Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Yesterday our school took us on a "field trip" to Ajlun Castle, a little over an hour's drive north of Amman. Nothing like riding in a caravan of five buses full of students with North Face backpacks, brightly colored sunglasses, and cameras to make you feel like a tourist! And our bus driver made epic music choices: Killing Me Softly, selections from Backstreet Boys (or 'N Sync -- that was my generation, and I can never keep the two straight) and Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" at ear-splitting volume. He'd raise the microphone to his mouth with a huge smile on his face and threaten to sing along.

The city of Ajlun itself dates back to around 850 BC.
The town of Ajlun on the way to the castle
We had a very knowledgeable tour guide who spouted off tons of information about the history of the building and the battles it was involved in. I wish I could recount them here, but my brain doesn't retain historical facts. It just doesn't work that way. As interesting the history can be, it mostly goes in one ear and out the other. What I do know is that the castle was built in the late 12th century by Saladin to guard against Crusader attacks, but over the years the building served various purposes. Originally it was used to store food, water, and weapons, but it was later used as a monastery, a police station, and at one point even a medical school. There's not much to see inside, except piles of huge stones used as cannonballs. Really big. Wouldn't want that catapulted at my face.
Ajlun Castle
Then our tour guide took us up to the top of the castle and pointed out the views. Supposedly on a clear day (which yesterday was not -- note all the haze in the picture!) you can see the Sea of Galilee, the Golan Heights, the Hebron Mountains, the West Bank, and even Jerusalem's famous Al-Aqsa Mosque. Not to mention Nazareth, Jericho, and Bethlehem...
View of Lebanon from the top of the castle
By the end of the tour, everyone was hungry and exhausted from the heat. (How did I fail to mention in my last post how much it sucks to wear long pants and long sleeves in this heat?!)  Envision open mouths and heads leaning against windows, bouncing with the bumps in the road. Thank goodness that the next stop was lunch. I think this was in Jerash but I slept on the bus ride there so... At any rate, the food was delicious. The obvious hummus, baba ganoush, tabbouleh, and freshly baked pita, plus a few dishes I didn't recognize. And there were french fries too. (What?!) It's not so bad being vegetarian in the Middle East! 
Delicious food!
After coming home and taking a two hour nap, I ventured out into Amman and took my first solo cab ride. I was nervous because my colloquial Arabic leaves much to be desired, and most of our communication with cab drivers so far has been via gestures, broken formal Arabic on our part, and equally broken English on the driver's part. But yesterday I managed to get where I was going using entirely colloquial Arabic, and even got compliments from the driver on my speaking! He tried to make me speak English so he could learn. I mostly refused, but I did teach him how to say "stop here," much to his delight. One of my major goals for this summer is to be brave enough to make mistakes. Lots of them. Because if I try to say everything perfectly, I'll end up not saying anything at all. And how can you learn to speak if you don't... speak?!

Today is my last day of "freedom" -- class starts tomorrow morning. The other day we took placement tests, which included a written portion and an oral interview, and this afternoon we'll find out which level we placed into. It's hard to believe it's been almost a year since I've taken an Arabic class, and I'm definitely excited to get back into it tomorrow.


  1. How great that you're getting to see the region and eat the food as it's meant to be made. How does it compare to the version we get in the States?

    At Moody, I took a historical geography class and had to draw the Sea of Galilee with colored pencils so many times, and label the cities you named. It's probably better to see them in person, on a clear day.

  2. I'm so excited for you! Good job getting around in taxis - I think I would feel so nervous in an unfamiliar place where I didn't speak the language. I have a friend named Judith doing the Peace Corps in Jerash. If you go back there and run into her, let me know! (I'm not sure how big of a town Jerash is.)