Beirut

 

Hello there.  It’s been over a week since I got back from Beirut.  It’s been hard to find any time at all to write down a few of my thoughts.    Here goes.

 

Before I went to Beirut I had only some vague impressions of it…destroyed by civil war was one haunting impression, there is nothing left to see.  Another sense I had was one of cultural complexity and refinement, after all it’s the publishing capital of the Arabic speaking world.  For a country so small it also produces a large number of Arab music’s best singers, from the emblematic Fayrouz and Abdel Halim Hafez to today’s flashy pop stars.  I didn’t attempt to learn much more than these vague notions, preferring to be completely surprised.  (Just like I don’t read anything about movies I’m planning to watch either).

 

Truth is nothing could have prepared me for the intensity of the city.  There was so much to take in from the minute I landed at Rafik Hariri Airport, looked out of the plane, and saw the sea, the Mediterranean, right there across the tarmac.  The taxi ride from the airport took me through busy, crowded streets, older and dirtier than even Marrakesh.  It was dizzying to take it all in and realize with tingling excitement that I was in the Middle East again

 

In the beginning I was just overwhelmed by the visual of the city itself.  I’ve never been in a city that had suffered a war, and here is what I saw.  I saw a good 10% of the buildings standing there, gutted, abandoned, bullet marks all up and down them.  And that is something really heavy to witness.  As I was walking by an old wall I saw holes and when I looked closer there were actual bullets still in the holes, rusted over.  There was a giant skyscraper downtown that just stood there, damaged and empty.  They can’t live in it and they can’t tear it down, it’s just too big.  I saw the old Lebanese style of villas, with beautiful balconies and the typical three arches.  Some have been restored, most are abandoned.  Then there is just junk everywhere too, shells of cars, building scraps that I’m not sure were just torn down or waiting to go up.  It reminded me of a trailer park.  And then there were all these ultra-modern,glassy, painfully boring buildings going up everywhere, promising to be “exclusive” and grant you a very privileged lifestyle.  A city trying to regenerate itself fast enough to overtake the decay.  It was like looking at several archeological layers at once, each one from a drastically different time period.  Add to that the fact that Beirut is built on a series of hills, so at any given point, not only were you walking through different eras, but you were also continuously ascending and descending.

 

The only conversations I had with any Lebanese were the taxi drivers, straining to comprehend the dialect of Arabic, and replying in very formal classical, since Middle Easterners do not comprehend our Moroccan dialect.  The taxi drivers’ replies were my crash course in Lebanese cultural (pun…intended).  I asked about the civil war and found out that it lasted from 1975 to 1992 (google says 1990).  The man said: Yatla3 jeel mesh m3ellem.  A whole generation emerges uneducated.

 

Beirut is truly a striking city, nestled between snowcapped mountains and the great, calm expanse of the Mediterranean.  It was only my second time in the Middle East and I have to say there is something very special about it.  It’s haunting and it makes my heart ache.  There’s a deep strength, a tenaciousness, in the people and the place itself.  It’s ancient, to say it’s a spiritual place doesn’t even come close to describing it.

 

I came away from this particular trip a bit jealous of Middle Easterners, feeling that they share a deep bond.  It’s apparent in the similar dialects, Jordanians, Lebanese, Saudis, Syrians etc. can comprehend each other fairly well, despite some variation in dialects.  When I tried to speak Moroccan darija they literally did not understand one word.  The countries are all close together so it’s not hard to imagine living in Jordan and visiting Lebanon, an hour away by plane.  They even share similar long distance calling codes and cell phone operators give coverage over the whole Middle East region.  This left me feeling kind of lonely, we Moroccans are way, way over there, the outliers, geographically, linguistically and to some extent ethnically.  We cannot even bond with our Algerian neighbors, since those borders are closed for who knows how long.  And although I feel Moroccan I do not feel Arab at all.  Hello identity issues, you don’t leave me for long do you.

 

I witnessed one rather disturbing scene that left me unsettled.  My Danish friend and I were walking back to the hotel from Gemmeyzeh to Ashrafieh.  As we approached downtown we started to notice soldiers, truckloads of them.  They were lining the street on both sides and it made crossing rather awkward.  I asked a passerby what was happening and he said that parliament was in session and this was security.  Hmm.  It was quite unnerving to see rows and rows of soldiers with machine guns and riot shields.  Then we heard loud Arab music and several trucks rolled by, full of black-clad youth waving flags.  We cautiously approached to see what all the excitement was about.  I figured out it was the Syrian flag and I told my friend, oh it’s something in solidarity with Syrians.  After all Lebanon and Syria share a border (and a whole lot of history) that is only about an hour away from Beirut.  Then I looked closer and saw that the young men were carrying pictures of the Syrian pres. Bashar al Assad.  I listened more closely to the songs…and the realization hit me, these were actually pro-Bashar guys.  I did not know they existed and here they were, just came out of nowhere in front of our very eyes, singing and dancing.   The riot soldiers formed a tight circle around them, presumably for their own protection.  At that point my friend and looked at each other and we were like, this is surreal and disturbing.   Yeah let’s get out of here  But that was that and we got back to the hotel with no further incidents, only a rather sick feeling.

 

Now for the highlight of my trip.  The absolute shining moment that, as it was happening, I knew, this is why I’m here.  On Friday I went to the stunning, blue-domed Hariri mosque in downtown Beirut.  I had gone in the morning to photograph it and was eager to attend the Friday prayer there.  It’s a beautiful mosque, with gold calligraphy on the vaulted ceilings, giant chandeliers, even an elevator going to the upper level.

 

The mosque was full (but nothing like we see in Morocco, where Friday prayers mean people overflowing from the doors onto the sidewalks and streets).  Still I felt like I was home.  During the prayer, the imam started the most soulful prayer of supplication to God, it started, in a clear, beautiful, melodic voice…dear Lord, our brethren in Syria are being killed…we appeal to your mercy, your compassion, envelop them in your protection… It was powerful, knowing that Syria is so close, and this prayer opened my heart and allowed me to feel some of the pain of it all, allowed me to sob from the depth of my being.  I was not the only one, many were moved to tears including the imam.  It seemed so right¸ to be in a place of worship together, acknowledging in complete sincerity our weakness, humility and dependence on Allah, beseeching Him for his mercy.  It seemed the best thing we could possibly do for the Syrian people…there is the physical plane where things manifest, but the spiritual plane is where things truly originate.  I had not experienced many prayers of that intensity in Morocco, except for some of the night prayers in Ramadan.  I felt as if I had come all the way to Lebanon to receive this treasure.

 

I missed my family, it’s strange for me to be away from my kids overnight, let alone for five days.  My husband was, as always, amazingly supportive of my going, taking on the full force of parenting while I was away.

Beirut sort of got under my skin, it haunted me for a good while after I got home.  I feel that the words and photos don’t encompass it but they’re all I have as the experience begins to fade from memory.  So, here are the photos, click on any one of them to view in slideshow form.  Sorry, no time to write captions.  It’s taken me probably 10 (nocturnal) hours to edit photos, upload them and write this post.

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The Adventures of Aisha, Fahd and Farid in Beirut

Yes, the title begs some explaining.  You see, I have once again hit the trails, the blog-workshop trails that is.  As I call it, seeing the world, one blogging workshop at a time.  This time we are in Beirut, Lebanon.  The city is so vital, chaotic, engaging…and I’m sure I have some very deep and interesting things to say about it…but these are not those things.  This is a fun post for my kids.

Before I left my kids made some paper dolls for me to take to Beirut.  The idea was that I would take pictures of the dolls in different places in the city.  In case you forgot, I have as many kids as there are (distinct) dolls in these pictures.  So three.  The dolls (not my kids) are named Aisha, Fahd and Farid.  They’re part of something called Flat Stanley.  As for my kids, in this post I will refer to them by their nicknames Sousou, Moonboy and Meemers (you know who you are).  Apparently you are not supposed to blog your children’s real names.

For Moonboy who loves music….here is your guy “Farid”, he joined the Wailers band, what instrument should he play?

And Meemers, the girl who may be a great lawyer some day…can you read the sign next to Aisha?

And for the little acrobat monkey Sousou, do you see the monkey shaking hands with Fahd?

How about this monkey, do you know how they made it?  Who else do you see in the glass?

Oh look, now Aisha wants to be a monkey too!  She’s swinging from the trees.

Ok now Farid is being a traffic policeman.  They really need those here in Beirut, the traffic is awful.   I bet you can read the sign in Arabic and English Moonboy.

Sousou, do you remember when we go to the bank and you press all the buttons for me?  Now Fahd is helping me.

They made the signs for this cafe from license plates.  Pretty cool huh.

Kids do you remember Christina?  She’s with me here in Beirut too (she’s a blogger too, remember?).  She wants to give you kids a big hug, but she can’t, so she’ll just have to give the dolls a hug instead.

Aisha, Fahd and Farid are so hungry now. They’re going to eat Lebanese food, mmm, this one is called Koosa Mahshi, it’s like zuchinni with rice and meat inside.  Sahteen!  (that’s how they say besseha here, bon appetit).

Aisha is showing the most beautiful mosque, very different than Moroccan mosques isn’t it?

Thank you kids for making these dolls, they made me think of you often and of all the things I wanted to show you from Beirut.

 

How do you say “help” in Spanish?

This is the story of how we got ourselves into and out of a sticky situation in Spain.

My husband’s father and stepmother are spending some time in Spain and graciously invited the children and me to visit them for a week.  I haven’t been to Spain since I was 19 and studying Spanish in Salamanca.  The kids have never been, and we did not travel this summer due to Ramadan and work, so needless to say we were all excited and ready for some adventures.  And you know what they say, be careful what you wish for, because you may get it.  I don’t usually blog about the ins-and-outs of our comings and goings, but this is a tale worth telling.

My in-laws are staying in the south of Spain, but we flew into Madrid and they picked us up in a nice 7-seater, ready for the long drive south.  We managed to extricate ourselves from Madrid’s maze of highways and were driving comfortably down the A-4, without a map, relying on the GPS navigator.  After a couple of hours of travelling due south, the navigator takes us off the main highway and on to some byroads.  We are perplexed by “her” choice but trust that “she” will get us to our destination.  Now, this is important to remember, the navigator calculates the shortest route, not the most logical one. So there we are at about 10 pm on a small country road in la Mancha.  My littlest all of a sudden needs to pee, so without giving it much thought we pull off the road and I hop out with him.  It’s only then that we realize we’re stuck in the mud.  Really stuck.  The more we spin the wheels the more stuck we get.  We try to push the car from the back, but we can’t get much traction in the mud.  We make deep ruts about 10 feet long and cause significant strain to the (rented) vehicle.  The wheels are only about 3 feet from the highway, yet it’s impossible to breach the gap.  After about 20 minutes we call a friend in Madrid, who instructs us to call the rental company.  Duh!  One last thing, I ask him, how do you say mud in Spanish?  Because I’m going to have to do all this in Spanish, and although I have a college degree in Spanish, I sure wasn’t prepared to describe our current imbroglio in the Castillian tongue.  Barro, he answers, estamos atrapados en el barro.

I call the rental agency and explain that we are atrapados en el barro, and they assure me that being atrapados en el barro is most definitely not something we are insured for.  Why is that not surprising.  No matter, we still need a tow truck.  Un gruista.  So now I am trying to explain to the gruista our exact location, I give him satellite coordinates, road names, painstakingly describing our location in as much detail as possible.  I keep asking him to hable despacio por favor, speak slowly please.  I don’t remember any units in my Spanish textbooks covering a conversation with a tow-truck driver in the middle of the night on an abandoned highway.  No problem, says the gruista, I’m on my way.  We wait.  30 minutes later he calls.  I can’t find you, he says, I’ve been driving on these back roads and I just can’t locate you.  Apparently we have stumbled into a  Bermuda triangle right here in the vineyards and wheat fields of la Mancha.  Our hopes are dashed once more.  At this point the kids are out of the car, they are so excited, whooping and hollering up and down this country road that no one know exists.  And I realize one thing, you couldn’t buy excitement like this if you tried.

But wait, the gruista says, you can call trafico, they will locate you and then they can call me and I’ll come pull you out.  He gives me the number for trafico, I have no idea what that is.  It turns out that it’s theguardia civil, sort of like a highway patrol.  I’m running the gamete of emotions, feeling stupid that we are not travelling with a map, embarrassed that we have to be rescued by the civil guards during our first 5 hours in the country, thankful that they exist, even a bit jealous that there are these kinds of services here in Europe (as compared to Morocco of course).  Elated that when I explain where we are, they actually know where it is.  But not too elated, because we’ve had such an unbelievable run of bad luck, and we’re still not out yet.  At the same time, there is a deep sense that it’s all ok, that we are in fact, exactly where we are meant to be.   For reasons that are not quite clear.  We are happy to be together and this experience is grounding, we are breathing the fresh campo air, getting mud all over us, laughing and getting sillier by the minute.

Next scene: enter the civil guards.   Blue lights flashing on the highway.  We’re saved, I think to myself.  Two large and capable looking men emerge from the 4×4.  If these guys can’t get us out then no one can.   They are jovial, that typically Spanish mix of cynicism and humor.  They proceed to remove our luggage from the car, setting it on the highway, and in my mind I can just see us driving away without it.  Every ridiculous thing seems possible, even likely, at this point.   And indeed, when they try to hook our minivan up to their truck, well wouldn’t you know, their winch doesn’t work.  They spend some amount of time trying to fix it, cursing the tonteria, the idiocy of it all.   But it’s obvious to everyone that that our comedy of errors has a few more acts left in it.

We’re going to have to call a gruista, says one of them.  It’s like we are not only stuck in physical space, but in some some of time warp that folds back on itself.  20 minutes later, he reports that the gruista says he already went out to look for us once, and that he still can’t find us.  Just our luck that they would call the same directionally impaired guy that we had earlier.  One of the civil guards illuminates our understanding with this factoid: Que Espana no es Europa, es Suramerica.  Spain is not Europe, it’s South America.  I counter that while Spain might not be Europe, it’s no Morocco either.  In Morocco we would not have civil guards on call 24 hours a day.  My father-in-law says that in Morocco we would have about a hundred people come and just push the car out.  Ok then, says the guard, let’s do it como en Marruecos, like in Morocco.  It’s then that someone gets the bright idea to push the van from side, rather than from the back.  They are going to try to slide the whole van sideways onto the highway.  And obviously, since I am here typing about it, you can guess that they did in fact succeed.   We all cheered and hollered.

They escorted us to the nearest town, to a hostel where we ate warmed up Spanish tortilla and Manchego cheese at 1 in the morning, before collapsing in our beds.

Sometimes things like this happen and you are forced to slow down and smarten up.  When you are travelling it’s easy to get ungrounded, make little mistakes that cost you a lot.  Travelling in groups is even more challenging because the chaos of the group leaves you less attuned to your surroundings.  It’s easy to rely on someone else to think of everything.  Three kids in a car for hours on end is also a lot to handle, any way you slice it.  In our case we relied too heavily on the gps navigator, without knowing precisely where we were going.  The first thing we did the following day was buy a map of Spain.  Oh yeah, and we had to get the car realigned, one last little chapter in the saga.  Despite our eventful entrance into Spain, we’ve spent a week in a a place so idyllic and peaceful it seems surreal.  It’s like a blend of Taos NM and the Ourika valley in Morocco, so I feel like I’ve been here before.  Tomorrow we drive back to Madrid to catch our plane back to Morocco.  Insha Allah khair (God willing it will go well!).

Copenhagen

Postulate: the activity on this blog is inversely proportional to the activity in my real life.

So if it’s been quiet in here, it’s been busy out there.

I was invited by some Danish organizations (Danish PEN, KVINFO and DCCD) to attend another blogging workshop, in Copenhagen.  And let me just say that if the idea was to win over my heart and mind, then it was money well spent.  Copenhagen and its good people have left me highly impressed.  It’s one thing to know that there are whole countries in the world that are punctual, and it seems a small thing.   But then to experience it is quite another; to feel what it’s like on a cellular level to depend on the world to live up to its promise.  In Copenhagen Central Station the number 5 train to the airport arrived at precisely 10:01, and stayed in the station for some predetermined number of seconds.

But mostly I was impressed by the bikes.  That is one of the first things that struck me, how Danes have collectively settled on the bicycle as the cleanest, greenest, cheapest, quietest, healthiest mode of transportation.  Again, it seems small, but it’s its own revolution.  There are bike lanes on every street, making it safe and enjoyable.  I also bike in Marrakesh, but let me say that it takes a lot of care and wits to make it through the chaotic traffic here.

I didn’t know it was possible to live in noiseless city until I went to Copenhagen.  Between the bikes, the underground metro, the Danes’ natural inclination towards quietude and their great skill at double-glazing windows, there is a muted quality to the air, like living in a silent movie.  And the air, the light, it has a watery grayish hue to it, so that colors do not pop out.  Because of this Danes crave bright colors, at least in houses and flowers, to give life some visual contrast.

The Danes I interacted with were genuine, helpful, in that easy way that I most associate with Moroccans.  There did not seem to be so many degrees of estrangement (as I experienced at times in the US): scary stranger, neutral stranger, casual acquaintance, friend.  When I talked to people (mostly asking for of assistance in figuring out how to get from here to there) I felt like they addressed as they would a friend.  They were unperturbed by my outward foreignness (hijab).  I could go on and on, but I think you get how impressed I was with everything from the sidewalks (they are very important to me), to the Royal library, to the tulip-filled Tivoli gardens, to the myriad positive encounters with everyday Danes.

My impressions of the city of course were only a backdrop to the workshop.  This is the second workshop I attended with many of the same women from Amman.  I have to say that although I’ve lived in Morocco most of my life, I haven’t met many women from other Arab countries.  We are geographically and linguistically isolated here, and I didn’t realize the extent of it until I met women from Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Palestine.  And they seemed as “foreign” to me as the Danes that I met.   I was thankful for the opportunity to learn each woman’s name, to learn some small part of their stories, to share moments with them that will forever humanize those countries to me.   They always say that travelling broadens your view of the world, and whoever they are, they got that right.

A typical Danish parking lot:

Denmark parking lot Copenhagen bikes

Rush hour:Copenhagen street with bikes

The stock exchange:Copenhagen

Inception:

Low bridge:

A rather large photo of something small and lovely:flowers growing in old wood stove

To illustrate my point about color:Copenhagen old red buildingAnd:
Christiania Copenhagen

My Nikon, my friend

Since these pictures did not find their ways into their own blog post, here they are grouped together.

The Mosque and the Church  (Marrakesh, Morocco)

mosque and church in Marrakesh Morocco

Amin picking out carrots (Marrakesh, Morocco)

Amin buying vegetables

Double Rainbow (Taos, NM, USA)

new mexico rainbow

Filling my eyes with sky (Taos, NM, USA)

cloudy sky in Taos New Mexico

Yousef  filling his cup from the endless source (Imam Jazuli’s tomb, Marrakesh, Morocco)

tomb of imam jazuli

A perfect moment (Ocamora, NM, USA)

yousef in archway

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Jordan highlights

Highlights of the Amman workshop, before they totally fade from memory:

Meeting a group of highly accomplished, strong, loving, happy women.

Presenting my blog to these amazing ladies and feeling very appreciated and affirmed.  What a gift.  Thank  you ladies.  Feelin the love.

Sitting on the sunny terrace dreaming up a fictional character with “the fiction group”.

Doing portraits of each other, with Christina (Denmark) and Rita (Egypt).  We each came up with 3 questions and took turns answering them.  The answers diverged in all directions, giving us a good thin-slice of each others lives.  I learned about “bawwab culture” in Egypt (what will the doorman think? ) and being a vegan in Denmark.

Hearing the adhan (call to prayer) from the nearby mosque and feeling it stir up my cells in a way that was both home and foreign.

A crazy whirl-wind tour of Amman with Hala and her friends.  Saw the Roman theater, Citadel and old Ottoman railway station.  They were all closed but it was the best tour ever.  Beat the crowds.

The discussion about whether or not to use English as the language for our collaborative work. Some felt that English was the best tool, despite the fact that it wasn’t anyone’s native language (except me, so I mostly kept quiet on that one).  Others felt that it was an inauthentic way of expressing themselves and preferred to blog in Arabic, French or Danish, even if that meant less accessibility.  I appreciated the dialogue that place, it felt very real and for lack of a better word, very democratic.

The excitement of working on a collaborative project with my fellow bloggers, to be presented at the next workshop in Copenhagen.  Content is being added as we speak to the website www.blog-on.net Ahem, some of us are a little behind with our contributions.

Meeting a Dane who spoke excellent Arabic. That’s some dedication.

Being interviewed for Danish TV about being a woman blogger.  Me: I’m a little nervous,  reporter: nah, you’re a natural, me: thanks, I’ve been practicing all my life.  Jokes aside, it was another good opportunity for me talk about the same stuff I blog about…appreciating beauty in the smallest of things…considering the needy around us…the positive experience I’ve had on my spiritual path…discovering photography…food of course…and basically looking at the ordinary in an extraordinary way.

Did someone say food?

Jordan, Middle Eastern food

This one is hummus, bits of meat, and pine nuts:

hummus with meat and pine nuts

Tea or coffee:

tea or coffee

Sugar.  Good thing my kids weren’t around, my kids + freely available sugar = disaster.

sugar

Artsy photo of something old:

chandelier

The best ceramics workshop on Rainbow street:

jordan ceramics

This style of ceramics is originally from Jerusalem (an hour away).  This little store is reviving the tradition.  A few tiles made their way home with me:

ceramic tea set jordan

Arabic calligraphy that reads la ilaha illah Allah, Muhammad rasulullah.  No god but God, Muhammad is a messenger of God.

Arabic calligraphy, la ilaha illa Allah Muhammadun rasulullah

Amman, Jordan. My epic journey.

Mosque in Amman, Jordan

I just got back from Amman, Jordan.  I was there for 4 days attending the Arab-Danish Women Blogger’s workshop.  I received an invitation to this event back in November…but didn’t want to blog about it till it was a done deal.  So many times plans change.

I’ve attempted to blog about the event several times.  I keep feeling like I won’t do it justice.  Words can’t possibly describe what a truly epic journey this was for me.  Well, maybe thousands of words might.  But with my self-imposed 1000 word limit per post (give or take a few hundred), synthesis will be a necessary process.

To really describe what this journey meant to me, at this moment in my life, I’d have to tell you all about the last nine years of my life.  You know, those years where three beautiful souls made their way to this earthly plane via my body.  Where my greatest joy and best means of survival was through surrendering ever more to the microcosm of my home life.  Those early years where I needed, viscerally, to be on the same wavelength as my babies, so that I could distinguish each cry (tired, hungry, gassy, bored, you name it), and anticipate each need.  Those years where sleep was the most precious commodity.  Those years where the jewels of the universe where laid at my feet, time and again, in the form of my daughter’s smile, my son’s newest words, or the softness of a sleeping face.

So to be able to leave home for five whole nights is shocking, so abrupt in a way.  I don’t want this whole phase to just roll over and give way to a new one without at least pausing to honor it.  (And even “pausing” is a new luxury).  I have been in the trenches for so long that I forgot what civilian life was like.  You mean, when you are tired, you just sleep?  I’m going to need some major re-integration to assimilate all this.

Ok, I think that gives a pretty good background as to where I’m coming from.  How about we talk about the trip then.  I was totally thrilled to be in a new country, for one.  Amman is a beautiful city, laid out on seven hills; it’s been continuously inhabited for longer than almost any other city in the world.  The local people that I encountered were warm and quite respectful.  In fact I felt more comfortable walking around in Amman than I do in Marrakesh where I’m likely to get stared at, commented on by gawkers, hustled by tourist guides, and otherwise had my space invaded.  Amman rules, in that way.

The flip side?  Everyone smokes.  Amman, I will miss you, but I brought part of you home with me, in the form of second-hand smoke carefully stored in the lining of my lungs.  I had no trouble collecting this souvenir, opportunities were ample. Seriously, I hardly met anyone who wasn’t a smoker.  From dainty ultra-slims to sheesha, that exotic water pipe a la caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland.  There is no gender gap in smoking, either.  Yay!  Um, not.  I imagine Virginia slims looking down approvingly from high above the smoke cloud.  You’ve come a long way, baby.  I was slightly nauseous the whole time I was in Amman.  I need to either take up smoking (gag), or go detox in the Himalayas.

I spent a lot of my time comparing and contrasting Amman with Marrakesh.  Here are some of my notes, which may not mean much to you, unless you live in either of these cities.

Music.  Same music on the radio, alternating Usher and Rihanna with Tamer Hosny and Nancy Ajram.

Mixed identity architecture. Same way the city is half construction-site, half slick, shiny buildings…half ancient and half that kind of globalized modern look that denotes nowhere in particular.  That’s familiar.

Weekends. In the Middle East, weekends are Thursday and Friday.  I went out Friday morning and there was not a soul out or a shop open, it was a “Sunday feeling”.  And Saturday was be “Monday”.  It makes total sense for a predominantly Muslim country, since Friday is the community prayer day for Muslims.

Language. I know it’s all called Arabic, but Moroccan and Jordanian are so vastly different.  I didn’t even bother speaking Moroccan, I just spoke Modern Standard Arabic, trying to add a Middle Eastern lilt.  My vowels gave me away though, everyone could guess right away that I was either Tunisian or Moroccan.  But seriously, our languages are so different.  For example, in Morocco we say siri toul, which means “go straight”.  Well in Jordan it’s, dalli doghri. Don’t bother looking for similarities.  It just made me realize that the North African identity is very different from the Middle Eastern one.

Food. After having eaten in Middle Eastern restaurants all over the world, I was thrilled to be eating hummus, baba ghanoush, kibbeh, lebneh etc. in the Middle East.  The food was so perfect, I almost cried.  And so colorful, and varied.  Fyi, it has nothing in common with Moroccan food, which is also amazing.

Well folks, it’s I’m-gonna-regret-being-up-this-late-tomorrow o’clock.  So I’ll wrap up with a few pics.  As for the actual workshop, well, there are so many insights, inspirations, beautiful connections, stimulating discussions, that I want to give it its own blog post…soon insha Allah!

The pics.  My first Middle Eastern meal.  Clockwise from top left: Arrugula salad, Lebneh (cheesy yogurt), Hummus, Salata.  On the sides were wraps stuffed with Zeit ou Zaatar.

hummus and baba ghanoush, middle eastern food

The view from the workshop site.Amman, Jordan

Amman by night:

Amman, Jordan by night

The oh so rare self-portrait.

Nora Fitzgerald