Belize is a country unlike most in the Caribbean, it is quickly being considered as the next Venice of the South. Luxury hotels, incredible food, and hospitable people make this a truly spectacular place to vacation to. Yet the two things I enjoyed most while visiting Belize were the Lamanai Mayan Ruins and Rio Secreto. I was able to take a cruise to the Western Carribean, and visit this ancient city – learning all about what life was like in ancient Mayan times.
How to Get To Lamanai Ruins
Getting to the Lamanai Ruins is half the adventure! I would suggest picking a tour group as the journey can be quite extensive – but easily done within the time allotted for a shore excursion. The drive from the port to the boat launch is around an hour, from there you take a boat along the New River.
The boat ride is up a very tropical river, albeit hot so be sure to bring an umbrella or a wide-brimmed sun hat. You will likely see Spider monkeys, howler monkeys, a variety of tropical birds, plants, and maybe even a drifting crocodile or two that the guides are great about pointing out to those on the boat.
I would suggest getting a spot on the front to middle of the boat for a nice breeze, excellent view, and a bit of spray from the river as many of the boats do not have shade on them.
You can also drive, but the drive out is long and really bumpy (think four-wheeling in a small van). You can choose either option from the Orange Walk area.
The History of the Lamanai Ruins
Entering the ancient Lamanai city, the guide pointed out mounds of dirt we had to walk over. The two mounds were about 8-9 feet in height, with a trench in between – suggesting that these were strategically dug in order to be used as a defensive protection for the city.
These ruins date back as far as 1500 BC, and have been excavating the ruins here since 1974 so it is still fairly new to the archaeology world. The three temples they have uncovered so far are the Jaguar Temple, The Mask Temple, and the High temple. These are the main highlights in the Lamanai ruins, and unlike Chizen Itza, you are able to climb up the High Temple for a great view over the canopy.
Something I learned about Mayans was that they put their faith in animals, and believe they represent different parts of a person. These animals are called Nuals or spirit animals that help shape our personalities as humans. They are also believed that in worshiping them, it provided a way for the specific power they would hold to enter them.
Temple of the Jaguar
This was my favorite Temple here apart from the high temple because you have to use your imagination to see the Jaguar. It was used up until the 15th century when the Lamanai people were converted to Christianity by the Spanish. The Jaguar is a cleverly structured so that the extensive time to carve the face from stone was avoided. Instead there are slots placed for the eyes, mouth, and nose. The slots placed here were used to leave offerings to the Jaguar God.
The Jaguar was considered the God of the Underworld, but takes the image of the nighttime sun God. He is often connected to fire rituals, which are very sacred to the Mayan Shamans. He is also considered to bring trade, riches, and is connected to the powers of sorcery.
The Mask Temple
This temple was built during 200 BC, and has two massive limestone heads carved carved into either side of the temple. Many historians believe this face represents one of the early leaders of the Mayans.
Beneath the temple, archeologists found a burial chamber with a male and a female buried here with several jade statues. These can be representative of a possible trade route between Copan or Quirigua and the Jade mines of a Guatemala.
The High Temple
The Lamanai Mayan Ruins in Belize are unique in that it has the tallest Mayan Temple, the High Temple. Rising 108 feet (33m) into the sky, this temple provides an incredible view of the canopy surrounding the area. This would have been the tallest building in Mesoamerica and was a bit of a billboard for those on the new river.
The long part of the temple (now deteriorated) once extended the entire length of the open area in front of the temple. This former part of the temple was used for sacrifices, and other offerings to the Gods. The guide told us when they were excavating they found parts of animal bones, and human bones.
The High Temple would have brought them closer to heaven, and allowed them to plot the stars and check the position of the sun. You can still climb to the summit today, but it is quite steep and so make sure you have good knees and are not afraid of heights. Take is slow and steady and you will be awarded with an amazing view.
It is interesting to think about how much science has taught us vs what ancient civilizations would craft in their minds to explain simple processes. It makes me grateful to live in a time and age, where I’m able to know the ‘why’ for most things. Why the stars rotate, how animals function, how to heal the human body – and especially like that human sacrifices for the purpose of religion has become a thing of the past.
The Sunken Crocodile
Lamanai is the Mayan word for Sunken Crocodile, first recorded by Franciscan Monasteries visiting the area in the 15th century. My inquring mind wondered, ‘Why would you name a city after such an ugly creature?’. Crocodiles, in Mayan theology were typically associated with fertility. Crocodiles were associated with the fertility of the soil, and the timeliness of the rains. Later on, the crocodiles were associated with the nobility. The God Itzam Na was commonly associated with the God of nobility.
There are a few things that crocodiles do well, and that is search for life, search for water both which are crucial elements of the earth. The Mayan’s believed that like a terrestrial being they can find water and absorb the energy from it. They also obtain it through a Celestial element by commanding the rainfall. So they believed that the crocodile is both terrestrial, celestial and from the underworld as well – rising from the depths to contact humans and give inspiration.
Water is, and was revered as a sacred element of life – despite all the rain, jungle and resources – the people in Belize have often known drought as much of the surrounding water is undrinkable. So to have animals like Crocodiles search out water sources, I could definitely see the connection of importance to the Mayans and these ferocious creatures.
This Stele was one of the first items found when uncovering this building. I didn’t understand the meaning of this Stela until after I came home and was researching it.
It has a long Heiroglyphic text on it that provided quite a bit of insight into the Mayan culture and religion. Many ‘writings’ with the Mayan Culture were done in images, that were then interpreted.
Stela 9 shows a image of a king dressed in symbolic attire. The symbolism of the attire reflects that of cosmic events (interpreted as acts by the Mayan Gods) that would happen in this area.
This King is wearing a serpent-monster headdress (likely a crocodile) symbolizing his celestial/divine birth/descent to being King of this region of the land. There is a dragon-like serpent head that protrudes from the top of the sceptre he is holding, and has a god appearing from its mouth, which is said to be the patron deity of Lamanai. The God from the sceptre wears goggles and has a curling serpent seeping from the corner of its mouth, both of these images are often associated with the rain-gods, such as Cicoyo/Chac/Cauac/Tlaloc.
While it is hard to see this in the photo, this is an important piece in the Lamanai Mayan Ruins in Belize as it provides further evidence of Mayan culture, their beliefs and images associated with certain Gods they worshiped in this region.
Entertainment without TV in Lamanai Mayan Ruins in Belize
It might be wrong to call it entertainment, the Mayans used it as a way to hold rituals and even ritualistic sacrifices. There are several basketball courts in Lamanai, shaped in an I shape with two slopes on either side. There was a long narrow playing field and two end zones. There was a 20 foot (6m) ring which competing teams would try to score through.
These rings are twice the height of a NBA net. The rules are not well understood as they weren’t documented well. There were, however, end results for the winners….some being not so enticing.
Many Mayans played this game, and often were mere betting on the teams that would happen. Other times it was done as a significant spiritual and ritualistic meaning. The significantly ritualistic events turned spectacle in rigged games where prisoners of war played and were sacrificed in the end.
Mayans believed that the Gods needed needed human blood to keep the sun and moon orbiting for their harvests. Thus it was also seen as a game between life and death, good and evil, with the possibility of the winners becoming demi-gods themselves.
There are over 1300 of these basketball courts throughout mesoamerica. There are over 500 of them in Guatemala alone, where they believe this game started.
While no one knows the exact rules of the ball game, Spaniards who saw the Aztec games in the 1500s reported that two teams of two to five players had to keep the ball in the air without using their hands or feet. They hit the ball with their upper arms, thighs or hips.
The rubber balls they used were of varying weight and size, from the size of a softball to a soccer ball. Solid rubber balls were heavy—up to eight or nine pounds—and could cause serious injury or even death. Games were won mostly by points. Around A.D. 1200, stone circles with a hole in the middle were attached high up on the walls of the ball court, up to six meters high. While getting a ball through the hole was rare, if a player got the ball through the hole, it was an instant win.
I knew there was a reason I have never been a big basketball fan. Now every time you watch a game, think about the opposing team being sacrificed in a blood ritual, lol.
Trade in Lamanai
Lamanai was a great trade route, being so close to the river. There have been remnants of trade materials within Lamanai, namely trade metals like copper dating back to 1150 AD. There was also Jade, bells, clothing ornaments, pins, chisels, axes, needles and fish hooks found.
Learning Mayan Culture
The Lamanai Mayan Ruins in Belize have yet to all be unearthed as funding for it is quite scant, yet I highly encourage a visit to see this ancient city. The Mayan culture was a unique and highly developed civilization for that time period.
It is always fascinating to learn about these ancient cultures, how they made sense of their daily lives, deities they worshiped and how they handled territorial disputes in the Jungle.
A visit to this Mayan city is highly encouraged for all those who have a sense of adventure, and want to learn how these people lived, worshiped, and died.
I personally found this interview with Emma from Amsterdam to be compelling as My Heritage is largely Dutch. Emma is a receptionist at ClinkNoord, the Hostel I was staying at. She was a petite woman, tall, with blonde hair and blue eyes.
After looking at her, I felt as if I compared to my Scottish Ancestors more than the Dutch as I am 5’4″ tall. She had a sweet unassuming smile with an open countenance, but also a professionalism that would make you not want to challenge her in a duel of wits. Although she consented to my interview, she did not want to have any photos taken of her, so I apologize I cannot provide more of a visual for you. Read the full interview below:
The People of the Netherlands:
Me:How do the people in Amsterdam identify themselves? Stoic, Kind, helpful, funny, laid back? Emma: I believe that people here are open-minded, blunt, optimistic, and yet always in a rush. They are typically blonde with blue eyes and are very tall as well. Me: Do you feel that your culture and traditions have changed in any way in the last 10 years? Emma: The Dutch culture is fading away, the smaller villages still wear clogs, but it is very modernized and different than what it was.
Me: How can we as tourists help maintain your culture? Emma: Clean up after yourselves! Please do not throw garbage on the street, the Dutch people are a very clean people, even in the streets. Me: How many days off a year do people get in the Netherlands? Emma:20 days and if you work for a company you can get another 5 days, especially if you are a teacher. Me: If I moved to the Netherlands, how would you suggest I assimilate into the culture? Emma: Connect with people in the bigger cities as most of them speak English. You want to speak Dutch if you are planning to live in the smaller towns. Me: What languages are spoken here? Emma: Dutch, English for the younger people, and German for the older people.
Me: What is the best mode of Transportation here? Emma: (laughs and responds with a grin on her face) You must use a bike or a bus. You can trust Uber, but it takes awhile to drive through cities. Me:What are the major religions here? Emma:Catholic, Protestant, Muslim Me:Are people here devoted to their religion? Emma: Yes Me:What are the biggest Misconceptions people have about the Netherlands? Emma:That the people are arrogant with strong opinions. The thing is, is that people in the Netherlands know their shit and it comes across as arrogant, but it really isn’t true. Me: What are your favorite memories of this city and why? Emma:The beach for sure, and the flower fields, cows coming into my backyard. This was usually at my Grandparents house that the cows would come into the flower fields.
For the Tourist:
Me:What are some Festivals that you think are worthwhile for people to visit? Emma:Tomorrowland, Mystery land, and the Pinkpop Festivalis very very popular with a lot of big artists, Justin Beiber was there last time.
Me: What are the biggest tourist traps that you see here? Emma: The tourists come and get caught up with the drugs here. There is also an area that I would say to avoid called Bijlmer area, it is a homeless area and can be dangerous. Me: Where are the best places to eat Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and get a beer? Emma: For breakfast, I would say the Pancake Bakery which is here in the Netherlands about a 10 min walk from ClinkNoord. Then for lunch, we don’t really eat a lunch, just eat a snack or something. For Dinner, I would say Jordaan or Hannover streets you can find really great places to eat all along those streets. If you want a good beer, you can really go anywhere in Amsterdam but the type of beer is what will make the difference. So for the beers, I would suggest getting: Amstel, Heineken, Grolsch, Hertog Jan, or Bavaria. Me: How do you tip at restaurants? Emma:We don’t really expect a tip, but if the bill is 13.50 you might round up to 15 euro so that you don’t have change. We like the round numbers here, but I would say do not tip more than 5 euros for a meal for one person maximum. Me:I have noticed that they charge you for bottled water here, and tell you that you cannot have tap water. How would you as a local get around this, or is there a way around it? Emma:They tell you they can’t give you tap water, but it is not true. You can ask for tap water and they cannot refuse it, it is a way for the restaurant to make more money. So how I usually get around it, is to say, ‘Can I have tap water, to begin with’, and then you can bring a water bottle for in between meals.
Me: What is one of the best-hidden gems in the Netherlands? Emma:Haarlem, it gives you a really good local experience and it is right next to the beach where they have fairs and different experiences for the tourist and for the locals. Me: Are there places in the Netherlands that you would say are Romantic? Emma: Romantic in Holland? (She smiles a huge smile and stifles a laugh) Dutch people aren’t Romantic….we just light a candle and call it romantic. (Laughs again). Me:Where is the best place for nightlife in the Netherlands? Emma:The Sugar Factory is really nice, also Melkweg or Paradiso are great places for nightlife that aren’t super crazy. Me:Where are the best places to go for outdoor adventures and hiking? Emma: The Flatlands, the forest, they have caves here that are fun to explore and Veluwe. Me:If you were to get hurt doing these fun adventures, what number could you call for an emergency in the Netherlands? Emma:Call 112 for emergencies, or just ask someone to call the paramedics for you because they will know the area better and how to direct them to get to you.
Schooling in the Netherlands:
Me: What are the school systems like here? Emma:At 3 years old the parents decide if they want you to go to school, from 4-6 the kids go to Kindergarten, 6-11 reading and writing school, 11 years old and older is High School until 17-18 where you decide if you want to go to a higher education. We have here MBO, HBO, and the University. The MBO is a practical industry school, HBO is the economy school and you must be smart to go here, and then the University is where the smartest people go. Me: Does it cost anything to go to a lower level school? Emma:Yes, the parents have to pay to send you to school. The government can give you money for this, but you have to pay them back in 12 years. Me:How do they advance grades? Emma:You have to pass a test after each grade. If you do not pass you can take it again, but after you fail the second time then you go to a lower level. Me: What about higher education, how are people able to access that? Emma:it is much harder because you have to have money to do that….lots and lots of money.
The Family Unit in the Netherlands:
Me: How does the family unit work here? Emma:It depends on how close the family is. Young kids go to the city & leave their parents. Some stay and buy a house if they have a good job. Me: Who wears the pants in the family, or who is in charge? Emma: Mom definitely wears the pants in the family. Dad is the money. Dad typically goes to work, eats, sleeps, and repeats day after day after day. Me:Where do the elderly go when they can no longer walk? Who takes care of them? Emma: They go to the old folks home where their family can visit them. They do not move into your home because you have to work and then take care of them all the time and it just creates a bad situation. Me:What is the view on feminism, gay, or minorities here? Are they treated equally or do you notice a societal difference in how they are treated? Emma:It is an unusual thing to separate them, but I see that the younger generations are ok with it. The older generations are still traditionalists and have a hard time, but if you look at forms that people fill out there is options for man, woman, or other. We were actually the first country to approve gay marriage.
Me: Is having children common here? Emma: yes Me: Do people get Maternity leave here? Emma:Yes, you usually get 5-6 months of maternity leave. Me: What age do people here get married? Emma: Typically in their twenties. Me: Are their customs associated with marriage you would like to share? Emma:Not really, they just go to the church, they might have a reception and eat some cake. Then there is a party in the evening with a dinner and a DJ. The party typically lasts all day. Me: Is it common to live together prior to getting married? Emma:Yes Me: What is the classic place that people get married here? Emma:The city hall (laughs), there is no special place, you go, you get married and it’s done. If you go on Monday morning actually you can get married for free at City Hall.
Politics, Stereotypes, Citizen Rights:
Me:What are the common stereotypes that are encountered here? Emma:It is always the immigrant’s fault, and people feel it is always those from Serbia, Turkey, or Morocco. Me: What are the different political parties here? Emma:There are a lot of different parties that represent different things like the animals, religion, elderly, economy, immigrants and religion. Me: Can you vote? Emma:Yes, from the age of 18 you can vote. Me:Are the citizen’s allowed to do demonstrations? Who are the people that typically do this? Emma:There aren’t usually demonstrations here. There was a time where Kindergarteners were demonstrating because of the low salary for the teachers. Me: What are the Police and the Military system like here? Do you have confidence that they would protect its citizens in the event of a terrorist attack? Emma: You don’t want to call the police because they will want to do a ton of paperwork. The citizens take care of the problem themselves and just beat the people up because they don’t trust the police.
Me:How do you say thank you in Dutch? Emma:Dankjewel (sounds like Dunk-ya-vell) Me: Well a big Dankjewel to you Emma for taking the time out of your day to answer these questions I really appreciate it. Emma: No problem, they were interesting questions and some of them made me think a little bit.
Emma was so kind in answering my questions, and I was so grateful that she was willing to do so as it was so difficult to find someone to Interview in Amsterdam. I personally found the Dutch people to be a people motivated by duty. Duty to make their lives better for themselves, their family, and their country. There is a certain pride within them from being Dutch, but I felt that it was not as forthright as other places I have encountered like Texas. They are a quiet, clean, kind people as a generalization and humble enough to not want to be on camera or have photos taken.
I really enjoyed my time and all of the cities I was able to visit while in the Netherlands. Stay tuned for more posts on Edam, Haarlem, Zannse Schans, Den Hague, Delft, Jordaan, Kinderdijk, and Dordrecht. If you would like my full itinerary please email firstname.lastname@example.org Should you ever visit the Netherlands, make sure to stop by and say hello to her at ClinkNoord, she is a receptionist there and like most of the Dutch, is tall, blue-eyed with blonde hair and looks like she stepped out of a magazine.
Have you been to the Netherlands yet? What was your favorite place to visit?
**The purpose of ‘Ramadan Made Simple’ is to educate, not offend. To those who are of the Muslim faith, feel free to comment and help educate us all, and Rhamadan Kareem to you**
From all the movies I have watched of Muslims bombing Americans, treating women poorly & the mysterious secretive nature of the religion — to be honest I started to become afraid of Muslims & those who wore Hijab’s. So me, being who I am, set out to face my fears and educate myself on what the truth was. I don’t like to give into the mainstream media, and I’m not a ‘follow the crowd’ kind of personality.
As fate would have it, I started working for a Muslim doctor in Las Vegas, and ended up rubbing shoulder with his friends & colleagues who were also from the same religion. He was actually from Pakistan, and after 2 years of working for him & with a nurse who converted to the religion, I learned a lot & my perspective radically changed.
Bottom line, they are human beings, who find passion in their religion that gives them a sense of community – when many do not treat what they believe with much respect. No matter what religion you come from, there will always be the ‘few’, who skew the perspective of the ‘many’. Being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka: Mormon, as the public calls us- see LDS.org for more on this), we also have a problem with this aspect and many assuming we are part of the “Sister Wives” – which couldn’t be further from the truth. I think this is why I wanted to learn more, because I know how it feels to be misunderstood, and have people assume things about me that aren’t true.
Quiet frankly, it is hurtful & makes me feel more isolated when people don’t bother to ‘seek first to understand’ instead of just Ass-uming. So after several years of observing, learning, reading (yes, even read ‘The Koran for Dummies’ lol)
What I Learned About Rhamadan:
1- It Is Deeply Religious
It is a deeply religious time for them, which is celebrated as a family. And follows the Lunar Calendar, which means it is a few days earlier each year. This year it begins on 5/27/17
2- Preparation Is Extensive
Days of preparation happen beforehand, each country is different in what they prepare but typically involves special dishes rich in calories and electrolytes that help sustain them throughout the day. (Below is Harrira, a traditional soup made for Rhamadan that is a Tomato base with spices and is very very delicious)
3- Timed By The Sun
Rhamadan begins and ends with the phases of the Sun and coincides with their calls to prayer. The Morning prayer of Fajr (must eat & hydrate for the day BEFORE this prayer); and Maghrib (eat til you are sick, and celebrate the day with family & friends). For local times on call to prayer (for education, I found this App for Iphone and Samsung)
Fajr: it is a prayer & intention of the heart, you fast to show your obedience to Allah (God) and submit your will to his for your life.
4- Why is it required?
Rhamadan is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, or one of the 5 major lifetime commitments that they believe is required by God to be rewarded for in heaven. It is also the Lunar calendar month in which the Quran (their Holy Book) was revealed & in a way is a world-wide celebration for showing God how much the appreciate the direction it provided them.
Note: If you read about when their Prophet Mohammad was inspired to found this religion & belief system, it was in a time of a lot of turmoil – where women were sold, bought, killed. Pagan beliefs were rampant & it was a call to leave that aside and live life as a higher law and it ended up saving thousands of lives within the region because of its founding.
My Soap Box:
Whenever a life is saved, I am deeply grateful to whatever source helped to save it. Working in the medical field and seeing the frailty and emotional struggle with physical ailments; consoling those who have lost a loved one — it takes a lot out of me emotionally.
So realizing this bit of history, made me particularly grateful to their Prophet Mohammad for providing an avenue in which lives could be saved during its founding. While I know that their are lives lost in the current situation with terrorists and bombings, this is not the first time that lives have been lost in the name of religion. Christians have slaughtered those of the Jewish faith, Romans caught Christians and put them into gladiator pits and drug them behind chariots for sport and their are centuries of people doing this over and over and over….in the name of religion.
This does not diminish the pain or the loss experienced by those that have lost their lives in the battle against terrorism; it is a cruel, hateful & heart-breakingly evil thing that is happening in and to our world. But the best way to battle that, at least in my opinion, is by education, reaching across the isle and showing forgiveness, spreading understanding not spewing words of hate that further isolates us from our fellow human beings. History is going to keep repeating itself until we as the human race can stop labeling, self labeling, identifying others as ‘bad’ ‘wrong’ or ‘crazy’, just because they believe something different than us. #endofsoapbox
5- Practicing Discipline
They feel that abstaining from food is a way to practice discipline and restrain for the human desires of this life. Muslims believe (similar to Mormon beliefs) that the body is a vessel that was given to us by God to allow our spirits (or celestial bodies) come to Earth and be tested with all the associated trials that come with being human. (We are spiritual beings having an earthly experience, not the other way around). So in a way, it is their way of proving to God that they are focused on improving their spirituality & hope (if done correctly & with true intent of the heart) that he will accept their fast. In accepting their fast, they will be rewarded when their life is over. It is also a way for Muslims to appreciate all that God has given them, to feel what it is like to be hungry and thirsty all day; so as to soften their hearts to the hungry and sick. Which strengthens empathy, which in my opinion is something we definitely need more of in this world of ours.
6- Are There Exceptions During Rhamadan?
There are those who are exempt of course!
Children generally don’t participate until they hit puberty, but because most of them want to be ‘a grown-up’ they end up at least doing a meal or two with their family.
Those on menstrual cycles & women during childbirth
The elderly or those with health problems
My thoughts: totally reasonable, and glad there are exceptions honestly, and after researching it, these individuals have the option to just go and feed the poor one meal a day for each day of the fast to substitute for what they can’t do themselves.
7- There Are Six Things That Make Fasting Invalid
Intentional Eating or Drinking
If someone eats or drinks due to forgetfulness, a mistake, or coercion, then his fast is still valid and should continue to fast.
If you choose to eat or drink, for any reason, then your fast will become invalid.
My thought: reasonable, as a Mormon we fast once a month at the beginning of the week, with the same idea.
If one is overcome by the urge to vomit, and vomits unintentionally, then he should continue to fast.
My thought: well who would want to eat anyway if they are vomiting.
If someone chooses to vomit, for any reason, then his fast will become invalid.
My thought:if they are vomiting intentionally, well they likely need a lot more help and should get the reason for vomiting intentionally looked at (ie/ Binge and purging is a serious issue that should be addressed by a Psychologist and Nutritionist)
Intentional Sexual Intercourse
If one has sexual intercourse while fasting, then he must perform kaffaarah, expiation of the sin. (Fasting continuously for sixty days or if unable then one should feed sixty poor people).
My thought: women will love this idea, lol, but if you think about it, sex puts your mind into a dirty lustful place. So if the idea is to clear the mind and have it more in-line with the thoughts of God; well abstaining from sex is likely not the best thing to be doing during your Holy month.
Menstrual or Childbirth Bleeding
The fast becomes invalid during menstrual or post-childbirth bleeding. Even if such bleeding begins just before sunset, the fast of that day is invalid and the day must be made up at a later time.
My thought: this was a little irritating to me, mostly because I hate my menstrual cycle and don’t feel women should have to fast longer because they are on the cycle. But on the flip side of this thought, its likely better to not fast when you are on your menstrual cycle and just delay it, because you are likely to already be bitchy & then to add Hangry on top of that — well there would be no more Muslim men left if they had this deadly combination. Just my opinion, take it or leave it. Regarding Childbirth, I totally agree, no woman should be fasting when growing a human being in their belly; it would be harmful for the child.
8- The Three Day Festival Is Amazing
The Holy month of Rhamadan ends with a 3 day festival (massive amount of food and several parties) called Eid el-fatir. And who doesn’t love a party 😉 In the end I came to appreciate a small part of what makes up Islam and its people, and have learned so much from my friends who are part of this religion.
I haven’t met one Muslim yet who hasn’t been warm, kind, inviting, and patient with me and my questions (which at times I know were slightly rude and racist– my apologizes).
Taking Time To Understand
So as with anything in our lives, if you are afraid of it, seek first to understand — and in the end you will be able to make a very personal & educated decision on if those fears you had were founded or not. It is ok to disagree, it is ok to get angry at the attacks that are happening by these terrorists & protect your lives/livelihood and families; but its not ok to lump an entire religion into one package.
So my takeaway? Its a month of reflection, giving thanks, abstaining from our animalistic human natures & coming closer to our divine nature. Developing our spiritual selves, helping those that are less fortunate & remembering the history of how human kind was drastically changed by a book called the Quran.
I have tried the ‘give up something for lent’ & now after studying and reading all of this (ok and participating in some of the parties associated with this), I might just have to give it a try in my own way. Focusing on my spiritual side and realizing that I am a spiritual being having an earthly experience.
I hope that this article has been informative to those not of the Islamic faith, and I truly hope my Muslim friends feel I have given honest opinions in a way that has not offended them or what they believe, to you I say Rhamadan Murbarak & Rhamadan Kareem 🙂
Rhamadan Murbarak (Congratulations its Rhamadan, or congrats on the month of blessings for this month)
Rhamadan Kareem (Have a generous Rhamadan, or generous in the way of have generous blessings from God this month)
I had misconceptions about those of the Islamic Religion – if I’m being honest. I was nervous to go to Jordan, I had heart horror stories about the people of Jordan and how men harassed women tirelessly. Yet, once I was there I learned more about their culture, way of life, and personalities – my opinion changed. Before I get ahead of myself though, let me start from the beginning.
Booking My Trip To Jordan
My first Solo travel was to Jordan in 2014. I had started to become very unhappy and burnt out being a Physician Assistant in Las Vegas. I was working 7 days a week 10-12 hours a day with every other weekend off. I didn’t feel like I was drained at the time, but I just felt like one of those workers on the assembly line that was treating patients and sending them home. The job started to lose its joy, I was fighting with my roommates all the time. And finally decided that life was too short to live so irritable and unhappy, so I started looking up cruises.
I have been on a cruise before and loved it, but came across this website called Cruise Lady, and this white haired bubbly looking lady popped up on my screen with a deal on a Land Tour through Jordan & a religious tour through Jerusalem. The wheels started to turn, and I ended up booking by just putting a down payment down first (I think it was around $300) and then calculated when they were going to leave (a year from the time I called), they gave me the option of paying into it like a bank account until the trip was payed for. There was a single supplement of around $500 for both Jordan and Israel, but it was worth it.
In the end I was able to get a ‘bunk mate’ and get that price decreased as well. Total for the trip, transportation, professional guide in Jordan, and a Professor with a Masters (or Doctorate) in Middle Eastern Studies, and the Cruise Lady herself and her Husband — was about $2,400 without my flight. So I put away around $200 a month towards the trip and saving for my airfare and was able to go on the trip. I used Delta, as it was easier for me to navigate their site, and I hadn’t had a good experience with American Airlines or Southwest Airlines; and I knew Delta partnered with Air France, which I haven’t had a bad experience with to date.
I have their Delta Skymiles program and wanted to get the perks with that too. I made the arrangements, made sure my flight was on time and timed it so that the flight arrived about the same time that the other members of our group arrived. I spent 28 hours in Airports…….and remember getting to Atlanta after a Red Eye flight & then couldn’t get into the gate because I had an 8 hour layover there from Dallas and they do not allow you to go through the gates, especially for international flights until 4 hours before the flight is suppose to take off.
I ended up sitting by the Wheelchair area—- in a wheelchair, put my sunglasses on and got my baby blanket I bring on every international flight, set my alarm for 4 hours and fell asleep. When I woke up and started going through Security again, I think I was stopped at every security place and asked to dismantle my carefully packed backpack (which was so heavy),
Traveler tip: don’t pack a bunch of wires into your backpack….apparently it looks bad on the luggage screening screen.
Interlude in France
The flight from Atlanta to France wasn’t terrible, I met a man from Chad whose brother was in France and he was meeting him to go to his mothers funeral in Chad. Such a sweet guy, he ended up helping me get onto the train in France to head into the city for an 6 hour tour of Paris.
Every step of the way I was helped onto the train, into the city center, and back onto the train. It was overwhelming doing that for the first time solo – but I did it. Getting there at 6am was exhausting but there is no better feeling than standing in front of Notre Dame with the entire square to myself….well and a bunch of Pigeons.
A taxi driver even took me around the entire city pointing things out, the major sites of the city. I tried to pay him, but he refused! He wouldn’t even take a tip! I tried to insist, and then just asked, “….but why?” — he gave a coy smile and said, “em…Welcome To Pariee”. This is the moment that I fell in love with the people of France and with traveling. It still makes me tear up a little thinking about how nice he was to me.
This was also my first lesson in not taking what other people say as truth. I had family members who had a much different experience while in France – and came with a cautious approach to the people there. Yet my personal experience was so vastly different, I learned very quickly to form my own opinion about certain travel spots.
Arriving in Amman – Meeting the People of Jordan
On arriving at the airport in Amman Jordan, I found my travel group, with our guide who was a white haired fireball of fun. She had all of our Visa’s to travel in the country and I have to admit that standing there in the airport seeing mostly men in the airport in their traditional headscarves and garb, made me feel a little out of place. I was glad that I had decided to join a guided tour in the end.
We arrived at the airport around 11pm Jordan time, and by that time I had been in airports for more than 28 hours. Our guide got us through the security, which was the heaviest I have ever seen in all the places I have traveled. We boarded a bus, and there was an armed cop who was our escort, which was different. We arrived at our hotel in Amman safely. I was so grateful to have my own room, I don’t think I even showered, but plopped onto my bed after lugging the luggage up the stairs, and fell right to asleep. I may have cried a little before actually falling asleep because of sheer fatigue.
The first thing to mention is our security guard, it was my mistake that I didn’t notice how gorgeous he was in the beginning. His name is Mohammad, like several other million people in this world, I found out later that this is not his full name, but a name he uses in public.
It is interesting how they name their children in Jordan, they are given a first name, then take on their fathers name as a middle name, and their grandfather’s name as a last name or additional middle name. I took the picture of him & his blue eyes with his dark hair outside the Hippodrome in Jordan. He was very quiet and reserved and polite man, with a cute little crooked smile. He was embarrassed to have me take his photo, but I’m glad I did in the end. He told me later, he was uncomfortable because the police are not suppose to allow foreigners to take their photos while in uniform, and his commanding officer had been talking to him at the time…..Oops……
Public Space Interaction
While our guide told us about the Hippodrome and its history of Rome, chariots, and jousting games. I soon became distracted with the little boys and girls that were running amuck throughout the area, apparently a school outing.
I had always had this skewed view of Muslims that soon began to change the more I interacted with them and observed them. The girls there were fixing their head scarves, giggling to each other, glancing at the boys and giggling, take selfies, texting on their phone…..just as I had done when I was a child. The boys were totally oblivious of the girls, leaping and jumping over the ancient stones, and ruins that lay strewn about, jabbering in Arabic, and what I assume were heated discussions about Barcelona’s latest soccer match.
I enjoyed seeing the ruins here, they were not fenced off like those in Rome and the natural beauty of the wild flowers, wandering goats and the beautiful sunshine likely contributed to my complete enjoyment of the grounds. I think having these things so closely integrated to something with so much history allowed my mind to wander and realize I was standing among things that were bigger than I was.
Our Next day was in Petra, I was so close to riding my Camel and seeing one of the Seven Wonders of the World I could hardly sleep the night before. We took a bus to Petra (which is actually the city, not the name of the tombs themselves) and stayed at a Bedouin camp. In my mind camp always means tents, no running water, and in particular a camp in Jordan I assumed I would be getting a total body sand scrub down by morning. But to my surprise, we pulled up to very modern looking buildings with a gym and everything…..can I say happiness?
My room was lovely, it was a little cooler in the evenings than I expected, and despite how long I let the water run I couldn’t seem to get it to a warm level. But I was in Petra, and realized I was fulfilling my dreams, and for the first time I felt proud of the person I had become and for overcoming the fear of coming to Jordan. I put a sweater on and walked out to the courtyard after failing miserably trying to take a hot shower. I sat there looking at the stars, and appreciated the sounds of running water and livestock making their bleats and bahhh’s as they settled in for the night.
Now visiting Petra was such an experience. We arrived at the gate, paid our dues, and one of the uniformed guards asked me if I was single….. ‘ummmmmm, YEAH!’….I thought in my head, as I giggled and kept walking, he came after me and was polite but relentless, and he said, “I will give you 1,000 camels if you would agree to marry me. I am being very serious”. At first I thought it was a joke, and I was thinking, ‘how is it that when I travel I get hit on by every male I find attractive, but at home I am plagued with thoughts of insecurities and self deprecating thoughts because I don’t look as good as the next girl’.
It was nice to play coy and be embarrassed by all the attention……little did I know, that was just the beginning of the marriage proposals I would get that day. American women, especially in Petra are known for their, ahem, loose morals……so consider yourself warned.
The Treasury of Petra
As we walked through the canyon towards the Treasury, I couldn’t help but giggle to myself. I was walking through sandstone canyons with beautiful colors & hundreds of tourists…..just like Las Vegas…..where I was living at the time. So basically I just traveled 7,457 miles and paid hundreds of dollars to come back to something that looked exactly like Las Vegas. We learned about all the history of the canyons, how they were used to trap armies and enemies in their walls. The treasury which was built and guarded by the Nabataens, who worshiped Gods, Goddesses and animals. Well I had no clue who the Nabateans were, and I will be quick to assume my readers don’t either. Well according to Wikipedia, lets educate ourselves:
were an Arab people who inhabited northern Arabia and the Southern Levant, and whose settlements, most prominently the assumed capital city of Raqmu, now called Petra, in CE 37 – c. 100, gave the name of Nabatene to the borderland between Arabia and Syria, from the Euphrates to the Red Sea. Their loosely controlled trading network, which centered on strings of oases that they controlled, where agriculture was intensively practiced in limited areas, and on the routes that linked them, had no securely defined boundaries in the surrounding desert. Trajan conquered the Nabataean kingdom, annexing it to the Roman Empire, where their individual culture, easily identified by their characteristic finely potted painted ceramics, was adopted into the larger Greco-Roman culture. They were later converted to Christianity.
So there you have it…. Now onto the treasury, the jewel of the area….. and where I met my favorite little Arab girl. I swear she was the best sales lady, and couldn’t have been more than 12. I felt like I was being hounded by the little children in Mexico selling the gum packets again, except this time, she was selling handmade jewelry.
The jewelry pieces were small polished colored rocks held together by string used to sew clothing together. She made sure to show me how the rocks reflected in the light, and said over and over how she would give me a good deal like any other. I couldn’t believe how good her English was. Our guide said that most of the Bedouin children and people in the area knew several different languages because that is how they make their money.
I feel like this little saleswoman, could smell that I was a person that loves unique jewelry. Well I got suckered in and thought she did such a good job selling it & telling me I needed to appreciate the high points of the pieces that I ended up paying her double of what she was asking.
The Girl and the Scarf
She was so excited that she told me how beautiful I was, and that if I was going to wear a scarf I should wear it on my head, and she proceeded to tie the scarf on my head like the traditional Bedoin and Jordanians do.
Apparently everyone ties it on their head differently, and people can tell where each person is from by how they tie the scarf on their head. Well the other members of our group when crazy with pictures, I felt like I was stealing the glory of the Treasury away by interacting with this girl. She showed me and 1 other member of the group around the immediate area and even brushed off my butt and legs after I crawled into a grave (totally legal there by the way, and it ended up being a lot creepier than I anticipated). She then had to go back to work, and said she needed to make more money that day to help feed her family. So I asked her for a hug, I gave her a big hug, and didn’t even mind her musty tobacco scent. I wanted to take her home with me, but I suppose that is the woman instinct to want to protect children like that from the hardships of life.
Tips for Visiting the Treasury
Just a piece of information for my readers, when you see the Treasury poking through the cracks of the Canyon…..the whole journey becomes worth it. Learning that it isn’t actually a building, but a tomb, that has been blocked off in a way that you aren’t allowed to go into it any longer to preserve it. You can trek up to other tombs and look inside them. Honestly, we only had about 6 hours here, its hot, but there is a store at the bottom with water and snacks and they sell a lot of souvenirs of course. Lots of calendars and photos.
Be careful of the camera man by the treasury. If you are American they will literally lure you into an area by the treasury that is slightly secluded and when asked how much will expect a kiss…… NOT saying that I actually did, just warning you…..The Jordanian men are not exactly versed in kissing, and the Bedoin men have very prominent musty smells and I question that their hygiene is regularly practiced.
Riding My Camel
After my extremely brief and uncomfortable interlude with the camera man, I ended up paying for a camel, make sure to bargain this price & try walking away before you agree completely on something…..they always end up coming down on the price. Well I got on my camel and it felt pretty stable and secure while it was on the ground, but when it was prompted to stand up, I felt like I was back on the mechanical bull in Las Vegas again trying to stay on.
TIP: LEAN BACK WHEN IT STANDS UP & PUT YOUR LEGS ON ITS NECK BEFORE IT DOES TO HELP STABILIZE YOU.
Camels don’t taste that great, and be sure the Bedoin men are watching your every move. If he asks if you want to jog with the camel…..don’t……this will get you comments such as, “hey you wanna ride me like you ride that camel?” Which made me blush about 14 shades of Red, and wished I was fending off the policeman with the 1,000 camels instead.
I ended my camel ride, and explored a little bit walking the ruins and such. It was hot and humid, and noticed our tourist guard over in the snack tent and decided to go and chat for a bit. He couldn’t stop smiling every time I came near him. I showed him pictures of Las Vegas and couldn’t believe how similar it was. I could tell when I walked up and after talking to him, he was a bit smitten with me….he ended up taking a picture of me, and just kept sighing saying how beautiful I was in my scarf. After being embarrassed by this, I told him I wanted to go explore some more. After exploring a bit more, the group met up again, and started the long walk back up to the gates.
May I make a suggestion…..hire a donkey to go back up…..walking through sand uphill for what seemed like 3 hours in hot, humid, body baking weather is not as fun as it seems when you still have to stay upright for the rest of the day. I’m not a super athlete, but could fend for myself in a soccer match, and let me tell you it was not just rough, but RUFF. I also really envied the other ladies I saw riding up the canyon in their chariots, especially with the beautiful Bedoin man with piercing green eyes, dark skin, lightly curly black hair with his whip……alright, less I digress…..bottom line……take the chariot, its worth the cost.
The People of Jordan – And Their Men
Last but not least, was the travel along the King’s Road and my departure. My Arab crush Mohammad, told me that he had gotten me a gift, and asked if it was ok if he gave it to me….OF COURSE! He walked down the bus (my claimed seat was in the back) and pulled out a green checkered scarf with tassels.
He gave it to me and was so embarrassed, when the other members of our group oooohhh, cawed and awwweeed at him singling me out. He then gained some courage and asked if he could wrap it around my head. I consented, and then he wrapped it around my head with his fingers shaking and I think if his smile got any bigger it would have cracked his face wide open.
I was so embarrassed by all the cat calling echoing in the bus that I didn’t even thank him properly & for the first time in my life was tongue tied. Well the bus started up, and we headed to the crossing into Israel…..a very precarious area that we were warned MULTIPLE times to not make ANY jokes, don’t make eye contact, and don’t speak when the guard entered the bus.
This was also a point I was grateful to be in a group, and it forced me to sober up & start to regret not saying anything to Mohammad about how grateful I was for the gift, because I felt like I would never see him again, and it made me sad. Well, as we approached the border, I sneaked some shots of it, and the guard on our bus before he got to the back to interrogate us.
An Issue At The Border
I kept my eyes down until he asked for my papers, and he looked at me, and without looking at my papers said, “where did you get that” pointing to my scarf Mohammad had just wrapped around my head. I’m glad I was sitting down at the time, because I probably would have fainted. I told him it was a gift, and he asked from whom, I told him, “Mohammad” which doesn’t exactly narrow it down in that country. He asked what he did, I told him he was our Policeman that had been with us during the trip. The couple across the isle tried to defend me, but he didn’t seem to have it. He handed my papers back to me, and headed down the isle. He said, just a moment to me, and came back on the bus, everyone tense and waiting……with a colleague….the original policeman was talking rapidly in Arabic, and his friend asked the same questions.
They both turned, and after waiting for 20 minutes, and our guide got back on the bus, fuming mad, and said that the bus had to turn back around and go back to the transfer station (where we had left Mohammad). I felt bad because I thought it was my fault with my stupid twitterpation and scarf. We took the long winding road back to the transfer station, and it ended up being that the papers didn’t have exactly the correct stamps or whatever on them, so that’s why we were turned around.
Phew…..well now that I felt less guilty, here was my chance, I went into the Police holding area at the transfer station, and asked for Mohammad the Tourist Policeman. Went back to the bus and there was our guide (the local Arab one) and he was standing next to…..drumroll…..Mohammad. And what do you know, our guide handed me a piece of paper with Mohammad’s email and facebook address on it. I gave our guide and Mohammad a tip, and felt my magical moment was completed. But after a quick trip to the bathroom (where they charge you for toilet paper, so make sure you bring change) other guards and bus drivers noticed my scarf.
One of them complimented me on it, and said, “Are you staying in Jordan?” which I responded no, and why….. and he said, “well you know what that means don’t you?” …”no”…..”it means he has claimed you as his, and wants to marry you”. I was shocked, and embarrassed and quickly went to the bus.
Leaving Jordan to Israel
In the end, we ended up getting into Israel, and across the barbed wire, multi-walled border full of tensions. Having my sentimental gold ring stolen by one of the Israeli soldiers there, being singled out because of the scarf on my head, patted down in a makeshift changing room, held in the Jordanian side until the supervisor gave the go ahead for me to cross….we made it. In a post script thought, I later learned that the scarf really had no meaning attached to it, other than a nice gift.
After becoming friends with Mohammad, and my interactions with other Jordanian men since then…..one thing I know now…..Jordanian Arabs like to talk shit, scare foreigners and love the American ladies (mostly because they come with passports and green cards. And dancing in a Jordanian wedding will involve the Debka (a dance aimed to kill you from how crazy the dancing gets– see Youtube videos) and shooting hundreds of guns into the air which has since become illegal after some people were inadvertently killed.
My Final Opinion on the People of Jordan
All in all I love Jordanian people, their passion for life, their unfailing resiliency, their romance (even if it is only in words alone), and the rich history their country possess. I hope I will get to go back and meet old friends, and explore Petra again. I wouldn’t suggest doing this trip completely alone, as the men are pretty aggressive, but traveling in a tour group was by far the best experience I could have had.