To fully appreciate this post, you have to understand that I’m pretty sure my brother Mark didn’t hear Arabic spoken until he began university. C’mon, we grew up in suburban Pennsylvania in an Irish-Italian Catholic family. So, when my younger brother Mark studied abroad in Jordan and invited my brother Luke and I to go visit, I was mildly skeptical. What if his Arabic skills weren’t good? What if we went hiking and got taken hostage? What if I were unable to locate Jordan on a map? (I jest. I own a globe AND an atlas and found Jordan on both…)
My two biggest concerns–finances and my hubby–were quickly alleviated. Although unable to get the vacation days off to join us, Varun was adamant that I go. The man just oozes generosity. And you know what’s amazing? My plane ticket was sponsored largely by M & L productions, a video company my brothers once founded. In September, they–errr, the Board of M & L Productions– wrote me a hilarious and heart-warming letter inviting me to join them on their Christmas in Bethlehem tour. So Thank You M & L Productions (And yes, they are the very same video tycoons that brought you The Chester Hunter, which if you haven’t seen, you must)!!
I digress. So. One week before Christmas Luke and I packed our bags and headed east.
The first shock I had in Jordan were the car keys jingling in Mark’s pocket. To my knowledge, he was unable to drive stick-shift and unfamiliar with the roads of Jordan. But as he confidently loaded our bags into his rental car, I knew this trip would be full of surprises. We entered the capital city, Amman, and Mark slowed down and waved to the car next to him. In Arabic, he asked for directions and we received a long answer complete with gestures, repeated phrases and incredulous glances from strangers. Mark shifted the car into gear and we drove a few streets. We repeated this about 15 times before reaching our destination. At one point, a hotel security guard told us, “Go that way, turn left, turn right and go straight. It will be right there. OR (and here he turns his entire body in the opposite direction), go straight, straight, straight, straight. And there it is”. At least that’s how Mark translated it. How could it be that one place was in two opposite directions? I have no idea.
The next day, we woke up early–jetlagged and excited–and drove to southern Jordan to see Petra.
We were scheduled to meet a Jordanian friend whose wife I’m friends with in Canada. He told us to call him when we reached a certain turn-off point, so we did. As we drove along the bright highway, a car passed us and flashed its lights. There was our friend. Hey, in a desert country this kind of rendez-vous is incredibly effective…
Our friend took us to Shobak (Montreal) castle which was built by Crusaders in the 12th century.
As we drove to Petra, I distributed fresh bread and milk boxes (word to the wise: avoid boxes of banana flavoured milk), while Mark gave us the low-down on Petra. Okay, I have to admit. Up until December, I had never heard of Petra. I have since learned, however, that it was built in 1200 BC (Wait, seriously?!?!) and is one of the 40 Places To See Before You Die. It was amazing.
After seeing the “Treasure”, as this part is called, you can walk for about 1.5 hours to see more carvings and climb a nearby mountain to a former monastery. It’s an amazing testament to hard work, creativity and beauty.
A word about mansaf. It is outstanding. The chicken is succulent and flavourful, the rice is moist and buttery and the spices and nuts make for a veritable feast. We so enjoyed getting to know a local family and enjoying Middle Eastern hospitality!
And you know what? After 24 hours of watching Mark speak Arabic and joke with and befriend locals, I was amazed at his mad skills. Clearly, Luke and I were in good hands.