هذا البلد الجميل -- This beautiful country

I awoke this morning with the realization that today is my third Saturday in Amman. It is truly amazing how fast the time has flown! It's now only six more weeks until I'm back in the States, which seems absolutely crazy to me because I feel so at home here in this beautiful country. I never cease to be struck by Jordan's unique combination of old and new. The sight of Bedouin nomads riding camels next to hotels and office buildings and herds of goats grazing next to homes and restaurants continues to intrigue me, though it no longer surprises me. I know I'm going to miss this place.

Speaking of things I'm going to miss, can we talk about the food for a minute please? Getting used to all this deliciousness has definitely been a bit of an adjustment for my digestive system--like the bout of food poisoning I had last weekend that quickly taught me to completely avoid any restaurant not frequented by the locals--but I really, really can't complain. The best restaurants here serve up plenty of fresh-baked flatbread, sometimes in lieu of utensils and plates, along with mint teas, elaborately spiced stews, cucumber and tomato salads, delectable lamb and chicken dishes, and of course the ubiquitous hummus and baba ghannouj. My absolute favorite food here so far is a Palestinian dish called musakhan, which has chicken, onions and sumac baked onto flatbread brushed with olive oil. It's kind of like an Arabic pizza, and oh-so-delicious. I'm also a huge fan of the juices here, which are widely available in many flavors like mango-orange, apple-pineapple, and my personal favorite, lemon-mint. I think it goes without saying that I'm going to have some working out to do when I get back....but that can wait. :-)

The crew tucks into a Yemeni feast at Mota3m Sana'a, which serves up the best ful mudammas I've ever tasted in my life! (Note the lack of plates and cutlery--we kick it family-style here, flatbread only. I imagine Atkins is rolling in his grave.)

Classes at Qasid are going great. I absolutely adore my teachers, who are equal parts spunky, strict and extremely patient. One day of classes here is essentially the equivalent of a week's worth of study at home, so the intensiveness of the program can really get to us sometimes. Arabic is so rich and so complex, it's kind of a linguistic Hydra: cut off the head of one confusing grammatical rule, and three more grow in its place. This makes for an endless supply of new things to learn, but it also makes it pretty much impossible to gauge how much you're actually learning. My strategy for now is just to get as good as I can at what I already know of the language, which may not be very much in the grand scheme of things, but it's better than trying to paint a huge canvas with tools I don't yet know how to use. Even if my speaking skills are still less than fabulous, I'm pleased with how much I can understand in conversation. That's a start, and inshallah, with time and perseverance, I think the rest will come. Inshallah.

Have I mentioned that Jordan is absolutely beautiful? Mashallah.

Yesterday, a bunch of us trekked down to the Dead Sea to take a load off after these past few weeks of intensive studies. Day-passes to a fancy resort cost about 35JD, so we took advantage of the opportunity to chill out, catch some sun and soak. Floating around in the salty water, slathering myself in mineral mud and napping away the afternoon under a tiki umbrella was definitely a welcome break from homework and brain-melting language immersion. Generally I'm not big on touristy places, but it was very nice nonetheless--and even if the spa treatments and food were obnoxiously overpriced, the mud was still free. I think I understand now why cosmetics companies are obsessed with Dead Sea minerals, because with the exception of a little sunburn, my skin feels amazing!

Clear sky, hot sun, salty water, free mud. Bliss.

Later in the afternoon, a few of us dropped into the hotel gift shop to look around. As expected, the merchandise was absurdly expensive, but we made some new friends--two extremely kind brothers from Jerusalem, who worked at the resort and were surprised to learn that we spoke some Arabic. We chatted about Middle Eastern history and mused about the beauty of the phrase "alhamdulillah" while sampling Dead Sea lotions. I also learned the Arabic word for "checkpoint."

By far, the loveliest part of the day was at sunset time. The sun was no longer beating down, but the residual heat was still coming up from the ground, a pleasant warmth. Against the hazy crimson light of the early evening, we sat on the deck overlooking the beach, smoked arghile and watched the sun set over Palestine on the other side of the sea. I thought back to my new friends in the gift shop, and wondered how it must feel to work within sight of the home they are not allowed to return to. As we were leaving, I said a little prayer for peace and willed it across the water.

All that being said--writing this blog post is enabling my inner procrastinator like nobody's business, so I should probably wrap it up and get started on my homework. So much to do, so many things to see, so little time! Much love from Amman, and ma salaama!


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