Saturday, July 14, 2007

July 14, 2007

Last day! I can't believe it. A) At the time I couldn't believe I was actually about to leave Jerusalem (though I was missing home quite a lot) and B) Now I can't believe I'm actually finally writing the last blog post.

Like I said in the last post, Travis wanted to be up for sunrise. So we got up far too early for our own good and headed up on the Mount of Olives to take pictures of the Old City as the sun rose. Rather, it turned out more that I slept in the car while Travis took pictures of the Old City as the sun rose. He came and woke me up long enough to get our self-portrait with the Old City as our backdrop.

The amazing thing of this photo shoot was that there were actually clouds in the sky! Travis had been bemoaning the lack of clouds because it takes the color out of the sky, and lo and behold, our last morning here, we got clouds. Merry Christmas, Trav.

We did some figuring and discovered that from this sunrise until we next saw the sun set (as we'd be flying with the sun) would be 24 hours. What an incredibly long day.

We drove to the airport, not even getting lost once (you should be proud of us) and got the carw returned. We tried to send some postcards from the airport, but alas, it was Saturday (read: Sabbath) so the airport post office was closed. A fruit smoothie later, we were in the airport, awaiting our flight back.

I shan't get into details of the flight. Just know there was some listening to Harry Potter (me), watching the Simpsons and playing poker on the seat in front (Travis), and much sleeping.

After we finally got back, Travis whipped out his phone and texted his roommate, Casey, wondering where he was, since he was "supposed" to pick us up. We were trying to put a bit of fear in him, making him think he was supposed to pick us up from the airport and forgot... but he lamely texted back just saying, "I thought that was tomorrow. I'm in a movie now." [rolls eyes] What kind of a lame response to a prank is that?

We finally met up with our real ride (Mom, Dad, Jessica, and my friend, Briton). Mom almost didn't recognize Travis with him actually having hair on his head and a beard. It was fantastic.

And this, my friends, finally ends the saga (over a year later) of my sojourns in the Middle East. Hope you enjoyed!

Friday, July 13, 2007

July 13, 2007

Breakfast at this hotel truly is divine. After stuffing ourselves full we headed back up to the room to find that the camera battery was dead. Uh-oh! So we plugged it in and let it charge as we packed. Travis went downstairs to pay the hotel bill. I followed him down after a bit to find him still there. Turns out we owed $134 for our phone bill. Whoopsies! No one told us that using the phone (while also using a calling card) cost money. Weirdos. Plus, they didn't charge us for the phone on our last stay at that hotel. Perhaps I shouldn't have talked to Mom for so long? Well, the person at the desk was very nice and decided not to charge us for it. Whew!

Our first stop was at the brook where David picked out stones to sling at Goliath. Having purchased slings back in Jerusalem for the express purpose of having a photo shoot for David and Goliath, we decided to have a go at it. Well, Travis did anyway. Well, let's just say that he tried hard. The two young shepherd boys over yonder had pity on him and came on over, abandoning their flocks, in exchange for giving Travis a lesson. Imagine these two little boys, no older than 14, teaching a ... ummm... much older Travis how to throw a rock. It was a gleeful thing to witness. Travis also got a photo shoot out of them after they finally went back to their flock. (Something of interest: they don't cut the tails of their sheep in Israel. Did you know that sheep tails actually get quite long and curl? Which makes me wonder, why do we cut the tails off of our sheep?)

Next stop, Bet Guvrion. These are the bell caves. Very photogenic, but for the first time of my trip with Travis, I became bored out of my mind. Typically his photo shoots intrigue me, but I think I was getting a little trunky and wanting to go home while sitting in a cave with nothing to do. At least it was cool inside the cave. Of course, as soon as Travis finally said we could go (days later), Bro. Huntington and his class showed up in the cave. So, of course, I changed my mind about wanting to scurry out. We stayed and talked for awhile, happy that we ran into them on one of their field trips (since we weren't allowed to tag along on them). (Ok, so maybe I happened to know that this was the day that they were going to Bet Guvrion. But I didn't know what time they'd be there!)

As we headed back to Jerusalem we stopped at a gas station. Travis stayed outside to fill up the car with gas while I went inside to fill us up with food. I waited and waited and waited for him (he had the money) before he finally came inside. We bought our sandwiches then went outside on a picnic table to eat. It was then that he confessed why he took so long. He didn't know how to fill the car up with gas. Bahahaha! After how many decades of filling up his own car with gas, he couldn't do it in a foreign country. So, remember how the last time we filled up in Galilee a serviceman did it for us? And remember how he typed in our license plate? Turns out you always have to do that. Heaven only knows why. But since all of the instructions were in Hebrew, Travis had no idea that's what the machine wanted him to enter. Thank goodness for friendly English speaking bikers. (Never thought you would here me say that did ya?)

Then it was back to the hotel where we went to bed early, since Travis is crazy and wanted to wake up for sunrise.

Our only quote for today is kind of lame. I remember it being hilarious and starting to write it down, only to get interrupted. Over and over again. This is as far as I got... lame, huh?

Tianna: "Would it have killed a giant?"
Travis: "If I ...."

Thursday, July 12, 2007

July 12, 2007

Wake up. Call Mom. Good start to the day. Then it was downstairs for another yummy breakfast. We took it nice and leisurely in the morning and ended up getting a late start.

First stop? Shopping! We started in the Old City, armed with a list of things that we wanted to buy, but had never gotten around to buying. It took us a long walk through to finally get everything we wanted at the price we wanted, but we managed. Everything, that is, except one CD that I had promised Carli I would get her. Since it was Israeli music and since most of the music shops in the Old City were Muslim, we had no luck. She had suggested Ben Yehuda Street, so we went over there. Enter crazy driving in Jerusalem. Did you know that there are actually several lanes, distinguished by color, that are designated solely for taxis and buses? In fact, sometimes entire roads are set aside solely for them. We learned this the hard way when we were driving down Jaffa and actually got pulled over (waved over?) by a cop standing in the road. She finally gave up trying to explain to us what we did wrong when Travis pulled out his American driver's license. Instead, she sighed exasperatedly, and waved us on, warning us not to do it again.

We finally made it to Ben Yehuda street, but the street isn't for driving; it's for walking. And since Travis couldn't find a parking spot, he decided to [Mom, this would be a good time for you to skip a few sentences] sit in the car while I went to find a music shop. I wandered up and down that stupid street with no luck. There were people everywhere playing instruments for tips, but no where that sold CDs. Finally I asked someone where I could find a music store and they pointed me just around the corner. Finally I found the store, and then the CD. And all was well in Zion.

On my way back to the car I spotted a display of amazing yamulkahs. Remembering Travis' promise that he would wear a yamulkah I bought him if it had a basketball or softball on it, I became giddy when I found an entire section dedicated to sports. I flipped the basketball over to check the price.... 80 shekels! (That's $20, my American friends.) Even if I justified spending that much, I didn't have that much cash with me. Thus, I didn't buy it. Travis has not let me live it down to this day. Apparently it's my fault that I didn't know how to pull 80 shekels out of thin air. [sigh]

Next stop: Ein Gedi. This is a beautiful oasis, hidden in the middle of desert. It's here that David hid from Saul. (Though, I would think that it would be the most obvious place to hide. "Hmm... I'm in the middle of a huge desert with no water. I don't think anyone will think to look in the oasis—the only place with water for miles and miles—where everything is green and there are many beautiful water falls." Yup. Seems logical to me.)

We started our hike up to the first set of falls. Here we found dozens of scantily clad teenage girls surrounded by an equal amount of hormonal teenage boys. Both having far too much fun for their own good. The place was seriously packed. Travis tried to take some pictures, but it was busy, distracting, and kind of uncomfortable. So we decided to keep hiking and stop at the falls on our way back down... hoping the hormones would have dissipated by then.

We made it to the second set of falls and, to our great pleasure and disbelief, it was empty! It was larger and more beautiful than the first, but apparently our group of friends down below were too impatient to keep climbing to see if there was anything better further up. After a bit we continued our trip up to find the final and most beautiful of the falls at the top of the trail. At this point I laid down on the ground where I could stare peacefully up at the waterfalls (have I ever mentioned that I love waterfalls?) and Travis took off to photograph the beauty. At one point he ended up looking down at me from above and was convinced I was sleeping. Nope! Definitely just gazing contentedly at the falls.

After awhile we realized that we had to get going soon as the park was going to be closing. On our way back down we ran across an entire herd of ibex! Of course Travis, who lugged all of his lenses around everywhere we went, decided to leave his telephoto lens in the car here. [rolls eyes] He still got some great pictures, though. Perhaps just not as close up as we would have liked.

We wanted to go to Masada and Qumran, but the hour was getting late, it was really hot, and we decided to put our priorities in order. The Dead Sea definitely was the most important. So instead we drove by Masada and I pointed out the distant plateau to Travis and we continued our journey to the Dead Sea.

Can I just mention, once again, how much I love the Dead Sea? There was a guy out there, relaxing on his back, reading a book. Travis taught me how to take really awesome pictures of people in water. (My 341st photography lesson of the trip.) Which means we've got some really fun pictures of both of us floating effortlessly in the water.

At one point Travis decided it was time for our self-portrait. Of course, we had to be in the water to take it. So here comes Travis, super-expensive camera in tow, into a giant body of salt water. Smart brother that I have. The problem with the Dead Sea is that if you're trying to stay upright, like, not in a lying down position, you tend to flip onto your side. So here is Travis, trying to go upright with a camera in his hand... and of course he tipped. I saw that camera going under, and it scared me to death. Sacrificing myself, I grabbed his falling arm and pushed up, pushing myself under. It was successful, though, making it worthwhile. Even if I did have to take a break to scramble up to shore to try and get the salt out of my eyes. 1) I did get the picture. 2)There was only one moment of extreme stress. Most of the time was quite effortless. 3) I actually spent a while in the water without a spotter taking pictures of myself. 4) Tianna is way too dramatic sometimes. 5) Thank you for saving the camera Tianna. :) You're welcome!

I headed down the beach to try and get some Dead Sea sand. This was probably the most difficult acquisition of them all. When Dead Sea mud dries out, it hardens into a pile worthy of a chainsaw. It's ridiculous. So I sat there with my little baggy and a rock I found, slowly chipping away at the mound of cement. It was ridiculously slow, though, so then I had a bright idea. What if I made it into mud?! So I poured water over my pile of sand, and it worked... but it made a really sloppy mess. I ended up figuring out a way of getting big chunks of sand and used that instead.

Travis took the opportunity to take more pictures and to just enjoy his swim. As I sat there on the beach waiting for him (I don't recall exactly what I was doing, this older man (white hair, beer belly, probably mid-50s) started talking to me. After he told me that they wouldn't let him get a visa to America and such, he started telling me that he'd love to come visit me. I laughed and pointed out the obvious flaw in his reasoning. In which he replied, "I would swim across the ocean for you." Can you say humorous awkwardness?! I took this opportunity to go find Travis again.

On our way back to Jerusalem we stopped at a parking lot so that Travis could get some distance shots of the Dead Sea and we heard the loudest BOOM! ever. After reassuring ourselves that we were not dead and there was no bomb nearby we looked into the sky and saw fighter jets speeding across the the blue. I have now officially heard a sonic boom for myself.

We finally made it back to Jerusalem... but got lost along the way. Sometimes it's difficult not being able to read Hebrew while navigating highways. Next thing we knew we were on the wrong side of the separation wall (you can tell because it was the poor side), we drove through neighborhoods that we decided it was better to stay in the car for, and we drove by parts of the separation wall that we had visited with the Center. Tragically, I hadn't paid enough attention to be able to get us back. Finally we just turned around and headed back to the highway until we were able to get back into the city. Of course, once inside we got lost on our way back to the hotel again. Go figure.

Once safely back inside the hotel we started to clean up for the day. Problem: we had wet swim suits and towels and no way to wash and dry them. So we hand washed them and left them spread out all over our apartment to dry. They were everywhere.

Next we needed to get dinner. Having spent the last several hours in the car, lost, we decided we didn't want to chance that again. There was nowhere nearby that we knew of that would still be open and we had lost the phone number to the bacon cheeseburger place. Plus the girl at the front desk who was so helpful previously in finding non-kosher eats on the sabbath was no longer at the front desk. We began to believe that she may have been too helpful for the liking of our Orthodox Jewish Hotel.We decided to revert back to childhood and eat the dinner we would have prepared for ourselves around the age of 6... pop rocks chocolate dipped in peanut butter.

I jumped in the shower that night to discover that our shower was quite amazing... it was sideways! Meaning, typically you have a long shower with the head at the end. This shower head was in the middle. So you had big empty spaces to the left and right where no water hit. Weird...

One phone call to Mom later... we slept.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

July 11, 2007

Good morning! It's our last day in Galilee. Today we head back down south. The morning was spent packing up the rest of our stuff, organized for easy retrieval, and headed down to Nazareth. With the Center we had visited a couple of really cool churches in Nazareth and so it was decided that we'd try to find them again. Especially since I had wanted to get better pictures of all the depictions of Mary that I couldn't do myself. Y'know, once upon a time, Nazareth was a podunk town. (Hence "No good thing cometh from Nazareth.") It would have been easy to find a church in it. Nowadays, Nazareth is a tourist town, and thus has grown quite large. We drove all over that place, up and down hills, through the most impossible of streets, and got utterly lost. Then, in a stroke of inspiration, we turned on one street and saw this giant billboard advertising Nazareth Village. (Check out the website to get a much better feel for this place) on the billboard were pictures of people dressed up in ancient garb. It looked promising, so we drove up and found the place.

We couldn't have asked for a more perfect place. Both of us were floored. Basically, this is a tourist spot where people could set up tours of 1st century AD. They had this hill that had all of the different important things. There was a grain field, threshing floor, sheep, wine press, oil press, vineyards and olive trees. There were buildings of various sorts, houses, a carpenter's shop, a synagogue, weaving looms, wine storage, etc. Then, they had volunteers (adults and children) that would come in and dress up in authentic garb and act as though they lived in this village. Sometimes even kids! We got a brief tour of the place, then left to go grab lunch and plan. We were scheduled to go back at 4:00 when a group was going through. Then we could take pictures to our heart's content.

We drove around for quite some time, trying to find a place to eat. Finally we maneuvered our way through several parking lots and found a KFC. It was a rather nice KFC except that the A/C was turned up way too high. I was freezing! (Anyone surprised? Doubtful.) Travis and I sat there with our scriptures and notebooks, trying to think of any stories/events that we could portray with this too-good-to-be-true set up. (Believe me, this is harder than you'd think...)

We finally left the icelandic wasteland of KFC and defrosted instantaneously upon entering our car. Still having some time to kill, we decided to look for an Internet Cafe. We had no luck, but did see a Playstation 3 store. Figuring they would be in the know, we stopped to ask if they knew where an Internet cafe was. Instead, they let us buy Internet time at their store! Nice people.

At last, we went up to the Village. We got there a wee bit before 4:00 so that Travis could set up and scope out the pictures he wanted to take. While he worked his magic, I set up shop in the winery where it was nice and cool and wrote in my blog. (I was rather behind at this point. I'll bet you'd never have guessed, huh?)

The group came... but the tour was in Portuguese! So not helpful. I understood not a word they spoke. Also, today was apparently a slow volunteer day. Only 4 adults showed up. Also, no kids nor sheep! Boring! Well, admittedly, it was still rather awesome. But not as cool as we had anticipated. While Travis set up his 4x5 camera to take real photos, I got his digital camera where I followed the group around and took pictures of whatever I wanted. I'm sure I was nowhere near the quality he shoots, but I still felt kind of cool walking around and taking pictures, as if I were someone important.

After the group finished up, we convinced a couple of the guys to stick around and model for some pictures, but they were in a hurry, so it didn't last long. To be honest, we were quite disappointed at how it turned out. It held so much promise... Oh well.

Though we had seen neither of the churches we originally set out to see, we decided it was getting late and wanted to head back to Jerusalem. At one point along the drive, we remembered that the closer we got to Jerusalem, the less fast food we'd find. So, seeing a McDonalds sign, we decided to break our vow never to eat McDonalds and pulled over. It was a large building with lots of stores around it, so we ended up driving and walking around a few times trying to find the McDonalds, to no avail. About to give up, we found a large food court right in the middle of the building. Turns out we had lots of options and didn't even have to eat McDonalds!

After lunch, on the way back to the car, we passed a book store with Harry Potter books in Hebrew on display. We backtracked to the front door and headed straight to the display. I am a devoted Harry Potter fan; how could I turn down such an opportunity? To tell you the truth, I had been wanting a Harry Potter book in Hebrew ever since I first saw them at Hebrew University. I even sent money with various people when they went to Hebrew U, but whenever I did, it was closed. I had finally given up hope that I'd ever get one. And now, here they were, right at my fingertips. I struggled deciding which one to buy. Should I get the first because it was the first? Should I get the sixth because it's my favorite? Also because it's the only one I didn't own? I had been debating this all summer. Travis helped me decide and the sixth was purchased.* As we were at the checkout, the cashier looked up surprised and asked if we spoke Hebrew. I laughed and said I read Biblical Hebrew a little bit. She smiled and said I should definitely try to read this. That's how she learned English, after all, was reading the Harry Potter books. So I should learn Hebrew the same way. Awesome.

We got back in the car and I decided to finish up one of my blogs before we took off. I was so close. Once I was done, we drove up to a cafe right next to the bookstore, to see if, by any random chance, it had free WiFi. It did. My battery was dying, however, so I quickly got online, posted the blog, saw BJ was online, so I quickly told him that I had blogged, and closed my computer. Then we took off to complete the last leg of our journey to Jerusalem.

Is anyone surprised that we got lost trying to find the hotel? We wanted to stay at the same place we had stayed before. We were tired of the hole in the wall in Galilee, and for the same price could stay in the nice hotel in Jewish Jerusalem. We finally found it, then was annoyed when, once again, our reservation didn't make it through due to the Sabbath. Finally, however, we got a room. We crashed and I tried to call Mom. There was no answer, however, so we went to bed instead.

*Here it should be noted that Travis is among the coolest brothers ever. He has bought for me all of the Harry Potter books (at this point not including 6), as well of all the Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites books. (Though, come to think of it, he still owes me the last one. [cough]) The fact that he bought me #6 in Hebrew technically completed my Harry Potter collection. Isn't he just awesome?

Quotes of the day:

- "Pass me some dirt! ... I've always wanted to say that, but I've never had a reason to... until now." Travis

- "People have always been saying they want to have dirt on me."

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

July 10, 2007

First, I missed something very important in my last post! After lunch, we were driving around the building when I realized that I had been here before. This was the grocery store that we had stopped at with the Center! We couldn't turn down something as beautifully wonderful as a grocery store, so we parked and went inside. There we bought bread and peanut butter and juices and grapes and chips, and cereal and everything else that looked good. And the best purchase of all--pop rocks chocolate. Oh my goodness, you have never eaten anything so wonderful in your life. (Well, except those of you who have had a piece of this divinity.) It is simply a chocolate bar filled with "exploding candy" (more commonly known as pop rocks). The very taste of it will make your mouth dance and sing! Never should a person go to Israel without buying a bar of this. In fact, you should buy two and bring me back one. Or, if anyone can figure out how to order it on the Internet, I would be much obliged. Needless to say, we bought some. 8 bars of it, in fact. We brought it back to the hostel where, luckily, we had a little fridge. Which was good, because between the store and the hostel, the chocolate had already started to melt.

And now we return to this post.

Another morning at the hostel. By this time we had decided that as much as we wanted to sleep somewhere else, it was pointless to try to find another place. We had wasted so much time on it before and it just didn't seem worth it to do again. We woke up, then went out to the lobby, this time prepared for breakfast. Armed with the box of granola we had purchased the day before, we ate to our hearts content, taking back with us a handful of plastic knives to use with our peanut butter.

Next order of business, laundry and internet. The day before we had spotted a laundromat just a few doors down from the hostel. Up to this point, our only laundry services had consisted of a shower, shampoo, and a hair dryer. We were in desperate need of clean clothes. After dropping off our laundry, we headed a few more doors down to an internet cafe. It had been several days since we had communicated with anyone, and we figured Mom would want to know we were alive. Much to our dismay, the Internet was down in the Internet Cafe. Is that allowed? They gave us vague directions to get to another Internet Cafe and we left. Deciding our day would be better used in sight seeing than searching out Internet, we headed out to Dan.

Dan is one of the most beautiful places in all of Israel. In the middle of desert and brownness, Dan is green and lush. I was rather excited to go back. The great part of not being with a tour group is that we could go at our own pace. We could backtrack when we wanted. We could stop for 10 minutes to take pictures. And trust me, we did all of the above. It was here that Travis taught me about HDR. It's a method of taking a bunch of pictures (5 I believe) at different... exposures? (Oh goodness. It's been far too long and I obviously learned this really well... [rolls eyes]) But the point is, with each one, you get detail in different places. So, if you combine them, you can get detail in shadows as well as in the highlights. We got to see Winnie the Pooh's tree, which we didn't get to see when I went with the school. Also, many other places. We wandered around for most of the morning, backtracking when necessary to see everything, or simply because we missed a turn and got lost. Have I ever mentioned that I love hiking through trees and water and beautifulness? It kind of makes me want to go home and hike Cress Creek... simply for the reminiscing factor. Also, because now I'm kind of craving eating cress with Catalina dressing. Also, is it called Cress? Crest? ... I dunno. And maybe find some beautiful (yet relatively easy) hikes around here. I've been on a few since I moved down here. I should do that more this summer.

We finally left the park and found a picnic table by one of the buildings. Having gone to the grocery store the day before, and having raided the hostel of plastic knives, we came prepared for real peanut butter sandwiches. Also, grapes and chips. There were great stories there. Birds eating the bread crumbs, ants in the peanut butter and bread... yeah. We have bad luck with food, methinks. Needless to say, the food went up on higher ground that night... not on the floor. Or was it in the fridge? I think it spent some time in both places.

Then it was back to Galilee. As I unpacked stuff from the day, Travis went down and got our laundry. It wasn't until later that I realized he did not return with my pajama pants. The rest of the trip was spent with me sleeping in a skirt or the oversized pair of pants I would randomly borrow from Travis.

Next was an adventure to find Internet! We wandered down the street the closed Internet cafe told us to go down... at least the one we thought they told us to go down. We wandered aimlessly through a bunch of slightly underground shops... to no avail. Finally we took to just wandering the streets until lo and behold! An Internet cafe was found. I was well pleased to find all of the emails and Facebook wall posts all wishing me a happy birthday. You all love me. Thanks. :) Also, we finally got to report in to Mom that we were still alive and well.

Internet out of the way, it was back to touristy stuff! Next on the list was Bet Sh'ean. This was one of the ancient cities of the Acropolis. This is where Bro. Merrill sang to us in the amphitheater. This is where we find the public outhouse... with just slabs coming out of the wall to sit on. And a sign that tells you that instead of toilet paper, they used a stick and leaves. (Still, I just want to know how they know such a thing.) This is also where we took Travis' next project picture. Samson. Here we simply see the bottom of two pillars and their shadows. Between the two pillars, we see Travis' feet and his shadow stretching across. Y'know, when Samson was chained to the two pillars.

Next was Mt. Tabor. Well, by this point, the church was closed (it was nearing evening), so we couldn't go in. But we were at the top of a tall mountain, Travis couldn't let the opportunity go to waste, so it was off to take more pictures. So, an attempt was made of photographing the Mount of Transfiguration. It had a beautiful view but you could have just as easily made the argument to name it the Mount of Refuse. There was garbage everywhere. Heading home, we saw a Burger King, so we detoured to get dinner. Of course, knowing our luck, it was closed. So we kept going. The highway we were on was so dirty. It made me so sad. My recommendation is that the Center do a service project. Highway Cleanup! There... my idea is out there. Somehow, it will filter through cyberspace to the powers that be...

Further along the drive, we realized that it was finally time for our first fill-up on gas. We found a gas station and, as if we were in Oregon, an attendant came out and filled up our gas for us. Very nice of him. The only part I thought strange was that he entered our license plate number into this little device he carried. Who cares? Maybe they put a limit on how much gas a specific car can use in an allotted period of time? Maybe it's just for stats? If anyone knows, let me know.

For dinner, it was back to the Garfield-adorned burger shop where we decided to be brave and try one of the sandwiches pictured up on the wall. A long hot dog with french fries between the hot dog and the bun. Why not be adventurous? Sure, it's seemingly an American kind of food, but I've never eaten a hot dog with french fries in the US. Perfect for a foreign country adventure.

Finally, it was back to the hostel where we spent the time packing up everything, rearranging our stuff so that the things we needed were all in one or two bags, all while listening to our nightly Harry Potter and then it was off to bed.

Monday, July 9, 2007

July 9, 2007

We woke up and headed out to the front desk to find out where the complimentary breakfast they promised us was. We were taken over to the other side of the lounge area where there was a small kitchen. Coffee and tea were, of course, offered and declined. Breakfast ended up consisting of cocoa and toast. Very reminiscent of breakfasts of my youth.

Our Galilee touring started. Getting to the sites around the Sea of Galilee isn't too hard. You just drive around the lake and look for signs pointing you to the next tourist attraction. It took awhile to figure out exactly where the Ginosaur Boat was housed. We found the parking complex, but ended up in a hotel (where we checked out the rates, of course) and wandering around a parking lot until we finally found the museum. Pictures were fun here. It was just dark enough that Travis had to use the tripod and long exposures to get really cool pictures. As we left, I made my customary peek into the ice cream freezer to see if there were any coconut Nok-Outs and ... sure enough, they had some! I started getting all giddy inside, but tried to suppress it. I mean, I felt slightly guilty that Travis was paying for everything. However, Travis saw the look in my eye and, being the good brother that he is, bought us each one. The thrill of this treat dims the other sites from my memory. I believe there were sites like where the Feed My Sheep sermon was given... but I honestly don't remember every place we hit that day. (And apparently my note taking skills slacked off)

Around 1:30 we decided we were really hungry and started driving around trying to find a place to eat. We followed a main road that took us away from the Sea of Galilee, but still looked promising. After awhile, we found a strip mall with one section labeled ברגר ארצ (except with a zadik sophit for anyone who cares... I just can't figure out how to do those on my computer) or, in English, Burger Land. This sounded promising. (Though, the butcher shop of the day before was still heavy in my memory.) Sure enough, this was a food court! Travis and I, wanting to fully immerse ourselves in the culture we were in decided to be bold and daring and get... no, not McDonalds... Chinese! Mmm... so good. We're such good tourists.

As we headed back to Tiberias, Travis spotted a spot we could pull off with lots of trees. Oh sure, there may have been a wee bit of off-roading, and sure the contract he signed saying he was responsible for any under-carraige damage kept running through my mind (and every once in awhile off my tongue). But we ended up in a nice little grove of trees which Travis deemed perfect for a Sermon on the Mount picture. I probably would have agreed had the wind not decided to come clear from Idaho to find us. Since Travis was our only male model, he had been teaching me how to take pictures with his 4x5 camera. So I'm sitting there with his dark cloth over my head, trying to hold it in place around my camera and my head, w/o disturbing the camera, and making sure the focus landed in the right place in the picture... the best being that the image you can see in the camera is upside down and backwards. So I had to actually think about where the focus should be, all the while fighting the flipping-flapping cloth around my head. Great fun. Pretty sure I double exposed a negative here as well. Oopsies!

Once again, we were on our way... but then, when you drive around a large lake, and it's nearing sunset, and there's places to pull off (even if it does try to eat the under carriage of your rented car) ... how do you keep driving? So of course we didn't. We pulled over and tried different ideas for a Walking on Water picture. Then Travis gave in to his love for scenic photography and photographed the sunset over the Sea of Galilee. Soooo pretty. While he set up all that jazz, I started gathering dirt for our dirt collection. (I don't think this has been mentioned previously because we were gathering it for Mom's Christmas present and couldn't spoil it. But all the major places we went to, we gathered a ziploc bag of soil/dirt/sand to bring home to layer in a jar.) Then I just sat there and watched the waves crash in on the shore. It being a windy day, the waves were quite fantastic. They got up to maybe 3 feet tall. Which is the tallest I've ever seen crashing waves. Watching them thrilled me. I was so mesmerized. It was just so... beautiful. Travis found it entertaining that I was so taken by these apparently itty bitty waves and told me that I really need to get out to the ocean sometime. I agree. Trip to California this summer anyone? I mean, really, I want to sit on a deserted beach with someone I care about and watch a sunset with gigantic waves crashing in around us. Doesn't that just sound romantic? :) I think there are just some scenarios that Anne Shirley herself would swoon over. The feeling is just overwhelming, even just in my imagination.

Ok... snapping back to reality.

For dinner, we drove around until we saw a Burger Ranch. It seemed safe enough. We laughed at the Garfield display for the kids toys. It was all translated into Hebrew, except the Christmas present (yes, in July) that was scanned in backwards, so the cursive writing on the tag was backwards and thus looked nothing like English, so it didn't get translated into Hebrew. Hahaha. A couple of burgers later, it was back to the crazy hostel where we had to pay for parking and climb Everest to get to our rooms. While Travis took a shower, I started planning for the next day. We had exhausted most of the easy to find sights around the lake, so we'd have to be more structured so we could get all the sites further away from the lake.

During our nightly Harry Potter bedtime story, we moved pictures from Travis' camera over to my computer so that we wouldn't run out of room on the camera the next day, then we drifted off to happy oblivion also known as sleep.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

July 8, 2007

Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday, dear Tianna
Happy birthday to me

Ok, really. How many people can say they had a birthday in Jerusalem and the Galilee? I really am just that cool. :) Now, on to the events of the day.

Tradition in our family deems that our birthday is the one day per year that we can actually sleep in. (Well, my dad claims Christmas is another day, but he's just ridiculous.) Thus, Murphy's Law dictates that my birthday is the one day per year that I wake up bright and early at 6 am. [rolls eyes] Not to fail this honored and time-tested tradition, I woke up at 6 am. It was still dark outside. I groaned and decided to fight tradition. So I rolled over and fell back asleep. At 7 I woke up again and realized the lamp above our bed was on. I'm pretty sure it wasn't on earlier, though. I turned it off and fell back asleep. Finally at 8, when I woke up yet again, I decided to stay up. So I turned on my computer and started catching up on my blog. It's getting harder and harder to do this now. This much detail and I fall far, far behind.

We went down to breakfast and wow, that was the best breakfast we had had thus far. But really, it doesn't take much to beat a week of corn flakes and watermelon. There were cereals and breads and fruit and mmmm... goodness. Deciding to get a start on the day, we called a cab and drove out to Avis to get our rental car. Finally! We didn't have to worry about finding transportation and paying an arm and a leg to get it. (Oh little did we now) After a bit of drama where we spent an arm more than we were expecting to rent the car, we finally got the keys and headed out to the parking lot. Now, the term 'parking lot' is a very loose term. Rather, it was a sidewalk big enough to park cars very close together. Imagine my amusement as Travis got his first taste of Israel driving while trying to 12-point turn off a sidewalk (yes, with a sidewalk-sized drop to the road) while backing into Jerusalem traffic. Think of the worst rush hour you've ever seen, and increase the speed. Now back into that traffic off of a sidewalk with no room to maneuver without hitting another car. In a rental. Yes. I was amused.

Our first order of business? The Israeli museum. First, let me just tell you the most tragic part of this museum. The archaeology portion is closed for 2 years!!! How do you do that? How can the most archaeologically rich nation close their archaeology section for years?! Ridiculous. That's what it is. Wisely, they left two major parts open. First - the scale model of the second temple. Second - the Dead Sea Scrolls. Wait... I'm sure I've talked about all this... Ok, a little bit when I saw it the first time here.

So, first was the Model City. Travis and I walked the perimeter, me pointing out different tidbits about the city and the model (like where Herod's palace was, or how they had a hippodrome in the model for a long time, with no proof that there was ever a hippodrome in Jerusalem). Travis finally found his ideal spot to set up his 4x5 and we set up camp. Rather, I hovered in the tiny bit of shade I could find, chuckling at Travis under his cloth and the security guard off to the side looking over at us curiously. Many pictures later, we headed over to the Shrine of the Book. Now, Travis picked up a bad habit this trip... taking pictures where it specifically says not to take pictures. I think just to be a rebel. Who knows. Anyway, we're not talking about the bajillion pictures Travis has of "No Camera" signs, we're talking about Shrine of the Book. It was kind of nice this time through... I didn't have other people in a big hurry begging me to hurry up. I actually got to take the time to sit and read what each display was. And every once in awhile I'd pass by Travis looking at something and hear a "click" coming from the camera hanging around his neck... even though his hands were in his pocket—not on the camera. Really, the beauty of the cord. What's it called, Trav? Cable release. Right. That. Anyway, the acoustics in the room were fantastic... at least to the extent that a tiny click from a camera actually echoed around the room. He definitely got some curious looks in his direction.

We left the museum and headed up to the Center. Now that we had a car, it was time to pick up all of our stuff. First, can I just say how nice it was to drive up that crazy hill instead of having to hike it? Pure bliss. I think that drive brought me more pleasure than most things possibly could have. If only I had been eating a coconut Nok-Out...

We had our priorities. First thing we did was pull out my computer and check our emails. Travis started poking around on the Internet and next thing I know, he's showing me an receipt. Purchase? Harry Potter 7. "Happy Birthday, Sis!" Yay! I had been so nervous about this book. Travis had bought me every single Harry Potter book except book 6 (which I thusly had to wait days for someone else to finish theirs so I could borrow it). Book 7 is the most important book... would Travis get it for me? Should I buy it myself? Should I just wait and borrow it? So many questions had infested my mind. It was such a relief to know that come July 21, I would be happily reading my very own copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Somethings are simply that important.

I definitely have the coolest brother ever. (Single women out there, please take note.)

We finally got all our stuff out to the car and headed out for Galilee. I was very excited about this. Galilee was definitely one of my favorite places of the entire trip. What better place to be heading to on my birthday? However, it wasn't all fun and games... neither of us had any idea how to get there. Luckily, the Center had given me maps as part of my books. So, prepped with the knowledge that Highway 6 was a toll highway (the high-tech kind that you just drive and at certain points, it takes pictures of your license plate and bills you in the mail later) we headed off on a longer, yet much cheaper route, through Tel Aviv.

The first thing we learned is that Israeli highways are not like American highways in that there is not a McDonalds every other exit. Or any food places, for that matter. As the day wore on and we got more and more hungry, we stared off every exit, hoping for some sign of food. We listened to Harry Potter 6, hoping to divert our attention, but every mention of Treacle Tart was pure torture. (I don't even know what a Treacle Tart is, but it's food. Thus, it made my tummy grumble in jealousy.) Finally, we just exited, figuring there had to be something somewhere. We found what appeared to be a promising strip mall. After learning that we had to pay for parking, but it being too late to do anything about it, we headed on in. Turns out, that cow on the sign was not advertising for hamburgers, but rather for a butcher shop. This little strip mall was full of clothing stores and a butcher shop. Does anyone else see the oddity here? The closest thing we had to edible food was a coffee shop. So we bought a couple of pastries, a couple of slushies, and a couple of bags of Doritos and went back out to the car. This was definitely a meal for the road. My slushy was surprisingly good. As was one of the pastries—it was filled with some sort of meat/pizza-like filling and herbs and spices. The Doritos were also quite tasty, though no flavor you'll ever find in America. Foreign countries tend to do that... brands you know, flavors you don't. Pringles are the classic example. Ketchup flavored Pringles are all over Israel. Apparently Doritos decided to be different as well.

Of course, as soon as we resigned ourselves to that lunch, fast food places started popping up all over the place. Go figure.

We finally made it to Galilee... Tiberias, to be exact. Following Omar's vague directions to a Christian hospice called Casa Nova, we got sufficiently lost. Finally, convinced that this hospice didn't actually exist, we started looking for other places. Tragically, every place we could find was charging an arm and a leg per night. We simply didn't have enough arms and legs between the two of us. So we decided to drive around the Sea of Galilee until we found somewhere better. Next thing we knew, we were clear out at Ein Gev. I knew it was pricy, but we decided to check it out anyway. Sure enough, it was pricy, but surprisingly, it was a very competitive rate. Enough that we even considered staying there for at least one night. We decided to buy some Internet time and spent it surfing the Internet trying to find something cheaper. Then it was back out to the car to drive back towards Tiberias. Finally, driving through Tiberias, we spotted the beautiful word, "Hostel" in bright red letters across a building. Hostel = cheap, right? Hey, we stayed in hostels in Jordan - we could do anything now.

So we pulled in, realized there was no free parking, so we forked out a shekel to the parking meter, and headed upstairs. Yes, up the stairs. The long, steep, stairs. Because there was no elevator.... and of course the hostel was on the second floor. We finally signed up for one night, leaving one precious arm behind. (Who said a hostel was cheap?! Our nice, kosher Jewish hotel was cheaper than this... or at least similar in price.) We had planned on bringing everything in from the car to our Galilee quarters, but those stairs changed our minds. Bringing up only what we could carry in one, maybe two trips, (and don't forget feeding the parking meter) we settled in for the night—determined to find something better for the next night.

A bedtime story of a Harry Potter chapter or two later, we drifted off to sleep. What better way to turn 24?

Saturday, July 7, 2007

July 7, 2007

5:30 came early. But I got up anyway. I desperately needed a shower. Of course, I picked the hostel that doesn't have a drain on the floor. So, I showered, then tried to get dressed with standing water on the floor, with my clothes balanced precariously on the rim of the sink and toilet tank, since there was no lid on the toilet seat. I felt rather like an acrobat. It really is a good thing I'm so nice. I should have just made Travis get out of bed and stand outside while I dressed in the bedroom. He'd better be grateful for me being such a stinkin' nice sister. I guess he made up for it though a bit later. We went out to get the advertised breakfast, but there wasn't anyone out there, except sleeping "fairy dust" on the couch. Instead, I jumped on the Internet and let Travis do all our packing. Awww... such a nice brother... At one point, Travis broke the computer, so while he tried to fix it (unsuccessfully, I might add), I sat there looking at Crookshanks on the floor. Yes, that's right, Crookshanks was at our hostel in Amman, Jordan. Who knew? We were trying to decide if that meant Hermione was somewhere in the area, or if that meant Hermione was going to die in Book 7, and Crookshanks was now on his own. We were pretty sure that meant Crookshanks would not die in Book 7. Who knew that Crookshanks would actually be kinda cute? I always pictured him as this hideous cat who walked into a wall. But, he fit every description and was actually cute! Ha! Travis left to do more packing, and I fixed the computer. We did a bit more Internet until our taxi came.

The taxi took us straight to the airport with only one small detour... the detour being him stopping and making us get out of his taxi and get in another one. I'm not even sure he planned on this stop. He was driving through a small town, spotted another taxi coming the other way, stopped, got out, yelled, the two conversed in typical Arabic seemingly-hostile-but-probably-actually-friendly fashion, then next thing you knew, our bags were being taken out of the trunk and transferred to the other taxi. We're still not sure why.

We got to the border... finally. We weren't sure where to go, so we kind of wandered until we figured it out. We were told the border opened at 8, so we had timed our arrival for 8. By the size of the lines and the amount of people leaving, it had been open for awhile already. When we finally got to the front of the line, they took our pictures with this little camera that you'd see on a computer... I wonder what they used that picture for... Wanted posters in Jordan, perhaps? There was an American group of four behind us. We ended up talking to them for awhile. They were great. They were in Amman on a business trip. They had finished up their business and had the day off, so they decided they wanted to jump over Jerusalem for a few hours. They actually could have stayed all day, but since it was Saturday (Shabbat, remember), the border closed in the early afternoon. So, they had to go over, spend about an hour, then come back before the border closed, because their plane left the next morning. Travis and I thought they were both crazy, especially considering the lines in this place. They'd spend, probably 4 hours at the border, 2 hours in travel, all for one hour in Jerusalem. However, had I never been to Jerusalem and if I was that close and in their position, I probably would have done it, too. We kept letting them cut in front of us so they could move faster, but we ended up sticking with them the whole time.

After the initial passport check, we had to board a bus that drove us for miles across the apparently ginormous border and dropped us off on the Israeli side. Which was ten thousand times worse.

We got in a line to go through security gates and x-ray machines. At this point, we're pointed back outside because my backpack was too big and need to be "checked." I'm not getting on a plane, why do they have to check my luggage? But, I couldn't understand a word they said, and they were insistent, so I complied. Best I could figure, they were sending it through some heavy duty x-ray machine. With this fear, Travis refused to surrender his camera bag. They let him keep it. Problem is, no one in the Middle East has ever heard of a line. Which is a problem when you have no idea what you're doing. I found myself in the midst of this huge crowd, trying to get to the front. I took Bro. Merrill's advice and was "politely aggressive." I finally got my bag to the front, and they put a little sticker on my passport. We finally made it through.

I made it through without problem, but in typical fashion, Travis got flagged for his suspicious bag. As I waited for him, I realized I had a perfect view of the x-ray monitor. It was really cool watching things go through. I was curious what Travis' camera bag looked like—could I see all his film?—so I paid close attention. Turns out, there's something in the lining of his bag or something that makes it look like one big metal box. No wonder they make him open his bag everywhere we go.

This was my first experience with an air puffer. That shocked Travis. He said he goes through them every time he flies. I think he's silly. I'd never been through one, and they let him skip it. It's... weird.

We got into yet another line to stamp our passports. ~sigh... But Trav and I, by this point, had learned to be patient in all things. I mostly just felt bad for our other American friends that were in a hurry. We got passed around from line to line until we finally found the line for foreigners. That was not the line I wanted to be in. Sure, I'm a foreigner and everything, but the lady at the booth was ornery! At one point, she looked up, pointed to a guy just behind us and yelled, "Sir! I told you to sit down!!! The guy looked utterly alarmed and started looking around, hoping she was talking to someone else. Fire was shooting out of her eyes. It was frightening. And then, the fire was gone. Her eyes had flicked over a few feet to see another guy sitting on a bench by the wall. "Oh, never mind. I thought you were someone else." No apology in her voice at all. We listened to her as she questioned every person that went through the line. You'd think every single person was a known terrorist trying to enter the country. Almost every single person had their passport taken to another room where I'm sure a full jury sat to decide their fate. We finally got to the front of the line. I'm glad I don't bite my nails, or I'm sure I would have had none left. We had watched some people hand her more than one passport as family, so we decided we should do the same. I handed her both passports. She glared at me and told me one at a time. I quickly took one of them back. Turns out she kept Travis'. She started questioning him. What was he doing in Israel? Did he know anyone there? Now, you could quite possibly question his honesty in his answers, but by this point, he feared that any remarkably suspicious answer would land us in that jury of death room. So he told her we were on vacation, taking photos. Was he a professional? (He was carrying a tri-pod, we couldn't hide that.) He dodged the question by saying he was here for his own personal leisure. He also claimed he knew no one in Israel. Ok, that was a flat out lie because of everyone at the Center, but really, that answer could lead to no good. She finally cleared him. Assuming I'd have all the same answers, she asked a few minimal questions, then let us go with only our eyebrows singed. We took a deep breath and moved on to the next line.

The other Americans were well ahead of us in this line. They waved back at us. As they were about 10 from the front, a border guy came and opened up the barrier right in front of us and told us we could go through there. So we ended up in the next room (where I found my luggage) before the other American group. The looks on their faces when they saw us there, after they had just waved to us far behind them... ha! It was great. We decided we could surpass the next line because we were foreigners... I'm not sure if that really was allowed, but no one stopped us.

Ok, now we're outside. How to get from the border to Jerusalem? Everything we read said we could get a taxi. Sure enough, there was a little booth that offered taxi services. We tried to get a van that would take us all, but one that held just four was ready to go, so we shooed them on, since they were in a much bigger hurry than we were. We took the next one. Getting closer to Jerusalem, we realized that we were going to be late for church. Especially since we didn't know where we were going. Luckily, the lady that sat in front of me spoke English, so I asked her. The Central Bus station. That didn't help me. I told her that when Travis came from the airport, they dropped him off at the Center... could this driver do the same? She asked him, told him it was by Hebrew U. He agreed. We sat back, content. Travis started getting confused when we entered Jerusalem, I kept assuring him it was fine, the driver knew where we were going. Travis kept insisting that we missed the turn, but I figured he was just dropping other people off first. We discovered where the Central Bus Station is. It's right next to the Garden Tomb. Like, when you look at skull rock and can't see the mouth anymore because they built a bus lot? That's it. So then the driver drove us back up the hill, but dropped us off on the other side of Hebrew U. Think being dropped off on 800 E when you really need to be at the Temple. Yes, hill included. Actually, a worse hill. Up and down. Many times. We kept pointing over to the Center (which we could see) and trying to get him to understand that that is where we needed to be. He kept pointing down the road and telling us to walk. We were frustrated. It was soooo far away. Finally he told us, "Allenby to Jerusalem." (Allenby is the border) Then he pointed around and stated, "Jerusalem!" Then, frustrated with us, he said, "Get a taxi!" And left us there on the side of the road.

We looked down the road he had pointed at for us to get to the Center. We looked up where we had just been going. We debated as to which way would really be the better way. The way he was pointing was guaranteed to have a steep downhill then uphill climb. Cursed (said: curse-ed) hills anyway. Straight ahead was uphill for awhile, but it was gradual. And we figured would be on the same height as the Center. The salt in the wound was that the taxi driver had driven down the road that he had pointed out to us. Jerkface. Without much other choice, we started hiking. I quickly learned that the backpack I carried was made for a man. I had never carried it for such a long distance to figure this out. Sure, I had been responsible for it all week, but it was typically just from a car to a hotel kind of distance. After twenty minutes of straight hiking, the tops of my hip bones were indisputably bruised from the straps. Oh well. We meandered through the Hebrew U campus. We got to forks in the road and tried to use the Hebrew U tower as a guide. We finally found our way to the Center, after having walked around the perimeter of the entire Hebrew U campus, a gradual incline the entire way. I almost wonder if the shorter steep up and down wouldn't have been better.

We got to the Center just a few minutes before noon—just as church was ending. We didn't have anywhere else to go, however, so we headed on in. We had tried to make reservations for a hotel online the day before, but after we had made the reservation, we found the fine print that said the reservation office was closed all day Friday and Saturday. We had made the reservation on Friday, and now, here it was—Saturday. And we needed a hotel. We moved over to the phone and started making phone calls. We tried to call the Reich hotel over and over again. (How ironic is it to stay at a hotel in Jewish Jerusalem called the Reich?) No one would answer the phone, however. It just rang and rang and rang. So we tried calling Avis. We were hoping we could pick up our car that day, instead of having to get a taxi, but no luck. It was, after all, Saturday, and everything was closed. We finally got ahold of the Avis office at the airport, who at least assured us that we could drop off the car the next Saturday at the airport, however, the office in Jerusalem was most definitely closed today.

As we checked our email and tried to catch up on life, Bro. Lee came over and visited with us. I had never spoken so much with Bro. Lee before. He told us a lot more about his life, and how he used to work on some river (I don't recall the details... the Colorado River, perhaps?). He told us about some US President's child came and wanted to do a rafting trip, and all of the security that had to go into it. And how said child was an idiot and didn't listen to the guide and ended up flipping their raft. We all just talked and talked. It was fun. Finally, we had security cal us a taxi who drove us, first to Aladdin's so we could get some Israeli money, then off to the Reich.

This hotel is by far my favorite hotel of the trip. First, it was actually a nice hotel for a not-so-bad price. Second, it's a fully fledged Jewish hotel. Kosher food and total Shabbat observance. And, of course, we showed up on a Saturday. Can I just tell you that a Shabbat-observant hotel on Shabbat is by far one of the most unique experiences there is? We got to the front desk and started speaking with the receptionist, who turned out to be an amazingly non-observant Jew. We told her of our quandary of trying to reserve a room and how no one answered the phone. She told us it was Shabbat, hence they could not answer the phone. We asked if they had laundry services. She said yes, but that it's not offered on Shabbat. We asked if they served dinner (it was 5 pm and we had not eaten all day). She said they did, but that it was a Shabbat dinner, and hence, very expensive. [sigh] We asked if there were anywhere close that would be open. But of course there wasn't--we were in the middle of Jewish Jerusalem. However, this is when she became very helpful.

"You could order in food," she offered.

"Really? Do you know anywhere? Any numbers?" we asked.

"Yeah, of course. There's a pizza place, or a burger place."

"Those both sound wonderful."

"May I make a suggestion?"

"Please do."

"If you get the pizza, I would suggest getting extra cheese. With—"

I'm going to cut off her sentence for one moment to explain my train of thought. At this point, I am thinking she is going to insert some type of vegetable. I mean, this girl is a Jewish girl working at a Shabbat observing hotel. Surely she wouldn't offer us something that was not kosher. Which any meat would do. But, then again, she had been kind of sarcastic as she told us all the things that the hotel didn't do because it was Shabbat. I had been certain she had stopped herself from rolling her eyes on several occasions. So even if she were to finish this sentence with a meat, surely it would be anything except pork. Because, really, even if you're not going to be kosher in Jerusalem, you still don't eat pork. From what I hear, it's nigh unto impossible to even find pork in Jerusalem. Neither the Jews nor the Muslims eat pork. That leaves approximately 12 people who will eat pork. (Yes, I realize this is grossly under exaggerated. Just the students at the Center alone are about 8 times that number.)


[stunned silence]

But then again, we had had our fair share of "pepperoni" pizza in Jerusalem which actually turned out to be not pepperoni, but rather another meat that was non-pork. Typically lamb. Maybe that's what this really was.

"If you go for the cheeseburger, get it done medium well—there's no blood in it anyway—with bacon on it."

I couldn't help myself this time. "Bacon?! I didn't think you could get bacon here!"

"Shhhh!!!!! Don't yell it!"

I had made the mistake of speaking rather loudly just as a Jewish family made their way across the lobby. "Sorry," I whispered. Travis just laughed.

We got the phone numbers and decided to call from our room. I mentioned getting on the elevator and the receptionist was like, "Yeah... about that..." I rolled my eyes and slumped down on the desk. "It doesn't work on Shabbat?" She laughed. "Well, it does, but..." The light went on in my head halfway through her sentence, "But it's a Shabbat elevator." She grinned. "Yup."

Let me tell you about Shabbat elevators, just in case you have no idea what they are. To push a button on an elevator has been deemed by the head rabbis as using electricity, and thus, doing work, and thus, breaking the sabbath. But, you can't just keep people from using an elevator—especially hotels that have many floors. Also, this hotel didn't have any rooms on the ground floor. So everyone has to go up at least one floor to get to their room. Without an elevator, that's not very handicapped accessible. So they created Shabbat elevators. On the sabbath, the elevator will actually stop at every floor, staying open for about 30-60 seconds. It just goes up and down all day long, stopping at every floor. This particular elevator emitted a very loud buzz when it opened. That way, you can always hear when the elevator is open on your floor. So while sitting in your room, you can make a quick break for the elevator as soon as you hear the buzz echoing down the halls.

We headed over to the elevator. The door was open, just waiting for us as we got there. When we got in, the receptionist said, "Hope it's not going down!" The doors shut. Sure enough, the elevator went down. The doors open, we sat there, the doors closed, we went back up, the doors opened, we smiled and waved at the receptionist laughing at us, the doors closed, and opened and closed, etc. until we made it to our floor.

We called the pizza place, deciding that pizza with bacon was more exciting, and the line was busy. We waited a little while and tried again. Same results. We decided we were too hungry to wait for the phone line to clear, so we called the burger place instead. We decided to take the advice of the receptionist and got our bacon cheeseburger medium well. When I told the guy the address of the hotel, he paused and asked a little nervously, "You do realize that we're not kosher, right?" Hello! I'm ordering bacon cheeseburgers! Instead I said, "Yeah, I know. I'm from America, I don't really care about kosher." Travis pointed out later that probably wasn't the best thing to say. Oh well. Either way, the guy laughed and told me that he only asks because the last time he delivered to that hotel, he gave the guy the box, the guy opened it and freaked out because it wasn't kosher. [rolls eyes]

Travis and I took the stairs downstairs and sat outside to wait for the cheeseburgers. (They told us we couldn't have it delivered to our room.) The food came and we headed back up to our room. When we were faced with the choice of elevator or stairs, we decided to take the stairs. The smell of bacon was permeating the halls already. It would be cruel of us to sit for 30+ seconds on every floor, sending that smell to a bunch of people who can't eat it. Along the way, Travis said one of my favorite quotes of the trip: "I feel like I'm smuggling cigarettes into a church." Hahaha!

Turns out that, blood or not, not fully cooked beef is not appetizing to me. Bleh. I ate most of it, but I couldn't finish... even though it was the first time I've eaten bacon in months. Besides, the bacon had more fat than bacon. Very anti-climactic.

We turned on HP 6 again, and we both definitely fell asleep. I woke up after awhile and decided to let Travis keep sleeping. So I changed to some music, then started working on my blog. This is turning out to take much more time than I expected. :) Travis woke up and started doing some stuff for himself, so I went over to the bed and called Mom. After a nice chat with her, we turned HP 6 back on for awhile.

Finally... it was time for bed.

Quotes of the day:

- "That's why I couldn't be Orthodox in any religion... Rationalization is just so much fun." - Trav

- "It's sad when you get excited about a bathroom." - Trav

Friday, July 6, 2007

July 6, 2007

Favorite quote of the day:
- Tianna: "I'm pretty sure every stereotypical driver has Middle Eastern decent. ... Wait... they do."
- Travis: "Ironic how we find out our lineage about the same time we learn to drive."

Woke up this morning on the floor of Fares' house. Yup. It was real. We had really spent the night at the house of our taxi driver. Hehe. There was a rooster crowing. Ha! I love it. There was also a donkey braying. Here I was, on the floor of a house of a taxi driver in the middle of nowhere Jordan, waking up to a rooster and a donkey. How much better can it get?

Sleep was in and out this morning. The alarm went off a few times. Fares got up and got moving. I was so tired... I didn't want to move. So I kept sleeping. I finally got up and got ready for the day. When I exited the bathroom, Travis and Fares were feasting on breakfast. Once again, Travis had to deny him his offer of tea, which somehow still shocked Fares. Breakfast consisted of a bunch of hard bread/pastry thingies. Really... not filling. I ate one. Very slowly. I think they have tea for breakfast to give you something to dip said pastry in and soften it up a bit. Not having any tea... well... it took me awhile to get it down.

After breakfast, I started folding the blankets from our bed. Fares immediately tried to stop me, saying his wife could do it, but I was raised well and kept going. I was grateful I did. Those blankets were sooo heavy! I could barely hold them. Did I mention that Fares' wife was very pregnant? I could not in good conscience let her do that. Fares kept trying to stop me, but Travis jumped to my aid. "Our mom would be very disappointed if she knew that we stayed at your house and didn't help clean up after ourselves." Fares backed down after that.

We all (well, Travis, Fares and I) got in the taxi and took off to meet his brother who would be driving us the rest of the way. As I moved stuff from one taxi to the other, I heard Travis ask Fares, "How much do we owe you?" and heard Fares respond, "For what?" For a split second, I really thought Fares was going to let us off scot free. Basically, in the middle east just come to grips that nothing is free. Once offered though I figured I should follow through and told him I would like to offer him something for his hospitality. He asked how much I thought it was worth, aka we were haggling price. I told him I had no idea so I offered ten dinars while playing the ignorant naïve tourist role, which I figured would be a good way of finding out what he had in mind the whole time. I was right, he upped the ante to 25 dinar. I paid thinking the experience was well worth the price.

Fares' brother, who I really don't remember his name, took us to an ATM so Travis could get some cash out to pay him with. We also saw the brother's son and father out playing in front of his house. Then he stopped to get gas and brought us out our second breakfast. Another pastry and a drink. The drink I finished, the pastry I barely nibbled at. It wasn't half bad, but I didn't feel top notch and didn't really want to put more food in my stomach. So I instead fell asleep for the rest of the two-hour drive. By the time we got to Amman, the pastry was rock hard.

When we got to Amman, the driver took us over to our hostel. Apparently Amman suffers from Utah's problem and we got blocked by construction. Next thing we knew, after taking a few directions, we were driving backwards down a one-way street, fairly quickly, for a long ways. Trav and I just kept looking at each other and laughing. We finally got to the hotel and asked our driver if he would be interested in being our driver for the rest of our day in Amman as well. Agreeing, he dropped us off and left to take his sister to the University. (Oh, she was just starting, so she came with us on our trek.) We took our stuff upstairs and hit our next roadblock. By canceling our reservation the night before, they assumed we were not coming and didn't have a place for us to stay. It was reservation only. Who's ever heard of a reservation only hostel?! We related our phone conversation from the night before, and finally, were admitted to a room.

This room is by far the worst. One towel for the both of us—for showering and drying hands. The toilet ... I didn't think I'd ever complain about having a toilet after the squatter at Fares' house... had no seat. No lid, no seat. The shower had a raised platform, but no curtain. And the water sprayed everywhere, so it got all over the floor, which had no drain. Try going to the bathroom on a toilet with no seat when there is 2 inches of water on the floor from the shower. Pleasant, really. shudder

We met up with our taxi driver again and he took us to this quaint little sandwich shop for lunch. We started to order a pizza when this guy who worked there stopped us. "That's all you foreigners order because you're too scared to try native food! You cannot get a pizza." He then proceeded to point out other things on the menu that we should order. Typically, this is something to be skeptical of—they just want more money. But this guy was actually pointing out things that were less expensive! So we got a sandwich and left. It was so good. Like, really good. The guy was right... glad we didn't get the pizza.

First stop, Mt. Nebo. He made a point to tell us we'd be going to Mt. Nebo via Madaba. I was happy with that. I think the Madaba map is beautiful and I knew Travis could get much better pictures. Turns out, we were just going to drive through Madaba to get to Mt. Nebo. Part of me wonders if our driver just didn't know there was anything to see in Madaba and misunderstood.... and that we got charged more to go to Madaba, and didn't actually see the Madaba map... oh well. What can you do now?

We got to Mt. Nebo and found out that our driver had never been there. So he parked the car and met us up there. It was funny. He kept asking what things were and Travis would answer him using Bible stories. The guy was floored at how much Travis knew and kept telling him how smart he was. It made me laugh. Who knew that Travis could be marked as brilliant because he knew what the brazen serpent was?

Here Travis wanted to take a Moses picture... Moses sitting on Mt. Nebo, looking out over the Promised Land. Problem is, Moses would have been about 120 years old at this point. Travis as a model was not going to work. So, looking around, we saw an old man with white hair in a tour group. Approaching him, and find out he and his wife spoke very little english, and we spoke next to no italian, we finally got across that we wanted the man to pose as Moses for a picture. The man gladly accepted and his wife was alive with laughter. Her husband? Moses!? We told her it'd be a story for her grandkids. Problem with pulling people from tour groups to model is that they're always in such a hurry. Travis doesn't work on time crunches for these pictures. That's why we've declined typical tour guides thus far. But we always have to work around our model's tour guide's time schedule. So, limited time, difficult conversation, and working with old man's aging body later, we go the picture... and ended up using Travis as a model for a second, just-in-case, picture anyway.

Back in the car, on the way to the Jordan River... we got to a small town and our driver asked if we wanted to stop for some coffee. We politely declined. Tea? Here we go again... Nope. "What do you drink?" "Water." "Only water?!" At this point, he has stopped in front of a store and is quite literally pulling out his hair in frustration at our stubbornness. I couldn't help but laugh as we answered. "Pretty much, yeah. Just water." "Fine! But I want coffee!" Then he got out of the car and stalked out to the store to get himself some coffee. Hehe. Trav and I decided this would be a good place to get water anyway. And I needed the restroom. Going to the restaurant next door, I found the restroom. Would you believe it? The toilet had no seat! What is with this country?! Do girls just never use the bathroom in public or something? Honestly...

A short bit of getting lost and actually watching our male driver ask directions later, we were on our way to the Jordan River baptismal site. This time, our driver dropped us off and waited for us outside. We followed the guide, taking pictures and ooh-ing and ahhh-ing at the appropriate times. We were on the tour with a spanish speaking family, so the guide had to repeat everything twice. That worked out quite well for Travis. While the guide was talking to the other family, Travis was using the time to take pictures w/o the pressure of a guide. I was busy finding shade and drinking as much water as I could. It was an incredibly hot day.

We finally made it to the river... the part where people get baptized. You can tell, because there is a giant bowl full of water from the river where you can sprinkle your children. Haha! Here was the fastest project picture of the entire trip. I was very impressed with the speed in which Travis set up, took the picture, and put his stuff away. Way to go, Trav.

As we were entering Amman, our driver asked if we'd ever been on this road before. Travis replied, "I've only been on the roads that I've been on with you." Our driver's response? "Thank you." Haha! That is such a typical Jordanian response. They say thank you to everything... whether it makes sense or not.

Back to the hostel... using the Internet... breaking the Internet/computer (that would be Travis) ... fixing the Internet/computer (that would be me) ... dinner time. The guy at the hostel told us where we could go for dinner, so we headed out, directions in hand. A quick stop at the ATM later, we were on our way. Problem is, we weren't sure where we were on our way to. We stopped and asked one guy, who pointed us in the right direction... but we just kept walking and walking and walking. Finally conceding our being lost, we found a little sandwich shop where we ordered chicken sandwiches. Which turned out to be fried chicken (bones and all) and buns. Peel and make your own sandwiches! Good news, they had real ranch! Mmmmm...

On our way back to the hostel, we stopped to buy more water. Turns out, it was the same place where we'd asked for directions. He remembered us and asked us if we found the place... we had to admit we hadn't. But he was really nice and gave us a good deal on our water. I like nice people in foreign countries.

Back to the hostel. As I'm consulting my notes to write about this day, I became very confused with the key words, "fairy dust" with a smiley face above it. Did we have a conversation about Peter Pan or something? A quick consultation with Travis later, I have my answer. Let me tell you about the boy that often was at the desk helping us. Well, that's part of the problem... we're not positive that he's male. He's probably about 16 years old, really super skinny, spiky blonde hair, capri-type pants, tight white tank top, pre-puberty voice. I just assumed he was a feminine-like boy... Travis wasn't so sure. We'd spent random moments through the day debating back and forth. When we got back that night, he was on the couch in the lobby with another, very obviously, male friend. Our room being right down the hall, we could hear quite clearly what they were listening to. The friend that was obviously male was such by public restroom designation only, me thinks. Two 16 year old boys wearing tight girls jeans and wife beaters sitting in a darkly lit room while listening to Michael Bolton seemed to answer a lot of questions for me. Michael Bolton, honestly.

At this point, something cracked inside of me and I became super-giggly. Everything was funny to me. Or I am just super funny! Trav and I talked for quite awhile that night, me laughing at everything. He probably feared I had really lost it this time... who knows. Perhaps he would have been right. Needless to say, I rather enjoyed the evening, and we had some really great conversation. Even some that made me think. Particularly, if you saw a boggart, what would it turn into? To be honest, I have no idea. Part of me wants to see a boggart, just so I know what I really fear the most.

Other quotes from the evening:
- Trav: "I still think my theory is better than her nose." technically it was ‘knows’
- Trav: "I would accept an apology that has 'blah blah blah' in it."

Thursday, July 5, 2007

July 5, 2007

Disclaimer: By continuing reading this day's post, the reader agrees to not worry, fret, nor get angry, upset, nor chastise the subjects of today's post. Breaking of this contract will result in a fine of 1 apple pie, 6 brownies, 2 cheesecakes and 1 of Grandma Lovell's cake with pink frosting (Travis has the recipe for anyone who doesn't know how to make said cake)—payable to Travis and Tianna Lovell.

Good morning from Petra! In my groggy state, I was confronted with a small shock. Yesterday morning I had noticed that my right leg was covered in bed bugs. And when I say covered, I mean I counted at least 30 from my knee down. This morning I realized that my left leg mirrored the right. So, on my two legs, from the knees down, I had 60+ bug bites. Yick. I think it must have been from those nasty beach chairs that I fell asleep on multiple times. Especially since Travis didn't have any. Actually, he discovered later that he had a few. Maybe 3 or 4. Which is nothing compared to mine. And he did sit on one of the beach chairs for a wee bit. Well, anyway, Travis took a picture so anyone who disbelieves me can have proof.

Downstairs, I flicked a mosquito off Travis' neck in front of Naser, the hostel owner. Travis looked at me funny, so I explained what I had done, and I thought Naser was going to have some type of fit. Apparently he hates the stereotype that hostels are filled with bed bugs, so if he even sees one in his hostel, he'll close it down to spray, and he had quite recently just had a spray down. Travis and I independently decided to keep our mouths shut about my legs, since we were pretty sure the bites came from Egypt, not from Petra. I just hope I didn't bring any with me.

Breakfast was consistent with most of our breakfasts... not much that I wanted to eat. It consisted of thin, hard pita, butter, cheese, jam, and eggs. Oh well. We ate it anyway. Then, Naser was incredibly kind and gave us a ride down to Petra. We walked in, then realized that we had passed the ticket office and had to backtrack to find the ticket office, then were appalled to see how expensive it was! It was 31 Jordanian Dinars (JD) per person! So total, we spent about $90 on entrance fees alone. It was disgusting. Even better, they only accepted JD, which we didn't have yet, so we had to go trade money, which the rate at tourist spots isn't the greatest. But oh well. Finally, we entered Petra!

Travis took beautiful photos all the way down the gorge that leads the way to the main tourist attraction. I believe the attention he drew with his big, old-fashioned camera (complete with bellows), with a black cloth draped over his head and camera can be summed up with a comment Travis made, "You know it's bad when you're a novelty to the tour guides."

We got to the place pictured in the majority of pictures y'all have seen of Petra. It will hereafter be known as the Treasury... because that's what some little boys told us it was called. Who knows if that's right or not. Travis took some pictures, but we didn't stay long because the light isn't what he wanted. We continued on, stopping whenever his artistic eye caught on something. Which, quite honestly, were spots that I never would have seen, but really were beautiful.

We ended up on a path above the main path, leading from the Byzantine church down to the restaurant. Along the path was a little shop. (They are all along every path. They all sell the same things and have all the same catch phrases, "One dollah!" "No charge for looking." etc.) As we approached the shop, this little three-year old girl (named Dima) came running out to us. When she got to us, she immediately started exploring everything with a zipper. Finally satisfied that we were appropriately interesting, she grabbed my hand and dragged me into her mom's tent and made me sit down. Not wanting to stay long, since we had limited time as well as limited money, I only squatted on the ground. At that point, she found the nipple of my Camelbak and became very curious. So, I showed her how it worked and she fell in love. She probably ended up drinking half of our water by the end of it. Travis decided to buy some pretty rocks from them, so as he picked them out, I went over to stand by him. Dima crawled up on top of the rocks and flung herself on me. I picked her up and laughed as she drank more of my water. Then she started giving me kisses. It was really cute. Her mom, however, like most moms, was embarrassed by her daughter's behavior. So she took her from me, apologizing profusely. I told her it was ok, but she did it anyway. About then, Trav and I decided it was time to go. By then, Dima had reattached herself to me, so we had to literally pry her off of me. She was not a happy camper about me leaving. She cried and cried as we walked away. It was sad and cute at the same time. I miss small children.

We got to the restaurant just as the Camelbak ran dry. It was lunchtime, so we decided it was as good a time as any to stop and eat. Mmmmm.... still good food! We couldn't sit inside this time, however, because there was a Chinese group of 120 there! And I thought our 88 was large. At one point, one of their tour guides, a girl about my age, came out and sat at our table. She didn't actually seem to keen to be a tour guide for this group. She just seemed... exhausted by it all. Plus, she seemed way too excited to tell us that inside was full, so she would simply have to sit outside. Oh darn. Haha! After awhile, though, another guide came out and told her that they had saved a seat for her. She sighed then turned to me, "I guess I have to go in..." Poor girl.

Travis paid with his credit card, but I guess they have to take it outside of the park to have it approved, so it took 15-20 minutes to run it through. Haha! We decided to take it as a bit of R&R and just dawdled a bit. While Travis was in the washroom, a lady sitting at the table next to me asked if she could smoke. Not registering what she was asking, I waved her on. When she lit up, I regretted it, but then realized that even if I had registered what she was asking, I probably still would have told her to go ahead. Something is wrong with that. I should work on that. Anyway, after a moment, when I looked back over, she pulled out her box of cigarettes and offered me one. I politely declined, then realized, I'm pretty sure that's the first time I've ever been offered a cigarette. Weird.

From there, most people ride a donkey up to the monastery, but we started looking at time and realized we simply didn't have time to go up and back. While we were trying to tell the donkey drivers no, one of the donkeys with a man on it started acting up, enough that I was very glad I wasn't on it, so I said so. The donkey driver in front of us said, "Nono. Donkeys are very safe. That one is a mule. But the donkey is safe." At which point I laughed and said, "Oh yes, no mules. Last time I was here, a girl in my group got bucked off a mule. No mules for us." His eyes got really big and said, "That was your group? I remember that group. A bunch of Americans, right?" Wow. He remembered our dear, sweet Hilary. Poor girl. Either way, we decided not to go up. Instead we turned back and got a bunch of pictures of places that we either hadn't seen on our way in, or simply had much better light then (i.e. the Treasury). It was great. The only bad part of Petra was that I sunburned my neck—the first time I've gotten sunburned this entire trip.

At one point, we realized that we were late for our taxi to Amman, so we picked up our pace. At the gate, we decided to grab a taxi back to the hotel. Best purchase of our trip. Neither of us had realized how far away the hotel was until that drive, but there is no way we would have made it back in time walking. We had a few minutes upon arrival, so we checked email. I finally got an email from the job I'm hoping to get, telling me that there is for sure a position opening up and wanting me to schedule an interview! Happy day! I was getting slightly worried because I hadn't heard from them for so long.

Soon after, Fares showed up and we started our drive up to Amman. One of the reasons we had decided to keep him as our driver was because he had told us that he could take us to a Bedouin tent owned by his family, and Travis really wanted to get a picture of one for his project. (Y'know, "My father dwelt in a tent"). Upon arrival, we started attracting all sorts of attention. Fares and his brother who had met us followed us around for a bit, but then, getting bored, they took off, leaving us with the Bedouin boys that had gathered round, intrigued by Travis' camera. I pulled out my camera to take a picture of Travis taking pictures and one boy, Facer, got really excited. I let him take pictures with it... next thing I knew, he had run off with the camera, taking pictures of everything he could find, including the women in the Bedouin tent, who actually seemed to like having their pictures taken. I was a bit worried for a moment that I had just lost my camera, but for some reason, didn't feel scared that he wouldn't bring it back. And I was right—he was very good to my camera. When we were done with pictures, they brought us back down to the tent and we went inside, trying to communicate w/o talking, since none of us spoke the language of the other.

Finally, Fares and his brother showed back up. His brother was supposed to be taking us the rest of the way to Amman, hence why he was there. Fares started looking over at the sun (which was about to set) and started commenting about how late it was and how late we were going to get into Amman. Then he suggested that instead of going all the way up there that late and making his brother drive all the way back that late, perhaps we could just stay the night at his house and drive up in the morning. A little stunned by this, we didn't know what to do. We first declined, saying that we already had a reservation at a hotel. He told us he'd let us use his phone to call and cancel for the night. We hemmed and hawed a bit, but I got thinking about it and realized that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I said a quick prayer, and, feeling no ill feeling about it, I told Travis that I thought it was a good opportunity for us to really live the Jordanian life. So, after a bit more hemming and hawing, we accepted. At which point, Fares rushed us into his car to drive us back to his house so we could have time to take pictures of the sunset from his roof.

Quite honestly, the view from his roof wasn't what either of us would call spectacular, but Travis took pictures anyway. At one point, I happened to look up and saw the taxi we came in drive away. Suddenly I got a bit fearful. Most of our luggage was still in that taxi. What had we done? We were now on the rooftop of a stranger in the middle of a foreign country and our bags were driving away. But, within a half mile, the taxi stopped at the local mosque, and I suddenly remembered hearing Call to Prayer just a few minutes prior. I guess I've just become so accustomed to hearing it that I didn't register that perhaps Fares would want to go pray. As soon as I realized that's where he'd gone, all fear fled and I went back to feeling ok with where we were. After a bit more on the roof, Travis enjoying the breeze, me starting to get goosebumps for the first time in months (or at least since the last time I had entered the forum which was always freezing), we decided to go downstairs.

Fares had not yet made it back, so instead we joined his wife in the living room where she was watching a soap opera in her full Muslim get-up. Black veil covering her face as well as her head and all. She didn't speak English nearly as well as Fares did, so she didn't say a whole lot, but she did ask if we wanted tea or coffee. We politely declined and enjoyed watching the soap opera with her until Fares came back. He explained to us where he had been (I was right about the prayer thing) and offered us tea or coffee. Humored glances were exchanged between Travis and I, and we again declined. So instead, they brought us out some orange Tang, which was delicious.

Next was dinner. I really don't understand the middle eastern concept of dipping breads in dips as a full-fledged dinner, but ok. Whatever makes them happy, I suppose. Needless to say, our dinner consisted of pita and this other thin tortilla kind of thing and a large platter filled with various dips and jams, as well as rice wrapped in grape leaves (mmm) and some other wrap that I loved and ate most of, particularly since I was avoiding much of the other stuff. I won't miss most of the native food, that's for sure.

After awhile, Fares' niece and nephew found their way over, the niece being just between an infant and a toddler. She was scared to death of me and Travis, which was rather sad. Fares and his wife spent a lot of time trying to get her to come to me. The end result consisted of the wife throwing her cell phone across the room, then telling the wee babe to go get it for her. (Yes, we played Fetch with a barely walking baby.) Every time she threw it a little further until finally I would pick it up and put it on the couch next to me, or under my leg. It took awhile, but finally, the girl got brave enough to retrieve it from me and run back to the wife. I learned a new Arabic word—hot. (Though, I have no idea if that's how you spell it.) It means "Give me." So I was constantly saying "Hot! Hot!" Trying to get her to give me the phone.

At one point, Fares decided it would be great fun to see Travis dressed as a native. I have been convinced from the beginning that given Travis' skin color and dark hair, he would blend in quite well with the natives. (Though, typically his wide-brimmed hat and many cameras give him away as a tourist.) Fares apparently agreed with me, because he brought out a robe and a hat-like thing (the red cloth with the black band around it) for Travis to wear. When he was satisfied that Travis looked good, he decided to take us over to his brother's house. Apparently his brother, a few years ago, just fell down unexpectedly and has never been the same sense. I'm guessing he had a stroke or something. He left a young wife and I think 2 small children. He's better now, they say, but he's just this tiny man, super skinny, laying on a mat on the floor. He can't talk, but he can understand what you say. So, Fares decided to take him some entertainment—two Americans who can say three things in Arabic: Thank you, Give me, and Let's go. Surely, we could make the man laugh.

Ok. Have you seen My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding? You know how her brothers are always teaching her boyfriend how to say things in Greek, but they always have him say bad things? I had this fear through the next little bit of the night. As we walked over, Fares taught Travis an Arabic phrase, but not what it meant. He made Travis practice it over and over again on the walk over, telling him to say it to his brother when we walked in. Travis, feeling rather stupid, I'm sure, walked into the house and said, "Hasea Fasea!" (Again, no promise on the spelling.) The man on the mat smiled widely, the rest of the entire family that took up almost every seat around the living room (yes, the entire extended family almost was there!) started laughing. Travis and I took our seats on the amazing little couches.

Let me take a moment to describe these "couches." I love them. I want one for my own. Really, think of a couch. Now, take off the bottom. No legs, no springs, just the couch cushions, arm rests, and backs. Now you have their furniture. It's nice, because it's low to the ground, so you can stretch out your legs. The arm rests are movable, so you can be comfortable anywhere. There are no springs, so kids can jump on them all they want. Trav and I agreed that they'd be perfect for a kids playroom.

We spent the next hour or so repeating Arabic phrases that made all the girls giggle and Travis and I feel stupid. (Well, for the most part it was Travis... but then I must have made fun of him a bit too much, because then they rounded on me, making Travis feel a bit better about himself.) At one point I mentioned My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding to Travis and how I felt as if we had entered it. Fares, I think caught on to the reference somehow and suddenly turned all serious, assuring us that they would never do anything to make us feel stupid nor would they have us say inappropriate things. Which, in turn, made me feel a bit sheepish for saying it.

It didn't take too long after our arrival before the girls of the group decided to congregate around me. One in particular girl (Thana? Thinea? I don't remember her name) sat right next to me, trying to work on her English. It would have been much easier to help her out had she not been wearing the full-face-covering headdress. Turns out, being able to see someone talk is a vital part of understanding... especially when they don't speak English well. So, most everything played out more as charades, guesswork, and making Fares interpret. Some things were rather easy to figure out. Like when she brought out a headdress and put it on my head. Later she told me that I looked much better with my hair covered. Haha! Granted, that was right around the same time that they ranted and raved about how beautiful my hair was...

At one point, the girls decided that they wanted to show me their hair. This would be quite scandalous with Travis in the room, so we became all giddy and girly and ran back to their bedroom... but it didn't have a real light, so we moved instead to the more formal sitting room. (Which still had the amazing couches.) With the door firmly shut, the three teenage to young twenty year old girls removed their headdresses. (Only one had been wearing the full face one, the other two only had their hair covered.) Then, the worst happened. They lined up in front of me and asked, "Which of us is the most beautiful?" Uhhh.... How do you respond to that?! I laughed and told them that they were all beautiful. They weren't fooled. "We just want your opinion. We will not be angry with what you choose. What is your opinion? Who is the most beautiful?" I tried everything I could think of to get out of this conversation. I suddenly understood what it must be like to be a guy trapped with the question of, "Does this dress make me look fat? No, really, I want your honest opinion." If I ever ask that question, please remind me of this event to snap me out of it.

Somehow, finally topics changed. It ranged everywhere from them wanting my opinion on Arab women, to education, to hair and makeup, to coffee vs. chocolate. That last one was actually rather entertaining. Thinea, or whatever her name is, was telling me how some days she is just very groggy and meh in the mornings, but then she drinks her coffee and is peppy and happy and alert! (Please picture a Muslim girl saying this while jumping and shouting at every word.) She asked if I felt the same way, so I told her that I don't drink coffee. You would have thought I had announced that the world had ended by the look on her face. "How do you make yourself happy when you're feeling meh?!" (You're missing a lot by not seeing her actions...) "Well," I replied, "I eat chocolate!" Her eyes got wider, if that was possible. "Oh, I can't eat chocolate." It was my turn to be shocked. Was this some new Muslim kosher law I wasn't aware of? "Why can't you eat chocolate?!" "It makes my face... [insert Arabic, actions and some guesswork at translation] break out. Zits. Pimples. My doctor told me no more chocolate." So there you have it, folks. Chocolate is to me what coffee is to a Jordanian girl... and vice versa.

Through this entire girl-talk session, one girl on either side of me and one in front of me, they all insisted on touching me and trying to focus my attention on them. It's hard to focus attention on three different girls on different sides of me, all saying different things. The one to my left kept grabbing my hand, but is studying to be an English teacher, so I understood her most of the time. The one in front of me kept pulling my face towards her and saying things in a mock-sultry voice and laughing. I think she was still trying to prove that she was the most beautiful. (She was also the youngest and a teenager.) The one to my right, Thinea, was the most demanding and kept asking me all of the questions.

Then it came back. Who is the most beautiful? Ahhhh! Are you kidding me? How did we get back to this? By this point, another small child that actually let me hold her earlier had joined us and was making a point to pull all the wooden tea cups off the coffee table. So I made my executive decision. Small crawling girl was the most beautiful. They all laughed and sort of accepted my decision. Until conversation picked back up. For awhile I thought they were trying to get me to sleep with them that night instead of over at Fares'. Still not sure if that's what they were saying or not... Anyway, partway though the conversation, teenage girl in front of me picked up small crawling baby and put their faces side by side facing me. "Does she look like me?" Uh-oh. I saw where this was going. So I told her they had the same eyes. Which was true. Immediately girl on the left stole small crawling baby and held her up. "What about me? Does she look like me?" Oh my... what did I get myself into?!

Meanwhile, Travis was out in the front room with all the boys. I'll let him tell his own story. I would promise to keep this short but it's too late. Basically when the girls left Fares looked at me and rolled his eyes and said “women!” I asked him, “So they are the same everywhere?” His reply was, “Yes. Everywhere.” He wanted to talk politics so we began to talk about the war. He tried to explain the reasons why the Muslims were fighting each other. After a while we had a quiet time while we watched a small boy playing with Fares’s brother. Fares then looked at me seriously and said, “If there is one gift I can give you it is for you to remember that Muslims are not bad. There are bad Muslims, yes, but they choose to be bad. They are not bad by birth or by religion. I also want you to know that there are Muslims that love Americans. I haven’t met an American I haven’t liked. Of course if I met Bush that would change, but overall we think Americans are great people. Take my gift to you home and share it with others.” He finally said we should go see the women but forgot to mention this to the women. I turned the corner and the first face I saw was one I did not recognize. She had the expression and reaction as if I had walked in on her while she was naked. After a few more minutes of waiting for the girls to get their head coverings on then I proceeded to spare Tianna from any more of her torments.

Finally, it was decided it was bedtime. The girls and I promised to swap email addresses through Fares (we had his card with his email address on it) and to write. Then we all left the house and trooped back over to Fares' house, where we were again offered tea and coffee. We again declined, "We don't drink coffee or tea." "Really? Never?!" "Really. Never." Haha. We stayed up for a bit more, watching TV mostly. I tried as hard as I could to look sleepy so he'd let us go to bed, seeing as how it was after midnight. He finally took the hint and we made beds for Trav and I out of the couch cushions.

I went into the bathroom to get ready for bed and was immediately surprised. The house was nice. It was new. It looked like Fares did pretty well for themselves. So I wasn't expecting to see a squatter instead of a toilet. Even more, the squatter didn't flush—it had a pitcher to fill with water and just pour down the hole. And there was no toilet paper. I had just entered public restrooms in Egypt again. What had happened?! They even had shoes to slip on when using the bathroom so you didn't have to step on the floor. Honestly, if you have to wear shoes to enter the bathroom, there's a serious problem. shudders

Finally, we were able to drift off to sleep after a very long and eventful day.