The last stop on my vacation extravaganza was Jordan. In Jordan we were pampered. This made it one of the most relaxing segments of the trip. While in Cyprus, my friend Alise joined Jodi and I. Alise had a friend in Jordan whom we stayed with. This friend, Laith, along with his longtime friend, Omran, also decided to join us on our vacation. They took us around Jordan to see all the places we wanted to experience. This let us relax. We did not have to figure out public transportation (which is more chaotic than Azerbaijan). We were not concerned about how we would get to some of these remote destinations. We did not have to worry about the language barrier. We were not even worried about getting ripped off because we were tourist. In addition, we experienced more of the local culture and food than we would have had we not known them.

The first place we went was to Al-Maghtas, the place Jesus was baptized. I’m not really sure how you get there without a car. I’m very glad that we had one! We got there and not many people, tourists, were there. There was a parking lot with a few small shops and a ticket counter. Here you buy tickets for the tour, get a handy-dandy pencil like translating tour guide to hang around your neck, and wait for a bus to come. Once the bus comes, you get one and it takes you to this place. You follow along the path with your guide—this guy does not tell you about the place, rather he makes sure you are listening to the right section of your pencil tour guide and that we stay in one group. The pencil tour guide describes what the area would have looked like back in the day. This area used to have lush greenery and a nice flowing river. The Jordan River has been shrinking. The place where Jesus was baptized has no water flowing through it any longer. We did get to touch the water. On the other side is Israel with the border control. So close, but very far. The water is said to have healing powers. There was one man in our group with a broken leg. His friends put plastic around his caste and then carried him down into the water.

Our next stop was swimming in the Dead Sea. I guess there used to be a public beach that the locals went to. When we were there, this beach was either closed or not open to the public any longer. If it is not open to the public any longer, that’s sad. Along the water’s edge are high class very expensive hotels. For the public to access their own sea, they must pay the hotel a very expensive entrance fee to go for the day or buy a hotel room for the night. Being Peace Corps Volunteers, we couldn’t afford either of those options. However, we got in. Don’t ask me how. With a few phone calls and some waiting, we finally got in. This hotel was nice! When you come in, they bring out a tray of drinks for you and give you a hand towel. We changed into our bathing suits, went into the Dead Sea. Then we came out, rubbed mud (from the sea) all over us, and baked in the sun for a bit. Then we went back into the sea to rinse off. The Dead Sea isn’t as dense as I thought it would have been. It’s more difficult to swim, but it is possible. It’s not a problem staying straight up and down. After this we went pool hopping. I believe there were 5 or 6 outdoor pools. However, the weather was so hot that it warmed the water pretty good. The pools were not a cold and refreshing break from the heat.

The next day we headed south to go to Petra and Wadi Rum. I don’t know much about Petra historically other than it was a city. This city was made in the rocks. As tourists, we paid 50 dinar to get in, but our hosts, who are university students, paid 1 dinar! I thought that was funny. Nice for them, not so awesome for tourists; I thought 50 dinar was well worth the price to see it either way. To start out, I rode a horse down to the Sig. This was my first horse ride! I would never do that again. We then walked through the Siq—narrow passage that leads to Petra. Then it opens up to the Treasury and then leads to the tombs. We walked all the way up to the Monastery. It was probably 6 kilometer or so one way. Doing it in 100 degree heat when there is no shade is exhausting! All along the way are people asking you, imploring you, to ride this camel or donkey or carriage to this other point. There is no one ride you can take all the way through. We didn’t take any of them. I was determined to walk the thing—great exercise. Plus I wasn’t enthused about getting on another animal. There are also stalls with sellers beseeching you to buy this or that as a souvenir. We walked up and walked back. This week was also Ramadan. My friends Alise and Jodi decided to participate in Ramadan. Which means they do not eat or drink anything between sun up and sun down. I did not do it because of recent health problems and the fact that if I couldn’t spend more time praying. To me if I wasn’t going to spend more time getting closer to God, then what was the point? Because they were fasting, they did not drink anything on our 12 kilometer under the intense sun in extreme heat. All power to them, they did it! Our hosts Laith and Omran ended up breaking their fast that day. It was plainly just too hot.

After Petra, we drove on to Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum is a valley in the desert with sandstone and granite rock hills/mountains, and we stayed at a campsite. There are nomads in Jordan who travel around and set up tents to live for a period of time. It was very interesting to see these large tents in the middle of nowhere as we drove along. The campsite we stayed at was definitely for tourists. It was luxury camping to me. We had cots in our tents with blankets and pillows. We could have gotten a house with air conditioning, but we wanted more of an authentic experience. This campsite had nice clean bathrooms and a pool. They even cooked food for us! They had special activities that you could sign up for. There was camel riding and driving a four wheeler. We did camel riding the next day. In the morning we got up before sun rise with the call to prayer in order for those fasting to eat breakfast and to see the sunrise. We really wanted to see the sun rise because we thought it would be beautiful out in the desert. We drove to a small hill and climbed up it in the dark. There we sat. We waited. We told stories of what our parents used to do to wake us up as little children. We sang the songs our parents sang to us to get us out of bed. After the stories we laid still. We woke back up to find out the sun had risen. There was no sun rise. The fog had covered it all up! We drove back to the campsite to go back to bed and wait for our camel ride. I was super excited to ride a camel for the first time; I didn’t know how much it would make my butt hurt! I was ready to get off that camel about half way through our ride. We rode the camels and our guide, originally from Sudan, walked along with us and made sure we stayed in a group. We were not good at guiding our camels ourselves. He sang traditional songs as we went along.

As I mentioned, these two weeks were part of the month of Ramadan. Ramadan is a time of fasting for Muslims and is one of the pillars of faith. The month changes every year, as it is scheduled according to the moon. While we were in Turkey, Ramadan had begun. It was only in Jordan that my friends decided to fast. We also found that more people practiced in Jordan than in Turkey. This observation could be false, sense we were mainly in tourist areas. Every evening during Ramadan, you break fast with the meal called iftar. We did iftar with Laith’s family 2 nights. It was great to meet them, hang out with them, and taste their delicious traditional food! They truly are a wonderful loving family.

I just want to say a little more about the culture. Jordan is more conservative than Azerbaijan or Turkey. I saw more women wearing the burka or at least wearing a hijab than I do in Azerbaijan. During our time there, I did not feel weird. I did not feel stared at or condemned for not being covered. We did dress more conservatively when we were there. We made sure our shirts showed no cleavage and covered most of our shoulders. We also wore skirts or shorts that were no shorter than the tops of our knees. I believe this conservative dress aided us in not getting evil glares. In addition, more women in Jordan are choosing not to cover. Our host, Laith’s sister-in-laws do not cover up. But they do dress conservatively as we did.

I loved my vacation to Turkey, Cyprus, and Jordan. It was wonderful exploring new places and experiencing new cultures. It was also a great break from the hectic schedule I had for the previous 3 months. It has inspired me to learn Turkish and Arabic. Allah qoysa (If God wills) I can start these new goals after my Peace Corps service. This will contribute to my ultimate goal of understanding this region as it has become the focus of my career.

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