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, 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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Art, Middle East, Religion, Travel

Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem

I can officially mark Palestine off my travel list. We ventured over there to see the Nativity and where some believe was the site that Jesus was born. (Everyone knows Bethlehem is located in Palestine, right?)

Entering Palestine

 

It’s neat to see these sites, but a lot of them are now located in old churches, which built buildings to commemorate these events. So, for the birthplace of Jesus, you climb down into this church to a small room where they believe the manger was and where Mary birthed Jesus. As a traveler to the Holy Land, I expect to see these sites. However, do I really believe they can pinpoint the exact piece of ground where our Lord was brought to Earth? No, honestly, I don’t.

 

Commemoration of the Nativity

 

Some of these things, I understand how they can confirm. We went to the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Kidron Valley and the city of Jerusalem. I understand how they can know for sure that these are the correct sites. They’re specific geographic locations.

As we were passing from Israel into Palestine to go to the manger site, we saw the wall that separates Palestine from Israel. Our modern day Berlin Wall. I honestly can’t tell you how I feel about the wall. I don’t know enough of the exact political background and I don’t live here. I don’t know how I would feel about it if I did live here, so I can’t give an opinion one way or another.

What I do understand is that there are Palestinian radicals that do crazy things and the wall is supposed to offer protection. However, by building it, innocent Palestinian people get caught in the middle of the conflict.

I took a lot of pictures of the wall. And I was thinking after we visited the manger site: I came here to see these holy sites and yet, I’m interested in this wall. Why? The Lord spoke to me about this. We come to this place to see where He was born. But the point is, He was born. He lived in this place. He gave His life for us. And, because of that, we can have life abundant and eternal.

To me, when I see this wall, it reminds me of the lost people Jesus came to save. It reminds me that only 1.5% of Israel’s population is Christian. And only 3% of Jordan. It breaks my heart. So many people walking through this world without knowing the greatest Joy there is.


Don’t get me wrong: I love seeing these holy sites. They’re truly moving. But, I don’t want to worship the site that Jesus stood on.

I want to worship Him.

I want to remember the reason why He came. And I want to live out that Gospel calling to the fullest.

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History, Medicine, Middle East, Religion, Travel, Uncategorized

Checkmate

We’ve officially crossed into the Holy Land of Israel. I’ve crossed a few land borders: America to Canada, Hungary to Romania, and Germany to Poland. But, crossing from Jordan to Israel definitely reminds you that you’re in the Middle East. The security is tight. Which is good to know. It should be tight, especially in this part of the world. 
They sent my backpack through the x-ray scan, and when I came through the metal detector, I saw it had been held back and two people were discussing it. Not a good sign. They brought it over and started pulling everything out. Apples, phone chargers, my iPad, magazines, a scarf. Then, started the questions: where did you get the scarf? How much did you pay for it? What did you bring with you? What did you buy in Jordan? Finally, after they had flipped through every page of my Glamour magazine and my Bible, they declared I was not a security threat and let me in. 

Jake asked our bus driver where we could get a phone card for our wi-fi and the driver said, Bethlehem. So, we decided to follow a star and see where it took us. 

As it turns out, there wasn’t a wi-fi card to be found in Bethlehem. We did, however, find an inn with an open room. Ironic, right? 

  

We moved on to Jerusalem and found the card we needed there, then headed south toward the town we would stay in for the night. As is normal, I was sitting near the back of the bus, with my headphones on, so I had no idea where we were at. It was dark outside and dark in the bus, so to be honest, I didn’t care where we were. 

Apparently, in this darkness, we crossed from Israel into the West Bank (a shortcut to get us where we needed to go)  What I also didn’t realize was that when our bus came to the border to enter back into Israel, we would be checked. Again. 

Jake passed back my passport to me from the front of the bus and I was ready for the standard check. As the woman boarded our bus, she passed by a few people, not taking one look at their passports and picked one of the women on the bus to ask a couple questions to. There was a man behind her who followed and as he came closer, you could see his gun, not hanging casually by his side, but finger on the trigger and ready for aim at a moment’s notice.

The woman passed by everyone else and came right towards me. Immediately, she started firing questions at me. Where was I going? Where had I been? “Do you have a weapon, maybe?” How were all these people on the bus related? Were we all from the same church? The questioning ended with a search of my backpack. The very same bag that had been searched earlier in the day. So, out come the apples, scarf, snacks, cords, books, and everything all over again. Finally, she was satisfied and exited the bus without looking at anyone else. 

Are we there yet? 

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Culture, History, Middle East, Religion, Travel, Uncategorized

Trader Joe

The rumor is true. You can only float in the Dead Sea. It is seven times more salty and you literally just float like a bobber. There’s no swimming, just floating.   
This trip has been part mission, part sight seeing. So, today was a sight seeing day. We’ve been to Mount Nebo where Moses looked over the Promised Land, to an ancient Roman city that was part of the Decapolis that the Apostle Paul travelled through and by the river Jabbok where Jacob wrestled with the angel. 

City hall at Jerash

And to the Dead Sea, where we were covered with mud and dried out and floated around. My skin has never felt softer. You go out in the water so far until you can’t touch the bottom any more. It’s such a weird sensation to stay above the water without any of the effort of swimming. There were waves, but because you float, you can take your phone or camera out in the water and float around taking pictures. So, a selfie seemed appropriate. 

  
Along with touring comes souvenir shops, which are not my favorite. And this is the reason why:

  
They are always trying to dress me up. All I want to do is browse and I end up getting fully clothed in the local style. 

First, it was the Bedouin skirt. I tried to explain that I was fully aware how it was supposed to be worn, but he insisted on putting it on me anyway. 

Next, it was the Bedouin scarf. These are harder to tie and I didn’t ask for a demonstration. In fact, I hadn’t even looked at the scarves. But, he found one and brought it over and tied it on my head. 

  
Then, it was the face covering, just to complete the look. 

  
And the cherry on top, he brought out some Arabic kohl, which he put on my eyes to give me the real look. When he finished his work with the kohl pencil, I thought we were done and I could take off the garb and leave. Nope, not quite done yet. 

Let me explain who the Bedouins are. They’re tribal people who travel in caravans, making their home out of animal skin tents. They’re nomadic. They have herds of sheep and goats and camels, so they travel where the animals can graze. Let me give you a clearer picture: Abraham was the original Bedouin. As in Father Abraham. The one who had many sons. 

 

Bedouins at Petra

 
So, once I was dressed up in traditional Bedouin attire, the man asked my brother if I was his wife or girlfriend? (Take note: he didn’t ask me, he addressed the male, which is the norm in this culture) Jake said, no, I was his sister. Next question? 

How many camels will you take for her? 

I’ll shortcut the story for you. No deal was made, no camels were exchanged, but it left me with a question I’ve never asked myself before.

Just how many camels am I worth? 

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