefully on the Dead Sea and on our very memorable Jordan vacation.

19 April 2010

Jordan - Day 4

Tuesday was our less scheduled day. We ventured a short ways outside Amman to a small village called Iraq el Amir. We visited a castle built in the 2nd century BC. It was beautifully overgrown. We were let in by a local man who, we could only presume, cares for the property. We had a great time climbing around the abandoned castle and picking up some of the unfortunate amount of trash.
We were privileged to then spend the rest of the morning and afternoon with the Iraq el Amir women. We watched them make paper cards out of banana leaves, throw clay to create beautiful pottery, weave unique rugs and throws, and enjoyed a wonderful meal prepared by them. It was very humbling to see up close the circumstances under which they live. We were able to see just how meager many of these people live. They sell their wares to whomever will buy them. They have a new project underway where they have planted green onion seeds throughout their village. Everywhere we walked we saw green onions growing. They harvest them three times a year and sell them to local farmers, stores, and hotels, again, to anyone who will buy them.
As we walked through the village and fields between their houses to witness the picturesque view, we trounced through what most likely was stinging nettle. It felt like bee stings up and down our legs. Fortunately a local woman was carrying Abby (who was much shorter than the brush), Dano was carrying Kennedy (who wasn't feeling well), I was carrying Erin (who was having a difficulty climbing through the overgrown mountainside in crocs), and Ethan chose today to wear full length jeans. So, Dano and I were the only ones who really suffered. I'll never forget that feeling as little red welts began popping up all over our legs and feet.I had previously thought these women were refugees from Iraq, as Jordan has become a safeplace for roughly three million Iraqis over the past six years. However, after we learned the whole village was called Iraq el Amir, we were told that ‘Iraq' means hills or mountain and ‘Amir’ means prince. The village had been named such thousands of years ago as the Tobiad Prince built his aforementioned castle. Thus, the village’s name means prince of the hills or mountain. Only a few of the women spoke a little broken English. Thankfully we can greet, say politenesses, and give a few compliments in Arabic. We had a memorable time with these sweet women who said so little but taught us much.

18 April 2010

Jordan - Day 3

We checked out of our wonderful hotel Monday morning and spent much of the morning driving through Wadi Musa (valley of Moses). Jordan is riddled with olive trees making olive oil one of its largest exports. The carefully manicured vineyards as well as the scattered wild olive trees made for beautiful scenery.
We ended our drive just past the city of Madaba at Mt. Nebo. As related in the Old Testament, Mt. Nebo is where the Lord showed Moses the promised land and where he was subsequently translated. It was an incredible feeling to be where this great prophet stood thousands of years ago. Over the last hundred years they have unearthed various Roman pottery and many clay oil lamps as well as several intricate tile mosaics.
Continuing on the outskirts of Madaba there is a small factory where mosaics are still made. We were fortunate enough to visit this workshop. We entered a room where eight ladies were busily and meticulously placing tiny mosaic pieces on sketched outlines of various pictures. We were touched that several of them working had some sort of disability. We were amazed at their ability to cut such delicate mosaic pieces and glue them to create beautiful mosaic art ranging from The Tree of Life to flowers to scenes from the Garden of Eden. Beautiful creations.
From there we drove into the city of Madaba to visit St. George’s Church, a church built in the 19th century. The beautiful church houses many mosaics, the most famous being one constructed in the 6th century AD depicting the entire Holy Land from Lebanon to Egypt. It once contained more than two million tiles but only a portion have survived.
We rested our weary selves at a hotel in Amman. Having been around historical sites in the United States, England, and Italy, all of which have had great impact on the creation of civilizations or building of religions, it’s an amazing and humbling opportunity to visit places thousands of years older also of great significance. A blessed opportunity.

14 April 2010

Jordan - Day 2

On Sunday morning we woke up early to meet our guide for the day. We drove about two hours through beautiful Jordan countryside, up great hills and down the hills until we reached a place known as Petra. For those of you who have seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the last part of the movie, during which they are searching for the Holy Grail, was filmed in Petra. We took a horseback ride down the trail to where the mountain opens up into a siq (cavernous opening or gorge). Kennedy’s horseback riding came in very handy. This was the first time we’d been able to see her ride and she was quite good. Dano’s guide tried to unnerve him a little by speeding up his horse’s gait. Dano dared him to go as fast as he liked, telling him he’d grown up riding horses and couldn’t be scared. I think it surprised the guide to have someone Dano’s size actually be a very good rider. Dano caught up with Kennedy and the two raced, galloping to the end of the trail. Ethan and Erin rode their own horses and Abby rode with me, the more cautious one, calling out ‘hellos’ to everyone and repeating, “I ride horse. Abby ride horse.” She loved it!

On a side note, as we were waiting for our entrance tickets we saw someone wearing a BYU shirt. Ethan had his BYU shirt on that day also. He approached the young man and said, “Go Cougars!” He was there with a group of young single adults from the middle east area. There were also three or four senior couples, one of which is good friends with our friends the Simons back in Ohio. We had been told they were in Jordan and were so happy our paths crossed. Mormons are everywhere!

The siq was absolutely beautiful to walk through. Petra had been built by the Nabataean civilization in the fifth or sixth century BC. It is the larger version of Mada’in Salah and the northern capital of the Nabataeans. It was aptly situated on the incense trail at a crossroads for all major trading routes. The Nabataeans were industrious and clever. The siq we walked through was created mostly by flashfloods, although earthquakes had also contributed to its formation. The Nabataeans created dams, built cisterns, and carved canals into the siq, all of which collected water from the rains. This high commodity sold to incense trail travelers, along with general trading, kept the Nabataean empire thriving in Petra. The siq has incredible colors in the rock, reds, yellows, blues, purples all throughout. I was wishing we had a geologist with us to identify the rock. The yellow we were informed was sulfur oxide (good guess, Kennedy). After walking down the siq for about three quarters of a mile, enjoying the colors, the rock carvings, the petroglyphs, and the scattered vegetation that was surprisingly flourishing, the siq opened up to reveal the great Treasury.
Petra contains over 5,000 tombs, of which we only saw perhaps a thousand, the Treasury being the most iconic, most ornate one of all. It was breathtaking how suddenly it appeared. In 2007 Petra was named one of the new seven wonders of the world and has been touted as one of the places to see before you die. We now knew why. The workmanship was incredible, not only for our time, but for theirs. From the delicate carving of the columns to the footholes cut into the rock as a climbing tool, these builders were amazing. It has only been within the past five years or so that archaeologists have unearthed a third level of the Treasury. It is below the surface, having been buried by earthquakes hundreds of years ago. It is still undergoing excavation so it was covered with construction mesh, but we could still look down to see what people have only discovered in the past few years. So amazing. We walked another mile past the Treasury, viewing many more tombs, an amphitheater, and a temple. Some of the buildings had been refurbished and others added by the Romans years later.
We enjoyed lunch at a restaurant at the end of the immediate trail. At that point we had been walking for over two hours in the heat and with the idea of trekking out of Petra on our minds, our little family was too pooped to hike any further. There is a great monastery beyond the trail. Next time. We took camels back to the Treasury. That was a treat. Much better than walking. However, at the end of our thirty minute ride, Erin and I decided we could empathize with those of old who rode camels all day. Ouch. We walked the remaining mile out of the siq and back up to where we began, wishing we were again riding the horses. We devoured some much-appreciated ice cream (bless you, Erin) and looked for a hose for Abby before getting in our van.
What an amazing opportunity we had today. I’m only hoping our children remember what they have seen and heard here. Such astounding craftsmanship. Such tedious work. Such impressive results. I’m so glad we were able to witness this incredible artistry from centuries ago.

13 April 2010

Spring Break in Jordan-Day 1

The kids successfully completed their first term of school. With that comes a term break, which I would normally refer to as spring break, but what they call here Easter Break. If only everywhere celebrated Easter for two weeks. We had long been anticipating the break and had decided to take a family trip to Jordan. Jordan borders Saudia Arabia on the northwest and is a mere two hour flight from Jeddah to Amman. We left early Saturday morning in order to capture a complete day of exploring. Amman was beautiful upon arrival. We easily made it through customs and began our trip of about fours hours south toward Aqaba. Our first stop was in Wadi Rum. Per previous entries, ‘wadi’ is Arabic for valley. Wadi Rum is the largest wadi in Jordan. It is where a good portion of “Lawrence of Arabia” was filmed. It was a supreme expanse of granite mountains, sandstone mountains, sand dunes, and just plain desert sand. Since there are only dirt roads, we toured around Wadi Rum for several hours in a Jeep. We were shown more petroglyphs, most notably from the Nabateans again. Our guide, Mohammed, is friends with several of the local Bedouins and invited us to sit and enjoy tea in their tent. The tents surprisingly are very cool, situated near the rocks allowing cool air to rush through…what Mohammed referred to as ‘air conditioned tent.’ Dano had quite a time explaining to Mohammed why we were so appreciative of their kindness, but would not drink the tea due to our “religious law of health.” As the majority of the middle east is devoutly religious, it usually works to explain your reasons coupled with religion. We thoroughly enjoyed our Bedouin tent experience. We met a man who had just welcomed his twelfth child. He asked Dano how many children he had and upon the answer of “four” asked, “Only one wife?” We were serenaded by another man who sang and played on his stringed instrument made out of goat hide and hair. It was soothing music and I could just imagine the Bedouin families gathering and gettin’ down to the melodious harmony. We hiked around a flood-created cavern near their tent. The kids enjoyed climbing an incredibly steep sand hill. They were surprised how difficult it was. As Dano climbed up with Abby on his back, I watched his boots sink in to the sand up to his ankles. If only we had that workout everyday! Mohammed had also arranged for one of his friends, also Mohammed, to cook us a meal. We sat in the desert on mats and feasted on grilled chicken, potatoes, onions, green peppers and beautiful tomatoes, and of course, flat bread. One final hike led us to the “Rock Bridge.” I’m not sure what we’re going to do when we get back to Ohio and there are no mountains to climb for my little mountain goats. No fear.
We stayed at a beautiful hotel in Aqaba. The kids were excited to find the Easter Bunny had already been to our room and left a chocolaty-decorated plate of chocolate bunnies and eggs. As the hotel is located on the shore of the Red Sea, our room overlooked the sea. Aqaba is Jordan’s only seaport, which pleased Ethan to see all the new ships. The beach was beautiful and peaceful but too chilly to swim. Erin took to her normal routine of finding the perfect shells. Living on the sea, we have quickly become avid beachcombers who love swishing our feet in the surf. Abby and Dano sat on the dock and attempted to call the fish that were swarming nearby, although, I’m not sure what Abby’s reaction would be if they actually swamed over to her. We were all happy to shower up and wash off the sand, sunscreen and grit. I’m not sure our white socks will ever be white again.