How I met Australia.

Australian national identity, reconciliation and a little geography.

By Sam Davies

Uluru is more than an image on postcards, it is Australia’s heart.

It is taller than the Eiffel Tower and some 12 kilometres around. It is ancient, and in that place I am always reminded of how humans are but a blip in a long continuum of life and nature. Time moves slower out there. It is the only place where I have experienced a connection to place in a way that feels like the connection to country that Indigenous Australians speak about.

In June of 2012 I traveled to the Mutitjulu community, which is at the base of Uluru, as part of a film crew. It was the first time people from outside of that community had been allowed in since the start of the ‘Northern Territory Intervention’ 5 years prior. This week long shoot had a profound and lasting impact on me.

We were there because Shane Howard, of early 80’s rock band ‘Goanna’ fame, had organised a concert for the community to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the classic Australian song ‘Solid Rock’. If you haven’t heard it I suggest you seek it out. Shane Howard is also one of few white Australians who can speak an Aboriginal language.

Other musicians who performed at the event included John Butler, Dan Sultan, Bart Willoughby, Blue King Brown, and the amazing Archie Roach.

Natalie Pa'apa'a, Dan Sultan, Shane Howard and John Butler.

Natalie Pa’apa’a, Dan Sultan, Shane Howard and John Butler.

While he didn’t perform, Bob Randall is an influential Aboriginal musician and an elder in the Mutitjulu community. Sitting in his home, which lies in the shadow of Uluru, I listened closely to the conversation between himself and other Indigenous Australians about their culture, identity, and the current challenges facing Australia.

One man spoke about how his ancestors had been marched from their homes to Alice Springs with chains around their necks, a journey that took two weeks. Another asked about family connections in the area, trying to trace his own heritage from before he became part of the ‘stolen generation’. I was particularly shocked to hear of the impact that nuclear weapons testing conducted by the British in central Australia had on Indigenous Australians. These are Australian stories, these are part of our past.

Someone said that he felt lifted by young Indigenous Australians who were taking ownership of and pride in their Indigenous identity. Rather than accepting the modern narrative of dispossession and disempowerment, there are many who are choosing to look to the strengths and unique achievements of Aboriginal culture and history. Rather than adopting the whitefella view of what it is to be Aboriginal, they are exercising self determination.

Listening in the shade that afternoon I realised just how familiar they were with my culture, and how unfamiliar I was with theirs. I felt like every man and woman that whole week recognised me. They understood how I saw the world, and how I saw them. They knew me because they knew my culture. But to me they were strangers, each and all of them.

The community AFL field and it's view.

The community AFL field and it’s view.

Two boys from the community had recently died on the local AFL field. No one would talk about it but I suspect it was suicide. Official Sorry Business, as I was told it was called, is a solemn event where a family is given condolences as part of the healing process. This had to be done in order to re-open the field. I was there, and every man had to participate.

So along the line of family members I walked, my feet in the red dirt, shaking hands with each mourning person while being careful not to look them in the eye. Some of them were sobbing. I felt guilty being a part of such a meaningful and intimate ceremony without any understanding of it. I learned just how deeply important respect is in Indigenous culture.

My Australian identity is enriched tenfold when I embrace the Indigenous heritage and story that is intertwined with my own.

Aboriginal Australia, both past and contemporary, has much to offer Australia and Australians. During my week in the Mutitjulu community I realised that my Australian identity is enriched tenfold when I embrace the Indigenous heritage and story that is intertwined with my own. Before that week, I had been trying to understand Indigenous Australians through others’ eyes. I wanted someone to just tell me in a few sentences everything I needed to know. But as with a work of art, a novel or a song, the only way to fully appreciate a culture is to learn about it yourself. You must find your own understanding and appreciation of it if it is to affect you.

My prosperity as a white Australian is built on a history of Aboriginal suffering, but I am only guilty myself if I act the same way as my forefathers did. There is no hypocrisy in acknowledging a negative past while enjoying a bright present so long as you are working towards a better future.

We must demand the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians be closed in terms of life expectancy, infant mortality, education levels and we must all, as individuals, work towards closing the gap between us and them in a relational sense. Aboriginal Australians have spent some 300 years learning our ways, by force or by choice. It is time for all non-Indigenous Australians to learn about them.

After all, learning about them is learning about us. We are all Australians, and it should feel that way.

 

 

 

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If you would like to learn more, HERE is a list of resources that you might find useful/interesting. I also recommend ‘The Biggest Estate on Earth‘ (which I have only partially read – my copy is back in Aus).

Images are thanks to www.bencu.net and www.shanehoward.com.au/.

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Three Months in Jordan!

The last few weeks have consisted of us both being in crisis mode over careers and life in general. Many internship applications and not being very impressed with our current Arabic courses led to a whirlwind of questions and research into future study and career options. Exchange programs next year for Sam? Internships? Honours for me? Try and go straight to Masters? Grad jobs? Does this mean we should get internships here ASAP? Or focus on Arabic seeing as the Middle East is the best place to learn? Why are we here? What exactly do we want to get out of the year? Out of life? We aren’t doing anything with our lives!

 

This was a nice moment.

This was a nice moment.

But after realising that yesterday was three months since we arrived in Jordan, we’ve actually done quite a lot. In three months we have:

–       Moved to another country, set up our own apartment and come to know a new city

–       Almost finished a semester of Arabic at university

–       Travelled to Petra, one of the 7 wonders of the world, and explored the ancient city

–       Floated around in the Dead Sea and covered ourselves in mud

–       Participated in an ultra-marathon: 243km from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea

–       Hiked through a number of wadis and played under beautiful waterfalls

–       Been hiking and camping in the mountains to the north of Jordan, near the border with Syria

–       Spent a spontaneous weekend in Lebanon

–       Volunteered at a UN office

–       Taken up private (Arabic) tutoring

–       Held a couple of House of Cards marathons

–       Attended the ANZAC Day service at the Australian embassy in Jordan

–       Attended SOFEX, a bi-annual military arms fair held in Amman.

–       And we’ve met an incredibly diverse range of fascinating people – our friends from uni, who are from just about everywhere and have unique stories and passions, people we have met on hikes and at tourist places, people we’ve met at the embassy, the friendly locals who staff the shops we frequent, and so many more.

 

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Not bad for twelve weeks! If you make it fourteen and a bit weeks, we also managed to see a large portion of Egypt. And we were freaking out that we were wasting time over here… Ha!

Lebanon- Part 1

Cantaloupe is an amazing restaurant at the end of Rainbow Street in Amman. It has panoramic views of the city and fantastic (Italian) food. We were there with a small group of friends a few weeks ago to farewell our beloved American friend, Justin. (We miss you Justin!!)

A phone-camera snap of the view.

A phone-camera snap of the view.

Realising that it was Easter that coming weekend, we decided to go on the group’s long-awaited trip to Lebanon. Only a few days after Justin left. I guess we subconsciously wanted him to regret leaving us all. Sorry Justin.

A few days later we were off! Only a quick flight of just over an hour and we were there. It turns out we flew with the only airline that is still game (read: crazy?) enough to fly over Syria. So for most of the trip we cruised straight over Syria, although the plane did skirt Damascus so that’s fine, right? Oops. But we got there in one piece. Next challenge was to be let in.

One of the sights we were excited to see in Beirut!

One of the sights we were excited to see in Beirut!

Everyone got through customs without a hassle (Well, Michelle did get hit on by the customs officer: ‘have you tried tabouleh?’.. ‘yes.’ … ‘Lebanese tabouleh is the best. I can show you’ … ‘No thanks.’) But then it was my turn.

For those who don’t know, you cannot be let into Lebanon if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport. It’s the same in Saudi Arabia, amongst other countries. But I knew this, and didn’t have  a stamp.

However, I was born in Jerusalem, and it says so in my Australian passport under place of birth. They took my passport to the main office and consulted with each other. They called the owner of apartment we were staying at in Beirut, asked for many more details etc etc. I explained that I was born in Jerusalem because my Dad was working with the UN at the time, helping Palestinian refugees, and we lived in Bethlehem (Palestine) but the hospital was in Jerusalem. No good. (During the explanation one of them had the clever idea that I just change my place of birth. Genius, why didn’t I think of that beforehand…) They required approval from higher up, saying it would take about three hours. Not ok. I wanted to call for help.

We couldn’t get a sim card, they wouldn’t let us use their phone, and of course, the pay phones did not function. After over an hour of heated debate (in Arabic may I add- yay!), I was finally escorted by security to a pay phone on another floor that did work. My calls weren’t too fruitful in terms of getting me into the country, but I had plenty of time for a nice catch-up with my parents.

Other things we did to stay entertained:

  • Made paper aeroplanes out of the visa forms, earning strange looks from the guards, some of whom later joined us and made planes that put ours to shame.
  • Played soccer with a pen
  •  Watched Sam wear a wicked grin as he sped down the large empty corridor in a wheelchair that he found
  • Michelle taught me some Latin-American dance moves
  • Ate a lot of Oreos
  • Sung
  • Banged our heads on the wall
  • Sam lifted heavy tables and put them back down again, seriously concerning the security staff.

 

Kara and Michele dance the pain away.

Kara and Michele dance the pain away.

Yeah, it got pretty fun toward the end.

 

Nevertheless, five hours later I was finally allowed into the country. And it was great.

At least I know that I can argue in Arabic now!
(Note from Sam: No you can’t – it took 5 hours to get in, remember?)

Bombs on the border: a weekend camping trip with a sad soundtrack

Kara’s observations of sometimes quite surprising social contrasts, and the sad soundtrack to our hike near Ajloun, in the North of Jordan, near the border with Syria.

1. Ancient city in a modern town

Jerash is a town in the north of Jordan, with ancient ruins dating back to 3200BC. We’ve always been advised to go there, but haven’t made the trip yet. We did however drive through on our way to a hike, and wow did we get a shock. Yes, we’ve been to the temples in Egypt and have seen other ruins before, but this was different. An entire, modern town had been built around these buildings- from the car, it almost looked like houses and shops were built on top of ruins half-buried into the hillside. Oh, and they hold a festival in the ancient Roman amphitheatre each year, featuring popular Arabic singers. Modern music in an ancient amphitheatre- how cool is that?

 

2. Beggars and BMWs

On a heavier note, the contrast between rich and poor is pretty strong here. Men in tattered clothes walk the streets of nicer suburbs, sorting through the enormous communal rubbish bins and putting materials in the old wooden cart pulled by their scruffy donkey. Homeless families live under scrap metal and tarpaulins in wastelands right next to major shopping centres. And the poorer, but bustling downtown area is right next to the fancier expat and embassy district.

Sam takes in the view near Irbid/Ajloun.

Sam takes in the view near Irbid/Ajloun.

3. Bombs on a weekend stroll

No, nobody is bombing Jordan, but every now and again we are powerfully reminded of how close Jordan is to countries at war. For example, last weekend we went on an awesome camping trip in the forests up north. We stayed overnight and went on a hike the following day. The birds were singing, the flowers were in full bloom- it was so tranquil and silent. Until we heard a not-so-distant rumble, the echoes bouncing across the mountains. Apparently bombs from Syria. Which would make sense, since we were a maximum of 50km from Dara’a, a major conflict zone in Syria at the moment. So our walk was a huge mixture of silence, laughing and chatting, with the occasional explosion in the background. It was quite surreal, knowing how calamitous the situation is just across the border, but how safe and relatively carefree we were on the other side, eating, drinking and exploring the countryside.

 

4. Men

There are rude men who harass women wherever you go, it’s an unfortunate fact in this day and age. But men here seem to be a lot ruder to me as a female foreigner, while also being a lot politer in some situations too. Hugging between local male and females here isn’t a thing, but nor is shaking hands in many cases. So, any male acquaintances we might make, such as the grocer, the baker or the university guards, will either shake Sam’s hand or give him an enormous hug, while nodding a polite hello to me. Sometimes that is due to their own preference not to shake hands with women, but knowing them, it mostly seems to be out of respect to me. Letting women go first through doorways is also huge here. Fine, I’ll take it!

What I won’t take so well is men calling out, beeping or otherwise harassing me, even when I’m with Sam. Now this happens in Australia too, don’t get me wrong, but walking home by myself this afternoon I realised just how much worse it is here. Men of all ages beep and stare out the window, others call out ‘I love you!’, while others just whistle or chuckle to themselves as you walk past. But I also realised how lucky I am here as a white woman. I was talking to my South Korean friend earlier today, as she carries a whistle on her keyring for safety. I was a bit amused, until she explained why. See, there aren’t too many people of Asian origin here, and many of those with South Asian roots are prostitutes. So while I put up with some harmless but annoying comments, men yell ‘sex’ and ‘massage’ at her to the point where she actually fears for her safety. This would never happen to a local girl, towards which men are so much more respectful, but is a sad fact purely based on race, and harshly jars with the more conservative parts of society.

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5. Niqabs and nightclubs 

As with any country, some people are more religious than others. Goes without saying. But the contrast between the most outwardly conservative people and the more liberal folk has been quite surprising. These observations are largely based on how people seem to look and behave, and obviously there is more to it than that. Nevertheless, clothing and subtle behavioural habits can actually be quite informative here. For example, at university everyone dresses conservatively. Some girls might wear skinny jeans or leggings, but most wear hijabs and long coat-dresses that seem to be one of the most popular items of clothing for women.  There are also quite a few girls that wear even looser clothing as well as the full niqab. Men are also modest in dress, wearing relatively smart clothes, closed shoes, and they always wear long pants.

The more conservative girls do not speak to men they don’t know for longer than necessary (for example the guards at the gates), and there are certain rules of socialising among this group. Some guys and girls hang out together at uni, but some of my Jordanian girlfriends gave me an interesting insight into their families’ values. Sitting at a café, we saw a guy and a girl in a hijab sitting together, and then taking a selfie. My friends started laughing, quite surprised at what they said is forbidden. For them, guys and girls can’t really be friends, and you couldn’t even do what this couple did with a male cousin, in case you marry him.

Compare this to a night out. Dressed relatively conservatively (I wore jeans and a long-sleeve top), Sam and I wandered in to a swanky bar. It was filled with rich locals, and boy were they different. Girls had several layers of makeup and wore tiny skin-tight black dresses with enormous heels, some with quite scary-looking spikes on them. They all sat closer with their arms around each other, something you never see at university, and chatted drunkenly, mostly to the opposite sex. While there was a lot less PDA (thankfully) than clubs in Australia, it was a shock to see this in Amman, especially having only seen locals interacting at the much more conservative uni. Nevertheless, I don’t think Mooseheads has much of a market to exploit to over here. Pity.

Nope, The Monastery in Petra doesn't have much to do with this post. But who cares? I could look at it all day.

Nope, The Monastery in Petra doesn’t have much to do with this post. But who cares? I could look at it all day.

 

 

 

 

Student Union Election Day – Middle Eastern style.

Jordanian university students take their student union elections seriously.

Apparently the different candidates and parties are all tribal or family aligned. That is where the money for all these signs comes from.

Big, medium, small and sun-sized posters.

Big, medium, small and sun-sized posters.

Election day is pretty wild, lots of students don’t go to campus at all and there are plenty of police and military near the campus ready for trouble – which is expected. The police & army aren’t allowed on Uni campus though, so the unarmed uni security have to deal with it. We have made friends with some of them, we see them every day at the gate, and they are lovely! So we were hoping that they don’t have to deal with too much crap.

Some young students were dressed in military-style leather boots and camouflage pants. We assume they were students because to get on campus you have to use a student ID card. It was very disconcerting to see these guys essentially dressed for battle, especially since there were unconfirmed rumours of knives and guns being drawn in previous years. Some guys were wearing headwear in such a way that made it easy to cover their face quickly. They seemed fully prepared for quite a serious fight.

Despite this, there were no metal detectors or anything at the Uni gates. Maybe taking the threat of violence seriously will encourage violence? Or perhaps tribal leaders outside the uni give strict orders to the UJ students to keep it calm?

Kara and I only saw one fight. Two vans full of security screamed up to the Arts buildings and there was much yelling and ruckus but no one seemed to get hurt. It was kind of funny to see two very angry looking guys walk purposefully into the mob of men yelling whole holding hands. Here that’s about trust and a strong connection, men hold hands all the time, but it’s so non-masculine in Australia so it’s a bit odd to see in that context.

One of the most interesting things Kara and I saw and later talked about was the way security guards and students interacted. In Australia we tend to see police and similar authority figures as the position first and a person second, but here it seemed to be the other way around. The guards were really hands on but not in an intimidating way, they would grab emotional young men by their shoulders or clothes and shake them while yelling at them, but it was somehow not threatening and did nothing to escalate the situation. The guards were like father figures or something.

The way the day was handled was fascinating. There are some 41,000 students at UJ, 50% of whom voted that day. In Australia if there was 20,000 students in one place at one time every year, and there were fights every year, what kind of police presence would you expect? A bunch of un-armed, overweight middle aged men in minivans? Or police with dogs, batons, handcuffs, pepper spray and handguns?

Apparently there was tear gas used on the campus during the day (we didn’t see that), and there was some serious police capacity at the front gate, so maybe the contrast isn’t as significant as I’m making it out to be. Or maybe I just have such ridiculous expectations of the Middle East – based on hollywood movies and worst-case-scenario examples from the Western media – that anything less than a bomb or civil war seems tame?

Outside the main gate of the Uni.

Outside the main gate of the Uni.

Whatever the case, all this energy put into the elections should not be confused with a passion for democracy. The candidates all just seemed to want to win for family/tribal prestige. It had little to do with running the student union. The divisions and tensions over such an unimportant, small-time election may be representative of the rifts that cause conflicts throughout the whole region.

If all that matters is which tribe had more members on campus on the day, then why call it a vote? Call it a head count.

Dead2Red: the night we ran 243km across the desert… by choice.

Last weekend we did something a little crazy, even by our standards. On Thursday morning we drove down to the Dead Sea ready to run hundreds of kilometres through the desert to Aqaba, by the Red Sea. Having only found out about it a couple of weeks beforehand, there wasn’t much time for training. And I hadn’t been well so wasn’t going to run at all, but was roped in the day before as one of the other runners was injured. So points for preparation- zero.

In fact, preparation that morning was absolute chaos. Before that however, here is a quick run-down of how this relay race worked.

How it worked

We ran in teams of ten, and our team was split into two cars. CarA would run the first 15km while CarB would drive ahead. When CarA got to CarB they would swap, CarB would run the next 15km while CarA runners would get a rest. We ran relay-style in lengths of about 250m, meaning Kara would run 250m, then Sam, then the next person and around and around we went for 243km. Sometimes it was more than 15km, as the odometers of the two cars weren’t matched, so we just had to keep running till we found the other car, sometimes up to 17km.

Things that went wrong before we even left the house:

1. Sam thought it would be a good idea to make sure that the thermos for hot coffee didn’t leak. Keeping his hands well away from the lid, he tipped it upside down, only to have the boiling water burst out the thermos’ tap in a fountain of scalding hell. Sam’s reaction was to throw the thermos across the kitchen, shattering the inside of it. He burnt his wrist so badly that it started to blister almost immediately 😦 Sam was more concerned that he no longer had coffee for the trip.

Our amazing landlord drove us to the local pharmacy (it was pouring with rain and we didn’t want to get out clothes soaked before the race even began!) and helped us navigate Arabic pharmaceutical terms. With Sam’s wrist covered in cream and bandages, we headed back home to deal with the second problem…

2. Our apartment had flooded. Water was coming out of a hole in the wall behind the fridge where all the pipes were. This was caused by construction on the roof that had allowed water to gather and leak between the walls, out through a hole and across our kitchen floor. In order to fix this, our landlord had to go up onto the roof in the pouring rain to knock down a wall. Yes, he knocked down a wall down to fix the flood.

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3. And in order to knock the wall down, we had to switch the power out because our electricity cables were near the wall he was knocking down.

Just picture the pandemonium: Sam with his wrist under cold water packing food with his other hand and Kara skating across the wet floor hurling gym clothes into bags, all in the dark, with loud thumping from above thanks to our landlord’s sledgehammer. But you know what? We still got to the team meeting place on time!

The Race

We met at the university and drove the 45 minutes down to the Dead Sea, while the other car picked some other team members up on their way. We arrived in plenty of time, but the second car, with our team leader, was held up and only arrived 35 mins before the start – which was also an hour after registration was meant to close! They let us register, thankfully. We were the last team to enter – we hoped we wouldn’t also be the last team to finish!

Somehow, after all that, the race started well. The first runner for every team in the race had to run 1km to spread the teams out a bit before the team vehicles started to do their thing. Alexis did a great job, coming in around 15th, and passed the baton on to Simon, who was going to run another 1 km.

Poor Simon. We had parked our car at the 1km mark, and the other was back at the start. We found out, AFTER Simon had set off on a super fast pace, that we couldn’t move either car for 15 minutes. So Simon was left to run as far as he could in 15 minutes, not knowing where the hell we were. A lot of other teams had the same problem, but man.. Thankfully Simon was too tired when we picked him up to yell at us much.

More logistical complications followed. For example, when swapping runners, this scenario would frequently occur:

“Ok ready to stop and swap? Go Go Go! GO!”

“NONONO THE DOOR WON’T OPEN!! OPEN THE DOOR!  OPEN THE DOOR!!!”

Followed by half the team yanking at/ramming themselves against the door so that we could swap runners in time.

It was great fun though. We had the most awesome team, and conversation in cars switched from English to Arabic, to French to German, to Spanish and even bogan Aussie slang. There was also a lot of yelling, although none of it was in anger. This is despite being physically exhausted and staying up all night! Our poor drivers copped quite a bit of flak however.

E.g. As we got increasingly exhausted, we started cutting down the running distances from 250m to 100-150m. This meant we’d swap runners and the car would race ahead 150m and then we’d swap again. But the distances were all estimates, as we couldn’t set a trip meter on the van. It’s hard to guess in the first place, but the runners were always more cautious than the driver, as we knew how much of a difference every meter made in terms of tiredness. Which often led to us yelling at the driver to stop the van NOWNOWNOW, not realising that sometimes there were other people and cars on the road…

The other car in our team went so far as forcing the driver to run along next to the runner for a leg to show them how hard it was. Apparently, after that, the other driver was much more willing to stop quickly!

And we ran hard. Motivational music blasted from the van to get those about to run pumped up. And we ran even harder when we came up against another team, leading to exhausting rounds of 200m sprints (for about 5km or so) as both teams raged on. We would overtake them, then them us, then us them… It was awesome. And they were about 100m behind us when we finished out 15km leg – we were elated!

Then in the hour or so we had to rest while the other car was running, we refuelled ourselves (oh yeah, we almost ran out of petrol too), and sometimes dozed. In retrospect, that wasn’t a good idea as warming back up again got increasingly painful.

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Stretching on the highway

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Taking a rest

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Injury #2

Speaking of painful – about 50km from Aqaba, Sam sprained his ankle. He was 15m from the car and stepped in a pot hole. Not a lucky day for Sam and injuries! He managed to finished that 15km cycle  but couldn’t run, or walk, after that. So our car did the last 15km leg with four runners. By this point everything hurt, but the sunrise helped our mood.

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The spectacular finish

The two cars did the last part together, rotating between nine people. We crossed the finish line together, with the guys carrying Sam across in what was a pretty great finish.  We hobbled to the drinks tents then collapsed in our hotels unable to move. I tried to take a bath, but got stuck as I couldn’t stand up again. After our respective naps, we headed to the main hotel for the finishing dinner party and the most enormous buffet I’ve ever seen.

Kara in the hotel.

Kara in the hotel.

Results

We actually did much better than we’d hoped. All teams have to finish within 24hrs to be counted, so we thought that 20hrs, or 12 noon the following day, would be a reasonable goal. We made it in 18hrs 41mins, including injuries and screw-ups at the beginning! Each car ran their first 10km in 42mins, and both cars had a ‘car best’ of 15km an hour! So, overall, we managed to place in 16th. Unbelievable!

This led to some well-deserved recovery  the next day, chilling on the hotel Movenpick’s private beach with some spectacular views.

Panorama

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Seconds before Nacho got hit in the face with a towel…

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Israel

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So now we can say we ran 243km across the Jordanian desert from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea. The team was fantastic, and the experience was one of a kind. By which I mean, while I had a ball, more time needs to pass for me to forget how crazy and difficult it was before I do this race again… Instead, the team is going to have more of these types of marathons:

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Why kissing is wrong.

This is pretty cool, what is happening in our apartment right now.

Kara invited our landlord’s mother over for two reasons: to get to know her and talk about the country and its culture, and also to practice Arabic.

They’re on the couch with tea and biscuits in front of them. They’re talking about… oh right, I have no idea what they’re talking about now because my Arabic is at the level of a 2 year old.. If that. But Kara may as well be a local, it’s very impressive to watch.

Earlier we were talking about Palestine – a topic that comes up almost daily here – and I had my first feeling of guilt over the topic. This lovely woman is Palestinian, and she was telling us about her family’s story. They left their home in 1948, when Israel was established.

Her family is from Jaffa, which is a gorgeous, smaller city on the coast of Israel. I told her I had been there and that it’s beautiful, and then saw the look on her face. She hasn’t been there. She, like most of the 4.7 million Palestinians alive today, are unable to enter Israel and see their old homes. But I can go anytime I like, despite having never lived there. That’s why I felt guilty.

It’s just one of the injustices of the complicated situation. Please do not take this as a blanket anti-Israeli statement – it’s not – but I wanted to share that particular feeling and that particular moment with you. Nothing more.

But here is the story that relates to the title of this post:

It’s against the rules for men and women to kiss on university grounds. Guess how we found that out? Yeah, the campus security told us. Whoops.

Kara immediately felt guilty and reprimanded herself for not knowing better. I shrugged it off (like the culturally insensitive guy that I am) more easily, but we don’t kiss on campus anymore. This makes me sad.

For the record: we were’t making out or anything. It was just a good-bye peck – Kara was off to her class and I was off to nap in the library.

And because I’m a really slow learner, today I wore my shorts on the walk home from the running track at the uni. It was hot, I was sweaty and I didn’t want to get my jeans all gross. For the record: Kara said I should put some damn pants on.

Walking through campus with these shorts on resulted in groups of girls giggling, or looking at me with disgust, and guys doing double-takes or laughing. I didn’t feel judged, I felt like a sort of weird stranger, like an alien.

A lovely male student politely stopped us and asked if we had a moment to speak with him. He told me that my shorts were a little too short because the Uni is quite conservative, the girls are Muslim, and that I should wear longer shorts or pants. I can wear shorts on the track though, or while playing sport. He was incredibly nice, in fact we exchanged numbers and we’ll meet up and help each other with languages (we will help him with English and he’ll help us with Arabic!). It was a very gentle, but important, lesson about the culture here.

That is, some things are very different here. Spending most of my time with Westerners – in the classes and because that’s who I meet also in social situations – it’s easy to think Jordan is not so different to anywhere else. People dress differently – at Uni I’d say 90 or 95% of women wear a hijab – but they don’t seem to act so differently. Girls still giggle, guys still strut.

But there are very different boundaries.

Kara had a conversation with some girls our age and they were fascinated by our relationship. For them, boyfriends just aren’t a thing. For us, getting married without really knowing your partner isn’t a thing. In Australia, if we were married both our parents would freak out. Here, if we kissed and went on dates but weren’t married our parents would freak out. It’s the exact opposite. Each cultural system has it’s own strengths and weaknesses.

I like to think of myself as someone who doesn’t change depending on who I am around. No matter where I am or who I’m with, I’m me. That’s not meant to be abrasive, I don’t try and bulldoze my way through life, but I do try to be open and honest about who I am and what I think with everyone. With empathy and respect this shouldn’t, I think, cause problems.

So I have a weird little conflict in my mind about wearing longer shorts. Obviously I will, and I feel stupid for not doing so in the first place. But it’s one of the few times where I will change something about myself against my own will to suit or please others. It’s SUCH a small thing, but I wonder what it would feel like to have to do this on many levels all at once? I’d hate it. I guess that’s what they call oppression.

I’m not saying people here who wear longer shorts or hijabs or whatever don’t want to. And to be completely honest I quite like not having cleavage all around me. I like the less sexualised environment. And I think if I grew up here and saw a Miley Cyrus music video I’d think the West is a morally corrupt cesspool of shit, too.

Anyway, that’s my stream-of-consciousness cultural observations related to clothing. Hope you liked it.

Because we don’t have any super relevant photos for this post, here are some pics of me and Kara facing off over coffee like Obama and Putin are doing over Ukraine. High stakes stuff, I say.

The Valley of Women: Wadi Mukheires

It’s kind of a grim story. Apparently, a Spanish man used the wadi as a dumping ground for the women he killed. Wadi means valley, and Mukhaires is Spanish for women. So it was named after this story. In fact, the wadi was only recently opened up for hiking, it was closed because they thought there were still some potential burial sites in there!

According to Sam. The expert on Jordanian history, geography and everything in between. Sam had the group, maybe not convinced, but definitely confused. Our guide wasn’t sure if there was a story behind the name so told us to make one up instead. Sam did a pretty good job, no?

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It was a smaller group than last week, so Sam and I and a friend from uni were driven up by one of our guides in his big old 4WD, while the others were in another car. Besides the fact that both our guides are great guys, it was good to get to chat with Jordanians after spending most of our time with foreigners at university.

The walk itself was fantastic. While classified as moderate/difficult as opposed to last week’s ‘easy’ walk, it didn’t actually involve any swimming, and none of the climbing was excessively hard either. As Sam said, this meant we could get into a nice rhythm without having to stop too much. It was a different type of enjoyment and appreciation of the wadi we were walking through. That said, we didn’t have to swim!

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Although, Sam’s bum did get a bit wet, because of course he had to try and jump across the widest part of the stream. He ended up with his feet and legs on dry land and just his bum in the water. Hilarious! And me, when I prematurely congratulated myself on jumping across a wide stretch of water by relaxing and failing to actually make it to the other side… But just wet feet!

Which may be why we decided to stand under the waterfall at the top of the hike! Powerful and cold neck and shoulder massage anyone?!

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The waterfall was really powerful!

Yes, it was cold

Wringing ourselves out

So yes, we did get soaked. But sunbaking on the rocks afterwards was a great recovery from our refreshing pummelling. The waterfall was beautiful though. There were some springs flowing out of the surrounding rocks, as well as a pile of rocks from a recent avalanche. Which was apparently covering one of our guides’ campsites from a few weeks earlier! He was properly concerned when he saw what had become of where he had slept.

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We had arrived at the waterfall ahead of time as our small group moved quickly. So we ate an early, but again, delicious lunch. Feast of fresh bread with fried tomatoes, onions, chilis, and some capsicum and sausages too. And tea, of course. With date and sesame dessert pastries. Yuuuuummo.

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We actually interrupted a lovely British couple and their guide having tea when we arrived at the waterfall. But then a group of about 30 young boys came on some sort of school trip, and played under the waterfall too. Funny to watch them pushing their teacher in, but still glad they didn’t stay for toooo long.

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Our group was great though. We brought a couple of friends from uni, one of whom brought her Jordanian boyfriend. Who is nicknamed Lemur, because he climbs and bounces around everywhere and does parkour. So while we were slipping and clambering around, he was back-flipping off rocks.

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We also had some great conversations with an American working here with the Peace Corps. This organisation runs a 2-year volunteering program for Americans, who learn the local dialect and usually teach English or work with Jordanian youths. Interesting to compare it to Australia’s Youth Ambassador Program, which isn’t nearly as long and doesn’t operate in Jordan.

Then there are our guides, who are awesome.

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And they always make the walk even more interesting

Walking like an Egyptian

Driving back along the Dead Sea was also an interesting experience. So many people were sitting picnicking along the edge of the road again. On the OTHER side of the four lane highway from the Dead Sea. So they drive an hour or so out of Amman to sit by a busy road unable to see the sea. What are we missing here? It’s so popular, surely there must be something more to it?

Really, I think it’s definitely them missing out on the beauty Jordan has to offer. Weekend trips out of Amman are definitely going to continue! We love these walks. So much so that Sam’s sweat patches form a massive love heart across his chest!

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Hiking near the Dead Sea – Wadi Zarqa Ma’in

Wadi Zarqa Ma’in

We started by climbing up a hill to the ruins where John the Baptist was beheaded, overlooking the Dead Sea, across which we could see Jerusalem. Not a bad start for our first time outside of Amman!

The Dead Sea from Makawer.

The Dead Sea from Makawer. Jerusalem is visible on the horizon from here.

A friend told us about Experience Jordan, which leads weekly walks outside of Amman, as well as longer trips around the country and region (which we will definitely look into). This week’s walk was to Wadi Zarqa Ma’in (wadi means valley in Arabic), via Makawer.

Makawer is where John the Baptist, who is said to have baptised Jesus, was imprisoned and beheaded. We explored the caves in the side of the hill that served as his prison, after a short, steep climb up to the ruins of the palace where he lost his head. From the ruins, built in 90BC, we could see across the Dead Sea and all the way to Jerusalem. It was incredible.

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We then headed to Wadi Zarqa Ma’in for our hike. It was classified as “easy”, with “an excellent chance of getting wet”. Little did we know that this would mean swimming up to our necks across pools at the base of small waterfalls in order to clamber/be dragged up the cliffs and rock faces on the way up.  But as one of the other hikers said, if we had known how wet we’d get, we may not have gone. We’re so glad we went – it was fantastic!

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We walked by some hot springs where a number of Jordanian families were swimming and picnicking. Unfortunately quite a few of the groups were leaving their rubbish all over the place, much to everyone in the group’s disgust (especially the Jordanian guides, who are avid hikers). One lot of picnickers had a UNHCR tent. Someone explained it was likely to have been sold by Syrian refugees from the camps when security was less tight.

As rational a scenario as that seems, Sam and I were quite shocked, given how symbolic the UN symbol is for us. We would never have imagined that someone would use a UN tent for a leisurely weekend picnic, making us realise how different our views (personal and in the West more broadly) of the UN and other aid organisations could be from those in the region. Just because the UN is an internationally recognised organisation, it is not necessarily seen in the same light across the world. Even if people do have a similar level of respect for the organisation, it does not mean that they will have an issue displaying its logo completely out of context. Perfectly logical, but not something I’d thought about before.

Anyway, the walk. The walk was beautiful. It’s not what I would have classified as an ‘easy’ or ‘leisurely’ walk, but then, that would have been boring. We spent most of the time jumping across rocks, climbing up the side of the valley, or, as I mentioned, wading and swimming. It was actually refreshing (read ‘cold’, because I’m a wuss when it comes to water temperatures). We also passed a young shepherd and his herd of goats, which wandered up the cliff-sides as sure-footed as, well, goats.

After a couple of hours (give or take, we really had no idea what time it was or how long anything was taking, which was lovely), we stopped at the foot of a large waterfall spilling out of the cliff into a deliciously cool pool, surrounded by greenery and rocky stalactites. The guides cooked up a tasty traditional meal of fried tomatoes with onions, chilli and spices, eaten with fresh bread. Followed by date pastry desserts and one of the guide’s special teas (he had added thyme and rosemary to the normal mixture, which always includes HEAPS of sugar- yum!)

This woke us up enough to walk/climb/swim back to the bus, which drove along the Dead Sea back to Amman. The sunset over the Dead Sea was stunning, and we saw many more Jordanians picnicking. Worryingly, there was a family at the top of every single emergency stop ramp as we went down the hill. They must have great faith in the quality of truck brakes…

By the end, we were totally exhausted, and our pants were still wet from swimming. The pants thing was unavoidable, but the tiredness may have had a lot to do with getting less than four hours of sleep the night before (after our first experience of Amman’s nightlife- aka the night Sam accidentally ordered three desserts). But we held up surprisingly well. In fact, as Sam so eloquently put, “despite the fact that we were both grumpy and intermittently pissed off with the entire world, somehow we managed to make heaps of new friends!” It was hard not to though. Everyone else on the walk was friendly, interesting, and a lot of fun. We were particularly impressed with the 9 and 12 year-old girls that held their own with ease (and were more nimble than some of us too!) The guides were fantastic as well- they knew their stuff, and had great senses of humour. Can’t wait for our next walk! Especially now that we know to bring spare clothes/swimmers. And to get more than four hours of sleep…

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An American, a German and two Australians walk into a bar…

Three guys and a girl walk into a burger joint in Amman, Jordan. The American offends the staff by being American. The German offends the American by telling him ‘your hair smells like flowers’ in an aggressive German accent. The Australian girl offends the Australian boy by laughing at his Arabic. The Australian boy disgusts everyone by ordering three desserts. He ate them all, not wanting to admit that he only meant to order one and that his Arabic does in fact suck.* And because they were delicious.

Three of these.

Three of these.

*Sam is actually really good at Arabic, and much better than Kara was after seven days of classes.