Black Thursday

Friday, 8/6

Busy couple of days! Two days ago a small group of us went to visit Mount Nebo, where Moses is supposedly buried. You know because of that thing where he hit the rock instead of speaking to it politely he was banned from ever getting into the Holy Land, but because God is basically a nice guy he decided at the last minute to let Moses see the Holy Land before he died. Well, now I’m not sure if that was a joke or not. You get to Mount Nebo and there’s a plaque thing set up at the edge of the cliff with arrows pointing to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, what have you, all of which are supposedly visible from that point. But you will remember what the horizon of the Judean desert is like. You can see the east coast of the Dead Sea, and that’s about it. Maybe at night? Or maybe if God was in an extra-good mood he made the haze go away. Or maybe it was supposed to be Moses’s last act of faith, believing that there was a lovely land out there in the haze for his people.

Whichever: the last time I saw the Dead Sea I sure didn’t think I’d be looking at it from this side!

So, on to more sober news. Something bad happened yesterday, and it’s kind of complicated to explain. Continue reading “Black Thursday”

Let’s try doing this chronologically.

Monday, August 2

I found an internet cafe! In fact, I opened an account, so I can log on each time I’m in Madaba — which will be about one night a week, after this week.

We got our homestay assignments today. I’ve been assigned to a city called Namus, a couple miles south of Madaba. I like the person who will be our language teacher, and I think I like the three other girls who will be with me for training for the next three months. Wow, three months. It didn’t sound like that long when they send us the pre-arrival materials, but this training is the same as a trimester at college! I’m nervous about living with a family of complete strangers for that long. Really, really nervous.

So it turns out there are actually neat things to do in Madaba. You know that famous mosaic of Jerusalem that’s on all the t-shirts in Israel? That’s here! Moses’s tomb too, and we’re going to see that on Friday. Continue reading “Let’s try doing this chronologically.”

My Mountain, My Obsession

One day, after I’d been living in Dir Edis for several months, I was standing outside my house waiting for my Pickup Truck Escort For Respectable Ladies on the way to school, and I happened to look northward and discovered: a mountain. It hadn’t been there before. It was just suddenly there — in the distance, true, but undeniably mountainous.


I knew there were mountains in that general direction, but I am not great at math and even worse with spatial organization, so it had just never occurred to me that I ought to be able to see them. And I’d gotten so used to the blurring that is the almost-perpetual condition of the desert horizon that it had never really occurred to me that the haze might be hiding something.

Continue reading “My Mountain, My Obsession”

The Delay

It is hot, and I am in the first minutes of what is going to be a long day of travel. They’re expecting me in Namus, and I’ve only just left Dir Edis after a long wait in front of the little post office. I should say: a long sit on the step outside the post office, watching the ants go into and out of their holes. I’ve been here two years now and sometimes I worry about my fascination with the ants.

So I am relieved when the bus finally arrives. It’s a bus I don’t recognize and the driver is identifiably religious, wearing the hat marking him a hajji and a long white dishdash, with his red-and-white kaffiyeh wrapped over his shoulders. He also has a vague bruise in the middle of his forehead. I know it’s completely unfair, but I’m always a little more wary of men dressed like this, I guess because they seem more likely to be offended by anything I do wrong. So I avert my eyes as I hand him my coins and sit down demurely several seats behind him.

view from roof

Continue reading “The Delay”


In searching my hard drive for something else, I found a zip file my father gave me of pictures he’d taken when he visited me in Jordan. I’d completely forgotten about them and it was such a wonderful experience seeing them again. I feel nostalgic and homesick for the place I’ve called Dir Edis!

I don’t want to post pictures of recognizable people, so most of them won’t go online. But here are a few pictures of places I’ve mentioned in these posts.

Continue reading “Pictures!”

The Turkish Bath

Thursday, June 21, 2001


Alice and I are in Istanbul, and we want to take a bath. A real bath, not a sanitized one at a hotel. So we have been wandering around the charming streets of the former Constantinople at the direction of our Lonely Planet guide. The first bath we found was full of men and also seemed really gross. The second was also full of men and smelled like mildew. This one is our third try: a “hidden gem” the guide says is popular with locals and is women-only, and which seems tidy and presentable from the outside.

So we bravely open the door and discover a flight of stairs so abrubtly inside it we almost tumble down. At the bottom of the stairs there is another door, and behind it a curtain. Then across a little vestibule there is another flight of stairs. It’s already a bit of an adventure and we’re not even anywhere yet! Finally at the bottom we discover someone who appears to be in charge. She is also stark raving nekkid, as one might say. She seems totally unconcerned both by her own nudity and our unexpected arrival.

Continue reading “The Turkish Bath”


A lot of what they tell you about this experience is crap, just flat-out. And even more of what they don’t explicitly tell you is crap. So I’m grateful, in retrospect, for the few scraps of great advice I got from people who have been here and done this. My recruiter, for example, who told me “It is going to be really hard. And it is going to be stupid stuff that’s really hard, like just getting through your day. And you are going to have to push yourself to get the most out of the experience. It’ll be really, really tempting to just hide in your house.”

It really, really is. There are times when it just feels unfair that everything from laundry to groceries is A Thing That Requires Major Effort. It’s very tempting to leave that all outside and refuse to go out. I succumb more often than I should.

Continue reading “Dying”

Enas Gets Married: The Reckoning (Part 3)

Okay, I don’t want to leave you in too much suspense, Dear Reader. There was actually no reckoning.

Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein and her husband sign their marriage contract. (Stolen from her website.)
Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein and her husband sign their marriage contract. (Stolen from her website.)

In fact, the post-wedding evening was pretty anticlimactic. After our cake and cleaning we all went to sleep just like usual. In the morning, newly-married Enas made breakfast and managed her siblings just like she did every day. Presumably her new husband was, somewhere else in Jordan, also going about his regular business. It was all a little peculiar, in fact, as nothing at all had changed. Enas was a bit richer and we were all a bit sleepy. That was all.

Continue reading “Enas Gets Married: The Reckoning (Part 3)”

Enas Gets Married: Part 2

(How the night began.)

It feels like I’ve only been asleep for minutes when I feel a toe discreetly, if not quite gently, poking me in the ribs. It’s Shakur, looming over me with a piece of plywood and a hammer. “Get up,” he says, as he would to any of his sisters. “We have work to do and you are in my way.”

I blearily rub my eyes as I sit up and look across at Asra and Enas. Asra looks like she could use another couple of hours of sleep herself. Enas, however, springs up from her mat and begins her normal breakfast-making and child-wrangling with a spring in her step. Sleep deprivation is no match for the excitement of an actual wedding.

Continue reading “Enas Gets Married: Part 2”