FoEME Youth Camp

As part of FoEME’s GWN youth program, yearly camps are organized that bring together youth from neighboring communities from Jordan, Palestine and Israel to learn about their shared environment. I was invited to participate in this year’s youth camp which was held in Alon Tavor Field School at the foot of Mount Tavor in the lower Galilee.

I arrived a day early with my colleague Lisa. Unfortunately we were the only representatives from Jordan this year because of difficulties in obtaining visas. We stayed with Lisa’s family in Nazareth, a city closely identified with Christianity as the home of Jesus and Mary. Her parents live in an apartment on top of the mountainside with a panoramic view of the old city and St. Gabriel Hotel, a former monastery that was converted into a hotel in 1993. I ended up spending four days with them in total, and true to Arab hospitality they graciously welcomed me into their home. More on that later!

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Sunday morning we were driven to Alon Tavor Field School and assisted with camp arrivals. Everyone was asked to create a name tag using three languages (Hebrew, Arabic and English) and was given a T-shirt and water bottle. We met as a large group to discuss camp objectives and rules, and then broke off into five smaller groups in which participants chose between art, music, drama, eco-building and social media for building a “campaign”.

The second day workshops were held using these themes to build a joint message about water. I facilitated the social media workshop in which students learned how to create a Prezi presentation. Students were put in mixed groups of two or three and given a computer. Onething I like about Prezi is that multiple users can edit a presentation at once — this facilitated my tutorial because I was able to show them how to do something from my computer using the projector, and could then ask them to try on their own computers. After they had learned the basics, we set about designing the presentation with their chosen theme: SW = save water, stop war, same world. Each group was given a different task such as selecting a song, finding images, or creating a logo. They worked together to produce a Prezi, which was presented to the entire camp.

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After our camp carnival, in which all groups presented their work, we departed for a tour of Akko, a historically important port city on the northwest coast of Israel. The city streets are a reminder of that past, with a stone caravanserai, fortress and walls that are still intact. We walked until we reached the harbor, where we embarked on a sailing trip. The choppy waters didn’t prevent a dance party from forming in the middle of the boat, complete with dabqe, gangnam style and the macarena.

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Before saying our goodbyes on the last day of camp we traveled again by bus for a group hike in the Senir Stream Nature Reserve, the Senir Stream being the longest tributary of the Jordan River which originates from the Hasbani Springs in Lebanon. The hike tied everything together as the perfect ending to camp.

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I was truly inspired to meet Palestinian and Israeli young people from across the region that are leading their communities in tackling environmental issues!

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Posted in FoEME | 2 Comments

Birds of Jerash

Yesterday I traveled to Jerash, a well preserved Roman provincial town that is an hour outside of Amman. I took some great photos there, but these two are my favorites for the birds that showed up unexpectedly.

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Posted in Jordan, Ruins | 3 Comments

GWN Meeting

This week I attended a two-day workshop for the Good Water Neighbors (GWN) project that was held at the  Sharhabil Bin Hassneh EcoPark in the Jordan Valley. GWN currently works with 28 cross-border communities that share water resources, be it a small spring or a large aquifer. This meeting provided community coordinators from Jordan, Israel and Palestine an opportunity to get together and plan for a youth camp that is scheduled for the end of the month. It was a wonderful opportunity for me, not only to meet individuals that are passionate about improving their communities but also to move past the theory of “environmental peacebuilding” and see how it works on the ground.

As a reward to sitting in on hours of discussion in Arabic and Hebrew, I was able to join the group on a trip to Umm Qis, an old Roman city perched on a hilltop that overlooks the Jordan Valley and the Sea of Galilee. I will never forget this scene — a group of Jordanians, Israelis, Palestinians and one American sitting around a dinner table, enjoying a spread of mezze and kebabs and watching the sunset.

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View from our table.

Posted in FoEME, Jordan | 3 Comments

A tour of youth “ecofacilities”

One of my tasks at FoEME is to write a report on the “ecofacilities” piloted through the Good Water Neighbors youth project. These facilities serve to showcase water conservation and educate students and other community members. I spent yesterday in the beautiful (but hot!) Jordan Valley visiting several elementary schools.

A large component of the project is the use of recycled materials. I was especially impressed by the creative ways in which FoEME has converted tires into fencing, seating, planters and artwork.

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The two main water conservation techniques employed are greywater recycling and rainwater harvesting. The greywater system uses excess water from wash basins in the school restrooms to irrigate native trees and plants. The water is filtered through recycled paint containers that are filled with gravel to remove solids, and then travels through drip irrigation tubing.

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Water harvesting is even simpler: rainwater is collected from the rooftop through pipes that connect to water storage tanks.

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Finally, artwork is used to educate students how to conserve water and why it is important to reduce our water footprint.

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Sharhabil Bin Hassneh EcoPark

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This week I traveled with several colleagues to FoEME’s Sharhabil Bin Hassneh EcoPark, which was developed as a pilot project to preserve biodiversity, facilitate environmental education and promote sustainable development.

Some features of the park include:

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Walking trails

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Natural and artificial wetlands, a geodesic dome and theater

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Eco-lodges, a picnic area and playground equipment

Posted in FoEME | 3 Comments

Karak, Dana and Wadi Rum

Weekend #2 in Jordan was a road trip to the Wadi Rum desert. It was my first time renting and driving a car in a foreign country, but it had to be done as there is no easy way to get to Wadi Rum from the capital.

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The best part of traveling by car is being able to make stops along the way. Our first stop was the city of Karak — worthy of a visit if only to see its 12th century crusader castle. Once inside the castle walls we were left to our own devices to explore the dark passageways by flashlight and climb up the walls for a sweeping view of the valley below (and a perfect spot for a picnic).

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From Karak we continued along the King’s Highway to the Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan’s largest nature reserve. As we were hoping to reach the desert by sunset we didn’t have time to fully enjoy Dana, but we were able to take a short trail through the village and terraced gardens.

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We reached the entrance to Wadi Rum around 5 pm and were transported by jeep to the Bedouin Meditation Camp. Our camp was made up of goat-hair tents tucked beneath sandstone rock formations overlooking the unceasing desert landscape. We watched the sunset, had dinner, then spent the rest of the evening underneath the stars conversing with fellow campers, sipping Bedouin whisky (tea) and searching the sky for constellations.

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The next morning I was up early to catch the sunrise and eat a full breakfast. We were then taken on a jeep tour to see Umm Fruth Rock Bridge, Lawrence’s House, Lawrence’s Spring and some Nebataean inscriptions. Mid-way through our tour we stopped at a large dune to try out a new sport, sand-boarding.

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We had such a great time that plans are in the works for a return to the desert, this time to sand-board by moonlight.

Posted in Escapades, Jordan | 4 Comments

Petra

Saturday morning, just three days after arriving in Jordan for a summer internship, I found myself on a bus headed for the famed archaeological park/World Heritage site/world wonder/Indiana Jones filming location of Petra with my roommate Anusha. We had been planning this trip since the night I arrived so we were both buzzing with excitement as we headed out of our apartment to catch the 6:30 am JETT bus for Wadi Musa, a small town that is the base camp for Petra.

We arrived in Wadi Musa later that morning and immediately set out to find a hotel to drop off our bags, chancing upon the Valentine Hotel — 13 JD a night for a dorm-style bed with breakfast and dinner included.

View from the Valentine Hotel.

View from the Valentine Hotel.

Strolling into Petra that afternoon we were immediately approached by numerous Bedouins on horseback trying to sell us a ride. To avoid being hassled we stepped off the main path and climbed around on the rocks to explore and take pictures.

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Eventually we came to the beginning of the Siq. It was surreal walking through so narrow a canyon with ancient rock walls displaying a history of shapes, textures and colors. You almost forget what you’ve come for, until you suddenly catch your first glimpse of the Treasury.

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In my two days exploring Petra I saw four different versions of the Treasury. First, in mid-afternoon, swarming with people and animals and turned golden from the sunlight; then, on my way back in the early evening, peaceful and tinted pink. The following morning I came upon the Treasury at sunrise, cast in shadow; and the last time, a bird’s eye view as I slowly crawled towards the precipice.

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From the Treasury we continued in the direction of the Monastery, passing the Street of Facades, a Roman theater and various tombs along the way. We then climbed over 800 steps to reach the Monastery. It was a full day of walking in sand and up stairs, and we felt completely exhausted as we headed back to the park entrance. Luckily, about halfway there we were offered a free pony ride by two rastafarian Bedouins.

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The next morning we were on the first shuttle to Petra with plans to see the Treasury from above. As we were walking up yet another endless set of stairs we ran into a Bedouin woman who told us the spot was difficult to find and we’d need a guide. We assumed she was manipulating us to get our business and insisted we didn’t need anyone’s help.

An hour later we realized she was right. Completely lost, we finally ran into a local who explained that we were on the wrong side of the canyon and needed to trek down and cross the valley to get a view of the Treasury. As the other two were afraid of heights, I found myself leading the way down a steep hill and across terrifying ledges. At one point we spotted two hikers in the distance and yelled across the canyon to make sure we were on the right path, because surely no other person in their right mind would attempt this. They echoed back some reassuring words and we continued on.

Another hour later and we had made it to the valley in one piece. We then magically ran into a guide who was able to direct us the rest of the way. The remaining hike was relatively easy and pretty soon we were sitting on a cliff overlooking the Treasury.

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We all agreed to take a different route back.

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As we stepped off the trail we found a sign that would have been helpful to read earlier in the day.

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Enjoy the rest of the pictures!

Posted in Jordan | 5 Comments

Ramadhan Table

Hi! Still here. For 4 more days anyway.

In the last months my biggest accomplishments have been building a magazine with my Access students and helping start-up an American Corner in Sfax with my partner Faouzi Hakim.

Yesterday was the beginning of Ramadhan, which is always an interesting time to be in Tunisia. We fasted from food and water until sunset and then shared a big family dinner together. Amel prepared chish (octopus soup), two types of brik (a thin pastry dough filled with different ingredients and fried), grilled vegetable salad (called slata mechouia), a pasta dish and some special sweets.

After such a long ride it feels unreal that I’ll be leaving next week. Looking forward to seeing all of you soon!

Posted in Food | 4 Comments

Harvesting Wheat

Hi everyone! I know it’s been a while since I’ve updated, one more week of classes at the Bourghuiba School and then I’ll start preparing for the dreaded two-day exam. Five hours of straight studying every morning is usually followed by a nap in the afternoon and then a few hours of revision in the evening, which doesn’t leave me much time for exploring Tunis. I’m ok with that though because I can see how far I’ve come in two short months.

I’ve just returned from a short trip to Kerkennah where I was recooperating from a nasty cold and visiting Mansour’s grandparents. The first time I met my husband we shared a bus ride together during which he told me with great passion about his wonderful grandmother who I really must meet. Well, since that time I’ve spent days and weeks in her home and witnessed the simple, traditional life that Kerkennah offers. For example, last autumn I helped them harvest olives from their land. I was later given a small jug of silky, heavenly olive oil which had been created the traditional way, with his grandmother’s feet. Summer is right around the corner which means it’s time to harvest the expansive wheat fields. The final product will be zanmit, eaten in the morning; malthouth, which is similar to couscous; and chish, a grain for soup. 

Everything coming out of Khadija’s kitchen is made from scratch. From what I’ve seen it is hard work! A full-time job. I find myself drawn to this lifestyle of taking from the land, working hard and eating well.

So, here are your basic procedures for harvesting wheat in Kerkennah which I’ve gathered from conversations with Khadija translated into English by Mansour, so most likely it isn’t 100% accurate:



The first step starts here. His grandparents get up early in the morning before the sunrises to pick the wheat from the field by hand. As you can see, sometimes they recruit family to help. The wheat is then stored at the house in a dry place until a large enough quantity has been collected. This step may take a few weeks depending on how many pairs of hands you have to help you.

After that, a tractor is rented for plowing. In the past camels were used for this step, and donkeys are also useful. Next, (and this is the part I’m not exactly clear on) the stalks are tossed up into the air to seperate the wheat for people from the discarded parts for animals. Finally, the human food is cooked, milled and stored for year-long use.

Seeing the process required to make food makes me much more appreciative of all the delicious dishes I’ve enjoyed here. Tunisian cuisine is seasonal and resourceful, though I can’t say it is the healthiest in the world – all my meals seem to revolve around CARBS:  couscous with bread, rice with bread, pasta with, you guessed it … bread. Still, every time I return from a weekend in Kerkennah with a few added kilos and no room in my stomach for dinner, I count myself lucky to have a superhuman Tunisian grandmother like Khadija!

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Day-Tripping

Back in Boulder my free-time revolved around hiking, climbing and vinyasa. Since moving to Tunisia it’s changed to sleeping, eating and sitting in smoky cafes. Well, this past week I wanted to get back to my roots.

Taking advantage of Labor Day, and playing hooky on Monday, Mansour and I took two day trips and found some beautiful spots less than an hour from the capital. Monday we took a louage to Zaghouan, a mountain town we haphazerdly chose from our guidebook.  Along the road to Zaghouan is the visible remains of a 132km-long aqueduct used built during the Roman empire to supply water to Carthage and at the base of the town’s mountain is Temple des Eaux (Water Temple) constructed in the same period.

The next day we joined Mansour’s cousin Karim and his fiancee Fatma for a hike in Sidi Ali El Maki, a slice of heaven where emerald green mountains collide with the bright blue sea. The town is named after a a saint in the region whose white mausoleum rests high up on the mountain. We hiked there first, explored the cool underground rooms, then zig-zagged back down the mountain and continued along the coastline. After a few hours in we found a shady spot and stopped for the delicious brunch Fatma and Karim had prepared for us and packed in. After eating we lazily took a nap under the sun then ventured a little further before hiking back to the car.

It was two magical days spent discovering new places. Best of all, my husband now likes hiking.


Posted in Beaches, Escapades | 5 Comments