Sunday, July 30, 2017

Roman Amphitheater

This weekend, we set out to explore our new hometown. We went downtown to the Roman Amphitheater. Amman's Roman Theatre is a 6,000-seat, 2nd-century Roman theatre. A famous landmark in the Jordanian capital, it dates back to the Roman period when the city was known as Philadelphia.

The day was going to be hot, so we decided to get an early start, and for a short while, we had all 6,000 seats to ourselves. 

I told the kids this is the cage where they kept the lions. They believed, though I doubt it is true. 

The amphitheater is also the home to a museum demonstrating the lifestyle of the ancient Bedouin people. 

After visiting the theater, we took a short stroll through the streets of Amman to Zajal for lunch. 

One of the highlights of Zajal is the entrance itself, a colorful staircase shaded by a 'roof' of umbrellas.

The photographer at work.

They offered a buffet of hummus, pita, falafel, and my new favorite, fatteh, which means 'crushed' or 'crumbs' in Arabic. Fatteh is an ancient dish of the southern Levantine region (consisting of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine) of fresh or stale pita with strained yogurt, mashed chickpeas, olive oil, cumin, and clarified sheep's milk butter on top. The pita softens and becomes like a dumpling. It was amazing!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Poems by Sam

In a Land Without Clouds

We have been in Amman for a week, and I have yet to see a cloud.

Not a single one.

The weather in Amman is a lot like the weather in Florida in that it is basically the same every day. At least, during the summer, as I am told. In Florida, every day was sunny and hot...until the afternoon thunderstorms rolled in. In Amman, every day is 95 and sunny. The sky is a perfect, cloudless blue.

In that respect, the kids could not have asked for a better summer. They have spent nearly every afternoon at the pool. The pool has been a lifesaver. We have nothing at the house except for what they brought with them in their tiny backpacks, mostly toys for the plane. Though we have a few outdoor spaces (including a giant, tiled back patio that we are in the process of converting to a roller hockey rink), they mostly just run back and forth through the house, wailing, "I don't know what to doooooooooo!!!" A giant, completely empty house lends itself well to such activity and has an impressive echo.

Despite the lack of anything to do (isn't that indicative of most summers? Isn't that exactly what kids their age are supposed to do during the summer anyway? Absolutely nothing? I argue they would be equally bored out of their minds whether they were back in Falls Church with all their toys or recently landed in the Middle East without them.), the kids seem to be adjusting well. So does Elise. We've been to the store. She's made dinner at home at least three times. We had local SIM cards for our cell phones on day two. Home internet as of today (fingers crossed). We've found the pool, the gym (Elise has even been to a spin class), a sushi burrito place around the corner from our house, the mall, gone to a movie, ordered Starbucks, spotted the dry cleaners and barber. Knock on wood...the transition is going smoothly. Too smoothly. I'm nervous.

We're at the point in our lives where we take these transitions for granted. While Elise and the kids were adjusting seamlessly, my adjustment had seams, and I didn't know why. I was nervous about work. Whenever I start a new job, I have little to no idea what I'm supposed to do or what was expected of me. Eventually, I figure it out. I've figured out three different roles now. And not only do the job capably, but have had some measure of success in each of my roles. I'll figure this one out, too. But, this time (maybe because my training was all the way back in February), I feel like I have even less of an idea of what I'm supposed to be doing.

I take it for granted that we have uprooted our lives--yet again--and moved halfway around the world to a completely strange and foreign place. We're at the point in our lives where this shouldn't be a big deal instead of one of the biggest things one can do in one's life. I miss Falls Church. I miss our backyard. I miss drinking good beer and grilling. I miss things being easy (we signed up for internet at our house. The company had to dig up the street and excavate under our building to install the cable. The guy that came over to run the cable into the apartment spoke only Arabic. But he wasn't the one with the modem. Another guy would come over with the modem. It was unclear whether he would speak English or if the wireless modem they were installing would provide coverage to more than one room. When they were done, they wouldn't give the password to Elise. Only to me.). That being said, I readily recognize the benefits of moving overseas greatly outweigh the drawbacks, and stories like getting internet installed in a foreign country make for good anecdotes in the grand scheme of things and nothing more.

Before we moved to India, I explained to Elise the move looked good "on paper". But there was nothing in writing to explain the unfathomable nature of India and the great mysteries we would face there. Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister, described India as a country where “one under the other, are written many facts, ideas, and dreams, without any of them completely covering that which is below.” Likewise, this move, too, looked good on paper. Moving anywhere outside of the D.C. metro area--as much as we loved the city itself--would have looked good on paper. I could've made an argument to move to Sudan after working a year as a staff assistant earning approximately 65% of what it took to support a family five in that area. But I miss Virginia. I have allowed myself to feel that. Over the course of our first week in Jordan, I have acknowledged it is okay--perhaps healthy even--that missing what we left doesn't say anything about where we are. And it's okay to both be sad to leave Virginia and excited to arrive in Jordan.

I also miss my mom. There are things I see or feel I can't always share with Elise for fear of making her unnecessarily anxious. But I could share those things with my mom when all I needed to hear was that everything was going to be okay. I could talk about anything, and she would listen. She would have wanted to hear about our move to Jordan.

I don't have that same rapport with my dad. Our conversations are short. I can talk to Elise, but life with three children doesn't always easily lend itself to quiet conversation. Moreover, I'm the one who tells Elise everything is going to be okay. Where do I get my affirmation from now? It's another transition. Not the one from the U.S. to Jordan, but the transition from consumer of affirmation to source. Doubtlessly, as adults lose parents, it is an adjustment they make, but not one I've heard a lot about. For 45 years, we've had parents to tell us everything is going to be okay, but someday we have to convince ourselves everything is going to be okay, then tell ourselves and our loved ones the same.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Amman Week One

I've never been to the Middle East. I had never been to Brazil or India either, but really had no preconceived idea of what those places were like. Some notion of the Middle East had long existed in my mind in some form or another. Not only because my grandparents were from Lebanon, but mostly because of what you see and hear on the news. A story on the Middle East--most bad--makes its way to the nightly news every day. What was this place really like? I couldn't imagine all of it was in constant conflict all the time.

Nothing is like the first moment you step through the automatic doors from the airport terminal. Brazil was like an alien landscape. The earth was red like the surface of Mars, and the plants and birds were otherworldly, like things out of science fiction. We landed in India in the middle of the night. The air was hot and humid, though it was November, and there were throngs of people crowding the exit. We were really in India.

Sometimes, I think, you can be in another country, but it doesn't feel all that different from being in the States, but when we stepped from the airport in Amman, it really felt like we were in the Middle East. As we drove the airport road to town, the desert to the east to our right, low khaki buildings and sparse pine trees to our left, it was quickly apparent we had landed in a place unlike any we had experienced before.

We landed at 4:00, but it wasn't until after 6:00 that we finally left the airport. Short half a car seat. The duration of the jet lag wasn't as bad as it was when we traveled to India. Somehow, Pete and I remain largely unaffected. For me, I think it has a lot to do with having to come to work and to somewhat function through the daylight hours. Everyone was rising early. Even Clementine who Friday morning woke at 1:00 in the morning and never went back to sleep. This wouldn't have been that big of a deal if she didn't tell me every two minutes until the sun came up that she couldn't go to sleep.

After being--for the most part--extremely well-behaved through pack-out and our cross-country travels, the kids let their hair down upon our arrival in Amman. In their defense, they really have nothing to do. The only entertainment they have is whatever they were able to fit into their tiny backpacks, a couple of small airplane games. We have no internet or cable, so they can't even watch TV. They watch and re-watch the same two or three movies we downloaded to the iPad. Yesterday, the lifeguard at the pool gave them each an inflatable ball. This morning, they set up patio chairs as soccer goals on our back patio, so at least they're getting creative.

They've all been adjusting amazingly well. Pete took the move from India hard, and Elise and I were worried he would take this move equally hard. It could be harder. Peter doesn't like change. He cried when I shaved my beard. But he does like adventure. Specifically, Pete likes air travel. You could get him to do about anything or go about anywhere as long as you told him there was a flight involved. But--so far--Pete has been an angel. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. But I think if it was going to drop it would have by now. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Stopping at the Happy Room or Drinking the Sky Juice

On Friday (weekends in Jordan are Friday and Saturday instead of Saturday and Sunday), Elise, the kids, and I joined a field trip to Ajloun Castle in the north of Jordan. The castle was built by Saladin the first sultan of Egypt and Syria, in the 12th century to protect the realm from Crusader incursions.

In the distance, you can see the castle at the top of the hill.

After arriving at the castle, our tour guide gave us the option of stopping at the "happy room" before beginning the tour. 

From the top of the castle parapets, you can see 360 in all directions down into the surrounding valley. According to our guide, on a clear day you can see Jerusalem and--with binoculars--the Mediterranean sea. 

After the guided tour, we had an opportunity to explore the castle on our own, including the museum. 

We saw 1,000 year old mosaic tiles pieces and ceramic pottery "grenades" in the museum. Sam asked why they didn't just use explosives. Of course, I explained to him explosives hadn't been invented yet. The guide also explained to us they used terra cotta pipes to carry water from cisterns to filters. Rain water, or "sky juice", didn't require filtration and could be drank directly from the reservoirs. 

I'm not exactly sure what "ablution" is. And I definitely don't know what it means to take a "wudoo". But we had some fun trying to take a guess. 

The artist at work. 

After the castle tour, we stopped at Lebanese House restaurant in Jerash for a full mezze spread of hummus, pita, babaganoush, and a mixed grill. It was amazing! 

Clementine had been up since 1:00 in the morning due to jet lag and both she and Sam crashed in the bus on the way back to Amman, exhausted. The trip was exactly what everyone needed to get their clocks back on schedule though. They all slept through the night on Friday, ready to hit the ground running the following morning. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A New Chapter

It has been almost a month since the last time I have written here and too much has happened since then to possibly provide an accurate account. In that month, I finished work in Washington, D.C., the boys finished school, we packed out of our house in Falls Church, drove to South Carolina then on to Florida in a luxury minivan to visit family, Sam snorkeled for the first time, we flew from Florida to Seattle, roasted s'mores, shot off fireworks, and celebrated the 4th of July in the Pacific Northwest, drove across the state to Elise's parents in Spokane, drank lots of beer, ran a lot, cycled a lot, flew back to Washington, D.C. for 48 hours, before climbing on a Royal Jordanian 787 en route to Jordan.

We've arrived.

The past two weeks is an incomprehensible blur. It all happened too quickly. I am a little shocked by the speed at which it all happened. Though I immersed myself in every moment, reading Jurassic Park to the kids, playing dolls with Clementine, throwing the baseball to Sam, it all sped by so fast. By blogging, putting it all down into words, I think I slow down time somewhat. But I didn't do that. I didn't have time. And I am saddened that it all went by so quickly. I remember coming back from training in West Virginia, facing all we had in front of us, the plan we had laid out, and feeling daunted. But we took it one step at a time, one challenge at a time, constantly reminding ourselves we were just doing the best we can and the only thing that mattered is that we were all together.

Now, we're here. At the beginning of a new chapter. And more stories, new stories, will come.