Spring Break Part 1: NESA and Istanbul

Still catching up … geez.

I got an early start on Spring Break with a trip to Istanbul in mid-March for the NESA Spring Educator’s Conference, where I participated in a 5-day certification course in Adaptive Schools. The workshop focused on developing collaborative teams, a big part of my job as an English as an Additional Language coordinator at my school. On the first day, I realized right away how desperately I wanted to develop my skillset in coaching, facilitating meetings, dealing with conflict, and otherwise fostering a culture of collaboration at our school. AES sent a big group to the workshop, so we were able to debrief and reflect together. This was among the best professional development I have ever experienced, and our workshop leaders Bob Garmstrom and Carolyn McKanders illuminated me about the power of individuals on collaborative teams. I worry that the fast pace of school life back in Delhi has kept me from practicing what I learned, but I hope to kick off the school year in August with a more deliberate approach with my Adaptive Schools book in hand.

Here, Bob breaks a board with his hand in response to AES teacher Susan’s demonstration of taekwondo.

For its banquet theme one night, NESA encouraged everyone to wear a fun hat. Our AES group honored our school mascot by wearing tiger hats. We looked pretty fierce.


One highlight of these international conferences is that you inevitably run into old friends from previous schools. I was thrilled to spend a little time with Sarah, a BFF from Shanghai American School who now works in Dubai.

Of course, Istanbul wasn’t all about professional growth. We lived there from 2001-2005, and it’s our favorite city in the world. Unfortunately, Tony was off in Rajasthan with a group of students, so he couldn’t join me for this visit. However, I caught up with two special friends – Tracey and Ece. I enjoyed a glass of tea on the ferry from Europe to Asia, where I met Tracey in Kadiköy. We went for a walk around our old stomping grounds in Moda, and she introduced me to Çiya Sofrasi, a restaurant I had read about in the New Yorker. The food was dreamy, including a weird dessert of candied whole walnuts – in the shell – with clotted cream. After dinner, we took a dolmus (small bus) back to her apartment so I could meet her adorable little son, Zach. Our time together passed too quickly.



Ece, another dear friend from our days in Turkey, met me for lunch in another favorite destination: Bagdat Cadessi. We spent the afternoon together, and she drove me back across the Bosphorus – magical in the misty rain – to my hotel on the European side. The daughter of an Army officer, she had access to an “orduevi” or military house, which was right next to my hotel and featured a bar with a view of the city. We had a drink in the bar and then headed down to the restaurant for kebabs. Effervescent as always, Ece brought me up to date with her goings on and the disheartening state of Turkish politics. We reminisced about old times and speculated about the future. My life is richer with her in it.

During the week, I devoured all my favorite Turkish treats: dolma midye (stuffed mussels), mezes (small servings of hot and cold salads), simit (sesame seed-coated bagel-ish bread), beyaz peynir (cheese), olives, Iskendar kebab, visne suyu (cherry juice), locum (Turkish delight), sahlep (a hot drink made from the orchid tuber), döner sandwiches … well, the list goes on.




Hanging out at the durum stands. The guy making the peace sign was our sandwich maker.

I introduced some of my Delhi friends to Huseyin, my favorite carpet seller, who has shops in and near the Arasta Bazaar. Here, we sip tea and check out the carpets at Harem 49. I had no plans to purchase anything, but isn’t it always that way?

Here’s my new kilim.

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Surajkund Mela 2015

Still catching up…

The Surajkund Mela, a sprawling arts and crafts bazaar on the outskirts of Delhi, takes place the first two weeks of February and spotlights a different state in India every year. The heavily forested state of Chhattisgarh in central India took the spotlight this year. Nancy and I visited the mela on its last day – Valentine’s Day (which was heavily promoted at the local markets). The venue always features over-the-top displays, and this year was no different. The Santa section was a bit confusing, and we didn’t really understand why a group of male dancers wore hats of gold tinsel. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned in India it’s that we’ll never understand it all. We chuckled about how we never would have dreamed of eating food at this mela our first year in India, and then we plopped down on a fly-covered bench to gnosh on a plate of yumminess.

There’s nothing subtle about Valentine’s Day in India.

Surajkund Mela




Lunch. Not sure what it was, but we liked it!

I bought this embroidered umbrella to add a little Indian spice to the deck of our lake house in Michigan.

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Bangkok dejá vu times two

Still playing catch-up…

I heeded the siren’s call of Bangkok twice this spring: both for medical reasons and just for fun. Many international teachers, including the Dents, visit Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok for their annual check-ups and other health concerns. In fact, Tony and I were just there in November. When I heard a group of friends were planning a medical weekend at the end of February, I jumped on board. I spent two weeks with this group in Washington, D.C., last May, waiting for our new Indian visas so we could return to Delhi. The experience was stressful but bonding. How could I resist a get-away to relive those memories and create new ones? There was plenty of street food, shopping and laughter. Three big reasons to visit Bangkok. And so, I did it again at the end of April. This time, a different group of ladies was celebrating the impending nuptials of of our friend, Kathryn. I arrived a day early to visit Bumrungrad. Three doctors, two ultrasounds, an X-ray and an MRI later, I found out some good news but also some bad news: I probably need foot surgery. Rats! When the rest of the ladies showed up, we crashed at a cute little guesthouse and ate our way through the city. A fun night of bachelorette party silliness and dancing was followed by two hours of pampering at the Health Land spa (oh, yeah, we did that the day before, too). Man, I love this city.

BKK Visit 1 – streetfood breakfast. I wanted to cry from joy.

BKK Visit 1 – Karen catches a motorcycle taxi to the hospital.

BKK Visit 2 – Ready to hit the town in our matching tank tops spray painted with Kathryn’s initials in English and Hindi.

BKK Visit 2 – At the spa-aaaaah.

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Falling in love again … India Week at AES New Delhi

Yikes, with only three weeks left in the school year, I’m looking forward to summer and family-filled stories that will overflow these pages. I’m also looking back at a busy spring that I failed to document. So, let’s catch up, shall we?

India Week at the American Embassy School always makes me fall in love again with my host country. The day-to-day grind of Delhi living can wear a girl down and make her long for clean air and tank tops. Then India Week rolls around in early February, and our campus morphs into a living laboratory of Indian culture. My little second graders – even the boys – sit quietly with cloth and wooden hoops in their laps as they learn the traditional craft of Gujarati embroidery. Outside, they cluster around the mehendi artist who decorates their hands with henna designs – peacocks, lotus flowers and the AES tiger. They watch a potter turn the wheel to form a terracotta pot, and then they take a turn. They press the sandy clay into moulds and pop out a diya lamp and a tiny Ganesh. Other artisans demonstrate their crafts, including batik painting, papier-mâché, wood block printing, leather sandals, paper toys, miniature painting, wood carving, silk weaving, embroidery, bead work and more. Student blogs transform into reflections about practicing yoga, screen printing T-shirts, sampling Indian snacks and walking the runway to model costumes of India. The week culminates with Indian Clothes Dress-Up Day, when our corridors explode in color and bling as students and teachers swish around in saris, lehengas, salwar kameeze and other finery.

Here’s a teaser for a fascinating (albeit too long and complicated for second graders) film.

Potter Mr. Ram Prashad.

Our second-grade team.

Allyn Goowin’s Balloowins may have been only tangentially related to India, but he did engage students to goofily re-enact a part of the Hindu epic Ramayana, and children were literally rolling in the aisles laughing.

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Do the needful

I had a funny little chat encounter today. Foodpanda is a local food delivery service. You log in, choose a local restaurant, place your order, and they bring the food. It’s great… except that they send about 5 text messages to my phone every day. I finally snapped and clicked on their website, where I found a live chat option.

“How can I unsubscribe from your SMS messages?” I wrote.
The reply made me laugh: “In Foodpanda we respect your privacy. We regularly tax great limited time offers form the best restaurants. If you want to opt out, please give a missed call at- 011-66765505 and we will do the needful for you.”

Yes, they will “do the needful.” I love that phrase.

CNN shared a few other “Indianisms” in an article a few years back. I hear most of these regularly! Check it out: 10 classic Indianisms: ‘Doing the needful’ and more.

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Taipei Get-Away: filling up my brain, belly and heart

Sometimes you visit a place and get exactly what you need at that moment in time.

In just four days, Taipei met my needs for academic discourse, nature, reconnection with special friends, whimsy, foodie lust, culture, local kindness and expat bonding. That was a lot to accomplish in such a short visit. I headed back to Delhi Tuesday feeling energized professionally and personally.

I was in Taipei (along with Marianna and Jeni, two other EAL teachers at our school) for a professional development workshop on WIDA tools. According to its website,

WIDA advances academic language development and academic achievement for linguistically diverse students through high quality standards, assessments, research, and professional development for educators.

Although WIDA primarily targets the 36 states in its U.S. consortium, this particular workshop was tailored for the 150+ schools in the WIDA International Schools Consortium. When I worked at Shanghai American School, we piloted WIDA’s international work, and I’ve been deepening my understanding ever since. The Taipei symposium’s organizers included Margo Gottlieb, WIDA Lead Developer and one of the founders; Jon Nordmeyer, a teacher at the International School of Bangkok who will join the WIDA staff next year to coordinate its international consortium (He was also my EAL supervisor in both Istanbul and Shanghai!); and Virginia Blais, an insightful and inquisitive EAL teacher at Taipei American School. They designed the workshop around conversations, which led to heaps of revelations and excited sharing of ideas with teachers from all over the world.


An exercise in using the WIDA rubric to score writing helped participants better understand the criteria and process. Loved it!

Professional development led me to Taipei, but the city definitely won me over.

While Delhi abounds with gardens, public parks, tree-lined avenues and even the wonderful Aravelli Biodiversity Park right around the corner from our house, the toxic air pollution and dust-coated leaves act as powerful incentives to stay inside during the winter months. My workshop took place at Taipei American School, just a 15-minute drive from Yangmingshan National Park. Lonely Planet echoes my thoughts:

How fortunate Taipei is to have this diverse park at its doorstep, complete with forested mountains, hot springs, rolling grass hills, and some handsome lodgings and restaurants. The park covers 114.55 sq km, with a top elevation of 1120m, and is easily accessible from the downtown area by frequent buses.

I didn’t have time to hike, but I did have time to enjoy one of the hot springs. (See my previous post: Soaking my cares away in Taipei.)

On our drive up to the hot springs, we stopped to take a photo, but my camera wouldn’t shoot. I took it to a camera shop near the hotel. The shopkeeper, who was about 4 feet tall and sweet as could be, told me she had operated that shop for 50 years. She had to order a part and repair my camera in just three days, which she did. I popped in Monday morning to check on the progress, and she froze, eyes wide open. She obviously panicked that she had confused my departure time. “I’m just touching base,” I said. “I don’t leave till tomorrow morning.” She grabbed my arm and squeaked, “Don’t scare me like that!” Sure enough, later that evening, my camera was fixed and cleaned – good as new. Her cheerful attitude and eagerness to help were typical of the people I encountered in Taipei.

Having spent four years in Shanghai, I enjoyed the familiar vibe in Taipei, but the easy-going pace was a far cry from mainland China. At the metro, I stared in awe at the people who (a) lined up to take the escalator and (b) scooted over the right so people could pass on the left. The crowd also lined up to get on the train, leaving room for others to disembark. Not the China I know!



Another highlight of our visit: Paul and Lisa, friends of friends and teachers at Taipei American School, took Marianna, Jeni and me to the Shilin Night Market. It was mind-bogglingly fabulous.

So many food options! I got a delicious bubble tea and some steamed pork buns. Yum!


Shrimp fishing. If you catch any, the booth workers will cook ’em up for you to eat on the spot.


The most special part of my weekend, however, was a mini-reunion with some of my favorite friends who worked with us at Shanghai American School (2005-2009). Kimbra and Elaine traveled from Shanghai; Kathy and Colleen traveled from Hong Kong; and Kristi and Julian live about 3 minutes from Taipei American School. (You may remember Col from her recent trip to India!) They came to town just to hang out, which was such a treat. I love how we reminisce about old times but also make new memories together.

Julian gave us a tour of the school.

At Kristi and Julian’s house, Kathy told us to “act natural.”

Posing with Taipei 101, which was the world’s tallest building back in 2004.

As we head into the Year of the Ram – which is my Chinese Zodiac sign, I choose to follow the advice from this cheesy display.

Check out the Taipei Trends website for more reasons to love this city.

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Soaking my cares away in Taipei

Word of the Day: Fumarole
A fumarole (Latin fumus, smoke) is an opening in a planet’s crust, often in the neighborhood of volcanoes, which emits steam and gases such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, and hydrogen sulfide. – Wikipedia

I was, in fact, “in the neighborhood of volcanoes” today in Beitou, a Taipei suburb at the base of Yangming Mountain in Taiwan. I felt profoundly grateful for those lovely fumaroles, which are among three conditions for forming natural hot springs, according to the Yangmingshan National Park website. In addition, to fumaroles, you need an underground supply of hot water and hydrostatic pressure to force it upwards. “In Yangmingshan National Park, the distribution of hot springs and fumaroles is controlled by a sandstone formation that underlies the 13 geothermal areas. Forces inside the earth’s crust cause the rock to rupture,” the website says.

Well, that’s all very science-y and fascinating. But do you know what’s even more wonderful? Soaking with your blissed-out friends in a bubbling sulfur vat of relaxation.

I’m in Taipei with Delhi friends Marianna and Jeni for a work conference, but I’m also meeting up with a group of besties from my Shanghai days. We first popped in on Kristi, who now lives in Taipei with her husband, Julian, and two adorable little boys. Her lovely apartment/art studio is right around the corner from our hotel. After a short visit yesterday, she offered to take us to the hot springs. Yes, please!

Kristi picked us up this morning, and we walked across the street to Jake’s Country Kitchen for blueberry pancakes. After a short drive up the mountain, we arrived at Spring City Resort, where we paid 700 New Taiwan Dollars, or about $22. Outside, we each exchanged our ticket for a blue plastic basket containing a couple towels, a cotton robe, flip flops, a locker key and a weird stretchy band that morphed into a disposable swim cap. The locker room, located up a short flight of rock steps, was clean and simple. We donned our swimsuits and robes and headed back down to the sulfur pools.

While ruling Taiwan (1895-1945), the Japanese discovered the perfect place to recreate their beloved hot springs culture: the hillsides of Taipei. Although the area turned a bit sleazy for awhile, gentrification and a direct metro line from the city center have created an upscale leisure destination.

The small pools at Spring City Resort featured signs that clarified specific therapeutic targets, such as “body slimming” or “alleviating frozen shoulders and promoting sleeps.” They ranged in size, depth, angle of jets, and temperature with the hottest water at 42°C or 107°F and the coldest unrecorded by me because there was no way I was getting in there. Shaded by flowering trees and surrounded by rock gardens, I felt the rejuvenating power of this mountain oasis.



Fresh spring water poured into each pool through a stone spout, nearly impossible to resist touching – thank goodness for the warning sign.

A stone slab, protected from the breeze by a bamboo screen, was heated by the hot water underneath and provided a nice dry spot to take a break from the pruning effect. After popping in and out of several pools, we showered, dressed and drove back down the mountain so Kristi could pick up her kids from school by 1:30. You really couldn’t ask for a more relaxing way to start the day!

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Desert Castles & Amman – Jordan Journey, Day 12

Our last full day in Amman, and we had more castle storming to do!

(For those of you who don’t get it, Tony and I are just a wee bit obsessed with “The Princess Bride,” so every time we visit a castle, we feel compelled to quote the movie: “Have fun storming the castle!”)

In fact, the castles weren’t castles at all. George drove us east today to check out what are commonly called “desert castles” or “desert palaces” but are most likely rural retreats for the hoi polloi of the 8th-century Umayyad Dynasty. Actually, nobody knows for certain why these structures were built. According to the government website, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan:

There are various theories about the purpose of the desert palaces, yet the lack of a defensive architectural design suggests that most were built as recreational retreats. The early Arab rulers’ love of the desert led them to build or take over these castles, which appear to have been surrounded by artificial oases with fruit, vegetables and animals for hunting. Other theories suggest that they came to the desert to avoid epidemics which plagued the big cities, or to maintain links with their fellow Bedouin, the bedrock of their power.

We spent the morning near the Saudi Arabian border visiting three sites.

Qasr Al Kharaneh
Scholars think this “castle” was probably an inn or caravanserai for camel trains passing through the area. Built in 710 AD, it has features of a defensive fortress, such as arrow slits and towers, but those may have been merely cosmetic.







It saddens me when tourists deface historical buildings. In one tiny space, we saw graffiti in Arabic, English and Italian.

Qasra Amra
After the first structure, I had expectations of unassuming rustic buildings in our desert castle tour. Imagine my surprise when a friendly greeter unlocked this “castle” to reveal colorful frescoes, mosaic floors and a domed hamam! Ali explained that the region used to get a lot of rain. At least, I think that’s what he was saying. He held his hand at chest level and said, “Here water. Today here water no.” He then modeled how a donkey would have turned the wheel (“No donkey, so I am donkey,” he said.) to draw water from a very deep well, which has now run dry. The water then poured into a storage area and flowed into the bath area of the main building.

The Jordan Jubilee website says:

It is believed that it was built between 711 and 715 by one of the Omayyed caliphs, who had also built the great mosque bearing their name in Damascus and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. These great buildings were ornamented with gorgeous mosaics: in contrast, the bath-house, the private retreat of the caliphs, was decorated with frescoes of luxurious flowers and fruit, naked musicians, hunting scenes and some of the scenes of their conquest of neighbouring lands








Qasr Azraq
This “castle” really was a Roman fortress, built in 300 AD and modified in 1237 AD by the Mamluks. However, now it resembles a pile of basalt rubble with a few recognizable features, such as a mosque and small rooms with original stone doors. It’s another stop on the “Lawrence of Arabia tour,” but this one is verified. He stayed for about three weeks in 1917 in the room above the entrance.



Castles, consider yourselves stormed!

Amman Citadel
George popped into MFC – Mecca Fried Chicken (!) – to pick up sandwiches for lunch, and then he dropped us off at the Amman Citadel, on the top of Jebel al-Qala’a (about 850m above sea level).

We sat on a bench overlooking the city sprawled out below, eating our sandwiches in a chilly breeze. I’m fascinated at the juxtaposition of ancient and modern, especially when they literally butt up against each other. From our perch, we saw tourists climbing around the 2nd-century Roman theatre wedged into a hill spilling over with 21st-century buildings.

Humans have settled on this hill for the last 18,000 years, but the ruins that remain are mostly Roman and early Islamic. Known as Rabbath-Ammon in ancient times, it was renamed Philadelphia after Greek occupation in the 4th century. Arab rulers in the 7th century changed the name back to Amman. Excavation has been ongoing since the 1920s and there’s still much left unearthed.

Archaeologists think this was a temple for the worship of Hercules.

The Umayyad Palace was built around 720 AD and destroyed in an earthquake just 30 years later. The domed audience hall is the most intact building and has been restored extensively by Spanish archaeologists.


If it hadn’t been our last day in Jordan and Tony hadn’t been feeling so cruddy, we could have spent much more time exploring the Citadel and other historical sites in downtown Amman. Instead, I snapped a few pictures and took my poor sick hubby back to the hotel to rest up for the trip back to India.

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Ajloun Castle & Jerash – Jordan Journey, Day 11

After a day of doing absolutely nothing in hopes Tony would get over his cough (he didn’t), we decided to storm the castle. George took us north to Ajloun, where the rocky landscape of Amman gave way to … well, more rocks, but also rolling hills of patchwork farms, olive groves and forests. He said the area was a popular hiking and picnicking destination for locals, especially in the spring when wildflowers bloom. Today was cloudy and chilly, perfect weather for exploring a 12th-century castle on the top of a mountain.

Ajloun Castle sits on a hill called Jabal Auf, offering a 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside. Construction started in 1184 on the site of an old monastery, and the castle was expanded and rebuilt through the 1200s. The castle was one in a chain of fortresses that used pigeon post, which could send a message from Damascus to Cairo in one day, according to the Lonely Planet guide to Ajloun. After the crusader threat subsided, the castle was used by Mongols, Mamluks, Ottomans and eventually local villagers. Remember the Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, the guy who “discovered” Petra for the western world? Well, it turns out he also “discovered” Ajloun Castle!



We found a stash of catapult balls and saw the gap where castle dwellers would dump boiling oil on invaders.

Leaving the castle, I bought some tea from this man, mainly because his teapots were so freakin’ beautiful.

After lunch, George drove us to Jerash. I knew this was the site of ancient ruins, but again my poor preparation for this trip served us well. We walked through the impressive Hadrian’s Gate and the small Hippodrome feeling somewhat blasé.


I mean, how many Hippodromes can a girl see and still get excited?
“This is where they raced the hippos,” Tony said. We were still giggling when we crested a hill and saw this.
What the WHAT??!!

That photo doesn’t even begin to capture the sight. We were standing in the middle of a 2,000-year-old Roman city, and it was easy to imagine it full of life back when it was called Gerasa by its 20,000 residents. We strolled through the plazas and up the colonnaded streets, climbed into the nosebleed section of the gorgeously intact theatre, channeled the excitement of ancient worshippers at the Temple of Artemis, marveled at the infrastructure (including old manhole covers leading to the underground sewer system), lost count of the Byzantine churches, and desperately tried to wrap our heads around the history of this city.

Founded around 170 BC in the fertile mountains east of the Jordan River, Jerash experienced its ups and downs under the Romans, Byzantines and Muslims until an earthquake in 749 wreaked havoc, leaving the city deserted for about 1,000 years. A group of European explorers, including – you guessed it, Burckhardt! – visited the ruins at the beginning of the 19th century, and archaeologists have continued to study the area ever since. Check out the Rough Guide to Jerash for more details.










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Wadi Rum – Jordan Journey, Day 9

Waving good-bye to the comfort of our swanky Petra hotel, Tony and I headed for Wadi Rum and Bedouin Directions camp. Our driver was named Jafar, so you know I couldn’t stop singing the Alladin theme song in my head for the whole 2-hour drive.

Our jeep tour organizer, Mehedi Saleh Al-Heuwaitat, had sent an email warning us of a scam at the Wadi Rum entrance gate: “Please don’t listen to the people who are waiting outside the Visitor Center building as they spend the whole day waiting to ‘catch’ tourists and they will lie with you quite happily and tell you they are me or work for me! They can be convincing but don’t believe them. I will not wait for you there, and a guide that works for me will not wait for you there. We will wait in the village. … Ask the guide meeting you to give you your name and if he can do this, you know you have the right people.”

Fortunately, Jafar bought our entrance tickets without incident, and we soon met up with Mehedi. He took us to his squat concrete home in the village, where we sat on the floor by the fire while his 3-year-old son played with cars in the gravel outside. Sipping tea, we chatted with another couple heading to the camp. After awhile, our guide Ahmed loaded us into a 4X4 jeep, and we rolled out of the village and into the desert.

We had almost cancelled this part of our trip because Tony’s persistent cough was taking its toll on us both. He felt pretty good during the day, so we stayed busy and active for most of our vacation up to this point, but every night was dreadful. Sitting up, he could catch a few minutes of sleep at a time, but if he tried to lie down, he erupted into horrible fits of coughing. He loaded up on drugs from a Petra pharmacy, but their effect was minimal. I was sleep deprived, and Tony was completely wrecked. Still, he insisted on going to the camp, and we both agreed it was one of our best days in Jordan.

South of the Shara mountains near the border with Saudi Arabia, Wadi Rum is one of several parallel valleys. Its deep red sand appears to flow like a river through canyons as it swirls around towering rock formations and sweeps up to steep dunes abutting the hills. The “jebels” – sandstone, granite and basalt mountains – rise up from the sandy valley as high as 800 meters (2,624 feet). Erosion over thousands of years has created the illusion of brick-red candle wax dripping down the hillsides.

Ahmed drove his jeep across the red sand as though signs pointed to our destination, but the only signs I could see were were rocks, scrubby bushes, sand dunes and mountains. He didn’t speak much English, but he was friendly and tried really hard to answer our questions. We stopped at several spots to scramble on the boulders, hike up to a viewpoint or play on the sand dunes.

Throughout the day, Ahmed would point to something and reference Lawrence of Arabia. At first, we thought the movie was filmed here. Then we thought maybe the real Lawrence of Arabia lived here. It wasn’t until we got to Amman with internet access that I found answers. Well, sort of. Even the most credible websites conflict each other regarding T.E. Lawrence, the British army officer who lived and fought among the Hashemite rebels against the Ottoman Empire in World War I. Bottom line: T.E. Lawrence did spend some time in this region around 1917, and the epic movie starring Peter O’Toole was filmed here in the 1960s. In his book The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence described Wadi Rum as “vast and echoing and God-like,” using the Latin phrase “numen inest” or “There is divinity here.”

The Smithsonion Magazine’s article, “The True Story of Lawrence of Arabia” from July 2014 provides a fascinating and in-depth look at Lawrence’s life and relationship with the Arab world.

Our jeep tour of Wadi Rum included these stops.

Abu Aina – Misidentified as Lawrence Spring, the water here actually trickled down to the desert from the real Lawrence Spring a bit higher up the mountain. We climbed up the boulders to find a little pond of water and see the view. A couple fig trees provided shade at the top.


Small Sand Dunes – We climbed, posed, marveled at the landscape, and then Tony ran down the dune.

Khazali Canyon – This short canyon required shuffling along a narrow rock path and then using the natural handholds in the rock to climb past a pool of water. At the end, a slippery vertical wall seemed like an exciting challenge, so I started my ascent. Thanks to erosion, the wall was pockmarked with cracks and steps. However, about halfway up I suddenly panicked that I was free climbing with no ropes and no belayer. I wasn’t completely confident I could get back down without rappelling. My legs started trembling, and I slowly backtracked to the ground. Walking out of the canyon, we encountered that first puddle again, and I knew I could get across with no problem. However, a big group of tourists approached with a bossy guide, making me nervous. My foot slipped and splashed into the water up to my shin. Embarrassing.

Red Sand Dunes – More climbing, posing and enjoying the view. See a pattern here? After owning my camera for two years, I finally figured out how to take panorama photos without overexposure. Yay!



Anfishieh Inscriptions – Despite way too much time researching this on the internet, I couldn’t find anything authenticating these inscriptions. The rock drawings are generally attributed to the Thamudic and Nabataean tribes, so they could date back to the 8th century BC. All Ahmed could tell us was that they were “very old.” There was definitely some modern graffiti alongside the very old drawings, unfortunately.


House of Lawrence – A small structure possibly built by the Nabataeans possibly may have been used by T.E. Lawrence to store weapons during the Great Arab Revolution. Possibly. Regardless, a short climb above the structure offered up yet another stunning view. Ahmed found a nook in the rock nearby, built a fire and whipped up a delicious lunch for us while we explored.






Tony had an extra pair of socks in his backpack, so I was able to change out of my wet one.

Mushroom Rock and Roman Dam – After a short stop at this bulbous rock, Ahmed took us to a dam that he said was built by the Romans. He said the dam creates a basin for rainwater, which can be piped out for watering camels, goats and sheep.


Barragh Canyon – Ahmed dropped us off at one end and picked us up at the other end. I hadn’t realized until later that this was a big attraction for rock climbers. Rats, that would’ve been fun.



No doubt about it, nature is cool. I’m always amazed to see where living things can thrive, and Tony and I both couldn’t stop commenting on how the earth morphs. Every step brought us more evidence that this region had been under water at one time, rocked by earthquakes and slowly sculpted by sand, water and wind.


Burdah Arch and Um Frouth Arch – We viewed the Burdah Arch from a distance. Ahmed said it takes about three hours to hike to the top. Instead, we visited the much more accessible Um Frouth Arch. Only about 15 meters high, it was narrow enough to inspire some serious fear. I gripped Ahmed’s arm pretty hard as we stepped closer to the edge. He then laughed and showed me how he could get down from the arch in 3 seconds … in sandals. And he did. Yikes.



Finally, we stopped at Chicken Rock, a big ball on two legs, which I failed to photograph, and climbed up the adjacent rock with a few other tourists to watch the sunset.

I like this shot of Ahmed, Tony and my shadow.




After the sunset, Ahmed drove us to our campsite. We approached Bedouin Directions through a crack in the rock and found the tents protected by high cliffs on all sides. Our tent included four beds, but Tony and I had the place to ourselves. The two toilets were a short walk away.





After warming up by the fire in the communal tent, we ate a delicious dinner. One of the camp guides called us outside to watch him unearth the zarb from the sand. The website Jordanian Foods explains this style of cooking:

As ancient and traditional cooking practices go, the zarb is perhaps the most dramatic. It consists of lamb or chicken, sometimes herbs and vegetables, which have been buried in an oven with hot coals beneath the desert sands. When it’s time for the meat to resurface, the sand is brushed away, the lid comes off, and the glorious slow-roasted fragrances billow into the air.
For centuries the bedouin have been cooking like this throughout the Arabian peninsula. When tribesmen roamed across the desert in search of water and pasture for their animals, they kept their cooking equipment to the bare minimum. An earth oven could be dug quickly, and hot embers and stones from the campfire could be placed inside. The meat would be wrapped in palm leaves, and a mound of sand would seal in the heat.


Despite wearing long underwear, two long-sleeved shirts, flannel pajamas and my wool hat, and despite burrowing into a silk sack and under the thick blankets, I was freezing. There was no way I was getting up to pee during the night. The combination of the cold and Tony’s coughing meant another sleepless night. No matter. It was otherwise a perfect day and wonderful experience.

Farewell, Wadi Rum!




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Adventures in Teaching and Travel