Why The Middle East is Amazing

The experiences I had this last week in Jordan are impossible to describe in words or pictures—only a personal experience for yourself will adequately represent the true nature of beauty and hospitality that Jordan offers to its visitors.

This trip was one paid for and completely organized by Pepperdine, called our “Educational Field Trip” or EFT. While there was much that was learned, it wasn’t typical museum or sightseeing learning—It was cultural and experiential learning. Carolyn, our amazing program director, made the trip laid-back and fun as if it were a vacation, and yet knew what we would learn about Jordan and the Middle Eastern Culture.

Our first day we spent at Petra, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. While Jordan gets about 316 days of sun every year, that day was sadly not one of them. The site was delayed in opening, but we eventually made it to the first part, the Treasury, where Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed. While we couldn’t get down further to other parts of Petra, this was a cool enough experience in itself! The detailed architecture from nearly 1,000 years ago was incredible. Because we couldn’t hike further into the site, our tour guide arranged for a trip to a Turkish Bath House, which included two hours in a steam room, massage, and a whole scrub down exfoliation, for only $25! WOW, what an experience, SO much fun! Our hotel, the Swiss Movenpick, was one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed in, and had the most amazing buffet the whole time we stayed there, with a variety of local Jordanian food (lots of hummus the whole trip… amazing!!)

The next day, we left Petra for a trip to Wadi Rum Desert, where we rode in the back of pickup trucks through the desert filled with various rock formations, one of which we hiked, stopped to have tea with the nomadic Bedouins in a tent, and then continued to have lunch at another Bedoiun tent. Somehow, we ended up starting a dance party and the locals (only men, of course) started teaching us traditional Bedouin dances… too fun!! This is where we went out for an hour long camel ride through the desert! They are funny animals, but very useful for plodding through the hot sands. Luckily, the weather had improved greatly from the day before, and we had sun and 80 degrees!

From there, we left Wadi Rum and drove to Aqaba, the Red Sea resort town in the South of Jordan. We had a beautiful beach-side resort, from which we could see Saudi Arabia to the south, Egypt to the west, and Israel to the northwest! I spent the whole next day by the pool and beach, and went out on a speedboat for a bit while some of us went out on a banana boat (like intertubing). This was the most fun day of the trip, and was a perfect relaxation, vacation and resort like day. I had a lot of fun making friends with the staff at our hotel and other locals while I was exploring our resort-area! In fact, I never actually visited the city of Aqaba, just our resort area, which included a variety of hotels and newly built condos… but from what I heard, I wasn’t missing much. I was too busy by the pool, drink in hand 🙂

The next day, we took a four hour bus ride in our coach to the Dead Sea! This was one of the coolest experiences of my life—while most oceans are about 2-4% salt, the Dead Sea is 35%! You instantly float in the water. Myself and a couple of buddies in my program also had the famous Dead Sea Mud rubbed all over us—see the picture below. You might not recognize me!!! An unforgettable experience!

From there, we drove to Amman for our last night, where a couple of us ventured out in to the city at nighttime to find a local coffee shop to hang out in and observe local culture in Amman, which of course included Shisha ( we call it in the US “hookah”, a type of tobacco smoked from a water-vase that creates a flavored vapor). It’s all about cultural experiences! 🙂

The next day, our last, we drove to the Jordan River, where we saw the site where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Just across the river, which is very, very narrow, were tourists doing the exact same thing, but in Israel, as the Jordan River forms the natural border between the two countries. It was quite bizarre, as when I always pictured myself doing a trip to these sights, I always thought I would be in Israel and not Jordan! From there, we drove to the top of Mt. Nebo, where Moses saw the Promised Land before he died on top of the mountain. That was an incredible moment—the view from the top, while hazy, was beautiful.

Then entire trip was a culmination of my many years studying the Bible at Renton Christian School and beyond… seeing the Dead Sea, the Jordan River, Mt. Nebo—these are all places I learned about as a child in the classroom and in Sunday School… and now I have finally seen them with my own eyes! It was extremely nostalgic for me.

After lunch that day, we headed to the airport to return “home” to London. Not a single one of us wanted to leave, and let me tell you why:

While the sights and memories we all made in Jordan were ones I will treasure forever, what made the most lasting impact upon nearly all of us was the people of Jordan themselves. In every city we traveled to throughout the country, every single person was over-the-top hospitable and conversational with us. They were always inviting us for tea inside their tent or shop, wanting to show off their English skills, whether good or bad, to us, and thank us for coming to their country. I think to many of us Americans, we can tend to think of the Middle East as being the home of Bin Laden, Sadaam Hussein, and the like, and that all Arabs and Muslims share a hatred for America. NOTHING could be FURTHER from the truth. The Jordanian people, at least the ones we encountered, are welcoming and loving people to all, including Americans. They are not hardline radicals in the Islamic religion, and while many may take issue with the State of Israel, they are happy to engage in interfaith dialogue. In fact, the only people who run the Center for Baptism at the Jordan River are Muslims, not Christians!

To me, Jordan felt no different than many other less-developed countries I have visited, like Nicaragua or Mexico. While their religion, language, and certain customs may be different, never did I feel unwelcome, unsafe, or out of place as a westerner. While Jordan may be surrounded by turmoil and controversial areas, they are inhabitants of a beautiful land, with deep historical and religious roots, and are welcoming to all who want to visit them and learn about their way of life, regardless of background.

I am so thankful for this trip, and will treasure it for the rest of my life. Not only did I grow closer with many of my house-mates, but I gained a fondness for Middle Eastern Culture, and would recommend Jordan to everybody! It is safe, beautiful, and accommodating, and I will no doubt return in the future

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