Thursday, May 14, 2009

Reflections on a Sabbatical in Jordan


Sabbatical is such a fantastic concept. If only we could easily adapt it for every sector of the workplace.
We are very, very fortunate to have been in Jordan for the Spring sabbatical months…and we know it. The chance to spend four months our of lives out of our comfort zone and out of our schedules was/is priceless. The ability to reflect – and not be planning for…something – is a gift. So…at the risk of getting personal in a public forum, here are some reflections:

- It was moving to witness Aaron being able to focus on research – uninterrupted – and get excited about it, and complete the research.
- Jordan – and the Levant – is a fascinating, complex, beautiful, at times – frustrating, dynamic place to live and visit. I learned a lot and look forward to continuing to learn…
- I have a really cool kid. Sorry – can’t verbalize it more eloquently. Even though the philosophical phase is driving me nuts, I admire and am awed by Noah’s curiosity, reason, creativity, and flexibility. The chance to spend so much time together as a family is truly a treasure.

I think we’re all ready to get back to routines and some familiar elements of our past life, but we’ll keep the memories of this time in Jordan close to us.

P.S. It IS possible to travel through the Middle East with a toddler….and enjoy it.

The Final Countdown


Since the Cinco party, we’ve been laying low and slowly packing. I think we’re all looking forward to heading home. Noah’s drawings of Oakland are becoming more frequent. Our ‘low-laying’ has included some suq shopping, neighborhood wandering, and reading (oh, and working for Aaron).
We went swimming at a hotel and enjoyed every minute, indulging in a muffin break at (gasp) Starbucks after our swim.
Longing for something a little different, we made sushi in our apartment, thanks largely to Kim, the sushi master.
Had a great Mother’s Day that included the opportunity to shave my legs listening to Mozart arias UNINTERRUPTED. We trolled around downtown doing the final shopping and then hiked up to my favorite neighborhood, around Rainbow Street. Saw a fantastic photography exhibition at Wild Jordan and enjoyed smoothies in the café before heading back to ACOR. Ahhh….
We’re now in the final countdown (its Tuesday and we leave Friday) and are about half packed. Kim comes to stay with us tomorrow and we’re looking forward to Denise’s public lecture Wednesday evening (Figurines from Ain Gazal). Thursday we may visit the Children’s Museum one final time and Friday we’ll hit a suq near Wild Jordan before departing for DC at midnight.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cinco de Mayo


The next main event was a Cinco de Mayo celebration – an excuse to have Mexican food, drink, and to celebrate Robert’s 29th birthday (he’s had a few 29th birthdays). Noah and I prepared for the party by making a birthday cake. The first cake failed miserably, so we built a hypocaust column out of the bits (these are the columns that support the floors of Roman baths – Robert studies Roman baths). The second cake came out better thanks to Noah and his micromanagement. Complete with margaritas, Mexican beer, chili, tamales, LIMES, and Janet’s amazing spring rolls, the Cinco feast was fantastic. Robert and Noah did a stellar job of blowing out birthday candles. The entertainment included a piñata brought back from the States just for the occasion. Noah put forth a remarkable effort, as did Robert, but it was Samurai James who unburdened the beast. With minimal competition, Noah gleefully cleaned up after the broken piñata.

Gazing at the Golan




Rattled around ACOR for a couple days, one of which included some rug shopping, before doing a field trip – via public transportation – to a site in the north, near the Golan Heights and the Syrian border. Had a relatively smooth trip (taxi to bus station in Amman, serveece taxi to Irbid, minibus to north bus station in Irbid, minibus to Um Qais) to Um Qais and thoroughly enjoyed the sight. It’s a little creepy knowing that the government kicked out the last folks living there in the 80s so as to turn the site into a park, but the Ottoman houses with reused stones from the older parts of the site are spectacular. The views of the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights are stunning. Our favorite bit was a Byzantine Church with a crypt under the apse (so cool). Made for some great exploring. We had lunch at the Resthouse (complete with a glass of wine – priceless), enjoyed the views, and tried to figure out where the borders are. Traveled back to Amman without incident (random van [I’m not kidding] from Um Qais to Irbid, minibus to Irbid south station, bus to Amman, taxi to ACOR), and arrived at around the same time at folks returning from the States. Robert, and ACOR fellow whose birthday is May 5, returned with his wife Erin. Robert had arranged with Noah before he left to have some door decorations for Erin. Noah decided that a full body, life-size, trace of him (Noah) would be perfect.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Steamy Quest for John B's head



The next day we headed out to Tall Hisban, just north of Madaba on the Kings Highway. Took us a while to find the entrance to the site (apologies to the family whose front yard we canvassed), but when we did we delighted in the ruins of a multi-period tell site. After trolling around the tell, we wandered down the street to check out the late Ottoman (?) remains. Beautiful stone houses that – it appears – the road cut right through.
We packed a crabby kid (“I’m tired of falling down columns and old houses.”) back into the car and headed south for Mukawir, a fortress overlooking the Dead Sea. Mukawir is Machareus, where Salome is said to have danced for Herod in order to secure her request for John the Baptist’s head. Perched on a whopper of a hill next to the Dead Sea, the views and the climb are more spectacular than the partially reconstructed ruins. We arrived at the same time as a bus load of Italian tourists, and were treated to some hymns and a dramatic reenactment of Ms. Salome’s dance and request for John’s head…in Italian. Ran into another archaeologist (that we had seen at Hisban) on the hike up to the palace (who else does this?) and enjoyed the hike up, and even more so down, Mukawir. Drove back via the Dead Sea and stopped at some thermal springs on the way. As you descend, the rock color changes to black, and the temperature rises – both inside the car (as it’s a really steep, treacherous road) and out. The waterfalls and springs at Hammamat Ma’in are 60 degrees CELCIUS. Wild. In our wanderings at the park, Noah was chased and eventually lured (with Doritos…the gals had his number) over to where a family was picnicking. We sat and chatted a bit, learning just how pathetic our Arabic is, and thoroughly enjoying the company. Noah, for his part, kindly obliged and gave good-bye hugs when we left (Doritos are a powerful bribe). We beat a hasty retreat back to Amman so as to be at ACOR in time to return the rental car. Curiously enough, we didn’t get pulled over by the police once today. All bets were lost.

Dana-na-na-na


The morning after Z’s farewell, we departed for Aqaba – Noah, Kim, Aaron, and me – in a car stuffed to the gills (as Kim was moving down to Aqaba). We left early, made great time, and Kim was settled in by 11 am. On the way back to Amman (Amman to Aqaba is about a 4-5 hour drive), we stopped at the Dana Nature Reserve overlook and enjoyed a picnic and the views. Further up the road, in the Wadi Hasa, we detoured to sneak a peek at a Nabatean site, Khirbet adh Darih. Wow. Though the rubble road had us cringing (of course, the ONE time we don’t get comprehensive insurance for the rental car), the site was spectacular and completely worth the worry. The setting was remarkable too….in a wadi without much else around. Got pulled over by the police several times (we’re taking bets on how many times we’ll get pulled over tomorrow) and ran into a bit of traffic (sheep crossing), but otherwise arrived back at ACOR safe and sound before dark.

Doskoro Zdravko



We had our first Fellow departure and bid a fond farewell to Zdravko Dimitrov (known as ‘Z’ to us Westerners that have a tough time with more than one consonant in a word) over dinner and Arak. Z was/is the most intrepid traveler here, and we already miss him and hearing of his adventures.