Wednesday, March 4, 2015 the Dead Sea

After leaving the restaurant near Jerash, we headed to the Dead Sea.  Driving through the fringe of the desert gave us another view of life of the  Jordanian people, including the Bedouins.  Here and there we would see small villages in the middle of the desert that served as permanent settlements.  We also saw small, lone structures that served as homes and shelter for the many Bedouins that passed through this area throughout the year.  Living where I do, there are times I might complain about being so far away from "civilization", but seeing these areas and knowing that many people live here with everything they need, I realize that all of the "stuff" I think I need from "civilization" are simply extras...burdens really, and that, perhaps, I need to decontaminate myself from all of the extras!   So much easier said than done...but these images will stay with me as I make my valiant attempt!

As we drove along this dusty highway, we came to the sign that marked the point of sea level.  

We stopped to take a photo and came upon a young shepherd with his flock.  

This shepherd had, not only his flock of sheep, but also a donkey and two dogs.  He also had a young assistant at the back of the flock.  The shepherd needed to get his charges across the highway and the sheep readily (or blindly) cooperated, despite oncoming cars and trucks.  The donkey was being lead along on a leash and had no hesitancy crossing the road, either.  However, the two dogs were having none of this highway-crossing-with-oncoming-traffic deal.  They ran back and forth, tails between their legs, ears back and yelping for the shepherd.  They would approach the road and, upon seeing another car or truck, would immediately retreat back.  Finally, the shepherd's assistant came and lead the dogs across the road, as they ran for their lives to catch up and claim their spot at the head of the group.

We were fast approaching the Dead Sea (actually a lake!) located in the Jordan Rift Valley, bordered on the east by Jordan, and on the west by Palestine and Israel.  The Dead Sea is located in the Negev Desert, about 50 miles from Tel Aviv and 15 miles from Jerusalem.  It is the lowest point on the very bottom, the deepest part, the Dead Sea is 2,300 feet below sea level.  It is also the saltiest body of water on Earth...9.6 times as salty as the ocean, 33.7% of the water is salt.  Naturally, I had to taste the a matter of fact, I am still tasting it!   Nothing I have ever tasted - even pure salt - was a taste such as the Dead Sea.   

Scientists insist that the Dead Sea is drying up and will be gone in a short 50 years if nothing is done to prevent it.  It has already lost 1/3 of its surface area.  On Feb. 27, 2015, Israel and Jordan signed an historic agreement - a $900 million dollar water sharing project which will "replenish the Dead Sea with water from the Red Sea and will also supply both Israel and Palestine with water".  Let's hope this is a successful attempt at saving this historic body of water and maybe...just maybe...will encourage peaceful relations among all of these countries.

On our way to the Dead Sea, we stopped at a shop for water and use of its facilities, as well.  These shops have an eclectic array of items for sale, and this one was no different. There were ceramic items, mosaic creations from small bowls to tables, brass "tchotchkes", decorative metal plates, scarves, furniture, etc. - all available for purchase by tourists.  Alison and I both willingly...maybe hopefully!...purchased some Dead Sea mineral cream/soap/ look for us to be looking much younger quite soon!  Here is a photo of our little box of miracles!  

...and a cut-out metal plate I decided I "needed"! 

After much hesitancy, thought, and entertaining negotiation, I also purchased a beautiful silk, hand knotted rug and a very detailed painted ostrich egg.  The rug is color-rich displaying hard-earned and enduring craftsmanship. It's no wonder they are slightly expensive.    However small, it is beautiful and I have no regrets.  At the end of our "pricing dance", the owner of this shop told me, "You should make this your business, this negotiating!"

The ostrich egg was a pretty amazing piece of craftsmanship, as well.  From a distance, it appears that the intricate designs on this egg are simply painted.  But, upon closer inspection, this is what is revealed:  the designs are "painted" by using a sharp, pointed pick, very fine sand, and paint.  The end of the pick picks up a minute droplet of paint.  This point is then dipped into extremely fine sand and the minuscule amount that stays on the tip of this tool is then placed strategically onto the egg to create the desired picture.  If you look very closely at the top 2 pictures, you can see these small dots of paint and sand.  Up close, this procedure makes it look as though each dot is similar to a pixel used to create these elaborate and complex designs.

Neither Alison nor I could remember what this side of the egg represents.  However, I am going to email the store to find out!

This is the Tree of Life.

This flower is the black iris, the national flower of Jordan.

When one's time in a place is so limited, not everything can be done or seen or experienced.  As the sun began to set, we realized we may not reach the Dead Sea prior to sunset.  However, we still wanted to go and Abu agreed, it was not something we should miss...even in the dark!

We arrived as the sun was low on the horizon and well into setting for the day...all crimson and golds, dark pinks and blues... even the water took on this intense color.  Such a spectacular and stunning sunset looking across the sea towards the twinkling lights of Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Jericho in Israel, looking directly at the West Bank.

The Jordanian shore of the Dead Sea did not look to be that far away...until we parked the car and started walking toward it.  It continued to get darker and darker...quite the water seemed to be retreating.  We heard and saw many other people, groups of adults, children, adolescents...many cooking a meal and relaxing along the shore or close to it, anyway,...and we continued trudging through the sand, the almost-dark.   Every so often, a giggling, barefoot child would dart past us, completely confident of their goal, through sand littered with driftwood and evidence of the presence of horses and camels. Oh yes - I forgot to mention the camels that would appear as mammoth shadows in the dark whose handlers wanted to take us on a ride...but not this time.  The shore of the Dead Sea was our goal and it seemed to be moving further and further away!  

Every time we thought the sea was "right there", a sandy, pot-holed, crevice-riddled decline (or cliff!) would appear... but I had my eye on the prize: putting my feet in the Dead Sea!  After some creative moves that saved us from falling or rolling down the hill toward the water (great visual, huh?!), we finally arrived at the shoreline.  We rolled up our pants, took off our shoes and stepped into the dark, silky-soft water with a less-than-solid and secure sandy bottom. We were actually in the Dead Sea!  Woo Hoo!  But, the sand was so unstable, encouraging our feet to keep slipping and sinking, it was a little difficult to remain standing.  But, we did it and I have very blurry photos to prove it!  

Meanwhile, groups of people were wandering in and out of the water and there were no "lifeguards" present or any manner of security that we could see.  Then again, I thought you couldn't drown in the Dead Sea but I was wrong.  Apparently, if you try to float face down in this water (Why???), your body's equilibrium is thrown off and you might find it difficult to upright yourself and you may become one of the few people who have, in fact, drowned in the Dead Sea.

We could see the lights of the resorts that are located along the shores of the Dead Sea, too.  Naturally, there are many resorts and spas here, taking advantage of the all of the claims of skin treatments and relaxation.

After putting our shoes and socks back on and climbing back up the sandy hill to the car, we had to return to the shop we stopped at on the way in because Abu left his phone in the restaurant.  It seems that getting disconnected from one's cell phone is an international problem!

Next post, I will address the conference itself.  It was, without a doubt, a unique and enriching experience.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Jerash to the Dead Sea

 More remarkable history was seen in this country full of remarkable historic sites...

As we drove to Jerash, I couldn't help but notice how these highways are not much different than some of our own...not as much traffic but certainly, the construction of apartment buildings/condos along this main thoroughfare is a similar scene that we see here in America.

However, as we approached Jerash, we saw this sign.  While it appeared to be a banner of celebration for a specific event, it was not.  It is simply a permanent sign bearing yet another photograph of King Abdullah.  I do not know what it says in Arabic but I'm working on that!...UPDATE:  My friend, Marci, consulted with some of her Arab friends and they tell me that this signs says:  "The municipality of bigger Jerash welcomes you."  Thanks, Marci!  :) 

Jerash, settled over 5,000 years ago, is considered to be one of the most important and best preserved Roman cities in the Near East.  Excavations confirm that Jerash was already inhabited by the Bronze Age (3200-1200 BC).  It is one of the cities of the Decapolis, a group of 10 cities on the eastern border of the Roman empire located in Syria, Israel and Jordan.  These 10 cities were centers of Greek and Roman culture in the midst of an area of Jewish, Nabatean, and Aramean influence.  Most of these cities were located in Jordan.  Jerash is often times referred to as the "Pompeii of the East", minus the volcanic activity.  

The Arch of Hadrian - the entrance gate to the ruins at Jerash: This gate was built by the Romans to honor the visit to the city of the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the winter of 129-130 AD.  At the time, Jerash was known as "Gerasa". 

 It is believed that wooden doors once filled the arched spaces.

As we walked toward the city, purchased tickets, and procured a guide, we were privy to a display of devotion.  Salat times, or prayer times, happen five times during the day and the most devout stop all activity to participate.  There was a small group of men behind the ticket office who were preparing to pray.  Notice the prayer rug on which they are standing.  This moment was another opportunity for us to experience, on a simple level, a component of their religious culture.  I was honored to have witnessed it.

Again, we were fortunate to have had another educated, well-spoken and enthusiastic guide to take us around the site.  Abu made these arrangements, guaranteeing us another successful tour. Our time was limited and he made sure that the guide was aware of our time constraints while giving us the most comprehensive tour possible.  While our visit was filled with history and captivating background, I wish we had had more time.  As we have found throughout our inadequate time in Jordan, this area is so rich in history and is so connected to other civilizations that it would require a much longer stay here to fully understand its story.

As we continued toward the ruins, there was evidence of site restoration as you enter the ancient city and climb the steps to the Forum.  Approaching the Forum you will see a plaza surrounded by 56 pillars, each @20 feet high and comprised of four stones each.  The floor of the Forum is comprised of stones that increase in size as they move out toward the outer rim.

This unique Oval Forum was the center of public life.  Commercial and public affairs were scheduled in this area, as were, elections and public speeches.  Gladiator matches and even criminal trials were also held in the Forum.  Imagine being a citizen of this ancient city, drawn to the Forum as a way to connect with the "news" of the day, the developments in the political and legal world, perhaps wandering down the Cardo Maximus searching the market for the food that was needed in your home, and being a part of life in the city of Jerash.  How different this life was from how many of us live today.

Directly off of the Forum is colonnaded Cardo Maximus, the main street of the city, surrounded by more pillars - some repaired, while others lie in wait for restoration.  Restoration has been going on here since 1920 and, as in other spots we have explored, is very expensive.   Ruts made by ancient chariot wheels can still be seen, not unlike on the streets of Pompeii.  

Walking down the Cardo Maximus, we came to the nymphaeum, a very well-preserved fountain dedicated to the water nymphs, constructed in 91 AD.   Look in the foreground for the pink granite water base.  In its prime, water cascaded from 7 carved lions' heads into small basins on the sidewalk.  Pretty amazing this fountain is in such pristine shape and still standing after close to 2,000 years!

Located next to the Nymphaeum is the "cathedral".  In reality, it is a Byzantine church that, in the 4th century BC, was built on top of the original 2nd century building, the Temple of Dionysius.   The 4th and 5th century brought a significant influence of Christianity into this area and the building of churches was widespread and encouraged.  It was common for pieces of former temples to be used in the building of these churches.  This is just one example.

Jordan is one of the most heavily Westernized countries in the Middle East.  Many women are embracing Western culture and will wear trousers while still wearing a head covering.  We found this to be a widely accepted practice, with some women discarding the scarf, as well.

Much of history is a real puzzle.  Displayed along this colonnaded road are countless broken pieces of carved columns waiting to be put back in place to recreate the original ancient city.   It was a perfect opportunity to see these carving up close and personal.

Before leaving Jerash, we wandered through the local souk (market) and saw a craftsman creating colored sand creations in glass bottles and vases.  The one I saw was personalized for a visiting family.  Using small, thin tools, this artist created scenes within the bottle, included family names or place names and proudly displayed his work.  We saw countless places doing this work throughout our travels - all fine and detailed work representing one of the handicrafts for which Jordan is noted.

Abu took us to lunch and we met this breadmaker outside.  The method he used to bake the flat bread, known as shrak, is an old process requiring the open oven you can see slightly behind and to the left of this man (or to the right in the photograph).  After flattening out the dough using his fingers and the stone, he puts the flattened dough on his hand and quickly slaps the dough onto the inside wall of the hot oven.  If you look carefully inside the oven in the bottom two photographs, you can see this dough at about the 11:00 o'clock position.  When it is baked to perfection, the baker peels the bread off of the side of the oven and it is brought into the restaurant - freshly baked, warm shrak, eaten with Jordan's magnificent hummus and olive absolute favorite!

As has been the norm throughout our trip, we thoroughly enjoyed many Jordanian dishes at this restaurant, including tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, manakeesh, fattoush, and mansaf, in addition to my favorite  - hummus.  Mansaf is the national dish of Jordan and is a symbol of generosity.  I can attest to that!  The portions we were given, at every meal, were enough to feed 2 - 3 times the number of people at the table!  All of it was delicious!

Our day was far from over!  From our luncheon restaurant, we proceeded towards the Dead Sea.  Stay tuned!