Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tour de Falafel Part Two: House Hassem

LAPTOP DOWN! Sorry my pictures end abruptly with Lebanon, but my laptop is out of commission at the moment. Also, the computer I’m typing on apparently doesn’t have spell check, so hopefully you’ll be able to sound out this post!

To understand my visit to Jordan it is first necessary to understand my relationship to Hassem. In Connecticut Heights (DC’s best kept secret), I live above a delightful man named Rateb, a frequent commenter on my pictures you may have noticed. He would occasionally come up to our room to learn English, and seeing as he brought tea and chicken, of course I was willing to oblige. You might also be able to tell fom his comments he is a better cook than I am a tutor. Anyways, when I told Rateb I was going to Jordan he insisted his friend Hassem would take care of us the whole time we were there and not to worry about anything. From that point onward Hassem sent me texts in Arabic to which I replied to in English, and a friendship was formed.

We got off the plane, transferred our Lebanese money into Jordan dinars (which are actually better than the dollar) and met Hassem. He is the most cartoon-like person I have ever met, and I loved him for it. He spoke absolutely no English, and you all know my Arabic capabilities. But he knew animal sounds! Whenever we would pass a donkey, you could rely on an EEE-AHH EEEE-AHHHH. And we would laugh and laugh and laugh. We got a taxi for the day and first stop, some church in Amman! I didn’t catch the significance of it, but if I can find out from Pat or Ryan I will definitely update this post. Of more significance was the rug store outside, where Pat and Ryan got beautiful Bedouin made rugs. I considered it, but turned back at the last minute due to my hatred of vacuuming.

Then we hit up the Mountain of Nebo, where Moses died. Those of you who are going to heaven will know that Moses wasn’t allowed into Israel for the unforgivable crime of tapping the rock twice. Anyway it offered a great view of the Holy Land and had some pretty funny mosaics.

Next stop, the Dead Sea! Famous for its magical floating capabilities, it made for the ultimate photoshoot. And while Hassem took awhile to learn my best angles in a swim suit, we’ve got some pretty awesome pics of us doing what we do best, floating. Also, I set a new PR for treading water. Often this summer, I would challenge the freakish Katie Wood (she has webbed toes) to treading competetions, and now I think I can finally beat her (I feel bad now, she doesn’t actually have web toes (on second thought, I’ve never asked her if she does or doesn’t, you decide)). As I said, Connecticut Heights, where the fun never stops.

Then we headed back into downtown Amman, where I sampled the local falafel and shawerma. It was here that Hassem made the association of me with shawerma, and at random points throughout the trip he would look at me, laugh, shake his head and say shawerma. Also when I tried to tell him I played soccer he just shouted shawerma and started laughing. Do I look like a shawerma? We walked around the city, with Hassem trying to buy everything for us. By the end he had gotten us this delicious cheese-sugar combination desert, sugar cane juice, and sheesha, which Ryan became associated with for the rest of the trip. Then we headed to Rateb’s house, which is in Amman. Two hours later, we mustered up the courage to mime where the hell are we. Hassem turns around, “House Hassem”, and hands us his phone. We should have expected the unexpected, but none of us were prepared for the porn that we dutifully watched for five exceedingly awkward minutes before returning it to him. “Great sex?” asked Hassem. Due to language/culture barriers, all we could do was nod. That night we slept on couches in Hassem’s house. Just me, Ryan, Pat and our taxi driver Mohammad, WORST ROOMMATE EVER. Up until midnight watching his Arab comedies, then snoring like a fighter jet the whole night, and then getting text messages every five seconds from 6:30 until 8. I would’ve talked to RA Hassem but when I walked into his room he was sleeping on the floor next to “his” bed, leading me to believe we weren’t actually at House Hassem.

The breakfast was amazing though. We have long planned to open a falafel shop in DC when we get back, but Hassem gav eme a great idea. Jumbo Pita, a direct competitor to Jumbo Slice. You get a huge pita, and can put anything you want on it from jam to hummus. Then there was dates (which I was hesitant to eat, but when Mohammad said every good Muslim should eat 7 a day I had to oblige) and yogurt. We carbed up big time for our trip down to Petra.

I feel like not many people know Petra. I didn’t before I went. But it is one of the coolest old places in the world. It is an entire ancient city carved into rock. Oh I should mention by this time we were traveling with Hissam, Hassem’s brother (though we didn’t figure out their relationship til much later). The five of us made our way through the ancient city, taking pictures at will. There is not an oddly shaped rock I didn’t stand on. Something to look forward to when my computer comes back to life! An awkward moment came when we were driving away, and this little kid was wearing a Quincy Carter Cowboys jersey. I didn’t know they even made those. So we all go to take a picture and he walks in front of these three attractive European girls, who turn around and think we’re taking a picture of them. Hassem doesn’t help by turning back to us and yelling “Beautiful?!” Then traffic stopped and we were right next to these girls. All we could do was nod.
Then we were back on the road and ate dinner in the Red Sea resort town of Aqaba, all expenses paid by Hassem of course. After dinner we made our way to the beach, where we sat a few feet into the water, smoked sheesha and drank coffee. Sheesha apparently is the international language, because we had a great time despite not being able to communicate too well. Ryan was accused of trying to eat the sheesha, and then of getting high from the sheesha. He denies both counts.

That night, we parted company with Brothers Hassam and Hissam, and left part of our hearts with them. We posted up at the Bedouin Garden hotel, right on the Red Sea. Apparently, the only local beer comes in 20 ounce cans with a 10% alcohol level. Who knew? We spent the night on the beach reflecting that this was only the fifth night since leaving Cairo and we had already done Beirut and driven across the whole of Jordan.

The next morning we ate breakfast, swam for a bit in the Red Sea (my third time, has to be some sort of record), and got ready to go to Israel. Well, Ryan and Pat got ready; I was last in line for the shower. The taxi came while Pat was in the shower, so I called in urgently that the cab was here. “Message received,” was the nonchalant answer I got. It obviously wasn’t because he wasn’t out for another ten minutes. I think part of the reason we got through Israeli security so quickly was the guards didn’t want me anywhere near them. But hey, we had made it to the Holy Land!

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