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This Mah 'Hood

Jabal Wiebdeh

'Howdy all. Long time no blog. The issue is that here seems so normal now that it doesn't feel like there's anything interesting to write about.

So, I live in Jabal Wiebdeh, one of the oldest parts of the city. Jabal Wiebdeh is one of the original seven hills of Amman which now sprawls over twelve hills (technically 'jabal' means 'mountain' but, well, you can't blame them for trying. For the longest time, I thought 'jabal' just meant 'big rock'). This is my favorite part of Amman; it's relatively quiet, has everything, lots of trees, and one of Amman's only good walking neighbourhoods.

I live with my friend Lynne in a 2br apartment. I've converted the office as well so we're looking for a third person to split the rent. The coolest thing about the apartment is the balcony. It has a nice view across the hills and includes Jabal Qala, which has the ancient Roman ruins. I spend MANY an evening out here, enjoying the view.
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We have Yummy Bites, which does quite a good chicken fajita sandwich but hasn't been open lately. Fortunately, if I'm too lazy to cook, there's also a pizza place down the road AND a new saj place with awesome chicken saj. You can see the argile (water pipes for tobacco) place next door - at a place called Smokers Paradise (I'll also have to get a shot of that at some point):
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This is Duwar Paris - or Paris Square (although 'duwar' means circle) - about a half block from the apartment. In the summer it's crowded into the wee hours of the morning with families hanging out. It's also the site for occasional parties and protests. Lately, these bonehead shebab have been using the circle for a race track around two am. Nightly.
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We get our fruit and veggies from this guy. It's a bit more expensive here than downtown, but it's worth not having to lug all the food up the hill (in my lazy opinion):
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I don't know what this building is, but it's orangy pink. My friends all think it's ugly, but I'm just happy that there's a building here that's not smog colored:
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Cafe de Paris on Duwar Paris. Cool place to spend hours doing homework and surf the internet. They also have awesome chicken in lemon-butter sauce with roasted vegetables, a nice break from hummos and foul.
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I don't know the kid, but the cat is always there:
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Just one of a thousand funny shop names - I should do a blog just on that. This is a cookie/pastry store:
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The first photo here is Terra Sancta, a big Christian school in the neighborhood. K thru highschool, I believe. Actually, Jabal Wiebdeh has a large Christian population and at least three churches. The next photo is the mosque directly across the street from Terra Sancta. It's one of the older mosques in Amman.
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Posted by jenofear 07:43 Archived in Jordan Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Goin' to the Movies

Life in Amman

Usra and I went to see Sherlock Holmes a couple of nights ago at one of the multiplexes here in Amman. These places show primarily American films and a few Arab films. There are smaller Arab film theaters around as well. There are also, erm, porn theaters. I hear that the way they work is that one goes in and a regular film will play, but then somewhere in the middle of the film, porn will be spliced in for a while; then back to the regular film. OF COURSE, I wouldn't know first-hand. No interest no access.

I’ve actually only gone to the multiplex theaters here twice. Once was during Ramadan; just to get out of the heat and pass time until we could eat (I started using semi-colons as a joke but now I find them indispensable). Typically, the films they choose to show are a selection of ridiculous comedy, horror, and action. The audience is apparently not much interested in the more subtle offerings. So far, the only releases in theaters that have been of interest to me, for example, have been Iron Man, the aforementioned Sherlock Holmes, and Dark Night. Of course, if I wanted to see Invictus or Up in the Air, I could buy it on DVD for $1.50 before it’s even left the top ten box office in the US. If you know where to go, the copies are flawless. If you don’t know where to go, you may see a silhouette of someone getting up in front of you while you’re watching the film.

So, the film is 5JD…about $7.50. Expensive for the average Jordanian but there’s a handful of wealthy Jordanians and an expat population that will turn up. When you buy your tickets, you will be shown a computer screen from which to choose your seats.

It’s reserved seating.

In a country where people don’t pay attention to lines or lanes or laws, there’s reserved seating. Of course, if a Jordanian were to go to the states, he may say “how funny! Here these Americans stay perfectly in the lane lines and even cross the street between crosswalk lines, yet at their theaters, they go in all willy-nilly.”

The popcorn is a bit cheaper than the US – 2JD for a large one. Also, they have caramel popcorn. Mmmm…caaarmmmel popcorrrn.....what? Oh, ehm...

Inside, the seats are luxurious; like pilot seats. They’re not heated or anything but they’re high backed and super clean. It may just be that these places are so new. Oddly, everyone here prefers to sit as far back as possible. So the back six rows are filled while the rest remain empty. Sure, the screen is big – I’d say it’s bigger that our multiplexes – but it ain’t THAT big. Maybe they’re all making out back there…can’t say I checked.

We sit, in front of everyone. Up to a half hour after the movie has started, people are still trickling in. Fortunately, during this film, no one is talking on their cell phones. This is something I see here frequently at musical performances, documentary film viewings, in meetings – people talking on their cell phones. It translates back to the home, I think, where you can’t sit and watch a TV show without people talking through it or just getting up and doing something else. The worst is, when you're watching a program and they just come in and change the channel on you...AND THEN LEAVE! Like the act of changing the channel is an activity in its own right.

More typically I go to the RFC, the Royal Film Commission, where they are always showing documentaries and art films. They have frequent film festivals – European, German, American Documentary, Arab Short Film, South Korean, Environmental…and on and on. All the films are free and opening nights tend to have snacks. There is nothing better than free snacks.

Also one of their theaters is outdoors on a hillside overlooking the city:

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Posted by jenofear 14:42 Archived in Jordan Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Dahab

Strange Juxtaposition

Initially, Dahab was a Bedouin fishing village. I suppose what put it on the map is the diving, which is apparently spectacular. The snorkeling was spectacular but that's as far as I went.

We arrived in Dahab in the evening and checked into the Crazy Camel Camp. It has a kind of jungle-y feel to it. But, mercifully, no mosquitoes. Actually, the lack of mosquitoes, I'm sure, is due to the lack of fresh water of any kind.
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While the atmosphere was cute, I probably wouldn't stay there again. I could get a lot more amenities for the same price elsewhere. Also, the public restroom there was, well, ewwy.

Before I launch; something I have to say about Dahab - all my friends who have been there have loved it; I do agree with Jessie that their milkshakes are a revelation (compared to anything in Jordan). However, I wasn't so enamored with the place in general.

I admit to being charmed the first night when we arrived. It was like a little fairy-village; seaside cafes, colored lights everywhere, quiet, waterfront promenade with no vehicles.
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After that, it started to feel somewhat unholy...and a bit flaky.

So, the two tourist populations you have there shake out to be the hardcore divers and the world traveler types who need a break from ME restrictions and just want to party. Being a big stick-in-the-mud non-partier type, this was, for me, kind of like when I was majoring in engineering at university. I'm up studying while a bunch of drunk sorority sisters are singing badly at the top of their lungs and some guy is puking in the bushes outside my apartment. Dahab is a strange California party town plunked onto the shores of the Red Sea. But quaint...like Chico meets Capitola.
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For sure, it is not un-beautiful. It's more the combination of the tourist-vibe with the local vibe. Like any tourist scene, the locals (actually, not locals but transplants from places like Cairo and Alexandria) are there to take your money. The guys want you in their stores and the restaurant guys angrily rebuff you for not coming in, behaving as if you'd written a bad review of their food. Later in the evening, there's the locals ogling the tourist girls who dress like they're in Malibu. It's easy to forget where you are when you're on the promenade there but you're still in Egypt. Actually, that tourist seediness is exactly the same as anywhere else, whether it's Niagra Falls or Monterey.

Meanwhile, a half a block behind the promenade is the Bedouin village:
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The promenade is like a movie set, a facade.

And here, at one of the dive spots, the local girls work for the dive centers:
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Could'ya tell which ones were the local girls? Well, check this out:
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Here, a couple of the girls have finished work and are heading in for a swim. On a side note; in Wadi Rum you will never see any of the Bedouin girls working with tourists. But then I've heard about a non-touristy area in the north of Jordan where they're more relaxed about the women interacting so it appears to vary tribe by tribe.

No segue provided - this is just so cool:

So, we're hanging out near the beach one day and these women with a baby walk up (no, this is not the beginning of a joke). One is playing with the baby while the other gets in the water. So, I'm thinking, 'oh, ok, not so interesting.' But then the woman on shore hands the baby off to the woman in the water. Turns out this woman is a freediver and the woman on shore is her doula. So, they're passing the baby back and forth and he's kinda swimming, face down, moving his arms and legs a bit. Also he has these teeny goggles he's wearing part of the time. But then, the freediver puts the baby on her back and he's actually hanging on totally on his own. She goes under with him and pops up a few seconds later and he's still hangin' out.
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Posted by jenofear 05:17 Archived in Egypt Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Day trip to Lebanon

Playing catch-up and an excuse to post photos

Back when we went to Damascus...we also took a day trip to Lebanon. Yep. I'm still playing catch-up.

We went to check out Baalbak - with, time allowing, a quick jaunt to Beiruit. To get to Baalbak, we drove through the Beqaa Valley - named for Bacchus, the god of partying - which is appropriate since the valley is known for the production of grapes (as well as cannabis and opium). There were snowy mountains on either side of the valley and it was FREAKIN' cold. Also, something I haven't seen in either Syria or Jordan, were Bedouin tents set up in rows....with satellite dishes. (?!)

Think trailer park.

Can't believe I didn't have the driver stop so I could take a better picture. But in addition to being cold, it was also rainy...and COLD! Here's one through the speeding car window:
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Typically, in Jordan, you won't see more than five or so tents in one location. Often just two or three. Of course, satellite dishes imply that they are there in one place for a little while. Maybe hunkering down for the winter. Not sure how the satellite company account works exactly...

On a side note: Don't think that people in this region don't have access to EVERYTHING. This is satellite TV - you can access anything here that you can access in the States. Some of the Lebanese music videos would make your toes curl. Also, the most popular movies are from Egypt, where people dress and often interact similarly to those in the West. In fact, when I first arrived, I thought the old ones were American films dubbed into Arabic.

Driving through a town near the Bedouin 'village', there were Hezbollah flags lining the center of the street, which is kind of unsettling when one is raised on American news. But, of course, these flags represent Hezbollah as a political party that provides social services - schools, hospitals, etc. Not that everyone in the region approves of them, I should point out. I was kinda tempted to buy a Hezbollah T-Shirt, 'cause I'm pretty sure none of my friends have one.

Baalbak has the largest Roman temples ever built. They are also amongst the best preserved. And again, almost no tourists. I think people would do well to visit Syria and Lebanon for Roman ruins rather than visiting Rome, which is just so overcrowded.

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We bopped around for a couple of hours, despite being freezing....which I probably don't have to mention 'cause you can just see it in my face:
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Jon, pretending he's not freezing, but he is:
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More pretty shots:
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We wanted to go to Beiruit but we were running out of time. Also, one of the bridges you need to get there was blown up by Israel two years ago, so we had to wind down to the bottom of the mountain and then back up the other side. A beautiful drive though.
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We managed to get to the outskirts, high above the city:
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We passed many houses with bullet holes, but nice areas nonetheless.

Here's a shot from inside our taxi to the bus station in Syria. Taxi drivers in Syria love their bling...just here it happens to be heart stickers and stuffed animals.

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Posted by jenofear 16:45 Archived in Lebanon Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Crac des Chevaliers - Syria

Field trip

While in Syria, four of us from the hostel went to see Crac des Chevaliers, the most famous and intact of the crusader castles. TE Lawrence (who, as an undergrad, studied medieval military architecture) described Crac des Chevaliers as "undoubtedly the most impressive fortress in the world." Like everywhere else I've been in Syria, it is relatively empty of tourists - which significantly enhances its ambiance.

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By popular request, a picture of moi (uh, yes, still here):
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Crac des Chevaliers was built in 1031 by the Emir of Aleppo. It was captured in 1099 during the First Crusade. It was finally re-taken in 1271 during the Eighth Crusade through trickery rather than physical breach.
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This is a group of schoolgirls on a field trip. They, as is common with anyone you meet in Syria, wanted to practice their English with us as well as ask about our countries.
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The Syrian countryside is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful:
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Following our visit to the castle, we stopped on the way back at St George Monastery, built in the 6th century. At the same site is the 'new' church, built in the 12th century.

The original church:
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It was, all in all, a pleasant day out. On the way back, our driver stopped at his cousin's house. They invited us in for coffee and then invited us to spend the night. Syrians - the most hospitable people on earth!

So - who's coming to visit me?

Posted by jenofear 03:32 Archived in Syria Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

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