First night in Cairo

It had only been a few hours since flying into Cairo and already it has been filled with scenic moments that would fit into a movie that has the history of the old world and the romance of a foreign place. As Brooke, Abby and I were napping in the air conditioned room at our hostel, Arabian Nights, a thought fluttered into my mind. It was the thought and realization of where in the world I am with the feeling of utter amazement for how lucky we are to live in this world. While lying on my bed in the hotel room (with AC!), it felt like it could be any bed anywhere in the world, but it is a bed in Egypt – a place that is home to a remarkable ancient civilization. It was at that moment that I realized it would not matter if I was lying in a hotel bed or in my bedroom. I am still on this planet, part of a human race that has fostered many civilizations that continue to amaze and bring wonderment to us today. I am now in Egypt, a place the three of us have dedicated time to study about and have dreamed on visiting (or living). I believe that Egypt has been an inspiration to learn more about this world and its people.

It is with the different cultures of this world with interesting histories and people that has pulled me into the field of archaeology. When I was younger, it was with exciting stories and adventure movies that sent me off in frequent day-dreams of traveling to the same places and having my own adventures. Back in high school, I starting writing a book that I had planned out. It was a story with archaeology, adventure and romance set in Belize. A part of the story took place in the courtyard of a restaurant for the last dinner at the end of excavation. Then as life happens, my last night in Jordan ended up at a very nice restaurant, Blue Fig, in which our project director treated the supervisors of the project to an end of season dinner. It happened to also take place in a beautiful courtyard with candles and palm trees – and cheesecake and calamari and wine.

When I had remembered the moment in my story that I had envisioned when I was sixteen, it happily pulled me into the present. Growing up in a big city where everyone is competing against one another, and when you are stressed to produce an impressive resume in your early twenties, my current age of twenty-two can be daunting when you are finished your bachelor’s degree and do not have a job or graduate school lined up. I am sure that it sounds silly, but it is inevitable to get caught up in the competition, especially when you are part of a large city and a large university. So, sitting at the restaurant, surrounded by my friends and colleagues, I finally felt like I am in a good place at the age of twenty-two. In fact, I am in a place that I fantasied about being a mere six years ago.

Now, it is my first night in Egypt, and Cairo has already been everything I expected and more. What I envisioned actually came from the normally inaccurate Hollywood films and books. But to my surprise, it was very similar. Abby, Brooke and I got dropped off at our hostel, Arabian Nights, which was dark and deserted. A lone Egyptian man was smoking next to a rusty fan that was not doing much to improve the sticky, hot air. A fluffy, grey cat snuck past as the man welcomed us. His name is Abrahim, the owner of the hostel, and his greeting included showing us pictures of his family and talking about the revolution currently in Egypt. Brooke and I quickly ventured for some water down the road, into a rustic nook covered with a canopy of trees. Rusty motorbikes and wild dogs lined the road as we walked away from the smiling man behind a refreshment stand. Just then, a man with a fez hat walked by, carrying a pane of glass. It was as if we were living a scene from a movie, reminding me that daily life and being twenty-two is filled with great moments worth venturing out for.

Advertisements
Posted in Egypt, Travel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The past, present, and the future

As a fifteen-year-old girl, the world really seemed like a big and wondrous place, and I had many dreams. I took a pen and wrote out a list of things I wanted to do in this life, like: swim with wild dolphins, get my flying license, and publish a book. I came across this list before I left for excavation, while combing through storage for gear. Now at 22-years-old, the world is different, and I find myself doing less daydreaming and more living. With the week of free time I have between the end of excavation in Jordan and returning to Toronto, I have booked a flight and hotels with a small group of friends, allowing me to put a line through an item on the list: see the pyramids of Giza.

The Tell Madaba Archaeological Project (TMAP) 2012 season has seen its final touches of work and many celebratory drinks. The girls relaxed yesterday at a serene Turkish bath in Amman, going through the steam room, hot tub, sauna, a scrub down, facial and massage to finally remember what it feels like to be clean. The indulgences obviously continued with a four course brunch at Books@Cafe… but it is sad to say that after an archaeology conference tomorrow, the nineteen U of T students leave for the airport and head home. The remaining supervisors leave on our own time, some serendipitously meeting up for wine in Paris, another solo-traveling to Rome, others heading home to get into the rhythm of work, and a small group and I immediately starting a new adventure to Egypt!

Its never a dull moment when you find yourself investing in learning and life experiences with people who want to see the world whether in modern or ancient times. It has been a blast teaching and being apart of the TMAP crew!

The 2012 TMAP crew

The 2012 TMAP crew

The 2012 TMAP crew

The 2012 TMAP crew

Posted in Archaeology, Jordan, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Real archaeology!

Image

Image

Here are some cheesy archaeology photos Damien and I took at Shobak castle, a Crusader fortress that stands alone high in the mountains. It is rather easy to imagine the 12th century residents of the castle fleeing for their lives when Saladin’s armies drove the people out of the castle through an escape route that can still be accessed. The dark, steep, man-made tunnel is the funnest way to get to the base of a mountain. The castle lies in ruins, but the fortress still stands strong.

Posted in Archaeology, Travel | Leave a comment

Pit stop for a view

Pit stop for a view

On the road for the big trip of the season, to Petra! We make a stop on the road in the mountains for a panoramic view of Wadi Mujib. It is hard to tell if it is the heat or the distance that makes the view through the vast valleys hazy. Sitting on a ledge with the winding road below us, this is the perfect place to stretch our legs and get a breath of fresh air!

Image | Posted on by | 2 Comments

Putting on a show in Jerash

Putting on a show in Jerash

Jerash is a beautiful Roman city in Jordan filled with theatres, temples, and columns. It is a fairy large site, but surprisingly, only about 15% of the original city has been excavated. I ran into a fellow archaeologist from the University of Copenhagen who I had met the day before in a tea shop in Madaba who gladly shared the history and current excavations of a mosque that undergo Jerash. The photo is taken inside one of the ampitheatres.

Image | Posted on by | Leave a comment

New lights in traditional Amman

The city of Amman is a textbook example of urban sprawl but it fails to follow the mainstream perceptions of life in an Arab country. Amman has its door open for places to go and people to meet. The population is at about three million and has expanded horizontally instead of the typical vertical city line. Apartments, shops, and restaurants cover the rolling hills of the city while the ancient ruins of the Citadel is lit atop a high hill in a main hub close to the frequented Rainbow Street.

Old mosque

Old mosque

Fruits for sale in the old souk

Fruits for sale in the old souk

This visit to Amman was not my first venture into the chaotic streets with its hot, sticky temperatures. The day-trip unfortunately, or fortunately, did not stay exactly to the plan. This meant there was some improvisation and exploration that happened throughout the day. Traveling outside the downtown area walking up-and-down hills while lost in the heat at high-noon is a time to beg for a map – but it is well worth the surprises and familiarities that make up Amman.

The cheapest way to travel to Amman is by using the bus system. The one- hour bus ride from the Madaba bus station (where scenes from The Hurt Locker was filmed) to Amman costs 65 piasters for the first leg on the university bus and 50 piasters from a second station that took us to the University of Jordan, as well as a block of chain restaurants that include Burger King and McDonalds – a dream to whoever craves American foods!

Reading material at ACOR

Reading material at ACOR

The morning of the day was to be spent at the library at ACOR – the American Centre for Oriental Research – a centre that houses a fierce collection of books and journals for ancient civilizations in the Levant area of Jordan and its surrounding region of the Near East. It has been advertised by past visitors that there is a beautiful terrace that overlooks the hilly landscape of urban Amman and that they serve coffee! However, it was not advertised that ACOR is ridiculously hard to find and that the many hills also makes it slow to find. About an hour of traversing a wealthy residential area showed us that Amman’s new housing complexes are incredibly nice and after a few accidental trespassing incidents, that some people in Amman live in beautiful villas with Mercedes collections that rival some of Bond’s villians. When hopes were low and chance of dehydration high, I did some recon and found a white man standing outside a lonely convenience store with one hand in an ice cream freezer. As I approached him, I ran through conversation openers and then opted for, “Are you studying here?” Thankfully, not only was he the first person that spoke English, but he also was doing research at the British Institute that was up the road. With a point to one the buildings down one of the hills, we finally made our way to ACOR and then off to our next stop. We didn’t feel too bad for our miss-directions though, we were told that everyone gets lost for two or three hours on their first trip to ACOR. Luckily, we made it in just over one hour and had time to enjoy the terrace view.

Surrounded by the steps of the Roman Amphitheatre

Surrounded by the steps of the Roman Amphitheatre

Walking streets of Amman reveals its integration of the old and new. The old market (souk in Arabic) is comprised of bustling alleys in which people have squeezed in fruit and vegetable tables and call out their deals in Arabic. The old mosque is resides nearby at a square with many men who wait to help tourists with directions (probably for a price), men who watch people go by, and beggars looking for tourist’s charity. The Roman Amphitheatre is one of the tourist destinations and is in the old part of the city like the souk and mosque. For 1 JD you can enter into the theatre and snap some shots before heading into the small museum that houses mosaics from all around Jordan, mannequins in traditional dress and drab, as well as Bedouin jewellery, natural rocks, and some archaeological reconstructions. It is a simple museum that does not boast much excitement, but at 1JD, a general overview is what you pay for.

Appreciating the mosaics of Jordan

Appreciating the mosaics of Jordan

Forming a dagger from scratch

Forming a dagger from scratch

Into the late afternoon, everyone went to visit a blacksmith shop near the Roman Amphitheatre for Daniel’s interest in a custom-made dagger. The bronze was shaped and decorated into a copy that belongs to Jordan’s King Abdullah, while Daniel put on some of the finishing touches onto the metal. Exhaustion took many over and left only Marishauna, Allan and I to stay in Amman for the remaining sunlight. Earlier, I had gotten in touch with a friend from High School who I have known since Elementary. My friend, Ali, was now living in Amman with his family and working at an engineering company. I used the opportunity of the small group to make plans to see some local spots of Amman with a personal tour guide. Ali was not off of work until 6pm, giving the three of us some time to wander ourselves. We made our way to Rainbow Street and were instantly reminded of the modernity of Amman. Coffee shops, a yoga studio, and bookstores were a large giveaway of Western influence was blended into the traditional. A restaurant called Shwarmaize It combined the staple food with a modern twist, as did the coffee shop called The Green Turtle, where we relaxed for a bit.

The Green Turtle cafe

The Green Turtle cafe

The Green Turtle café on Rainbow Street would have fit right into Kensington Market in Toronto for its hip and laid-back vibe. People signed chalk walls with the names of loved ones, movie quotes, signatures, and other doodles. A corner was devoted to promoting indie music with CDs for sale and posters. The second level was a lounging area for a young crowd to take advantage of free wi-fi and smoking area. University students used the space to study, groups of women came to hang-out, and Allen, Marishauna and I enjoyed a round of iced café lattes and flipped through Western magazines. Our little taste of home (and air-conditioning) revived us from the tiredness that had briefly breezed by just in time for the phone call that told us Ali was on his way.

Forming the delicious tamria treats

Forming the delicious tamria treats

Fresh Jordanian deserts

Fresh Jordanian deserts

Ali fed us in the neighbourhood around Second Circle with freshly made beef shwarma and tamria. Both food joints were simple establishments that would not attract the regular tourist but are local secrets that I am glad were shared. After the sun set, we walked through a shopping district on Wakalat Street – not anything like the traditional souks we were used to. This street was originally used for cars but had been pedestrianized so that the lights from familiar fashion labels, including a Starbucks patio were lighting the faces of families walking down the wide sidewalk. There were a number of pub patios we walked by that were filled with people and cheering over the Eurocup soccer games.

It has been about two years since I have seen my friend, Ali, back in Toronto over a causal gathering with friends. Now he works in engineering and puts his energy in an independent magazine that covers social issues in the Near East, providing a voice for groups who want to see change. Tradition and family is important in Jordan, but there is a new generation in Amman that is eager for a new energy. Ali told me that the government has invested into social media for the youth, which means that the voice of Jordan is becoming more prominent in the Western world. Working and living in Jordan for two summers has put me in a place between a tourist and local, allowing me to see a dominantly Arab country in a time of change. Jordan will never lose its traditional customs or welcoming attitude, nor will it become a Western metropolis. Instead, Jordan is creating bridges to let others know that Jordan is amongst the rich with history, culture, fashion, and entertainment. Posh malls, chain restaurants, and movie theatres create an exciting atmosphere when exploring Amman’s old ruins, museums, souks, and mosques – a perfect balance for young archaeologists.

Smiles by the Abdoun Bridge (designed by a woman)

Smiles by the Abdoun Bridge (designed by a woman)

Posted in Archaeology, Jordan, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

On a different planet in a different time: Camping in Wadi Rum

Walking through the red sands

Walking through the red sands

Fiery red sand dunes, rocky outcrops carved by the wind, a close moon, and the Milky Way. Wadi Rum desert is a place where you can escape the many disruptions of modernity and feel a deep connection with the world. The TMAP staff team organized a last hurrah trip before the students arrived and excavation begun. Dealing with some hardships of life, a busy schedule, and trying to find ourselves in a time of change – huddled under blankets in the middle of a quiet  desert, we let our minds drift while our eyes traced the constellations in the milky way.

‘The Wall’ next to our camping spot

We were encircled by our Bedouin tents and protected by a looming flat-topped mountain called a mesa, which is a sandstone mass that makes up Wadi Rum’s famous backdrop of unique rock formations created by sun and wind erosion. This particular mesa was unique because of its desert varnish that has created a brown, flat coating over the vertical surface from top to bottom. The discoloration is caused by colonies of microscopic bacteria that can survive on its surface and endure the arid climates. This coating takes over 10,000 years to form, a process that only the sun has witnessed.

Nature bridges and me

Riding through the desert

The entirety of the Wadi Rum desert is full of unique features. The most breathtaking is the vastness of the desert and the red sand dunes that cover the landscape – which also provides excellent hills for sandboarding! The sight is so striking that the desert was turned into the Wadi Rum Protected Area to care for the many plant and reptile species, some of which are endemic to the desert, while also acting as an exciting place for camping, hiking, sandboarding, rock-climbing and searching for petroglyphs. All of these were on our itinerary that made up our full day of adventure.

Zooming through the red dunes

Zooming deep into the desert in the open backs of sun-battered trucks, we were flying over sand dunes and making stops at some of the many sites to see at Wadi Rum. Our host, Sallah, a very friendly and easy-going Bedouin, was wearing a breezy white fabric called a dishdash as he introduced us to the members of his family run tour company. With his adventure seeking children sitting shotgun, we drove to multiple sites once occupied by T.E. Lawrence, the British militant who led the Arab forces into battle with the Ottomans while stationed in today’s  Jordan and made famous by his book The Seven Pillars of Wisdom and the film Lawrence of Arabia played by Peter O’ Toole. The 3,000-year-old Nabatean petroglyphs, T.E. Lawrence’s house he stationed at, and a refreshing spring he frequented were some of the sites Sallah took us to explore. Running up and down paths, and while making some of our own, we were revisiting the energy and spirit that we found in ourselves the last time we were in Jordan.

Ancient petroglyphs

Although we rose with the sun that morning in Madaba to hop in a cab and van by 6am for the 3-hour ride to southern Jordan where Wadi Rum is located, and although we climbed the mountains with the sun overhead and carried our sandboards up the red dunes (way harder than it sounds), we still had the energy to dance to traditional Bedouin music at night. The dancing was what followed a beautiful sunset from the rocks at the base of the looming sandstone wall at camp and a delicious Bedouin meal that included chicken and vegetables cooked in a fire pit inside the sandy ground.

Sallah preparing dinner cooked in the ground

We returned to Madaba in high spirits that brought the TMAP team into a new level of closeness that may have happened during our deep conversations about ourselves, the world, and the spiritual realm while nested together outside in the dark desert pointing out the shooting stars we have been deprived of for so long. Maybe it was after a good sleep and sharing coffee and breakfast in a new light, or it could have been the camel ride we took as we left Wadi Rum with the hazy rocky landscape behind us. Whatever combination of history, adventure, nature, and friendship it was, it is a beautiful recipe that bakes a connection with time in the hot sun. In a place like no other, you feel part of this Earth being a person to see the change in colours during a dusty sunset and sunrise on the rocky landscape witnessed by the adventurers and resilient inhabitants from before. Being able to break boundaries in time is why Wadi Rum remains to be a favourite place in this world for anyone who ventures out to seek it.

Bedouin music

Walking in the sunset

Posted in Archaeology, Jordan, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment