I get this question quite a lot. In the beginning of my journey here, people were asking about my first impressions. Now, they are asking how I have liked my time so far. Actually answers to these questions are not that different. Not much has changed since the first impressions.
I felt like coming home when I arrived to Amman. This is the feeling in general when I arrive in the Middle East. I don’t know where the feeling comes from, but when I smell the dusty warm air, see the beige lego houses on hills, and hear the call to prayer from mosques, I am at home. It’s how I felt when I went to live in Egypt almost 7 long years ago. I felt it in Turkey, in Oman, in Palestine. There is something that appeals to me and reminds me of it every day.
There are downsides too, of course. The traffic, which is loud and crazy. Taxi drivers, who can be really annoying and too curious. The air, which is full of dust and pollution. The winter, which makes your house freezing and humid. People staring at you on the streets like they've never seen a) woman, b) foreigner, c) blonde before. The prices, which are sometimes even the same as in Finland. Bureaucracy, which makes you to make continuous visits to the police station or immigration office to extend your visa.
But nothing of this has so far made me crazy or wanting to go home. I enjoy the sunshine on my morning walk to the office. I enjoy watching the city lights on the hills in the evenings. I enjoy drinking a glass full of cold, refreshing lemon and mint juice in a nice café. I enjoy queuing to get fresh knafe dessert from Habiba. I enjoy going to art galleries and exhibitions. I enjoy listening to music, whether it’s in the car, concert hall or in a cozy bar. I enjoy driving outside from the city to hike in green countryside or rocky wadis.
But the most important thing is of course the people. I am truly grateful to have you in my life. My colleagues. My flatmates. My hiking buddies. My “why not?”-adventure companions. You are what makes this time special.
I will start writing lists about my favorite places in Amman, so if you want to suggest a category (cafés, shops, restaurants, walks, etc.), send me a message!
Spring is coming! And so are fresh local products from the farms all over Jordan. It’s becoming very green even here in Amman, not talk about the north. Of course, for someone used to the greenness of Finnish nature, Jordanian greenness seems like the first days of spring in Finland, still delicate, before the summer starts and everything turns to full shades of dark green.
I asked Anas about what made them make this change to organic farming, and the answer was simply: the wide misuse of pesticides in Jordan. In Taybeh they want to produce safe and clean food and spread awareness of the negative side effects of the pesticides. Sometimes while living in Finland I tend to forget, that the restrictions and rules for the use of chemicals in farming are not as strict everywhere. For us, the difference between organic and normal might not always be striking. When you leave Finland and EU, however, the situation is different.
Antoinne feels that the situation of ecological and organic thinking in Jordan reminds Europe 20-30 years ago, and the community is still quite small. But what is special about Jordan is that the traditional ways of using the nature are still alive, unlike in Europe. Though there has been a change to the Western way of living, these traditions are still used. Thus it is really interesting to see what can happen here.
We chatted for a long time, sitting under a shelter that almost got blown away by the wind, and to my surprise, we had another thing in common, besides the interest to ecological living: Khadija had studied in Finland! What a coincidence!
The world is full of wonderful chances to meet people who you never thought you’d meet. And for some reason, Amman has been full of these encounters for me.
Eastern Jordan seems quite remote: a couple of big asphalt roads leading towards Iraq and Saudi Arabia, lots of rough desert terrain, rocks, and sand. It doesn’t sound like a place you would like to build your castle into. However, this has not always been the case. Centuries ago there were rivers and lush green wetlands full of birds and animals. Now that’s a place where an Umayyad caliph would want their mansion to be. These castles were built around 7th and 8th centuries, which makes them good examples of Umayyad architecture from the early and medieval Islamic periods. Actually, these are not castles, more like country estates with multiple buildings, but hey, castles sound so much cooler, doesn’t it?
This trip really combined two different sides of me: the history nerd who gets excited about architecture and frescoes, and the nature lover, who enjoys the desert and the uniqueness of the oasis in the middle of it. Seeing the oasis dried up made me quite sad, as you can clearly see the effect of human actions on our environment. Luckily protection measures have been taken.
If you want to do this trip, rent a car and head east! You can visit all the castles with one ticket that costs around 3 JDs. The Wetland Reserve entrance fee depends on your status: normal price is around 12 JDs, half-price for students.
Have you been wondering why I don’t post as often as you would like me to? One reason behind it is that I have been lucky to pick up every single flu and bacteria that goes around. Nevertheless, if you will get this amazing opportunity of becoming ill in Jordan, don’t worry. Here are my tips on surviving the flu season:
3) Everyone will be asking how you are. If you don’t want them to think you’re basically dying, say that it’s nothing and you will be okay soon. If you say it’s quite bad, sooner or later there will be someone behind your door with ginger and lemon, cookies, or pizza.
4) If it gets bad, go and see the doctor. Big hospitals and their emergency rooms are likely to do all the possible tests for you and make you pay for every single wooden stick they use to check your throat. It might be more pleasant to see a doctor in a smaller clinic, especially someone recommended by your local friends. Those friends are also useful if you need translations. Though, who doesn’t know medical Arabic anyway?
If it looks like an infection, you will get antibiotics. Lots of them. Plus nose sprays, Strepsils, painkillers, injections, and who knows what. Really, I could start a pharmacy with all the medication I have received. To the contrary of Finnish student health care (though I am eternally thankful for all the semi-free care I have gotten there), whose usual suggestion is to rest and it will pass.
5) It’s going to get better when the spring comes. That’s what everyone says. Sunshine and +20 degrees will make everything better. Spring season trumps flu season.
One week we wanted to go hiking, not on a guided tour but by ourselves. Also in our minds was the newly established Jordan Trail, which is a continuous route crossing the whole length of Jordan from North to South, over 650 kilometers long. If you would hike the whole way, it would take you approximately 36 days. That’s a lot of hiking!
The Jordan Trail association has a website which offers all the information about the trail, including dividing it into eight regions and inside those regions to shorter routes. You can see the distance, time needed, difficulty level, things to see on the way, if it’s marked or not, and also information about food, water, and toilets, sometimes also phone numbers of taxi drivers working in the region. Plus, you can download the route via GPS or even Google Maps. How awesome is this?
We chose to hike from Fuhais to Iraq al-‘Amir, which was a 5+-hour hike covering about 15 kilometers, easy level. Easy in this case meant that mostly we were walking on roads, asphalt or dirt, but not on paths. Still, there were some challenges since the landscape was full of hills and some of them quite steep!
We enjoyed very varied views: hills and valleys, citrus and animal farms, green grass and rough rocks, almond trees and cactus fruit, tents and sheep of the Bedouins, villages.. You name it!
Our end point was the village of Iraq al-‘Amir, where we visited caves that were used for storage and probably also for living at some point, and Qasr al-‘Abd, a ruin of a Roman mansion, that no one really knows what it was for. Local legend says that it was built by a humble man, who fell in love with an aristocrat’s daughter (hence the name Qasr al-‘Abd, the castle of the slave), and for her hand, he had to build the greatest home of all. But all his troubles were for vain, since the father of the girl had him murdered, since it would not be appropriate for the daughter to marry a commoner. Oh well, who knows.
Taking a taxi back to Fuhais, we ended our day trip to the Carakale brewery and sat sipping our craft beers watching the sunset over the hills. Pretty good day.
Going abroad to participate in a volunteering project can be financially straining. In many projects, none of the costs are covered, so a volunteer is responsible for covering all her costs during her stay. This is a problem since that means that only people who can afford it, can volunteer. For me, this seems really unfair since not all of us are able to work while studying. Now I am sharing few tips that helped me to come to Jordan in the first place. We Finns are not really good in talking about money, but let's forget that for a while. Many people want to volunteer but feel discouraged by the money issues, and I want to share some useful information.
So here are my two tips:
1) Do an EVS. EVS means European Voluntary Service, which means that you can apply for projects abroad, work full-time, get professional, cultural and personal experience. And when we are talking about money, you will be glad to hear that the EVS program covers your essential costs: flights, accommodation, and insurance, maybe also a bit of pocket money. So if you're interested, look through the database for interesting projects, and see what your national agency can offer. EVS is part of the Erasmus+ program for education, training, youth and sport. It's great, really!
2) Apply for grants. I applied for a grant through the Kilroy Foundation, which offers grants for students and volunteers from the Nordic countries and the Netherlands. To my surprise, I got the grant, which gives me an opportunity to actually see the country in my free time. The Foundation has two rounds of applications per year, so check them out! You can also follow my journey on their website, the first entry about me is already online.
Have you ever come across a piece of art that makes you stop? Yes, me too. Sometimes it’s something very beautiful, sometimes I really don’t know what to think. The same feeling crosses me sometimes when wandering around art museums, especially those focusing on modern art. Some pieces of art make me feel, instead of awe, confused, disgusted, annoyed, disappointed, or even angry.
That is what art is (also) about. It is expressing ourselves to the outer world, it is using the tools we have for creating something unique, to point out ordinary and extraordinary things in our everyday life, producing emotional reactions, waking people up. There are as many ways and purposes for doing art as there are people.
When I travel, I'm looking for art. Why is it there? Why does it look like this? Who made it? Why?
These are some of my street art memories from Palestine and Israel 2016.
Before I left for Jordan, someone said to me that Amman is ugly. When I arrived here, I tried to look for this ugliness, the boredom of sand brown buildings, the blocks repeating themselves one neighborhood after another. Every day on my morning walk to the office I stop at the empty plot of land and look into the horizon. This is a rare sight since Amman is built on top of hills and you rarely can see further that few blocks away, or maybe just the buildings rising to the next hilltop. Some say the city is claustrophobic.
But I couldn’t find it. For me, these repeating patterns and similarities between buildings are calming. I can focus on tiny differences in the buildings, the different shades of beige, the ways of sun rays reflect on the glass and shiny surfaces. The peeling of paint, that usually is blue, turquoise or green, the water containers on roofs, the balconies, the small gardens in front of houses.
If you are not a fan of beige, this is not a city for you. But even in the middle of the sea of sand, you find specks of colors.
I have been waiting for the opportunity to go hiking for a really long time. When the rainy December turned into crispy, sunny January, it was finally the time. Waking up early on a day off, packing ourselves into a bus, and heading North towards Ajloun and Irbid, we were off for a day of hiking. I couldn't have been happier.
Compared to Amman, Ajloun is higher and greener. There are farms, fields, forests, and an actual forest reserve too. Though the green is pleasant for the eyes after the shades of brown and beige of Amman, the forests are full of trash, which makes my heart bleed a bit. Recycling is not a thing here. More on this topic will follow, so stay tuned!
Our hike started from the 'Jesus Cave', which for centuries was used as an olive press. It is said that Jesus and his disciples spent some time there while hiding from Herod. Who knows? We continued to the ruins of an old church, where some of the mosaics were still visible. Our main part of the hike was descending into Wadi Seer, a dry canyon leading towards the valley of river Jordan. The weather was amazing, and in the wadi I could hike in a t-shirt.
After the wadi we stepped into open air, and made our final descent in stony, rugged terrain till the ruins of an old Roman city of Pella. Not much was left of that city, but it used to be a part of Decapolis, group of then cities on the East side of Jordan river. I already wrote about another city of Decapolis, Gerasa, in my previous post.
Enjoy the gorgeous views of the hike in the gallery below!
What kind of music comes to your mind, when you think about the Middle East? Probably you thought about traditional music (the Finns thought about Niilin hanhet or something). However, as magnificent that tradition is, including singers like Umm Kalthoum and Fayroz, there are many emerging talents using different styles, combining them in different ways, and using music as a way of activism and conveying political messages. Especially during the revolutions of 2011, music became a strong force of carrying hopes, fears, and resistance. But also sometimes it's just all about feel-good atmosphere.
These are songs I have been listening to lately, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
Bonus round: Lebanese jazz