The Amman Series, Travel

Jerash

The small country of Jordan, in the Middle East, is well known for it’s hospitality, culture and historical sights. From an archaeological perspective Jordan contains some of the most spectacular sites in the world including the world renowned tourist attraction that boasts over 500,000 visitors each year: Petra.

On this occasion I want to talk about the beautiful and historical aincient city of Jerash.

Jerash جرش ‎  is an aincient city located in the north of Jordan, only 48 kilometres north of Jordan’s capital city, Amman. Otherwise known as ‘the Pompeii of the East’, Jerash serves as a fantastic day trip for both adults and children.

The city of Jerash dates back to the Neolithic times and incredibly rare ruins and artifacts have been found which have dated back to roughly 7500 BC. The current site of the old city of Jerash includes beautifully preserved ruins of places of worship and other buildings from the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and early Muslim periods.

Recommendations

When visiting Jerash you should wear sensible footwear; if you wish to see the whole site you will need to do a lot of walking.

Take a good camera with you; Jerash is an ideal location to photograph.

In the Roman theatre, two or three men will usually be ready to play wonderful traditional Jordanian songs as you walk in. The men will be happy to play songs for you, just be prepared to provide them with a tip afterwards as this is a cultural expectation.

Before going to Jerash, read about the history of the site, so that you can spend your time admiring the beauty of the ruins.

I would advise that you take water and snacks, just be sure to clear up after yourselves.

The Riyadh series

Living in a Compound

During my time living in Saudi Arabia, I spent three months living in Al Hamra compound in Northern Riyadh. Since then I have been asked a lot of questions about compound life and about the experience of living on a compound so I wanted to write briefly about my experience.

I moved to Al Hamra Compound in August 2019 and I was really impressed by its cleanliness and maintanence. The compound is clean, well looked after and it is a lovely place to be able to walk around in the evening.

If you are considering moving to a compound as a family there are plenty of activities that your children could participate in from swimming to playing outdoors with friends. I spoke to a lot of parents who lived on the compound and they mentioned that it was the ideal location for their children to play together and make friends.

Depending on the compound there are often also a lot of social activities that take place. While I lived at Al Hamra compound there were a lot of social events for residents. I am sure that the kind of events will vary from compound to compound.

Within every compound there is usually a groceries shop and often a maintanence service. You may also find your compound to be equipt with a children’s play area, indoor gym, launderette, tailors and hairdressers – I should note that this will vary from compound to compound.

If you are ordering a taxi, it is worth mentioning that taxis cannot often enter compounds, you usually need to wait outside of your compound for a taxi. In my case, Al Hamra compound was poorly signposted which made it difficult to find; this resulted in uber drivers cancelling their rides which proved very frustrating. If you can drive and have a car you will not experience this difficulty.

 

The Riyadh series

The National Museum of Saudi Arabia

As somebody who has grown up in a house full of history lovers, I have a firm appreciation for museums and history, therefore, when I moved to Riyadh one of the first places that I wanted to visit was the National Museum of Saudi Arabia.

I booked my first taxi in Riyadh and off we drove into the chaos of the city! I remember that the traffic was so bad that day, but I didn’t care! It was so interesting to drive through the city for the first time.

When we arrived at the museum I was taken aback. The building was huge and appeared empty (I later learned this was because I had visited on a school day.)

When I started to walk around the museum and visit the different exhibits I have to say that I was really impressed. The exhibits were filled to the brim with detail and interesting information.

One of my particular favourites was the timeline of Islamic history; it was very informative and useful as I often struggle to remember dates.

I also enjoyed learning interesting facts such as the fact that there used to be elephants in Saudi Arabia -who knew?

If you do go to the museum, be sure to check the opening times online on the museum website.

Also, the museum is also located next door to Murubaa Fort. The two sites are seperated with beautiuful green gardens – I loved exploring the area in the sunshine.

The National Museum of Saudi Arabia would make a fun family day out and I would certainly reccomend a trip if you have the chance.

The gardens that separate the museum from Murubaa fort.

 

The Riyadh series, Travel

Diriyah Season

Saudi Arabia has been experiencing an immense ammount of reform and transformation in the past few years. Recently Diriyah Season and Riyadh Season were opened to the public. I had the opportunity of visiting Diriyah season (موسم الدرعية) in Riyadh and I have to say that the experience was nothing short of magical.

What is Diriyah season?

Diriyah season was a combination of international sports and entertainment events which were based at the beautiful UNESCO world heritage sight of Diriyah. The season opened from 4pm each day and stayed open until the early hours of the morning. Crowds poured in each evening to experience the fun and games.

Why I enjoyed it?

From the moment I arrived I fell in love with the colourful lights and the buzz of excitement. It was lovely to see so many families and friends having fun together. From the moment that I entered it was clear to see that Diriyah season had something special and unique to offer everyone. I was so grateful for the opportunity to be present.

Interesting activities that I loved

I really loved the upside down house and the water bumper cars. The butterfly garden was so colourful and was filled to the brim with flowers and trees. I really enjoyed the thrill of jumping off a platform onto a bouncy landing area: it made me feel like a stuntwoman for the first and only time in my life.

The restaurants and food choices were superb, and I even had the opportunity to grab a drink from my favourite coffee shop – Caribou Coffee.

Throughout the evening there was also a variety of interesting acts and performances from singers and entertainers from all around the world.

Who would love this event?

This event is perfect for families, friends, children and adults. If you love adventures or evenings in the cool Saudi Arabian winter weather then you should check out Riyadh Season. It may be better to attend the event on a week day or on a Saturday evening if you wish to avoid long queues.

Guest Posts, Uplifting and Encouraging

Release

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This is a poem that reflects the courage that one may need to step out, let go of old things and embrace new beginnings; it is dedicated to anyone who is on the verge of change. 

The child stood alone for a time,
Balloons in hand,
And quietness flooded the place,

Could she dare to let them go?
Blue, Yellow, Green.
Would she ever see them again?
Where would they go?

When would they arrive?
What adventures would they have on their way?
She could not know,
She would never know!

She only knew that the time they had spent together
had come to an end. 
With trembling hand, she raised up the first,
be blessed wherever you go!
So, gently was the string let loose
a gust of wind and it was gone. Forever.

The second seemed easier, a flash of yellow,
blurred by the sun.
Then it too was gone.
Drifting lazily along and up

With confidence now, the last balloon was raised,
and, with a small pause of reflection
and a thoughtful stare, 
it too was caught up by the breeze.
And its final course was set.

Still, she stood there, time being still,
contemplating,
remembering,
then, at last, she turned – and there they were,
the new balloons
orange, red and purple.
How beautiful they looked!
Waiting and bobbing in the breeze,
waiting just for her!

Slowly, she reached out
and took hold of the strings,
stepping forward
she let them move in the breeze,
ever so carefully, not letting them go.
Then, moving faster, she let them bob behind her
as she ran down the hill, 
into what the new day would bring.

 

The Amman Series

Tracks and Tantrums – Amman Train Station

I’m feeling a little reminiscent today, so I decided to write about a sweet moment that happened during the time that I lived in Amman, the capital city of Jordan.

It was a lovely hot Wednesday in May. I was set to leave Jordan within the following two weeks so I wanted to make the most of every remaining moment.

In true creative style, I searched the Internet to find their list of places to visit in Amman – I wanted to make sure that I had visited as many sites as possible!

As I was looking, I found the Amman train station and Hijaz Railway line.

I absolutely loved learning about the Hijaz Railway and the life of Lawrence of Arabia whilst at university, so I did not need much convincing – I ran out immediately to get a taxi.

It sounds so simple, right?

The first step was to prove to the taxi driver that the railway station actually existed. He seemed very concerned that we would get lost and that I would be dissapointed. He was finally convinced to start the journey when I showed him a YouTube video of the station from over ten years ago!
After a long detour of Amman and quite a jolly conversation with the friendly taxi driver, I arrived outside two large iron gates.

I walked through the gateway and I was greeted by a guard; I spoke to him in arabic and could not help but notice the puzzled expression on his face.

The guard’s puzzled expression only continued to grow when I started to talk about my interest in the Hijaz railway. I began to wonder if I was in the right place.
After just under one minute I found myself booked in for a free VIP guided tour of the compound. My guide Musa was lovely and took it upon himself to explain everything in Arabic, as I apparently needed to work on my pronunciation.

“If you are studying Arabic in Jordan then I will not let you speak a word of English!”

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I followed him into a little room filled with old faded documents. There were train tickets, timetables, and route plans.
Musa was faithful in explaining every detail.

I can’t describe how it felt to hold different faded, brown tickets from the late 1800s between my fingers. The room was filled to the brim with information, pictures, articles and even an old suit that a conductor would have worn in the early 1900s. As you can imagine, I stayed in that room for a while.

After some time Musa looked at me in quite a curious manner and asked me if I was hungry.
Before I could answer I was ushered into a room of over fifteen men. There were train drivers, policemen, mechanics and even a cleaner or two. I stuck out like a sore thumb!

I was invited to sit in quite literally the center of the room and as I did I became fully aware of the unusual nature of this situation.
I was questioned for a while about everything, after all it is not every day that a strange visitor joins the staff for their lunch hour.

The questioning lasted for just over half an hour and I became so aware of everyone’s kindness and generosity.

Within a short time we were fully engaged in a lovely conversation that covered quite a lot of subjects. We spoke about marriage and about Islam. We spoke about career choices and the Arabic Language. I had already explained to them that I was a languages student; after some discussion they advised me to begin a Masters degree in engineering – I did not have the heart to tell them how terrible my science qualifications were, so I continued to smile awkwardly.

At one point, I found myself giving a grammar lesson under the request of two train drivers. A few members of staff were taking notes on scraps of paper.
When lunch drew to a close, I was invited to meet each of the train drivers in person. Each one gave me a firm handshake and a warm welcome. I was allowed to explore the various carriages and stand in the train driver’s spot – the whole experience was fascinating!

One of the sweetest memories from the day was hearing my name called from a distance, I could only just hear it over the booming engine sounds.

“Goodbye Sarah, study hard for your exams!” a train driver called as the big steam train was pulling out of Amman.

Everyone began to return to work and I also knew that I had to leave.

After saying goodbye to each and every member of staff, I walked outside to call a taxi.

It took thirty miniutes for a taxi to arrive, but somehow it all seemed worth it. I was tired but the day had been so wonderful!
For the final twenty minuites of my outing, I was serenaded home by a very angry taxi driver who was arguing with his son in law over the phone.
By the tone of the driver’s voice, it was very obvious that the driver wanted to curse and swear. However, due to the circumstances, he opted for a slightly more tame approach.
” ibn sarsoora” he screamed at the top of his voice, which translates to “son of a cockroach”.

As we arrived outside my apartment, the taxi driver turned around and apologized to me for shouting. We spoke for a few minutes and he ended our encounter by adding his welcome to those of the thousands of other taxi drivers that I had met along the way.

“Welcome to Jordan and enjoy your time here!”

I don’t think that I shall ever forget the day that I chose to journey to the train station in Amman! If you ever find yourself staying in Amman, I would certainly recommend that you pay the train station a visit.


amman

The Jerusalem Series

The secrets of the wise

Click here, to read more of the Jerusalem series.

Her heart is for the visitor, the traveler, the new mother and the newlywed. To the world, she is a normal woman, however, I know her secret!

She truly is a special character in her own right. One of a kind. Traditional yet open-minded, thoughtful and deliberate, she has the renowned reputation of welcoming many guests to her home. A conversation with her is guaranteed to be filled with laughter, humor and great wisdom. I have never met someone so willing to share what she has.

The last time that we spoke, she mentioned how happy she felt as she entertained both friends and family. At the time, sixteen of us were gathered in two small rooms.

“I am grateful for all that I have received, so why should I not return the blessing?” she said to me.

“If you can ever do anything Sarah, you must show people, true love, remind them of their own worth in any way that you can!”

These words have stayed with me for quite a time. After all, they are powerful words, spoken by a woman who has known much suffering and pain, spoken by a woman who has had no choice but to be brave and journey through each challenge courageously.

Not many people know of her story and even fewer people know of her life.

Before the night fades and the sun begins to rise in the indigo sky and before the Fajr prayers echo between the city streets – she awakes and begins to prepare breakfast.

No two days are the same, and there is no telling who will come to visit and who will come to stay.

As she glances into the mirror whilst fixing her red, long wavy hair, a lifetime flashes before her eyes. Her lifetime. Her legacy. She remembers the stories: the pain, the challenges, the passion, and survival. As she sweeps her hair behind her ears, she glances over and views the several pictures of her family hung on the wall: her daughters, her sons, her pride and her joy.

The thudding sound of the rusty courtyard door awakes her from her reflection. The cleaner is arriving, humming softly upon entry carrying fresh produce from Baab Al – Amud (the Damascus Gate.) She greets the cleaner and welcomes her.

Click, the Fairuz tape begins to rattle in the player – and the cleaner begins to work and sing. Her strong voice echos throughout the house and out into the courtyard:

خدني ولا تخدني الفرح عالطريق حبك بيحصدني وماعندك رفيق

“Take me, joy is on the way, my love for you consumes me and you don’t have a companion”

And so she works – the meals, the visitors, the preparations for her family. Hours fly by and there is still more to be done. She joins in the cleaning, the sweeping.

After a while, the first neighbor arrives dressed in a suit and shiny black shoes that he has just polished. He is an Eritrean; he works late at night in the city center. Unfortunately, he does not own a television, so every Tuesday he comes to watch the latest news played on the Eritrean channel. He adjusts the channels and she starts to prepare the tea.

Colorful pictures flash before the unlikely pair.

“This is my city, my country. We have hotels there, people can visit..”

A myriad of colors floods the screen. As she listens to the music, she imagines what it would be like to wander through her friend’s distant-sounding homeland.

The kettle begins to sound indicating that the tea is finally ready.

They converse in broken Hebrew and Arabic whilst she pours the steaming tea into two tall clear glasses.

The flickering television continues to reveal the secrets and gems of Eritrea.

The neighbor leaves just before One o’clock, and she continues cleaning. After eating a little food, the maid prepares herself to leave, fixing her hijab across her face. Their eyes meet and they exchange a soft glance of warmth.

“See you tomorrow, Insha’allah”

As the day progresses her family begin to arrive. They come with their friends, their daughters, their sons. Within minutes the house is an array of different languages – Hebrew, Arabic, and some broken English – yes, all are loved here. ALL ARE WELCOMED HERE.

Some of the family stay for a few minutes, some stay for hours.

It’s 7:30pm and I walk up the stairs, three neighbors sit gathered around her. Those gathered smile and laugh together with her, she looks so radiant, so poised.

“Ahlan Sarah, habibti”

The neighbors shuffle to create some room and a chair is pulled up. We talk together in the courtyard whilst sipping our hot Arabic coffee. As my eye wanders, I see a white flower falling from the plant growing on the wall. Jasmine. It sways in the wind, slowly and softly falling in front of her, landing perfectly on her knees. When she sees it she smiles. She clasps the sweet flower in her hand and smells it with closed eyes. As her eyes open she looks at me, with a smile. Grasping the flower, she slowly places it into the corner of my hair. Her eyes are sparkling and she is beaming.

A wise woman once told me she was grateful and how she wanted to repay that blessing by loving others. A wise woman once told me to remind others of their worth. A wise woman once told me to love others unconditionally. The same wise woman has never once seemed unfulfilled. I have never once caught her on a quest to find herself, her identity or her calling – she is already aware of all three. I have learned her secret – counting our blessings does not guarantee us an easy life, however, it does give us the strength to find fulfillment in a world that does not revolve around ourselves. After all, to live is to love.

“If you can ever do anything ________, you must show people, true love, remind them of their own worth in any way that you can!”

البياض نصف الحسن بيت الظالم خراب ولكن بيت المحسن عمار

The house of a tyrant is a ruin but if you are charitable you are rich.



Jerusalem series