Staying in the Lines: A Winter of Adventure and Culture in Jordan

Cycling in a Line

A Friday morning bike ride along the Dead Sea

My husband Andrew and I have started cycling along the Dead Sea on Friday mornings. There are a couple of groups that meet there, and the cycling community in the Amman area is a fantastic collection of warm and friendly people. The view along the ride is spectacular: rock formations; red cliffs; jade, azure, and teal greens and blues of the Dead Sea; and the coastline of Israel visible on a clear day about 16 kilometers (10 miles) away (see it in the background in the above photo).

Andrew riding into the hills that line the Dead Sea

During these rides, Andrew has taught me about the techniques of cycling. Drafting, for instance, is something that I’ve slowly become more comfortable with. This is when two or more cyclists ride in single-file so the individuals in the rear can take advantage of the fact that the lead cyclist is taking the brunt of the air/wind resistance (which is especially useful on these rides!).

Following that closely behind someone else requires a certain level of anticipation and awareness, though. When I mentioned to Andrew that I was having difficulty putting that much trust into the person in front of me, — that he wouldn’t slam on his breaks or that he would warn me about obstructions or potholes in the road — he said: “No, never trust. People make mistakes all the time. Learn to look through the person in front of you.”

That’s some truly existential life advice right there.

Architectural Lines: Ruins upon Ruins

In Jordan, we are surrounded by history almost at every turn. Cities have grown up around Greco-Roman ruins like those pictured above at Jerash.

I like to visit these sites at first without knowing much about them at all. Then, upon exploring them, I might learn facts that I want to research further, or I might have questions for which I’d like to seek out answers. I want to give my mind the opportunity to wonder. This is important to me, and one of the essential parts of any of my adventures.

To look at the lines of the columns and stairway at the Temple of Artemis, (the largest photo in the gallery above), I wonder, for instance, what the process was for carving the marble, how many people it took, what tools they used, and how long it took them. I wonder, too, about the people who visited the temple, what sacrifices they brought, and what sounds created the soundtrack for daily life during that time.

Visits to sites like these spark a curiosity in me that I haven’t truly felt since I was a child. The senses of wonder and adventure that are inspired by Jordan are truly invigorating!

Besides Roman ruins, there are also Ottoman ruins like the agricultural warehouse and horse barn in the photo above, built on one of the hilltops of Amman. This building has been renovated into a restaurant and events space and now called Kan Zaman — Arabic for “once upon a time.”

Musical lines of Strings and Notes

Also during our visit to Jerash, we had the pleasure of exploring the tourist market located at the site entrance.

A typical shop in a tourist market: scarves, stuffed camels, jewelry, ceramics, and Dead Sea products. Here, Andrew was haggling the price of a painting.

We knew that we wanted to purchase some artwork from this particular market (which I discuss below), but we were also surprised to see a string instrument with which neither of us was familiar: a rebab. This traditional Arabic instrument appealed to Andrew, especially, because he already plays the guitar and is learning the ukelele. So, we added it to our collection of instruments in the “music corner” of our home which already included Andrew’s strings and my piano.

The rebab is a new challenge for Andrew because it is a bowed instrument — the first he’s ever attempted to play. And although it only has one string, there is definitely technique involved! Nevertheless, he includes it during the time he sets aside for playing music and is determined to learn it.

We are also looking forward to hearing the Bedouins at Petra play their rebabs when we finally visit the historical site in the springtime! (It got too cold for us to visit in Nov/Dec 2018 like we originally planned.)

Lines of Succession and Marriage

Currently reading After the Prophet by Lesley Hazleton

Andrew and I are both avid readers. While he reads only non-fiction, I read anything and everything (yes, even taking the hesitant detour into YA fiction from time to time). When my husband recommended this book to me, I wasn’t sure I wanted to tackle a topic as heavy as the Shia-Sunni split. However, because he told me that the book is told in a more narrative (story-like) style and because I was ignorant about the topic, I decided to give it a chance.

To break it down, the Shia-Sunni split occurred because there were two schools of thought among Muslims:
1) that Muhammad left it to the people to decide who his successor should be after he died based on that individual’s merit (Sunnis)
2) that his nephew Ali was the rightful successor because he was Muhammad’s only living blood relative (Shias)

So, just like there are various sects of Christianity, there are different sects of Islam. I’m enjoying reading the book and will post a longer review of it once I finish!

Wall art in Andrew’s cousin’s house. We thought, “That’s us!” when we saw it. โค

I have also been interested to learn more about marriage customs and expectations here in Jordan from my friends and acquaintances.

For instance, a friend was recently explaining to me that, in Jordan, a Muslim woman must marry a Muslim man. However, if a Muslim woman chooses to marry, for instance, a Christian man, the marriage will not be recognized by Jordanian law. Furthermore, that woman will not be eligible to inherit anything from her own parents (including her dowery). Also, if the couple has children together, they will be considered illegitimate under Jordanian law.

How interesting! At first, it’s easy to think, “How different this is from the relationship and marriage customs we have in “western culture.” But are they really that different?

Consider: Traditionally, it is expected that women will be virgins when they marry, but it doesn’t seem to be expected so much of men. It is expected that an individual will marry someone with the same religious background, and the parents might threaten disownment otherwise. Key events in a relationship (engagement, marriage, births of children, etc.) have specific rituals and customs that are easier to follow if both individuals are of the same background.

Which religion am I talking about? Islam? Christianity? Judaism? Hinduism? It could be any one of them! And much of the time, it depends on the family or the individual involved.

I look forward to learning more about relationships and marriage customs here in Jordan. While much of it is familiar to me, there is still much I would like to know.

Lines and Looms: Bedouin Rugs

Selection of rugs at Carpet City in Madaba

After a (not so) tragic wine spill on the beige rug in our living room, Andrew and I went in search of a traditional Bedouin rug for our home. During the search, we also learned a lot about these rugs!

Bedouin rugs, traditionally known as kilims, are made of sheep wool, camel pile, and/or goat hair. The fibers are hand-woven and then dyed with natural pigments. Since the Bedouins are nomadic people, these textiles were taken with them wherever they went and were also traded between tribes.

We needed a rug that was big for our living room, but this proved more difficult to find than we anticipated. This is because single rugs are only about a meter wide (see below).

To find a rug that fit the space we needed, we had to find one that had at least two panels stitched together. This is how the Bedouins would have made a larger rug for a larger space.

Luckily, we eventually found exactly what we needed at Carpet City in Madaba. Store owner Ziad was extremely welcoming and helpful, listening patiently to our needs, showing us rugs that fit our description, and even offering us tea when it seemed like we needed to have a discussion about our final decision. ๐Ÿ™‚

We love how the rug fits our space and the warmth it brings to the room. Also, it happens to go very nicely with the artwork we bought in Jerash: a work by local artist Muhammad Turkey that also happens to feature Bedouin rugs on the backs of camels in a caravan line.

Thank you for reading. See you next time. ๐Ÿ™‚

3 thoughts on “Staying in the Lines: A Winter of Adventure and Culture in Jordan”

  1. It wasnโ€™t so long ago that women were prevented from owning property in the US. I still have friends that believe I am an incredible burden to society because I am unmarried and I donโ€™t own property. And especially now that I travel, they feel as though I burden the systems wherever I go.

    I find the differences in cultures fascinating and beautiful, and I respect the traditions they uphold. At the same time, it makes me angry that females are so often punished for wanting to be independent, and treated as though they are less worthy than males โ€“ throughout time and across continents.

    I love your new Bedouin, and Andrewโ€™s rebab! What a privilege, to be able to collect incredible pieces! My favorite thing I did in California was explore an bestate sale for a woman who was obviously well-traveled. We found beautiful instruments, clothes, materials, art pieces, and it was fun imagining what kind of person she could have been, and all of the places sheโ€™d been.

    Liked by 2 people

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