America, Culture, History, Travel

For Free

On my way to the airport this morning, a man in the elevator asked me where I was from. He was from Texas, which I could tell before he even told me. Those Texas people, you can always just tell. When I told him I was from Northwest Arkansas, he said, “Oh, the pretty part of the state!” And he was immediately my friend. Atleast someone knows what’s up.  

Selfie on my final flight home

 
You know, I love a lot of things about traveling. There are some downsides. Currently, I’m sitting at the airport, having been delayed overnight in Chicago. So, I can definitely say there are downsides. But, the thing I love about traveling is perspective. 
We have no idea how many things we take for granted. I will be the first one to stand in that line and raise my hand. I have no idea. But, traveling gives you that perspective. It exposes you to new ways of thinking, to taking things as they come, to not always getting things your way. 
In America, we have so much more freedom than we know. We argue and banter about freedoms and the government trying to take away freedoms or be too free. But, the fact that we can even have these conversations, the fact that we can oppose or agree with whatever we want is, in itself, a freedom. We don’t even realize it. 
We don’t have to take things as they come. We can change, we can fight, we can protest. But, it’s not like that everywhere. 
I started out this post thinking I was going to write about the things I’ve realized I take for granted. Like ice (I love ice and they don’t have it in abundance in very many places), fresh milk, drinking water from the tap, hot water whenever you want it, clean streets, understanding the language, cereal, central heating, things like that. Little things, preferences that I don’t get when I travel. 
But, I think the bigger picture is freedom. You don’t know what you have until it’s taken away. You don’t truly know freedom until you’ve experienced restraint. I’m used to getting what I want. It’s the American way. I want it, I’m going to have it. Not everyone has this privilege. Don’t take it for granted. 

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Celebration, Culture, Family, Food, Middle East, Travel

All Hands on Deck

I’m good at making friends. I always have been. I remember in elementary school, when I’d start a new year, I’d survey the classroom and decide which girls I wanted to be my friend. Then, we’d be friends. I think it’s probably because I’m a little annoying and just shove my way into people’s lives. But, it’s kinda charming, right? 

So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I made some friends the first time I went to Jordan. Here’s mostly how I made them: Hi! Do you speak English? The golden question. If they say, yeah, a little bit, you’re in! It’s that easy. 

 

A few of my new and old friends from Jordan

 
I met Hana, Danny, and Ziad the first time I was there. So, they were my base contacts during my visit. They made sure I was taken care of, led me around, introduced me to new people, and made fun of me in Arabic. You know, the usual stuff. So, Danny’s house was one of the first places we went when I arrived. 

 

My warm welcome crew

 
Jordanian women are a force to be reckoned with. They will feed you until you’re full then feed you some more. You don’t enter their house without being offered something to eat and drink. And Danny’s mom followed the standard. 

After the greeting hugs and kisses, she brought me one of my new favorite things. It’s called hamleh. They’re toasted chickpeas that you shell and eat. They reminded me of the Jordanian version of popcorn. Not really because they’re anything like popcorn. But, that’s just what I thought of. 

Hamleh

They’re so good! And tea. Because I love tea. And Danny’s little brother, Feras, just happened to have made a homemade pizza, so I had some of that as well. It’s always a smorgasbord with any Jordanian family. 

And at the end of our little gathering, they told me they’d teach me something I’ve wanted to learn: to eat mansaf with my hands. 

Mansaf is the dish that defines Jordan. It’s a chicken and rice dish and I’ve had it a few times in Jordan, but never with my hands. 

Another version of mansaf I had while I was there

Now, there are certain preparations you must make when you eat like this. It feels a little like going into battle. 
To start, you have to roll your sleeves up. And not just a little bit. Your sleeves must be securely tucked above your elbow. You must take all jewelry off. No rings, no bracelets. You have to stand solidly above the dish, letting everyone know you mean business. And, for me, I had to pull my hair back, to make sure it wouldn’t get in my way. 

  

Once you have fully prepared yourself to partake, the real work begins. 
First, you make a little bit of a well in the rice nearest you and some hot broth gets poured on it. 

I asked Feras what the liquid was made of because 1) he speaks really good English and 2) he cooks, so he knows all the recipes. It’s some combination of buttermilk and yogurt, obviously with spices and other things in the mix. 

  
Second, you carefully dig your hand in, making sure it’s cooled enough to not burn you. Now, as I said before, this is not a free for all. There’s a method to the madness, perfected over many years, I’m sure. 

You start by getting the amount of rice you feel you can fit into your mouth at one time in your hand. (Brittney tip: get a smaller amount than you think you’ll need, I know from experience that my mouth is not as big as I sometimes judge it to be) And you start balling it up. This isn’t as easy as it sounds because you’ve got rice and chicken covered in the broth and it’s hard to get it all compacted together. 

Of course, everyone else made it look simple. Once you’ve sufficiently made a ball, you rest it on your fingers and use your thumb to shove it off your hand and into your mouth. 

  

  
It’s a skill. One that I’m not very good at. But, I managed to get completely full and didn’t get food all over myself. Which is more than I can usually say for myself when using utensils. 

I’m thinking I’m gonna start skipping out on the forks and spoons from now on. Saves on doing dishes plus it’s way more fun! 

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Culture, Family, Food, Middle East, Travel

Cereal Comfort Zone

So, in all of my travels, I have actually never stayed for any extended period of time with a family. Mostly because it’s usually me and Jake traveling together and it’s more of an imposition for families to keep two people. And also because Jake doesn’t like staying with people. He’s American to the core and personal space rules the day. So, no family visits.

I, on the other hand, love putting myself in the middle of things like that. I don’t know why, but I like the unpredictability of it. I guess I kinda crave being out of my comfort zone a little, in a strange way. No choices. You eat what they eat. You sleep when they sleep. You go where they go. It’s a true experience.

 

My cute host family

Most people probably don’t know this about me, but I love breakfast. Not the actual meal. But the morning time surrounding it. I love the preparations, sitting around drinking coffee, talking. I just like it. And I like the food too. At home, I’m usually up around 7 am. I eat a bowl of cereal every morning and drink coffee. That’s my routine.

Let me go ahead and re-emphasize that nothing in Jordan resembled anything from my life at home. So, out of my comfort zone is an understatement. I’ll also go ahead and tell you that I spoke to no other native English speakers the whole week. Most everyone knows English, but it’s everyone’s second language so there is still a barrier there. Needless to say, I picked up on a little bit of Arabic.

 

Can you pick me out of the crowd?

So, let’s take a Jordanian breakfast. First, it starts around 10:30 or 11 am. I was staying with my friend, Hana, and her family and her dad was cooking us eggs for breakfast. She invited me to the kitchen for coffee, which looks like this.


So, definitely not Americano.


But, the smell of it is amazing. Every country has a smell for me and this is the smell of Jordan. It’s spicy and rich. I love it. And it’s always made like this.

Apparently because the coffee is so strong and bitter, you have it with a sweet. Which, at Hana’s house, turned out to be chocolate. Coffee and chocolate are not a bad way to start breakfast.


Then, after that comes the main course. Which are a bunch of different dishes. With bread. Toasted like this.


You kind of just dip and assemble as you please. Hummus and olive oil are the standards with everything. Then, there’s lebaneh, which is similar to plain yogurt. It’s really tangy, almost like a cheese.


And homemade olives. Because there are olive trees everywhere. So everyone cans their own. To go with the main breakfast, you drink tea, which for us was slightly sweet and minty. You finish up around noon and you’re good until lunch, which commences at roughly 3 to 4 pm.


Cereal, anyone?

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Culture, Family, Middle East, Religion, Travel

Riding Solo

Arabian airport etiquette 101: follow the white girls. If you don’t know what to do, don’t know where to go, look for a blonde. And stick with her. Actually, that’s probably not great advice, seeing as how I’m blonde and I basically never know where I’m going. But, still, it’s a pretty good bet.

I’ve been in Jordan for a week by myself, visiting some friends I met there in August. When we were there with the mission group, I wasn’t able to really take in much of the culture, so going back and staying with a Jordanian family gave me that experience.

 

Me and Hana, my Jordanian hostess

Jordan is such an interesting country. I’ve never been exposed to Muslim culture before. In Jordan, Christians and Muslims co-exist in society, but with Christians composing around 2% of the population, the laws and culture are Muslim. So, it’s a really unique situation.

 

The clinic at the church

One of my friends told me there are only about 5000 believers in the whole country. He asked me how many we had in the US and I couldn’t even fathom a guess. We so take for granted the fact that we live in a Christian nation. After spending just a week in a Muslim country, I can say that most assuredly.

Take our culture, turn it upside down, twist it around, turn it inside out, then smooth it back out, and you’ll have an idea of what the Muslim culture is like. It’s just the most different thought processes and ways of doing things that you could imagine.

But, it was a good experience for me. I think we have so many pre-conceptions about Middle Easterners and most of them are completely unfounded. Admittedly, all of my friends and the families I know in Jordan are Christians, so that may change things slightly in the ways they act. But, the base culture is the same and they are such fun people.

So, to catch everyone up, I’m basically doing a winter world tour. I started in Korea, with Jake and Jordan, visiting friends there. Then, Jordan left us and me and Jake went on to Germany to visit another friend. From there, we split up and I went to Jordan (the country) and Jake went home.

 

The only lonely

In case anyone doesn’t know where Jordan is, it’s situated snugly in the Middle East by Israel, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. Perhaps you’ve heard of some of these places on the news? Yeah, needless to say, my friends and family were not too excited I decided to go there. But, I got the invitation to be hosted and took them up on the offer!

I boarded in Germany with no problems and to give you an idea of what Jordanian people are like: when we landed in Amman (the capital), I had received a phone number and two email addresses from fellow passengers with offers to help me with anything I could possibly need. They helped me off with my bags and through everything at the airport. Jordanians will extend themselves to no bounds to help someone else. They really rival our Southern hospitality.

After gathering my bags, I found my friends right away. Maybe I don’t need my airport etiquette after all. Seems I find my way around by myself just fine!

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Culture, Europe, Family, Food, Religion, Travel

Never Fear

Is all chocolate cake in Germany considered German chocolate cake? Because we’ve had some chocolate cake here and it was delicious.

We tried another GCC here as well. The German Catholic Church. I’ve never been to a Catholic service before and we have a friend in Germany who was kind enough to host us for a night, which happened to be Saturday night, so we went to Sunday morning church with her.

Church is a thing I love to experience in every country. I think it is such a cultural experience and holds so many traditions. So, if we can, I like to catch a church service. I’ve been to services in the Dominican Republic, Armenia, Micronesia, Korea, Honduras, Cambodia, Thailand, China, Romania, Jordan, and now Germany.

All church services are essentially the same, singing and a message. But, it’s the cultural nuances I like. Today, it was a pipe organ. In Cambodia, it was going barefoot for the service. In Micronesia, it was singing worship songs to a ukulele. In China, it was worshipping in secret with an underground church. Everywhere is different.

But, the God we worship is the same. And He transcends language. As I’ve said, I don’t speak any German. But sometimes I feel like I can understand some things if I listen close enough. Which totally isn’t true because during the message this morning I think I heard the priest say something about a hot shower and also gesundheit, even though no one had sneezed. So, I really can’t understand anything.

However, there was a woman who got up to read a passage. And I have no idea what she was saying. No idea what the passage was. But, I clearly heard: “The Lord is my strength, I shall not fear.”
Lucky for me, the Holy Spirit doesn’t speak German. Or Korean. Or English. He just speaks. We interpret it in our own language, but the heart message is the same.
How awesome is it that we serve a God who transcends culture, who transcends language, who is present wherever we are, and who can speak to us through the times we can’t even understand ourselves.

All we have to do is be still and listen.

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Culture, Europe, Middle East, Travel

Say What You Need To Say

I know at first glance, I may look like a Helga. But, despite popular belief, I am not, in fact, German. Nor do I speak German.

Old Town Frankfurt

I actually don’t speak any other languages. I know a little Spanish and I managed to order us water at a restaurant in Korean, (a feat I was pretty proud of) and that’s about it.
So navigating Germany is a little bit of a task for me. There is almost nothing written in English. We went to a museum yesterday and about 85% of it was only in German. This is rare around the world. I’ve been to a lot of places and almost everywhere has things written in the native language and English. But, not here.

 

No real idea what’s going on here at the museum

We have a friend who lives in a smaller town outside of Stuttgart, so we decided to take a train to see her. Navigating town is a little difficult, but navigating the train system is hard. We managed to buy our tickets at a kiosk but didn’t realize that there wouldn’t be a direct train to where we needed to go. So, I found an information desk and the guy seemed to know what I needed and printed me out a schedule. All in German.


Five transfers at train stations out in the middle of nowhere in Germany. And, it’s the slow trains, which equals about 40 mph. On the bright side, it provides ample time to take in scenes from the German countryside.


At every stop to transfer, we have about a fifteen to thirty minute wait until our next train arrives. I noticed a couple of guys who seemed a little lost (join the club) and they approached us and said hello. They also had a schedule printed out in German and I could tell they weren’t natives either. Jake explained the schedule to them and told them we would be taking the same train and they could wait with us.

 

Train to Frankfurt

After listening to them talk for a minute, I realized they were speaking Arabic. I forgot to mention that I also know a teaspoonful of Arabic. Which means I know enough to say hi, my name is Brittney, how are you?

When the train finally arrived, they boarded behind us and sat down with us. So, I tried out my Arabic skills and found out their names were Mahmood and Mahmood. And neither of them knew much English or German.

So, let me explain this. They both know Arabic. Mahmood 1 knows some English and a little German. Mahmood 2 knows almost no English or German. Jakes knows English and some German (he took two years in high school) and I know English and a tiny bit of Arabic.

But, of course, I was curious so I toiled on. They weren’t related, as far as I could tell. I was able to ask if they were father and son, which they weren’t. They were both from Syria and came here as refugees. Mahmood 1 has a family (two boys, ages 16 and 10, and one daughter, 4 years old named Houda) currently living in Jordan. He’s from a town in Syria (Daraa) that some of the other refugees I met in Jordan were from. He worked doing tile and plaster in Jordan then came to Germany and hopes for his family to join him here.

Mahmood 2 was 20 years old and studies German twice a week. He was from a different Syrian town I didn’t recognize and lived in a refugee camp. He’s been here for five years and has no family here. Can you imagine having to leave your home country at 15 years old and go strike out a life in a foreign country, with your family relying on you to bring them out too? That’s a lot of weight to carry.

As we approached our station, we said our goodbyes, in various languages, and departed. But, I can’t help thinking how quick we are to judge. I could’ve been scared of these two guys. I could easily have ignored the fact that I knew they needed help. I could’ve even used the language barrier as a good (and very valid) excuse. But, aren’t we called to love all people? To be a light to the nations? How can we do that if we refuse to look past ourselves and into the lives of others?

I didn’t impart any wisdom to these two guys. I didn’t share my beliefs with them. But, I did express concern. I did take a minute to hear their story, to ask who they were and where they were from. It wasn’t a great task. It was small. But, there’s a quote that says something like we should do small things with great love.

And, I think that can speak for itself.

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Asia, Culture, Europe, Food, Travel

Club Class

In the airport, there’s this magical little world no one ever tells you about. It’s hidden away behind glass doors, outside of the hustle and bustle and screaming babies. I lovingly refer to it as “the club”. In the club, it’s quiet and there’s free food and drinks. It’s a wonderful little oasis.

The Korean Club

We have all these amenities, not really because we’re anyone special, mostly because Jake does his travel research.

Each airline has a club, and I’m not sure technically exactly how it works, but we show up at the door and give them our passports and tickets and they escort us in.

 

The Tokyo Club

I keep hearing a waitress in heels walking towards me and am fairly certain she’s coming to tell me to put my shoes back on and to keep my feet off the furniture. I’m really probably not high maintenance enough for this travel life. In fact, there’s no probably about it. I’m not high maintenance enough for this. Seeing as how I’m currently drinking my ice tea from a beer mug, I’m pretty certain that seals the deal. (The mug was the biggest cup they had though, in my defense)


We also have access to “the lounge” at our hotels, which is another magical oasis where there are free food and drinks and where I’m known as Miss Scott, even when I walk in with bed head and Nike shorts on for breakfast. Who am I and how did I end up here?

 

Part of the breakfast lounge in Seoul

 

The lounge in Germany, where they have approximately 37 different types of beer

Short little side note: when we arrived at our hotel, the concierge asked Jake how old I was because they serve alcohol in the lounge, so you have to be atleast 18 to go in. When he informed her I was 24 (his older sister), she laughed nervously and said, oh, I thought she was still in high school. Seriously though, this age thing is getting a little ridiculous! Right?

 

Afternoon tea at the lounge in Seoul

This is all pretty fancy for me. But I am considering buying a fur coat, just to try to fit in a little more. Although, I realized I’m currently wearing socks with holes in them, so maybe I’ll skip the fur coat for now and just treat myself to new socks instead. I’ll take this fancy lifestyle upgrade one step at a time. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.

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