Shadows and Dust: The End of Jordanian Summer

In August in northern Jordan, the rare sight of water in the valley below; and he only greenery is found on olive trees (left) and cyprus trees (right).

It has been about four months since it last rained.

During the day, the air is hot and dry. In Amman, we are lucky to have a frequent and almost constant breeze that ruffles the waxy, spidery fronds of the royal palm trees and at least reminds us of the calming sounds of a steady rain shower.

During the night, the air is cool, the skies clear, dark, and calm.

I sit on our balcony as frequently as possible. The shadow of our north-facing lounge area provides enough shade that the heat of the sun is absent, but the warmth of the air and breeze is pleasant. In the shade, I can appreciate the serenity of life in Amman: the Aspen trees two streets away that bend and sway in the breeze; the sleepy neighborhood with only the occasional pedestrian; and the happy bunches of red geraniums we’ve planted in window boxes that hang on our balcony banister and have seemingly never ending buds and blooms.

One does long for adventure before long, though. And the heat of summertime is not enough of an excuse to stay holed up. Especially over the past few weeks, we have had extra time to explore because of Jordanian and American holidays.

King Talal Dam, Jerash

During August 12-14 this year, Jordanians celebrated Eid al Adha or “The Festival of the Sacrifice” which “honours the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God’s command. But, before Abraham could sacrifice his son, God provided a lamb to sacrifice instead. In commemoration of this intervention, an animal is sacrificed ritually and divided into three parts. One share is given to the poor and needy, another is kept for home, and the third is given to relatives.”

We took the opportunity to drive to King Talal Dam near Jerash (which I’ve written about before) in the hills of northern Jordan. On the drive that Sunday, August 11, we saw roadside stand after roadside stand that had been temporarily erected with sole purpose of slaughtering as many goats as possible for familes’ Eid celebrations. Each stand was busy, but there was nothing grotesque in the scenes: whole families stood next to pens filled with brown, tan, and dusty beige-colored goats to select the animal they could afford and that suited their family’s needs. Together, they watched as the animal was slaughtered and divided according to custom –not one of them phased by the view of death before them. In fact, I commented to my husband Andrew that, “At least these kids see and know where their food comes from, unlike so many of us who grow up in other areas of the world.”

We arrived at King Talal Dam, and we were hot as soon as we stepped out of the car. The direct sun is unforgiving in the desert, and the slightest breath of wind or the narrowest shadow of a tree in which to stand offers a temporary oasis. Most of the hills in Jordan are the color of “amber waves of grain.” Those in the north, however, are a patchwork of olive tree orchards and grape vine orchards.

It would have been a three- to four-mile hike from the guard stand where we parked our SUV to the actual dam, but a local worker took pity on us and offered us a ride in his pickup truck when he passed us about 20 minutes into our hike. Andrew started to politely decline (“Are you crazy?!” I thought.). I interrupted with a loud and happy acceptance of the offer.

We sped down the paved road that curved with the natural topography of the hills. I grinned from ear to ear and relished the adventure.

Andrew cooling off in the wind during our pickup truck ride to King Talal Dam.

Once there, we each enjoyed some of our respective favorite past-times. I hiked around, observing flowers, stones, foliage, and bird behavior. Andrew got to fly his 25-foot squid kite. πŸ™‚

A view of my activity. (Ahhh…)
A view of his activity. πŸ˜€

Rug Hunting, Madaba

More recently, for our long Labor Day weekend, our adventures took us back to Madaba where we previously had success in our search for a traditional bedouin kilim rug. We wanted something different this time, but weren’t quite sure what we were looking for. As always, we figured would know it when we saw it.

Traditional Jordanian rugs

The first rug vendor we spoke to was very kind, showed us a number of rugs, and (as is custom) invited us to sit for tea with him. Again, Andrew began to politely decline (this guy! LOL), but I did not want the vendor to feel offended, so I accepted tea. Medium sugar, please.

Wadee’s loom with bedouin kilims hanging on the sides

After we took tea and looked at a few more rugs, I asked about the loom he had set up at the front of his shop. It is rare to see a machine like this these days, so I was curious about its history.

The vendor’s name is Wadee (WAH-dee-yah), and he learned how to make rugs from his father. It is a tradition that has been in his family for many generations. The loom was built for him by one of his friends who “can make amazing machines like this with his own hands.” Wadee, too, uses his hands to create, and he was kind enough to allow me to take a video of his weaving:

Unfortunately, we did not find a rug to fit our space in Wadee’s shop. Each shop we stopped in, the vendors unfolded and unfurled rugs of various sizes and designs. And with each unfurling, fine clouds of dust flew into the air. It couldn’t be helped, and we all knew it. Some of the shop keepers apologized for the dust, but I like a little grit in my reality!

After stops in a few other shops (and a few more cups of tea!), we found what we wanted in the last shop on our route.

I noticed a rug hanging on the outside of a brick building that was about the size of rug we were looking for, and it was unlike any of the rugs we had seen thus far. It hung outside of For Ever Shop, a shop for “unique things.”

Manager Kefah was sitting on the stoop of his shop and seemed surprised when we walked into his shop. “Sabah Alkhier, good morning,” I said to him as we stepped in. I described the rug outside, and told him it is exactly what we want. “OK, if that is the rug you like, I would like to give you exact knowledge and show you that there are three qualities of this type of rug.”

Kefah schooling us on rug quality

Apparently, we had chosen a rug that is traditional to the Kurdish region of Iraq which is on the border of Iran. Of course, I will do more research on this! πŸ˜‰

The rug itself is woven simply enough, but all of the design work on top of the weaving is hand-embroidered. The detailing beautiful and the colors were bright and lively. They made me think of both Arabic tradition and my own Mexican heritage.

Kefah taught us about the difference between a polyester rug (they burn easily) and a wool rug (they don’t burn so easily); how to properly care for rugs; the fact that the rug we were buying was only placed on the floor by people who were “OK with money;” and the difference between various Persian-style rugs.

Once we decided on which rug we wanted, Kefah invited us to sit for some tea while he wrapped up our purchase and rang us up. He promised us multiple times that if we found a better price for this kind of rug in any other market in Jordan, I could call him for a full refund. “I swear on my these,” he said, pointing with his right index finger to each of his eyes, “You will not find a better price.”

Kefah wrapping up our rug as tea is delivered

As we drank tea, Kefah came near to us to sip from his own cup. “I will tell you, brother,” he said to Andrew. “You are lucky here.” He gestured to me. “I will not tell you that she is a beautiful woman. That is not my meaning. I will tell you that she is beautiful in spirit. I can see this in her. And when you find a woman who is beautiful in body and spirit, you must take much care of her.” I smiled at Andrew. I knew this was not the first time he had heard this from the older, wiser generation. “My daughter, you are full of spirit,” he said to me. “My brother, take much good care of her.”

And he does. ❀

Back home, we placed our new rug in its new spot. The next morning, Andrew set about organizing the room it: hanging the tribal masks we found in Liberia, setting out lamps, and moving a bookcase into the room. We took a trip to the hardware store to pick out paint swatches and then took another trip to buy paint to bring some color to the walls. Once the walls are painted, the room will feel whole. For now, though, our new rug, and the stories around it, have already brought so much character to the space!

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