Springtime in Jordan: A Radiant Display

This is not the image of the Middle East that has been painted for me by the media as I was growing up in the U.S.

Jordanian citrus is the sweetest I’ve ever tasted! The navel oranges are my favorite.

Buds and Blossoms

Lemons and oranges still hang from the trees in residential compounds throughout Amman and in the citrus orchards along the highway to Jerash. A wintertime crop, these fruits are still comfortable on their branches in the cool-ish temperatures of a chillier-than-normal springtime in Jordan (so I am told).

This afternoon, for instance, almost a week after the first official day of spring, it is 8℃/47℉ and drizzly.

Fortunately, however, the weather has been sunny enough to bring out the buds and blossoms of the season.

Almond blossoms outside of our apartment building.

Before arriving in Jordan in September, I could have never anticipated how colorful the plant life is.  This is not the image of the Middle East that has been painted for me by the media as I was growing up in the U.S.  It isn’t even the image of Jordan that is presented if I type “Jordan country” as an online search.  What appears is what is consistent of what I was always taught about the Middle East and what limited knowledge of Jordan I may have gleaned from movies: desert expanse, Bedouins and camels, Roman ruins, the Treasury at Petra (you know, that temple carved into a cliff from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?), and wadis (“wadees”: little canyons that are dry except in rainy season).  And everything is the color of sand.

Not surprisingly, these are also the most popular photos of Jordan on Instagram, too.  Visitors come here to see the same things they have seen through various media.  

Yes, it is true that almost all of the buildings here are the color of sandstone.  Looking out over Amman fails to impress except for the vast expanse of the city over the historical seven hills upon which it was built and now 19 hills total.

Parts of Jordan’s story that the rest of the world does not typically hear, however, has been my focus for the past month: the beautiful flowers and plant life, the variety of bird species, and the various produce grown here.  In my Arabic language lessons, I am learning about colors and seasons. 

What better opportunity to practice these words than to discuss nature at her finest?

One of the many plant nurseries on the way to Jerash and Umm Qais

As I mentioned above, I was immediately surprised upon my arrival to Jordan at the variety of flowers that grow in Amman.  Roses of every color; the biggest lantana I’ve ever seen (five and six feet tall and just as wide!); pots of white, pink, and red geraniums adorn almost every window and entry way of every building; and jasmine and honeysuckle vines twist around many wrought iron fences and gates.  These are just the varieties that were in bloom in summertime and fall when I first arrived.

My own Jordanian geraniums.

Right now, springtime has yielded branches filled with white, pink, and red cherry blossoms; clusters of deliciously honey-scented, yellow acacia blossoms; purple flowers that grown on vines and look like tiny morning-glories; jewel-colored geraniums; prickly, intimidating-looking thistle with fuzzy, fuchsia blossoms; sunshine-colored “weeds” like dandelions and buttercups that open and close with the rising and setting of the sun; and a myriad of other flowers with whose names I am not yet acquainted.

The flowers of the acacia/mimosa tree produce a sweet scent that is used in perfumes. In some countries, these flowers are given to women on International Women’s Day.

What has also struck me–like so many things in Jordan do–is how familiar it all is. So many of these flowers are the same that we have in many parts of the U.S. during spring. In fact, the big draw in Jordan right now are the lovely, red poppies that are in bloom only for about two months. In the western U.S., too, there are poppies that bloom during this time of year. I was fortunate to see these during a trip to visit my grandparents in New Mexico nine years ago.

Feathered Friends

I am also enthralled with the variety of birds here that are almost all entirely new to me. Bird watching has always been a hobby of mine.

To help me identify and get to know the various species, Andrew bought me a copy of the Field Guide to Jordan which is apparently also available for free online. Just like with people, I like different birds for different reasons. 🙂 See my favorites below (and click on each name to hear their call).

I like these because they fly around Amman in flocks of 15-20 birds that offer a nice surprise from time to time. The bright green of their plumage is such a contrast to the sandstone canvas of the buildings. The burst of color is an instant boost of happiness that one is lucky to catch.

These yellow-bellied feathered friends are frequent visitors to our window casement and the trees outside our apartment. The male and female flit around and carry out their chores together. Their song is sweet, and they seem to enjoy their mornings in the sunshine as much as I do.

He looks quite like a hummingbird, but they are not related! This little guy was the bird that initially excited me about learning more about Jordan’s birds. Until I saw him, the thought hadn’t even occurred to me, strangely enough. (I had a similar experience in Liberia last year and had lived there for a few months before I striking bird reminded me of my bird curiosity.) A male and female have enjoyed feasting on nectar and insects in the almond tree outside of our apartment building for the past few days since the blossoms opened.

A local Palestinian Sunbird in our almond tree.

I like this particular bird because–besides the fact that he is beautiful–he is crafty. Like squirrels in the U.S., this bird collects and buries acorns for wintertime meals. It also mimics other bird calls, as the book says, “even while attacking them.” #MadRespect. I saw a male Eurasian Jay for the first time about a week ago hopping curiously around in evergreen trees outside my kitchen window. I’m watching him, now, in fact. He is perched in a pine tree outside of my office window, surveying the empty lot behind our building, watching for potential competition or threats.

I admire his tenacity. And I’m hoping there are some baby Jay eggs nearby.

An Adventure: Umm Qais

Panoramic view from Umm Qais of three countries: the Sea of Galilee (Israel/Palestine) at center-left, Golan Heights (Syria) at center, the hills of Jordan in the foreground.

As I share each of these blog posts, my hope is that others will have a more complete picture in their minds of what the Middle East is. Each country in this part of the world is unique, and Jordan has astounded me with its beauty.

It’s easy to get used to it all, though. One of my good friends used the phrase “ruined out” to describe how many people feel after they visit a few of Jordan’s most famous tourist destinations (Petra, Jerash, the Citadel and Umm Qais, for instance). Each of these locations features Roman ruins that start to look the same after a while; so one has to appreciate them for different reasons.

For instance, while Jerash and the Citadel (which I wrote about in previous posts) are awe-inspiring at their expanse, I found that Umm Qais — which Andrew and I visited this past weekend — had a certain charm about it. It was a a more laid-back, simple place to visit. And there were so few people there that day that we were often the only two on the main path.

My favorite part was our venture off the path, though. We walked through thistle leaves and wild flowers into an olive tree orchard to two large rocks underneath a tree canopy. These perfectly placed seats offered us a spot to recline and enjoy the peacefulness and scenery.

Afterwards, we strolled back to the main path through the thistle leaves, poppies, and wild flowers and found ourselves surrounded by a humming sound. A medium-pitch tone vibrated through the air, and I stood still to establish its origin.

As it turned out, the humming was the combined sound of the thousands of butterflies, honey bees, and other insects flitting and buzzing through the air around the flora. Additionally, I noticed at least a dozen caterpillars on each bunch of thistle leaves and learned from my field guide these actually create the perfect nursery for them!

We were surrounded by the sites, smells, and sounds of springtime; and it was invigorating!

The experience was tempered, however, by the fact that we were very near to the borders of two other countries that have and are experiencing such turmoil. Looking out over both Syria and Palestine/Israel was a moving experience. To look at the scenery from this vantage point, one might never guess that conflict is ongoing in both nations.

And as I sat on the rocks with Andrew, I stared for a time at one section of fence that separated the archaeological site of Umm Qais from the valley below. The fence was trimmed with barbed wire, but there was a section of it that had been bent down low enough for someone to climb safely over.

The juxtaposition of symbols arrested me. An olive tree whose branches are historically known as a symbol of peace; a fence and barbed wire which symbolize separation, intolerance, and fear; and red poppies which are used in some countries around the world as tokens of remembrance of those killed in battle.

I wondered if any Palestinian or Syrian refugees had climbed to safety at this very spot.

Altogether, though, it was a wonderful day trip! The experience was made even better by our visit to Shine Cottage Restaurant across the street from the site. Based on the owners surprise and enthusiasm about our arrival, I don’t think many tourists stop here. A shame because it was a delightful experience!

The owner sat us at a table with a panoramic view of the valley below and hills around us, and then apologized for not speaking English. “Sorry, yanni (the Arabic “um”) …no English.”

Mush mushkeleh,” I replied. No problem.

I like asking this guy for directions. ❤

“Our food–Jordanian,” he continued. “Hummus, labneh (greek yogurt), jubneh (cheese), khobez (flat bread), salad.”

Mneeha!” I cheered. Good!

Tamam,” he replied, relieved. Okay. “Yanni…to drink?”

Mai, bas.” I answered with a wave of the hand. Water, that’s all. I smiled at him to signal what easy customers we would be. 🙂

Bas? OK!” he smiled. That’s it? OK! And he hastened to the kitchen to bring our mezze (you probably know it as tapas) to the table.

I am telling you: if you have never had Jordanian brunch or mezze, you have not lived your best life.

Thank you for reading! See you soon when I write next about what I’ve learned about language and culture.

2 thoughts on “Springtime in Jordan: A Radiant Display”

  1. Thanks for bringing out sides unseen. Beautiful. I have raised the first bird pictured and bird folk in the states call them Indian Ringnecks. The males get the rings between year 1 and 2, while the females are ringless. They are EXCELLENT talkers!
    You might get kick out of this clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIMK1UddNRI

    Like

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