Saturday, April 30, 2011

Rain, Rain, don’t go away!

It’s raining today in Amman—tiny, crystalline, life-giving droplets.  
In one of the most water-poor countries of the world, rain is not something to be looked down upon or appreciated lightly.  Because water is scarce, every household in Jordan is provided a weekly allotment of water.  If you run out before refill day, you’re done, so conservation is essential!  My selfish, grown-and-raised-in-the-land-of-plenty self—I hate to admit—gets sorely annoyed at this imposition…but my responsible, wanting-to-care-for-God’s-earth self thinks it’s invaluable to learn frugal consumption of our resources, especially such a necessary one. 
The water tanks at ACOR
I never realized how heavily we rely upon water until forced to think about being without it.  And so, in a land with limited water sources, every droplet of rain counts.  Rain feeds the plants and crops, which feed the livestock, which feed us.  Rain fills the cisterns and wadis, which fill the lakes and dams, which fill our household water tanks.  It’s a good day, when it rains.

So, not surprisingly, I think about water a lot—how important it is and how we couldn’t live without it, literally and figuratively.  Below, in list form, are some of my reflections on water:

  • It Sustains our Physical Lives.  Human life, animal life, plant life—we all need it to survive.  Without it we shrivel, wilt, choke, and die.  Even most food recipes I can think of use water in some fashion and quantity.  Water also has powerful revival qualities, and quickly restores to life a fading being.   
  • It is a Cleanser and Purifier.  We use it to wash our bodies, our clothes, our dishes, and just about everything else in domestic life.  We use it to flush the toilet, rinse our spit, and wash messes off the floor.  We also use it to cleanse a wound, dilute the effects of poisons, and flush our bodies of toxins. 
  • It has Calming and Healing Properties.  Water is used in humidifiers to “heal” the blistering dry air in wintertime.  It is used by midwives to calm a laboring mother and baby.  It cools a burn. It makes our skin glow and radiate.  It possibly prevents cancer, heart disease, and other diseases (see this link).  Also see this link for other interesting facts about water.
  • It Provides Relief and Recreation.  What is more refreshing on a hot day than to plunge into a pool of cool water? The best summer activities involve water.
  • It has Preservation Properties.  We use it to can our vegetables, and other things.
  • It Reveals things Buried.  Any seasoned treasure hunter can tell you that the best time to go searching for those Native American arrow heads or Roman coins or ancient pottery is directly after the rain.  The water washes away the buildup of dust and dirt and reveals the hidden treasures beneath. 
  • It is Reflective.  With the right lighting, water can serve as a mirror, reflecting back whatever faces it.  
  • It is Impartial.  It benefits all with the life it imbues with no stipulations of worthiness.  
It's little wonder, then, that Jesus used the analogy of water to relate Himself to us.  He sustains our spiritual lives; without Him we shrivel, wilt, choke, and die.  He cleanses and purifies us.  He calms and heals us.  He makes our spirits glow and radiate.  He refreshes us, and preserves us.  He sifts through our surface dust and dirt to reveal the hidden treasures within.  He is a reflecting mirror in whom our shortcomings become clear, but His perfection reflects back to cover us.  And His grace impartially benefits all, with no stipulations of worthiness; all we must do is ask.  

It rained inside today, too.  And I thought, these kinds of raindrops are also invaluable.  They bring with them the character staples of humility and repentance; they flush out the toxins of bad feelings and bring hope to try again.  Tears clean and lubricate our eyes just as they do our hearts.

Those are my thoughts on rain.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Desert Wanderings (Part 2)

Following are some highlights from the rest of our weekend-past excursions:
Look at the people packed in there!
We started the day off fresh with Jack throwing up all over the car...I'm not sure if we ever seriously considered going home after that happened (the poor boy!), but pressed on, assuming he was simply carsick.

As mentioned in the last post, our first stop was an impromptu side-trip down to a beautiful beach on the Dead Sea.  It was interesting, because while we were there, 2 soldiers came hurriedly over the hill from a nearby outpost and were staring at the sea with their binoculars.  There was something out there, which we also saw & thought was a swimmer, that they were fairly concerned about.  After a bit, they noticed our camera's nice telephoto zoom lens, and warmly greeted us and asked if we might zoom in to take a picture for them to see.  Always nice to be of service to the local military.  As we scaled back up the rocky incline, we noticed they had a truck sitting up at the top armed with a fairly substantial machine gun, and another soldier manning the gun, ready to fire at notice.  I wish we could have taken a picture, but it didn't seem worth the trouble we may have faced for trying.  The "thing," on closer inspection, seemed just to be some sort of floating buoy.
"Salt drifts"
salt rock
Next, we traveled down to the very southern end of the Dead Sea to a "quaint ghetto" (similar to "shabby chic"?) village called Ghor es-Safi (just "Safi" to the locals), just to do a drive-thru photo shoot.

Then it was on to the main event: Early Bronze Age (3000 BC) site Bâb edh-Dhrâ‘.  The main attraction to this site is its expansive cemetery which has been heavily looted...thus lots of leftover treasures to potentially be found.
pock-marks of looted cemetery
We didn't find much of anything, sadly.  We spent a long time looking, though.  Jack had a great time finding his own little treasures of rocks and pottery and playing in the numerous looting-holes--endless acres of robbed graveyard fun!  Safita slept in the pack until the wind became too much for her--she HATES wind with a passion.  A dark storm passed by, which made the sky a rich, dark, beautiful! 

Owen is pointing to the buried gravestone and looting hole underneath
stormy sky

We traveled back north from there to Machaerus, and what a gorgeous drive!  We followed a narrow, winding road up through the hills, past some natural hot springs, through various geological layers to the impressive fortress where John the Baptist is said to have been imprisoned and beheaded by Herod Antipas.  There was an amazing view of the Dead Sea as we ascended, with the sun gleaming magically through the clouds.

We passed a lonely donkey on the road, traveling by itself to somewhere...
 And just as we were arriving at the site, Safita evened the score and concluded our day by throwing up prolifically, all over me.  It was an impressive spout for such a small girl, and her ready smiles post-deed indicated she was reasonably proud of herself.  I fortunately had the foresight to bring extra clothes for the kids, but not for myself!  Sometimes we learn the hard way.  Needless to say, we decided to skip the long hike to the top--a cold, steep, hungry, tired, covered-in-throw-up hike was simply NOT the ticket for that moment in time.  Instead, we snapped some pictures of the majestic mound, tucked ourselves snugly back into the car, and whisked away to Madaba for a late dinner-on-the-run.  Poor Jack, who had waited so patiently & hungrily for his shawarma, fell asleep just minutes before we arrived.  He ate it as a late-night snack hours later. 
Machaerus, with Dead Sea beyond
 Our final adventure did not take place in the desert, but in the hills...Sunday, after the beautiful sunrise service on Mt. Nebo, we went in search for the elusive Tulul adh-Dhahab, which means "hills of gold" in Arabic.  For a more in-depth discussion on this site, click here to see my archaeologist husband's blog on the subject!  In brief, the site is actually 2 sites, twin tells on either side of the Wadi Zerqa, tucked very much out of the way on a winding back road.  This was our third attempt, I think, to find it.  And success!  Its beauty was striking, with the wadi (i.e., river), small waterfalls, and an abundance of blooming oleander...We strapped on the kids and hiked the steep slope, to find at the top some hard-working looters--complete with pick-axes, shovels, and metal detector!  It was sad to see them butcher the history in the dirt for a handful of Roman coins.  And there were sheep.  Jack had never been able to get so close to the sheep before, so he was thrilled. 

And that concludes our whirlwind weekend whoopee!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Desert Wanderings (Part 1)

We rented a car this past weekend (sweet freedom!!), and frantically used every spare second of it.  Friday, we wandered the desert...probably my favorite geographical area in all of the Middle East (whether Israel side or Jordan side, both are equally amazing).  The reminds me of God, in that it cannot be captured or described, but its raw power leaves you gaping in awe and wonder, and its stunning beauty encompasses you in loving warmth so that all you can think about is its very self.  Words escape me for describing this amazing place; and unfortunately, words must escape the camera too, since it simply cannot capture the majesty. 
Here's an attempt, anyway.
Every time I visit the desert, I cannot help but ruminate over the ancient Israelites wandering around the very same region and what it must have been like for them.  Things are very different today, with roads and vehicles and frequent rest areas with food and refreshments.  I'm sure the landscape has changed some, too, but much of it also is similar to those long-past days.  I find the desert to be beautiful and welcoming, probably primarily because I know that I don't have to face its harshness: food and water are plentiful, I can travel by air-conditioned car, and when I am tired of it, I can return to my comfortable home.  I don't have to deal with inescapable, suffocatingly hot days, or worry about the lack of life-sustaining water, or the hazards of scorpions or snakes, or unwelcoming people groups, or the lack of food, or inhospitable environment, or any number of things they must have faced. 

Not to mention that they had left a rather comfortable home in Egypt where everything they could need or want was abundant, and out here, they were essentially homeless.  They had been in Egypt for 430 years--it was all they had ever known.  Sure, they were heading to the Promised Land, and sure, their extended wanderings were their own sinful fault...but I tend to think, if I were in their shoes, I would have complained just as severely.  Even though they were slaves in Egypt, they had gotten comfortable, and it's hard when you're comfortable (even if it's in a bad place) to have to move on to a new place.  While they traveled and wandered, they were aliens in a foreign land, so God reminded them frequently, "Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens..." (Ex. 23:9).  I myself have felt a deepened compassion for foreigners and immigrants in my own homeland after being one myself; it's hard to not belong.

So, that was a long introduction to get to my main thought...Along our drive we found a beautiful beach on the northern shore of the Dead Sea, and I wondered:  After wandering for generations through THIS...

 ...what must it have felt like to trudge over yet one more summit, and see THIS...

It must've felt too-good-to-be-true, life-saving, angels-singing-Hallelujah miraculous!  Even up close, doesn't the water just draw you in like the Sirens of ancient Greek lore?  I, for one, wanted to throw all to the wind and immerse myself in the crystal waters!  And then how their hearts must have sunk when they realized how brackish the water really is, and how it stings and burns any orifice.  Maybe it didn't happen like that, I'm just musing...but it reminds me of a similar story in Exodus 15:22ff. 

I have said too much, and only covered one stop along our travels.  More to come tomorrow...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Lord is Risen!

He is risen, indeed.
Sunrise over Madaba

View from Mt. Nebo looking East

We rose bright and early at 4:30 am for a beautiful sunrise Easter service on the summit of Mt. Nebo, overlooking the Jordan Valley below and Israel beyond.  The kids, amazingly, awoke with sweet, happy smiles.  The view was spectacular, especially since the usual haze of late had mostly lifted. At the foot of Mt. Nebo is the geographical area referred to as the "Plains of Moab," the final Transjordan camping place of the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land to conquer Jericho (which can be seen directly across the valley).  The Plains of Moab are mentioned in Numbers 22ff, when the Moabites out of fear of the Israelites "hired" the prophet Balaam to put a curse on them.  Interestingly, some texts of Balaam son of Beor were found at the nearby site Deir-Alla.  You can read more about that here.  It was also on these plains where Moab seduced Israel into worshiping Baal and brought the Lord's punishment; and it was on these plains that God, via Moses, gave the Israelites one last "pep talk" and instructions for what they were to do upon entering the Promised Land (more discussion on the Promised Land in future posts--stay tuned!).  So much rich, interesting history to ponder while gazing at this landscape!
Plains of Moab: the flat, green area in the center of photo

People still camp out in the Plains to this day!

In the service, the message partially discussed the bronze snake of Numbers 21:4-9 as related to John 3:14-15.  Such a simple yet powerful and relevant story...To state it breifly: The Israelites behaved badly (sin), were punished (snake bites leading to death), repented, and were offered redemption (life!) if they looked in faith upon the bronze snake which Moses lifted up on a pole.  We, similarly, have behaved badly (sin), face punishment (death, both physical and spiritual), but if we repent are offered redemption (eternal life!) if we look in faith upon Jesus, who was lifted up on a tree when He died to pay the penalty for our sin.  To quote John: "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life."  Imagine if, way back then, someone was fatally bitten by a venomous snake, and had a chance to live, but needlessly died because they did not want to look at the exalted bronze serpent...How tragic!  Imagine if, today, we have a chance to live, but needlessly die because we do not want to look at the exalted Jesus...How tragic, indeed!
Jack, painting eggs

so pretty!

We had a fun egg hunt

The Easter basket I wove for Jack out of palm fronds
Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Way We Wash

Today, armed with my best helper, I tackled more of our endless piles of laundry.  Laundry by nature is bottomless in any situation, but especially here, since I have the privilege of learning the art of washing it all by hand.  I think that I have become fairly efficient with it, but it still lingers and loiters about.  Why bother washing by hand, you might wonder?  No, it is not cultural...washing machines are quite prevalent in Jordan.  And ACOR itself has laundering services--for $6/load!  With the amount of laundry we go through each week, this would cost us around $50/month and we 1) can't afford it, and 2) if we did have the money, would rather use it on traveling.  Laundromats don't seem to exist, though they have dry cleaners in abundance.  I actually don't mind the work, it's just a matter of finding the time to do it.  So, without further ado, here's the photographic story of "the way we wash":
The sorted piles
The setup

Washing clothes is so much fun!

The clothes pin holder naturally makes a better helmet

My favorite view: Accomplishment in picture form!

Of associated interest, I came across this blog post, and found it interesting:
Tom Aplomb: Laundry List and Other Washed Up Phrases

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Point of Sidewalks

In a nutshell: They don’t get it here. (The point of sidewalks, that is.) 
If a sidewalk happens to exist—and that is rare—it will be so un-walkable that its true purpose is truly a mystery.  Here’s a sampling of what I’m talking about:
-          Overgrown trees planted in the middle
-          Steep, unannounced, cliff-like drop offs
-          Recessed sewage drains cut into the middle with no cover (the drains are covered, but not the recess)
-          Random narrowing to impassable widths
-          And my favorite: a homeowner who decides to delineate his own walkway by building a brick/block mini-wall right in the middle of an otherwise good stretch of sidewalk! 

I have pondered quite a bit how Jordanians might view sidewalks, to no real avail…my only ideas to date are that sidewalks somehow serve as barriers between the houses and road, and secondarily as a planter for their decorative trees.  They are definitely not built for walking. 

So, the kids and I attempted what I knew would be a challenging walk yesterday:  We went to the store to get essentials, like milk and diapers.  The store, I am guessing, is about a 2-mile trek one-way (thus 4 miles round trip); and, no joke, it is uphill both ways—and a STEEP uphill at that!  (I emphasize, I am not exaggerating.)  The walk is a challenge on its own, then add to it 46 pounds of kids, 10 pounds of stroller, 30 pounds of groceries, an out-of-shape mother, and what feels like infinite gravity resistance…Going downhill adds difficulties of its own!   
This is how we roll.
In addition, sidewalks are spotty, and where they exist they are impassible with a stroller (as discussed above), pushing us into the busy street.  A typical 2-lane road here is about equivalent to 1 ½ lanes in the States, but then you must factor in the not-uncommon happenstance of cars parking in the drivable street.  The ultimate challenge, however, must have been this feat: crossing a 4-lane (a.k.a. 6-8 lane, depending on the flow of traffic) divided highway of endless traffic driving Amman-style, with a one-child stroller laden with 2 children, and (as mentioned above) on our return, bags and bags of groceries & supplies filling the stroller’s lower cavity.  I stood for a long time at the edge of this raging river of traffic, trying to form a plan, trying to muster the nerve…Turning around was not an option after what we’d been through to get there.  And I realized: In Jordan, walking is a bit like driving—if you want to get anywhere, you just have to start going and hope that the cars adapt around you.  It’s just that, when driving, there is a large bit of metal to protect you in case that they don’t—it’s a little more daunting with only the air as a shield.  But that’s what we did: we just started walking, slowly, using the turning cars as a pathway; we hopped the divider (with stroller) as gracefully as possible, crossed the other side in a likewise manner, and…SURVIVED.  Have I mentioned that this country is not stroller-friendly?  At some point during this excursion, two of the other ACOR fellows drove by in a car, honked & stopped long enough to say, “Enjoy your walk!”  I chuckled to myself—this is not the sort of walk one enjoys; it is the sort of walk one endures.  Kids crying.  Cars zooming.  Mommy puffing.  We may not be making that trip by foot again anytime soon.