Thank You Jordan

Amman

Thank you Jordan for two incredible years. Thank you for your blue skies and stunning deserts. Thank you for your dusty hills and ancient ruins.  Thank you for teaching us to love falafel, kanafeh, mansef and figs.  And thank you for showing us what real hummus should taste like.  Thank you for your beautiful mosques and their stirring Call to Prayer.  Thank you for your people, who are kind, generous and hospitable.  And thank you for teaching us how peace-loving true Muslims are.  You have been so good to the Hale family.  You will remain in our hearts forever.

Ma’a As Salaama.

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Prom: Boy’s Turn

A year ago, I wrote a blog post on my daughter’s prom.  If you want a refresher, here you go.  But this year I’m the mom of a boy attending prom, which is a different animal.  There is a whole different focus when you’re the parent of a boy going to prom.  Here is how things went down:

When our 17 year-old Ben was leaving for a school trip to Vietnam a couple of weeks ago, he mentioned that there were a bunch of cute girls going on his trip.  This was probably a mistake on his part, because we told him to make sure he came back from Vietnam with a prom date.  I’m guessing that this was the first time a parent has ever made that particular request.  Goes to show, there’s a first time for everything.

Well, Ben came back from Vietnam having failed in the prom date quest (I’m pretty sure he didn’t even try.)  But within two days of his return, he had a prom date (success!!!)  At first I thought it was crazy that he asked a girl just three days before prom, but I’ve come to learn that that is precisely how it is done at our kids’ school.  Pretty much all of the asking takes place a day or two before the dance.  And there are no fancy “Promposals” like they do back in the US.  Instead, a guy just walks up to a girl and ask her if she will to go to prom with him.  It’s short, sweet and simple–just as it should be.

So Ben asked the beautiful and very popular Zeyna to prom.  Apparently, her response was, “You awkward squirrel!  Yes, I’ll go to prom with you!!”  I knew there was something I liked about Zeyna!

So on Thursday night, Ben gussied himself up for his big date.

Getting all gussied up.

Zeyna’s parents invited a bunch of the kids and their parents over to their house before the dance for pictures.

The lovely girls.

The lovely girls.

The handsome boys.

The handsome boys.

Ben and the beautiful Zeyna. (She's right about the awkward squirrel thing.)

Ben and the beautiful Zeyna. (She’s right about the awkward squirrel thing.)

Ben doing the obligatory

Speaking of awkward, Ben doing the obligatory “asking the father when he should have his daughter home” talk.

But then, to all of our surprise and delight, Ben came home from the evening with this little memento:

I ask you, would an awkward squirrel ever be awarded one of these?

I ask you, would an awkward squirrel ever be awarded one of these?

Becoming Home

When we first arrived in Jordan, almost two years ago, I was in awe of this country.  Everywhere I looked was a feast for the eyes and I couldn’t soak in enough of it.  Everything was so exotic and I wanted to taste and feel and see it all.  This feeling of awe lasted for about six months.  Also during that time, I was trying to get my feet under me; figuring out where things were and how things worked.  It was frustrating at times, but it was so much fun!  It felt like we were on the adventure of a lifetime.  I loved those first six months in Jordan.

Then things changed for me.  I knew, more or less, how to get around.  I had discovered my favorite shops and markets.  I was more comfortable with my surroundings.  I was settled in.  But for the next year, every day as I drove around Amman I would think to myself, I can’t believe I get to live here!  I can’t believe I get to experience this country on a daily basis!  I’m the luckiest person in the world!  I loved that time in Jordan.

But around the year and a half mark, things changed for me again.  That feeling of awe started to dissipate.  I no longer thought of Jordan as exotic.  Those feelings were replaced with a feeling of complete peace and serenity with my surroundings.  Jordan had become home.  Ironically, I’m still illiterate and I still can’t understand the majority of what people around me are saying.  Nevertheless, Arabic is now home to me.  So is the call to prayer, hummus, and the constant dust that settles on everything.  They are every bit as home to me as the mountains, Five Guys burgers, and chirping robins of Utah.

Jordan is my home; and I have to leave it in 24 days.  I don’t know if I’ll ever return to Jordan.  I went through the exact same process and timeline in Taiwan and as a Mormon missionary in Italy.  I’m still mourning both of those countries–both of those homes.  And I’m starting the process of mourning Jordan.

And I’m pretty sure that in three years from now, I’ll be mourning South Africa too.

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Egyptian Tourism Plea

Our SixAbroad Spring Break holiday was spent in Egypt.

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Highlights included a Nile river cruise from Luxor to Aswan:

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Karnak Temple:

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Edfu Temple:

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The Cairo Museum:

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Riding camels around the Great Pyramids of Giza:

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And waking up to this view at the Mena House Hotel:

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But my favorite experience of our trip was the sunrise hot air balloon ride over Luxor:

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These local farmers didn't seem to mind at all when our balloon landed in their sugar cane harvest.

These local farmers didn’t seem to mind at all when our balloon landed in their sugar cane harvest.

Part of my purpose in writing this post is to show readers some of the great things to do in Egypt.  However, my main purpose is to show readers that Egypt is a safe travel destination.  Egyptian tourism has plummeted in recent years and over and over we had locals begging us to tell our friends about our good experiences and the safety we enjoyed in their country.

Jason and I were interviewed at the airport in Luxor about the safety of our Egyptian travels.

Jason and I were interviewed at the airport in Luxor about the safety of our Egyptian travels.

So, as a citizen of this world who had the privilege of experiencing a few sites, sounds and smells of Egypt, I am telling my readers that Egypt should be on your bucket list.  On behalf of the great Egyptians I met who make their living in the tourist industry, and who have suffered in recent years because of lack of work, I make this plea for anyone who is thinking of traveling to Egypt to DO IT!  Do not miss the world’s most ancient and plentiful sites and treasures that only Egypt has to offer!

Hopefully while you're there, you'll run into this guy!

Hopefully while you’re there, you’ll run into this guy!

The Turkish Bath

A couple of weeks ago, Jason and I went to Istanbul with our friends Michelle and Ian.

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Michelle is a renown Foreign Service blogger.  You can check out her blog at http://www.globehoppers.us.

In Istanbul, I was able to cross an item off my Bucket List by seeing the Hagia Sophia in person.

Construction began on the Hagia Sophia in 537 A.D.

Construction began on the Hagia Sophia in 537 A.D.

The interior of the Hagia Sophia is even more impressive than the exterior.

Built originally as a Greek Orthodox basilica, the Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque in 1453 and then a museum in 1935.

Built originally as a Greek Orthodox basilica, the Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque in 1453 and then a museum in 1935.

The Christian mosaics are spectacular!

 

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Just across from the Hagia Sophia is the Blue Mosque.  The Blue Mosque is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen.

The entire mosque was built in just 7 years; between 1609-1616.

The entire mosque was built in just 7 years; between 1609-1616.

The interior was just as beautiful as the exterior.

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As amazing as Istanbul’s mosques are, my favorite cultural experience in the city was visiting a Turkish bath.  Istanbul is full of Turkish baths.  We chose the Suleymaniye Baths, built in 1557 by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suleymaniye Baths only allow couples, so if you want to go, bring a buddy.  Here’s how things went down:

After enjoying the traditional Turkish ambiance in the lobby, we were taken by a middle-aged gentleman up the stairs to a table stacked with red and white plaid clothing.  Jason was handed a towel and nothing else.  I was first handed a pair of shorts.  Then the middle-aged man took a sizable gander at my not so sizable chest and then started rifling through the stack of bikini tops.  At this point, I sheepishly said, “Do you have a small.”  To which he loudly replied, “Yes!  You want a Japanese top!”  Not sure if I wanted to join in any stereotyping of entire races of women, I quietly replied, “Yes.  I’ll take the Japanese top.”  To which he handed me a bikini top and a towel.  I then followed my snickering husband into the dressing room.  The dressing rooms are one per couple, so I would advise that you take a buddy that you are okay seeing naked, and visa-versa.

Our conversation in the dressing room when something like this:

Me (just after taking my shirt off):  What are you doing?

Jason (pointing his camera phone at me):  I’m going to take a picture of you putting on your Japanese top.

Me:  Uh, no you’re not! (Turning around)  Here tie this.

Jason’s camera phone: Click!

So, because insulting the Japanese two minutes earlier wasn’t enough, we were now contributing to the world’s soft porn problem.

After a quick discussion (with me doing all of the talking) about when it is appropriate to take pictures of one’s wife and when it is not appropriate to take pictures of one’s wife, followed by a photo deletion, we were locking our possessions inside our dressing room and then parading through the lobby in our plaid regalia.

We were then taken into a very hot and steaming room and told to lie down on our backs on a large marble slab in the center of the room.

Please note:  The above is not a picture of me and Jason!  This photo came from the establishment’s website.  Proof:  This woman is clearly not wearing a Japanese top.

Back to the marble slab.  We were told to lie on the marble slab for 30-40 minutes.  The slab was heated and it was extremely hot.  We were to lie on the slab long enough for the toxins in our bodies to be released through our sweat and onto the slab.  A number of other couples were also lying on the hot slab, releasing their own toxins.  And I’m pretty sure that all of the toxins being released through the profuse sweat dripping off our bodies onto the slab, created an entire ecosphere of human filth on that single marble slab.  Each time a couple got up to enter the baths, another couple would quickly take their place on the sweat and toxin covered surface.  Trying not to think about all the filth, I focused my attention on the ancient cupola above our heads for the 30 minutes or so we spent releasing toxins.

At last it was our turn to enter the bath.  The steamy room had four smaller rooms in each of the corners.  We were taken into one of the corner rooms where we were told by two professional bathers, wearing the same towel as Jason, to sit next to a water basin.  We were then dowsed with cool, refreshing water from the basin.  Then our bathers rubbed our arms, legs, backs, shoulders, stomachs and chests with a loofah-like sponge.  We were then told to lie down on our stomachs on smaller marble slabs along the walls; whereupon we were covered in about 10 inches of soapsuds.

Not me and Jason! Source: http://www.suleymaniyehamami.com.tr

Then, through all the suds, our bathers gave us relaxing massages.  Afterward, we flipped onto our backs, then covered in another 10 inches of suds and the massage continued.  The entire massage lasted about 20 minutes total.  We were then brought back to the water basin, and doused in cool water again, this time to remove all the suds.  Then my bather asked if I would like my hair washed.

Absolutely!!!

After the hair wash and scalp massage, we were escorted out of our bath, past the germy marble slab and out of the steam room.  We were then given new white heated towels and told to take off our plaids in a new dressing room and return wrapped in the towels.  After emerging from the dressing room in our white towels, our bathers ceremonially wrapped our shoulders and heads in more heated white towels and then escorted us into a new room where we were offered a lovely beverage and told to relax for a few minutes in an ancient waiting room.

Again, not me and Jason!  Source: www.suleymaniyehamami.com.tr

Again, not me and Jason! Source: http://www.suleymaniyehamami.com.tr

We were then paraded back through the lobby in our white towels and back to our original dressing room.

So, would I recommend going to a Turkish bath in Istanbul?

In a heart-beat!  Just don’t let your husband take his camera phone into the dressing room.