Jordan

DSC01345-2 (968 x 1448)When I first meet the American sisters, I wonder why they would ever move here. Everyone in this tiny Jordanian village belongs to the same Bedouin tribe. Everyone except them.

My friend and I sit cross-legged in a shadowy room, our knees flirting with the edge of the crackling fire. Eight others perch around us – all men, save for the two Americans. The sisters don’t wear hijabs; instead, they sport full afros.

Khaled, our new friend and host, sits across from us in his white robes and red-checked keffiyeh. He sucks on a hookah pipe. Smoke seeps from his lips to mingle with that of the fire, while the sisters babble away in Arabic with surprising ease.

A boy approaches with a basin and a jug. One of the sisters nods at me, and I rinse my hands as he pours the water. Dinner is served.
We’re ushered to a space away from the flames, and someone places our cushions on the concrete floor. The sisters collapse onto them with practiced grace, but I struggle to recover the flexibility of my childhood. I shift my legs as pins and needles begin to tingle my feet.
Khaled brings in an enormous round tray, more than 50 cm wide. One of the sisters speaks to us for the first time.
“Mansaf.” She points to the massive heap of rice and poultry, yellowed with odoriferous spices. “This is with chicken, but if you ever come back for a real party, it’ll be lamb.”

She scoops up some rice from the tray. Between handfuls, she gestures toward the man beside her. His face contains as many lines as a spider’s web, and his eyelids droop with age.

“If you’re lucky, Mohammed will make it. There’s nothing as tasty as his lamb mansaf.”

As she repeats herself in Arabic, Mohammed smiles and pushes the tray toward me and my friend. Following custom, we use only our right hands, but as a leftie I struggle to tear off small chunks of chicken, and resign myself to eating mainly rice. Each time I think I’ve had enough, Mohammed grins and urges me to eat more.
When I feel full to the point of bursting, Khaled invites us back to the fire, and pours us tea in shot-sized glasses. Candy-apple sweet. I grasp the rim and turn to a little boy who has come over to greet us. At Khaled’s urging, the boy bends to give me a hesitant kiss on the cheek, an action that’s met by a chorus of chuckles.

As I accept a second cup of tea, I lean in to the sisters and ask the burning question: why here?

Surely it’s a question they’ve heard before. They arrived as travelers three years ago, and never left. Although they work at the nearby tourist site of Petra, they’ve learned Arabic and found a welcome place in this community.

“The answer is easy,” one says. “A simple life shared with beautiful people.”

She pauses to call out to Mohammed, who straddles the threshold of the door. Her teasing tone makes his eyes twinkle.

“I’m telling him he needs to eat more before he leaves,” she explains. “He always says that to us, after all.”

The other sister returns to my question.

“Look,” she says, “we’ve traveled the world over, and the people in Jordan are like nowhere else. So friendly, so hospitable.”

“It’s just one big family, and now they treat us as part of it.”

I nod, and resist further nosiness. I don’t ask if they hope to stay forever, if they plan to marry Bedouin men. I don’t even ask think to ask their names.
Instead, I shift my legs until I finally find a comfortable position. I sit back and gaze into the fire, at the warm light cast on Khaled and his family’s faces. I watch the way these people look at each other, eyes always connecting.

The sisters’ laughter twirls between the low murmurs of the men. The conversation never lulls, and the cellphones I’ve see the Bedouins carry stay hidden in the pockets of their robes. There’s a warmth in this room, a feeling created not just by the fire, but by the genuine interest in human interaction, in spending time with your loved ones.

I realize it’s getting late. My friend and I have somewhere to be, tickets for the touristy “Petra by Night.” But the moment I empty my glass, Khaled raises the kettle in an offering.

I nod. As the sugary amber liquid fills my glass, my friend and I exchange a glance. We see no reason not to linger awhile longer.

About the Author: Ellen Keith is a Canadian freelancer who is currently based in Amsterdam. Between her travels, she’s working on her MFA in creative writing through the University of British Columbia.

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Winslow - JordanJordan, as framed in the neat oval of a Boeing 737 window, resembles Tatooine from the sky: a sea of rusty red sand, canyons and jagged mountains. As viewed through the windshield of a Citroën C3 sedan cruising Highway 15, the landscape is monochromatic, the sky a hazy gray. There are signs of civilization in the scattering of low, cement-block houses, but the single constant show of human habitation are the steely-faced traffic officers conducting impromptu roadside checks.

“Do you know of any place in the U.S. like this?” I asked my husband as we drove along.

“No, but if I was shooting a sci-fi, Star Wars-like movie, I’d definitely consider this,” Matt said.

But it was actually the Tunisian desert that stood in for Luke Skywalker’s home planet in the sci-fi franchise. Petra didn’t cement its spot in cinematic pop culture until 1989, when its Al Khazneh tomb (popularly known as “The Treasury”) served as the resting place of the Holy Grail in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

The Treasury’s fame, however, somewhat betrays the grandness of Petra as a whole. In reality, the Treasury is simply an elaborate façade, a single monument among hundreds in a 264,000- square-meter complex. The Nabataeans, members of an ancient Arab tribe, created this city in stone more than 2,000 years ago. Most of the structures that still remain, including the Treasury, are tombs carved into the red sandstone hills.

It was while searching for the path to the Treasury overlook that Matt and I spied a small herd of goats nibbling on the sparse desert vegetation. I followed and photographed the animals as they ate.

Suddenly, the goat’s bleats were answered by a guttural, human response. I turned to see a middle-aged Bedouin woman crouched above me on the platform entrance of the tomb for Sextius Florentinus.

The woman quickly switched from goat to broken English when she noticed Matt and I.

“Tea? Postcards?” she asked, hopeful.

Curious about the woman’s culture, Matt and I mounted the steps of the tomb platform. We expected to see some sort of concession stand but were instead confronted by a trio of blackened, ashy rocks arranged atop the sandstone. Our host motioned for us to sit beside the rocks, and we watched as she began collecting and breaking sticks to rekindle her fire. Periodically, she’d venture to the far corner of the platform, cup her hands around her mouth and shout a single Arabic word. It sounded like a name.

“ABIR!” she called, her voice echoing through the canyon.

Satisfied with the stick arrangement, the woman produced a BIC lighter from a pocket and set the wood aflame. She then poured water from a white plastic jug into a tiny weathered teapot she rested atop the fire.

As we waited, a small figure, a little girl about 3 years old, rounded the outside of the tomb and made her way toward us. The child’s unwashed hair stood on end. She wore unzipped jeans, a dirty pink sweater with a large hole in the front and a pair of too-large, unzipped canvas boots.

Smiling sheepishly, the girl set to peddling her family’s wares: postcard sets of Petra. When we politely declined, she stomped off and, with practiced skill, threw her arms around the spindly legs of a black and white kid. She carried the goat back to the fire and repeatedly body slammed him toward her lap to make his legs fold into a reclining position.

And still the water had not boiled.

“Tea,” Matt hissed at me. “It had to be tea!”

Like her mother, the little girl would periodically venture to the far corner of the platform and shout a name across the canyon. She did this about three times before a teenage girl, presumably her sister, emerged. As a berry picker lugs her haul from bush to bush, this girl dragged a large bucket. Her haul, however, was not berries but rocks. Sandstone rocks she desired to sell to us.

I showed the teen the rocks already in my shoulder bag, the ones I had just collected from the same canyon floor. No, we didn’t need to purchase any rocks.

Was the tea ready yet?

It was. Syrupy sweet, the concoction tasted like sugar water.

Careful not to offend our host, Matt and I drank it all and then paid the woman five times the set price for her trouble. Delighted, the teen presented us with a rock — on the house.

Many months later, while cleaning out my shoulder bag, I uncovered a handful of colorful sand – all that remained of the soft rocks — embedded in the inside folds. The discovery made me smile.

About the author:  Megan V. Winslow is a writer and photographer who recently returned to the U.S. after a 6-month adventure around the world with her husband, Matt. Originally from Florida, Winslow relocated to San Francisco in January. She enjoys hiking, gardening and swing dancing.

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Jerash Family Picture Israel TripWhen I was in college I always said I would travel when I found time. Textbooks have now been exchanged from Dr. Seuss. Grabbing a latte has been replaced with grabbing sippy cups for my toddlers. The time to travel became a distant memory of a young idealistic mind. My adult mind was unable to comprehend the possibility of living with no regrets and refused to accept the challenge to live fully.

Then it happened. Time became my enemy. Time, or lack thereof, was the single focus of my day. Twenty-four hours simply was not enough. How can anyone do it all and still keep a smile on their face? This predicament lasted for many years. Each year my husband and I would dream of all the places we wanted to visit. Lamenting over all the fun we would have when the kids were older. Then it finally dawned on us. What are we waiting for?

July 4th 2013 our family of four boarded a plan to visit the land of time. Our goal was to return to the place where time has been forever changed. Over 2000 years ago one man walked the Earth with such an amazing mastery of time that his existence changed how we record time. B.C. is an abbreviation for “Before Christ.” and A.D. for “anno Domini” or “After Death”. Thirty-six hours and three airplanes later we landed in Jordan and spent 15 days following the footsteps of Jesus to Israel.

Two battle-weary adult and two sleep deprived giddy children stumbled into our first hotel at 1AM Jordanian time, a full two days after we left our home. Our lesson in time had already begun! Lesson 1: Sleep must occur within every 24 hours. When you try to stay up and function much longer than that, you end up laughing at hotel shuttle drivers until your side hurts. Or worse, you find yourself sleeping soundly with your head resting on the nice Palestinian man sitting on the shuttle with you.

It’s hard to believe how much time there is in a day when you turn your day over to a tour guide! Our trip started 8 hours after we crashed in the hotel. Moving along the desert plains of Moab in the heat of summer proved to be real challenge. The hot sun was relentless on Mt. Nebo, but the view across the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea was enough to make time stand still. In that moment, the hours on the planes, the airport hassles, and the language barriers were all forgiven. Lesson 2: Time cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be experienced.

The next day we journeyed up to mountain fortress of Petra. Our children marveled over the numerous caves along the path into Petra. We let them to ride on the back of a donkey up the 700+ steps to the monetary. Hours were spent in the dust and dirt. Leg muscles ached. Bellies were empty. Sweat poured down our faces. At the top we celebrated with bottles of water and rich local cookies. Sitting thousands of miles away from everyone we know, we found a place to simply be. No agenda. Our only goal, get to the top. We did it and it felt really spectacular. Lesson 3: Celebrating an accomplishment is never wasted time.

Jordan was a hidden gem of culture and adventure, but our journey had to move us onward to Israel. We entered the border crossing area and exited into a new world. The Holocaust Museum took us back to a time of great pain for a people and a nation. From there we visited Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Mount of Olives and then on to the Garden of Gethsemane. It is here that drops of sweat like blood fell. I’d never been under pressure great enough to produce this physiological anomaly, but I have been under the constraints of a life lived on borrowed time. Lesson 4: Spending too much of today focusing on the past or the future is a waste of time. Life is to be lived in the moment.

Our time in the land of time concluded at Golgotha and the Garden Tomb. We each took a turn looking inside the place where Jesus’ body had been laid. As I exited the tomb, I also exited my misunderstanding of time. Time was no longer my enemy, but a gift I was ready to enjoy. Time was an invitation to spend my days exploring all life has to offer, not for some far away date in the future but daily. Time was an offer I simply could not refuse. Lesson 5: Time is what you make it, so make it amazing.

About the Author: Saundra Dalton-Smith is a Coffee-loving, wife, mom, and grace seeker.

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Naharayim
Haifa coastline coming into the harbor

Our 3rd visit to Israel was shorter than our previous trips. It was a 3-day stopover that was part of a Mediterranean cruise.  With only two days at the Ashdod port, we chose to spend one night in Jerusalem and return to memorable sites around Jerusalem. We spent the second night aboard the ship as it sailed up the coast.  On the third day, we disembarked in Haifa. We made a request to our private guide, Jacob Firsel, to escort us to a few less frequented sites in the Galilee.

Jacob asked if we were interested in visiting Naharayim (Hebrew for two rivers). Although neither one of us were familiar with this historical spot, we were curious. Why did Jacob insist that we spend our precious time visiting an abandoned hydroelectric plant situated on the former grounds of Kibbutz Gesher?

As we drove through the beautiful countryside of the Galilee, Jacob told us that Naharayim was a small piece of land on the border between Israel and Jordan where the Yarmuk River flows into the River Jordan. The area was historically significant for many reasons.

From 1930 to Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, this hydroelectric plant produced a significant amount of power for the British Mandate of Palestine. Naharayim was the realized dream of Pinchas Rotenberg, the founder of the Israel Electric Company. Like other early Zionists, he designed ways to improve the Land of Israel using modern technology and also saw the need to forge alliances with the neighboring countries. In 1927, Pinchas signed an agreement with King Abdullah I of Jordan to build the first hydroelectric plant in the area. The construction of the plant created canals with small islands.

Naharayim was also the place where Golda Meir purportedly tried to dissuade King Abdullah from participating in the war. Her words did not prevent the inevitable.

Border Fence at Naharayim

We parked the car in an empty lot. I immediately noticed a towering electronic fence. On the other side of the fence was the hydroelectric plant. During the day, visitors are allowed to walk through the gate. At night, the gate is locked and electrified. On the other side is a designated pathway that skirts the border between Israel and Jordan.

Mine sign at Naharayim

Warning signs remind tourists of more dangerous times.

The Jordanian Arab Legion and the Iraqi invasion forces targeted the kibbutz and Naharayim in the early stages of the War of Independence. To stop the Iraqi forces from attacking Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley, the sluice gates of the Degania Dam were opened. This action forestalled the Iraqi-Jordan invasion. The hydroelectric plant never operated again.

Naharayim

However, the abandoned structure remains standing as a constant reminder of its demise.

In 1949, the cease-fire agreement designated that the border would go through the Naharayim Lake. From that point until 1995, the dams, bridges, and artificial lake were inaccessible.

The 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan was signed at Naharayim. Israel ceded the land to Jordan and the Jordanians leased it back to the Israelis. The people of Kibbutz Ashdot Yaacov were able to work on the land and operate the tours at Naharayim.

Israeli Guard Tower along Jordanian border at Naharayim

As we walked, we remarked on the peaceful feeling of the area. Israeli and Jordanian guard towers reminded us that we were straddling the border of a once hotly contested land. We could only imagine what life was like in earlier decades.

Memorial Sign at Naharayim

When we returned to the parking lot, I asked Jacob about a plaque that was written in Hebrew with faded pictures of seven girls. He pointed to the Jordanian guard tower and hesitantly told us about the tragedy that had occurred at this beautiful and peaceful spot. A few years after the peace treaty was signed, a Jordanian soldier of Palestinian heritage started shooting at students who were on a field trip. Following this horrific event, the late King Hussein of Jordan extended his personal condolences to the families of the 7 slain girls. Despite this, in 2011, Jordan’s Justice Minister released the Jordanian soldier.

Jordanian guard tower at Naharayim

Jacob candidly told us that he usually waits until after the tour to share information about this unprovoked and senseless shooting.

As we drove back to the Haifa port, I understood why Jacob had wanted to take us to this site often referred to as the Island of Peace. It represented the tenuous relationship between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Walking along the border, we saw first-hand how the border was only a simple line that separated two countries. And yet this area’s history was intertwined with both peaceful and tragic events. The peace between Israel and Jordan is based on the words written in the treaty. However, if the words are not supported by actions, then prolonged peace will not be possible.

To visit Naharayim arrangements need to be made through Kibbutz Ashdot Ya’akov info@ashdot-naharayim.com

Sandra Bornstein, an international educator and writer, has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses at the University of Colorado and Front Range Community College. After teaching in India, Sandra wrote May This Be the Best Year of Your Life: A Memoir and started a blog that focuses on Jewish culture, international education, worldwide travel, and living abroad. A book trailer provides a taste of Sandra’s India experiences.

 

In October 2011, George and I were the hosts for Meet Plan Go Los Angeles, part of 17 cities hosting events about Career Breaks, Mini-Retirements and Long Term Travel. We had traveled for nearly a year in 2008-9 and this month we left again for at least a year. Meet Plan Go National recently posted this article about our second career break: NOT WASTING TIME!

Time is now the currency. We earn it and spend it. The rich can live forever and the rest of us? I just wanna wake up with more time on my hands than hours in the day. – In Time (2011)

In Time is a movie that really spoke to me. In the movie, the main character, Will, is falsely accused of murder and must find a way to bring down a system in which time is money. While the wealthy can live forever, the poor have to beg, borrow, and steal enough minutes to make it through each day. At one point, a character gives his time to Will and tells him, “don’t waste my time.

How many times have you been in a pointless meeting thinking what a waste of time it is? So many of us waste time every day. We casually think that there will be time later. One of my strongest memories of seven years working on cruise ships was speaking to a widow who said, “we always planned to come here to Alaska together but there was always something that got in the way.” I heard over and over again, “don’t wait to make your dreams come true” or “you are so smart to travel like this while you are young.” I often felt like a character who had borrowed against time and was running to spend my time wisely traveling.

When my company went bankrupt after September 11, 2001, I thought I would never travel again.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE: CLICK HERE

Christine Maxfield and African Children

“Wanderlust is a strong, innate desire to rove or travel about,” as defined by Dictionary.com. Traveling is a requirement for George and I and right now we are in Hawaii. Lucky for you, Christine Maxfield offered to share about her recent year of volunteerism around the globe. I know you will be inspired by her awesome journey, here is her post:

Christine Maxfield and African Children

I blame my wanderlust on my first love—my grandfather. He was the one that got me hooked on National Geographic by having a full magazine collection in his basement that I’d pour over every summer vacation, launching a full-blown childhood dream of becoming a travel writer. And then my parents clinched it by allowing me to tag along with them to Europe when I was an impressionable ten years old, and I’ve never been the same since…nor have I wanted to be.

For the next two decades after that first taste of international travel, I’d aimlessly create lists of countries that I just knew I’d visit as soon as I became a jet setting grown up. But I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that this list sadly gathered dust in my drawer as life’s realities—college, career, relationships—took first priority. Sure, there was that brief study-abroad stint in Buenos Aires, and the occasional tropical vacation. But when it came to becoming a bestselling travel writer, I filed that dream away on a shelf.

I did hold true to my roots though and studied non-fiction creative prose at Penn (class of ’04) and pursued a career in magazine journalism, and at one point I thought I was getting closer to my goal when I landed a job at a national travel magazine in New York. Score! Now I’d get my chance to sip cocktails with foreign correspondents and interview mysterious sources in exotic locales—not. As I reported from my desk about African safaris and the Great Pyramids of Giza without ever checking off either item from my bucket list, I felt empty inside, and worse…like a fraud.

Christine at the Taj Mahal

That did it. I handed in my articles to my editor, pulled out my dusty list of countries back home, and started scheming about how I could take a year off to experience the same adventures that I only wrote about. I adopted a budget for the first time in my life, found a roommate, and scrimped and saved for more than a year until I stumbled across a simple but brilliant way to travel. It’s a form of voluntourism called work exchange, which trades the sweat of your brow—rather than the money from your pocketbook—for room and board with locals abroad. Wait…that meant that my trip suddenly got cheaper! So I immediately bought a one-way ticket to Sierra Leone via Morocco, gave notice at my travel magazine, let my adorable apartment go, and stuffed all my goods in storage. There was no turning back now.

Starting on January 1, 2011, I took my first step off a plane and into a solo round-the-world adventure that included 19 countries on six continents. My work exchange led me to teach HIV/AIDS orphans in Kenya, become a desert guide with the Bedouin tribe in for Holidays to Jordan, teach English to Tibetan Buddhist nuns in Nepal, mend fences on an aboriginal cattle station in Australia, shuck oysters on a black-pearl farm in French Polynesia, save baby sea turtles in Guatemala, teach music to Roma (gypsy) children in Romania, and herd a thousand sheep as a nomadic shepherd in Austria. Oh, and I can now finally say that I’ve been on an African safari and have also stood in the shadow of pyramids…

Underwater at the Great Barrier Reef with Christine

I returned to the States just a few months ago on January 1, 2012—exactly one year after I left—and I’ve been trying to find the right words to describe my last year to friends and loved ones. “Life changing” seems too anticlimactic. When I look up other superlatives in the thesaurus, I get more of the same. All I can say is that you need to throw caution to the wind and launch your own grand adventure to understand the inspiring journey that I experienced.

Cross that Bridge! Live your dreams like Christine!

Oh, and what about my dream of becoming a bestselling travel writer? Well, now that I’m represented by a bona fide literary agent, I can say that my prospects are definitely looking up for the first time in my career.

From WeSaidGoTravel:
We hope you feel as inspired as we do! Thank you to Christine for sharing your story! We cannot wait to read your book! Read more about her adventures, click here.

New video from our year away: Gushing Geysers of New Zealand

 

 

 

 

 

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