Sunday, March 25, 2018

Iraq Al-Amir

First of all, we did not go to Iraq! We went on a day trip just west of Amman to an ancient palace in the Wadi Al-Seer valley called Iraq Al-Amir.

As was explained to us by our guide, the Iraq of the infamous war and current events and Iraq Al-Amir don't share a name by happy coincidence. Mesopotamia, the land lying between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers has many tributaries, like the veins on a grape leaf, and the valley wherein Iraq Al-Amir lies is one of the tributaries leading to ancient Mesopotamia, or modern-day Iraq.

Legend has it the palace was constructed by a member of the Tobias family (this theory is seemingly corroborated by the inscription of the family name --in Hebrew -- on a nearby cavern) who fell in love with the daughter of a nobleman. When he asked for her hand in marriage, the nobleman said that Tobias could only have her hand if he built the so-called "Castle of the Slave." But the palace was never finished. 

The stone blocks used to build the walls of the palace were very large and heavy, so laborers would have had to employ construction methods similar to those used by the Ancient Egyptians to build the Great Pyramids. 

The frieze was adorned by reliefs of lions. 

After touring the palace ruins, we drove a very short distance to see ancient cave dwellings, though I got the impression they may not be quite so ancient, but may have been used fairly recently to escape both the heat of the summer and the cold and wet of the winter. The interior of the cavern dwellings' walls had been charred black by cooking fires and it was evident that at least a few animals still used the caves for one distinct purpose. 

A network of arrow tunnels connected at least two of the caves. Fortunately, no children were lost amidst their spelunking. 

A donkey resting in the shade.

After exploring the caves, we stopped for a traditional lunch of maqluba at a women's society home in the small town outside the palace site. Maqluba consists of meat, rice, and fried vegetables placed in a pot, which is then flipped upside down when served, hence the name maqluba, which translates literally as "upside-down" in Arabic. 

In addition to lunch, the women's community center also included a small shop with handmade pottery and another with handmade stationary made by local women. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

First Baseball Game

Fat Tony's (that's the name of the boys' team) had their first baseball game Friday morning. Both boys had two times at bat. Sam got on base on both at-bats, and Peter singled on one of his two at-bats!

Pete on the mound and Sam in left (or is it right?) field. 

You can pick out Pete and Sam by their red Nats caps. No uniforms yet, but hopefully soon~

Sam at bat.

And Pete at bat.

And the loyal baseball fans cheering them on (it was a little chilly!).

Rainbow Unicorn Sushi Birthday

Clementine turned six! We had a multi-themed, multi-color birthday party for her in her honor!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Spring in Jordan, Part Two

Our apartment has roll-down block-out shades. Most of the apartments in Amman do. We live on a busy corner, and when down, the shades help keep out a lot of the noise from the street. I am sure they have many useful features. During the hot summers, they would help keep apartments cool. We have heard Amman does get dust storms, and the shades would be the first line of protection in keeping out the wind and the sand.

We usually put the shades down at night. Partially, to keep the early risers in bed longer, truth be told. When the shades are down, it makes the house very dark at night, as no light from the streets or the moon or the sky can get in.

When one of the kids comes into our room at night, you can neither hear or see them. I sleep closest to the door, and they always come to my side of the bed first. You never really know when a child is standing in the dark, staring down at you, willing you to wake up. Somehow, I do sense that they are there. I reach my hand out into the darkness and touch a soft and round, pajama-clad tummy or a small arm or hand or small fingers, reaching out for my hand in return.

Elise has encouraged me to just let Clementine into our bed, and the other night, sensing it was her, I pulled the sheets back and she climbed in. I don't know if it was because I was already hot or if it was because I was already having trouble falling asleep myself, but I couldn't stand her lying beside me; She wouldn't hold still, twitching like a spasmodic protozoa on a slide under a scientist's microscope.

I walked her back to her bed. She said her ankle and the back of her leg hurt, and I tried to rub them in a weak attempt to sooth her back to sleep.

Elise professes to having experienced growing pains. I never did, so cant really sympathize. I surmise Clementine was over-tired. Something I can relate to. She had swim class at school earlier in the day which is usually enough to do the trick.

When the rubbing didn't work, I promised her I would get her some medicine. I went into the kitchen and filled a plastic shot glass with water, a placebo, and brought it to her.

"Drink this," I told her, guiding the small cup to her hand. She did and lied back down. I laid next to her and waited for her breathing to slow, for her to fall back to sleep.

I didn't have much sympathy for her, but stayed calm. I tried to imagine what would make a little girl get out of bed and come to her parents. Our kids are (mostly) very good. The only reason she would fight gravity and come into our room was to seek comfort, so it was my responsibility as a parent to do nothing else but provide comfort.

The placebo worked and she did fall back to sleep....

....for a few hours.

A little after 12:00 she was back in our room with the same complaints.

I took her to the kitchen and asked her to sit on a foot stool in the laundry room. No placebo this time. I was going to have to find either a thimble-full of whiskey or some children's Motrin. I opted for the later. Real medicine this time. Hopefully, she couldn't tell the difference.

The next morning, all talk at the breakfast table was on Peter's field trip. I still don't know exactly where he went. When we originally received the permission slip, it sounded like his class was going to one of those gift shops on the side of the highway on the way to the Dead Sea, one of the places where they sell salt crystals and Dead Sea mud to slather on your body in hopes of regaining a youthful sheen. To hear him describe it, it sounded the like mechanical shop in The Empire Strikes Back, the one where Chewbacca finds the uggnauts disassembling C-3PO, lasers shooting, sparks flying, and the shrill whine of rotary saws splitting the air. It was some kind of wood shop where they made small items (tchotckes?) out of olive tree wood.

Now, I thought olive trees never died, hence the reason an olive branch was the symbol of everlasting peace, but evidently I was wrong. I must be, because I can't imagine a Jordanian cutting down a living olive tree for any reason.

Peter was to bring five JD to school for the purpose of buying a few of the wooden trinkets from the wood shop, but both Elise and I forgot until the second the school bus pulled away from the curb.

Elise even thought about trying to run the school bus down, but I was headed to the school anyway to see Sam's Arabic class project, so agreed to stick my head into Peter's classroom before the field trip and bring him the money.

When I stuck my head in Peter's classroom, the class was sitting in morning circle with their backs to the door. Evidently, they must have been talking about the field trip or the money, because as I caught the teacher's eye, she told Peter her dad was here with the money.

Peter hopped up and ran toward me. I reached into my back pocket, pulled my wallet out, and gave Peter a pink bill. 5 JD notes were pink.

So are 100 Sri Lankan rupee notes.

Peter gave me a giant hug. It was completely unexpected and perhaps a little out of character for him, considering the eyes of the entire class were on us at this point. But the hug spread through me like a warm front. I could almost imagine a miniature meteorologist in my body standing in front of weather map or green screen warning of the impending heat wave.

He ran back to the circle of friends and I left the classroom. From the hall, I heard one of his friends exclaim, "Wow! That's a 100!"

I stopped in my tracks and ran back into the classroom, knowing the mistake I had made. I quickly swapped out the 100 Sri Lankan rupees for 5 Jordanian dinars. Elise had run into a similar problem trying to pay for coffee with dinars from the UAE. *Sigh* the problems faced by world travelers! : )

Monday, March 5, 2018

Spring in Jordan

As the days continue to grow warmer, the memories of winter gradually fade away. And yet one memory from the winter stands out...

The day Peter kicked two of Sam's teeth out.

What seemed like an interminable period of cold, grey weather was actually just a few short months. As many parents in the States may now be experiencing, as wind, snow, and ice descend upon both coasts, the principal challenge of this or any winter is what to do with the kids when the great outdoors refuses to cooperate. Not every weekend day was wet and grey. But enough of them were to wear down even the most engaged parent. Elise and I refuse to bend to the will of screen demons. By not doing so, however, we subjected ourselves to days when every couch cushion and pillow were on the floor serving as wrestling mats.

One winter Friday afternoon, all three kids were a tangled mess of limbs. Like a rubber band ball, you couldn't tell where one kid's arm began and the next kid's leg ended. There was laughing, crying, giggling, screaming. I dared not try to break them apart. I left them alone. Deciding instead to retreat to the bathroom where Elise had just gotten out of the shower.

We could sit them down in front of an iPad and turn them into zombie's for a little peace and quiet, but at what cost? Isn't this exactly what kids are supposed to do on cold, rainy days? we asked ourselves. For certain, it is what both she and I remember doing when we were kids.

Content in our decision to leave well enough alone, I heard Sam scream from the TV room. I found him in the bathroom, clutching his mouth, blood running down his chin.

Elise had gotten there first and was splashing water into his mouth and washed one of the two teeth that had come out right down the drain. That seemed to distress Sam more than the two gaping holes in his gums. In his mind, she had just washed away 5 Jordanian dinars. Fortunately, they were both baby teeth, baby teeth that had been hanging from his mouth like the crooked shutters on a haunted house. They needed to come out, but no matter how much we tried to get Sam to wiggle them he refused to help them along. Peter took care of that for him with a swift roundhouse to the chin.

In his defense, it was an accident, but he was visibly upset. Though neither Elise or I knew whether he was worried that he had hurt Sam or he was worried because he thought he was going to get into trouble.

We turned the TV on after that and let them watch a cartoon.

This past weekend, we headed back to Wadi Attun with another group of friends. I took Peter and Sam a little further into the canyon than we had gone before, finding an actual hot spring springing from the canyon wall, the rocks around it dyed a dark orange from the minerals in the spring water.

After the hike, we drove to Fuhais, a small Christian town on the outskirts of Amman and the home of the Carakale Brewery. Elise had packed a picnic of bread and cheese. We wound along the narrow roads from the Dead Sea to Fuhais. On Fridays, many families flee the city to picnic outside of town. They pull over beside the highway, under a tree, and set up a picnic and, sometimes, a shisha pipe. It may seem odd to picnic beside a busy highway under the shade of one lone tree, but I think, perhaps, green space is at such a premium in the city, any spot of green and shade is welcome.

As we drove away from the Dead Sea, the hills grew greener. I am impressed with spring in Jordan. These same hills when we first arrived in July were brown under the endless sun, but the recent winter rains had brought green and flowers and a new sense of life to what had seemed dead and lifeless. We even discovered there are cherry blossoms in Jordan, and they were near their peak over this past weekend. Now that we are able to open the windows in the morning, we hear birds, and we even have a few, very tiny blooms on our own peach tree.

Though I have never been to Ireland, the green hills reminded me of what it might be like there. Overlooking the valley from Fuhais, you can even see rows of low man-made rock walls, now crumbling ruins, much as you might see striating the countryside of Cornwall or Kent.

Though when we pulled up to the Carakale Brewery, the gate was closed. A small sign on the gate read, "Closed for Maintenance".

Surprisingly, the kids were as disappointed as we were. The day had been long, and though we had brought egg salad sandwiches to eat on the hike, they seemed to have forgotten we had eaten lunch at all and now that it was almost 5:00 they wanted to know what was for lunch. We drove back through Fuhais, and happened upon a place called Burgers and Brews with a red, English-style telephone booth out front. It seemed to fit the bill.

One tower of Amstel Lite later, several very good burgers, soccer on the big screen, foosball upstairs, we had found a consolation prize. The brewery would have to wait until next time.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

School Dayz

Sam with his KG buddy.

Sam taking his science studies outdoors.

Valentine's Day treats.

Peter in his theatrical debut as Petula's Father (I think his name is Eugene). We practiced his lines. He is doling out financial advice.