Sunday, May 26, 2013


I am currently on route back to Chicago from Matsuyama.  With three connections, my travel itinerary reminds me of hopscotch--Matsuyama to Osaka, Osaka to Narita, Narita to Seattle, and Seattle to Chicago.  Unfortunately this itinerary is my own fault for booking my ticket late. On the plus side, the more frequent stops does mean that I can stretch my legs more frequently and hopefully avoid the swollen feet I had on the way to Japan.  So far, things are going rather well, but I did make the mistake of packing a bottle of plum sake that I had bought for Matt in my carry on and had to give it up when going through Japanese customs on my way from Tokyo to Seattle because of the ban on liquids in carry on bags in the U.S.  I am sad, but hope that at least the screener gets to enjoy it and it doesn't get tossed in the trash. 

 The other disappointment so far has been that my connection from Osaka to Tokyo was very short, not allowing me time to get anything substantive to eat (I just had some snacks in Osaka because nothing else available looked appetizing).  i also regret that i didn't get to do any shopping in the duty free stores.  I had just enough time to use the bathroom, clear customs, and get to my gate before boarding began.  I did manage to grab an ice cream sandwich from a vending machine (these are all over Japan) and a bottle of water though.  It's now dinner time and I'm thankful that meals are served on international flights.  The flight attendants are coming around now with dinner--chicken curry or salmon and rice.  It smells delicious in the cabin and I can't wait to eat!  It won't be the juicy hamburger I've been dreaming of, but I look forward to that when we land in Seattle.  My connection there is a couple hours so I'm hoping it won't be a problem.

10 minutes later....

Well I completely devoured my meal in less than 10 minutes.  Yum!  Interestingly, when I got my meal, I looked for the chopsticks.  I guess that a week in Japan has gotten me conditioned to using them.  I am kind of surprised, though.  Funny thing is that had I had chopsticks to choose from, I think I would have used them!  

Given the time change that I am facing when I get back to the States, I am going to try and stay up as much as I can.  I also want to try and stretch my legs a bit more on this flight.  I am in a window seat and have an empty seat between me and the women sitting next to the aisle of my row, so I am hoping that will help.  Just seven hours to go to Seattle!

Uchiko and a reunion with friends

Saturday marked my last full day in Japan.  With the students at their home stays, I had the opportunity to get together with Miki and Azumi, two friends from Ehime University whom we had the privilege of hosting in our home one weekend  last summer when they were participating in a three week exchange program at CLC.  They picked me up and took me to Uchiko, a small town of about 20,000, about an hour outside of Matsuyama.  Uchiko is unique in that it is a town dedicated to the preservation of the old, traditional style of Japanese architecture.  On the way, we stopped at a small grocery store where Miki and Azumi taught me a bit about the different vegetables and fruits one can find in Japan.  In our perusing, I discovered bottled honey that contained the body of the largest bee I had ever seen (see picture below).  Even Azumi and Miki were surprised.  Beside it was another jar of honey that contained the bodies of several smaller bees, but still large by U.S. standards.   The smaller bees looked to be the size of Carpenter bees, not honey bees.  This only left me to surmise that the bigger bee must have been the queen bee.  If these are honey bees in Japan, I can only imagine what beehives must look like.

After our expedition of the grocery store, we went out for a nice lunch and then headed into the town of Uchiko.  Driving through the town felt like taking a step back in time.  Every where I looked I wanted to take a picture.  Once we got parked, we visited a Shinto Shrine with what appeared to be the largest statue of a reclining Buddha that I had ever seen.  We then toured the Japanese Wax Museum, which explained the historical importance that Uchiko had in production of vegetable wax made from the dried flowers of the Sumac plant in the 1900s.  As part of the Museum, we also toured the Kamihaga Residence, a historically refurbished home in the traditional Japanese style.  It was amazing to see.  I learned from Azumi and Miki that Japan made the move to more modern housing in the 1960s and 1970s.  Consequently, there are very few persons in Japan that still live in the old style homes.  Even their grandparents didn't live in old style homes.

After touring the museum and home, we went to visit Uchiko-za, one of the only remaining Kabuki Theaters in Japan.  Unfortunately, it was being used at the time and unavailable for tours.  Afterwards, Miki and Azumi took me to see their homes and meet their parents.  We didn't stay long, but I appreciated the opportunity to see what a modern Japanese home looked like.  There were definitely still elements of the old traditional style evident in their homes-- tatami mats, sliding doors separating the entrance way of the house from the rest of the house, a room for prayer/worship of their ancestors, and beautiful use of the open space leading up to their front doors for plants and flowers.  I appreciate them giving me a little glimpse into their everyday lives.

After departing their homes, we went to a vertical mall in the center of Matsuyama where we had a late dinner.  Within the mall, I had the chance to see what a typical grocery store looked like in comparison to the one I saw earlier on the lower level of a department store that I would say was comparable to Macy's.  It looked a lot like a Jewel/Safeway/Pick n' Save with slightly different goods, of course.  One thing that I saw that did make me laugh was the size of their shopping carts.  They are extremely tiny and the basket was just the size of the basket that you carry around at Target or US grocery stores when you have a few things to pick up.  Miki and Azumi said this was the case because many people grocery shop every day and only get enough that they can carry by foot or by bike (I think there are more bikes than cars in Matsuyama).

Azumi and Miki kindly helped me find a few other souvenirs that I had been looking for but didn't have the language skills to find on my own.  Soon it was 9 pm and time to go home.  It was sad to say goodbye to Azumi and Miki, but I couldn't have planned a better way to spend my last day in Japan.  I thank them (with a deep bow), for their time, their generosity, and their friendship.  It was deeply satisfying to be able to share a bit of their lives and their culture after their trip to the U.S. last year.  Although I have made many international friends over the years, it is not often that I get to travel see them in their home countries.  I hope I have additional opportunities like this in the future, and perhaps Matt will even be able to come with me next time.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Winding Down

Friday was a bit more relaxed as there wasn't a field trip planned in the afternoon as there had been the days previously.  In the morning, I did some catch up on work email and then headed out to do some shopping in downtown Matsuyama with Tamara.  It also gave Tamara and I a chance to talk about plans for next year's joint study abroad program to Matsuyama.  Drawing from our previous experience with public transportation, we decided to take the tram back towards campus and grabbed lunch at the cafeteria on campus.  Each lunch experience is an adventure as I never know quite what it is that I am getting.  Thankfully I have been pretty lucky and enjoyed most of the food I have tried.

After lunch I attended a Japanese manners class that the Coordinator of the international center at Ehime University conducted for our students in preparation  for their home stays with Japanese families over the weekend.  Although I wasn't planning on participating in a home stay, I found the class very insightful and had wished that I had know all the information covered before I left for the trip. I discovered that not only is gift giving an important part of Japanese culture (which I did know), that gifts are typically wrapped.  Hearing this, I smarted recalling that the gift I had given the University President the day before wasn't wrapped.  I was told that Japanese people don't expect Americans to do this, but I still felt like a schmuck.  I had planned to do more homework on Japanese culture before I left, but time simply didn't allow. I guess I will know for next time.

After class, I went to the Share House, the hostel where the students are staying to check out their digs.  It is not quite as I had envisioned it, but still pretty nice and all the students with whom I talked indicated they really liked it.  Shortly afterwards I returned to campus to see the students off to their host families and then went to dinner with the CLC and JJC faculty, Ruth and some faculty from Ehime.  At the suggestion of one of the Ehime administrators, we went to a seafood restaurant tucked off the beaten path that translates as The Fisherman's Boss.  It had several huge tanks of fish of various kinds, including three sea turtles (which I verified that the Japanese do not eat, but are rather for show).  Dinner consisted of several courses, starting with a huge platter of fresh sushimi.  I tried the traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage of sake for the first time and even gave octopus a try.  I really liked the sake, but wasn't a big fan of octopus.  I was a bit surprised that it was a big meatier than I had expected.  By the fifth course, we were all stuffed and ready for bed.  It was a delightful time and I thank Ruth and Ehime University for a wonderful night and their gracious hospitality.  ( I took photos of this dinner but used my other camera and don't have the ability to upload them at this time.)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Something fishy

Today while I was shopping, I came across a grocery store situated on the lower level of a department store in Matsuyama (which apparently is quite common).  I was greatly amazed at the variety of fish (dried and otherwise) available.  I couldn't help but take some photos to share.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Matsuyama Castle, Dried, Deep Fried Squid and the Oldest Bar in Matsuyama

Thursday marked another full day of activities in Matsuyama.  In the morning, I hiked up a steep, unmarked trail leading up a mountain situated not far from our accommodations for an astonishing view of the city.  We had heard about it from Ken, the lead faculty from CLC. At the top was a small Shinto Shrine.  It was quite the work out getting up there.  Later that afternoon we would hike up another mountain in the city to see the famous Matsuyama Castle.  It is the oldest and most complete castle in Japan. No one actually lived there but rather it was used as a point of defense for the city if needed. It was originally built on the other side of the city closer to the coast, but was moved to,it's current location for strategic reasons.  It required the builders at the time to move the local river that flowed thought the city.  Give his took place in the 1600s, it is particularly impressive to consider.  As it turns out, the castle was never attacked and as our guide told us, could be considered one of the biggest wastes of tax payer money in history.  

After we toured the castle, the lead faculty from both schools, Ruth and I met with the President of Ehime University for a brief time.  Ken, Tamara and I then went to a Japanese leadership class to observe how students are being taught how to develop their leadership skills.  The class was conducted in Japanese, but some of the co-teachers translated for us so we could better follow the conversations.  

After class we went out for dinner at a Japanese Fusion restaurant where I got to try dried, deep-fried squid.  It looked like fried onion strings, but definately was more chewy.  I have to say that I prefer the hydrated kind of squid--calamari.  Although, we had intended to head back to the hotel after dinner, Ken was interested to show us the oldest bar in Matsuyama, which he had visited during a previous visit.  We wandered around for awhile looking for it and conferring with many different people about its location.  One thing that makes finding such places even more difficult is that there are no street names in Japan.  Rather, addresses are based on neighborhoods and the order of which buildings/homes are constructed.  I can hardly imagine how everyone eats around.  I would hate to try and navigate in a bigger, more crowed city like Toyko.  Just as Tamara and I were thinking the bar was a figment of Ken's imagination, we found it. It was the tiniest little bar I have ever been to, but it was probably one of the nicest.  The bartenders/owners of the establishment are a cute, elderly couple in their 70s, if you can believe it.  They didn't speak English, but you could tell by their faces, that they were kind hearted persons who had good humor and loved what they were doing.  And you could tell by the regulars that they loved the owners.  I'm not normally one to visit bars these days anymore, but I am grateful for the opportunity to meet the owners and see this place myself.  The owners do not have children and so it is hard to know how long this bar will be there.  I asked them how long they intended to run their business, and they said as long as their health allowed.  May they have long life.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Culinary and cultural explorations: Matsuyama days 1 and 2

I arrived in Matsuyama on Tuesday afternoon and was greeted at the airport by Ruth Vergin, the coordinator of the International Education office at Ehime University. She took me to the University Guest House where the CLC and JJC faculty leading the trip are also staying during their time in Matsuyama.  The students are staying in a youth hostel type hotel  little further away from campus.  The Guest House feels a bit like furnished dorm rooms with private bathrooms.  It isn't the most luxiourous accommodations, but is fine for the time I will be here.  Honestly after such a long flight to get to Japan, I was just thankful for a place to take a hot shower and lay down to stretch my legs.  After a quick shower, I headed onto campus to meet up with our students and faculty and some Japanese students for a meet and greet.  I was delighted to see several of the students who had come to CLC last summer for a three week exchange program, including Azumi, one of the students whom we hosted in our home one weekend.  Afterwards I grabbed some lunch at the campus cafeteria trying some delicious pork, onion and cabbage stir fry of sorts selected for me by one of the Japanese students at my request.  I withdrew some additional money, got some beverages for my hotel room, and then headed back for a quick (2 hour) nap before rejoining our group and many Japanese students for a Nabe party.  Nabe is a type of dish made up of various vegetables and meat cooked in seasoned broth in a big pot heated on a propane fueled burner at ones table. It is like soup but with larger chunks of vegetables and meat.  One drinks the broth, but the main attraction is the food contained within the broth.  The broth is really more for the purposes of cooking the other items.   There were about 8 different types of nabe pots at the party and small groups of us sat on the floor on straw mats around tables low to the ground, which each had its own pot of Nabe that we shared.  It was a great introduction to Japanese style meals.  I am anxious to try a duplicate Nabe at home.  I'm not sure I can find all the same ingredients, but I think I could make due.  After the party I crashed and slept pretty well until I woke up around 3 am Japan time.  Thankfully, i did manage to get back to sleep an hour or so later.

Later that morning, I enjoyed a Western style breakfast at the Guest House.  It was a odd assortment of things:  one piece of bread, half a pancake, small dish of egg salad, one sausage link, coffee, small tossed sald, and yogurt.  I then headed onto campus to the computer lab where I did some catch up on email and afterwards had a lunch meeting with Ken, the CLC faculty leading the trip, Ruth and a colleague from her office to discuss the MOU between our schools for short term and semester long exchange.  Followings lunch, I joined up with the students for a tour of Dogo Osen, a public bath house situated atop a hot spring.  The bath house is the oldest Hot Spring in Japan and the Special bath house for the Royal Family.  We didn't actually see people bathing, but rather saw the part of the bathhouse designated just for the royal family and a sample private room where people rest and relax after bathing.  Since I'm not one to even make an appearance in a bathing suit, I do not anticipate returning to partake in the bathhouse personally.  I heard some students will do so though.

We also took a tour of the area surrounding the Guest House, which included a Buddist Temple and a Shinto Shrine.  It was quite the hike and I regret that I didn't have a chance to change my clothing after my meeting with Ruth.  Consequently I got some blisters from my shoes.  Nonetheless it was neat to see these sites of such historical and cultural significance in Matsuyama. I especially enjoyed the beautifully manicured gardens among the temples and shrines and in the homes we passed along the way.  If I had had time, I might have enjoyed just sitting in the gardens and spending some time in prayer.

After the tour concluded, the group split up for dinner.  I took a tram across town with a Tamara, a JJC faculty member to try and do some shopping and to find a place to eat.  We had received some instructions from Ken about how to get there for which we were glad since there aren't too many signs in English in Matsuyama and trying to navigate based on the tram map itself wasn't particularly helpful.  When we arrived to our stop, we came across a drug store.  As we had both been battling some mosquito bites since we arrived, we sought out some anti-itch cream and some mosquito spray.  Of course everything is in Japanese so we sought the help of the pharmacist.  He didnt speak English well enough to communicate with us, but through gestures, we were able to explain what it was we wanted and he helped us find it.  I was grateful and proud of our accomplishment.

Afterwards we had dinner at a nice restaurant above a department store.  We soon discovered that like the pharmacist, the server also did not speak English and that the menu was only in Japanese.  Undaunted and feeling adventurous, we chose a meal based on a photo in the menu and pointed to the picture and asked the server for two of them using our fingers.  We were each brought a set that included some tempura, some noodles in a broth like Miso soup with seaweed, and a bowl,of white rice with fish eggs and dried seaweed on top.  The server showed us which sauces went with which things and we dug in.  While I'm not sure I would have ordered fish eggs If I had known what it was that I was getting, I am glad to have tried it.  It wasn't too bad actually.  I'm not likely to try duplicating that meal at home however.

Tomorrow we will go to see the famous Matsuyama Castle.  Afterwards we will meet the President of the university.  I can't wait to see what other Unforseen adventures await me!  Sianara!


Monday, May 20, 2013

Hello Japan!

After more than a day of travel, I have made it to Japan.  It is most definitely more humid here, even inside the airport.  I am sweating profusely in my light weight cardigan and capri pants, yet none of the natives around me seemed to be phased.  They are wearing suits, pants and long sleeves and barely breaking a sweat.  I think they must be pacing themselves for warmer weather yet!

After making my way through customs, claiming my suitcase and rechecking it for my last leg of my trip, I headed to the domestic terminal for All Nipon Airlines.  On my mind was to withdrawal some yen from an ATM so I had cash for my cab ride to the university when I arrived in Matsuyama.  Granted it was still early in the morning, but imagine my surprise to find that found that nearly all the ATMs I came across were non functional until later in the morning!  The one I did find that was open rejected my card leaving me wishing that I had at brought more USDollars with me so that I could at least exchange the money.  Thankfully my layover between flights was long and after an hour or so, I tried another ATM and was able to withdraw some yen.  (Phew!) I also found a little convenience store where I bought myself a little dinner (US time)/breakfast (Japan time)--a Coke, mandarin orange. Up and sushimi.  No McDonalds for me!  Later on after going through security to get to my gate, I stumbled across a Starbucks.  Feeling slightly weary, I decided to try out a something you cant get at a Starbucks in the U.S.--a chocolate brownie matcha (green tea powder) frapaccino.  I have to say that it was quite delicious.

I will soon board the plane for Matsuyama.  As I think about my experiences in Japan so far, I realize that there is nothing like traveling by oneself to a foreign country in which you do not speak the language to evoke a fresh sense of humility and gratitude.  While I do know a few customary greetings in Japanese, my inability to communicate further in Japanese has made me very grateful for signs in both English and Japanese at the airport, and kind hearted people who are wiling to go out of their way to help you, even if it means using their limited English skills.  It is humbling to think that although native English speakers make up just a small percentage of the world's population, the rest of the world caters to that group.  It is a privilege that I think should propel more of us to study other languages.  It definitely makes me want to reinvest myself in working on my Spanish fluency and even studying a couple other languages.  Moreover, it makes me want to ensure that my children study another language and when they are old enough, to study abroad, as both Matt and I had the privelege.  Who knows--maybe Joshua or Daniel will study in Japan and provide me additional reasons to return.

Trapped in the middle

I made it to LA and am currently on the second and longest leg of my flight to Tokyo.   The total flight time is 11 hours and 35 minutes.  I have about 4.5 hours to go and haven't yet gotten up from my seat.  I spent the better part of the first half of the flight sleeping since according to my internal clock it was still early morning when we boarded.  I did manage to stay awake long enough to catch the first "meal", however.  While I wasn't particularly hungry, I took the turkey sandwich appreciatively knowing from my recent trip to Jordan, that you can never predict when you will get your next meal.  I'm glad that I did because we still haven't been served any other food.  (I did ask for a snack about an hour ago though and got a bag of pretzel mix.  The stewardess brought me a tray of things to choose from, but to my embarrassment, I thought the entire tray was for me.  Oops!  In my defense, it was dark and hard to see and the last time I asked for a snack on my way to Jordan, I did get a whole tray of food.  No such luck this time.)

 It's 3:28 am in Tokyo on Tuesday morning and as such, the cabin is dark and most people are sleeping--including the two guys on either side of me.  I don't want to disturb them but I hope one of them wakes up soon.  I'd love to stretch my legs.  

On the road again

This is shaping up to be the year of international travel for me.  At the end of March, I had the opportunity to travel to Jordan.  Today in about an hour, I'll be on a plane to Japan-- well at least on route to Japan. Unfortunately, unlike my trip to Jordan in March, my flight is not direct.  Rather I will have two connections before I arrive at my final destination of Matsuyama, Japan.  I will almost completely skip Monday, due to the time change and transatlantic flight from L.A to Tokyo.  It will be mid-day on Tuesday, May 21 in Japan before I arrive to my final destination.

As I consider this trip to Japan in comparison to my trip to Jordan, I am feeling much more relaxed.  As I shared with a colleague, I am much more familiar with Japanese culture than I was with Arabic culture when I left for Jordan.  I owe this in part to having roomed with a Japanese student during my first year of college and then several summers during college working with exchange students from Japan.  Much of the Japanese I know (which isn't a lot), comes from those experiences over 15 (gasp!) years ago!  Actually, as I think about it, I'm surprised it has taken me that long to get to Japan.  I nearly took a job teaching English in Japan after college, but turned it down.  It was the first professional job offer i got after i graduated from college.  I still marvel a bit that given the practical person I am, I turned the job down.  But at the time I felt that going overseas and adjusting to life after college would be too much.  Thankfully God had other wonderful things in store for me in northern Virginia.  And little did I know that I would be blessed with another chance to visit Japan after all.  I am expecting it to be wonderful!  I only regret that my husband won't be able to share in my experiences personally.  Hopefully this blog will allow he (and everyone else reading this blog) a little taste of my adventures.

Japan, here I come!  Iki ma show! (That's my poor spelling of the Japanese phrase, "Let's go!)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Heading home

Today we return back to the United States. I believe we are all filled with a variety of emotions. As we honored Jehad, our skillful and kind hearted bus driver, and Moath, our servant-hearted companion from JUST, I found myself feeling misty eyed. I am not sure what the future holds, But I am confident that our partnership with JUST will only grow from here and hope that our paths cross again.

As I prepare to return to the U.S., I look forward to being able to speak to the group of students who will be traveling to Jordan in May and stirring their excitement and dispelling their fears and anxiety. I am excited for the great learning experience and fun that awaits them. Moreover, I look forward to working on plans for ongoing cooperation with JUST and opportunities to share more details of my experience in Jordan with my friends, family, and colleagues. This has been a trip of a lifetime and one I will surely never forget.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The University of Jordan, shopping and our farewell dinner

Sunday marked our last full day in Jordan. After breakfast, we headed out to see the Museum of Royal Cars of the late King Hussein of Jordan and the Mosque of King Abdullah. We then stopped at a Roman Orthodox Church for a quick visit. As a Christian, I welcomed the opportunity to spend a few minutes in prayer given that Sunday marked Easter in the U.S. Interestingly, I learned that for Christians in Jordan, Easter will not be celebrated until May 9th. It appears they follow the Orthodox calendar. It was a wonderful experience and I give thanks for the freedom Christians have in Jordan to worship freely given this is not the case in many other countries in the Middle East.

After leaving the church, we grabbed a light lunch on the bus and headed towards the University of Jordan for a visit with the Vice President of the school and a tour of the campus, which was set up for us by JUST. It was great to see the differences between the University of Jordan and JUST. While both campuses are large and beautiful, the University of Jordan appeared to be more diverse in its student body, most likely due to its location in a large urban center. I didn't feel like I stuck out quite so much as I did at JUST, but it may have been the fact that I was less anxious and unsure as I was when I arrived a week earlier.

Once we arrived on campus, we were welcomed by the VP of The University of Jordan who provided an overview of the university. We then had an interesting discussion about statistics of women employed and enrolled in the University, their fields of study, and the impact of societal norms on women in pursuing higher education. I found it enlightening and helpful in dispelling some misconceptions that I had previously held.

Following our visit to the University, we left for the city Center for shopping and site seeing of the
remains of ancient Roman ruins. I was pleased to find many shops with the kind of things I had been looking for all week. I got to practice my bargaining skills and meet some kind and helpful shop keepers in the meantime. I ended up purchasing so many souvenirs and gifts, that i purchased a small carry on bag in which to carry them all.

After shopping we left for the Flying Windmill, a wonderful open air restaurant where we met up with our hosts from JUST, Dr. Al-Ajlouni and the president and Vice President of the University. The food was delicious and the restaurant provided the perfect atmosphere in which to celebrate our last night in Jordan. It also provided us the opportunity to thank Dr. Al-Ajlouni for the intricate role he played in planning our itinerary and coordinating our visit and for us as a group to commend Ahmad, the leader of our trip, for the humor, grace, and enthusiasm with which he led our group during the trip. We surely will not forget the wonderful experience we have had in Jordan and thank Ahmad for all that he did to positively shape our experiences.

Last stop: Amman

On Saturday morning we left Aqaba for Amman, the last stop of our trip. In total the trip took us five hours. Although this was the longest stretch of time we had on the bus, we made a few stops that helped break up the long drive. Our first stop was at a little country side diner along the highway to pick up sandwiches for our lunch. We then headed to see one of the most famous mosques in Jordan. We were allowed to go inside the inner courtyard, but all the ladies had to have their arms and head covered. This was the first time since I had been in Jordan that I was required to cover my head. Having never been in a mosque, it was very interesting to see. The faculty leading the trip, Dr. Ahmad Audi, provided helpful explanations of some of the monuments within the Mosque. As a Muslim himself, he has been instrumental in helping the group to learn more about Islam and its practices and how that shapes the culture in Jordan and elsewhere. Ahmad is very open about his faith and I am grateful for his willingness to answer questions and engage in dialogue about Islam in a safe and respectful way, even with those who do not share his same viewpoints.

After we stopped at the mosque, we drove north again and then made a quick stop besides the road at a scenic overlook that marked the divide of the desert region and the green pastoral lands. Before long, we had arrived in Amman where we checked into the hotel and then out to dinner. The restaurant served fast food style Jordanian food, of which I tried Mansef, the national dish of Jordan. It is lamb stewed in a yogurt sauce served over rice and a pita bread. Although I am glad to try it, I must say that I did not care for it.

After dinner a few people went out for coffee and hookah. Given that it was my son's 6th birthday, I stayed behind to call and talk with him. It was delightful to see his face and exchange virtual Eskimo and butterfly kisses as we typically do in person and wish him a happy birthday. I was glad to see that he was having fun and a lot less emotional than me. It was also a treat to see and talk with my husband. I will always remember my time in Jordan with fondness, but it will be nice to be home soon.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

4x4s in the desert and Riding the waves in Aqaba

Camping in the desert at Wadi Rum proved to be more comfortable than I had originally envisioned thanks to the fact our tents came equipped with beds and several warm blankets and a pillow. I fell asleep pretty quickly after the music ended around 11:30 pm and slept well until about 3 am when what I think were coyotes started howling, followed by a chorus of barking from dogs in the area. Thankfully my ear plugs were within close reach and I was able to fall back asleep. I had intended to take a shower when I woke up as I was feeling pretty dirty from the sand and sweat from hiking and dancing the previous night, but it proved to be too chilly to attempt it given the showers were across camp and were not within a heated building. Not able to do much else with my gross hair, I pulled it up into a pony tail and hoped that we would arrive at the hotel in Aqaba early enough for me to take a shower before our planned activities there.

After breakfast, the group loaded into the back of several 4x4 trucks which had benches bolted in them and headed out to the desert for some sight seeing and fun. We saw some neat archaeological findings left by ancient Bedouins as a map of the surrounding area for travelers passing through the area. We saw desert plants used to make soap and a root that women could use for lip color. We climbed a big sand dune and slid down, and then we enjoyed a short joyride back to camp.

Shortly after returning, we boarded the bus for Jordan's southern most city, Aqaba. Once there we checked into the hotel and then left for an afternoon of boating, swimming, snorkeling, and lunch on the Red Sea. It was a relaxing afternoon filled with much fun. I didn't go swimming but enjoyed relaxing on the boat in the beautiful weather and taking in the wondrous sites around us. I was particularly struck by how expansive the Red Sea is and marveled over the miracle God performed in parting the Sea for the Israelites to escape the Egyptians. I don't know the exact point of crossing or how the sea levels may have changed since then, but it was still mind boggling to think about it.

After docking, we returned to the hotel. Although we had planned to go by bus, we ended up making the mile walk back to the hotel by foot. The bus got stuck on one of the roads leading back to the main street because of cars that were double parked on both sides of the street making the road to narrow to pass. Dr. Al-Ajlouni, the principle person at JUST with whom we have been working called the police and flexed his muscle as Dean at JUST to eventually resolve the situation. I understand that it resulted in many cars being ticketed and towed away....

After everyone had a chance to change, we headed out for a delicious dinner of grilled fish outside in the courtyard of a group of restaurants. It was an enjoyable time, but made for a late night. I understand that it is customary for Jordanians to eat pretty late at night, like Spaniards, but I have to admit having dinner so late has been difficult for me. Despite the late dinner, I went shopping with others from my group to some of the surrounding shops in search of souvenirs to bring back. Although it was almost midnight, all the shops were bustling and showed no signs of closing. I wasn't all that successful unfortunately, but look forward to some additional shopping in Amman.

Our trip is now winding down. As much fun as this trip has been, it will be good to be home. I think the others are starting to share a similar sentiment after being together now for 9 days. Given our very full schedules, that is understandable. I know however that we will all share wonderful memories of our time in Jordan.