Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Week 10: Aqaba and Spontaneous Combustion

*Disclaimer: Somehow pictures I deleted after encountering formatting problems are still showing up within this post. I'm not positive, as I can't find them within the actual document, but you may see a fish with sharp teeth that I had for dinner, swords on the wall of a restaurant constructed completely out of aluminum foil, umbrellas hovering over a street, more pictures of the air show, and possibly duplicates. I'm sorry if this looks scatterbrained, but at least I was able to include all the pictures I had originally planned on showing you.

Hello again. Before I tell you about my week in Aqaba I'd like to touch upon a realization I had today about the trash situation here in Amman. Today I realized a great way to explain it to someone who isn't here is with the concept of spontaneous combustion. I know it sounds ridiculous, but sadly this is something you can probably hear all about nowadays on the History Channel. I could probably write a whole separate blog about my grievances pertaining to the programs passed off as "history" on what used to be my favorite channel. But anyways, what brought me to the topic of spontaneous combustion was my walk back from buying shwarma today for lunch ( I eat shwarma probably 4 times a week here in Jordan). As I was walking through the vacant lot facing the Amideast building today I looked down and all around taking in a toothbrush, floss, toothpaste, jeans, a shoe, a shoe sole, water bottles, plastic bags, a spoon, and other random pieces of garbage. It hit me that every vacant lot in Jordan looks like a scene from the Twilight Zone. If you were here every day you would see burn marks or actual fires amongst all the garbage. This is because burning garbage is actually the method used by sanitation crews to combat all the trash that piles up. As tangential as this description was I think it's still useful to convey one of the realities of studying abroad in Amman. Now I'll move forward to speak about my time in Aqaba.

I last wrote the night before I left for Aqaba. The bus ride to the very southern tip of Jordan is actually somewhat long, clocking in at about 4 hours. Though it felt much longer getting down there then it did coming back to Amman and real life. Driving to Aqaba actually felt like we were on Mars. The southern deserts of Jordan are the most desolate I have ever seen. It still baffles me how the Bedouins thrive out there. They are true survivalists. On the bus we would drive for 20 minutes or so without seeing another soul to either side of the road, and then lo and behold there would be a Bedouin tent surrounded by a flock of sheep and two or three camels. Upon our arrival to Aqaba we were bombarded by taxi cab drivers offering us rides to our hostel. Twelve jordanian dollars later our entire group made it to the hostel/campground by cabs. We were half expecting to camp with sleeping mats and tents the entire week. It turns out we reserved a structure that was half way between a room and a tent. Throughout the week it gained names such as the FEMA Shelter and the haunted house (due to the black plywood and orange tarps). At night the winds would rap all the tarps against the shack and wake us up at random intervals. But otherwise I slept well as actual beds were provided.

Here we are somewhere near the coral formation that guidebooks call the Japanese Gardens.
I wasn't able to see the actual formations as the sea gets to shallow right above them and
puts snorkelers at risk of being stuck by sea urchins. I was cleaning my mask at the time the picture
was taken. In the background are a few yachts and Egypt against the horizon. Interestingly enough
the word yacht in English is actually Arabic in origin.
As I was hoping for I ended up spending a large part of my break underwater. Our second day there I bought snorkeling gear and spent the next few days exploring the coral directly across from our campground. Sadly much of it seems to be dying. I'm guessing the pH might be off because %60 of the reef is grey and turning to stone. On one of my group's self lead snorkeling excursions I was lucky enough to identify and prevent everyone from swimming into the path of a lionfish. I actually spotted it indirectly, at first I saw a school of minnows bugging out in a way I'd never seen before. They were forming into a ball and contorting like a flock of starlings evading a hawk. Then as I looked up past them there was a maroon colored lionfish looking in their direction (it also was looking towards our group). It lumbered around in a way that reminded me of the black bears I saw in a neighborhood near Seattle a few years ago. From what I've seen of dangerous animals they are oftentimes conscious of their abilities and therefore move slowly and assuredly with no concern for their surroundings. Thank God we got everyone out of there with out getting pricked. I actually celebrated Halloween by going scuba diving for the first time. Despite my mask being too tight and my subsequent migraine I had a positive experience. I definitely would consider taking a certification course when I return to my home university. On Halloween my friend Martha and I dove with two Irish dive masters on an old Russian tank. Technically I think it was an 70s era anti-aircraft vehicle. It was placed there by one of Jordan's former kings to create an artificial reef. Underneath it I saw a lionfish about four times larger than the previous one. It honestly looked like a porcupine was under the tank. Though I didn't see it, because their skin changes color and texture, my guide also pointed out a stonefish to me underneath the same vehicle. Apparently a sting by them is one of the most painful a diver can experience.

One of the days we were in Aqaba a group of four single prop planes appeared on the horizon heading directly towards our beach. It reminded me of the quality show I used to watch on the History Channel; The Black Sheep Squadron. It turns out it was a group of stunt planes who ended up putting on a half our show of stalls, flips, and synchronized flying. The picture above shows three of the pilots putting their planes into a stall at the exact same time. Now that I think of it this air show may have been in celebration of Eid al Adha. This Islamic holiday commemorates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his own son and God's intervention/substitution of Ishmael for a ram. The story is one of many that asserts the similarities between the Bible and the Quran (though in the Bible Isaac was to be sacrificed). In Jordan everyone who has the financial means is also expected to sacrifice an animal on Eid al-Adha. Nowadays sheep seem to be sacrificed more than rams or any other animal. The past two Eid al Adha holidays I've celebrated with the Islamic Culture Club at St. Lawrence University. However, this year I had the privilege of spending the entire holiday with a family I met while playing soccer on the beach. After kicking a ball around with one of their sons who is similar in age with me, I was introduced to the entire extended family. I spent the next three days eating meals, speaking Arabic, and spending most of my waking hours down on the beach with my new friends. Words cannot describe how accepted I felt by my second host family. It's one thing to be placed with a host family as a part of an academic program, but to meet one randomly and feel completely accepted is wonderful. This Thursday I'm going to meet my new friends at their school in Amman where I am to be introduced to their teachers and administrators. Afterwards their parents our picking us up and bringing us back to have a feast at their house. I hope all is well where ever you are reading this.

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