Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Hashemite Kingdom: Week 2

Another busy week on the other side of the world...

Well, it has become like home here. We go work at the Ministry and go out at night to be with friends.
We have met some amazing people here. Muhammad, the Egyptian that we met who works at our favorite falafel shop is such a sweet heart. We just love him. Ryan has been teaching him English at night when we can. He picks up on it quickly. It is fun for me to go because it teaches me Arabic at the same time. So, I like to go and Muhammad and I have a lot of broken conversations. It's really fun.
Ahmaro, a man who works at the Ministry is this short little guy who has invited us to dinner a few times. We have so much fun with him and his family. He is the one next to Ryan.
Ahmed, another worker here at the Ministry LOVES RYAN! Everyone does here. Ahmed is so sweet. He is always feeding Ryan. He can't treat me the same way because of custom but as I am writing this, a very sweet woman here just gave us all cookies. OH SO GOOD!
Yazeed, a Jordanian working with us here at the Ministry. He is a guy our age studying architecture at the German University here in Amman. He is such a hard worker and always so willing to help us out whenever he can. This is him below. He and Ryan work on teaching together along with our next friend...
Khalil, another Jordanian working with us at Zaytoon International. He is actually a BYU student! He and I had Islam and the Gospel together during this past winter semester. Fun guy. He is very excited about the work we are doing here and he makes a great teacher.
Last week we had a great little adventure with Loren and Brendan, two guys from our group. We went and stopped by their house yesterday and they invited us to go with them to West il-Balad. This is just the downtown on Amman. It is VERY Arab. We went to this little hole-in-the-wall 'restaurant' called Hashim's. It was very delicious. We had fresh hummus (of course), foul (pronounced fool but it's just beans that are seasoned with garlic and parsley and stewed for a while.. delicious), fresh hot pita bread, fresh sliced tomatoes and hot falafel and mint and you make your own pitas at the table. OH SO GOOD!

Then after that meal, we went and got dessert. We had kunafa which is a cheese layer that is sweet but has the texture of mozzarella and then it is covered with a layer of sugar which is then burnt like a creme brulee and then has a simply syrup poured over it. It actually defies all the laws of what good food should be. Honestly, when I saw it, I was having a hard time understanding why people eat this because it looks so odd. But then I took a bite and my mind went into a weird mode of loving it and then hating it. It was so overly sweet I swear it put me in a sugar coma. But it was so good and creamy with the cheese. All in all, weirdest dessert but also so tasty. Sorry I didn't take a picture of it. But here is one from the internet.
Next we walked around the streets of West il-Balad. They are so small and compact and there is someone selling something on EVERY corner of it. But the shops are decadently amazing. They are filled with burlap sacks of grains and herbs and pastas. It was beautiful. The butcher shops were so fun to walk by and see the fresh meats. We got to see a lamb's head just sitting in the window. I was certainly glad to have 3 men around me at all times. American women get stared at all the time here. Ryan was a great husband and protected me. But lastly we went into this beautiful little restuarant on the top of a shanty and had an amazing drink of lemon juice mint and some ice blended into a slushie type structure. It was tart and refreshing and wonderful on a hot summer evening here in Amman. It was so good! I do not know what it was called. But good golly it was the Arab version of a mint julep. It was so good. Again, no pictures because of custom but maybe another time.
We got to walk around some old Roman ruins tonight as well around downtown. They were beautiful. We also got to see King Hussein's Mosque. It was interesting, it reminded me so much of the temples of time of Christ... There were people selling goods inside the mosque courtyard... But it was beautiful. We really enjoyed it.
Well, work has been going well. We are loving teaching the youth and they are working hard on their community projects. They are sweet children who are picking up English well. Hopefully they continue in their hard work!

More to come soon! Love from Jordan!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

What a weekend...

Well sorry for the delay... But here goes nothin'...
This is me being taken away in the hottest bus on planet earth to go to my first Arab wedding.

Well, we had our first weekend here in Amman. It was, uh, a blast! We had church on Friday and went to our branch here in Amman. It was soooo nice to be back with the saints. It was so fun. We took a taxi to the building. It used to be the Swiss Embassy but now it is the first building in the Middle East that has the Church's name on it. Pretty cool. Sorry it is sideways but you can see what it says. Yay for the Church!
Our branch has about 100 people in it, I think. Mostly Americans, Filipinos, Jordanians, Indians, Sri Lankans. But definitely most of the members are American military or government like State Dept., Foreign Service, Marines, CIA. Our branch president is actually ex-military but he has been hired as the weapons adviser to the Jordanian Royal Family. He designs new weapons for them and advises them on what to buy.
We already have callings in our ward. Ryan is the Primary pianist and teacher and I am a Primary teacher. Should be fun! I have never been in Primary before. I am so excited! It was so funny though that we immediately got callings. All we did was go talk to the Branch President to say hi! Mormons are the same everywhere... :)These are our two boys. We teach the six year olds. The blond boy is Henry and the brunette is Danny. Danny is Iraqi and Henry's dad is in the Foreign Service. They only wanted to make silly faces. They are so cute!!
The branch has two sacrament meetings and gospel principles classes. One in English and one in Arabic. We went to the English sacrament and then to the Arabic Gospel Doctrine class. It was so fun! The teacher is actually an Egyptian convert who has served a mission! Crazy!!! Ryan was so excited to meet him.
Relief Society was so fun. The women are amazing here. I met a Palestinian woman who has been a member for 10 years and she and her husband currently live in Mississippi of all places. They are just in Jordan visiting family for a couple months. Their kids are southern hicks. It is so cute. But they are such a great family.
We have also met some people who have lived in Dubai! There is a couple in our ward that were stationed there with the foreign service for a few years and have just been reassigned to Amman. We are having dinner with them after church next Friday to talk about Dubai and see if they have any contacts there that we could use to get Ryan and internship there or a job even.
We had such an amazing time at church, it was so much fun and we just loved it.
We randomly met an Australian at church who had just gotten into Amman. He is a member named Rob who is just traveling by himself through the Middle East. He has been in Syria and Jordan and Israel and Egypt. He was trying to find a hotel but we told him to stay with us at our place since we have an extra bed. It was fun to have him around. This is him.

After church, we had a wedding to go to. An Arab wedding. These events are insane. We first went and had lunch with Ahmaro and his family. We know him from work. So Ryan and I and a few other people from our trip went to his house and had lunch there. It was delicious. We had herbal tea made of oregano (weird as it sounds, it is AMAZING), salted squash seeds (like toasted pumpkin seeds), Tang (yes it is basically the national drink) and the main meal of Magloohb. This dish was very good. It is a rice dish that is made by cooking a TON of rice in chicken stock with parsley and pepper and some yougurt. Then you bake a whole chicken with just salt and pepper and then you put the chicken on top of the rice, throw on some peanuts and more parsley and serve it with flatbread. Really good. They also serve tomato and onion salad with it and yogurt. You are supposed to put the yogurt and the tomatoes and onions in the rice and eat it. But I do not like plain yogurt and its not wise to eat uncooked veggies here. They are sometimes riddled with parasites that make you sick... So, just like a mission, you cannot stop eating for an hour or two and you have to eat everything. But you get good at making it look like you are still eating even when you aren't. :)

Another important thing to remember here is to not drink anything that is not bottled. It is so filled with bacteria... Gross. You can actually see a thin film of nasty floating on top of the tap water. It is full of minerals as well so it smells funny too.
But anyway, after we ate lunch we got thrown into some cars and headed off to the wedding. We met everyone at this house where the men played in the street and Karissa (a girl from our group) and I went into the house with the women. We don't speak Arabic so we have a hard time communicating with people so it can be awkward at times. But, oh well. It was fun. When it was finally time to leave the house, we went downstairs and made friends with a Malaysian woman who spoke enough English to help us out. We watched our husbands be tossed into the air and dance. That is one thing that is certain out here, Americans are celebrities. Especially American men. It is so funny. It isn't allowed to take pictures of Arab women and post them online so there are only pics of the men but that's fine. You get the idea.

At the wedding, we were split men and women into 2 separate rooms. The reception hall was beautiful. There were at least 300 women and children there with us. The bride and groom walked down the aisle and they danced. Then they cut the cake with a huge sword and then the groom left the room and the women just danced for a little while. Karissa and I were sitting quietly on the side when the mother of the bride saw us and made us come dance. Well, it's always awkward to dance in front of people, let alone a few hundred women who you have never met before. So when we got to the dance floor, we started dancing but then the music stopped and they announced something in Arabic that we didn't understand and then, of course, they told everyone else to get off the dance floor and then it was just myself and Karissa there under the disco ball and they started to play an American dance song by Shakira. I couldn't stop laughing. It was the weirdest thing in the whole world. We were just supposed to dance, just the two of us in front of everyone. AWKWARD. Well the song seemed to last an eternity and I was sufficiently embarrassed. Then we sat down once the clapping was done and we ate our cake. Then the swarm began. It started with the little girls. They started coming up to us and trying to talk to us. But since, we are Arabic retards and don't understand what they are saying, we don't get too far in our conversations.... In fact, I think we might have made a real impression on them when Karissa accidentally introduced me as her wife... Probably the most unconventional sentence to have ever been spoken. But that's what we get for being separated from our Arabic speaking husbands and knowing only bits of Arabic.... But it was great! So much fun!!

Well. Hope you enjoy the pictures! We are having more adventures every day here. It is so much fun! I will be posting again soon! :) Love you all in the great USA!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Falafel is making me fat....

Well, our first week has certainly been an adventure. We hit the ground running as soon as we landed basically. We got in at 2 am our first day here and, though we were told not to come, we were at the 8:30am meetings that same day. But it was great. It was a good way to get acclimated quickly to the time change. We are each busy working on our tasks within the Ministry of Social Development.
Ryan is working hard on making our curriculum the best that it can be. He has been meeting with many great people to get the ball rolling. He met with a man of the Jordanian Royal Court last night and talked with him for hours about banking and finance in the Middle East. As I write this, he is actually at lunch with an Iraqi international banker.
Well, hopefully this is good news... We might have gotten our luggage back! I have been on the phone with Royal Jordanian Airlines and they said that our bags have arrived in Amman! It better be true! I am still waiting for them to call me so that I can give them my 'address'. Just a quick note, there aren't addresses for your house in Amman. You just tell someone what street you live on and what you are nearby and then to call you when they are close. I know, really helpful. Accuracy at its finest. :) But that's why we love it here.
We have our luggage! It was so funny. We could not get anything done with it. Then our friend called his friend who works in customs at the airport and next thing you know, 30 minutes later, we have our luggage delivered to us! It was crazy! There is nothing like the influence of a friendship than here in the Middle East. Good golly. So we dragged our bags home and we changed immediately into our own clothing and it was wonderful. We feel like human beings again. Not just homeless people :)

I have some pics of Amman to show you all. I have been taking some pictures when I can. I have some from our apartment. The nighttime ones are cool because they show how the mosque minarets are lit up at night with neon green lights. It isn't the best picture, but it should hopefully give you some idea. But the daytime ones are much better. They really show the essence of Jordan. The ones I have from the view from the ministry are really cool because they show my favorite mosque that I have seen so far in the city. It is bright blue and it is awesome to hear the prayer call every day while I am at work here.
It is really easy to be Mormon over here. I have to dress modestly, no alcohol, it is easy to talk about religion with others. The only thing that is super different is the smoking. EVERYONE SMOKES! And when I say they smoke, I mean they smoke like 8-10 packs a day. And they smoke everywhere. There is no such thing as a non smoking zone. They smoke in malls, restaurants when they are making your food and even in hospitals! Talk about unhealthy! It is really hard to be around so much of it. I have to make sure that I am by a window all the time at work because it just overwhelms you otherwise. But other than that, its not that bad. Just a lot of smoke.
The food here is excellent. We have had a ton of falafel and shwarma while here. They are cheap and available everywhere. Falafel is fried chickpeas in a pita with hummus and tomatoes and cucumbers and delicious. Shwarma is similar to a Greek Gryo. It is chicken, lamb or beef sliced thin and served in a pita with hummus and veggies. Sadly though, all these foods are super fatty and make you feel like you just ate a super sized Big Mac.
But we are just loving it here. It is great. I am going to try to figure out the washing machine today... Yet another adventure in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

It's Fun to Fly!

Well kids, here we go. Our first real posting on our amazing and glorious trip to Jordan. It begins with the wonderful tale of our plane trip for two days to this other side of the world....
We left from Salt Lake International Airport at 11 in the morning on June 17th. We had a squished trip to Chicago O'Hare Airport on a plane the size of a tuna can. While on this first plane, we talked and studied Arabic together. We met a fun couple who were on their way to Paris for a week long vacation. They were very sweet and we enjoyed talking with them. We also had a great chance to meet a senior missionary couple who just left the MTC that morning and were on their way to Poland! They were so excited about the adventure ahead of them and they were so sweet. We wish we could have spent more time with them but our flights were to different places.
We had such a hard time getting through security as our airlines didn't give us acceptable boarding passes. So we were a little anxious to just get to our loading gate and be there on time. We only had a 45 layover in Chicago. We bought some overpriced sandwiches that were disgusting but they filled us up until we were on the plane and we were excited to be around all the French speakers.
Well AirFrance had a very comfortable plane. I really liked the big seats and personal tv screens. The meal came quickly and it was actually delicious! We had curried chicken and orzo with raisins. It was a nice cold appetizer. It also came with a choice of beef in a wild mushroom sauce and mashed potatoes or provencal penne pasta in a delicious cream sauce with spring vegetables. Ryan got the beef and I got the pasta. It also came with salad, rolls, cheese and a delicious lemon pound cake with a strawberry glaze. I wanted to take a picture of the spread of food but I thought that might be really weird. So I didn't. But we were able to watch a lot of movies. I decided to try and stay awake as long as possible to make it easier to get acquainted with the Jordanian time zone. From Utah, Amman is 9 hours ahead. It is a big adjustment.
The flight had a ton of movies. I watched Tangled (twice) and another couple movies that I can't remember right now. Ryan watched a few too. But we had a nice flight. I finally doze off right before we were to land. They served us breakfast of pudding and muffins and juice. It was quite nice.
Once in the airport in Paris, we found that our flight to Jordan had been pushed to an evening flight instead of an afternoon one. That was fine though. After waiting forever to get our new boarding passes and to get to our terminal, the reality of our long wait to get aboard our plane finally hit us. So, naturally, we decided to go into Paris for a few hours. Ryan had never been to Paris and I was excited to show him my favorite places there. We took the train in from the airport station. It was the cheapest option and it was fast. We got off at the Notre Dame stop and walked up the stairs to the street. Of course though, it had started to pour rain. But it was still so fun. We ran across the street (carrying all our airplane carry-on bags) and had a light lunch in a cafe across from the Notre Dame Cathedral.

It was so wonderful to be back in Paris. I hadn't been for many years. We had a delicious baguette sandwich with ham and cokes. We were safe from the rain and got to hear the church bells ring. When it stopped raining after a while, we went across the street and walked around the church yard. It was filled with tourists from all over the world. We had a nice group of people from Birmingham, England who took a couple pictures of Ry and I in front of the Church. Since it was raining, we didn't get many pictures because we didn't have anything like an umbrella to keep us dry. But we wandered the streets nearby to look in the shops. I love the cobblestone streets that still are all over the city. We wanted to get crepes but all the crepe places were closed for lunch... I know, a restaurant that closes for lunch... weird. But oh well. We wandered into a random old church that was built in the 1500's and actually got to see a baptism taking place! It was really cool to see the Catholic ceremony performed in French. The family was so happy and excited. It was a great moment to see in the beauty of this old building. It is daunting to think of how many people have been baptized in that cathedral over the past 500 years. I stole some pics of the ceremony. Hope that isn't blasphemous. I was just being a nosy tourist.

Next we wandered over to the bridges and rivers that are all over Paris. We stood overlooking the river that shows the main areas of Paris. We saw the Eiffel Tower's top and decided to start walking down that way. We got to see the Louvre. THIS IS MY FAVORITE PLACE IN PARIS! I love this museum with all my heart. Sadly, we didn't have enough time to go in this time, but another time for sure. The museum is huge! It has hundreds of thousands of pieces of art on display. And it is rumored that what is on display is nothing compared to the art storage reserves of the museum that are housed in the basement of this massive building.
Then we had to quickly rush back to the airport to go catch our plane. Our plane ride to Jordan was on Royal Jordanian Airlines. It was amazing! If there is one thing that Arabs know, it is how to live in luxury. The first class seats were lavish and then we get to coach, it was still very roomy and comfortable. We were served many meals and snacks and drinks. We were even served hot towels to wash our hands before dinner. Our dinner was fabulous. It was chicken in a tarragon sauce with vegetables and potatoes. We also had a salad and juice served with it. I got the mango juice (probably my favorite thing about the Middle East). Then we finally landed. I got to watch Chronicles of Narnia:Voyage of the Dawn Treader on the flight which was nice to pass the time. Then we landed!
We had to exchange our money to get Jordanian Dinar so we could buy our visa at the airport and go through immigration. I am so grateful that Ryan speaks Arabic so well. It is such a lifesaver. Then we went down to claim our bags... But, funny enough, they weren't there to claim! AirFrance never sent our bags to Amman! How sweet of them! So we were in the airport for an extra 2 hours trying to get our bags situation sorted out. Regardless, our bags weren't there and it was 1am. We were tired and our ride from the airport had been waiting for ages for us. So we gave the airlines our address and phone number. Hopefully sometime this week we will get our bags back. But I'm not holding my breath. Our ride from the airport was fun. He is a great Palestinian man who was very talkative and he is also a tour guide. He was telling us about all the trips he could take us on. It was fun. Then we finally arrived at our apartment around 2am. We unloaded our few bags and went right to bed.
Well, that is our fun flight story! Next will be our first days in Jordan! :)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The beginning!

The packing monster has hit our house and it is kind of a disaster. We have seemingly emptied our closets and drawers and have decided to take our house and home with us to the Middle East. Let me just say how unneccesary this is. But, since I am an overpacker in every trip, I am proud to say that I am officially packed for the Middle East and that I am taking with me almost 100 lbs of clothing and items. It is quite sad that I feel that I cannot part with these things. Oh well, we each get to take 2 checked bags for free. And since I have paid far too many times to check a bag, I am going to stick it to the airline and take all the liberties I can with them.
Ryan hasn't started packing yet. We leave in 12 hours. But no biggie. He has all night to pack if need be. And since he is a boy, I doubt he will take too long.... Hopefully.
It has been so fun to pack for this trip. As a woman, there are different dress standards that I am asked to follow while visiting the Middle East. Much like LDS, Muslim women are asked to be modest in their appearance. This is a religious and culural quirk that I have absolutely no problem following. WOmen are asked to wear pants or long capris. Our shirts are to have a higher neck (like a t-shirt) and to have longer sleeves (not just cap sleeves). Many women wear scarves to make themselves more modest.
I do not have to wear a head scarf (hijab) or a burka (a full covering and veil). That is not required in the countries that I am visiting. The only place that I will wear a hijab is out of respect when visiting a Muslim mosque. Sandals are definitely a must. No doubt about it. It is hot in Jordan... When we arrive it will be 10:30 at night and it will probably still be in the 90's. I know most people cringe at the thought of that.... However, my husband and I are odd and we are so excited! Especially after this spring that we have been having here in lovely Provo. A lovely shot of Amman...

Here is a quick rundown on Jordan.... It is a desert. In every sense of the word. Sand and rocks.... No rain and lots of heat. Not everyone likes that combo, but we sure do! This country is part of the Holy Land. It is old and beautiful. I am so blessed to have this opportunity to be living in this gorgeous part of the world...

Oh, and did I mention that we are also going to EGYPT??!!! Because we are....
That fact is the best in the world. For most of you who read this, you might not know that Egypt is the most special place in the world to me. I have wanted to be in the land of the Pharohs since before I can remember. I cannot explain the joy that is in my heart for this country... Indeed I follow the words of the Savior, "Blessed be Egypt, my people." To know that this is the land that my Lord and Savior grew up in just makes me yearn to be there more. I know this sounds a bit obsessive, but that's just how it is. I am just the luckiest girl in the world to be married to a man who loves it just as much as I do. :)

Well, it is time to finish up some last minute packing. I will write often on this adventure. There will be pictures and stories galore. So, hopefully you will all be entertained! And hopefully, Delta will not lose our luggage...  إن شاء الله

Catch Up Time....

Because life has been so extremely crazy these past couple weeks, I haven't been able to share in the excitement that is our life.
So, here is the update you have all been dying to hear!!
Ryan took the LSAT a couple weeks ago and we will hear back his score at the end of this month. He is also finishing up his last few hours at the MTC. He is sad to be leaving this part of his life. He has loved working there and teaching those brave few in the Church who have given their lives over to the Lord to go forth and serve. We have made so many lifelong friends through the MTC and we are so grateful for all the memories.
I finally finished the longest spring term of BYU history. Thank goodness. It was sure hard to concentrate when I remembered that we will leaving for Jordan the day after finals.
We got to spend a long weekend down in California with Ryan's family. It was so fun to see them and to spend time with them before we leave for the Middle East. We got to go to Laguna Beach and, even though it was very cloudy all weekend, we had a great time with family and friends. Needless to say, it was an eventful weekend that we will not be forgetting soon. We got to go to the original Gold's Gym in Venice Beach, CA and got to work out in the most fun gym I have ever been to! It is the same gym that Pumping Iron was filmed in and where all the major bodybuilders work out. There were so many cool people there from all over the world and it was so fun to work out in such a high energy environment. The gym has the coolest equipment. Most of it is stuff that is only in that location and some of it is really old stuff too. All in all, it was so much fun.
I wish we had taken pics over the weekend. But sadly, my camera wasn't charged. Major fail on my part.
Well, for the last part of this tale... I will begin by telling you that the packing and cleaning has begun in the House of Coles. It is such a crazy time. That's all I will say... We leave in 12 hours!! :) SO EXCITED!!!