Trip to Jordan abd Ramallah, November and December, 2002
At 2:05 am our plane lands in Jordan. By 2:25 am we are singing and laughing and having a general good time with our taxi driver as he drives us the 15 miles to our hotel. He doesn't understand why american T.V. has so many guns and everyone is shooting everyone. "It is the heart that is important, romance that is what is beautiful,"he says. He is so amazed that Cameron can speak some Arabic and that we sing Arabic songs. We sing together a few popular songs. "My friends they will think I'm crazy" he says. "They will never believe when I tell them an American sings Sabah Fakri songs."
This taxi driver has a beautiful heart. Cameron has told me how these people accept you as one of their own. How they welcome you when you bridge the gap between cultures with an attempt to learn their language and sing their songs. This is my first opportunity to experience this warmth first hand. We have come to Jordan and plan to travel to Iraq to be peoples ambassadors. We have the tools to do what few americans can to bring understanding and friendship from America to Iraq. Cameron has studied this music for thirty years and is an accomplish Middle Eastern Musician. I'm much newer to this music, but I've studied hard and it has touched my heart. Somehow I have been called to do this. As I ride along in the taxi I realize, there is somthing here for me. I am very glad I came. A bit later in the hotel lobby the desk clerk, the hotel owner, a few of their friends and the taxi driver are all singing the chours of a popular Iraqi song with us. "If you go to Iraq" the hotel owner says, "they will love you, they will welcome you with open hearts." We had not mentioned that we were planning to go there. I take this as an omen that we are on the right path. It is now 7:30 the following evening and after connecting with you all via the internet we will go back to the hotel. They want to have a party with these crazy americans. It is Ramadan now so everyone sleeps late and stays up very late to eat and party. Durring the lunar month of Ramadan everyone fasts all day. Only after the sun goes down are they permitted to eat. We were here at the internet cafe eariler but they closed at the evening call to prayer so everyone could go home to eat. "Come back at 6:00,we will open again." So here we are. Blessing to you all at home or wherever you are. Special Blessing to Mara in Shanghi. Peace begins in our hearts. Love, Kristina
"So why did you not call as soon as you got here?” Ali the nephew of a friend of Camerons came to the hotel to pick us up. We tell him that it was so late we thought he might be sleeping and we didn't want to wake him. He assures us he is awake almost all night. This is true. It is now 1:57 the following night and we have just finished the second meal of the evening. Cameron is laying on the floor with eyes closed listening to the conversation of Ali, his brother, and another friend. We are still trying to recover from jet lag. We were awake most of 36 hours on our travels here. It will take awhile to adjust. Ali is a very, very gracious host. He is 29 and works with computers. He came with us today to the Iraqi Embassy to get our visas for Iraq. As it turns out, as Americans, we need an official invitation from someone in Iraq to enter the country. We come back to Ali's house and he starts making calls for us. As it stands now we may recieve an invitation from the head of the music association in Bagdad. Ali's other uncle Jihad is in Amman for a couple months. He has one wife here and another in Bagdad. Jihad has a friend at the Iraqi Embassy, he will try to get us an interview with him on Saturday. Tomorrow, friday is their day of rest. So Jihad says he will take us to see many sites around the city.We can see one of the royal stables just outside our window. I will walk over there and take some pictures for my daughter the horse lover tomorrow. The people we have met have welcomed us with open hearts. We discuss life, play music and try to understand what these people are experiencing. Ali and his family are Iraqi decendents of the phrophet Muhammad so they have connections with royalty. Most of them have left Iraq because it is so difficult to live there now, with the U.N. sanctions. Everyone we talk with just wants peace. They know we don't align ourselves with president Bush. We assure them that there are many, many Americans who want peace too. I just wish that more Americans would travel here and get to know these people. We have such a distorted view of Middle Easterners in the U.S. These people are very gentle, and go way out of their way to make sure we are taken care of. Peace to all of you. I can feel your prayers, I feel many angels around us guiding us in this journey. We are doing all we can.
Cameron and I are still in Amman. We should be receiving a letter of invitation from the Bagdad Musicians Association soon. This will enable us to get our visas for Iraq. We have been staying with Ali, the nephew of a friend of Cameron’s. Ali and his brother are Iraqi. If Ali is representitive of Iraqi hospitality then we will be cared for very well in Iraq. He is not wealthy but insists on paying for everything and takes us around and shows us the sites of the city. He cooks for us and won't let us help. We have checked into a Hotel tonight but only because his mother is comming to visit and there is not room for us all in his apartment. I appreciate his hospitality very much but for now I am glad that we are out on our own, for he is a little overprotective.
Amman’s altitude is almost 3000 ft. so it is cool here. The downtown, where we are staying, is a very busy place. It is now 11 pm and the street is still very full of people. They are shopping for 'aid el fitr the three day celebration at the end of Ramadan.
We happened by a BBC reporter the other day who stopped us on the street to interview us. She was interested in why Americans would be traveling in Jordan. So keep an ear out for BBC radio... you may hear us.
All for now. Love and Blessings, Kristina
The horns and cars never stop, this is downtown after all. Our Hotel window looks out on a main throughfare and across to the Roman Theater: Eighteen hundred year old ruins and still a functional setting for drama productions. They hold them here in the summer.
Yesterday we played our music here. The children and some adults swarmed around us delighted with these Americans who sang their songs. "Hello" says a little girl "what is your name"?
"Kristina", I reply,
"Kristina, My name is Betisim. Goodby" A little bit later she says the same thing to me and I realize that is the only english she knows, she fooled me. Her prounciation was perfect. I am taken with her she is one of those little ones who can capture your heart.
I am growing very fond of Amman, We spend our time connecting with the locals, playing music when we can and sitting in cafes and resturants studying Arabic. I can now write my name in Arabic and am able to slowly sound out some of the words I see on buildings and street signs. Shwaya shwaya (little by little) I am learning. I find writing the language is quite fun, kind of like figuring out a secret code, only here it's not so secret. When you say anything to the people in their native language they light up, delighted that an American has taken the time to learn a little bit of their language. This seems to be true in all of the few places I've traveled.
I watch the women on the street. Ninty percent of them wear the hijab: the scarf that covers all of their hair. Many of the young girls wear jeans and western style sweaters but they still wear the hijab. The last few days have been very warm but I've yet to see a woman's arms uncovered. At least on the street, or in the shops. Night clubs are a different story. We went to one last night. I was the only women customer, the only other women were the minimaly dressed waitresses. Extremely short tight skirts, low cut tops, high-heel boots and gobs of make-up seemed to be the style of the evening. They were friendly to me and smiled. But no respectable Islamic women would go into the place. As a westerner and in the company of Cameron I can get away with it. There was a belly dancer of sorts, but she couldn't hold a candle to most of the dancers I know in the states. I know there are some good dancers here somewhere but we've yet to find them.
We are still waiting for the invitation from the Bagdad Musicians Association so we can get our visas to Iraq. The invitation has been written but it needs to be approved by the Iraqi equivilant of the CIA and various governmental departments. Mrs. N in Bagdad is overseeing the process and we are told that if she can't get it for us no one can. We are very fortunate to have the connectons we do.
Meanwhile I am focusing on peace. Feeling it within myself and feeling it radiate out to others around me. Later, I will e-mail you all and ask that you join me, if you wish, at a specific time to pray for peace to prevail between these countries and ours. All for now. Love to you all from the Middle East, Kristina
December 10, 2002
Today is the international day of peace. I am encouraged by all of the peace efforts that are going on around the word. Peace will prevail. Today it rains in Amman. We will not play music in the park or in the Roman Theater.Yesterday we did play and a crowd again gathered around us. A family of eight sat down next to us, Mom and Dad and six children all under 10 years old. The mother's eyes are smiling at me as she sends her daughters over to shake my hand and introduce themselves. They can say hello in english. What I have noticed when we play is the deep understanding we have without saying a word. The world may be on the verge of war but these women and me we know we are friends. Our eyes smile, our hearts connect and the children are taking it in. I am very blessed to be here. Thank you again to the friends back home who have helped us with donations.
Tomorrow we will have an interview with a Saudi news reporter. It is funny how these things work. Cameron woke up this morning thinking we should contact the local Jordan Times, we had coffee and walked over to this internet cafe where we have lately spent a lot of time. A news reporter happens to be there and the owner, who we know, introduces us to her. She works for the Saudi paper OKAZ. If you read Arabic check it out on the web. You might remember the first day we were in town we happened by a BBC new reporter who interviewed us. These kinds of "coincidences" give me encouragement, like we're getting the big "way to go" from the universe. Oh by the way the TV interview we did before we left on Free Speech TV will air December 21 and 22. This is a satelite network. Catch it if you can....
All for now, Love and Blessings, Kristina
Our Iraqi friend Ali's mother invited us to dinner yesterday: Plates full of rice with pine-nuts, raisins, a lamb stew with eggplant, chicken, salad, coca cola, two or three deserts and, of course, tea. Ali assured us that she would have cooked more, but she has recently arrived here in Amman from Baghdad and doesn't have all the right things to cook with. They had trouble finding a pot to cook the rice in. Ali and his brother have been living by themselves and are not noted for their well-stocked kitchen. Ali's mother is 42 years old, Ali is 29: figure it out. She was 13 when he was born.
"We grew up together," he says. "She would put me in a basket and take me downstairs when she went to play with the other girls."
Ali's mother listened to our music the other night, she clapped and sang along and ran out to get a pan to use as a drum. She was smiling and laughing and looking at me with penetrating and welcoming eyes.
I asked her last night what it was like to marry when she was twelve and a half years old. Was she happy to marry or sad? (our Arabic/English communication is somewhat limited) "Oh my husband was very handsome he looked like a movie star. I was very happy." She spoke in broken English. Ali, the english expert, helps her find the right words.
"A girl is always asked if she wants to marry or not," says Ali, "only if the girl's family is poor and they find her a well-to-do husband will she sometimes be forced to marry against her will."
Ali's mother married well. If you remember, they are Hashemites, direct descendents, of the prophet.
She was highly prized as a wife. Her husband was a wealthy civil engineer sixteen years her senior. After marriage she lived in Kuwait with her husband. She lived like a queen: servants to cook and clean for her, boxes full of gold rings, necklaces, jewelery, clothes of all sorts and silk carpets. She had an apartment in London and accompanied her husband to Switzerland, Germany, India, all over Europe and Asia and the Middle East. Kuwait was home base until Ali was 17. Then the war came. Ali's father decided it would be best to go back to Bagdad. They had to leave in a hurry. Many people owed his father thousands of dollars but they have yet to collect it. They returned to Bagdad as no more money was coming in.
She. says, "I take ring and sell to get sugar, flour, tea. I take necklaces and sell. I take carpets and sell, sell, sell, until nothing left." She has no rings on her fingers now, everything was sold for food. Ali's father died a year and a half ago. Ali now is the main provider for his mother and two younger brothers. The second oldest brings in a bit of money but it is Ali who holds most of the responsibility bringing in paychecks from his webpage designing business. After dinner she. sits with us on the floor and we talk.
"Before war no cancer... now my friends five members of the same family... cancer, cancer, cancer... they die. Before war, babies born happy, good health... now after war, babies born no fingers or no nose or one eye. My friend she have five babies each baby born missing arm or head open or heart outside. They live one, two, days and then dead. deformities... she gestures showing places on body where deformities appear.
"Before war flu... maybe two or three days now it take two, three month to get well." She looks at Ali for the right word. "Immune System, immune system weak."
I knew what she was talking about. Even the guide book we bought talks about it. The Depleted Uranium. Geiger counters register radioactivity in many places in Iraq. All the symptoms she described fit in with radiation posioning. What is so disturbing to me is that it appears the U.S. is responsible for this. We used depleted uranium in the bombs we dropped. I know that some of you reading this may take issue with me. But this is how I understand it to be.
I sit and listen to her. I feel so many different things. There really are no words... just I am so sorry. We move onto lighter subjects. Watch a bit of some singer on TV and then she. tells me to come with her. I follow her into the bedroom, she opens a closet door and takes out a blue velvet dress with gold embroidered grape leaves and urges me to put it on. I do and then she takes out a black cut velvet scarf and wraps it around my head. "Beautiful," she remarks. The dress is cut like all the dresses here, very loose fitting, down to the floor with long sleeves. I feel very elegant. I follow her back into the living room and she introduces me as her good friend from Saudi. We all laugh and they all remark how I really do look like I am from Saudi Arabia.
What I didn't understand is that she was giving these things to me.
"When an Iraqi gives you somthing to wear", says Ali "she is giving it to you to keep". I don't know what to say...
"Shukran" (thank-you)... "Shukran, it is so beautiful".
These people are more than generous. Ali says what he and his mother have done is nothing... "Just wait until you get to Iraq, they will not let you alone they will treat you very, very well." I have been longing to connect with some women here. Most of the people we meet are men. They are the ones out on the street. I sometimes look out the hotel window at one spot on the sidewalk. I count the number of men and women who pass by. Usually it is ten or twenty men for every woman. Most of the shop owners are men, there are a few women here and there. Quite often they travel in groups with small children and babies. Ali’s mother is the first woman I have really gotten to know. Although we communicate in limited Arabic/English I know that we have a strong friendship. I think there may be a stronger comraderie among women here. Like we are all members of the same club, there seems to be an immediate sense of trust.
Ali and his brothers treat their mother with an amazing amount of respect. I think Ali would do anything for her. They put their arms around her and take turns kissing her on the forehead, and are constantly calling her habibi (my love). She does the same with them. It is hard to say who is in control. There is much mutual respect. Ali says they argue, but I think they mostly argue in a kind of playful way. Who gets the final say remains to be seen... My guess is that it is mom.
All for now, Love & Blessings, Kristina
Wed. December 18, 2002
My fingers are moving a little slow because they are cold. We just walked out of the gates of Petra and have stopped at this internet cafe. Petra is an ancient city carved out of the rock. It was made by the Nabateans who lived here around the time of Christ. Today we were tourists, we rode camels and saw the sights.
Two nights ago we slept under the stars in a bedouin camp. Hussein and Cameron took turns playing oud and Jafr danced. Earlier in the evening Zaineb, Hussein's wife and three of their childern were with us. We roasted chicken on the fire and played music non stop into the night.
The desert is cold at this time of year. The place we set up camp was a very good place surrounded by beautiful wind-carved cliffs. Out on the open desert the wind was blowing hard but our spot was protected, and our fires kept us warm.
We had met Jafr in Aqaba, we sat with him and played and sang. After he heard us he said, “OK now you are not tourist anymore now you are family. My cousin he play oud if you like I take you to meet him no charge just pay for gas.”
Jafr makes his living taking tourists into Wadi Rum the beautiful desert area in south Jordan. Tourism is down everywhere in Jordan now. Jafr and all the other drivers in Aqaba have time on their hands and very little money.
Turns out the professional oud-playing cousin was in Amman but we got to meet another cousin, Hussein who played many Bedouin songs. We will meet the other oud-playing cousin next visit.
With 18 uncles Jafr has cousins in every kind of business, we visited a road watchman cousin on our way to the desert, Jafr says he doesn't really watch out for anything, he just plays with his dogs. These were the first dogs we have seen in Jordan. He uses them for hunting. I made friends with the cute puppies.
Everyone invites you for tea. The road watchman cousin, the butcher in the market, the taxi driver, the people who help Jafr fix his flat tire. (The story of Jafr’s 4x4 Nissan camel is a good one maybe Cameron will write about that).
We played in the Market in Aqaba and drew quite a crowd. I suppose tomorrow we will return there as it is quite a bit warmer and hence much more conducive to playing music in the streets.
Still waiting for our Iraq visa, any energetic help you feel like sending our way will be appreciated.
December 24, 2002
Last night, Ramallah in the West Bank.
I lay awake far into the night. There is a heavy cloud of oppression/fear. Palestinians afraid of Israeli soldiers, Israeli soldiers afraid of Palestinians. Beyond the cloud I could feel the presents of millions around the world who are focusing on this area of the world and praying peace. It seemed that what I was feeling was that the prayers were holding this land together and keeping it from erupting in total mayhem.
I know our prayers are very powerful. I had planned on asking you to join me at a specific time when I was in Baghdad to pray for peace. The Baghdad trip will have to be postponed, the visa process has taken too long and now we must return to the U.S. But I would like to ask you to join with me for prayer before I leave here. I am now in Amman, Jordan. To the west is Palestine to the east Iraq. I plan to be an anchor here for you to send prayer our way. Please join with me tomorrow, Christmas Day, from 2:00 to 2:05 Mountain Standard Time(4:00 EST, 1:00 PST).
I feel the most effective way to pray for peace is to quiet yourself and feel, taste, touch and visualize peace as already present. See the wounds of conflict already healed. Feel in yourself that Peace is present from the shores of Israel and the Gaza Strip to the far boarders of Iraq and beyond. Peace begins in our hearts. Peace be with all of you. Merry Christmas from the Holy Land. Kristina