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Thursday, February 6, 2014


The new home reaches skyward like a vine, fed by billions of gallons of imported water. Dubai has sprouted, over years of cultivation, in the middle of the desert; on the side of an ocean that we fill with foreign sand. In the land of afar, everything comes from afar. People, companies, hotels, malls, movies--we are the all consuming expats, re-sculpting places in our memories with sand and water. Everything is filtered through a Middle Eastern mesh and the result is something new--something not-quite-right--something better-than-before. The English, Australian, Indian, Filipino, and American masses are young and wide-eyed. It is all new, we are all new. We are children building a playground. The striations of color are apparent, and not limited to the dunes and bulging boulders of the Badia.

In a room, in a building, in a sandcastle, we write. We feed the industry that feeds us in an endless loop. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Summer Fever

Throughout my difficult, greasy, awkward middle-school years, my mother and father were the sorry recipients of a series of notes with two or three thematic repetitions.  "Annie is not living up to her potential."  "Your daughter is quite bright, but refuses to turn in her homework."  "Annie is failing to apply herself."  I have no further explanation for my three month absence from this blog.

The months of separation have made our hearts grow fonder, filled with excitement, change, perhaps a little unrest, then much needed rest and the telltale signs of settlement.  The summer moon hung low and wet like laundry between apartments.   We moved as the stars from the east to the west, packing our trappings of permanence into a minivan driven by an adulterous uncle and unloading our life into a western style flat near the hospital.  Rick notices Antares, a dwarf star that flickers red and white low in the sky and then sets behind the horizon by midnight as if it arrived too quickly, and then realized it had to leave.

Other people have been moving as well.  Our neighbors to the north come over in droves with far less, and somehow far more baggage.  Ever the hosts, Jordanians have redefined generosity, stretching their already thin resources into a chai we all can drink.  I am reminded that we are all brothers and sisters.  I am reminded that we are all hosts and we are all guests in this world.  I am reminded of Mogadishu.  I want to call my brother.

The volunteers closer to the border have been moved.  We are far enough from the nearest crossing to stay, but close enough to keep a bag packed.  Living in evacuation limbo is like being sick, but not sick enough to go to the doctor.  Waiting for a fever to tip one way or the other, living life in a sort of in-between state.  Always keeping your clothes clean and never buying too much yogurt.

It is, admittedly, normal feeling.  We fast and feast with friends for Ramadan.  We host people from Amman, visitors from Spain, volunteers from Africa.  The city opens it's arms again and again without complaint, a hadja taking in one more, and then another and then just one more, feeding the world with arthritic, weathered hands.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Desert Castles.

Our home is not a village, rather it is a medium sized urban area.  Home to 80, 000 people it is the desert capital, riding on the familiar cusp of mountain, desert and, a bit distantly, river.  A string of ruined forts, hunting lodges and churches litter the desert and, perhaps as a gilded lily, are referenced as "the Desert Castles."

We are becoming part of the horizon here.  Another castle in the desert, another pair of camels.  We've moved from one side of the city to the other and it is sometimes difficult to remember that we are not living in some kind of bizarro world America where we still fight with our internet service providers and have dinner with friends.  When we are reminded it is a jolt to the system.  A bar or two of English caught while passing the Islamic Charity, a blonde woman outside the Protestant church is all it takes to cause one to stop hard enough to cause whiplash.

There are more reporters coming through our city these days.  Students from colleges in America looking to understand the Syrian refugee crisis from an up close and personal point of view.  They are concerned about numbers.  They are concerned about rations.  They are concerned about experiencing culture shock upon returning to the United States after two weeks in Jordan.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Petra by Night

I found the Lonely Planet review of Petra by Night to be pretty uninformative, so I wrote my own.

Petra by Night

Night falls over the Rosy City.  In the dusty evening, a group of people gather by the gate to Petra.  Like so many Nabatean merchants before, they wait in anticipation of the riches that this ancient city will afford them. 
Meet at the entrance to Petra at dusk, and cross the border from the modern city of Wadi Musa, to the hauntingly beautiful mercantile hub of Petra.  Take the stroll down the Siq, lit by candles and luminaries and bordered by natural sandstone walls.  When you and your fellow travelers reach the Treasury, the most famous and certainly most photographed structure in Petra, find a seat on a woven mat and settle in for a show.

A Petra historian addresses the crowd, providing an account of the function of the Rosy CIty, the Treasury and the countless structures, tombs and places of worship that surround the main building.  The voice of the historian, echoing through the ruins, transports the listener to a time when Petra was a bustling center of commerce, a meeting place for traders from around the Fertile Crescent.  As you are immersed in history, small cups of tea are expertly passed to all 200 listeners.

The sound of traditional instruments fills the amphitheater, weaving its way through the Treasury and bouncing off the walls of the Siq.  The vibrations, deftly teased out of an Oab by a man whose family has been playing this instrument for generations, and the high pitched piccolo blown by his young son, give a special view into the lives of the Bedouins who are the protectors of this place.

After the tourist saturated, sun beaten Petra of the day time, Petra by night is a unique, romantic addition to your visit to Wadi Musa, Jordan.  For only 12JD, you can experience a more intimate Petra, without all of the hawkers and gawkers.  Tickets can be purchased at any hotel or outside the entrance to Petra.  You may want to bring a small flashlight, as the terrain vacillates between sand and cobblestone during the walk down the Siq.  Always remember to bring water.  Though the desert nights are cool, the walk is long and dusty.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Jerash the Memories

The sun and clouds that define our mood are too intimate.  Our trip to Jerash was allowed only by the arbitrary lax attitude of the weather, spring dancing a prelude to a summer that promises to scorch.  Basking in the luxury of no special urgency, we went to visit the largest Roman ruins outside of Rome herself.

Leaving our city is like taking a small minibus into a dream.  Our eyes, having been attuned to a spectrum of desert beige are greedy for color.  Driving into the mountain regions the bus hums a song of envy.  The yellows, reds and purples of spring wildflowers hit us like an opiate, and playing in the same vein, become ordinary instances of life as quickly.

The ruins of Jerash are extensive and well preserved.  The column lined road to the hippodrome is paved with stones worn smooth by Roman sandals.  The theater in the round has tiered seating so steep that on approach to the entrance one can only imagine that generations of patrons to the arts have tumbled to their deaths or injurious demise.  Temples and columns have stood strong for the worshipers of their Gods, and then for the worshipers of the worshipers.

Tourists flock to Jerash, though not in the numbers that they arrive in Aqaba or Petra.  Drinking in the history of the Roman empire means sipping on the trappings of modernity in turn.  Hearing English, seeing exposed arms and legs and couples holding hands, the quality of living in an atmosphere of perpetual dread is momentarily assuaged.  Scarves and prying eyes removed from our bodies, the extremes of modern and ancient are laid out like an undeveloped negative.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Desert Flowers

Spring has come like a promise no one expected to be kept.  The sun warms the desert days, and we are grateful, if not a little bit disappointed that we spent the last month learning to say, "When is this spring coming that everyone is talking about?"  It has arrived and in our desert capital, things are blooming.

Even in this world of covered women, spring means an emergence from layers of thick wool.  Blooming from the warm earth tones of winter spring brightly colored hijab, the balled ends of pins used to secure cling to silk petals like dew drops.  The wearing of hijab, or her more conservative sister niqab, is cause for some political and religious discussion, even here where most women chose to cover.  The extent to which one covers is gently judged by those who chose to cover less or more or not at all.  Religion and politics aside, hijab undeniably affords a channel of expression.  Hijab is religious first and foremost but hijab, with out a doubt, is also fashion.

The word hijab my conjure only confusion for Americans.  Head scarf or veil (a term which seems to mislead people into thinking hijab covers the face, which it does not) may perk a few more ears but often comes with a vision of women draped in sheets of black.  From a neon pink, to a subdued pattern of blue flowers, to stamped with familiar Prada or Coach logos, the plain black hijab of our western imaginations is rare here.  As with any fashion, it is the youth that lead the way in innovation.  It is not only the pattern of the scarf itself, but how one chooses to tie it.  Some choose to don a lining and then tie the scarf so the the lining, in an complementary color, is showing, creating a layering affect.  Tied with the edge of the scarf falling like a waterfall to the left or right of the head, secured with a colorful broach.  They come built up in the back, creating the illusion that the wearer is covering a massive head of hair, or smoothed down to hug the shape of the head and sometimes, provocatively secured so the smallest wave of bang is visible.

Walking through the souq, the river of delicate scarves is as distracting as the crates of multicolored fruits and veggies.  The sun finally on our faces, warming the tops of our heads we are ready for the seasons to change.  The vendors holler out their deals, men sit in plastic chairs on the sidewalk, drinking coffee or smoking arguila. Occasionally an uncovered mess of hair stands out from the crowd and I resist the urge to pull her aside, to ask if she is foreign like me, like some kind of uncovered club.  We have our reasons for letting our hair play in the spring sun.  We all have our reasons for covering it up.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

If you can keep your head whilst people around you are panicking, you've probably misread the situation.

An afternoon of sunshine is punished by desert winds.  The gales freeze our eardrums and throw sand in our faces and we are forced to be homesick for Oklahoma.  Another freeze, another blanket of rain has pushed it's way in to our city.  It's almost spring, we are told, and I almost believe its true when I see that our neighborhood Goat Man has a half dozen new kids.  Goat kids, to be clear.

I imagine a line of refugees at the border crossing just a brief jog from my house, reaching in to Syria, curling around like a damp fuse.

Our lives are blessedly unaffected so far.  Work continues, laundry piles up and then is washed by hand and strung up on lines for the world to judge, trips to Amman, breakfasts of eggs and yogurt.  We are invited to people's homes for coffee, we are invited for tea, we are invited for dinner and we accept.

Jordanians, and more largely Arabs, are the best hosts.  We accept an invitation for lunch, and enormous platters over flowing with lamb, chicken, almonds and yogurt are set before us.  We are fed fresh onion tops and home-pickled vegetables.  We drink coffee, we drink tea, we eat apples, we eat sweets.  An Arab will freeze through the night to make sure his guests have enough blankets.  There are stories of great kings at war with other nations, who by political circumstance must host their enemies in their own palaces.  The enemy of an Arab should feel no fear as the guest of his adversary, as he is just as likely to die from being overfed than some clandestine poisoning.

Jordan is host to the world's betrayed.  We pass a refugee camp, built as a temporary reprieve 40 years ago, host now to generations of a diaspora.  Almost 2 million Palestinians and 1 million Iraqis have sought out the peace of Jordan.  The country is preparing for another wave of guests.  The national tea pot is bubbling on the stove as camps, aid centers and, in our small city, field hospitals are erected to tend to the injured and to warm those who ache for a life lost, for a future to come.