20
Apr
10

Glimpse of History

Without a doubt, just about every corner of the Middle East is laden with a deep history. Modern-day cities, nowadays often teeming with BMWs, McDonalds, Starbucks, cellphones, and access to wireless internet, have been in existence and (literally) stood their ground here for thousands of years. Yes, I do not exaggerate for a hyperbolic effect: thousands of years.

To put this into context, a city I visited recently in the north, Umm Qays, has had archaeological finds associated with the first hunter/gathers of the Great Rift Valley. Tools from the first hominid agriculturalists, a defining trait of our very own human evolution from nomad to settler, lay within the hills of the Jordan Valley. There are references to the nearby ruins of Pella in Egyptian scrolls from the second millennium BCE. Even the cornerstone of Christianity, the Bible, has references of Pella and Umm Qays’ existence. Fantasies of adventure and unearthing evidence of great past civilizations (an Indiana Jones Syndrome, of sorts) are very realistic here. Even in the Jordanian capital, one cannot walk around Amman without finding some piece of early civilization preserved by time and cultural heritage.

Without delving too deeply into the history of the region, Jordan has been the crossroads to many great empires. A part of the Great Rift Valley (extending from the Levant through the Red Sea and East Africa to Mozambique in the south), early humans followed the valley in search of game, living nomadically. The fertile soil of the Levant yielded some of the first settled civilizations, cultivating food that for the first time humans did not have to hunt for; thus, defining the very beginnings of societies. From there, early civilizations like Mesopotamia and Babylon rose along water sources of the river valleys.

Jumping ahead, cultures begin to make their presences, with languages, early pagan beliefs, and trade and commerce stretching from North Africa and Europe crossing the region to the Far East. Religion and society begin to evolve with the times. Philosophy, art, written scripts, military endeavors, and resource-sharing all add to the world’s development. Monotheism replaces polytheism; education and government infrastructures are established. And soon (albeit the brevity of this outline of history), empires are created to gather and horde resources for economic and political means. The modern world, alas, does not sound so different when compared with the simple themes and contexts of early civilizations.

Now, as I sit in a Gloria Jean’s Coffee cafe in northern Amman, using their electricity and wireless internet, drinking their coffee, and watching the traffic of the afternoon fly by on asphalt roads (used by updated combustion-engine vehicles), the Middle East really is a crossroads: of cultures, between the West and the East; and of times, between early human history and the contemporary Technology Age. With every step I take, someone, yesterday or even 6000 years ago, has stood here once before.

It’s history in the greatest manifestation possible…seeing and being where physical and mental evolution had tread time and time again. From here, tomorrow will just make today another part of the great timeline of life; and who knows where tomorrow will lead history?

Roman Amphitheater - Amman

Adjoun Castle - Adjoun

Forum - Jerash

Nymphaeum - Jerash

The Baptismal Waters - Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan

Decumanus Maximus - Umm Qais

"What will Archaeologists Make of This..." - Queen Rania Al-Abdullah Street, Amman

11
Apr
10

Rock & Water

“From this rock a silver runlet issued into the sunlight…jetting out firmly from a fissure in the roof, and falling with that clean sound into a shallow, frothing pool…The walls and roof of the crevice dripped with moisture. Thick ferns and grasses of the finest green made it a paradise just five feet square.”

– TE Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom

There’s a canyon (wadi) near the Dead Sea where water rushes through the riverbed, having already carved away at the towering canyon walls surrounding us. The water drains from hot springs in the mountains to the east down to the sub-elevation depths, where the fresh water springs become salty as they disperse into the blue waters of the Dead Sea. Water continually runs through this wadi year-round, as the springs are not dependent on the scant winter rains of the Jordan Valley.

Having joined a local hiking club, I spent a Saturday meandering, with the warm water at my feet, through the sandstone walls of Wadi Zarqa Ma’in. Enjoying the warmth of the spring day, the clear blue skies, and the refreshing wash crossings, it was quite possibly one of the best ways to experience the outdoors of this desert country. Having an affinity for canyons and rushing creeks, this hike was reminiscent of Escalante, Zion, and Moab, Utah. The exoticism of this hike lay in the consistently warm water at my feet and the Arabic conversations bouncing off the canyon walls. Swimming was necessary at some points, and I was grateful to have my camera in a plastic grocery bag.

As we continued chasing waterfalls and seeking out the source of the water, it became a hassle and a burden to have to continue dealing with my camera and the water hazards. So, in an effort to enjoy the liberty and thrill of exploration, I ditched the technology and dove into the waters of Jordan…

It was, quite easily, a version of paradise.

A river runs through it...

Patiently waiting...

Rock & Water

Waist Deep and Wandering

Calcific Colors

Onwards & Upstream

03
Apr
10

“Welcome to Jordan”

Ahlan w sahlan fi Ordin!

I have been on the ground, running, in the expansive city of Amman for a week now. Attending intensive Arabic classes daily, I share my time between classroom and cafe – writing papers for school back home, making flashcards for the new vocabulary I’m learning, and learning how to read and write in a brand new script.

This weekend, I spent my Saturday with the Jordan Hiking Club, a local’s group that goes on excursions out into Jordanian wilderness areas. While my Arabic is only a beginner’s, I was able to meet some interesting folks, both Ammani and Western. We chased waterfalls in Wadi Zarqa Ma’in, an enormous canyon filled with rushing creeks and springs.

Unfortunately, I have misplaced my camera-computer connection cord (ten points for alliteration!); thus, I am unable to download any (recent) images from my adventures in Jordan. I will fix this…not sure how, but I’ll figure it out.

In the mean time, I have added a few pictures of Jordan from last December, when I was here on a brief exploration. There will be plenty updated photos to come, plus insightful comments on my adventures overseas as I continue my studies here.

So, as everyone in Amman says to me: “Welcome to Jordan.”

Afternoon Sun - Wadi Musa

Tea in the Morning Light - Wadi Rum

Desert Scarf - Wadi Rum

A Hundred Kilometers Beyond - Wadi Rum

Wanderer - Wadi Musa/Petra

13
Dec
09

A Village Quietly Vanishing

There are times when I feel completely powerless…and sometimes, in the reality of all things, I am.

In Qana, a small village about a half an hour’s drive from Nablus, and a stone’s throw from the Jordanian border, four IDF (Israeli Defense Force) jeeps showed up on Thursday morning. The IDF closed off the entrances into Qana, presented the villagers with an eviction notice and confiscated their tractors. The Israeli military left shortly thereafter ominously threatening forceful eviction from the land these pastoral villagers call home, to make way for a new IDF Military Training Zone.

The villagers have been living here for 300 years, or so the local mosque is dated to be. In 2005, the IDF came and destroyed all the brick-and-stone houses. The rebuilding since then has been slow, and instead of reconstruction, tents and shanty-like houses have been erected; signaling a belief in the impermanence of material attachments in these Occupied times.

Granted, these are not the only homes most of the villagers own. The area is mostly used as herding grounds for the local sheep and goat herds. It is also home to one of the region’s goat cheese productions, supplying much of their cheese to Nablus and the surrounding area. The villagers use their tents as second homes while herding their flocks. On Fridays, many of the men return to their original villages to attend prayer. But still…where is the justice in confiscating this inhabited land?

I try not to take sides because I believe that both Palestine and Israel have to come together and meet on agreeable terms. Both have made mistakes in the past, and both have the opportunity to reach out and shift the status quo. I try to expose both sides to truths about one another that cut through the biases and ignorant claims presented by each others’ nationalistic propaganda. Yet, these villagers were asking for help, and there was nothing I could physically do to help them. I was powerless, a tad defeated, and overwhelmed…

I can’t save a village from quietly vanishing. There are many things that are out of my control, no matter how hard I try to change them. I can’t stop them from losing their land; I can’t fight the Israeli military with them or on my own. I can do my best to empower the villagers to take a stand, offer encouragement and hope in times when darkness is more abundant than light. The few people this reaches out to, the select few who are willing to heed this, all I can really do is this: tell their story and maybe, just maybe, someone, somewhere will be able to do something…

Some things we can save; other things, we just have to hope for the best…

sparse trees and homely tents

a three hundred year old village mosque spared from destruction

a locked storage unit and a tent house blend in with the rocky landscape

goat hair caught in the barbed wire

the heart of the village: herds of goats and sheep

the skeletal remains of a building once inhabited

one of the village's two springs

two village herders, discussing their lives over tea

for every guest, a cup of tea

the distant hills of Jordan, shrouded in morning mist

06
Dec
09

A Meditation on the Benefits of Human Miracles

First, some mementos of my last 48 hours…

The dabkeh dance - Nablus

Franciscan Church of St. Catherine - Bethlehem

Candles and Prayers - Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Smoke and Pillars - Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Old Man Guardian - Manger Square, Bethlehem

World AIDS Day Drag Show - Tel Aviv

The Hush of Shabbat - Tel Aviv

Back Alleys at Daytime - Tel Aviv

"...but that's not what ships are for" - Jaffa Port, Jaffa

Birds at Sunset - Jaffa Port, Jaffa

Simply put, my life is miraculous. It never ceases to amazes me. Wherever I go, however I get there, and whatever I do, I surprise even myself. This past weekend, I attended a local friend’s Bachelor Party, dancing the night away with men to Arabic songs and a waning full moon rising in the east. The next morning I traveled to Bethlehem, to look upon and revel in what may be the exact origins of Christianity. The following evening I meandered back alleys and dark streets in Tel Aviv, dancing in a clandestine world with Palestinian drag queens in honor of World AIDS Day. Lastly, after exploring the quietness of a city in holy observance, I watched the day end from the majestically beautiful Old City of Jaffa on the Mediterranean.

My adventures leading me both outward and inward, I came to this conclusion:

“God/Allah will not save, will not do anything to fix things, to make things better. If they are to exist at all, it is as arch creators. Once we are born, once we are out of the hands of the Divine, we are on our own, using will and humanity as our tools. God will not help us once we are here in the human realm. So, to pray is to be nostalgic of our divine beginnings and ignorant to our own special innate power as humans. To deny this power, well, it’s a shame and shows our fault in being unaware of the true miracles we all look for in life. We are, in fact, the miracle; and we should, for our own good and for the good of humanity, embrace that miraculousness under every kind of circumstance. We have, always, the potential to prevail.”

– 4 December 2009

It is no surprise that I am a dreamer and a bit of an idealist. But throughout my life and all the experiences I have had, I have reason to believe in humanity. As I have made countless human connections and explored the different aspects of religious divinity in all lives, as hope has seemingly worn thin and been mass produced for half its true value, as the sun sets and the darkness of night quietly transfixes even the most hardy, I am reminded of the gift I have been given: the will power I possess to participate fully in today and the days to come.

Instead of worrying about taking a road less traveled or the best road possible, I encourage myself and whomever cares to listen: we are here with a finite amount of time. No matter how disheartened the situation is, no matter who you are or where you are from, our lives are for the taking. So, take a road…and make it miraculous!

29
Nov
09

Dusk of Winter

It’s winter here. The weather has cooled significantly since I arrived; instead of dreaming of the freedom to wear shorts and t-shirts in public two months ago, now thick jackets, scarves, and hats are the desired ensemble. It rains about once or twice a week, and a low fog shrouds the mountains surrounding the city. Some days are quite sunny; without the sun, the temperatures would drop below bitter. There are even rumors of snow to come in a month or so. Replies to the questions about the symbol of winter are always, “In’shallah”–“If God wills it…”

The sun sets about four thirty every day. It seems early; maybe because of the mountains to the west, maybe because of the winter season. So I took to my camera, and decided to document it. I set up a tripod on the balcony of the second floor of my house, brought a book, and took a picture of the same spot, about every fifteen minutes. The project started at 2:30pm and finished at 6pm. The camera faces the far southwestern edge of Nablus, the city’s sprawl leaving the valley, and in the lower corner, the shanty-like buildings of Al-Ein Refugee Camp. On a clear day (or night), from atop the mountain my house nestles on, one can possibly see the highline of Tel Aviv.

In the photos, the shadow of the mountain creeps upon the city below, until the sky is painted in an array of colors. In what seems evanescent, the colors disappear…and a dark twilight succumbs. Street lights and headlights and lit windows replace stars, and the calls of late afternoon and evening prayer linger throughout the valley. The hues maintain a warmness, even in the chilly winter weather. With the early dusk and the change of seasons, Nablus and I greet the winter, while we reminisce of warmer summers past and those yet to come.

21
Nov
09

Virabatrasana: The Yoga Warrior

It seems my yoga classes have come to an end. Whether they have lost their appeal, or the timing just isn’t right anymore, the few men I taught no longer show up to my classes.

Luckily, I was able to use a class and photograph it while my co-teacher taught.

In yoga, Virabatrasana is the Warrior Pose. The asana looks and feels like a great mercenary poised to enter the great unknowns of battle. These men, the patients I worked with regularly for about a month, fought their own. In the time I spent with them, they were able to improve their flexibility and strength, touch their toes and recover a small sense of balance, even though they thought multiple sclerosis had taken that away from them. Indeed, a different kind of battle, but so much the same attitude of a warrior…




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