An American in Jordan

My husband, Alex, and I got back from Jordan two weeks ago, and although I am just now getting a moment to sit down and write about our experiences – everything still feels so tangible in my mind.

Traveling to the Middle East was one of the most awe-inspiring events of my life, especially since it was within the context of meeting the wonderful people of my husband’s family. We got to spend time in his grandparent’s house eating some of the most incredible home cooking I’ve ever tasted. We travelled to the Dead Sea and floated in the salty water, covered in the nourishing Dead Sea mud.

dead sea 2

We went sight-seeing in some of the most modern parts of Amman, stacked with glass skyscrapers and shopping malls, and we shopped in downtown Amman (the Belad), where the streets were lined with bazaars, restaurants and cement structures. Both were beautiful in their own ways, but nothing can or will, I suspect, ever measure up to the immense beauty that was Wadi Rum and Petra.

Petra, widely known as one of the man-made wonders of the world, was truly wondrous. The intricate columns and detailing carved into the ancient rock looked unreal, especially when paired with the colossal cavern pathways that led into the stone city.

petra

The Wadi Rum desert in southern Jordan, which is not far from Petra, was the most breathtaking and vast natural landscape I’ve ever seen. Many Hollywood and foreign filmmakers have chosen Wadi Rum as their backdrop for Mars or an alien planet for good reason. Walking along the red sand amid the enormous rock formations eroded by water millions of years ago made it feel as though we had been transported to another planet altogether.

Despite all the beauty of Petra and Wadi Rum, however, I think the true beauty of our experience came from the hospitality we experienced from the keepers of the desert, the Bedouin people.

wadi rum

After a full day of hiking in Petra followed by hours of more hiking and exploring Wadi Rum in jeeps, we finally made it to our resting place for the night – a Bedouin caravan camp out in the middle of the desert. Once we arrived, one of our hosts immediately noticed I had been sniffling and coughing the whole way. Although he spoke little English, he relayed to me that he knew of a traditional medicinal plant the Bedouins grew that, when dried, made a healing tea. He smiled and handed me a clear glass mug filled with a yellow liquid that smelled of Sage and Thyme, spices traditionally used to make the classic Arabic blend, Zaatar.

After I had been attended to, he then proceeded to make black tea for everyone else. Our group was the only one at the camp, making the whole experience feel even more intimate and authentic. Most of the conversation was held in Arabic, but Alex made sure to dutifully translate as much as he could for me.

Even though I could not understand most of what was said, I could feel the authenticity and kinship that was held among this Bedouin tribe. They took so much pride in their home and in their work.

After the tea, they led us outside to a large mound of sand, explaining that this was where our dinner was coming from. A traditional way to cook meat and vegetables in the desert is to dig out an underground oven filled with hot coals and lined with foil. The racks of meat are then placed in the ground, followed by layers of foil and carpets, finally covered by sand, which seals the whole thing and acts as a pressure cooker for the meat underneath.

Dinner was hosted in the main tent – a gorgeous spread of chicken, vegetables, hummus, bread, and salad. We dined together, enjoying the cool, dry, desert air, and afterwards were treated to a surprise wedding reception. The family found out that Alex and I were the most recently wed of our big group, so they insisted upon hosting a Bedouin-style wedding reception for us.

The men led Alex into the house to dress him in a long, white gown and adorn his head with a red scarf, and I was led into a room with the lady of the house, a beautiful woman in a full, black burka. Once it was just us in the room, she removed her head scarf, revealing her face, and she beamed with delight as she dressed me in her favorite black gown and scarf. Although she didn’t speak any English, she and I shared such a beautiful moment there in the room with my cousin, Tala.

They took us back into the main tent where we proceeded to dance the night away, learning their Bedouin dances and soaking up what felt like the wildest night of our lives. It wasn’t “wild” in the typical sense of the word, but in the sense that being here with people who lived so differently from us gave such a broad perspective on the world that it felt as though life would never be the same.

But, one week and a twenty-four-hour flight later, life did go back to normal. We came home to our house. I went back to work. Everything seemed to continue spinning along just as it did before we left.

One thing is different, however, and those are the memories we took home with us that have reshaped the way we see the world. I have an immense amount of love and appreciation for our unique, Arab-American culture our little family has built, especially now that I’ve experienced exactly what the Arabic piece of the puzzle looks like – and I can confirm – there is nothing more beautiful.

jordan

 

 

 

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The Deal with Real

Friendship in the modern world is a funny thing – especially for those born in the millennial generation. Countless commentaries exist detailing why friendship, specifically for this group of people, is often a maze of unnatural interactions and endless back-and-forth scheduling attempts leading to little more than surface-level relationships.

However, the real problem with 21st century friendship is not the Internet. It is not our obsession with our phones. It is not communication issues stemming from a lack of personal social interaction. These things are certainly issues of their own that may or may not need addressing. The real underlying issue, however, is something so much simpler and exponentially deeper than most of the problems for which we blame our social pitfalls.

It all comes down to one, terrifying word: Vulnerability.

Vulnerability is the practice of allowing your guard to come down in order to let those around you witness the truest version of yourself. There is something simultaneously delicate and strengthening about being vulnerable that helps us “super-charge” relationships. Vulnerability is the bedrock principle of friendship, after all. Exposing a version of yourself without walls to another person is the ultimate offering of trust, and it lets them know that you value their friendship more than you value your own pride.

The problem with the way we interact with each other in the technological world is not the technology itself – but it is that technology allows us to cut vulnerability out of the equation altogether. We can have entire conversations via text, email or social media, which are often crafted word-by-word, that help us avoid making mistakes or saying things that may compromise our status. We don’t have to admit our shortcomings or ask for help as often because we have an entire database of information right at our fingertips, allowing us to “fake it ‘til we make it.”

Not only that, but through social media, we have the ability to paint a picture of our lives exactly the way we want others to perceive us. Even friends and family rely primarily on our social pages to keep up with what’s going on in our lives – and we can tell the world whatever story we want.

Every person has become the most successful, beautiful and happy version of themselves possible – because whoever we are online is the real “us,” right?

Vulnerability is missing from our lives, and we desperately need to take it back in order to save our relationships and friendships from falling apart.

In a Q&A article in Forbes Magazine online, Dr. Brené Brown of the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and author of New York Times bestselling book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, she says, “Most of us don’t trust perfect and that’s a good instinct.”

Is trust not the universally-accepted foundation of all relationships? How can we trust those who we do not see fault in? To quote Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” As humans, we are all epically flawed. It is inherent knowledge for every person, I think, to realize that there are no perfect people. And therefore, if we cannot pinpoint anything imperfect or wrong about another human, our gut tells us not to trust that person.

To stretch my logic here, if the majority of people are attempting to display a perfect version of themselves to others, how can trust take root?

So, how do we overcome this seemingly intrinsic flaw in our primary form of communication with one another? It is certainly easier said than done. Now, I am not advising that everyone go and air all their baggage out on every social platform for the world to see. That also defeats the purpose of building stronger one-on-one relationships, which is the goal, after all. All I am saying is that within personal conversations, we should all start taking our walls down, brick by brick.

Admit what scares you. Tell your friends about your recent failures. Ask for help.

These are the small, but mighty steps toward destroying pride so that vulnerability may rise from its ashes and serve as the solid foundation on which to create real, lasting bonds that are so much more than one-dimensional.

Food photographers often use mashed potatoes in place of ice cream during shoots to maintain the aesthetic integrity of the subject. But, when asked to choose between a perfect, beautiful cone full of potatoes and a sticky, lop-sided cone full of real ice cream – I’m almost positive I know which one we would all choose. To choose vulnerability in relationships is to choose ice cream over potatoes.

Isn’t it time we treat ourselves?

 

 

Favorite Phrases

Sometimes, you just need a good quote to give you a push of inspiration or motivation. Of the thousands of one-liners out there in the world, I have rounded up six of my favorites, along with the reasoning behind my admiration. I hope these can inspire you in your own way, as well. Let me know if you share my sentiment for these particular phrases, or if you have other favorite quotes of your own.

 

A quote for uplifting your faith

I have found a desire within myself that no experience in this world can satisfy; the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

  • C. S. Lewis

This is a classic quote you’ve probably seen quite a few times in various forms across the Internet. As widely-used as it is, this saying by C.S. Lewis perfectly outlines the indescribable feeling of knowing in your heart that there must be so much more to life than the world around us.

 

A quote for thinking twice about complaining

What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.

  • Maya Angelou

It’s easy to get caught up in a spiral of complaining when things don’t go our way. However, this quote reinforces the difficult truth that it is much more mature and graceful to realize that complaining produces no solutions; it simply allows negativity to fester while preventing the creation of any positive alternatives. Bluntly speaking, we can all benefit from the old Southern adage, “Put up or shut up.”

 

A quote for the importance of expressing yourself 

In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.

  • Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Keeping feelings bottled inside can be more exhausting than running laps. This does not only apply to feelings of love, but can be used with any situation in which we feel we cannot properly express ourselves. Find the method that best suits you – saying it out loud, writing it down, drawing about it or even singing about it. Finding ways in which to express yourself and let your feelings out makes for a much easier go of life.

 

A quote for inspiring a life well lived

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

  • J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Everyone knows our days on this Earth are numbered, but do we always live like we really believe that? Our time has been allotted by our creator – so do as much good with it as you can. Spend more time focusing on living in the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control).

 

A quote for the idea that feeling something is much better than feeling nothing at all

Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.

  • J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Have you ever had someone dislike you? Of course; that is one thing I’m sure every person has in common. Now, have you ever had someone simply not care about you at all? I believe most every person would rather have the former than the latter. It is important for us to allow ourselves to feel everything, even dislike and discomfort, so that we can actively move past those emotions, rather than blocking it all out.

 

A quote for tenacious commitment 

When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.

  • Walt Disney

What I take from this quote is – don’t live a half life. Live in absolute commitment and passion for the things and the people you love. There’s not much more to it than that.

 

 

 

Why So Serious?

 

For some reason, whether it be the complexity of the story, or the fact that I know the true meaning behind it, I cannot seem to just quietly read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. With every sentence, I get the intense urge to scribble down an annotation or a thought. However, the version I am currently reading is a beautiful, cloth-bound, gold-foil-stamped piece of art found at a local book consignment boutique, so naturally, I feel disinclined to sully any of its precious pages.

My next best option, then, is to take down a note and remind myself to write about it later – which leads us to the following passages that stuck out to me as I was reading last night:

  • “And Lucy felt in her that deep shiver of gladness which you only get if you’re being solemn and still.”
  • “Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.”
  • “The shield was the colour of silver and across it there ramped a red lion, as bright as a ripe strawberry at the moment when you pick it. The hilt of the sword was of gold and it had a sheath and a sword belt and everything it needed, and it was just the right size and weight for Peter to use. Peter was silent and solemn as he received these gifts, for he felt they were a very serious kind of present.”

Notice that C. S. Lewis uses the word “solemn” to mean something very different than words with which you would normally equate it. It is not used once or twice, but three times in a matter of two pages, which I found to be a little odd. This is the reason I felt so obliged to stop and analyze why this word was so carefully chosen.

Clearly, C. S. Lewis is not a novice author, and he undoubtedly has a multitude of words in his literary arsenal, so why choose exactly the same one to be used three times in three different descriptive senses so close to one another?

I do not believe it was a mistake, but a very thoughtful and careful crafting of words that mean something more than meets the eye.

The dictionary definition of “solemn” has about seven different variations. The most obvious ones, of course, are used to describe something as “grave,” or “somber,” or “depressing.” Certainly, this was not the intended meaning behind the passages given above.

Another Dictionary definition of “solemn” says the word can also mean “serious,” “dignified,” or “having a religious character.” In passage 1, the author uses it to describe Lucy’s feelings of deep gladness – exactly the opposite of what “solemn” typically means. However, paired with the word “still,” I believe it changes the meaning of the word by altering the context.

To me, the word “still,” is what binds it all together. The word “still” is used in passages 1 and 2 alongside “solemn,” and in passage 3, the word “silent” is used, another term for stillness. If we refer back to the Bible, I am reminded of two verses which speak to the same effect as these three passages:

Philippians 4:7

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Psalm 46:10

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Taking these verses and the passages from the book, I think it is safe to say we can equate the words “solemn,” “still,” and “peace,” with one another in context.

The importance of this is the notion that solemnity, or stillness, is a trait valued by God. To be solemn is to be still, but in an entirely deeper sense of the word. To be solemn is to rest in stillness and respect; to bask in the peace of God.

The kind of joy that Lucy was feeling in passage 1 is the joy that accompanies the peace being spoken of in Philippians 4:7.

In passage 2, the children meet Father Christmas for the first time, and they experience what is described as stillness, gladness and solemnity all at once. And in passage 3, Peter is given his gift of the sword and shield, his reaction being to remain silent and solemn.

 

Solemn, quiet, peaceful.

 

These are not words used often to describe happiness. When we think of being “happy,” we think of being surrounded by friends and family, being busy with an array of activities and laughing uncontrollably. While these things are certainly not bad, I do not believe they lead to the kind of joy God wants for us. True happiness and joy as described by the word of God is simply being still, being quiet and resting in His peace.

Lucy may have been just a young girl, but she was wise beyond her years. I hope to continue practicing the art of being still and solemn and rejecting the world’s definition of what “happiness” really is in search of what God has intended for us.

 

Cover photo credit here.