Monday, February 28, 2011

Mary had a little lamb ... for lunch

I bought some minced lamb at the grocery store because it was next to the minced beef and was cheaper so I thought why not (although I acknowledge this is probably not the smartest meat-purchasing strategy). But then I had to find a recipe for what to do with it so I scoped out Epicurious per my usual. I settled on this recipe for Lamb Kofte with Yogurt Sauce since I had the ingredients on hand and oh man, am I glad I did.

I made the meatballs and yogurt sauce per the recipe but replaced the onions with tomatoes and cucumbers and passed on the muhammara. My meatballs were a little malformed but it was so juicy and delicious! The prep was fast, too, which is not a prerequisite for a tasty lunch but is always a bonus. I recommend you invite yourself over to my house for lunch sometime and make me make this for you.  Or you can make it and invite me over, you know, whichevs.

Mint + Lamb = Meatball Magic

Touristing: Baptism Site

Bethany beyond the Jordan, the site where Jesus was baptized, is located about 40 km southeast of Amman. Interesting in a I-visited-the-Baptism-site-check! kindof way but honestly a bit of a letdown. I feel bad not finding spiritual sites of Biblical importance more exciting, but ... I don't. I was on the tour listening to the audio guide and it says "Here is where John the Baptist baptized people" and its a little brown thicket. Reaction: "Really, right here by this random bush and pile of rocks?" I had to constantly remind myself it is an archeological site and 2,000 years had passed and things looked different then. Same goes for the actual baptism place - there's no water there anymore. Same goes for the Jordan "River" - it's basically a sad, stagnant brown trickle of water now (although not really its own fault). The best part were the sweet mosaics - scroll down to check 'em out. 

Baptism site of Jesus

Mosaic of how the site looked 2,000 years ago. Note the plug for the website -

A huge mosaic next to the site featuring the late great Pope John Paul II .... in a golf cart (seriously??).

The  Jordan "River"

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Touristing: Ajloun Forest Reserve

Some friends and I headed out early Saturday morning to hike at the Ajloun Forest Reserve. Ajloun is located about 70 km north west of Amman. The Forest Reserve has several trails; we hiked the Soapmaker's Trail, which is about 6 km. The forest is mostly evergreen oak, but along the way we saw pistachio, olive, and wild strawberry trees, poppies, and a bunch of other flowers and plants whose names I don't remember. We also saw lots of mole hills, a gross-looking bug, some deer(?) tracks and goats. The hike wasn't too challenging and our guide didn't even break a sweat, but I'll be honest, my legs were like jelly at the end. We had a great time though - just nice to be out enjoying nature. Afterwards we checked out two workshops in the village of Rasun - one for soapmaking and another for calligraphy. I bought some pomegranate and cinnamon soap and got a card with my name written on it in Arabic script. Afterwards we headed back to Amman but stopped along the way in Jerash for some lunch. I was beat by the time we got back but overall a nice little Saturday!

Our tour guide, whose name may or may not be Sariq, pointing to what may or may not be Palestine.

Wild strawberry tree! This was very neat to check out - the tree gets its smooth bark and bright color from the fact that it sheds the bark each year, like a snake.

Trail marker that doubles as a mole's front door.

Goats enjoying some lunch.

Checking out the view from the top of the mountain (hill...?).

Young goatherders we ran into at the top. The rapscallion on the left tried to abscond with my camera.

We ordered the*small* vegetable platter for lunch. Two reactions: 1) if this is the small, how big is the large?? and 2) I have to cut the vegetables myself ... with a bread knife?

Elaborate vegetable presentation destroyed by voracious hikers.

Mixed grill carnage! One kilo of meat for five people is a lotta meat, but we managed. 

How to pass the time on your next Jordanian roadtrip

We took lots of car trips when I was younger, and therefore played innumerable car games. There was the license plate game, the word game Ghost (which is phenomenal, yet 99% of people refuse to play with me, you know who you are), and others - but none so truly Midwestern as The Silo Game. Pitting the left side of the car against the right, the rules were simple -- you counted the silos that passed by on your side of the car, and if you passed a cemetery you lost all your silos. Whichever side had the most silos when you arrived at your destination was the winner.

Some friends and I took a road trip to the Ajloun Forest Reserve today, and as we were driving along I was inspired to adapt this to the Jordanian context. Just as silos are ubiquitous throughout the Midwestern countryside, so pictures of King Abdullah II are ubiquitous throughout Jordan. And when I say ubiquitous, I mean ubiquitous -- they are everywhere, of all shapes and sizes, on the side of buildings and in shops, featuring the king in all manner of poses, outfits, and situations.

After some debate on how to replace the cemeteries, we selected the trucks that drive around delivering cooking gas, with ice-cream-truck music announcing their presence. Some special scoring is still under debate, regarding what bonus points should be awarded, if any, if His Majesty appears in the photo: 1) engaged in an activity (playing soccer and using the computer were spotted); 2) with a member of his family, such as his father the late King Hussein, his wife Queen Rania, or his son the Crown Prince Hussein; 3) in a keffiyeh and/or full military regalia, etc. A discussion regarding whether waving qualified as an activity also generated some heated debate, which I had to settle by playing the I-made-up-this-game-what-I-say-goes card in favor of it not being an activity (clearly).

We started the game as we set out from the reserve, and before we had even reached the city of Ajloun 6 km away, each side of the car already had more than 25 Abdullahs. (This should illustrate just how many of these pictures there are!) But we each then promptly got our Abdallahs wiped out by the unfortunate passing of gas trucks on both sides. I'll skip the back-and-forth along the rest of the hour's journey to the part where we got back to our neighborhood in Amman and each again got hit by a gas truck. The timely appearance of His Majesty's picture in two adjacent shops gave the left side of the car an edge over the right, ending the game at 2 to 1. It's difficult to estimate a total of pictures we passed due to the occassional do-over caused by a gas truck, but I'd conservatively guess we spotted more than 200 pictures combined.

So next time you are roadtripping in Jordan and need to pass the time -- try the Abdullah Game, it's fun for the whole family!

Touristing: Jerash

A former colleague of mine from the States came to Jordan for work and luckily Tuesday of that week just happened to be a national holiday. Score! (I've previously discussed my love of unexpected holidays.) So we decided that we would go that day to Jerash. Jerash is about 45 minutes north of Amman and I had a vague idea that it was an interesting tourist site with some Roman ruins. I was not prepared for how amazing and extensive it is! When I went to Italy, for example, and saw the Coliseum, I was fascinated by the structure and enjoyed wandering around the site. But I had previously seen pictures it and knew what to expect; it was an awesome site but I was not in awe of the site. I feel like I enjoyed Jerash all the more because it was a surprise to me.

I went to Jerash once more after my initial visit when a couple of friends came through town during a tour of the Levant region -- Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel. Unfortunately for them, Syria would not let them in without visas (they thought you could get them at the border) but fortunately for me, that meant they had extra time to spend in Jordan!

Jerash is the site of the ancient Roman city of Gerasa. Read more about it here. Among its attractions are the towering Hadrian's Gate; a long, colonnaded stone street; two amphitheaters; and numerous temples and churches.

The Hippodrome - home of chariot racing

Hadrian's Gate

Plaza and colonnaded street

Nick, I think you're too close to the ledge. Might wanna step back.

Oops, you should be more careful next time, Nick.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mind your P's and Q's

In English, politeness is pretty straightforward - you say please, thank you, excuse me, and you pretty much have it covered. Someone says hello, you say hello back. If someone gives you a compliment, you say thank you.

Not so in Arabic.

In Arabic, when someone greets you, your reply must always be MORE polite than the greeting you recieved. When someone says "good morning" to you in Arabic, you reply "sunny morning" or "flowery morning" (or Egyptians might reply "honey morning"). If someone says hello (marhaba), you reply marhabtain ("two hellos") or if you really want to lay it on, "meet marhaba" (one hundred hellos).  If you give someone a compliment, for example on their clothing or the cuteness of a baby picture, you must always follow it with "Mashallah" - God wills it - to show you have no envy and ward off the evil eye. After you share a meal and someone wishes you "sahtain" - that it brings you health - you reply "a'ala albik" - "health for your heart, too". 

They are all very beautiful phrases, I just wish it was easier to be as polite as I would like to be. It would be nice to just say thank you (shukran) and have that be it - khallas! But since it's not, I think I have some studying to do....