Friday, May 9, 2008

Amman: land of designer mud

Yesterday we hopped on a bus from Petra to Amman, which we'd heard would be uninteresting; the suburbs of the Middle East. Amman turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It is much cleaner than Cairo, and the government has made uttering any sort of public comment towards women illegal, so it was very nice to walk around the clean and calm streets without the usual side commentary.

The main reason to go to Amman was to visit the Dead Sea. So, after dropping our bags at the hostel we caught a cab to Amman Beach. The Dead Sea is aptly named, because nothing normal can live in it. It's 30% salt and other dissolved minerals. The fun part is that it makes you incredibly buoyant, but if you accidentally swallow some your mouth tastes like fermented rusty bicycle...that's on fire. Since Ainsley and I were the only responsible ones in the group, (read: whitest) we sat on the beach waiting for our sunscreen to soak in while we watched everyone else bobbing like technicolor corks. When we actually jumped in, we discovered that the water made us so buoyant we couldn't even put our feet on the bottom before the water pushed them up to the surface again.

Soon enough we decided we should do something slightly more interesting than just swim. We decided to engage in a local custom: the ancient Jordanian art, the time-honored tradition...of mud wrestling. People flock to the Dead Sea on both the Jordanian and Israeli side to slather themselves in Dead Sea mud because it apparently has a great deal of minerals that are good for your skin/have magical restorative properties. When we got to Jerusalem later on, we discovered that an entire cottage industry of Dead Sea products had sprung up. So. First, to track down some mud. Alison and two girls from Georgetown, Camille and Nur-E, decided to shell out two dinar and get the more legitimate version, which came pre-mixed and was completely black. Ariel, Ainsley and I went for the budget version and dug up our own. The only wrestling that actually took place was when trying to fend off the Jordanian boys and convince them we were quite capable of putting the mud on ourselves. But when Alison, Camille and Nur-E went to wash off their mud in the sea, Kalaris decided he would still try his luck. He waded in, the lone baracuda circling the pod. He plotted his attack. Would he be suave? "Oh hey, ladies. Need anyone to help wash the mud off your backs? I know it can be hard to reach." Alas, they had no trouble washing the mud off themselves, and the lone baracuda swam away.

Meanwhile, the amateur documentarians Dan and Brian were struggling with Nur-E's camera. What was the best angle to capture the action? Was the lighting really best at this time of day? How did one use the zoom feature? Their endeavor was purely artistic, which they proved by throwing in a few pictures of speedo-clad 300-pound Russians. Still not quite sure what their intended message was...

After we got back from the beach we headed out to dinner and determined that Jordanian food is a lot better than Egyptian food. After that we went to a cafe for hookah, tea and cards. We decided to play 'President.' The goal of 'President' is to get rid of all your cards first. After the first round you get the two best cards from the asshole, or last person to get rid of their cards. Since we're GW and Georgetown students, though, we couldn't just play 'President.' The ruling class had to decide whether the first one out would be a benevolent dictator, and should be a premier, or a prime minister, or a shah, etc. I was having a bad luck streak, and Andy, the established regent, decided he was not purely benevolent. He informed me that I was going to stay serf forever, saying, "Leah, by the end of the night you're going to be afraid of how much you love me." That did it. The serf rebelled. There was major civil disobedience; the hierarchy was overturned. By the next round I had ousted King Kalaris. Ah, victory tastes sweet at the end of the day. Thus ended another most excellent adventure, and we traipsed back to our hostel, excited for Syria (inshaallah) tomorrow.