Boat ride on the Gulf of Aqaba

We decided to take a little boat cruise on the Gulf of Aqaba.  We took a “cab” to a bigger boat that was two-storied, the lower deck was glass, so you could see the sea underneath and the top was open.  It was beautiful.  The weather was perfect, in my opinion, the sun shining, and we were out on the water, the colors of blue changing as you look out to the horizon. 
Leaving the hotel, on a water “taxi” to the boat
We passed several docks and kids playing in the water, they saw us pass by and jumped up and down waving and squealing at us.  I was so surprised to see the water speckled with light purple jelly fish!
purple jelly fish in the red sea
We sat on the top deck listening to music and chatting with the other passengers.  After some time, we were called down to the lower deck to see the coral reefs through the glass bottom of the boat. 
Captain of the boat plus the Jordanian flag
View of the coral reef from the glass bottom boat
Coral
There were tons of fish of many different colors, feeding off the coral.  It was beautiful! It was quite amazing how the schools of fish move together as if they’re one big beast, something startles them and it appears as if the beast flinches! We saw a sunken ship, the coral was growing on the ship.  Really amazing how life can exist in even the most unexpected of environments. 
The boat was parked and we were told that if we wanted to swim, we could.  I love the water and couldn’t wait to get in.  I stripped down to my bathing suit and got to the edge of the boat but freaked out.  There were jelly fish everywhere!  I went and asked one of the members of the crew if the jelly fish stung, can’t they be poisonous? He reassured me that these jelly fish are perfectly safe to swim with and even touch.  Ok.  I dove in the water and it was refreshingly cool.  Salty.  I guess that was to be expected, it was a sea but I’m always surprised by salinity.  I was Dodging jelly fish, even though I had been told that they were benign, I couldn’t help but steer clear from these creatures.  I got out of the water and it stung.  There were 2 hoses with shower heads attached to them coming out the back of the boat. I rinsed off, hopped on deck to grab a snorkeling mask and got back in the water.  
There was a different type of jelly fish in the water! It was clear, oblong and had a some fluorescent color that appeared to move from around in a circular fashion, from cell to cell down in its center, like Christmas lights.  I wasn’t going to touch it either.  I swam out towards the coral reef, the water changed from warm to cool depending on the depth of the water underneath me, what a sensation! I spotted a huge school of  tiny fish, the group parted for me to swim through.  Zebra striped fish fed on the coral, orange and red fish, bright yellow fish and green fish.  I went back to the boat, I wanted dad to come snorkel, he’d never been.  He wasn’t too keen on the idea so I started to swim back out to the coral reef when I heard a big splash behind me, one of the crew members had put on a mask and flippers and had come out snorkeling.  He motioned for me to follow him, and showed me how to swim with my body as flat as possible so as to not rub up against the coral when the water covered the coral by just about a foot or so.  He showed me all sorts of cool fish and coral, then he did a flip in the water and dove down to the bottom of the sea, releasing all the air from his mask.  How cool!  When he came up for air, he explained how to do it, and we dove down to the bottom to look at the corals and baby eels that were sticking out of the sand.  I swallowed a bunch of sea water and swam to the surface.  I motioned to him that I wanted flippers, he went back to the boat and got me flippers, I put them on and was able to swim with more force.  There was an opening in the coral, all of a sudden the water got really deep and at the bottom of this gap was this yellow coral that resembled a rose.  It was beautiful, we dove down to check it out.  
Every once in a while I would hear small splashing sounds, I would look up and there would be small fish jumping out of the water, to avoid being eaten by a bigger fish.  At one point, we swam by a jelly fish and I squealed underwater.  He looked at me and grabbed the jelly fish with his hand, I quickly swam away shaking my head.  Eventually I got the courage to touch the little critter.  It felt slimy and stiff, like uncooked chicken breast.  I hope I didn’t hurt it by touching it.  He would cup it in the palm of his hand and push it around in the water.  Eventually it was time to go back, everybody else was done snorkeling and it was time to eat lunch.  The crew had prepared a lunch for us while we were out snorkeling and swimming.  They had made fish (hamour, also known as grouper) in curry sauce, meat kebobs, chicken kebobs, rice, a Greek salad, cole slaw, hummus and babba ghanoush (like hummus but made with roasted eggplant instead of garbanzo beans).  The food was delicious and tasted even better after a couple hours of swimming in the sea.  We sat on the deck, in the sun eating and chatting…life is great.
lunch

Dinner on the Red Sea

We walked from our hotel to a restaurant that was famed to have great, fresh fish, Fluka. 

On the way, we were stopped by a Bedouin young man with a camel on a rope.  I went to take a picture and he had the camel heel and kneel and told me to get on it for the picture.  Ok.  I went over and stepped on the rug of a saddle, flung my leg over his/her backside and sat on it.  Before my dad could even take the picture, the man had the camel stand up.  If you have not had the wonderful experience of riding a camel, I’m sorry.  First, the camel props him/herself up on it’s hind knees, so you hold on tight to the reins and your upper body is flung forward, then up on his/her hind legs, a bit more of a fling forward and then up onto all fours, as the front legs come up, and your body flies back.  It’s quite exhilarating.   

me on the camel 🙂

The man handed me the reins and started clicking with his mouth.  The camel started walking.   “Ok, thank you” I said.  I thought we were just taking a picture but it soon became evident that this was a business transaction for him.  I road the camel up and down the sidewalk, making small talk with the man.  “Ok,” I said, “no no,” he calmly replied “you will ride the camel back down the alley.  Looks like I didn’t have a choice.  It’s very peaceful, riding a camel.  Your lower body moves forward with the body of the camel and your upper body follows.  It’s really amazing, when you watch the camel walk, it moves both right front and right hind leg forward, together and then left front and left hind leg next.  This is unlike a horse and not that it can really be compared, but also unlike a human, we walk with our right leg and left arm forward and then reverse, to balance.  They really are amazing creatures. 

Sally and the camel, ha ha

I finished my ride.  Now for the camel to sit down, front legs collapse to the ground and your upper body flies forward.  You feel as though you will fly right off, somersaulting off the camels head. Thankfully that did not happen.  Then the back legs plop down and your body gets flung back.  Really cool sensation.  My dad put his hand in his pocket to give the man some money.  The man asked for 10 Dinar, about $14.  My dad got angry.  He started yelling at the man, “she just wanted a picture, you took her for a ride, this is a rip off.”  This happens a lot with tourists and camel owners.  My dad tried to give him 2 dinar, the man said it wouldn’t do.  He insisted that it was fine and we didn’t need to pay.  I felt bad, “How about 5?” “That won’t work,” the man responded, “khalas (enough) it’s on us.”  My dad was not pleased, “okay Sally, let’s go,” and he started to walk away.  My insides hurt.  I gave him the 5, thanked him a lot and went away.  My dad was mumbling how this wasn’t the first time this happened and they always cheat you, etc. etc. 

We made our way to the restaurant we’d been directed to.

shrimps!

Thank you for sacrificing yourself fishy, for my gastronomic delight

We sat down at the restaurant and had fish, caught that day in Red Sea, along with wine and various breads and dips.  The fish was prepared “harra,” which means hot/spicy, with red peppers, green peppers, cilantro, garlic, and whatnot (see image below).  We had white wine made in Jordan, which was quite delightful, from a vineyard call Zumot. This is what life is about.  Sharing a nice meal with people you love.  Sharing stories and experiences and just enjoying whatever life has to offer.  I wish that for you.  

Before
after

Amman Citadel

It took quite some time to get out of the house.  My dad had misplaced his ID card and my uncle wanted to give us fruits, vegetables and bottles of water for our adventure.  My aunt was making coffee and offering us some, my other uncle was telling a story and wanted us to listen…


We finally made it out of the house.  Within seconds a taxi stopped for us, my aunt lives right off a pretty busy road, plus there are tons of taxis around.  The driver was a middle aged man, we spoke to him in Arabic but he could tell it wasn’t Jordanian Arabic.  He asked where we were from.  “Damascus, the great,” my father replied.  I told him we wanted to go to Restaurant Hashem, downtown, he said ok and we were on our way.  Dad and I talked in the car, sometimes the taxi driver chimed in, we were talking about Arabic sayings and proverbs, my dad is full of them.  

As we got closer, the man began to tell us of well-known place that sells knafeh (an Arabic sweet that is ground or shredded wheat with cheese and lots of sugar syrup, flavored with orange blossom water), I smiled at Dad, “I’m getting hungry.”   “Why did you start talking about knafeh” he said to the driver, with a laugh, “now she’s hungry!”  Neither of us had eaten breakfast, just some tea or coffee.  I had done this on purpose because I had read about Hashem Restaurant, it’s your typical Levantine “breakfast joint” or breakfast street food, so to speak.  The cab driver dropped us off there, we paid him and crossed the street in the sweltering heat.  We sat down on plastic chairs at the restaurant which was half outdoor, the outside part covered by green corrugated plastic roofing.  A young waiter came to take our order, there was no menu because they only serve what they serve and you must know what they serve.  My dad looked at me, I said I wanted foul, my dad asked what else they had.  Fool (fava beans, slightly mashed with garlic, lemon, diced, fresh tomato, green onion and olive oil), fetteh (fried pita bread soaked in olive oil that has been treated with some chemical, excuse my being so vague but I do not recall how they treat the oil) msabaha (similar to hummus, ground chickpeas with tahini, which is sesame paste, garlic and lemon juice), falafel (fried “dumplings” of garbanzo bean and spices).  I gave our order, msabaha and fool. 

Falafel

My dad added that he wanted falafel, he looked at me, I said I didn’t want any, he said to bring just a half order.  We were offered tea and coffee, I had black tea, sweetened just perfectly (well probably too sweet but with that combination of foods and flavors, it is perfect).  They brought our food within 3 minutes, the falafel first.  The boy bringing them out just said, falafel, falafel and people would sort of raise their hand or finger or simply look at him to let him know that they had ordered falafel.  The falafel was served on a piece of paper, over a plate.  The paper is there to absorb the excess frying oil. Next came the msabaha and fool.  They were both served in red clay bowls, swimming in olive oil.  Oh they were beautiful.  My grandmother used to say, the eye eats.  Which means, presentation is very important in food, if something is served well and looks appetizing, you will be more apt to eat and enjoy your food.  My dad started dipping the falafel in the msabaha.  Oh man…it was delicious.  First the soft olive oil hits your tongue and then you’re hit with a surprise attack of garlic flavor, there are undertones of tahini (sesame paste) and garbonzo beans, slightly sour, thanks to the lemon.  You haven’t even taken a bite yet.  Then you do and the crunch of the falafel splits into soft warm dough between your teeth.  Not bread dough, but bean dough, so hearty, so flavorful, so wonderful!  The waiter came over and asked where we were from and we told him we were from Damascus.  “Ahla wa sahla (welcome).”  “Ahlayn feek” (welcome to you), we responded.  We sat eating, talking about how wonderful the food was and laughing at how disorganized but perfect everything was.  A waiter came by and threw 2 big hot loaves of pita bread on the table.

Msabaha, falafel, tea and paba B

Fresh baked bread

My dad told me stories about his youth, he had trigonometry class at 7 am, and he and his friends would go to the restaurant in old Damascus at 6 to have fool.  Now, fool (fava beans) have the fame to make you tired, they are a heavy food and make you feel a bit lethargic, so my dad and his friends would sit in class staring blankly at the teacher who thought they were still half asleep.  We finished our meal and asked how much we owed.  “Leave it on us.”  the waiter said with a smile.  My dad said “no no, next time,” the waiter looked down, shyly, “ok.” “But you’ll remember us, huh!” my dad said with a laugh.  “Of course, of course, Mister.”  “How much would you like?” I asked.  “Two dinar.”  (that’s about $3).  We paid and were on our way.  On the way out we heard “tfadalew, tfadalew,” a word akin to welcome or help yourself but more warm.  We walked out, holding hands, which is not uncommon for a father and daughter, albeit a grown woman, to do in the middle east.  It’s not even uncommon for two men or two women or any two people We walked towards the gold market.  Gold is a big deal in the Middle East, people invest in gold quite a bit and you can go down to the gold market and sell your gold for market price to any gold jeweler.

Me, at a gold shop

Dad, as we walk up the stairs to the citadel
We strolled our way through the streets, it was quite hot. We walked by a bakery, “oh, dad! Let’s get one of those.” I was pointing to these chocolate balls, their basically chocolate dough mixed with ground nuts and oftentimes dried fruit, maybe coconut flakes and dipped in chocolate.  We bought one for 15 piester (like cents, 100 piesters = 1 Dinar = 1.41 USD) 
We walked up and up and up.  We asked along the way for the way to the Citadel and people kept pointing us up stairs and dirt paths.  
Someone’s laundry, you don’t need dryers in the desert
part of the hike up to the Citadel, we later found out that we took a back road, literally and climbed in through the back, not very protected for a citadel, if you ask me.
Finally! we caught glimpse of the citadel, or at least some Roman ruins which told us we were near
View of the amphitheater from the top of the mountain
Columns
Columns + me + part of Papa B’s finger + Jordanian flag in the background = cool shot!
  
What remains of the Temple of Hercules from ~161-166 AD
A really cool coffin
Papa B getting some shade under a grape vine
Papa B walking into the Ommayed Palace
looking out of the Ommayed Palace to the what was the “residence” of the Ommayeds from about 720 AD
Pathway with remains of Corinthian columns, the diagonal stones you see going from where Papa B stands to the bottom right corner of the photograph used to be a drainage system, just past where the photo ends, it is uncovered and you can see where water would gather
Amazing arches!
The Jordanian flag flying high over Amman
Can you believe that these trees are this green in the dessert!
We also visited the Jordanian Archeological Museum which is home to many artifacts from as far back as the Paleolithic Period.  There are cool things like fish fossils and horse teeth, glass tear jars and gold jewelry with cats eye stone, however; photographing was prohibited, so you must visit if you wish to see these artifacts. 
 I leave you with a flattering photograph of me in front of the Ommayed Palace
 

Family

Family.

What images and emotions does that word evoke for you?

For me, I think holidays, my parents, my brother, my cousins, aunts/uncles, stress, pressure, eating, fights, love, happiness, hurt, the list goes on and on.

I think it’s safe to say that the majority of people take their family for granted. Yes we fight, but at the end of the day, the people we are fighting with are still our family. It’s hard. We have expectations for our family members. Maybe unreasonable ones. Sometimes we let them slide, time and time again. Sometimes we use and abuse them. Underappreciate them, walk all over them or simply forget to tell them how we feel about them. I catch myself getting really frustrated with my family sometimes and I later look back and realize that I was not being fair. I wouldn’t do that to my friends or even a stranger, so why would I allow myself to do it with my family?

I just want to put this little note out there to remind myself of the importance of my family in my life. I’m super blessed to have these wonderfully flawed people in my life that keep me sane and drive me insane. God knows what I do to/for them.