Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Fall of Jerash

On Friday, we decided to drive 45 minutes north of Amman to Jerash, the site of an ancient Roman city, widely considered one of the largest and most well-preserved sites of Ancient Roman architecture in the world outside Italy.

The site is incredible, because the entire city has been preserved and you get a real feel for the size and expanse of the city, how the city was laid out, and how people lived. 

The first stop was the ancient hippodrone where chariot races and gladiator contest were held. It was one of the smaller hippodrones in the Roman Empire, but also one of the best preserved. It smelled like a hippodrone, too, with some of the stalls still in use today by local vendors offering horseback rides. The kids said it reminded them of the Cheney Rodeo :)

The kids checking out an old olive oil press. They actually had a decent appreciation for the press after seeing a modern-day press in use on a recent olive harvest trip. 

One of the coolest parts of the city was the Colonnade. It served as an open-air forum at the intersection of the Cardo, the main boulevard running along the axis of the town and roads leading to the Ampitheatre and the Temple of Zeus. 

Here is a picture of Peter running the perimeter of the Colonnade, a precursor of things to come. 

From the Colonnade, we took the Cardo. Along the way, we saw a cathedral and the Nymphaeum, the place where the city's inhabitants got their water. It was a giant stone reservoir which emptied into a smaller basin fed by fountains which trickled from the mouth's of carved lions. 

We walked on the city's original road in which you could still see the grooves made by passing chariots. 

By this time, it was about 12:30. The kids were getting hot, tired, and hungry. After stopping for snack of carrots, cucumbers, and Z bars, we decided since we had almost reached the Temple of Artemis, we would go that far and work our way back. Since you enter the city, at the south gate, marked by Hadrian's arch. The arch was built during an aspirational time when there were plans to expand the city to the south passed the old walls. There was little development, however, between the old walls of the city and the arch, with the notable exception of the hippodrone, so one does have to walk a ways to get from the parking lot and entrance to the Colannade. 

We had plans to stop at the Lebanese House in Jerash afterwards for lunch, the place we had stopped for lunch during our first couple of days in Jordan, on the way back from Ajloun. We didn't make a reservation, so didn't want to be too late, because we knew it would get busier later in the afternoon. 

The Temple of Artemis sits atop several sets of stairways, 108 steps in all (the kids counted them). 

Elise photographing the modern city on the way to the Temple of Artemis. 

At the top of the stairs, I ran with the kids to the base of the Temple of Artemis. I took Clementine's hand as we ran. The ground was even, cluttered with stones and gravel. I recalled an incident a few years ago when we were vacationing in Pondicherry. Elise and I were enjoying cold beers at the hotel. 

It was May in India, incredibly, rudely hot, and we had spent the day sightseeing in the heat. the children played around us. There were uneven pavers on the patio. Water from a nearby fountain ran through a sort of channel beside the patio. Sam chased Clementine, and she fell, cutting her eyelid on the concrete. The gash was deep and required stitches. 

We hailed a tuk-tuk and tried to call the nurse back in Chennai. We made it to a hospital, but after one quick look at the sanitation, I turned around. I wasn't taking my daughter in there. Whatever was lurking there was worse than the cut over her eyelid. 

When we reached the Temple of Artemis, we were greeted by four men, one was selling coffee out of giant tin urns, dropping charcoal briquettes into the top to keep it hot. Two were pedaling various wares, one, an older gentleman, gym-worked biceps in a tight black t-shirt, tight blue jeans with a giant metal belt buckle, sunglasses, salt and pepper hair slicked back, smoking, was just hanging out with the other three. 

Elise and I accepted coffee. With three cardamom pods dropped into each boiling cup, the Turkish coffee was strong, aromatic, and welcome. It wasn't a long hike, but there was definitely a sense of having reached a destination when we arrived at the Temple. There, too, was a sense of peace and calm, of hospitality. I took of my backpack and sipped the coffee. Elise looked at bracelets to buy (Peter showed an affinity for the moonstones, even putting a moonstone necklace in his hair to take on the appearance of a Greek youth of Hermes, perhaps). 

The men told me Peter and Clementine looked like me, but wandered who Sam belonged to. They also told him he looked Middle-Eastern, like a Jordanian boy. They asked me how many camels I would accept for Elise. Their father had many camels, I was told. Of course, I replied I could accept no number of camels for my wife. The older man and I inexplicably exchanged phone numbers. He invited us to his house for dinner, and we took a photo together in front of the temple. Elise tried to get a deal on three bracelets, making use of negotiating skills sharpened on the streets of India. 

And then Peter vanished. 

When he reappeared, it was with tears on his cheeks and distress stretching his face from the clear blue sky to the ground. 

The first few moments after one of your children hurts themselves are the most harrowing. For five to ten seconds you have no idea what is wrong or how severe it might be. Any attempt to ask them where they are hurt only illicits louder howls. There was blood. Pete's eyes went to his knees first, but he was only directing my attention to what he could see. His legs were dusty, but his knees were only scrapped. Elise and I forced him to sit down between us. The vendors gathered around us, concerned, but crowding us when what we may have really needed then was space. I lifted Peter's shirt up, he had scrapped his chest, but, again, nothing major. The blood came from a gash on his chin.

"Peter lift up your head," I told him. 

The cut was not an inch from where he had cut his chin in Falls Church when he slipped in the bath tub. That cut may not have required stitches, but hey, we were in America, why not get stitches when you could? 

I was having trouble telling how big the cut was for the blood when I hard another voice....

"I'm a doctor."

I glanced up. 

A young Jordanian man in t-shirt and hiking pants pressed his head through the crowd of vendors.

It was a doctor. At the Temple of Artemis. It was as though someone had called, "Is there a doctor in the house?" and the call roiled across the tumbling hills. And a doctor miraculously appeared. 

He addressed Peter, "Hey, buddy..."

Peter was hysterical and wouldn't calm down, though by this point, it was apparent he was more startled than actually injured. He had cut his chin pretty bad, but he would survive, though he had yet to understand this fact for himself. He instantly diagnosed the cut would not need stitches and called for plaster (Peter never would get the plaster, and I'm still a little confused to this day what exactly they were going to put on my son's face or where they were going to get plaster at the top of the Temple of Artemis). He asked Peter to grip his hands and raise his arms, but it quickly became apparent--despite those first panicked five to ten seconds when you have no idea what is going on--that Peter was going to be just fine despite the fact Peter had stepped off a pile of rocks and slipped in between two boulders.

We thanked the doctor profusely (he had gone to school in San Diego and recently completed a residency in Pittsburgh)...and his lady friend who had watched him, superhero-like, spring into action. 

We gathered up a battered Peter and started to make our way down from the Temple of Artemis, as our Superman had disappeared, Clark Kent-esque back into the ruins. We wished out vendor friends goodbye, 20 dinars lighter. 

Peter muttered the entire way back down to the car. None of this would have happened, he insisted, if he had just stayed home like he wanted to (it is a Herculean challenge just to get the kids out of the house on a Friday morning). And maybe we are the worst parents in the world, letting Clementine cut her head on a rock in India, and allow Peter to fall from the top of the Temple of Artemis in Jordan, but neither Elise nor I believe in living our lives to be safe. 

There is more good in the world than otherwise. I've learned that if we put our trust in the world, that trust will be rewarded. More often than not, there is a Clark Kent out there somewhere, waiting to swoop in and save us. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Monday, November 13, 2017

Dead to Red Cycle Relay

This past weekend, I got talked into participating on a three-man relay team to cycle from the Dead Sea to the Aqaba on the Red Sea. I was initially very reluctant, as I had not been on a bike other than commuting to and from work since shortly after Sam was born. But I guess what they say is's just like riding a bike. You never forget.

I had to get up at 2:30 in the morning on Friday in order to make it to the start of the race past the south end of the Dead Sea by 5:00. Check-in started at 4:00 a.m. and the race started with the solo riders taking off at 6:00. The distance was 200 km-- of about 120 miles.

We ended up deciding to break it up into 10 mile legs. Since I no longer have a road bike, I had to share a bike with one of my teammates. We had two bikes between the three of us, so when we were transitioning between one bike and the other, the car would drive about four miles ahead of the rider, so the next rider had time to get the bike off the rack and could go as soon as the rider on the road pedaled up.

What I thought would be a long morning, wasn't. I couldn't believe how fast the miles went. Since we were only doing ten mile segments, I rode them hard. When I got off the bike, I crawled into the back seat of the car and spread my legs out over the center console to try and keep my hamstrings from tightening up.

After the first ten miles, my rear was already sore. I rode the second ten miles especially hard, as I tried to bridge a gap to five solo riders riding in a pace line. I was hoping to sit on their rear wheel for a few miles before my leg was up. It was a good thing I caught them, too. I ended up going a little longer than ten that leg, because the support car had to pull over for a pit stop.

The third leg was by far the hardest, due in part to my increasingly sore tooshie and the fact that I rode the second segment as hard as I did. The fourth segment was easier. As we got closer to the Red Sea and the finish, a tail wind picked up and there were more downhills.

All-in-all, we rode the 120 miles in 6 hours 20 minutes. The other car accompanying us brought beer, champagne, chips, and nuts for a tailgate which was unfortunately cut short due to a sandstorm kicked up by the stiff winds.

A few shots from the start of the race. The sun came up quick, however. The bulk of the race was, very much, through the heart of the desert. There were signs warning of drivers of sheep crossings and camels, and it was more-than-slightly surreal to be pushing the bike down the highway, quads resisting, and seeing camels standing watching you go past. 

As you can see, crowds were thin. But the few who did come out to cheer were very enthusiastic!

After spending a few minutes at the finish line, it was time to make the long drive home. It is about four hours from Aqaba to Amman. On a recommendation, I decided to take the Dead Sea highway back as opposed to the Desert Road, because the road is in better condition. It ended up being a beautiful drive that I was not expecting with the sun setting over the Dead Sea on my left, and the pink and purple-tinged cliffs on my right. 

I wound through a couple of small towns. Elise would have wanted to stop and take photographs. One image that sticks out in my mind is that of a small boy and girl playing on a small farm. Their home was a traditional bedouin tent pitched on a cliff on a small plot of land. There was an old Mercedes parked outside the tent, and the boy was giving the girl a piggy-back ride. 

It was Friday afternoon. "Jumea" in Arabic which also means "gathering", because Fridays are the day the family gathers after morning prayers, and families who had driven down to the Dead Sea from Amman and Madaba parked there cars in dust lots overlooking the water. They lit fires. Some cooked on small grills they brought with them. the children played in the dust around them while the parents sat on the hoods of cars or in folding lawn chairs. 

Wadi Field Trip

Elise and I fought over who would get to go on Sam's hiking field trip to the wadi. "Wadi" means "river bed" in Arabic, and some of the best hikes in Jordan are through the wadis to a small (or, sometimes, not so small) waterfall.

Many of the wadi hikes start at the Dead Sea, as many rivers or creeks in Jordan (including the Jordan River) flow through the country and empty into the Dead Sea. Sam had a blast hiking with his friends (and his mother!). He said the hike was hot, but the waterfall at the end was cool and refreshing!

Sunday, November 5, 2017


One Halloween just wasn't enough! The kids donned their Greek robes once again on Friday night for the kids' school Spooktacular. Even Elise got in the spirit of things. The highlight of the evening was navigating a legitimate Trick or Treat lane. The school halls were decorated, and "Monster Mash" and Michael Jackson's "Thriller" were playing on the speakers.