Living in Amman

Ma`a as-salama (Goodbye in Arabic) Amman, Jordan


One of our last sunsets at the Dead Sea

So the time as come to bid goodbye to Amman. Although I’ve already left the country for good and have been living in what I now consider home, I feel the need to come full circle and say goodbye. It was an interesting fourteen months to say the least; I’m happy that I had the opportunity to live in another country, amongst a culture that was different from my own, but nothing feels as good as coming home to familiar things, places, and people who you’ve missed so much.

I didn’t warm up to Amman quickly. Rather, our relationship was on shaky ground for the first few months. Here’s a list of the things that drove me crazy from the get-go and then the things that made my time in Amman something that I’ll cherish and look back upon fondly:

The Bad:

  1. Cats, cats, and more cats. I am an animal lover, not necessarily of cats, but I hate seeing starving and sad, pitiful cats (some with wounds and worse still, a one-eyed cat I saw in my neighborhood) climbing into dumpsters looking for food. There’s obviously an overpopulation problem that hasn’t been addressed.

    Sorry, no shots of cats in dumpsters.
  2. Driving and traffic circles: Everyone can agree that driving in Amman and throughout all of Jordan (perhaps all of the middle east) is a nightmare. Lanes are merely suggestions; the light barely turns green and hordes of angry drivers slam on their horns. It’s stressful and dangerous and I’m so happy to never have to drive there again.
  3. No love for dogs. Poor Shanti. He moved from a dog-friendly community where people treated dogs equally as well as children to a place where dogs are considered harem (forbidden). He is currently in hiding until his hair grows out enough to take him to the groomers. I may just drop him off on the curb in front of the groomers in a basket with money attached so that I don’t have to face the groomer’s horror when she sees the situation–good thing the place is called Hairy Situation.Additionally, he had a bump removed last year in Amman, leaving the poor pup disfigured. His show days are gone.

    Isn’t this the SADDEST dog you’ve ever seen?
  4. Lack of shopping options. As I mentioned throughout my stay, I suffered severely from retail withdrawal. Sure high-end boutiques were aplenty, but there was nothing I could afford. I couldn’t even sneak purchases in the mail because the ‘boss man’ picked up the mail at the embassy, thereby eliminating my stellar ability to sneak items into the house. I have since made up for lost time and am feeling quite content at the moment.
  5. Continuous stomach virus: I won’t get TMI on you here, but it seemed that between the two of us, one of us was sick every week regardless of what we ate, where we ate it, or how careful I was in the food preparation. Enough said.
  6. AFN and Tiger Box television: I will never, ever watch Armed Forces Network (AFN) again. Luckily for me, Raj is not in the military, so the chances of me staying true to my word are good. AFN has no commercials, though they have just as many public service announcements to make up for the lack of commercials. Reminders like “what right looks like” or “never to drive when your medication says may cause drowsiness” will not be missed. Tiger Box, a satellite of sorts, is equally as abysmal. I have never seen so many B movies that I didn’t know existed and yet because I was so starved for entertainment, I was captivated with them solely because there was nothing else on TV.

The Good: 

  1. My tennis coach Basel: I played tennis collegiately and then gave it up for close to twenty years due to burnout and lack of a (good) partner to play with. I rediscovered my love for the game by taking tennis lessons with a fabulous coach whom I wish I had met when I was playing competitively. The only bargain in Jordan was tennis lessons. By the time I left, I was taking lessons three times a week for an hour and a half each time. According to Basel, had he been my coach when I was young, I would have played professional. Oh how I miss my lessons.
  2. My self-indulgent “me time” schedule: Now that I’m back to work, I no longer have the luxury of waking up when I want, playing tennis or running at the gym, going to Barre classes, teaching or doing my own personal practice of yoga, meeting Raj at the embassy for lunch, laying out by the pool, reading, blogging…O my God the list could go on and on…. Gone are my days as a “lady of luxury.” You will be missed!
  3. Grace, our friend and cleaning lady: Grace was recommended to us by a co-worker of Raj. She was such a loving companion to Shanti when we left him in her care on multiple, long-term occasions. She took such great care of our house too. I wish she could come to live with us here! I know Shanti would sing to that.
  4. Traveling: We have been on so many amazing long and short trips while we were in Jordan. The Egyptian cruise at Christmas still remains my all time favorite, though there were so many fabulous others. As much as I love traveling, I’m looking forward to staying put for a while and traveling locally, revisiting our favorite haunts and checking out other new places.
  5. Parties and Events: We had to opportunity to attend parties at a number of embassies in Amman. The highlight, getting up-dos and sanctioned shopping for appropriate ‘party’ clothing.

    Love the up-do, but I’m paying the price in damage.
At the French Embassy, Bastille Day

So I’m left with a blog entitled Jen Maan in Amman and even though I’m no longer living in Amman, I’ll be redirecting my focus to the things that I still love to do regardless of where I’m living, like cooking, baking, crafting…just no longer in the middle east.

Ma`a as-salama…

Jen

Living in Amman

Running at the Lowest Place on Earth


 

Running in Amman is a challenge. Prior to moving here, I ran outside almost everyday, along a beautifully maintained path that paralleled the Potomac River. Here, I can’t really run outside. Sure, I could run with a group that runs on Friday mornings, but then I’m not a social runner (it takes ALL of my concentration and focus just to run, so conversations are out of the question). For me, running in Amman is limited to running on a treadmill. It’s not that bad, but training on a treadmill is difficult, to say the least.

I ran a half marathon (only my second) last Friday down at the Dead Sea. Raj dropped me off at Sport City at 5:00 AM. I boarded a bus at 6:00, and the race began at 7:40. The organization of the race was fabulous, the route was beautiful, and the weather couldn’t have been better! Where else but Jordan will you be able to run alongside camels and donkeys or see goats and sheep across the road?

The plan was to meet Raj at the finish line and then go to one of the hotels to spend the day away floating in the Dead Sea, but that didn’t happen. I ended up telling Raj not to meet me, afraid that the hotels would be booked to capacity thus making my Dead Sea soak a bit too crowded. We’ll be making up for the lost soak in an upcoming weekend when it’s less crowded and when my muscles aren’t as exhausted as they were at the run’s completion. All in all it was a great run (even though the race results aren’t up yet), well worth the hours of monotonous training on the treadmill!

View of the Dead Sea
Taken just a week before the race at the Dead Sea with friends

 

Eating · Living in Amman · Travels

A View Fit for a King–Dead Sea Panoramic Center


Restaurant's Terrace
Dead Sea below
View of the Museum

Last week we had a blizzard (ALL weekend long); this week a heat wave. Last week we hibernated, ate too much and complained about our luck–the weather in DC was WAY warmer than here in the DESERT; this week we promised ourselves that we would get OUT of the house and enjoy Jordan. We hashed a plan last Saturday, in the midst of the blizzard (after checking out the upcoming forecast–it said it was going to be sunny and hot) and decided to hike the Soapmaker’s Trail in Ajloun. What I love about this trail is that at the end of it–and it’s only a two-hour hike–there’s a soap factory AND gift store (part of RSCN’s (Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature) efforts to help support the local economy). So you’re basically hiking to a store. Love it!

We packed our daypack with water and trail mix and were all set to leave until we searched for directions. Upon searching, we noticed that the trails in Ajloun DO NOT open until April 1st. We called to make sure this was right and were told ‘inshallah, we will open April 1.”

In front of the entrance to museum and stores
View of Jerusalem across the Dead Sea

Plan B. We decided to go to another RSCN location–the Dead Sea Panoramic Complex. As the RSCN website describes it:

“Perched at the edge of the Zara mountain range, between Ma’in hot springs and the Dead Sea basin, the Dead Sea Panoramic Complex offers some of the most spectacular views in the Kingdom. From the observation terrace you can absorb breathtaking vistas over the Jordan Rift Valley and Dead Sea basin and you can dine in style watching sunrise or sunset over the mountains of the Holy Land. There is also a large and fascinating museum devoted to the natural and cultural history of the Dead Sea, a Nature Shop and a range of other attractions and activities suitable for both adults and children.”

The place is stunning–both architecturally and view-wise. It would be a perfect venue for a wedding with the views and the restaurant…but I don’t know anyone getting married, so nevermind. Best of all–there was hardly ANYONE else there, so we had the restaurant almost exclusively to ourselves.

The restaurant, “Arabic style with a hint of Lebanese” is operated by Evason Ma’in Hot Springs (a neighboring hotel/resort that we haven’t stayed at…yet). The food was amazing! Generally I stick to my favorites, shish tawouk or mixed grill, but feeling a bit crazy (perhaps from all of the glorious sunshine), I ordered something new–musakhkhan (chicken seasoned with sumac, an abundant amount of onions and served on top of pita that soaks up all of the chicken juices and oniony flavors). It was served on a hot griddle placed on a wood serving piece (similar to Mexican fajitas). [I wasn’t sure what sumac was, so I looked it up–it’s a spice made from the ground dried berries of a bush that grows wild throughout the Middle East. Sumac has a sour and vaguely lemony taste.] We also ordered a cold mezza–hummos Beiruty–chickpeas, tahini, hot paprika, parsley, and fava beans.

Musakhkhar and Hummos Beiruty

The Panoramic center has a lovely museum and TWO stores: one is a Rivage, Dead Sea product store–you can buy these product anywhere, AND the RSCN store. I love RSCN products–the teas, soaps, jewelry…too many choices so I got overwhelmed and bought nothing. I’m saving my money for the day when we hike the Soap Maker’s Trail and end at the soap factory that sells the soaps that are sold at stores like the Panoramic Center.

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Travels

Exploring the Other Side of the Dead Sea–Masada


Masada is the single-most visited archaeological site in Israel. It’s a massive fortress built on top of a rugged rocky crag towering over the Dead Sea. Jonathan the Maccabee first built a fortress here in 150 BC and it was later enlarged by Herod the Great. Masada is best known for its role in the Jewish War (66-70 AD) when it was an outpost of Jewish resistance against the Romans.

Beginning the Ascent

Most visitors here make the pilgrimage to watch the sunrise. We couldn’t book a hotel near enough to make this possible, so we summited in the mid-morning sun, which was fine because it was a great day for it–not too hot. (There’s only one hotel/hostel inside the National Park. If you can’t book a room here, the closest option is about thirty minutes away. Warning: stay away from the Oasis Hotel!). There are three routes to the top of Masada: a cable car (similar to Palm Sprigs’ tram), the Snake Path and the Roman Path. We wanted to hike/walk and took the Snake Path, which was a relatively easy hike that switch-backs up the mountainside along a well maintained trail. It took us a leisurely hour with plenty of water and photo breaks to make it to the top (although I imagine that if you’re hiking in the summer, it has to be much more difficult).

Once you arrive to the top, you are immediately rewarded with stunning 360 degree views of the Dead Sea, the surrounding valley and the remains of the fortress and Herod’s fabulous palace clinging to the edge of the cliff.

The lower terrace of Herod's Northern Palace
In the lower terrace of the Northern Palace

Once you descend, the visitor center is a great place to grab lunch (with an accompanying glass of wine) and to shop–they have a great selection of Dead Sea products and foodstuffs, i.e. honey, wine, spices, teas…(Sorry Nicole, I didn’t buy you anything, nor did I buy myself anything. I was too tired from the hike to shop).

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Travels

The Dead Sea


We just got back from two nights at the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth. The resort was amazing and the sea was mesmerizing. It was 105 degrees or so, but at least it was dry heat, and not a dry resort (plenty of alcohol).

This would be the PERFECT location for a yoga retreat with the amenities and spa selections available…

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