I am Anthony E. Savvides. This is my blog.

Reflections & adventures of a writer at heart, a journalist by trade and a waiter by night.

Posts Tagged ‘High

From the hotel to the host family, and home

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Note: this post was begun on Tuesday, May 15. It has since been edited to include more detail, and another blog draft that has been sitting idle was ultimately integrated into this post.

Last year, I was welcomed into the home of Mama Munira, Albert, Danny and nana, a lovely Christian family that resides in Shmaissani, a neighborhood of Amman. Ryan and I lived with them for just two weeks before we departed for Istanbul to complete the second half of the program. I still remember the day we were picked up from SIT like it was yesterday.

Yesterday, the group checked out of the Imperial Palace Hotel and was aboard the big yellow bus by 9 a.m. I had a Skype interview for a co-op position at Newsday at 7 a.m., and I had trouble falling asleep after a night of laughter and nargeela (read: hookah, shisha, argeela, hubbly bubbly, etc.) poolside that ended around 1a.m.

A group of friends and I sat poolside and enjoyed hookah on our final night at the hotel. From the bottom left: Morgan, Amanda, Laura, Hillary, and Clare.

So, in true Anthony fashion, I convinced myself that staying up until my interview would be a good idea. (It wasn’t a good idea.) I was left in the hotel lobby with two other hookah pipes and a table full of empty plates, glasses and bottles. Every time a waiter came by to pick up another tray full, I tried to give him the “this isn’t my mess” look.  After watching him go to and from the kitchen a handful of times, it was a little after 3 a.m. and I was in the middle of a reading assignment.

One of the best hamburgers I have ever had. Or, it was 3:30 in the morning and I was starving. Either one.

My eyelids felt as though they weighed a million pounds, each, and my stomach was making noises that are usually heard when walking through creaky old haunted houses. Next time the waiter came strolling through the lobby, I called him over and ordered a cheeseburger. Unlike staying up all night, ordering food was an excellent idea. I was already in too deep into the night- err, morning?- to give in to sleep.

A few more hours passed crawled by, I made some limited progress on the reading, and it was almost time for my interview with Newsday. At some point, Melissa joined me in the lobby and began clicking away on her laptop. After we had some breakfast from the hotel buffet, she shared some words of encouragement before my interview and I ran up to my room to brush my teeth and shower to wake myself up- or rather, freshen up. At 7 a.m., Eileen Holliday of Newsday called on Skype. I answered, obviously, and we chatted for about a half an hour, maybe more. Who has an honest sense of time at that hour, especially after not sleeping a wink AND being jet lagged? Not I. (Disclaimer: I never have a good sense of time. Ask anyone who knows me, especially my brother or any of my cousins. Or my father, if you want a more impassioned response.) The interview went very well, and I immediately shut my laptop and loaded my luggage onto the bus.

Samantha and I boarded the bus, and we were the first two of the group to do so. All of the curtains were pulled shut. Near darkness. It was wonderful. I passed out on her shoulder while she read, but I think she eventually gave in to sleep too. Some time later- remember what I said about me and time- everyone began to hop on the bus and claim seats, and I woke up to the sound of screeching and chatter, mostly from the back of the bus. Dammit, I thought, the bus had been so nice and quiet. Alas, our busy day would begin eventually, and I could only blame myself for being this tired. But hey, I had a job offer to show for it.

We drove to SIT, where everyone unloaded their bags from the bus and lined them up against the exterior wall, along the windows.

Hours later, host families began to arrive at SIT to pick up students in pairs. Slowly but surely, the room emptied as people were called out to meet their families. Within 20 minutes, Matt and I were called out. We filtered out of the classroom into the main, larger classroom at the front of SIT, and there stood Carlene, Dema. Between them was a man wearing a blue and read plaid shirt, blue jeans, and a navy blue baseball cap with a smile under his graying mustache. His name is Mohammed, and he has been my host father here in Amman since Matt and I met him, two weeks ago today. “Nice to meet you,” he said, as he shook both of our hands. I noticed there was a strange, southern-American accent beneath his Jordanian accent. (I later learned that he spent six years living in North Carolina, where two of his brothers live with their families. It all made sense, now.)

We followed him outside, gathered our bags, and loaded up a silver mini van. We were carpooling with Sam and Joey, two of the Arabic students. We later learned that Sam and Joey live with our host mother’s brother and his family. (We’re all host cousins!) I nodded off more than a few times during the ride through Amman, so I couldn’t really tell you what was discussed. I felt bad- what a terrible first impression I must have made, falling asleep like that. But I was dead-tired and couldn’t help it. Each time I woke up, I saw everyone else in the car chuckling. Even Mohammed, from the front seat. Oh well.

When I woke up, the third time, we were slowly rolling to a stop on a narrow street. Matt and I, apparently, had arrived home. We shuffled out of the car, grabbed our bags out of the trunk, and bid farewell to Sam and Joey. Mohammed led us through a narrow black iron gate and up two flights of stairs. We entered the apartment and were directed into a living room to the right of the entrance. It was a formal seating area filled with golden light coming in through the curtains. The couches and carpet were all different shades of brown. We took our seats, me on the couch and Matt across from me on a cushioned chair. Mohammed sat across from Matt, on the other chair.

We all began chatting and got to know each other a bit. Then, an adorable little blond boy with eyes that looked like milk chocolate chips appeared in the doorway. Mohammed called to him in Arabic, and a slight smile appeared on his face as he wondered into the room and toward his grandpa. (His name is Ahmed, and he is too cute. The son of Mohammed’s daughter, Rozenn, who lives in a nearby apartment.)  He glared, first at Matthew then at me. I opened up my suitcase and gave Mohammed the salt water taffy that I brought from Boston. (I know, a lame gift. But, in my defense, I also bought two Boston mugs. Then I forgot them on the flight from London to Amman. I can be such a space cadet sometimes.) Matthew gave Mohammed the book about Oregon that he brought, and Mohammed flipped through the book before placing it on the coffee table.

At our first meeting, Ahmed was a bit hesitant. He stared, and often turned to his grandfather for comfort, or to be held. After a half an hour or so, he was sharing salt water taffy with both Matt and I. I snapped this shot just before lunch. Now, we’re all pals, and play with him on a near daily basis.

He opened up the taffy, and handed a piece to Matt and myself, as well as Ahmed. This boy is so funny; he takes a bite out of his piece, then holds it up to Matt’s mouth, and then walks over to me. Kids in America could learn a thing or two about sharing from him. I wish I could bring him back with me. Then our host mother, Ruwada, came into the room, and Matt and I stood to shake her hand. She didn’t (and still doesn’t, duh) speak much English, a few words here and there, but communication is seamless, and she’s a very sweet lady. Plus, I’m often around both her and my host father at the same time, and Mohammed is good about translating for Matt and I, which is helpful. (Living in North Carolina was a good thing, I guess. I could never live down there. Ever.) Mama walked back into the kitchen, which is just across the way from where we sat. The apartment was filled, from the moment we entered, with an aroma that turned my stomach all sorts of sideways, in the best way. I was starving.

After we sat and chatted a bit more, mama shouted in Arabic from the kitchen, Mohammed slapped his knees as he rose up out of his chair, and he said, “Let’s eat lunch, boys.”

I was back home, in Amman. It’s a different house than last year, and I’m surrounded by new people. But it’s home.


Written by AESavvides

May 29, 2012 at 2:42 am

Rolling in the Wadi Rum

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Note: This post was written on Sunday, May 21, 2011.

“Now, I have a question for you,” said Ahmad.  “Why do you come to Wadi Rum?”

After a few guesses and no avail, our Bedouin chef answered for us: “Because Wadi Rum does not come to you.”  Laughter ensued, some of it forced.  This seems to be a popular joke among the Jordanian people.  A few days prior, I heard a similar joke-and-punch-line combination regarding Amman.  The people don’t get old, but that joke did after the one telling.  Oh well.  I chuckle to appease him.  I’m one of the fakers.

I stood atop 20 steps at the edge of the Wadi Rum Bedouin camp earlier this morning.  My view of this vast, mountainous, desert land was astonishing: the beige sand stretched on into the distance for miles in all directions.  The sun was squelching, the breeze nonexistent.   Denis called the group back to the big yellow Sariyah bus.  After the count is done to ensure all of the students are aboard, we depart.  20 minutes later, we arrive.  Or so it seems.  There are a few Toyota trucks that look like they’re straight out of the 1980s.  50 or 60 tents fill the space between two mountains, with a carpeted tent in the center of the Bedouin camp.  Two concrete structures stand at the entrance to the camp, one of them housing toilets and the other is a rounded fire pit.

Valerie, Abdullah and Zamzam tune in during our Wadi Rum orientation.I hiked part of this mountain, but didn't have time to make it all the way to the top. It will have to wait until next time....

As we all pour out of the bus, leaving behind our technological connections, the heat is our first encounter.  I have finally found the heat I expected when we arrived in Amman nine days ago- I just had to go into the middle of the desert.  I joined my fellow peers, our group totaling 32, under the tent where we were served traditional Bedouin tea, or chai.  As we decompressed from the long voyage from Petra, we were slowly introduced to this ancient, traditional sect of Jordanian society.  The Bedouins were very welcoming, warm people.

As the sun rose in the sky, we departed for our jeep tours of the desert.  I joined Erin, Ally, Michele, Valerie and Jessica in what I first assumed was a broken down Toyota.  We were off, into the sandy dune passages between the red-beige rock formations.  All of this land was once the ocean floor, 100,000 years ago.  As we journey through the sand, seven caravans in all, I noticed that the sand was changing.

Erin, Ally, Michele, Jessica, Valerie and myself comprised one of the truck loads during the jeep tour of the desert. Our driver was at least 18.

Gone were the light brown and beige colors, and we had entered an area where the sand was red.  I loved every minute of the experience.  Our first stop was beside some camels and a tall mountain.  I took it upon myself to trek up the steep sand dune toward the top.  Jené and Anna joined me, and I found Denis traveling a few feet away.  My trip to the tip-top was cut short, in part to the call from my professors, as well as my fatigue.  The view from the lower peak was incredible; I could have stayed there for the rest of the night, and waited for the sunrise.

As my group grew increasingly impatient, I began my descent down the sand dune.  Initially, my plan was to roll down the sand to the base, but after the climb I noticed there were many stones jutting out from under the soft, hot sand.  I decided against it, lest I cracked my head against a rock in the middle of the desert and concussed myself.  That wasn’t a risk I was willing to take.  I also didn’t especially want to have sand anywhere and everywhere.  A few friends, however, did roll.  I heard their screams of joy and loud laughter from the top of the mountain, and later saw their sand-covered faces.

The slackers behind us during our desert tour.

We departed this site and continued our journey through the desert, stopping at a tent where souvenirs were sold.  We were treated to more glasses of tea, delicious, sweet, and rejuvenating.  I am still amazed that these people live out here, in the middle of this vast emptiness, away from modern life and all of its complications.  It is amazing, yet commendable.  Why do we need all the commotion, anyway?  Cell phones were ringing, which was a strange sound out in the wilderness, but that was the only tie to outside world.

Along the way we saw a few older men, Bedouins, walking through the desert, alone.  They waved at us from a distance, and we all waved back.  Was he calling for help?  I don’t think so, not from us.  What did he need?  He had his health, his legs, and his tradition.  I did wonder, though, and still do, where he was going.  How would he get there?  All of this looked the same to me; sand everywhere, mountains interspersed, and vast emptiness.  I do not mean to judge this man for his lifestyle, but only to question it.  How is it that someone living in 2011 would choose to live like this?  I wonder, too, if he knows of the outside life, and the wonders that exist beyond this wilderness.

Just hours away is a vast metropolis, Amman, where taxis buzz by and the streets are bustling with people, the sidewalks lined with street vendors and shops.  I have been away from this modern concrete world for less than 48 hours, and yet I don’t mind it or miss it all that much.  As I mentioned back in April, I couldn’t wait to be away from it all, and this venture into the desert of Wadi Rum was exactly what I wanted, what I needed.

The sun slowly dipped behind the mountains.Emily and I posed for a postcard shot from the top.

After our pit stop, we packed ourselves back into the back of the jeeps and continued to our final stop from which we would watch the sunset.  As many aspects  of the trip, I wish we had actually stayed to see the sun drop behind the horizon.  But, “yalla shabob” was quickly shouted from the base of the mountain and we had to go.  Insert sad face here.  The hike to this peak was a simple one, straightforward.  Our group eventually all reached the top, and everyone was posing for their artsy staring-into-the-sunset shots.  I was guilty of it, though I was more interested in absorbing the moment.  I was atop a mountain that had, at one point, been buried beneath the sea, and watched the sun descend over Wadi Rum.  The sky was changing to brilliant shades of pink, purple, navy.  The moon, however, I did not spot.

From this mountain peak, our group watched the sunset. Here, I look out over the desert into the distance.

Emily and I posed for a postcard shot from the top.











After more photos were snapped, attempting to capture the moment, we all went back down to the sand and piled back into the jeeps.  This departure wasn’t as smooth as the others, though.  One of the jeeps faltered, its tires getting stuck in the sand and its engine not starting.  Wonderful.  After five others drove down without a hitch, we noticed that one of our group was stuck.  A bunch of us climbed down and began to push the jeep through the sand, stopping only every few minutes to dig out the sand from in front of and around the tires. We continued to push, rolling closer to the edge of the sand with a large stone structure now only a few meters in front of us.

The driver, a seemingly 14 or 15 year old kid, began pounding under the hood with a rock.  I wonder what my dad would think of this take on automobile repair; it was a far cry from the state of the art Volvo dealership where he fixes countless cars every day, all day.  After several failed attempts to restart the engine, we succeeded.  We rolled it into ignition, and avoided crashing into the rock.  Although, I’m not so sure that would have been the worst thing.  If the little rock help restart the engine, supposedly, maybe a larger rock would have got the job done that much faster.  Wishful thinking…

We arrived, 10 or 15 minutes later, back at the campsite.  I was free to rest until dinner, which had been in the works since we left the camp on our excursion.  Below two mounds of sand and coals, two vats of lamb, potatoes, and chicken were slowly simmering.  The desert dog, pet of the Bedouins, knew what lay below the surface, and she tried digging her way down.  Clever little beast, she is.  I stood with a group of Arabic students who interviewed Ahmad, the chef, about his lifestyle, his duties as the resident cook, and the traditions of the Bedouin people.  (The audio of the interview will be posted next, with a transcript attached.)

Dinner was soon served, after a ceremonial unveiling of the finished product.  After more than two hours beneath the sand, Ahmad shoveled away the mounds and the charcoals and pulled out one round steel vat, followed by the next.  The group watched, eagerly anticipating what was sure to be a splendid traditional meal.

It didn’t fail to meet expectations.  The lamb fell off the bone, melting in my mouth.  I pushed aside the plate of hummus, olives, potatoes and pita and opted to eat only the lamb.  Its taste and texture were reminiscent of kleftiko (κλεφτικο), a traditional Cypriot meal consisting of lamb, vegetable and potatoes.  I wasn’t shy, going back to the buffet and filling a second plate, this time solely with lamb.  It was delicious, mouth-watering, to put it simply.  I wish that my stomach could have handled a third plate, but I didn’t want to push it.  Especially since I was so sick only four days earlier.

After dinner, the group of Bedouins brewed more tea in the fire pit and two argile, or hookah, pipes, were fired up.  Groups of my colleagues began learning traditional Bedouin dances around the fire.  Video of the dance can be found here.  It was a pleasant evening under the stars of Wadi Rum.  While bright city lights could still be seen shining into the sky on the horizon, the stars have never been more clearly seen on this trip.  I still couldn’t spot the moon, and it was nearly 9 o’clock.  Hm….

I would later venture across the Mud Flats, or Moon Valley, as it is affectionately called by the locals, where the moon was directly in front of me on the horizon, larger and more orange than I have ever seen it.  What a sight- the stars in plain sight, scattered beautifully across the black night sky above, the moon now clearly in view, and silence abound.

Moments before waking up, this shot was taken of Katie, Al and I sleeping in the desert.

I slept under the stars with seven of my peers, and we watched shooting starts streak across the sky.  I fell asleep around 4 o’clock in the morning, only to be woken by the sunlight at 6:30.  I began my Sunday with a hike up the mountainside behind the camp with some other friends, which was followed by a camel ride through the desert and two hardboiled eggs.

I can’t further describe with words this night.  You, my friends and readers, will all have to come one day to experience Wadi Rum for yourselves. Jordan continues to reveal itself, leyer by layer, and I hope that in the coming final week I will experience more of the lifestyle, tradition and hidden treasures of this beautiful kingdom.

Sand and mountains as far as the eye can see.

Written by AESavvides

May 29, 2011 at 2:17 am

Petra, I will never forget you-

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Note: This blog post was written on May 22.

A donkey who carries thousands of tourists through Petra's winding pathways each day.

Some people – tourists, to be exact – will walk through life, fingers attached to a camera with a fanny pack permanently around their waist.  I try to approach life and my travels differently.  Ever since my mother’s camera was stolen out of our luggage on a family trip many years ago, I have felt that pictures, videos, cameras – all these things can come and go.  What will always remain are the memories.

The view of the pinnacle of Petra from the peak, 2,000 steps and a mountainside away from the initial entrance into the city. This picture does no justice to the sight.

This view, from the path entering Petra, called to me. I wanted to so badly to travel the unkown, uncommercialized path, but was told I "wasn't allowed." And that is why I will come back to this place, on my own.

On May 19, I along with my peers journeyed 2 hours south of Amman to Petra on our big, yellow Shariyah bus.  Petra, an archeological and historic city which dates back to .  The historical site remained unknown to the Western world until 1812, when it was introduced by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. It was described as “a rose-red city half as old as time” and was featured in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which filmed on site in .

Evidence suggests that settlements had begun in and around Petra in the eighteenth dynasty of Egypt (1550-1292 BC.)  It is listed in Egyptian campaign accounts and the Amarna letters as Pel, Sela or Seir.  The city was built on the slopes of Mount Hor in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Arabah(Wadi Araba), the large valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.

This tree, growing out of the side of the mountain, has a total of three trunks, all of them intertwined with each other and the rock from which they emerge.

Petra was chosen by the BBC as one of “the 40 places you have to see before you die” and after visiting the ancient city, I completely and wholeheartedly agree.  The hike was exhausting, the rocks and sand blistering hot, the sun blinding, but the sight unforgettable.  Never before have I felt so accomplished as I did today, when I hiked up nearly 2,000 steps to the site highlight, the monastery.  It was carved into a mountainside by the ancient inhabitants and controlled by various empires throughout history.  The city itself, as a whole, was largely guarded against any attacks by the mountains surrounding it.  The initial entrance into Petra is a long and winding dirt, cobblestone road through the mountains, which tower over the entranceway and seem to reach the clouds.  Trees grow, distorted, out of the mountainside.

These images, which will be with me forever, should be seen by all.  I was lucky enough to see these things at 21, but I noticed that many of the tourists were much older, most over the age of 50.  How am I so fortunate to see such sights and wonders at such a young age?  And at such an early stage in my world travels and my journalistic career?  I guess I can thank Northeastern University for the opportunity.  And, of course, my own intuition.  Something told me, way back in November when I applied, that this was a trip not to be missed.

This was my first glimpse of the ancient site, the Treasury, which was featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. What a sight to see.

After reaching the top of the site, and viewing what seemed like all of Jordan from the peak, I sat with my peers Geoff Edgers, Rob Sansone, Erin, Ally, Jessica and Michele, we began the descent down the steps.

This structure, a mere drop in the ocean compared to all of Petra, is located along the initial pathway entering the ancient city. It is said to have been used as a resting place for those traveling into Petra, or as a checkpoint.

The size of these structures, as compared to a tourist taking a rest, is unbelievable. How did they build this place?

The sun was hotter on the return to modern civilization.  The local Jordanians, who have set up tents to sell merchandise, jewelry, and other memorabilia, were relentless in their attempts to sell us their products.  Some of us succumbed to their taunts and hopeful eyes.  I, myself, purchased a hand-carved camel and a stone turtle.  I will never forget this day, and the pople with whom this adventure was shared.  I love the J19.  Petra, I will never forget you.

Written by AESavvides

May 25, 2011 at 11:53 pm