Sunday, October 30, 2011

10/29/11: The Country That Shares My Name (Part 3): Madaba, Mount Nebo

View Of The Holy Land From Mount Nebo 

Our last day in amazing Jordan had finally arrived. I don't know where the time went, but I was thankful we had one more day of exploration in this incredible country. As we packed up and said our final goodbyes to Petra, we boarded the bus and began our journey back to the border crossing with Israel. We had about a 2 and a half hour bus ride to get from Petra to Madaba, but none of us were sleeping much this time around. Abu planned a little something special for us and we were all very entertained! 

Because we had such a long bus ride, and because it was our last day with Abu, Sammi (our driver), and Odi (our police man), they had some exciting things planned for our ride. First, Abu decided to tell us about the various head scarves found in Jordan (for both men and women), and he then gave us demonstrations on how to tie and wrap them correctly. We learned that the red and white scarves are native to Jordan and a symbol of Jordanian royalty, the black and white scarves are more typically found in Palestinian communities but still widely used all over Jordan, and then there were also plain white and green and white scarves that were also considered the fashion in the region. He then proceeded to explain various different ways to tie the scarves, shoed us how the bedouins tie their head coverings, and even showed us how the women tied head scarves! That was a sight to see; Abu with a female head wrap :-) We were all so entertained, and had so much fun watching his demonstration. We even got to participate a little bit. 

Abu showing us how Bedouins tie head scarves in sand storms (plus sun glasses and a peace sign) :-)

Abu dressed one of our students in traditional bedouin burqa and veil 

One of the many ways the men wear head coverings 

After the scarf demonstration, Abu, Sammi, and Odi decided they wanted to give everyone on the bus Arabic names. They asked each of us what our names meant in English and then tried to pick an Arabic name that was close in meaning. I don't exactly know what my name means, aside from the fact that it is the female name for the country and river Jordan, so I waited until the end to have them deal with me. When pretty much everyone had received a name, Abu asked who was left. I raised my hand, told him that I needed a name, and he looked at me a bit funny. He said I don't really need an Arab name because I kind of had one, or at least I was named after an Arab country, but finally they settled on jemeelah, which means beautiful in Arabic. I was very honored they picked that name for me :-) 

Between the scarf demonstration, and the naming of students, enough time was consumed that we only had about 30 minutes left of traveling until we reached the town of Madaba. I took this opportunity to drown out the world with my Arabic music, and just stared out of the bus window taking in the general splendor of the scenery. It was at this point that I truly felt at home in Jordan. Most of our time driving through the country was spent driving through desert terrain, and I can't truly describe just how similar it was to my hometown of Palm Springs. For those of you who are familiar with the deserts of California, driving through much of Jordan felt like I was on the 60 freeway, coming down from the mountains and dropping to the Coachella valley below. Date palms lined the roads, just as they line the streets to my house, desert mountains were ever present in the background, and I no longer felt like I was in a foreign country.

Jordanian mountain ranges that remind me of home 
I have missed home a great deal, and living on the coast of Israel could never compare to being in a beloved desert, so this trip truly combined two great loves for me; Arab everything (culture, language, land) and a Desert like that of my home. I am one of those true desert dwellers that would prefer life in the heat, dust, and sand over anything in the world, and being in Jordan reminded me of that profound love. It was at this point I knew I would have a very hard time leaving. I was now tied to this country both by name and spirit.

As the 30 minutes came to a close, I found that we were driving through an extremely crowded and busy town. We had arrived in Madaba, home to a great Greek Orthodox church, and an important stop for Christian pilgrims. We didn't have much time to spend in the city, but Abu made sure we had enough time to see the beautiful church. When we entered I was immediately struck by the music of the Orthodox monks playing in the background, and though this is not my religion, I could do nothing but appreciate the beauty and presence of God all around me. The mosaics in the church were some of the most beautiful I had ever seen, and it was amazing to experience another faith's place of worship. My friend Stephanie would have loved this church so much, and I thought about her the whole time I was there!

Beautiful Church Mosaics 

Greek Orthodox Church in Madaba 

Gorgeous floor mosaics 

Me outside of the church 
Upon exiting I decided to leave a few JD's (Jordanian Dinars) in a collection box for the needy. Though this isn't my religion, Judaism places a profound emphasis on charity and I couldn't just leave without giving a little Tzedakah (charity). It was a great way to spend a little money. After about 20 minutes it was time for us to leave Madaba and stop at a center for mosaic restoration and artwork. The special thing about this place was that it was supported by one of Queen Nour's foundations, and all the proceeds from anything bought there went to help the physically disabled people of Jordan. I am so profoundly happy that I didn't buy anything up until this point, because I spent my souvenir shopping in a place where the proceeds went to a fantastic cause. I had no problem spending any amount of money here on the things that I wanted, and another perk was that all of the items were Jordanian made. 

When we arrived at the foundation we were met by a guide who was in a wheelchair, and he explained about the mosaic work, the foundation, where the proceeds go, and so on. We also got to see artists cutting stones and preparing art pieces, and then we were escorted into the shopping area. The mosaic pieces here were absolutely stunning, and because the government funds this foundation, they ship the pieces worldwide for very little cost. I know what I will be buying when I have a home one day! I also took this opportunity to buy both a traditional Jordanian and Palestinian head scarf, and a little bottle of different color sands with the name of Jordan written inside. I will have to say that every time something had the name "Jordan" written on it I kept thinking I was seeing my name. 

Beautiful Arabic Mosaic  
Hand Made Mosaic Table  
Me trying on my new head scarf! Since Abu taught us how I thought I might as well test it out

As I was getting ready to pay (I was one of the last ones there), I found a pair of earrings that I fell in love with. I decided to run back and grab them, met Abu at the check out line, and proceeded to pay for my items. The man who was dealing with the transaction asked Abu why he always has the prettiest girls on his tours, and then asked him how many camels he could trade for me. I told him he couldn't buy enough camels to afford me, at which point he went over to a place where there were hand painted wooden camels, picked one out, and gave it to me, on the house, as a parting gift! I was very flattered :-). 

After leaving the foundation it was off to a quick lunch, and then off to Mount Nebo; our last stop on the trip, and the place where Moses was said to have died. The view from the restaurant was completely priceless; you could see the entire Holy Land from where we were sitting, and it was profoundly overwhelming. Between the amazing food and the fantastic view, I'd say it was a very successful lunch! 

The Holy Land 

Beauty Beyond Description 

After we finished eating, it was off to Mount Nebo. Unfortunately, due to renovations, we could not see the Church that was built as a monument to Moses, but just being in the spot where he was said to have died, was both extremely meaningful and powerful. I was standing on so much of my history, and to see the Holy Land, the homeland of my people for thousands and thousands of years, was so very precious to me. The fact that I am now living in a land that my ancestors spent their whole lives trying to return to is unbelievable to say the least, and I thank God every day for giving me a new life here in the Middle East. A land that holds so much importance to the three major monotheistic religions, and I am lucky enough to live in the center of it, only 40 minutes away from Holy Jerusalem; it gives me the chills just thinking about it. 

Stone with carvings of Moses 

Moses memorial 

View of the Holy Land from Mount Nebo 

Mosaic floors on the Mountain 

My last view of Jordan
With the completion of seeing Mount Nebo, it was time to say goodbye to beloved Jordan, and head back to Israel. I was profoundly sad at having to leave, but was so happy that I had this amazing experience in this wonderful country. I feel so lucky to have come here, and know that my relationship with Jordan is only just beginning. Not only was I sad to say goodbye to the country, but I was just as sad to part with Abu, Sammi, and Odi. They made the trip so much more spectacular, and I will miss them greatly. 

Abu, Odi, Me, Sammi

When our Jordanian guides left us behind, we had to wait for a bus to take us to the border crossing with Israel. Once we were all on the bus there was a little drama with a woman forgetting her purse, which of course consumed a great deal of time, but we finally made it back to the crossing. I wish my story ended there. I have been to Israel three times, am Jewish, have family in Israel, have a student visa, and a registered university card, but that did not stop them from detaining me two different times. The first time I was stopped was at baggage control where they took my passport and gave it to another person who pulled me aside to ask me questions about my family, the school program, the students in the program and so on. I asked "Ma H'Bayah" (what is the problem), and the guard looked very surprised that I knew Hebrew. He said there was no problem, and took another 5 minutes or so to give me back my passport. 

Finally I made it to the place where they had to issue me an entrance stamp back into Israel, and even though I have a multiple entry student visa, it still took about 10 minutes for them to finally give me the stamp. Again they were giving my passport to other people, looking things up on the computer, asking me about my parents, and so on. I was very concerned because I was so confused as to why I was getting stopped when no one else from my program was seeming to have a problem. Was it because I look Arab but am not from an Arab country? Was it because I lived in Palestinian East Jerusalem and worked for a co owned Palestinian Israel Journal? What could be the reason? They kept telling me there was no problem, but I know better; something wasn't so kosher. I was finally given my passport back and allowed to join the rest of my group. I was tired, frustrated, missing Jordan, and just wanting to get home at this point. 

Despite the balagan at the border, I still had one of the most amazing trips of my life. I want to thank the people of Jordan for being among the most kind and welcoming individuals, and a special thanks to the amazing guides that were with us throughout our three days. It was an experience of a lifetime, and one that I will hold dear to me forever. As I previously stated, this is only the beginning of what I hope is a long, blossoming relationship with the country that shares my name!

Ma As-salame Ilordune! Ana Ba7abik iktir <3,
Jordana Simone


  1. My wife is a native of Amman. I spent over a month touring the country. It is as dynamic, peacefull and as beautiful as any place in the world I have been. I am well traveled throughout. I amglad you enjoyed my 2nd home as well! :)

  2. It was one of the best places in the world! It made me really want to apply to the university there for my PhD. The more time I can spend in Jordan the better :-)