Saturday, January 5, 2013

Fake Marriages and Holy Water

Before I even get into the magic and whimsy that is Jordan, I would like to provide some background for these two legs of the trip—so this will apply equally for Jordan AND Egypt.  Because of some helpful advice that I received from friends that had been to these two countries before as well as information that I had read in some of the 8,000 books I read on the topic, I decided that the prudent thing to do before heading over was to get married.  Well, pretend to, anyways.  I informed The PuppetMaster (my snarky, pot-stirring travel companion) of his fate and I must say, he took it very well.  There was hardly any crying involved. 
So we got our little fakey wedding bands and I was delighted to find an engagement-looking ring for six bucks.  Of course, this prompted The PM to whine about how if that's all that I thought about this marriage, blabbity blah blah blah.  I then very sweetly informed him that if he would like to nip on out and get me a real diamond to feel free to.  That shut him up pretty quickly. 
We were married the morning of our flight over.  The ceremony was very simple as it consisted entirely of us putting on our rings and rolling our eyes.  Surprisingly enough, it did actually help quite a bit once we were there since the second or third question I was usually asked was "Are you married?" to which my left hand would shoot up to display the rings as I issued forth a definitive "Yup".  This didn't stop several of the more determined and enterprising members of society from asking me if I wanted to be a second or sometimes third wife, which I politely declined.  I mean, it's nice for your ego to have guys constantly telling you how beautiful you are and all but……seriously.  It all felt a bit cartoonish in its desperation.  You know when Wile E. Coyote would look at the Road Runner and see a chicken leg or a roast ham or something?  I think that when I was stared at by the men in Jordan and Egypt, they envisioned a green card.  Not that I want people to look at me and think I look like a roast ham, but I think you catch my drift here.  How beautiful I was seemed to increase significantly once they discovered that I was an American.
Anyways, we were fine on our little charade as long as we didn't have to 1. Actually display any affection - kissing or even holding hands was a no-no or 2. Answer any questions about our relationship.  Other than the question about kids.  That got answered very quickly every single time it was asked by a definitive chorus of "NO!....ahem….no" which seemed fairly straightforward.  Every once in a while we'd get the "how long have you been married?" question which…..blast.  We hadn't really discussed any specifics and I didn't think looking at my watch and attempting to calculate our time together based on the current time minus the difference from Eastern Standard Time would really cement the legality of our "relationship" in anyone's minds so we were pretty much screwed here. And OF COURSE The PM was of no help whatsoever.  He'd just clam up which left me, the World's Worst Liar (trust me—I totally suck at it. People who have just met me can tell if I'm making an attempt and call me out on it), totally holding the bag.  So I'd look frantically at him, receive a completely blank and vacant stare in response, glare menacingly in his direction as only a wife can to her husband, feel all the blood in my body rush to my face, stammer a bit, then offer a not-very-convincing "……f…iiii….ve years?  Five years.  Well, we've known each other longer than that so we don't really count….I mean….it's been about….um….you see…..honey, do you.....<bastard>…..well, I……..five years.  Yes, five years, mmm-hmm" while manically nodding my head up and down.  Again, I totally suck at fabrication even if I have time to prepare.  Thank God no one asked me when our anniversary was. 
Another funion is that when booking this fabulous trip, we had clearly stated that we wanted two beds in our hotel rooms.  Two.  Dos.  Deux.  Zwei.  But upon our arrival at each and every hotel, we went up to our room to find a king-sized bed there.  Drat.  We did get a couple upgrades into Junior Suites, so that was nice.  But The PM has this thing about tickling me and it doesn't really help me out at all if he has easy access.  We'd be laying there, him watching TV, me reading a book, and out of the corner of my eye I would see a bed mouse inching towards me.  I would ignore him until he was pretty close then slam my hand down with a snarl and pin his hand to the bed.  He would crack up like this was the best game ever and ten minutes later we were repeating this little act.  I finally started threatening him as soon as he started up.  I found that a firm "I will break your fingers off at the joint if you tickle me" got the point across nicely.  Also, as it turns out, we are both restless sleepers which means lots of tossing and turning. Very dangerous if there is someone else in the bed.  Apparently I nearly clocked him one night when I was in the midst of a particularly violent 90 degree spin.  I told him that if he didn't knock the tickling off that I would start hitting him on purpose.  Did any of this help?  No.  I got poked and prodded like an overripe melon the entire trip.  What is it about guys always trying to poke you?  Oddly enough, amidst all the idle threats that I tossed his way, the only one that seemed to injure him was when I started mentioning how excited I was about our impending divorce.  Random. Real violence just made him laugh, make-believe break-up made him pout.  I swear his brain functions like a country road. 
But despite our little faux marital spats we had a grand time and the marriage thing did make us giggle.  And it served its purpose, which was to give me a bit of a shield on our trip and it was very successful at that.
But back to our trip itself.
There's just so much that happened in such a short span of time, it's hard to know where to begin with Jordan.  Let's start out small and then we'll expand a bit for Petra and Jerash, whaddaya say?  
A quick word about the scenery as we get started.  In most of the cities, the buildings were a pale brown, blending seamlessly into the desert they rose up out of.  But not Amman, aka The White City.  The buildings there are all made out of limestone and they glittered in beautiful contrast to their surroundings like a shining bridge between the warm browns of the shifting sands and the brilliant lapis of the cold, cloudless sky.  Stunning.  It was a great place to start our Jordanian journey. 

We leapt out of bed on our first day, eager to get started and see the sights.  We bolted down our breakfast and ran outside to meet our guide.  Our first day started out like this:

8:30 AM - We leave our hotel to start the day.
8:40 AM - We see our first machine gun.
8:47 AM - We see our first tank.

We didn't see too many more tanks, but ho boy were there a lot of machine guns!  And rifles.  With little rigged bayonet tips, i.e. knives strapped to the end of the barrel with cracked leather thongs or sometimes tape.  The sad thing?  I was completely desensitized to them in about two days.  There were just that many around.  I suppose it was somewhat comforting to know that there were that many guards around and about but I wish they'd at least hold on to the dang things and not dangle them from one finger like a toy.  That was always a bit disconcerting. 
We managed to pack quite a bit into our first full day.  We ran all over the place all day long and saw an absolute ton of stuff.  One of the first places we visited was an old church named St. George's (you know, after the dragon-slaying guy?) and it had the most amazing mosaic of the kingdoms of the time there.  It covered a good portion of the floor of the church and was so old and so intricate, it was absolutely breathtaking.  We also visited Mt. Nebo which featured another magnificent old church with wondrous mosaics that had apparently been visited by both Moses and Pope John Paul II, though clearly not at the same time.  
Speaking of Moses, he (like St. Patrick) seemed to have a habit of going around splitting rocks with his staff and causing water to pour out.  I guess it was kind of a thing back in the day.  Mid-afternoon on that first day as we drove from site to site we found ourselves just moseying along on one of the long winding roads that stretched through the desert and I got to see actually see one.  We were in a sparsely populated area when our guide aka The Flirt had our driver aka The Mouth, pull over.  There were a few low dusty buildings strewn along the side of the road and a lot of sand but not much else where we had pulled over.  I was wondering what in the heck we were doing in this isolated spot when The Flirt urged us to get out of the car and follow him inside one of the structures.  I thought to myself "Oh, so THIS is where I get kidnapped and sold into white slavery.  Okay, then" but got out and followed him anyway, curiosity overcoming my reservations.  

We ducked in through the rough clay door and stood there for a moment, blinking our sun blinded eyes and gulping in the cool air inside.   Slowly the dim interior came into focus.  The framework was nothing more than four thick clay walls, baked over hundreds of years into becoming a part of the landscape itself and a packed earth ceiling with a few slits that let in shafts of light filled with softly dancing motes of dust.  One of these illuminated a large rock that the back wall had clearly been built around.  In front of the rock was a large rectangular depression with a bit of water swirling at the bottom.  The Flirt had jumped over the small reservoir and was kneeling by a large crack in the stone on the other side that I now noticed water flowing out of.  He waved us over and told us that Moses had happened by this place in his travels and that since the area was so desperate for water he struck this stone with his staff and the water started pouring out, saving the local village.  I closely inspected the rock and saw no plumbing, no evidence of any trickery of any kind - the water really was just gushing out of the rock all on its own.  

It was at this point that The Flirt unscrewed his water bottle and filled it up right from the stone itself.  I sputtered about whether or not that was a good idea and he just gave me an odd look.  I was reminded that the water was made to come forth to help those who suffered thirst and that we should utilize this gift, that that was what it was there for.  Well, when you put it like that, yeah, that makes sense I guess.  It just felt a bit like filling up from a holy fount in a church or something but then I looked around and saw my surroundings anew.  This place had not been made into a museum.  There was no fee for entry, no souvenir stand, no signs advertising what miracle lay within, heck there wasn't even a parking lot.  It was just an old dusty clay building, much like the others sporadically dotting the landscape.  There was nothing remarkable about it from the outside at all.  The locals knew what it was and accepted it for just that.  No muss, no fuss, just grateful for what they had and happy to keep paying that original gift forward by leaving it for whosoever needed it.  I leaned forward and filled my bottle and then scooped some of the water into my hands to cool the sweat from my flushed face.  I took a sip and found that the water coming through was just as sweet and pure as I imagine it was the day when Moses first smacked the boulder with his stick.  Stuff like that always gives me pause.  Like my first visit to Rome when it was casually mentioned that "O yeah, Julius Caesar was stabbed right over there.  Anyhoo, on your left you'll see..."  Wait, what?  Double-take.  It's surreal.  There was a lot of that going on in both Jordan and Egypt. 

Let's go back to mosaics for a minute.  Mosaics are really big in Jordan and with good cause — they're absolute masters at making them and have been for hundreds of years from what I could see.  We visited this one store where all the mosaic-makers were disabled.  Not that that matters one way or the other, just a note.  Another item of note is that they were some of the most incredible artists I've ever seen.  They had long strips of rock that they were clipping to the desired thickness then carefully placing into their mosaic — a delicate, precise task that obviously took hours of concentration and extreme patience to get right and create even a small image.  Now, I consider myself to be a fairly patient person but I would throw the whole mess against a wall and storm out inside of an hour. Either that or end up washing two Excedrin migraine down with a Guinness and going off to take a nap.  Or both.  I got to practice some of my Arabic by telling them how beautiful and amazing their work was which earned me several sprightly shokrans as I buzzed around their work stations, trying to see everything at once.  It was grueling trying to pick out just one mosaic to buy, but I somehow managed and am now the proud owner of a beautiful representation of the Tree of Life.  

Speaking of the shops over there--it's just plain weird to hear Rihanna's "Umbrella" being played in some of the stores.  WEIRD.

A lot of people have asked me how I handled the food over there.  The funny thing is that there really wasn't anything new for me.  Well, except for this strange stuff that is pronounced "fool" and is spelled "foul" and is actually just boiled fava beans with spices.  I decided to try it anyways and it turned out to be pretty good.  It made me think a bit about Hannibal Lecter because of the whole fava bean thing but whatever, it was tasty.  You could call a food item "disgusting ooze from the depths of hell" and I'll still figure it's an odd translation and give it a whirl.  As stated before, I like to be adventurous with my meals.  But the point is, for the most part, I routinely eat that type of food at home and one of my favorite restaurants is Lebanese, which is very similar to what I was eating in Jordan and Egypt. And besides, for me, pretty much all food is just a vehicle for me to shove as much hommos and labneh into my mouth as I possible.  Which I did.  At great length.  At every meal. 
One of our most fun meals was after our long day in Petra.  We were both exhausted but somehow managed to drag ourselves downstairs to the restaurant in our hotel so we would be able to sleep later on and not just lie there thinking about how hungry we were.  So there we were, drinking a delicious berry-sweet local wine, eating hot melty cheesesticks and a fully loaded pizza……and listening to Jordanian musicians play a country song about West Virginia.  And fully appreciating the oddness of our situation. But we both agreed that the pizza was better than anything of the sort that we had consumed while in New York.  Sad, that.
All the places we went that first day were spread pretty far apart so we were constantly hopping in and out of The Mouth's little car.  It is at this point that I would like to mention something I saw multiple times as we were tooling around.  It's downright disturbing to drive past a market and see skinned goats hanging upside-down on hooks with their heads still attached.  I am absolutely a carnivore and I understand how all that works but it was still a wee bit disconcerting.  We were politely informed that the heads are still on so the buyer definitely knows what kind of meat he's getting.  I don't know which was more alarming; that there were skinned animals hanging around with their full heads still on or that somewhere in the game it became a necessity to do just that.  Grody.
On our drives I often found myself mesmerized as we sped past grove after grove of olive trees, their leaves flickering silver in the wind and shining in the bright sunlight.  Of course, I was staring very intently out the side windows whenever we were in the car.  Mostly because staring at the road ahead was a good way to give myself a rather thorough nervous breakdown.  There are a lot of places where they haven't bothered painting lines on the road and really, when you know that something is going to be that big a waste of time, why even bother?  There seemed to be no correct place to be on the road.  I mean, I think that they drive on the right-hand side but I'm just not 100% sure.  And that is because of how they will blithely fill whatever road space is there, even if it's straddling what would normally be the middle of a two-lane road.  And they will just sort of drift from side to side, in a suicidally lazy sort of way.  Add in the fact that every last bit of asphalt has been laid down in a fashion that makes an Alabama backroad look like a straight line plus you're in the middle of the desert and the only thing missing is a bleached cattle skull by the side of the road and of course  there are some lovely steep drop-offs occasionally popping up along the side and you've got yourself a very exciting situation there.  This is why I would often go to sleep when we were in the car.  My nerves just couldn't take it—I had to peace out or risk going into massive cardiac arrest.  

But enough about our multiple automotive near-death experiences.  Let's talk about shopping!  Hurray!  I was delighted to find that pretty much everything everywhere is for sale.  And I certainly got my fair share of haggling in, but we'll talk more about that when we get to Egypt.  I just have one small anecdote to share here.  In addition to all the kitties running around everywhere we went and I do mean everywhere, there was the occasional puppy as well.  I love animals and had hand sanitizer with me so I figured I was all set as far as interacting with the local fuzzies went.  While walking through the tiny village at the base of Mt. Nebo I bent to pet one and a little boy ran up to me shouting "He's mine!"  Taken aback, I attempted to explain that I only wanted to pet him but the boy pressed on as though I hadn't said anything by adding "You want him?  Very cheap!"  I hurriedly signaled 'no' and backed away while The Flirt chuckled.  I guess the almighty dinar is not to be topped. 

One of the things they sell simply everywhere are these beautiful little jeweled daggers. As I stated earlier, The PM had been harassing me pretty much nonstop since we left and by the second day it must have been showing a little because I started getting offered them in the shops.  A lot.  I must've had a look in my eye or something.  Especially since The PM felt the need to buy a protection amulet around about that point in the trip.  He also felt it necessary to mention this purchase to me about every third hour.  And every time he brought it up, I sweetly informed him that unless he was planning on strangling me with it, that charm was NOT going to be of any great help to him at the rate he was going.  Ah, marital bliss.

As far as accommodations went our hotels were all magnificent, but my favorite was our hotel in Petra.  In addition to being stunningly beautiful we had a plate of chocolate waiting for us there (hurray!), including a little chocolate Treasury.  And while I tried one of the other pieces on the plate and it was quite fabulous (rich, earthy, not too sweet, just a real natural chocolate flavor to it instead of being over-processed and drenched in sugar), I just couldn't bear to eat the Treasury.  I did take a picture, though. 

I went to bed that night with a body that was exhausted and a mind that was live-wired with excitement.  Jordan was so far so much more than I had expected and the next day promised to be no different.  For tomorrow meant that I would be crossing a huge item off my bucket list.  Tomorrow I would finally get to see Petra itself.  I fell asleep that night after laying there for quite some time, quivering with excitement, and dreamt of cliff-carved cities in the sky.

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