We woke up bright and early this morning after what was more like a long nap than a good night’s sleep to embark on our first major excursion. We all piled into our bus, drowsy but eager. We first drove to Irbid’s clinic to check that Emily, who has been feeling ill for the past couple of days, had recuperated. Unfortunately she still wasn’t feeling great and was having difficulty even holding down water so she elected to stay behind at JUST and rest for the day.
After safely seeing her off, we drove deeper into Irbid to enjoy traditional Jordanian breakfast of falafel and hummus at Hasham’s. Although the fried falafel was a bit heavy for early morning, both it and the hummus were some of the most delicious I’ve ever had. Copious amounts of khobz and a mug of much needed black tea woke us right up and Kate and I even braved the hole-in-the-ground toilet. Then we clamored back on to the bus and headed for Ajloun castle.
Our drive took us away from the city and up into the hills, high enough that my ears blocked up. We wound farther and farther up, the green of the valley below spilling out before us, little towns that seemed about to topple off the precipices to which they clung springing up around us. Herds of goats, fruit stands, and people out enjoying the sunshine lined the streets as we bounced along on the uneven roads. When we finally pulled through the gates to Ajloun, we were charged 25 gersh to enter. Alas, if only historical sites in the US cost a quarter of a dollar. We tumbled out of the bus and immediately into the gift shop where we splurged on some painfully touristy hats before making the climb up to the castle. Impressively still intact, Ajloun castle sits atop one of the highest hills for miles, with graceful Arabic arches that soften the heaviness of its stone that keeps the inside surprisingly cool even in the summer heat. We climbed around in the castle’s many rooms, some of which house beautiful centuries-old pottery and intricate mosaics. We finally made it to the roof of the castle for a stunning view of the neat rows of olive trees against the red-brown earth below and gathered for a group picture, horrible hats and all. We ended our visit to Ajloun with some more browsing in the gift shop and I was ecstatic to find post cards for only $0.14 US. For those of you waiting on post cards, however, I will unfortunately have to send them when I return home because the post here isn’t too reliable.
Our next stop was Jerash: ruins of a city built and maintained by the Roman Empire. Towering Corinthian columns stretched seemingly endlessly toward the clear blue sky and we climbed to the top of the still-complete amphitheater, reminiscent of Rome itself. We marveled at the immaculate detail carved into each structure and were even serenaded by a Saudi man playing the bagpipes. And while I never guessed I might see that in Jordan, I enjoyed it nonetheless. We wandered through the partial structures in complete awe of the intricacy of the city. As a lover of history (and soon to be a history major), I could barely contain myself. We explored all we could until it got too unbearably hot and I had to go “bidun sweater”, probably the first time my arms have seen the light of day in three weeks. We cooled off in the gift shop where it took all the restraint I could muster not to indulge in some of the beautiful tapestries one of the shop owners displayed for us. I settled for a pillow case, tapestry on a smaller scale before re-boarding the air conditioned (alhamdulilah) bus.
We began our last stop for the day, Jordan’s capital Amman, in the Royal Automobile Museum which boasts a collection of the royal family’s high-end vehicles dating back to the early 1900s. While I know very little about cars, I knew enough to be impressed. And while the cars were certainly unique, the exhibit spoke to the extreme wealth gap in Jordan, a trying phenomenon for a people plagued by economic difficulty.
Happily cooled by the museum’s welcome air conditioning, we made our way to King Hussein Mosque, a few minutes away. The girls disembarked the bus with scarves in hand and we clumsily covered our hair with them before entering the mosque at the instruction of one of the guards. Once inside we were allowed to view the mosque’s impressive collection of Islamic artifacts. They had both a hair from the Prophet Muhammad as well as the offspring of the tree he famously sat under. Incredibly, they also displayed the original letter Muhammad wrote to the Roman Emperor warning him to allow the practice of Islam or face violent opposition. After wondering at the impressive age and sheer force of this document in the history of the world, we split up by gender to visit the prayer area of the mosque. In most mosques, men pray on the main floor and women, who typically come to mosque less often, observe the male prayer and pray themselves in a smaller chamber overlooking the main quarters. Barefoot and with impaired peripheral vision from my poorly wrapped scarf, I took a moment to myself, looking out over the lower floor of the mosque, peaceful in its overwhelming spirituality. We walked back out through the mosque’s seamless white arches just as the 5pm call to prayer began. Although we hear the call to prayer every day, this was our first time inside a mosque. The sound swallowed all else in its magnificence, making it impossible to do anything but listen with a still soul. I very probably could have stayed in that courtyard forever given the choice, but we slipped out just as the waves of people headed to prayer crowded in.
Our next stop was Amman’s largest mall, a stark contrast to our mosque visit. The mall was right out of any American city: full of posh stores, five stories tall, and bustling with shoppers in very westernized styles. And while my distaste for malls was proven to be cross-cultural, I happily indulged in some pomegranate frozen yogurt which I am surprised I’ve gone this long without. Our whole group unsurprisingly ended up in Starbucks and after filling our caffeine quotas, we re-boarded the bus for a quick tour of the city. We passed the heavily guarded American Embassy, Amman’s most exclusive neighborhoods, and shebab playing soccer in the street, narrowly missing them as our bus driver skilfully wove through the crowded, narrow streets. We disembarked yet again for an early evening walk on Rainbow Street, a popular hangout for Amman’s younger population. The walk soon worked up our appetites and we headed for a beautiful outdoor restaurant complete with colorful lanterns and several fountains.
I enjoyed chicken, fatoush, and rice with toasted almonds and pine nuts (a new favorite of mine) as the cool night air settled in around us. After some fresh watermelon for dessert, we finally started home and the bus went almost completely quiet as most of the group entered into a much-needed, food-induced nap.