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Friday, 5 August 2011

Shotgun Wedding

M-16 actually but shotgun sounds better. When Suleiman invited us to his wedding in Wadi Rum, we knew we couldn't pass up the opportunity. After telling some of my colleagues in Amman that I had been invited to a Bedouin Wedding, their reactions told me how special it was: my boss said "Jonathan how is it that in 25 years I've never once been invited to this type of wedding and you're here for a few months and... ??" I had little idea of what to expect other than lots of sugary tea, chain smoking, and guns. We were not disappointed on any count.

We headed down to Aqaba to stay with Katrina and get our crew of ajnabis together. All together we were five: Paco, Alcira, Katrina, Victoria, and I. The following morning we piled into the Sunny and headed for Wadi Rum. Paco and I considered trying to find dishdash (Arabic robes) and keffiyeh (traditional headdress) but opted out as we didn't want to show up looking too ridiculous, offend anyone, or shell out the money to buy them. The girls however came prepared. Katrina secured three traditional Egyptian dresses for them to wear. 

When they got ready and we were about to head to Wadi Rum Paco said "You guys look you're ready for the circus."

We showed up to Rum Village around 1pm and were picked up in the parking lot by one of Suleiman's buddies. He drove us a short distance in the sand to a group of long L shaped open goat blanket tents. There we met our friend and the groom of the day.

The Groom

We met Suleiman back in November through our friend Florence, who first described herself as "the French girl who knows a Bedouin guide." You can read about my first Wadi Rum experience in Rum Diary. Flo has since returned to France and since November we've been back to Suleiman's Fox Camp a half dozen times and continue to refer him to friends. When we arrived at the tent area Suleiman greeted us warmly and introduced us to one of his brothers and his father. 

Entering the long tents, there were carpets on the sand, a few chairs, a bunch of boys at one end, and a few men in traditional attire sipping tea and chatting at the other end. We sat and were offered traditional Bedouin coffee, a courtesy that guests are offered when they first arrive. When you are served you're meant to drink your small cup down in three gulps or less and then signal your server that everything is alright and that you are finished by shaking the cup in your hand. If you don't shake it means the coffee's no good, you want more, or that you might have a beef with your host. 

Suleiman and his Father

Another Bedouin tradition I learned is that if someone shows up at your home he is not obliged to tell you his name, where he's from, or what he is doing there for three full days. Conversely, it is rude to ask him any of this during this time. After three days you may ask who he is and what he wants. We witnessed this once when I was driving near Petra late one night on a dark windy road. After taking a turn towards Little Petra, I flashed my high beams and saw that around 50 feet ahead the road turned to dirt and I was about to run over Little Petra. I slammed on my anti-anti-lock brakes and grinded to halt stopping just short of some souvenir tents and a few ancient ruins. Immediately, two Bedouin men were at our car window and I tried to communicate that we were looking to get to Seven Wonders Camp. They  had no idea what I was talking about so I called the camp and passed it to one of the guys, then I told my buddy he's probably going to get in our car now. He did. The guy was in his sixties and sported a wide grin and eyeshadow. 

We drove back the way we came and he gave me a series of dogri, yamin, shamal which are three out of the seven Arabic words I know. We made it to the camp and our new friend came in with us and sat down for tea and cigarettes. We went to our tent and cleaned up for dinner and when we came back he was still there hanging out. The next morning there he was at breakfast and we sat with and smiled and drank tea. We packed up and he told that it would be better if we walked to Petra through Wadi Araba with him. We politely declined and packed up our things, he hopped in the back, and we were off. I took him back to the spot where I had almost destroyed the ruins and we said goodbyes and were on our way. The camp we stayed at treated us, and him, with the utmost courtesy from start to finish.

Back to the wedding, we drank our Bedouin coffee and shook the cups. The girls were escorted to the women's tent and Paco and I stayed with the men. We started with the first of 87 cups of tea that day. Bedouin tea is incredibly sugary, almost sickeningly so when you first try it, but after a while it starts to grow on you and soon you're gulping it down. Every so often we would hear gun shots in the distance and Paco and I would start to duck and cover. After about an hour a kid showed up with an M-16 which he displayed to us proudly. It had "Property of the U.S. Government" stenciled on it. He turned, still sitting down on the cushions on the floor of the tent, facing away from the people and aimed up towards Jebel Rum and fired off a few rounds. The shots cracked the quiet of the desert and echoes thundered through the canyon while a group of young boys ran to collect the shell casings. Later a guy in his early twenties told us he had an AK-47 but ammunition was very expensive, around 1.5 JDs (around $2) per cartridge.

More men would arrive sit, say hello to everyone, drink coffee, then tea, and sit around the tents and chat. This is how it went for the better part of eight hours.

At this point we started smelling food and walked between the men and women's tents to check it out. If you go to a Bedouin wedding you can expect to eat Mansaf which is Jordan's national dish. We watched as wide pieces of shrak bread (like a huge tortilla) were laid on round pans. Afterwards they were covered in a yellowish rice which had pieces of herbs, peanuts, and pinenuts on top. Then pieces of lamb to top it off. It was a serious operation with probably around 25 guys working to prepare the food. They moved through the assembly line- lying out the bread and putting huge piles of rice on top with a snow shovel and then topping it off with lamb. They told us they killed ten goats for the event and that this was a relatively small wedding.

Around dusk everyone is shuffled back under the tents and seated on blankets. Adolescent boys set platters out in front of groups of eight to ten men. All we saw were men but Victoria, Katrina, and Alcira had the unique privilege to move between the segregated male and female tents and they sat with Franciso and I and a few Bedouin men for dinner. Another boy came around with a large tin pot and poured a brownish broth of fermented and dried yoghurt. The call to prayer sounded and everyone starting digging in with his hands. Each person works on a small section of the huge dish and not surprisingly the Bedouin made much less of a mess than we did. When we finished the boys picked up the platter and we were told more meat and sauce would be added and the food would be brought to the bride and the women in their nearby tent.


My first Mansaf and first wedding in Jordan- Shukran- Alf Mabrouk Suleiman. 

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Guess I Haven't Lived

Just as advertised, India is incredible. The poverty is extreme, hawkers will test you patience, and the health of your stomach is always on your mind. In a country this geographically and culturally huge, as Shibu told me "you can't see India in ten days." But in ten days you can see a lot. In that time we toured an ancient Jain temple in a hidden Old Delhi alley, looked out on beautiful sprawling Moghul mosques and architecture, visited the Sikh's sublime Golden Temple, ascended the Buddhist ghompa at the residence of Dalai Lama, and hiked up to Hindu temples perched on ridges overlooking rivers, rolling green hills, some of the highest peaks on earth. One day we were strolling through the chaotic markets of Old Dehli looking down on busy wallahs of all sorts. A couple of trains later we were rolling through fertile farmland and soon we were basking on the beaches of the banks of the Ghanges in Rishikesh watching beautiful Hindu arti ceremonies and hiking through terraced wheat fields and swimming beneath waterfalls. 

It's not the easiest place to travel and we met a few young travelers that were overwhelmed and a few old ones that were totally bitter- I heard one lady fully outfitted in high performance gear on the train to Agra say with a London accent "this is fucking awful," in complete disgust. She was minutes away from visiting one of the Seven Wonders of the World. So if you plan to go look into what you're getting into. That being said planning doesn't always work out. We actually completely changed our itinerary the day after we arrived in Delhi. We were looking to travel east through Bihar, Varanasi, the hill stations of Darjeeling, and ending up Sikkim which is that little nub in Northeast India above Bangladesh and sandwiched between Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan. We called about getting a permit to go Sikkim and were informed that violent strikes had been going on for about a week and that it would be next to impossible to get transport in and around Darjeeling. So we opted to do go North looping up through the states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh,  and down through Punjab along the border with Pakistan. It turned out to a be a great route.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Catch-up: My Mambo and the Holy Land

I haven't been keeping up lately but the highlights have been my mom coming to visit, a trip to the holy land over Christmas, and visiting India. I'll save India for my next entry.

In December my mom took the 7,000 mile trip to Amman. Her visit coincided with my 30th birthday and it was great having her around for a little over a week. She experienced her fair share of cabs ripping her off and taking her to places "that she would like more" (ugly shopping malls), than the destinations she requested but in general I think she had a good time. We visited sites nearby Amman including Jerash, the Dead Sea, Madaba, Mount Nebo, and Ajloun. Victoria and Katrina organized a great birthday party at a rooftop restaurant with a great view overlooking the city. I had a great time and appreciated everyone coming out, especially my ama.


Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Petra Reunion

A little while back, I made my first trip to Jordan's most famous site. In December I received my Ikama (Residency permit), in the form of a grey plastic card with flowery prints, Arabic writing, and a hologram. With this card I now pay what Jordanians pay for admission prices. You may remember Petra as the place Indiana Jones, Sean Connery, and that fat guy ride up to in their search for the holy grail. Later you get to hear that old knight say "He chose poorly," after the Nazi rapidly ages into a pile of bones and then Harrison Ford says "this looks like the cup of a carpenter." If Gonch makes it out here we'll go to Petra and I am confident a large portion of our  day will be spent uttering those phrases. Looking forward to it. Another good part of Gonch coming to Petra is that he'll be a tourist and have to pay the entrance fee of 50 Jordanian Dinars (around $70), but when I flash my grey hologram I have to pay just 1 Dinar.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Ah, you are going to Bulgaristan?

We crossed the Bulgarian border around 1am. On the night bus from Istanbul pretty much everyone was from Bulgaria on that bus, except for Katrina and I and a Korean couple with two young boys that sat next to us in the back row. They were a very nice couple, English teachers in Sofia, and one of their boys screamed as if possessed for the first several hours of trip. I not so affectionately dubbed him demon baby. We went through various checkpoints at a snail's pace at the massive complex of a "border." Apparently drugs and weapons make their way into Europe over this border so getting through is a process. Around 2:30am we shuffled out into the cold with our passports in hand and we looked even more foreign as we the only ones not lighting up. Entereding the small trailer with a Bulgarian passport agent dressed in light green fatigues, he looked at us crookedly and asked "you are traveling through Bulgaria?" Katrina answered, "We're flying back out of Istanbul in a couple of days." He stared at us again over our passports and said curiously "And you decided to come to Bulgaria!?" He stamped, we slid out of the trailer and back onto the bus with the screaming child. Welcome to Bulgaria!

In Istanbul we learned that the Turks call Bulgaria, Bulgaristan, so we obviously started calling it Bulgaristan.