Thursday, June 08, 2006

May 22, 2006: Stranded on the moon

It was a peaceful day in the desert, but hazier than I had ever seen it. The wind had stirred up the sand, giving the landscape of Wadi Rum and even more moonlike appearance. We traveled south on the Desert Highway passing the backside of the mountains that hide Petra with my friend, Naiym, who had lived in the area all of his life and seemed to know every nook and cranny.

After about 45 minutes of driving we took a sharp left and left the paved road and the modern world behind. The road was bumpy and after a few minutes Naiym stopped to take some of the air out of the tires, apparently this is a trick for being able to drive on sand. It works so well, in fact, that we were cruising smoothly without even using four wheel drive. We stopped here and there taking photos of land formations, climbing over rocks, and enjoying the scenery.

We stopped to have tea under a pomegranate tree and there it became apparent that we were not the first ones to come to this place.

Man, I just hate it when people don’t put away their goat carcasses.

The desert is amazing, the sand changes from yellow to deep red and the rocks tower hundreds of feet above us.

We reach an area in the desert that looks like a silver lake. It shimmers and now I understand why mirages in the desert were commonThe “lake,” which is actually an open area of desert that spans for miles, is comprised of sand so compacted and dry that it’s essentially cement. After bumping around in the dirt and slogging through sand dunes, Naiym takes the opportunity to race through this natural highway as we head back towards civilization.

We’re cruising at over 100kph/60mph over the hard pan when both Joe and I see a dark line on the horizon up ahead. Neither of us say anything. It’s approaching rapidly. By the time we all realize what it is we’re only a few feet away. To our horror we see that it’s a fissure in the desert floor and there’s no way we’re going to stop in time. Naiym futilely tries to break, dropping our speed only slightly. We hit the crack going about 50mph and I see the desert floor and hear glass shattering around me. I must have closed my eyes because when I open them the windshield of the truck is completely gone and the truck has flipped onto its side. I’m completely stunned. I look to my left and Naiym is right beside me trying not to fall on me. “Jump,” he says. When I don’t move, he says it more urgently, “JUMP!” Suddenly images of the truck exploding enter my head and I crawl out the windshield in a matter of seconds, spitting a chunk of glass out of my mouth on my way. I get out, still in a daze, and then remember that Joe is still in the back seat. Joe! Joe! I randomly think about the miscellaneous camping gear that was in the back of the truck, any number of things that could have injured him.

Joe emerges from the windshield in just about the same state of shock. We all ask each other if we’re okay. I seem to be the only one bleeding and Joe quickly slides back into the truck to get water to wash out my cuts, which I guess came from the dashboard and windshield. I’m more concerned with my camera gear at this point and start taking photos. Joe and I are both a little delirious from the accident and it takes us a few minutes to realize that we’re stuck in the desert, many miles from help.

Fortunately, Naiym is still getting cell service and going through his phonebook to see who is available to help. After a few tries he gets a hold of a friend who can come out with a vehicle that can get the truck back on four wheels. After several tries, the truck is freed from the desert, the steering wheel turned completely around so the writing on the wheel is now upside down. We drive back an hour and a half to Petra, mostly in silence, all the while Joe and I having the same visions of him being stabbed in the throat by the stray piece of windshield glass that’s still holding on or having a piece of rock kicked up by one of the semi-trucks on the highway embed itself into his forehead. We vow to each other that we will have many cocktails to celebrate our safety.

Me, after the accident: exhausted, bruised, scraped-up, and incredibly dusty. Joe’s at the pool. I take an hour long shower.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

May 18, 2006: Jordanian hospitality

I’m horribly behind on my postings, but have been happily distracted for the last week by my friend Joe, who has been visiting me from London. I can’t begin to express how wonderful it was to have a friend to travel with, someone who you can let your guard down with, who you don’t have to be formal with, who gets your sense of humor, and has the same travel-tolerance and attention span as you.

Joe’s always been such an awesome host when I’ve visited in London. Always gracious and generous—making sure I was well taken care of. So, naturally, I wanted to do the same for him.

I was expecting him at around 1:30am and had sent a driver to meet him at the airport under the name “Joe Fassio” – in order for him to stay with me at the apartment I was sharing with Victoria, he had to pose as my husband. I made him take my name. Earlier that evening, Victoria decided to have an impromptu house party as one of her good friends had just moved back to Jordan. It was a small group, just five of us. Two girls and three guys: Meesh, Salem, and Mahmoud.

Sitting around the table, we collectively drank whisky, rum, beer, and some really bad Jordanian wine. It soon became apparent that Meesh is one of Jordan’s resident party boys. His eyes lit up when he found out my friend was soon to arrive. “We have to play a joke on him,” he says. The mischievous look in his eyes scared me. “What kind of joke?” I say cautiously, not sure if I wanted to throw my friend to the wolves and also a little scared of what a Jordanian prank would be.

He thinks for a few seconds. “What we should do is pretend he is at the wrong apartment,” he says, “and pretend it’s a brothel.”

I start laughing. Oh my…should I tell him he’s gay now or wait and see?
“We can put the TV on one of those soft-porn stations!” Victoria enthusiastically chimes in.

Meesh starts planning it out. He’ll be the one to answer the door. He begins to practice his lines in a slimy heavily accented voice, saying, “you like girl or you prefer boy?”

We’re out on the balcony and see the taxi arrive. We call down to him and tell him to come up to number 8. Meanwhile, Meesh is preparing. When I walk into the living room all the lights are off, candles are burning and Meesh has stripped off his shirt and is wearing Victoria’s pink bathrobe. It’s a hilarious sight. Meesh is 6’3” or 6’4” built like a brick-shit house, and his Greek-Lebanese-Palestinian background gives him exotic good looks. Joe is going to kill me.

The apartment stairwell is pitch black and Joe can’t find the light switch to turn the hallway lights on. I wince out of guilt imagining him trying to find his way, but also know that turning on the lights will ruin the joke. It takes him what seems like an eternity to get to our floor. When he does, Meesh is waiting. Victoria and I hide in the dining room by the front door and watch Meesh get into character. He throws open the door, and mumbles a greeting to Joe.

“Hi, uh….,” Joe stammers politely when he encounters Meesh, “Um..I’m looking for Heather. Uh, do you know Heather?”

Meesh murmurs something and beckons him in asking if he would like a girl or boy. Joe is speechless and Victoria and I can no longer hold back our laughter. We jump out from the darkness and see a mixture of relief and disappointment on Joe’s face. Thank god he’s a good sport, he’s not going to kill me after all. In fact, he might have been slightly disappointed to see us. We all head back into the kitchen for more drinks, which last until 6am and include a 4am run for cigarettes. On our way back from cigarettes we get stopped by the Jordanian police, fortunately Victoria is driving Meesh’s car and as soon as they find out she’s American they stop all inquiries, welcome us and send us on our way. We ask Meesh what would have happened if he was driving. He says that the car would have been thoroughly searched. The sun had risen by the time we went to bed and I realize that this is my first sunrise to see. It was beautiful and the quietest I had ever heard the city.

May 15, 2006: Around Amman

Today was a pretty ho-hum day. We did a little tour around Amman, going to the citadel, once an Ummayed Palace, and saw two of the ten Roman theatres in Jordan.

We spent quite a bit of time at the train station and all I could think of while I was there was doing band photos in the old trains. I was pretty disappointed that I didn’t get to take more shots in the downtown area and in what I believe was one of the major bus transfer stations, which was basically just a big parking lot.

People had set up all manner of stands: clothing, shoes, CDs, DVDs, toys, something that looked like a churro stand, fruit, vegetables, nuts, old shoes, old clothes, you name it. I don’t think this was the flea market, since that apparently happens on Fridays, but it was similar. Part of the reason I didn’t get to take many photos was because Yousef couldn’t find a parking space and didn’t want me to go very far out of his sight while he watched the car. At least, I think that’s what he was saying. “Don’t go,” he said in broken English and waived his hand toward one of the side streets downtown. It’s pretty frustrating and very annoying. I spent an hour or more taking useless photos of trains because we got roped into a tour by someone who didn’t speak English and then when we get to an area like the bus station or downtown souk, I’m given 5 minutes and told I can barely cross the street. To top it off, my editor wants detailed information about every photo I take. Ha! Maybe she can extract the info from Yousef, he’s probably an expert on Jordan train history after this morning.

Our last stop of the day was an exhibition hosted by the Japanese embassy featuring kites and tops. All of us at the paper had a slight misconception as to what exactly this meant, as we thought we would see colorful kites flying through the air. No such luck. These kites were affixed firmly to the wall, although they were colorful. There were about 4 other photographers present, who I’m guessing were hoping for flying kites as well. It was interesting to watch how they worked and see the gear they were using and carried with them. They were all men and all knew each other. One of them came up to me after getting in the frame of my shot to apologize. “Ah...I’ve heard of you,” he says after introductions. “Heard that you were coming… I’m friends with all those guys, Samir, Ranjina, Jenny... Why haven’t I seen you until now?” he asks. I told him I had been traveling around the country building up the paper’s stock archive. “Oh, I would love to have that assignment,” he says. Ha, ha…and I would love to have YOUR job, I thought to myself, shooting for AP and Reuters.

May 14, 2006: Dana…

What a surprise Dana was… It’s amazing to me how Jordan can have yet another breathtaking national park in such a small country. Dana is 300km of virtually undisturbed wilderness and when you stand on the threshold looking out at it there’s a certain overwhelming aspect to it that makes you want to look at it, but not disturb. At least, that’s how I felt. I guess because it also demanded more of my attention than I could give. I was allotted a couple hours at Dana, at the most, and looking out across the landscape I knew that this was the kind of place where one needed to linger and would be best experienced in the evening. One of the rangers at the outpost gave me some literature, from that I read about a small hotel in the southern part of the park that you could stay at that is completely candle-lit or the Rumana village that consists of tents and makeshift kitchens for overnight stays. I try to imagine Yousef and I hanging out at the Rumana village silently staring off at the rocks, neither of us being able to say more to each other than identifying fruit and animals…no, Dana is a place that I could see coming back to with friends. A place to recount past experiences, laugh at our escapades, and enjoy one of the few places on earth where the land exudes solitude.

May 13, 2006: The daily grind

Today is Saturday, but it’s my Monday. I was half-expecting a call at 9:30am from Yousef for our next adventure, but it never came. Looks like today I’m on my own. According to the schedule I’m supposed to photograph the National Gallery, Darat al-Funun, the Roman Theatre, and the Luwaibdeh neighborhood, all located in Amman. I’ve been slowly getting ready. I thought two-day weekends were short...this one-day weekend routine bites.

I made it Darat al-Funun—barely—my taxi driver had no idea where it was so we circled the area several times before finally getting to the right place. I’m not sure how much I’ll be doing on my own if finding locations is this much of a problem.

They wouldn’t let me photograph inside the gallery until I identified myself as a member of the press. The exhibit on display was of findings in a town about 10km from Petra called Beidha. One of the most impressive findings in Beidha were the carved heads of various gods that were affixed to the capitals of columns located in one of the excavated residences. The residence is that of a wealthy family and the heads are in phenomenal condition. The presentation of the artifacts is also impressive. They are housed in a rectangular room, with a smaller rectangular structure built inside the room so one can walk around the entire display and view the heads from various angles. The interior of the smaller room is painted in blood red, but the outside is painted black with slats for viewing.

Another room, which showcases rock carvings found in the region, allows you to step up and walk—catwalk-style—with artifacts on either side. Nicely done. This installation was a refreshing surprise to what, so far, had seemed to be the lack of art in Jordan.

May 14, 2006: Arab Karaoke

After many quiet evenings in Amman, I decided it was time for me to venture out and see more of the nightlife. Aside from the first day I arrived, I’ve been somewhat of a homebody. I met up with Lena and some of her friends at a karaoke bar in the Kepinski hotel and convinced Victoria to come out and play as well. But what we stumbled upon was not just regular karaoke, it was World Championship Jordan 2006 Karaoke. Apparently, Jordan is participating in the world-version of American Idol and the contest will be going on for a few weeks. Being the seasoned and discriminating karaoke enthusiast as I am, I regret to say: I was not impressed. My prediction is that Jordan will not win the World Championship, but it’s nice to see that some things are universal.

Friday, May 26, 2006

May 13, 2006: Arabian business

I’ve been gone for a few days on an official business trip to check out the south. I was paired up again with Mahmoud, the reporter from Gaza, and Yousef of course was there to get us to our destinations. I knew we would be spending a few nights away from Amman, but had no idea where we would actually be staying. My last experience with hotels in Jordan was that they were pretty bare bones and you were lucky to get a towel. I decided against bringing my computer, the thought of it getting stolen or being left in the car for long periods of time gave me intense anxiety. We left Amman at 6am and were searching for our hotel in Wadi Musa, the town just outside of Petra, by 8:30am. It quickly became apparent that Yousef had no idea where our hotel was. He would pull over randomly and ask someone on the street where the Petra Hotel was. Apparently, it didn’t exist. Finally after stopping at the Petra Palace Hotel, they were able to determine by the fax number we were given for this mysterious hotel that it was most likely the Marriott. It wasn’t until after we returned from hiking Petra that I truly appreciated this hotel choice.

After 10 days with minimal showering, little to no water pressure, hot water, or even water, for that matter, I fell in love with the shower at the Marriott. It was spotlessly clean, large, the water pressure perfect, huge spa towels… I was in heaven. It was especially refreshing after the dusty sweaty hike up and down hundreds of stairs in Petra. It was so nice to really feel clean again. And, I had a huge hotel room with white down comforters, piles of down pillows, a real mattress—not a foam cot—and, Hellboy was on the Movie Channel. Exactly what I was in the mood for: a mindless action flick. It was my own personal slumber party.

Earlier that night we had met up with Naiym, the guide from last year who had taken us all over Jordan. He lives in Wadi Musa or perhaps just outside of the city and came and met us for a drink and shisha. We ended up at the Cave Bar, which is just outside the gate to Petra. It’s an actual Nabatean ruin and used to serve as a customs office of sorts for the traders who, centuries ago would bring their goods into Petra to buy and sell. Naiym apologized that he wasn’t available earlier in the day, but we made tentative plans to meet up when I came back in a couple weeks.

Petra, as before, was magnificent. This time I hiked up to the high place of sacrifice. The trail wound around the rocks with sheer cliffs on one side and a towering rock wall on the other—the path had literally been cut out of the rock, stairs and all. I actually recognized a couple of the workers from last year. They were still there doing their same thing: selling jewelry, riding horses, trying to a make a buck.

Tomorrow we head to Wadi Rum, the desert that looks like Mars and actually where quite a few movies have been filmed. Speaking of which, I ran into the Italian film crew. They are staying at the Marriott and were doing what appeared to be auditions. I walked into the conference room that they had overtaken, which had Polaroids of potential cast members pinned to the wall and a sign taped to the door that said “The Holy Family”. I introduced myself and asked them if they had a few minutes to comment on their production. The woman I spoke to disappeared briefly and came back a few minutes later with the name of the production manager for the Royal Film Commission. Apparently, in order for them to speak with us, we first needed to get the Royal Film Commission’s permission. But, she said they would be there until the end of July, so would be happy to do an interview after the Film Commission gave the okay. All these rules, maybe I shouldn’t have identified myself as a member of the press. I’m beginning to learn that this isn’t always the best practice.

In Wadi Rum I finally meet Erga, the 65(?) year old woman who has lived out in the desert with the Bedouins for the past 9 years. Char had told me about her, but until now had been a mystery. We sat and talked with her in the Sheikh’s house, drinking tea, and discussing the changes she has seen in the area over the years. Life in the desert is a hard life and it shows on the people who live here. People can look 30 years older than they actually are. It’s amazing. “How old do you think he is?” Mahmoud had asked me, referring to this man we met in one of the villages. “Oh, I don’t know….seventy-five?” I guessed. Mahmoud agreed. “His grandson is so cute,” I added. “That’s not his grandson, that’s his son,” Mahmoud corrected. I was shocked. Seventy-five and still having kids??? “No,” Mahmoud told me, “he’s only 45.” Let’s all remember to hydrate, please.

Just being in the south, especially in Petra and seeing the vastness of Wadi Rum was invigorating. Amman to me is definitely the least interesting place in Jordan to be. After Wadi Rum we headed to Aqaba, the city on the tip of the Red Sea and the place from Jordan where you can see into Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. There’s an enormous flag that waves over the area, the Arab Unity flag I was told.

Aqaba is a strange place. There are enormous five star hotels with beautiful grounds and all the amenities you could ask for and then dusty grimy lots as soon as their property lines end. It’s a little hard for me to believe that this is a resort town and is where many people come to enjoy the beaches after having enjoyed some of the most amazing beaches in the world in Hawaii, Australia, the Caribbean, and Brazil. I guess I’m a little bit of a snob, but my idea of a beach doesn’t involve having an oil tanker on the horizon. But, looking around at the dry desert landscape, I guess the Red Sea would seem like paradise.

We stayed at the Intercontinental, another five star hotel and I have to say I’m pretty shocked that the paper was shelling out this money for us. Yousef was in heaven, he said he wasn’t going to sleep tonight so he could enjoy the hotel and maybe find a nightclub. I have no idea if he ever found one—the hotel itself was pretty dead since the majority of people only come to the city on the weekends.

I look back on our time in the south and at the time, I thought we were accomplishing a lot. I was pushing to get a consistent theme going so that we would have a cohesive story or photo essay to bring back. But, I’m finding that my ambition goes only as far as what the editor decides to publish.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

May 9, 2006: Published!

The woman who committed, or at least tried to commit, the suicide bombings in Jordan last year has finally been assigned a lawyer. It has taken months, largely due to the outcry from the public that she be denied this right due to the nature of her crime. She and her husband entered a hotel in which a wedding was taking place with explosives strapped to their bodies and detonated them killing himself and several wedding guests. Although she tried to detonate her explosives, they didn’t go off and she was taken into custody. The government, however, feeling that she could not be deprived of a proper defense, appointed her a lawyer today. Yesterday, I went along with one of the reporters to his interview so I could get a photo—the first to be published in the paper. Maybe not the most interesting shot, but it was more difficult than I thought it would be to catch the right expression. We didn’t want him to appear happy, indifferent, upset, incompetent, or mean, which was the range of expressions that filled up my memory card. Plus, with Arabic being such a guttural language, it seemed like he constantly had his mouth open.

Despite the heinous nature of her crime, I can’t help feeling sorry for the woman on trial. Did she really know what she was doing? An Iraqi by birth, she told the Jordan authorities that she thought she was coming to Jordan to get married. At 35 years of age she has the education level of a sixth grader and claims that she had no knowledge of the attacks prior to having her husband (of two weeks) lace her with explosives a half an hour before they entered the hotel. Obviously, the husband and the other men had been planning these attacks for some time, but she was given a half an hour to mentally prepare herself for ending her life. I wonder if she felt like her husband was killing her. Or, did she reason to herself that death was the best option considering she would be a widow of a murderer with no family in a foreign land?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

May 7, 2006: Tourist trap

I don’t like tourists. They freak me out. They walk around with a manic look in their eyes and I just know at any moment they’re going to snap and I sure as hell don’t want to be around when that happens. In Madaba, they were everywhere. When did this little town become such a tourist destination? I find out later that tourism in Madaba is definitely on the rise, encouraged in part by the government. The majority of tourists come to see the oldest map of the Middle East, which is a large mosaic housed in the St. George Greek Orthodox Church. Then they shuffle off and head to Mount Nebo to overlook the promised land. We were headed there as well, but I decided to forego Mount Nebo due to the haze that covered the valley. “La shadra, il youm” I told the driver and pointed out at the horizon and then my camera. No good for pictures today. He got the point.

A few hours later we were traveling along the highway on our way back to Amman, when I caught a glimpse of some shepherds close to the road. “Wa-if losama!” I suddently burst out. Yousef quickly swings the car into a dirt shoulder and comes to a stop. “Shukran!” I say, laughing slightly and hop out of the car. He's probably wondering what he did wrong to ever get this assignment. I peer at the shepherds through the trees, all the while slightly tentative about walking up to strangers holding sharp knives who I can’t communicate with. I realize that I walk a fine line between being respectful and utterly obnoxious. They see me and motion for me to come closer. I put up one finger and run back to the car and get Yousef.

As we walk down the hill to where they are working I see that there’s an old woman sitting on the ground and in front of her are three men in the process of shearing their sheep and goats. The sharp knives are actually large bulky scissors, which they’re using to slowly undress the animals. The old woman pulls out a cup, fills it with Pepsi and hands it to me. I have no idea when the cup has last been cleaned, but I can’t refuse. I just tell myself not to look at it and take a big gulp. One by one the shepherds fetch a sheep or goat, lift them up and lay them on their side, tie their feet together so they can’t get up and start cutting away a year’s worth of hair. It’s fascinating, but pretty nasty to see the underside of a sheep. All that hair has accumulated a lot of shit. Literally. There is a good amount of their own feces that they’ve been packing around with them, stuck and matted in their own hair. It’s amazing how docile the sheep are during this whole process. It makes me wonder if they somehow look forward to it. They come out of their haircut half the size they were and probably 30 degrees cooler.

The shepherd on the left, looks at me, looks at the sheep and then says something in Arabic, which makes everyone laugh. What the hell? Did he just make a lewd comment about me and the sheep? Damn, I wish I could understand what they’re saying.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

May 6, 2006: Living up to my name

Yes, I’m living up to my name, my old nickname, that is, given to me by my brother so long ago: Scrub. Not only is there no hot water, there is now no water, period. I’m pissed. I thought it was bad the other day when I boiled water in a pot and took a ghetto sponge bath. But, today proves that situations can always get worse.

Fortunately, Victoria’s boyfriend intervened on our behalf and the water problem seems to be resolved, for now. I don’t trust it at all. Most of Amman doesn’t have city water lines. Instead water is stored in tanks and water trucks come and refill the tanks every few days. If your tank goes dry, there is usually a reserve tank, but switching to the reserve tank is not an automatic process. I realize suddenly that the entire city is run like an RV park. I watched, horrified, as the last drops of water dripped out each faucet and then dried up. I was so excited when I had overlooked one of the faucets in the kitchen and was able to get half a pot of water out of it. I will never take water for granted again.

May 5, 2006: Mall rat

The weekends here are Friday and Saturday as opposed to the typical Saturday-Sunday of the western world. I think this has to do with the Sabbath being on Saturday rather than Sunday, but I’m not entirely sure. My weekend, however, is Friday. At the paper we work six days a week. No one here knows about Cinco de Mayo, except maybe the Pollo Ranchero fast food chain, but even then it’s doubtful. Why is it that every time I go abroad what I miss the most is Mexican food and why can NO ONE outside North America even come close?

Victoria had a friend in town from Cairo and took off for Petra early this morning. They invited me to come along, but with all the day trips earlier in the week and future trips to Petra on the horizon, I decided to wait and save myself.

A large part of my day was spent at Mecca Mall, soaking up the wi-fi connection. I’m officially a mall rat.


It’s past one in the morning. Something’s happening to a cat outside my window. It’s probably getting impregnated. Sounds painful. This is the close of my first week. It’s been in a whirlwind. I seem to go back and forth between being exhausted and just wanting to be alone, to being lonely and feeling like I’m bored out of my mind. It’s not boredom, though, it’s more…isolation. Not being able to speak Arabic and communicate with others makes me feel very disconnected from the world. Even though I travel with Yousef, given the communication barrier, we often drive for long periods of time saying nothing, our soundtrack a tape of Arabic pop music playing the same tunes over and over. You take for granted being able to express yourself and having others understand, but when you can’t communicate even the simplest things, like buying a pack of gum, become a chore. I bought what I thought was grape bubblegum today, instead, I got what I can only assume is the Arabic version of spearmint. It was the worse tasting gum I’ve ever had in my life. It tasted…medicated. Bleck!

Friday, May 12, 2006

May 3, 2006: Peace and Umm-Qais

We headed to the far north today, to a small city called Umm-Qais (pronounced um-kh-ice), which houses one of the ancient decapolis cities of the Roman Empire: Gardara. Perched high on top of the rolling hills, there’s a constant breeze and great views of Israel, the Golan Heights, Yarmouk gorge, and Lake Tiberius. So far, this has been my favorite city. Perhaps because it was virtually empty and allowed me to imagine I had just randomly stumbled upon this place, unknown to the rest of the world. If only my iPod was working.

In the open air museum I was approached by the site’s resident archaeologist and manager. “You take so many pictures, what are you doing?” he asked politely. I thought for sure he was going to ask if I was Japanese, which has happened several times already. Camera, asian-looking, what else could I be??? Korean?

I explained what I was doing and he instantly told me that I had full access to the site and invited me into his office to share more information about the work they’re doing. Despite the amount of ruins that are present, they are still excavating the city.
He invited me to come on one of their digs that they primarily do during the summer and also to come back in two months when an Italian film crew will start production on a new movie. “What is the movie about?” I asked, intrigued. Umm-Qais would be a phenomenal movie set. He didn’t know, historical period piece, he thought. I took his information; perhaps Victoria can come back and cover it.

Yousef and I seem to be settling into a groove. With my broken Arabic and his broken English somehow we still manage to get to our destinations. My Arabic vocabulary has increased by 100%--I now know ten words. The most important being wa-if losama (stop please). I use this constantly.

Friday, May 05, 2006

May 2, 2006: Wandering the wilderness

Jesus didn’t get into the waters of the Jordan River to get baptized; he got into them because it was hotter than hell outside. Why else would he be lured into these murky waters? I remember being underwhelmed the first time I was here and this time was no exception. Because of the proximity to Israel, which is just on the other side of the Jordan River, everyone is escorted to and from the premises and counted to make sure the same number going in also come out. In three large steps you could literally cross the river and enter Israel, but guards are present day and night to ensure that doesn’t happen.

The group of tourists I ended up with wanted in and out as quickly as possible, and I didn’t blame them, you literally feel like you’re going to melt into the ground. Our guide, knowing I was with the paper, though, didn’t want me to miss out on anything so he offered to leave me to wander the trails by the river and then come back and show me the Byzantine church ruins, which was nearby. Oh, thanks soooo much! I tried to get out of it. “Is there a bathroom here?” I asked, knowing there wasn’t one and hoping he would get the hint that I should leave with the rest of the group. No luck. Having been to the Byzantine church ruins before, I knew there really wasn’t much to see, but how could I refuse when he was so enthusiastic about them? Off they went, leaving me and Yousef to wander the wilderness, both slightly crazed by the heat.

I begin to get a little confused as to exactly what I’m supposed to be covering today. I’ve literally been wandering around, stopping off here and there and I feel like I’m missing the real action, which is going on at the Dead Sea Convention Center, where we dropped off the other reporters this morning.

Earlier, Yousef and I found ourselves hiking through a small canyon climbing over rocks and wading through a stream.

Then we took a sudden detour off the main road to climb a dirt one straight up the hill so I could get a better vantage point of the valley. I guess this is part of the stock archives that I’m building for the paper. By the time I’m done I will have documented every thistle in the country.